"Light Blue"

Jamestown, Rhode Island, Conanicut marina

Jamestown, Rhode Island, Conanicut marina

Living the Dream

Six moons in the USA

Month 1
27 May to 27 June 2007

We arrived in the United States of America on 27 May 2007 and sailed up Rhode Island Sound, calmly, sedately and unhurriedly after 12 days of ocean life. We surveyed to port and starboard the sumptuous mansions, whose grounds ran down to the water’s edge and admired without envy the pleasant living, which could be experienced here.

Having contacted the Newport harbourmaster, who could not assist us, due to the influx of yachts for the Memorial Day weekend events, we circled just below the Newport Bridge, while the manager of Conanicut Marina checked on his ability to accommodate us. A few minutes later he called us back and instructed us that we could tie up inside their swell barrier (a larger than normal floating pontoon, which lived up to its name when the waters of the estuary became choppy in the following days).

We tied up without any problem with the help of David, a student, who had worked at the marina during the summer recess for the previous six years. He was an unpretentious, well-mannered young man, who made us feel very welcome in our first US landfall. Having tied up to the dock, we adjusted the bow, stern and spring lines and finished the log, before stepping ashore for the first time in 12 days. Having registered with the marina office, I called the US customs in order to inform them of our arrival in the USA, giving our location, name of boat and personal details. The very helpful officer, with whom I spoke, informed me that he would get an officer to us within the hour and made it clear that we were not permitted to go further than the marina, before we had been interviewed.

Since 9/11, the responsibilities of US customs have changed to include homeland security. My own experience in the UK of uniquely experienced units having to take on additional responsibilities is that it dilutes the skills for which they have been professionally and specifically trained. We found in Rhode Island that it spreads their human resources over a larger area. The officer who visited our boat was covering the whole of Rhode Island State that weekend. If there had been as many foreign boats as one would see normally in the Caribbean, she would not have been able to cope and could not have contributed to national security in a pro-active way as the President and all Americans would desire.

We were informed by the US customs officer that we had six months to the day to stay in the USA, in other words on or before 27 November 2007, we would have to leave. We were given a numbered cruising permit the next day and we were instructed that we would have to notify the customs by telephone one hour before we arrived in our next destination. So every time we sail into a new port, we are liable to be visited by customs, which doesn’t concern us. Two months after arriving we have not been approached.


With formalities out of the way, we went ashore together and went for a gentle promenade up the main street, which was beautifully presented with half barrels bedecked with flowers with US flags stuck in the earth. The street was lined with trees in full bloom and the shop fronts were of a suburban American design. We were struck by the land heat, which was at least 10 degrees higher than at the water’s edge and warmed us quickly and made us feel very relaxed and comfortable. It was unusual to be ashore, but we were not feeling land sick as can sometimes happen to sailors. Siobhán sometimes experiences it, despite the fact that neither of us suffer from sea sickness. Land sickness takes the form of wobbly legs and a little dizziness, but passes after a day or so ashore.

That evening we went to an Italian restaurant called “Simpatico” to celebrate our arrival. The ambiance was immediately noticeable, with the conversational buzz of about 20-30 people standing and drinking cocktails at the bar, the restaurant full of well-dressed diners with easy- to-listen-to modern jazz being played by an elderly trio stage left. The service was customer-focused and friendly, the menu comprehensive, including fresh fish, seafood, steaks and pasta. Iced water was served continuously throughout the meal by a dedicated water waitress. A sliver of lemon peel was served on the saucer with my espresso coffee, which is a tradition according to the waitress, although she could not elaborate as to its origin.

The meal was a fine celebration of our ocean passage and a pleasant introduction to what we could look forward to in our six-month sojourn in the USA.

During our stay in Jamestown, we visited Newport (RI) by ferry and walked around the wharves, jetties and shopping streets, but found it was designed for tourists with plenty of cash. We did manage to find a fine pair of Sperry deck shoes (strictly for shore use) priced at half the UK price. It would be easy to spend a mint of money here, because the price of clothing is virtually the same numerical cost in dollars as it is in sterling, which makes it half the price as the rate of exchange is US$2 to the £1 (€1,50) sterling.

While berthed in Jamestown, we ordered a new starter motor for “Light Blue”, as we had been having increasing trouble starting the engine. Although it started on the first occasion most times and every time after several attempts, my fear was that eventually there would come a time when we needed the engine urgently and it would not start. The part was ordered through the marine store attached to Conanicut Marina and delivered and fitted the next day, giving us an indication of the efficiency of the United States internal delivery system and standard of service and customer care.

