Weeks Three and Four

On the 16th of October, day 12 of our voyage, we made the hop from Niantic to Essex, Connecticut.  To get to Essex, we had to go up the Connecticut River a bit and under a few bridges.  We proceeded with caution because we weren’t quite sure that there was enough water for us.  We also gritted out teeth as we went under one bridge that was a little to close fore comfort.  But, going under the next bridge was even more eventful.  The next was a railroad bridge that had to be raised in order to let us through.  About half a mile before we reached the bridge, my father called the bridge on our VHF radio.  We waited a few minutes, and there was no reply.  My father called again, still no reply.  He called a third time.  Finally, a man came on and exclaimed rather irately that the radio was on one side of the room and the bridge controls were on the other, so he was unable to talk on the radio while the bridge was in motion.  He was also quite perturbed that we didn’t use the name for the bridge that he preferred.  After that episode, we continued up the river and anchored in the deepest spot we could find.

Later on that evening, as we were settling in, we noticed a small motor boat slowly drifting toward us.  They hollered over to us that they couldn’t control the boat because their anchor line was wrapped around their propeller.  My father offered to have them tie up to us so they wouldn’t drift away.  They agreed, and my father asked if there was anything more we could do to help.  The man on the other boat said no, but asked jokingly for a wet suit.  To his surprise, we did in fact have a wet suit.  For, you see, we were once in a similar predicament in one of our previous boats a few years ago.  A line had gotten tangled around our propeller and my father had to go in the frigid Maine waters in May.  Ever since, we have carried a full wet suit onboard.  We offered the full suit, but he only accepted the top part and a diving mask, which he was very grateful for.  But, even with the wet suit he looked very cold.  He was in there a good while, and when he came out, he was quite frozen.  As he handed back the suit, mask, and towel we had lent him, he stammered his thanks through chattering teeth.

The following day, we took the boat to the dock, where we met my mother’s friend and her family.  They offered to have us stay at their house for the night, and we accepted.  It was nice to have showers, flush toilets, running water, internet access, and all the amenities we had been deprived of.  We stayed in Essex one more day because the conditions had turned unfavorable.

The weather still wasn’t that great the following day, but we left anyway, and had a rather uncomfortable journey.  We just anchored outside of a tiny little nowhere town that night.

We hauled up the anchor and sails at the crack of dawn the next day in order to arrive at Port Jefferson, New York before dark.  We would be spending over a week there in order to get running lights and other things hooked up and ready for an overnight sail.  Our first night there was not very peaceful on account of the slight gale blowing outside, and conditions did nothing but worsen the next day.  We stayed onboard all day in light of this.

That night, none of us were to get much sleep.  A full gale was now blowing outside from the worst possible direction, contrary to the forecast, so that we were not sheltered at all.  The howling wind violently shook the halyards and anything else on deck that was not lashed down well enough.  The line tied to the anchor chain moaned and groaned so loudly that my CD player on full blast hardly drowned out all the noise.  In addition, lying down in my bunk I could feel the boat swing around.  At times it would swing around 180 or even 360 degrees.  I deluded myself into thinking that the 150 pounds sitting on the bottom couldn’t possibly drag.

Just before midnight, I heard doors opening and closing at the opposite end of the boat.  I told myself that it was just someone getting up to use the head.  I heard more rustling then a knock at my cabin door.  It was my father telling me to get up and dressed and be ready to flake chain.

Swinging around full circle had wrapped the chain around the anchor and pulled it at an odd angle, causing it to drag.  So, we needed to pull it up and move.  I hopped out of bed, threw on some clothes, and shoved my hands into the diving gloves I used for flaking anchor chain.  Before long, I heard the muffled shouts of my father and brother up above, nearly drowned out by the howling wind.  It was very rough and we were tossed around quite a bit.  I was safest down below by the chain locker, while the rest of my family was up on deck in the icy wind and darkness.  At that time, I was not worried about myself really at all, but worried that one of them could fall overboard.  For now there were somewhat large waves, high winds, and it was dark.  Very thankfully no one went over.  But something else did.

Our solar panel was very difficult to stow and had to be moved around a lot, but we would not have to do this any longer.  It was not tied down and the wind hit it just right and took it over.  It sank to the bottom very quickly, making rescue impossible even if the conditions had been better.  Losing this rather expensive piece of equipment was a bit of a blow, but I suppose if that is our biggest loss, we are doing quite well.

We had not dragged much, but it took us a long time to get up the anchor and back near our original spot because of the winds.  With the howling wind and pitch black darkness, my mother at the helm could neither hear nor see my father and brother up on the bow.  The gale force winds were blowing so that you could not shout over the noise.

After what seemed like an eternity of motoring in the rough winds and inky blackness, we finally dropped anchor up wind of or original spot.  But, I would not be able to rest quite yet.  It was far too noisy up in my cabin to even attempt sleep there, so I had to take all my sheets, blankets, and pillows into my brother’s cabin, away from the grinding anchor chain.  Then, I could finally drift off into unconsciousness and forget about the events of the night, at least for a little while.  Thankfully, this would be the only bit of unpleasant excitement in a good while.

In Port Jefferson, the boating industry was not quite as large as we would have liked, but the locals were very helpful.  Seeing as very few boats such as ours frequent the port, the yachting enthusiasts and “schooner bums” came out to see it.  One such person was a faculty member of the nearby Stony Brook School.  He was out sailing with a group of students when he hollered over to us asking about the boat.  We told him about our trip from Maine and plans to head south.  He offered to have us come to his house to take showers, for he knew about the limited facilities open to transients in this port.  We later found out that he was a sailor too, and was a bit sympathetic to our situation.  So, he took us to his house, fed us dinner, let us use his shower, and even took us to the grocery store.  After doing us such a great act of kindness, we were a bit surprised that we did not see him for the remainder of our stay in Port Jefferson.

We also met the captain of a regional schooner that is part of a non-profit, environmental educational organization that teaches about Long Island sound.  He was quite taken with the boat and invited my brother and me onboard during one of their demonstrations.  One interesting factoid that I picked up there is that, apparently, there is a kind of plankton that is so small it was only just discovered in the past decade.  It is this tiny plankton that is responsible for producing 6o percent of the earth’s oxygen.  I thought this was quite interesting because I, and I’m sure most everyone else, had always been taught that trees were responsible for producing most of the earth’s oxygen.  It was with this three-hour tour that we would close our fourth week.  The past week had been uninteresting for the most part, but excitement isn’t always a good thing when you are traveling on a boat.

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