Friday, August 15, 1997

Long Island Sound Circuit, Ocean City, MD, and Solomons Island - August 1997

When a friend invited us up to sail with them on their MacGregor 65' on Long Island Sound, Joyce and I decided to take the MacGregor 26X along and tour the Sound. The trip up was uneventful, towing with the Chevy Astro minivan, and took about 5 hours. Launching at a private ramp (with prior arrangements), rigging and motoring over to the Knickerbocker Yacht club in Port Washington on Manhassett Bay took another couple hours. After dinner at the club with our friends we walked back to the dock where many of the club's boats were tied up. The MacGregor, from a distance, looked similar to the others, but was the only boat there that had been in Maryland 8 hours earlier (and the only sailboat there capable of 20mph). BoatUS has a trailerable boat "club" that offers a ramp locator service that might prove helpful when planning a trip to unfamiliar waters, although one can usually find a suitable ramp and parking for tow vehicle and trailer by "asking around". In Florida I once parked at an auto body shop that had a large fenced yard. Here we found a parking spot at the boatyard next to the yacht club. The club had some vacant moorings so we used one for the night.

Early the next morning we set out, heading out of Manhasset Bay onto Long Island Sound. It was quite calm so the Honda 50hp purred along, pushing us to the next bay over. Hempstead Harbor was a long, narrow stretch with an interesting channel at the end, which we took all the way up to the old town wharf. A few miles doesn't make much difference at 15mph. Back onto the sound the wind had picked up from the west so it was wing and wing along the coast past Oak Neck and into Oyster Bay. There is an interesting little pond called the sand hole at the tip of Lloyd Neck, so we followed another boat into the tricky, narrow channel and anchored for lunch. It's a popular place for beach combing and swimming. Next on the agenda was a nice sail on a beam reach with increasing winds up Oyster Bay to Cold Spring Harbor. Seeing little of a "town", we beached the boat on a prominent sandbar for a short walk. Powering upwind into Oyster Bay Harbor, we found the town of Oyster Bay to have good restaurants within walking distance, although we were offered a ride by a local yachtsman who was just returning from a daysail. Theodore Roosevelt lived much of his life here and his home is open for tours, but it was too late in the day for that, and our ambitious schedule (and my nature) require an early morning start. The tides vary greatly from harbor to harbor along the sound, depending on the length and shape of the bays, and we were surprised at the 6' change in Oyster harbor.

On the way out in the morning, we spotted a MacGregor 26X on a mooring. We wondered if the owner would ever trailer the boat anywhere. Some people don't bother, but they miss out on one of the best reasons to own the boat in the first place. Joyce enjoyed the pleasant sailing conditions as we continued wing and wing to Huntington Bay. Huntington Harbor was jam-packed with boats. We found a lively restaurant with a band for dinner, and anchored out near the shoreline. Later we had to move to a second anchorage as our boat swung too close to the channel. The next morning we motored over to NorthPort bay and beached the boat for a walk. Sand City Island nearby had a large derelict cement structure that was difficult to figure out. The artifacts of longtime inhabited areas can seem strange. Under sail again, out of Huntington Bay and ever eastward to Port Jefferson. I had been in Port Jefferson before and remembered a quaint town with a great waterfront restaurant.

  On the way in we stopped in a little bay where several other boats were anchored, although the chart indicated "spoil area". We anchored and were backing up toward a beach, intending to place a stern anchor when "clunk!" I backed into a rock, which was a foot or so below the surface. I presume this was part of the "spoil". Inspecting the damage (broken prop blade), we decided we better limp into Port Jefferson. We used the furling genoa when we could as the vibration was bad, and mostly sailed in and anchored stern-to on a sandy beach, the better to change the prop. My tools were barely adequate, something to think about, but we found a replacement prop at a West Marine and put it on, despite some rather large waves from boats in the harbor. Carrying a spare prop and proper tools is probably a good idea, particularly if you are in a remote area, although I had never damaged a prop in 30 years.

