By Dejan Radeka
I closed on my new (to me) 30 on June 10th. The boat was located at Oak Leaf Marina in Old Saybrook, CT. I spent that weekend cleaning, organizing, and going over systems and gear. In terms of electronics the boat is very well equipped, with Raymarine radar, chart plotter-GPS, a plethora of speed/depth/wind instruments, and hydraulic autopilot. Little did I know then, how invaluable this equipment would be.
I spent the intervening week planning the delivery run. I even took a canvas bag full of charts, the 2017 Eldridge, and a “New England Cruising Guide” on a short business trip; spreading the charts out across the hotel room a couple of evenings!
It is just under 60 miles from the marina in Old Saybrook to my mooring in the Sakonnet River in Middletown, RI. Based on the tides for the proposed delivery weekend (June 17-18) I decided to split the run into two parts over two days.
There were several factors to think about. The Ebb was really early each day (5:42am and 6:42am), and you need to make it to the convergence point off Newport before the next Flood, if you don’t want to buck tides. That is a bit tough to do in the 6 hour window. Indeed Eldridge actually shows a countering Flood starting inside (west) of Pt Judith at 5 hours past the Ebb at the Race so it really isn’t possible in a 6.5 knot boat, even with the strong Ebb boosting you down LI Sound.
I did not want to spend a night in Pt Judith “harbor of refuge” because I hate that place, it is not comfortable at all. I also thought about running out to Block Island as a first leg, but decided against that just in case I encountered any gear or systems problems on the first big run. So I decided to go to Stonington, CT as the first leg (about 25 miles), and then do the balance from Stonington to home (about 33 miles) on the second day. Stonington is a nice little town, with good restaurants and shops, and is a nice layover. I called Dodson’s Boatyard and reserved a mooring for Saturday night. They charge $50 and you get free launch service and showers.
“Interesting” would not begin to describe our trip..
I got all of the gear, provisions, dinghy, etc loaded up in and on the car on Friday the 16th. My wife dropped my daughter and I at the marina on Friday night with the dinghy, gear food etc. We slept on the boat and woke up at 5am to catch the 5:42 ebb. We were a bit bleary eyed and hit snooze a couple of times but managed to get up, eat and get organized, and drop the dock lines by 6:15am. I hailed the railroad bridge, they opened almost immediately and we were out under the bridge by about 6:30am.
Visibility was about 1/4-1/2 mile going out of the river. There was no wind and we were under power with sails furled. Seas were calm. No sooner did we get past that last breakwater and buoy, when the fog socked in. At that point I turned to look back at the buoy as it disappeared into the murk, turned to look at my daughter, and she said “now what?”
Well, I took a good close look at that chart plotter screen and decided to just try the next buoy! I also fired up the radar. The Raymarine has a really nice “overlay” feature, which overlays the radar scan (in a dark pink color) over the chart/GPS view. We found the next buoy in short order, and so we proceeded.
We also found a tremendous number of small fishing boats. You would be amazed at how many people fish out on LI Sound and Fisher’s Island Sound in the fog! These boats show up on the radar as the tiniest pink dot and are very easy to miss.
Our watch system incorporated four key elements; 1) watching the radar/plotter, 2) visual watch ahead to port and starboard, 3) listening for horns, and 4) monitoring VHF channel 16 traffic.
All of the commercial traffic is really good about making security announcements, especially in limited visibility conditions. To assess their relative threat, I kept a paper chart up on deck so that I could quickly assess their position and course relative to our position and course. For anyone out front, we would watch the radar.
I did end up hailing the Cross Sound Ferry Mary Ellen when we were off New London because I was certain we would be crossing their course. They acknowledged our position and advised us to hold our course. We passed at about 150 yards.
We made that first leg run down the Sound and down Fisher’s Island Sound under power with no wind, and to Stonington, in 4 hours, completely using the chart plotter with the radar overlay view. Visibility was no more than 100 feet.
We had to pick our way into Stonington using the radar and could only see detail once we got into the outer harbor and approaching the inner harbor. Dodson’s is in the inner harbor and so we had a nice quiet mooring there. They monitor channel 78 and they are very efficient at guiding you in. Their mooring field is a very well laid out grid. We were settled in by 11:30 or so and took a nice nap, followed by tuna sandwiches for lunch.
My wife drove to Stonington in the afternoon to switch off with my daughter and my daughter drove home. We had a nice afternoon in town and a nice dinner at the restaurant right on the dock.
Sunday morning’s Ebb (at the Race) was 6:42am. The fog was so thick when I woke up at 6am I could barely see the next boat. I did a quick calculation with a check of Elridge and the chart and decided we could go back to sleep for another hour or so, hoping for a little lift of the fog, and try to leave around 9. We could still make Point Judith in time for the turn of the tide. We ended up dropping the mooring at 9:30am and made our way out into the same pea soup for the run home. Getting past Watch Hill was a pain. There was a very sloppy swell and chop, and an amazing number of small fishing boats sitting around barely visible. This area is strewn with reefs and you really have to pay attention to get out of there. We were rolling a lot but I did not want to distract from our concentration to put the main up. We waited until we were well clear of Watch Hill to raise the main and dampen the roll.
Once we got settled in we had one startling moment. My wife saw two blips on the radar, ahead of us. I heard to boats talking on the VHF, and based on their very loose description of their location and course I figured they were our two blips. The surprise came when my wife suddenly said “do you see that?” “What?” was my reply. We strained into the murk when we saw a faint red and blue blob. It very quickly took shape to become a spinnaker! We were basically on a head on course with the other sailboat! I quickly disengaged our autopilot and made a quick turn to starboard (and upwind). They ghosted by, with 4-5 guys on deck peering through the murk. All I could muster was “having fun yet?”
By the way, they were 40 feet, and the other sailboat, which was about 50 feet (we found him too, on the radar) came across as very small blips too, which surprised me.
The rest of the run down to PJ was uneventful. The PJ Fast Ferry passed astern of us. He had announced his approach on VHF and I knew to look for him. We mostly motor sailed with main and jib up. We even got 45 min of “real” sailing, killing the engine when the wind popped up. PJ to Sakonnet was similar but with a very sloppy following sea. The autopilot did not like it and I had to hand steer the last 2.5 hours. We didn’t “see” any other boats between Newport and Sakonnet. The fog was really dense heading into the Sakonnet River and our cove. We had to use the radar to find the boats on the moorings and pick our way in one by one.
The second leg was 6 hours. All in all not too bad, though pretty exhausting. In hindsight I probably should have thought twice about pushing through on this run but as we all deal with work schedules etc I forged ahead. Had the electronics failed, I did have the courses plotted out ahead, but it would have been really tough navigation with the limited visibility. In the event we’re looking forward to a fun summer with the new boat.