The clever naming wasn’t planned, but it’s kind of fun that it turned out that way! Departed Stage Harbor, Chatham, Massachusetts (at the lower right corner of Cape Cod) first thing on a Tuesday morning. The idea was to go around the outside of Cape Cod, going north, and then see what happened next. Possibilities were Provincetown, Cape Ann, Portsmouth New Hampshire, and Biddeford Maine. The weather forecast for the next several days involved south, southwest, and possibly west winds, with variations on 10 to 20 knots and times with higher gusts. Just fine for an adventure!
The hardest part was getting out of Stage Harbor and Nantucket sound, which all involved tremendous amounts of tacking. It was, however, satisfying to maintain the “motor as decoration” status of the electric outboard, and once into Nantucket sound the motor isn’t sized for that kind of job anyway. Arrived at the south end of Monomoy Island (10 miles south and eight hours later) about an hour after the tide got going outbound, which was good enough to make it work. I have to say that I’ve never seen a tide rip anything like that – it pretty much redefines the term. But it was fascinating. Recreational fishing boats were both using this passage routinely, and hanging out in the middle of the rip, fishing. Seeing that they were doing this without mishap made me feel like it was within the bounds of reasonable prudence for me, now with a nice solid beam wind, to do the same thing. Well, not fishing, but passing around that end of Monomoy close in, rather than going to the west of enormous Handkerchief Shoal. For one thing, tacking the extra 5 miles around the shoal could well have meant missing the outbound tide, which would have involved an immense change of plans as there are no nearby harbors.
So through the tide rip it was! And in a testament to Phil Bolger’s Chebacco design, sitting in the cockpit I didn’t even get wet. And things felt stable enough that taking pictures was an option. Extraordinary. Among other things, the sound was amazing, with all those foaming waves, roaring. My uncle Wright used to take me fishing in a Boston Whaler in the reefs off of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, when I was a kid. Huge breakers on Catumb Rocks, and us right there, fishing rods in hand. I thought of Wright the whole way through that rip.
And then it was out the other side, and a few minutes later through Pollock Rip, which was mild by comparison, probably partly because the tide was not yet in full gear at that spot around the corner. The fog came in, and I never did see Cape Cod’s outer beach from the water. My goal was to go east until outside of the New York to Boston shipping lanes, since I knew that I would be out all night and wanted to get some reasonable rest. This worked out, and as it turned out the AIS never showed a single ship – I’m thinking that this had to do with the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, which was great.
The coolest thing that happened was WHALES! In the fog, about a half a mile of visibility, about 10 miles east of Monomoy Island. I was in the cabin resting, and there was a loud unidentifiable sound coming up from behind. I was thinking “that boat’s awfully close to have snuck up that way.” Once out in the cockpit, it happened again, about 50 feet in back of the boat – whales! With big, deep breaths. No spouts, just the sound, and their backs. The small sort of irregular dorsal fin, on enormous bodies, makes me think it was humpbacks. The wind had died back and the water was almost glassy, so it was perfect for seeing them. First they crossed the stern going north, and then they crossed the stern going south – a total of at least six or seven breaths, and at least two whales that I saw at the same time, one bigger and one smaller. What a lovely, lovely visit.
Night came, more wind, reefing issues and a course change, now turning north well outside the shipping lanes. The boat had been perfectly happy flying along at 5 knots going east – it was a real shame to upset that nice equilibrium, but I felt like I would’ve been really headed for Scotland if I went that way all night!
Eventually a new balance was struck, that the autopilot could live with reasonably reliably. During that process I was thinking “Yup, I’ve advanced to my level of incompetence – again.” But you learn so much during those experiences! Still, while I felt perfectly safe, I was thinking that this “go outside of Cape Cod” idea might not have been one of my best. Comfortable it was not.
Then, back inside, back in my dry PJs, leecloth up on the berth (and seatbelt for good measure) it suddenly didn’t feel the same – I found myself thinking “oh, this is nice!” Now that was a surprise!
The mainsail had two reefs, which is my standard for a fairly stiff wind, and our course would now stay the same for ages, so that was it for sail fussing for the night. The wind was forecast to continue from the southwest, which it kindly did. By morning the fog had cleared, and it was just extraordinary. The wind had died down about when it got light, and after a nice nap I was feeling pretty good.
From the south end of Monomoy to where you would turn for Provincetown is about 40 miles… but in that nice daylight, making that turn seemed downright silly. So on we went, with Cape Ann generally in mind, but I was keeping a course that was actually the straight shot from the outside of the shipping lanes to about Biddeford, Maine. This put the boat substantially east from Cape Ann, which was perfectly doable, but added significant mileage and time if Cape Ann was to be the destination. And what a nice day it was! Mild, comfortable wind and seas, and then, as if that wasn’t enough, hanging out in the cockpit in my accustomed spot relaxing, looking out the stern, thinking about this and that, there off in the distance, directly in back of the boat, an enormous whale breached. It must’ve been well over a mile away (maybe two?) – tiny in the distance, but perfectly clear, arching up silhouetted against the sky. All but its tail came out of the water, and then a couple of beats later, after it was down again, you could hear the boom. Extraordinary.
So that was it – time to stay out where all the fun is. Another night, again with stronger winds, but reefing before dark was much, much nicer. And then in the morning I just had to decide exactly where to come in, somewhere south of Portland. Stage Island Harbor is nice, and so is Wood Island Harbor, in Biddeford. I had hopes of seeing a couple of friends, and some confusion about which harbor was ideal for visiting (it would really help if I would talk with people before arriving places!) But Stage Island Harbor was nearer, and a truly beautiful, special place. At 20 miles out I heard the first boat motor in the last day and a half, and at 15 miles out the tuna boats were a regular occasion. By 5 miles out, Fourth of July on a hot sunny day, everybody was out… The wind had eased off in the morning, so it took until about 4:30 in the afternoon to come into the harbor itself, anchored and all. By evening the jet ski people had gone home for supper (how do you say thank you in 10 different languages??) and the rocks, and the tide, and the sky were perfectly lovely.
Overall, I’d say this first effort at a longer passage came out pretty well. The leecloth worked, the AIS worked, I got reasonable amounts of rest, the stars, so far away from any outside light, were fantastic. And I would do it again, which is the true test of whether or not something really was such a good idea. It was special, and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity.
Best of all, just like that, now I’m in Maine! It’s still hot, but the water is about 60°, so the cabin sole is cool, and last night the inside temperature actually made it below 70. Since arriving in Stage Harbor, and spending one night, I’ve been to Wood Island Harbor for one night, and now at Jewell Island, in Casco Bay. Hoping to stay put for a bit, rest and tinker, and wait for the cooler weather.