We found that there were no live-aboards this far north, but we did meet a charming American couple called Steve and Susie on “Monkey Tails” out of Annapolis, who had just relocated their boat in Jamestown, with a view to a possible trip across “the pond” to Europe.

After the very inexpensive way of life in the Caribbean, we were shocked by the excessive marina charges in the United States. Newport (RI) charges US$5 per foot for berths and then extra for water and electric. Jamestown charges US$3 with no charge for water. As we did not have a US adaptor, we did not use electricity, but the basic mooring fee was US$114 per night. We knew that we could not afford that every day, living on my pension, so we realised very quickly that we were going to be anchoring as much as possible and using marinas only when absolutely necessary.

Heading north

After four relaxing days in Jamestown, we cast off and headed north towards Plymouth, Massachusetts, along Buzzard Bay, stopping in a couple of places en route. The first place we headed for was Padanaram in Apponagansett Bay, South Dartmouth. We headed right into a force 4 wind, so motored with the main centred. We found that there was a great deal of close navigation to do to reach the entrance, although most of the channels and rocks were marked with an excellent buoyage system, albeit in reverse order to the European system.

As we had just passed Gooseberry Neck, and with both sails set, we tacked the yacht, with the engine running, to avoid closing on a lee shore. Unfortunately, the engine cut out. I blew my top like a volcano, because I thought we had not topped up the header tank, before settling down to discover the problem. After examining all possible check points on the engine, I found that we had in fact pumped up the diesel header tank too full and as we leaned over on the new tack, the engine had flooded. I drained off about 8 litres of fuel from the header tank, cleared the air in the system and started the engine first time. It was the first time since buying the boat that I had bled the system of air and we were so grateful for having changed the starter motor. Meanwhile, Siobhán was steering the boat under sail away from the rocks and out into safe open water. What a team!! A little later than anticipated we picked up a mooring opposite South Dartmouth Yacht Club (only US$45 per night, including use of the club’s facilities and launch) and decided to stay there for two nights.

Mayflower II in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Mayflower II in
Plymouth, Massachusetts

On 2 June, we cast off and headed towards Plymouth, through the Cape Cod Canal. We had wind with us for only a small portion of the 42-mile trip and at times it was down to westerly 2-4 knots, so the engine came into its own again, but it was safer through the canal. The Cape Cod Canal is a superb man-made construction, beautifully lined with trees, walkways and cycleway and is used by dozens of locals. It was most important to enter at the right time because of the strong current that runs through it and as we have many times before and since, we got it just right and zoomed through at times up to 10 knots.

It meant that we had to rise at 5 a.m., but it was worth it and at 11 a.m we sailed into Cape Cod Bay, the mating home of the Right Whale. The temperature was in the 70s, the wind was on the port beam and we sailed along gently at 5 knots through mirror calm waters, eager to spot a whale. The wake was chuckling along astern and the bow wave was whooshing along. However, our whale-spotting was in vain.

The only unusual sign of nature encountered was as we entered the channel into Plymouth as swathes of yellow scum surrounded the boat. We could not avoid them, as they were so extensive.

Effluent? No! Oil slick? No! Pollen? Yes!

There are so many trees behind the east coast of America and they emit so much pollen at this time of year that it covers the sea such as we witnessed. Oh! The wonders of nature. How lucky we are to be there at the chosen times of its splendour. We have been told that in the autumn these same trees produce a panoramic splendour in reds, yellows and oranges for hundreds of miles.

Plymouth to Plymouth

Finally, after 12 months sailing, we reached the inner harbour of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and in picking up the very dirty and struggling buoy, Siobhán managed to muddy her trews and rip her polo shirt. In the peace and quiet of the mooring, we surveyed the scene and 400 yards away at the dock, saw “ Mayflower II”, the 1957 replica of the original Mayflower, which crossed successfully to Plymouth in 1620. This meant a lot to me in particular because, at the age of 11 years, I had seen the Mayflower II depart from the Mayflower steps in Plymouth, England.

The only cruising yacht in the entire anchorage was one carrying the flag of Monaco. The other boats were small motor fishing boats. Once again the mooring fee, including the use of the Plymouth Yacht Club facilities was US$45.