The next day we popped back into Port Jefferson for breakfast and a nice walk around town, before departing for the almost 30 miles along the somewhat barren south shore to the nearest destination, Mattituck Inlet. It was more wing and wing with pleasant west winds. We enjoyed the stereo and reading, and had lunch aboard. About 1pm the wind picked up and the sky darkened. It looked like a squall was approaching from the west. The sleigh ride was exhilarating, with speeds up to 10kts surfing down the increasing waves. Suddenly a stronger gust blew and I began to think about reefing the sails. I lowered and started the motor to increase directional stability, and put on "foulies". Before I knew it the whisker pole had folded and the genoa was flapping about. Quickly pulling the Genoa sheets amidships, I was then able to partially furl the sail and go forward to remove the damaged pole. Looking aft I saw the visibility "whiting out" behind me and knew I only had seconds to drop the main. With the strong winds, probably 30kts, behind me and no time to steer into the wind, I loosened the main halyard and began to claw the mainsail down.

The blast struck at about 50kts, with blinding sheets of rain, causing the boat to lurch around violently sideways. I literally hung on to the mast for dear life. Joyce had gone below and put in the hatch when the first rain drops had appeared earlier, so could not tell what was going on. I stomped my foot on the cabin top so she would know I was still there. After the most vicious blast, the wind abated somewhat and with great difficulty I was able to complete lashing the main and furling the remainder of the genoa. Back in the cockpit and under power, we settled into the trough between waves and motored smoothly downwind at about 10kts, matching our speed to the waves. This boat is incredible under these conditions, because of its ability to keep up with the waves. It's like motoring with almost no wave action. Mattituck creek was approaching, and we entered the narrow entrance, with two 90degree bends in the channel, and headed upstream to the Mattituck town dock.

The town had a free dock and boat ramp, with an attendant in the free, clean restroom and shower facility. This was most unusual, and most appreciated. The town itself was a short walk and had all facilities, groceries, restaurants etc. and a military museum with tanks and other armor. Mattituck also boasts the distinction of being accessible from the waters of both Great Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound, with two entrance channels, north and south. We planned to visit again from the other side. We spent the night at the Mattituck pier, in tranquil surroundings.

Easing back out onto the Sound on a warm, misty morning, the adrenaline pumping events of the previous day seemed like a dream, or nightmare, with only the bent whisker pole as mute evidence. We motored along in the calm conditions about 20 miles, until able to hoist sail again on the rising breeze and broad reach to Orient Point, about 5 miles further east.

The channel between Orient point and Plum Island has strong currents, so we motor sailed through and ducked behind Plum Island and anchored for lunch. Although the water was chilly, I braved the cold and took a short swim around the boat. We always carry "shorty" wet suits, which serve as buoyancy and insulation, but Joyce deferred this time. From Plum we sailed across to Shelter Island's Coecle's Harbor, through a fast running ebb tidal current, and into a large and perfectly protected harbor. We quickly found a pebbly beach and "beached" the boat for a stroll to a nearby deserted home on a point and fantasized about who lived there, what it would be like, and why was this beautiful place left to ruin? That evening we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset and lovely breeze.

The next day we set off on our planned circumnavigation of Shelter Island. With a nice sailing breeze we headed over to the town of Orient. We tied up at the end of a local yacht club pier. It takes a little "chutzpah" to cruise around, sometimes you don't know exactly where you can tie up, and every place is leery of "cruisers" who overstay their welcome, pollute, and are inconvenient to the locals in other ways, so we try to be discreet and not cause problems. The 26x, because of its relatively small size, shallow draft, and excellent maneuverability, can sneak into and out of places inaccessible to larger, deeper draft boats, without the hassles of anchoring and dinghying.

Orient was a pleasant place, quite historic, with interesting old homes and a nice ice-cream parlor and historical society museum. We had a brisk sail from Orient over to Greenport, where we found a quiet marina way back up the creek that was nearby to everything yet secluded, and with a pool to boot! We had dinner at a local, rustic fish house (the type of place where patrons carve their names in the tables), then walked further and found a really nice looking place. OOPS! Better walk first, eat second! We did not take bicycles on this trip, but they greatly improve your mobility and are worth the trouble, if you plan to stop into many small towns.

