I drive in the right lane over the Pell Bridge when traveling from Jamestown to Newport, not because I like following behind a parade of mini vans but because from the top of the bridge on a clear day you can spot the coast of Block Island (http://bit.ly/OQsnvY) peaking over the horizon. Having been to Block multiple times growing up, the small island holds a special place in my heart. Peering out across the ocean, it beckoned me, daring me to point the bow of the Karen Marie southwest and make a visit.
26-plus nautical miles away from our mooring, it was more than twice the distance of any of our previous weekend destinations. And the Atlantic Ocean is a completely different animal than Narragansett Bay. The logical thing to do would be to wait another year, get more sailing experience and then make the trip. It should come as no surprise that at the crack of dawn one Thursday morning in September, Karen and I dropped our mooring line and off we went, sailing south by southwest.
With only 10 knots of wind, the ocean was flat calm. My only gripe would be with the brisk 50-degree temperature. With an average speed of four and a half knots, we weren’t setting any course records but we were moving along. Watching the sunrise from out at sea on my first real trip was an experience I won’t soon forget. A smile stayed fixed on my face as we sailed passed the Point Judith lighthouse and across the ocean to Block. The sun was shining, Billy Joel was playing through the stereo, my first mate even managed to take a nap in the cockpit; life was good. I had intended to sail the entire way, door-to-door on this trip but when the wind died down and our speed decreased to one measly knot, we had to fire up the engine and motor into the harbor.
Like I said earlier, I had been to Block many times before but as a kid, my face usually buried in either a Hardy Boys book or my Gameboy for most of the trip. Arriving in my own boat was a very rewarding experience.
Our time on the island was everything Karen and I could have hoped for. We stopped by the famous restaurant called The Oar and enjoyed celebratory cocktails. We rented mopeds (I had turned my nose up at that activity in the past, regarding it as too touristy. I was wrong.) and drove around the entire island, taking in its naturally beauty, which with rolling green hills and stone fences reminds me of Ireland. We enjoyed multiple alfresco meals on the back of the boat and enjoyed ample amounts of R&R.
Another element that made this trip unique was that at four days long, it would be the longest amount of consecutive time we spent aboard the boat. Thanks to a solar powered phone charger and the small miracle that is instant coffee, we fared pretty well.
One aspect that kind of stunk was the shower situation. We had assumed that we would be able to use the showers at the nearby Boat Basin marina despite the fact that we were on a town-owned mooring. “We’ll walk up there with our towels and they’ll never know we’re not staying there,” I remember saying.
It turns out the Boat Basin in an attempt to foil our ingenious plot uses a token system to operate the showers. Thinking that she would have better luck than myself, I sent Karen off to ask the dock master if we could purchase a few tokens. That plan succeeded as Karen returned with two tokens and a warning from the dock master not to ask for any more. We had to make that one count! (We did have a solar shower onboard but with temperatures in the low 50’s we opted against using it.)
We would face a technical difficulty at the strangest time. On the afternoon of the last day of our trip the harbor master pulled up alongside our boat to collect the $20 mooring fee and tied a line from his 25-foot center console to our shroud (the piece that connects the mast supports to the boat itself). The force of the boat on a windy day was enough to snap the shroud. It definitely should not have broken from that amount of force, exposing a weakness in my rigging, but never the less, I flashed him a death stare before relinquishing my $20.
Sailing home with a broken shroud would be out of the question because doing so could cause the mast to fall over. Not something I was willing to risk. Using the halyards and a half dozen super-sized zip ties I supported the mast the best I could for our trip home, which is where the story gets interesting.
Leaving Block Island at 5 am we would be introduced to 20-plus knots of wind and three to four foot seas on the nose. It became quickly apparent that there would be no naps or Billy Joel on this trip. Waves were three or four feet in height but there were also a few five to six foot suckers hiding in the mix. I’ve been in seas like this before but from the flybridge of an Egg Harbor some 15 feet above the water line. Now, at a foot off the water, the seas were much more intimidating. With white knuckles on the wheel, I did my best to hit the waves diagonally instead of head on to make the ride smoother. Still, debris from waves often broke over our bow and landed in the cockpit. Only able to do four knots in the rough stuff made for a long battle with the angry seas, but it was a battle I’m happy to report we won. As we neared Newport the seas laid down and we were able to have something for breakfast. We would tie up to our mooring around 10:30, only five and a half hours after departing but I felt like I aged a year.
Bruised, beaten and covered in more salt than a large order of fries, Karen and I limped to our car and headed for home and a shower! Crossing over the bridge, I again took the right lane and through bleary eyes glanced out towards Block. No longer antagonizing me, it made me proud to look off and see the shadow of the island. I could finally drive in the left lane I thought to myself, until…wait…is that Cuttyhunk out there to the southeast!?