As we had made Plymouth our initial goal, we decided to stay there for a few days and explore the town and surrounds. Compared with its English counterpart, it is relatively small, being a town rather than a city, with one main street, which is lined with individually styled New England shops and coffee bars. One such had Wifi, excellent coffee and patisserie, so whenever we caught the yacht club launch ashore, we made it our first stop to check our messages and search on internet for information about our future destinations.

We visited the museum and found its contents fascinating. It used to be the court house and behind the pews in the first floor in a pile was the gallows. There was a photograph of the mayor of Plymouth, England, presenting a Union Flag to the officials of Plymouth, Mass., in 1969, thus cementing the connection between the two communities. We had a very instructive chat about the Plymouth Rock and the history of the area with the curator of the museum, after he approached us, having seen our entry in the visitors’ book.

Following that informative tour, a visit to “Mayflower II” was a must. The space allotted to the crew and Plymouth pilgrims was so limited that we realised just how much space we have on “Light Blue” and we will never complain. One of the crew of the ship truly entered into the spirit of the adventure and described the voyage and settlement in 1620 as if he had just arrived and would soon be returning to England, as the original ship and crew were chartered solely for the trip to America. He used old English vocabulary and accent and was humorous, educational and tireless.

We also viewed the very ordinary but historically significant Plymouth Rock. The Plymouth pilgrims were reputed to have stepped ashore upon this rock, but the origin of the story is disputed locally. We also walked around the oldest wooden house in Plymouth, within walking distance of the Plymouth Yacht Club, where we had a very pleasant drink and the largest single Jameson whiskey I have ever had.

Rather than sail north to Boston, we decided that we would hire a car and travel there as it was only about 40 miles away. We loved the city, its parks, shaded streets, resembling Holland Park and Kensington in London and its quiet civilisation. We visited the “USS Constitution”, the oldest manned naval ship in the world and had lunch and a photo-shoot in “Cheers”, the pub in central Boston upon which the series was based. The frontage is as per the series, but the interior is completely different (such is the deceptive power of television wizardry). On the way back, we visited the John F Kennedy Museum in its quiet waterside setting, a fitting location for a president, whose love of the sea was well known.

With our need to visit Plymouth satiated, we cast off the messy buoy and headed out into Cape Cod Bay and started our voyage south. Having passed through the Cape Cod Canal as easily as we had done before, we headed into Onset and anchored in the harbour there as a temporary halt on our journey. I noted in the log, “The high pressure, 1020, which is over us at present is providing NE winds — they are cold and we are well clothed, but one’s hands are cold and it is not a pleasant temperature after the heat of the tropics. Thank goodness we are now heading south.”

The next day (8 June) we sailed down Buzzard’s Bay and up to New Bedford, where we anchored in the general anchorage alongside two small 24-foot yachts attached to buoys. For the following day, Siobhán wrote, “Saturday 9 June 2007. 7.30 a.m. Fog — back to bed.” The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see the Butler Flats lighthouse 500 yards away. By 0900, however, the fog had cleared and at 0930, we hoisted the anchor on that dull, overcast, cold day. The wind never rose above force 2 and that was on the nose (i.e. from the direction we were heading), so we motor-sailed at about 5 knots and travelled up Rhode Island Sound and anchored among the buoys of Dutch Harbour on the other side of Jamestown to Conanicut Marina. At 1300, Siobhán had written, “This is a day for staying in bed and eating.”

Two days later we left that tranquil anchorage and with full mainsail and lightweight genoa sailed goose-winged south along Rhode Island Sound, turned right and headed towards Long Island Sound. At 1100 hours, the boat was invaded by large bluebottle flies, which we believe are attracted either by the pollen or the salt on the sails and hull. Then as quickly as they invaded, they retreated. This was not the first time it had happened, but one cannot get used to the feeling of lousiness.

Connecticut from the sea

America from the sea (Connecticut)

We had planned to travel gradually along the Sound and chose Mystic River as our first point of entry on the Connecticut side. I had noticed a slight juddering in the steering wheel when under pressure and wanted it examined before it worsened. I found that there was a Lewmar/Whitlock agent in Noank just inside the Mystic River. When we arrived in the Noank Boatyard, I contacted him and the next day he came and examined the wheel and gearing. The simple cause of the judder was the “woodruff key” (a small semi-circular insert), which slots into the centre of the wheel and holds it steady. Ours had become rusted and no longer fitted in the slot. A carefully moulded replacement has done the trick. While I was talking to the agent, I explained about the difficulty we were having plugging into US shoreline power. He examined the system, departed to his source and soon came back with the correct 50-amp female socket, which he attached to our shoreline and we have since had efficient, effective shore-power. Two problems solved by a professional with a smile and the knowledge.

