Let There Be Light

I watched through envy-filled eyes as boaters who had done hardly an hour’s work were lowered from the travelift to the resting river below.

How!? I mean, gahhhh, another one,” I’d stammer, pointing wildly at the carefree looking family sailing off into summer.

Karen rolled her eyes and went back to varnishing. We had accomplished a fair amount in early spring; the brightwork had been tended to, the mast received six coats of varnish and was really starting to shine again. The hull was waxed and painted and still … there was much left to do. It was time to call in the troops; we asked my parents to come up for the weekend to help blitz through the remaining projects.

On our to-do list was two tasks that had eluded us since we bought the boat four seasons ago: Fixing the wiring and adding running water. Yes, water and electric, a reminder of how involved this restoration project has truly been.

IMG_91200700 on an unseasonably warm Saturday morning would come, they would arrive and it was game on. Now something of an annual tradition, we quickly settled into the tasks at hand. Karen and my mom fell into a rhythm of chatting and working, first painting the hull of the dinghy with an inflatable bottom paint before adding a layer of varnish to the toe rail.

My old man and I opened the slide-open draw that housed the boat’s electrical and exhaled deeply while taking in the sight. To explain the current electrical situation, well, let’s just say I’ve seen tumbleweeds with more order and organization. Thankfully, my dad has an above-average handle on marine electrical and we had a new DC panel in place within a couple hours. We’d go on to swap out some tarnished old cabin lights with some glistening new LED lamps.IMG_4242

With a couple flips of the breaker we had light. It was a little victory but certainly one worth celebrating.

Next up was the water tank. Because of a design flaw and many years of neglect, the water tank beneath the sole of the salon is susceptible to contamination from bilge water. After working through a half dozen possible options, I decided the best solution would be to place a 26-gallon Plastimo water tank under the forward V-berth. The most demanding aspect of this project was acquiring all the fittings, hoses and pumps we’d need; the actual installation was completed within an hour. Besides adding running water to the head and salon sinks, we also ran a hose to the stern of the cockpit where it will serve as an outdoor shower.IMG_9137

We worked hard that day and were proud of what we accomplished. We had a few laughs and spent time unplugged talking about our hopes for the coming summer. Looking back on that weekend, I realize you don’t really need to be on the water to enjoy the positive affects of boating. The season has begun.

A Difficult Good-bye

When one journey ends, it’s natural to take a look back at how it began. And that can now be said about my time in Newport, RI and with Yachting magazine.

My Newport story began on a warm April morning, nearly two and a half years ago. It was zero dark thirty as I drove from Long Island to Newport for an interview with Yachting, an opportunity that seemed to materialize overnight. My mind raced faster than the headlights of my old Honda.

Do I really want to move to Newport? Is this job right for me? What if I bomb this interview? I thought to myself.

These questions snaked through my mind as my car weaved through the wooded single-lane roads of Rhode Island. Then the woods seemed to open up and I crossed the Jamestown Verrazano Bridge and saw Narragansett Bay for the first time. And an impressive sight it was. I followed the GPS a few miles further and came to the Pell Bridge, the same one I have talked about countless times in this blog, but for good reason. The view was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Sailboats (a foreign wind-powered craft) and sunlight danced a top the expansive blue water. The Newport skyline rose in front of my dashboard.

Like after a first kiss, sparks flew, I laughed and said aloud, “yeah, this is going to do just fine. New York, it’s been fun.”

As you can guess, I got the job and moved to the City by the Sea a week later and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then I’ve worked with some of the best people you could hope to meet, I’ve traveled the world, met people so interesting that they’d put the Dos Equis guy to shame. I ate at some great restaurants and drank at a few awful bars. I bought a boat. And broke a boat. And forged an unlikely friendship with an old carpenter who helped me fix it up.

Karen and I have raced around the bay enjoying incredible sailing and at times, sailed in circles, becoming frustrated nearly to the point of tears. We’ve watched mega yachts, schooners, America’s Cup yachts and cruise ships come and go while sitting on the back of our boat. Yes. Life in Newport for a 25-year-old dreamer has been damn good.

But I will be moving to another good home in Essex, Connecticut to become the senior managing editor of Power & Motoryacht magazine, one of the most respected marine magazines in the world. I feel that same type of excitement that I did two and a half years ago, the kind that you only get when you don’t know what the future has in store.

As I drive west over the Pell Bridge to Connecticut, I’ll look back in my rear-view mirror and see a town where I left nothing but good friends and great memories. I’ll hope that one day, years from now, I’ll drive back over that bridge and my future children will look up from their iPhone 20’s and become as mesmerized as I was when I first crossed it.

