Our Diary Rhode Island to Virginia
I suppose for many of you the summer is now coming to a close - except for our Antipodean readers. We have just passed the 38th degree and before we know it we'll be in the tropics again. In this neck of the woods they call the cruisers "Snow Birds"; migrating south for the winter, although this years Hurricane season has been extremely cruel and has slowed the migration down.

The uncertainty of the weather, the amazing scenery and the friendships make cruising life so full of surprises. Our trip from Newport, Rhode Island to Norfolk, Virginia has encapsulated all of these.

The 150 mile trip from Newport to New York was uneventful. There were a few stops that we wanted to make. They included Mystic and a trip up the Connecticut River. Mystic was a lovely surprise. We anchored about a mile outside and took the dinghy ashore. Our main aim was to have a Pizza at the Mystic Pizza restaurant (made famous by Julie Roberts in her film "Mystic Pizza"). This was delicious and definitely warranted the slogan "a little bit of heaven". The boardwalk along the river front of this delightful town led you to the Mystic Seaport Museum (we found out that you can anchor just off here) which is very picturesque.

From here we went to Essex, Connecticut, just up the Connecticut River. This river is navigable into the heart of the state and is unspoiled with very little industrialisation. Much of the banks are National Park. The next day we set off up the river and travelled 25 miles past wooded banks, rocky outcrops and picturesque villages. The scary thing was negotiating the numerous bridges and overhead cables! There is a mixture of bascule bridges (where part of the bridge hinges up to near-vertical), lifting bridges (where a whole section of the bridge moves vertically), swing bridges (where a section of the bridge rotates on horizontal axis), and fixed bridges (which don't move - and need to be high enough for us to pass under!).
We returned to Hamburg Cove where we met "Sunset" - who had seen us in Hadley Harbour over 2 months earlier. The evening was warm and gentle so it was so nice to share a "sun downer" with Linda and Rod. After this we had an invigorating swim in the fresh water of this delightful spot.

After topping up our fuel tank we then set off for the 70 mile trip to New York. We had a great sail with a pleasant breeze that allowed us to fly the spinnaker most of the way. We anchored on the way overnight at Milford, (apparently famous for its oysters). The anchorage was a little lumpy so we set off early the next morning. Unfortunately, I hadn't managed to buy any post cards from Connecticut to send to the children, so we decided to try and pick some up on the way. This turned out to be an impossible task! After trying to land at the Norwalk Islands, Stamford and Greenwich, we abandoned this idea and headed straight for New York, arriving late and anchoring to the north of City Island for the night. (The difficulty of getting ashore and the proximity of stores and shops to the landing places epitomises one of the problems when cruising the US.)

We had planned to stay in NY for about a week which would allow time to see the sights. Where to leave the boat was a bit of a problem, but there are lots of anchorages around City Island (about an hour by subway out of downtown New York). Having anchored safely, the next issue was where to get ashore by dinghy. Firstly we landed the dinghy at a private wharf protected with a locked gate (fortunately it was open), then visited the local library for map, help, etc. No joy here! So we wandered the shore looking for a public landing. One local gent tending his garden offered some assistance, which we accepted with pleasure. Dom and Carol were so helpful - offering us sustenance, producing a map and suggesting that we try the Harlem Yacht Club just a few blocks away. How right they were and what a fabulous find the Harlem Yacht Club turned out to be!

We introduced ourselves to Jack, a Committee member who happened to be at the Club at the time of our arrival, and explained our need for a dinghy dock. Over a drink at the bar with us, Jack consulted with the Vice Commodore, Erwin, and they offered us the use of a Club mooring for a very reasonable sum. Over the course of the next week or so, Gene, the Club's friendly (and expert) bar tender, introduced us to many of the members and we were made welcome by all. The Club house is great with many facilities including a lovely lounge area as well as a very reasonable restaurant, bar, showers, etc.

We soon discovered that the HYC is a very active club and we were invited to join in many of the activities, social as well as sailing, including the opportunity for Keith to go out with other members for race evenings. It was great to see that the members of the Club use their yachts and the Club; they don't just park their boats. The officers of the Club are certainly enthusiastic, dedicated and great ambassadors of the sport. This enthusiasm has created a friendly fun-loving club in the heart of New York City.

The public transport system into New York City was great - a quick bus ride and then about an hour on the clean and safe subway which runs through the Bronx and Harlem. We managed to "walk" New York - an exhausting exercise! Central Park, Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "ground zero" (where the World Trade Centre towers used to stand), Wall Street, SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island! Just to add interest to our visit -the Republican National Convention (to reelect George W Bush) was being held at Madison Square Gardens! So the whole city was buzzing -and full of demonstrators, cops, MIB's and military!

To provide some relief from the sightseeing schedule, we once again tried to get our engine-driven fridge compressor working, since we had access to workshops and drive belts! Unfortunately, during one attempt, a weld broke on the mounting plate which then moved, causing the engine thermostat housing to crack. So the search was on for Ford engine parts - an easy task in the USA, you'd think. But, no - our engine was made in Europe and the parts are not compatible! So we ordered the parts from the UK (very prompt service by Hendy Ford Trucks in Southampton) and were able to enjoy a more relaxed stay in New York using the extra days waiting for the part. Eventually it arrived and we were mobile again - big relief!