To celebrate my birthday, on the last day in Mystic River, we went to the local bar, which had the atmosphere of “Cheers”, with friendly bar staff, chatty local customers and a convivial atmosphere. Attached to the bar was a first-class restaurant with white linen table cloths and silver service, where we had the most delightful meal.

I chose scallops for my main dish, assuming that as in the UK, I would get about 3-6 scallops on my plate. I was so pleasantly surprised when I found my plate piled high with 20+ beauties. A chilled bottle of Chablis assisted in washing it down. American restaurant owners and their staff know how to look after their customers and our waitress was no exception, giving us excellent cheerful, service.

Having paid the very reasonable bill, we returned next door to the bar and finished the evening talking to a very friendly local and partaking of the local Jameson whiskey with beer chasers, while feeling part of the native ambiance. Siobhán accepted a note from him to deliver to a local woman as part of her matchmaking service. A fitting end to a wonderful birthday.

Nuclear subs in the Thames

The following day we departed from Mystic River but merely sailed along the coast to Thames River and proceeded upriver to where we knew, from the charts, there were anchorages. We knew that the area is the centre for US coastguard training and saw many in uniform practising on large barges. We continued north along the starboard side of the channel and I saw a couple of the orange painted ribs (Re-inforced Inflatable Boats) coming towards us, but thought nothing of it as I believed them to be training.

One of them passed us on our port side, but did a U-turn and slowed in a parallel course alongside and about 30 metres from us. I waved and then saw the manned machine gun on the bow and immediately slowed down. The skipper of the vessel yelled to me, “We’re escorting that sub down the river and we will now escort you past it.” I then saw the nuclear submarine cruising down the river towards us but in the main channel and not directly in our way, escorted by another two armed coastguard ribs. Having passed us the skipper waved us on, but asked where we were heading. I pointed out the possible anchorages and he then asked to what country our red ensign related. Having informed him we passed on our way. We finally anchored 100 yards off the western shore of the river, whose banks were lined with picturesque New England homes.

After a peaceful evening and an undisturbed sleep, we rose the next morning early and headed out at 0700 hours along New London Channel into Long Island Sound. I will mention four of the waypoints along the Sound to give you an idea of the topography of the seabed. Black Ledge, Bartlett Reef, Long Sand Shoal, and Branford Reef. We had found that the coastline from Plymouth, Massachusetts south and west was by no means easy to navigate and we thanked the day we had purchased the Maptech professional chart system, as the charts are most detailed. Not only does the system give you the most detailed admiralty charts, but it allows one to glean information about marinas, towns, canals, rivers, etc.

Our next stop was Branford Harbour, the trip encompassing all of the above hazards. The light wind genoa furling gear had been sticking when furling and unfurling. While at anchor, I took it apart and the lower bearing assembly appeared to be sticking on one side when turning it horizontally through 360 degrees. I could see no reason for it and as there was a Selden dealer in the marina nearby, we decided to go there for a couple of days and sort it out. It was a Brewer marina, one of a chain.

When I tried to start the engine to sail into the marina from the anchorage, the b... engine would not start, so we called BOAT U.S., who towed us in. We had luckily joined this organisation when we arrived in the USA, as we were informed that with our draft we would probably need to be pulled out of the mud on occasions, travelling down the intracoastal waterway.

I will not go into detail, but will just say that the service in the Stamford Brewer marina was second class and ridiculously expensive and we will certainly not be using Brewer marinas again in our US voyage. I fixed the furling system myself without the help of the marina. The mechanic arrived to look at the engine as we were leaving, the splicing in the new topping lift halyard is amateurish and its fitting by the rigging team was extortionate.

We left this disappointing marina and headed west for New York. It was an exciting day’s sailing in respect of our entry into the Big Apple. The East River was calm and unchallenging, so we enjoyed the New York skyline gradually appearing out of the haze and later found ourselves dwarfed by the skyscrapers on our starboard side. As we arrived at the southern tip of Manhattan, however, we were overwhelmed by many ferries approaching us from all directions. It is at this junction that Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty stand, so there are tourist ferries intermingling with the ferries from the commuter ferry terminal right on the tip of Manhattan. The surface of the East River where it meets the Hudson was churning like a washing machine but little old “Light Blue” just stuck her nose in and ploughed through it all. I must admit that it was hairy and put Hell Gate where we had anticipated strong tides further back along the East River in the shade.