The story continues…

Cruising to Cuttyhunk Island

Our alarm clock blared at the all too early hour of 5:00. Groggy, yet excited for our 26-mile leg to Cuttyhunk, I sat up and peered out our portlight to watch the first rays of sun crest the horizon. What I saw surprised me … nothing. A blanket of fog smothered Jamestown Harbor. It wasn’t until 7:00 that the sunlight permeated the low-lying cloud cover and we set out. A piping-hot cup of coffee was a welcome start to our delayed trip. Rolling 4-foot swells in the inlet, not so much. We were headed west, in the direction of the wind, requiring us to run the engine the entire trip.

The relentless barrage of seas on our starboard side made for a rolly trip. After four hours of bracing ourselves in the cockpit, the southern end of the southernmost Elizabethan Island appeared off our bow; we were finally approaching Cuttyhunk. The hilly Ireland-like landscape is a feast for your eyes, but the narrow approach to Cuttyhunk Harbor demanded concentration. A few silent Hail Marys later and we were tied to a mooring. I opted to celebrate our successful trip by diving into the cool-clear water, which the island is known for. The stress and apprehension of the day washed off before I could surface.

Even Karen jumped in for a swim.

Even Karen jumped in for a swim.

I had been to Cuttyhunk before, but as a young lad, and the clear water was something I remembered well. The other thing I remembered was a World War II bunker on the highest point of the island that served as a U-boat lookout. Filled with equal parts energy and imagination, my brother and I climbed through it for what seemed like hours. It was disappointing to see that the fort has since been boarded up; the view of Martha’s Vineyard from it however was incredible, especially through adult eyes.

This walk was followed by a lazy afternoon of swimming, sipping cold beer and checkers. A dinner of ribs aboard my parent’s boat was a delicious way to end the day. We cleared our plates and were content to sit in silence and watch the sun set behind the hills of Cuttyhunk. First a shade of yellow, it morphed into a brilliant orange before turning into a deep red that illuminated the sky and mirror-calm water around us.

Waking up with sun pouring through our overhead hatch and fresh air wafting through the boat refreshed and energized Karen and I and we immediately set out to explore Cuttyhunk. A small bakery, just feet from the dinghy dock attracted mooring dwellers like mice to cheese. Breakfast of pastries and coffee was a simple, yet satisfying start of the day.

The first stop on our island hike was a small non-denominational church with nautical décor that hasn’t changed much in its 100-plus years of service. A one room schoolhouse and library were both closed, but peeking through the windows, you couldn’t help but marvel at the quaint way of life here.

A well-worn trail took us from the highest point of the island, and the bunker I remembered from my childhood, to additional World War II era observation bunkers that were still open for kids, like myself, to climb into. Dreams of being a U-Boat spotter flooded my consciousness. We tried to get to the southern-most point of the island but a flooded trail stood in our way. Maybe next year.

An afternoon dinghy ride took us past a 3-mile long stretch of land owned by the Forbes family called Nashawena Island. We were shocked to see a wild herd of Scottish Highland Cattle strolling the beach. Set against a backdrop of rolling green hills, it’s easy to believe we were somehow transported to northern Europe. And that was before a curious seal poked its head out of the water just a couple hundred feet from our raft.

Our attention-starved puppy entertained us, when we stopped at the beach, with her impressive swimming abilities and seemingly endless energy. A respectable runner myself, Zoe seemed to be smiling as she smoked me in a series of beach races. Another alfresco dinner and drop-dead gorgeous sunset wrapped up our short time on the island.

Cuttyhunk Island has a way of forcing a simple lifestyle on you. It’s a place that makes you face life’s tough questions like: “Do I go swimming then hike, or hike then go swimming?” Like a pair of boys running around an empty bunker, my two days here reminded me that sometimes it’s the simplest things that leave you with the sweetest memories.

Going Ashore in East Greenwich

The mooring line dropped to the water below, the engine hummed and our bow was pointed north up Narragansett Bay like it has many times before. But this time it felt special, maybe it was the relief of knowing that all the trip preparation was finally in our wake. This was day one of a week-long sailing vacation and our longest trip aboard the Karen Marie to date.

Hurricane Arthur rudely positioned itself off the coast of Rhode Island, forcing us north into the protected waters of the Bay. Stiff 20-30 knot winds made for a sporty trip to East Greenwich, a small and historic port about 20 miles away.

Raising only the mainsail sent us skipping along to our destination at 5-6 knots, so we opted to stick with this arrangement. (Raising the jib would put us at risk for becoming overpowered, especially with the occasional gusts above 30-knots.) During one particularly breezy stretch of the bay, Karen and I decided to reef the mainsail, (a practice where a portion of the sail is lowered and wrapped up, thus reducing the boat’ sail area and speed but increasing control). Our plan worked too well and we were reduced to two measly knots. We raised our sail back up minutes later.