However, by this time, the remnants of Hurricane Frances were due to cross the area so we postponed our departure. The Harlem Yacht Club carefully checked all the boats were safe on their moorings. During the height of the storm (in winds in excess of 40 knots) the bridle on our mooring parted! (luckily we were on board). We hastily started the engine and put out an anchor, but the holding wasn't fantastic, so we decided to repair the mooring with one of our bridles. Unfortunately, just as we picked it up again, a wave caused a big surge and Keith got his hand caught between the mooring line and the cleat! With 36,000lbs of boat (17 tons) pulling on him, this was extremely dangerous and exceedingly painful! After Christine motored forward quickly Keith managed to free his hand - but we both feared what we would find under his glove… Luckily he still had all his fingers, but the skin on the pad of his little finger had been scraped off down to the flesh! Yuck! We called the Yacht Club launch and they helped us secure the boat on the mooring and kindly took Keith off to the hospital to get checked. As the storm-force winds were still raking the bay, Christine stayed with the boat in case of another disaster. About 6 hours later, the winds dropped and Keith returned with the verdict that he would live! It could certainly have been a lot worse…

To give the seas a chance to settle down after the storms (and Keith a chance to get over the worst of his pain) we decided to wait another day before leaving. Following up an earlier invitation from Dom and Carol to share a bottle of wine and some tales of our travels, we called by their house and were promptly invited to join them for dinner that evening. What a fabulous time we had! Perfect "al dente" pasta with Dom's homemade sauce - served with some homemade wine… It turns out that Dam and Carol have a wine cellar, complete with 5 barrels for ageing the wine. They crush their own grapes and make the most spectacular wine. We tasted the various vintages (the latest about to be made) and were so impressed with the volume and quality of the output. And when Carol discovered I do Hardanger white work embroidery, she kindly showed me her daughter's antique wedding dress - beautiful handmade Irish lace. The evening was over too soon - we felt privileged to have met such a lovely couple.

Our next adventure was just around the corner (literally) as we left City Island to sail through New York City on our way south. Part of the route through the city goes past Roosevelt Island - joined to the mainland by about 5 bridges. The passage on the west side of the island was our preferred course, because the bridges were high enough for us to pass under; the eastern passage requires the lower bridges to stop all the road traffic and open for the boats. Because of the delays, it turned out that we were trying to leave on September 11 - the anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Centre - the Coast Guard suddenly announced that all vessels must use the eastern passage. However when we contacted the bridge tender, he said he wouldn't open the bridges! Meanwhile, about 10 yachts were milling around trying to stem 5-6 knots of tide in an area called "Hells Gate"! After lots of us called the Coast Guard again, they agreed that they would provide an armed escort for the yachts down the west passage! So we had an interesting time motoring past downtown Manhattan! We even managed to sail past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island before heading south around Cape May and into the Delaware.

After two days and a night we anchored off a marshy inlet to catch some sleep and wait for a favourable tide to get through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal (5-6 knots of current - so you have to time it right!). By now there was almost no wind so we motored all the way to Annapolis.

Annapolis is the "sailing capital" of the US - and also home to the US Naval Academy. The slogans on the T-shirts describe it as a "drinking town with a sailing problem"! The Naval Academy is fascinating - a mixture of a beautiful university campus, a small town, and a military academy. Each midday there is a muster of all 4000-odd midshipmen, including military band, saluting colours, and marching. Very impressive.

Our next passage took us about a third of the way down the Chesapeake Bay to a small fishing community on Tangier Island. The Cruising Guide mentions that the people on the island have retained the original accent of their forebears from the West Country in Britain. The island is also the centre of the Blue Crab industry and renowned for its crabs. After a long day (about 12 hours) we arrived just at dusk and decided to risk the channel into the harbour (which the Guide said was about 2.2m and we draw 1.9m). Got safely inside and laid anchors fore-and-aft to keep us on the side of the channel. One of the locals, Billy, came alongside asking if we had a spare beer - we later decided he was the town "hop" head after he offered us Marijuana or Coke (which we declined!)!!! He stayed talking for a couple of hours (in the weird local accent) and later went off to get us some of the local Blue Crabs. Eventually we wished him good night - thoughts of the film "Deliverance" came to mind!!!!

But our adventures on Tangier Island weren't over… Next morning we woke to find the wind had come up in the night and changed direction - and pushed us to the side of the channel and we were aground!!! High tide wasn't due for another 5-6 hours, so Keith laid a kedge anchor off to our side (to stop us being blown further aground) and, over the next few hours we gradually winched ourselves into deeper water. What a relief! We were very pleased to get away from Tangier Island…

We set off towards Norfolk (the start of the ICW - Intra Coastal Waterway - an inshore passage all the way to Miami) only to discover that sea conditions were rapidly deteriorating. The tail end of Hurricane Ivan was starting to move towards the area. Studying the charts and the Cruising Guides (while listening to the weather forecast) we decided to run for shelter on the south side of the Chesapeake - still about 25 miles away. During the afternoon, winds and seas increased, and conditions were very uncomfortable. And then our spare dinghy which we were towing came adrift! A good practice for Man Overboard… Rather risky but we finally got it secured again and continued on our way. We entered the Rappahannock River with conditions still pretty rough, with lightning on the horizon, and Keith had to hand-steer against the wind, seas and current, but finally we rounded Corrotoman Point into the smaller inlet which we hoped would prove a safe haven for us to ride out the storms. Luckily things were much quieter here and we managed to anchor with enough deep water around us for safety. Within an hour the most amazing electrical storm passed overhead - with one bolt of lightning hitting the near shore; the thunderclap was deafening! We disconnected every electrical device we could and battened down the hatches against the driving rain… and prayed!

And we're still here 2 days later - safe - and waiting for the last of Hurricane Ivan to pass. It certainly makes us appreciate being out of the tropics - we'd hate to experience the full force of the hurricanes and tropical storms that seem to be galloping across the Caribbean this year. In Annapolis we came across a notice detailing the boats in Grenada during the hurricane and their current state; damaged, sunk, safe, etc. We were astonished to see how many of these we had met in our travels!!!

Our next destination is Norfolk and through the ICW to Charleston - when we'll review whether or not we'll get to Miami to meet Shirley & Doug on 10th October!!!