Avast me hearties, pirates ahoy!

We travelled the three miles up the right-hand side of the Hudson River with New Jersey to port and Manhattan to starboard. The wind rose to about 15 knots so I took a chance and beam-reached across to the other side of the river at 7 knots and then crept up that side to our marina, Lincoln Harbour Yacht Club. One should never believe the adverts in marine guides as they are usually out of date at the time of publishing and what was once probably a prestige yacht club opposite mid-town New York is now sadly in need of repair, constantly washed by the swell from the never ending ferry traffic crossing the river and totally lacking in any services, except for the best shower I have ever had. Yes. There is only one for the whole of the 250-yacht marina.

We had arranged to meet friends from the UK while in New York and we were delighted to have Kari, who works in the United Nations, on board for dinner one night, and another night we travelled over to mid-town to have dinner with Patrick and Martin. These two meetings made the trip to New York all the more interesting for us and it was great to see them again. Patrick was kind enough to bring over a new stitched red ensign, as ours was frayed and faded. We did some sightseeing while we were in the city, but we had mixed feelings between us about NY.

We left Lincoln Harbour on 23 June and headed up the Hudson early in the morning, sailing along with full main and working jib. The wind piped up to 18-20 knots on the nose and we tacked up the river, passing the Palisades State Park after Washington Bridge. The north-west breeze was cold under a clear blue sky and having passed under the Tappen Zee Bridge we sailed across the Tappen Zee, which is part of the Hudson, but three miles across, like an inland sea.

We entered Haverstraw Marina and tied up temporarily to the fuel pontoon to obtain directions and having received them and a map we proceeded to follow the course drawn on the map, but crossing an open area behind the marina found our way blocked by the muddy seabed as we went aground. Having contacted the marina office, they admitted that they had directed us to slip Green 10 instead of Green 110. Fifteen minutes later, after a cup of tea and tidying up the deck, we refloated and eventually moored up in Green 110. We relaxed by swimming in their pool and then inspected “Light Blue” after her experience in the waters of New York. She had a scum mark 6 inches above the waterline from the swell in the Lincoln Harbour marina and sailing in US waters. She will welcome her clean in New Jersey, where we intend to haul her out for a scrub and polish.

While we relaxed in Haverstraw Marina, we were visited by Jackie and Donal and their two children Pirate Red Jack and Julia. We then took up their invitation and visited their very spacious and comfortable home in upper New York and stayed the night after a very pleasant evening’s chat with them.

Moving on we headed further north and anchored the following night under Storm King Mountain on the west bank of the Hudson. We were alone in a most peaceful location away from the main channel and with trees rising above us up the side of the mountain 50 yards from the shore on which ran the railway line carrying the goods trains north and south. These trains are something to behold with three engines pulling over 100 goods carriages. These passed every hour, but we still managed to get a good night’s sleep as they were travelling very slowly.

The following day we turned south and sailed down the river and anchored under the Palisades cliffs 100 yards off the forest at Huyler Landing, a ruined pontoon. It was quiet and peaceful and one could either view the natural background on our side of the river or we had a clear view of the urban sprawl of Yonkers.

The next day, 27 June, just one month after arriving in the USA, we headed past Manhattan, past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (where so many thousands of immigrants were processed on arrival in America from Europe) and out into the channel leading to the Atlantic. We found an excellent anchorage just beside Sandy Hook coastguard station and slept peacefully. We had received a severe weather report that there would be severe thunderstorms and lightning and winds up to 60 knots. I contacted the coastguard and was told that the threat had passed and to expect 10-15 knot winds. Shortly afterwards we experienced the most spectacular thunder and lightning storm and winds up to over 20 knots, but we were safe and sound where we had anchored.

During this our first month in the USA, we had visited no less than five states (Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey). The day after we headed from Sandy Hook to Mannasquan Inlet and tied up at Mannasquan Marine Basin, where we stayed for a month and cleaned and polished “Light Blue” while she was on the hard. I will relate our travel tales of 28 June to 31 July while LB was on dry land in my next episode.

Lots of love from Siobhán and Lawry

8 August 2007

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