In total, it took about 5 hours for us to reach the forest-lined East Greenwich Bay, where fleets of dinghy sailors swarmed us like pestering mosquitos. We ducked and dodged our way through the narrow channel until we found an open mooring at the East Greenwich Yacht Club. Our location boasted views of numerous marinas to our right and the 480-acre Goddard State Park to our left, where you could occasionally spot horseback riders trotting along the shore.

After settling in, we took a quad-burning walk up a steep hill to the center of town. It was hard not to fall in love with this place immediately. It was quaint and charming yet lively at the same time. Restaurants, bars, boutiques and the always-important ice cream shop lined clean and quiet streets.

With temperatures in the 90’s, we cut our walk short, opting instead to swim in the cool clear water before an alfresco dinner of chicken, rice and grilled carrots. Besides the carrots, which somehow ended up being both under and overcooked at the same time, it was a great meal. With just a bit of room left in our stomachs, we ventured to an Irish pub that we passed earlier called Fat Bellys. A bar with a name that funny is hard to pass up. We toasted to a good start of the vacation and talked about our hopes for the rest of trip.

Only a short car ride away from our home port; as Karen and I walked through quiet streets back to the boat, we both felt like we were in some far off place, a world apart from the daily grind we left behind. I guess the worth of nautical adventures can’t be measured in miles traveled.

The Truth about Boat Trips

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain


 

Most vacations begin with a few clicks of a mouse. Find a flight, hotel, punch in your credit card number, agonize over the tough choices, like choosing between a couple’s massage or a tee time, pack an extra pair of pants and a bathing suit, maybe a shirt with some flowers on it and you’re on your way! The details will work themselves out as the excitement for your trip begins to boil.

Preparing for a weeklong vacation aboard the Karen Marie was not as simple. Try to imagine preparing and packing all the food and drinks you’ll need for a week, your fuel, water, clothes, and sheets. Then there is the need to get the boat ready. There are tanks to fill, rigging to inspect, cleaning, obtaining spare parts and more. Last, but certainly not least, you need to plan your route and watch the weather like a hawk stalking prey.

To prepare for our time aboard, I began making to-do lists. I had grocery lists, engine part lists, lists of things to get from West Marine. I even had a list telling me what other lists I needed to make! It was maddening.

One task on one such list stood out like a cardinal on a snowy day: Replace the mainsail halyard. This would require me to pull Karen to the top of the mast, a chore that we both dreaded. It took some serious negotiations but Karen finally agreed (read: relented) to be pulled to the top. Borrowing a bosun’s chair from our friends at Clark Boat Yard, Karen climbed into the harness and got clipped in. If ever she was going to contemplate getting rid of the boat, or me … or both, this was the time.

I cranked on our mast’s old bronze winches, pulling her up the 35-foot mast a few inches at a time until my shoulders screamed uncle. While catching my breath, I channeled my inner Lombardi and coached Karen to the top. Despite her bravery, the new halyard wouldn’t fit through the masthead. The new line was softer, and expanded when pushed through the tight space, making it impossible to pass through the pulley at the top. Frustrated and tired, our efforts were in vain. Thankfully, we were able to replace the halyard on attempt number two.

“We’re going to need a vacation from this vacation,” said Karen while catching her breath after climbing the mast.

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She wasn’t wrong. Boat trips are unlike any others. They require long hours of planning. But when you cast off, and all that preparation is in your wake, that stress is replaced with something else, something that makes this crazy hobby worth it: the pride in knowing that you and your boat are prepared for the adventures ahead.

And that to-do list, now it only reads: explore, dream, discover.

Unplugged and Recharging

Gonna put the the world away for a minute 

Pretend I don’t live in it 

Sunshine gonna wash my blues away

Zac Brown


I would like to take a few minutes to talk about nomophobia – an epidemic that studies show affect 2 out of 3 Americans. Nomophobia is the fear of being without your cell phone. And for full discretion, I suffer from this disorder (the first step is acknowledging you have a problem, right?). From the time I wake up until my head returns to the pillow at night, I carry my phone with me. I’m on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (follow me @dharding89!). I read emails and texts from my cell throughout the day, and plug headphones into it while working out.

The other day I saw the dark side of this addiction. Karen and I were enjoying dinner at a local Irish bar and listening to an awesome and authentic Irish band. I glanced over at the tables around us where 5 people, all about our age, sat with their heads in their laps, staring down at small cellphone screens.