Departing under full sail the next morning, We were surprised to see the WWII liberty ship "John W. Brown" at anchor outside Greenport. The ship's home port is Baltimore, Md. As we continued our sail around Shelter Island, we stopped briefly into Noyack, on the opposite shore of Noyack Bay, a small bedroom community with little to recommend it, then bounced over to West harbor, which at least had a not too pebbly beach to walk on. We finally made it to Sag harbor, which is definitely worth a visit, tying up at the town dockage facility. The hot showers and excellent facilities were much appreciated. We spent the whole next day in Sag Harbor. The town has an interesting mix of history, entertainment, restaurants, etc. and we needed a "lay" as in "lay around" day. Sometimes when cruising going nowhere is part of the fun. To avoid a second nights dockage expense, we departed @4 pm and sailed across to Coecles Harbor again, thus completing our circumnavigation of Shelter Island, and were rewarded with another stunning sunset.

We didn't make it back to Mattituck, or visit Great or Little Peconic Bays, or pass through the cut over to the Atlantic Ocean. Those adventures will have to wait until another time. Nor did we sail to Block Island or Newport, both popular cruising destinations, but we had visited them years before, with an earlier model MacGregor 26. We did sail across the sound to Essex, Connecticut, and enjoyed the trip upriver and the great museum (with replica of Henry Hudson's "Half Moon") and historic homes and restaurants. There was even an antique auto parade.

With deteriorating weather forecast and an ominous oily calm in the morning, we blitzkrieged back to Manhassett Bay at flank speed 85 miles in 7 hours with only a quick stop in Milford, Connecticut (home of the world's largest town square) for lunch. The town fathers had recently completed a new and beautifully landscaped municipal marina, with complete facilities.

The wind picked up and the drizzle started just as we entered Manhasset Bay, so we found a vacant yacht club mooring and had dinner aboard. It rained harder but we were snug as bugs and actually stayed inside until 10am the next day, when it was back to the ramp for haul out. We made arrangements to sail with our friends again in the regular Thursday night race, having dinner afterwards at the yacht club. Earlier they had taken us for a tour of some of the nicer areas including a tour of one of the Guggenheim brothers' homes. It's always nice to see how the other half lives, but are they happy with their expensive cars, huge homes, servants and yachts? Damn right!! After spending the night aboard the boat on the trailer (our personal motel six), we left New York and headed down the freeway towards the next half of our trip, a week in Ocean City, Maryland.

The O.C. trip was a " keep Momma happy" kind of trip. My wife, Joyce, is a good sport, and just spent 8 days roaming around Long Island Sound on a comfortable but admittedly not luxurious Mac26X sailboat, so it was time for some LUXURY! We rented a two bedroom, two-bath condo with pool and boat slip, and our son came to stay with us for the week. While we stayed put, the boat got daily use 6 out of 7 days. When we launched it we ran into an acquaintance from D.C. who happened to be on vacation with his family, so we invited them all (6) for a sail. The 9 of us had a ball in windy conditions, even going out on the trapeze (why should Hobie sailors have all the fun?).

My son likes to kneeboard so we got up and went early, before the wind and other boaters were up. We took turns driving the boat. I use skis, which I find easier than the kneeboard. Joyce got to snooze in late, and we returned with a big appetite for breakfast. One day we sailed down to the rt. 50 bridge, and had the unique experience of sailing at exactly the same speed as the tidal current, thus "going nowhere" (what else is new?). We signaled the bridge to open and applied a little power to go through and out the inlet into the ocean. It was a little roly-poly but we hung in there and even had lunch (and kept it too!). All in all we sailed about 10 miles, before returning to the back bay.

On a previous trip to O.C with a MacGregor 19 we sailed down to Chincoteague, out into the ocean, and back to O.C. at night in the moonlight, a 60-mile round trip. Joyce has an elderly Aunt and Uncle in Montego Bay, but they said their sailing days were over, and they now prefer cruise ships.

At weeks end, we loaded up the boat and headed for the Chesapeake Venture owner's Club rendezvous in Solomons Island Md. Another launch, then three days on the Patuxent river in southern Maryland sailing, racing, and testing out the crab cakes at various waterfront restaurants. A great time and a nice group of people.

Finally, 19 days and three adventures later, the MacGregor was wheeled into the yard at A-1 Sailboats for a complete wash, wax, oil and filter change and interior cleanup. No repairs necessary, except to replace the 1' whisker pole with a 1 1/2" pole.

Happy Sailing everyone from Cap't Jim!