Good God, what has this world come to that a bustling bar with live music isn’t enough to entertain us?” I pondered over a pint of Smithwick’s.

There is one place where I can find sanctuary from my cellphone addiction, and that is on the water. The peacefulness drives me to turn off the phone and unplug from the 24/7 world around me. Listening to waves gently lapping against a hull as a boat gently rocks from side to side and watching the sun paint the sky with shades of orange and red, is better than any email or YouTube video. It’s a place where I can get lost in a book or in my own meandering mind.

It was on one such peaceful night, capped off with cheap red wine and some board game that Karen forced on me that I glanced over at the boats around us where, couples sat quietly talking, untethered from the digital world, proving what I have long suspected: The cure for nomophobia is saltwater.

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Peacefulness at Potter’s Cover

With an empty schedule and a full cooler, the Karen Marie was once again headed up Narragansett Bay, leaving the real world in her wake. This weekend’s destination of choice was Potter’s Cove, a small-protected harbor on the north end of Prudence Island, not far from Bristol. With no wind to speak of, Karen and I were motoring at a leisurely pace.

It was flat calm, sunny and there was little boat traffic. For weeks I had been meaning to do some man overboard drills with Karen and now seemed as good a time as any. A large inflatable tube would be playing the role of the MOB (who would presumably be me). Just to see what would happen without any prior instruction, I took the large tube and chucked it off the back of the boat. Quick to action, Karen turned the boat deliberately and applied a liberal amount of throttle. Bearing down on the poor tube at 5 knots, I winced before going below deck to dust off my PFD. “Death by my own boat would be a cruel way to go,” I thought.

Alas, like anything in life it took practice but Karen had improved greatly, performing crisp figure eights and pulling alongside the tube, no worse for wear. Having endured more than a dozen strange looks from people wondering why I kept throwing a tube and Karen kept going after it, we continued on to the cove.

I didn’t know too much about Potter’s Cove before hand, except that a colleague described it as: a peaceful peace of water with a good bottom for anchoring. Arriving at lunchtime, the small harbor was abuzz with activity. Powerboat raft-ups were plentiful with groups of 6 or more vessels strung together. Small craft pulling excited children on tubes zig-zagged in front of us. Today would mark our first time anchoring, and this was not the audience we were hoping for.

Finding a spot in the back of the harbor, Karen directed the boat into the wind and I dropped the anchor. Letting out 25-ish feet of line, I quickly tied it off and waited. Much to my pleasant surprise, the anchor took hold immediately.

A natural-born skeptic, I sat on the bow for the next half-hour, watching the boat swing, ready to pounce should the anchor start to drag. I fired up an anchoring app, cleverly named, Anchor! Should the boat drift outside of its pre-determined geo-fence, my phone would automatically call Karen’s phone and sound an alarm. It took a bit of fiddling to determine an the best geo-fence range, but eventually we figured it out. Running both phones around the clock quickly drained their batteries, which provided the opportunity to test two of our other toys, a portable solar charger and a Powerpak Xtreme portable charger from Newtrent. The solar charger was extremely reliable but was slow to charge our phones. The Powerpak, charged our devices swiftly but was not the most user-friendly device. In tandem however they were great portable power sources.

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A dinghy ride and subsequent walk through the island revealed, well, not much of anything. Karen and I hiked for miles only to find forest-lined gravel roads and the occasional quaint home. There was no Starbucks. There were no restaurants or movie theatres, and that’s exactly how the 100 year-round residents here seem to like it. Prudence Island is only accessible by boat –there is a car ferry that runs from Bristol. Research, after our visit, revealed that there are three small shops, a couple farms, and a schoolhouse, which was built in 1896 and is still open for kindergarten through fourth grade. It had 9 students last year.

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We would have to leave those attractions for our next visit.

An al fresco dinner of steak and asparagus capped off our evening of leisure and exploration. After a full day of sun, I was looking forward to a peaceful night’s sleep. My neighbors on the raft up to the north were not on the same plan. Boozy ballads ranging from What does the fox say?, to the always popular Macharana echoed across the otherwise tranquil harbor. And with all due respect to Billy Ray and his Achy Breaky Heart, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about firing a few rounds of flares at the rowdy-raftup.

Watching them stumble around in a hangover haze the next morning made my morning coffee taste that much sweeter. After downing a shortstack of pancakes, Karen and I began the slow sail back to Jamestown.

There are many ways to rate a destination.  Some measure the worth of a place by the number of 5-star accommodations or restaurants, in which case Prudence Island would not be for you. If natural beauty, unspoiled by modern amenities and quiet (damn you crews of SeaDuction and Feeling Nauti) are more your speed, you too might enjoy a brief escape to Potter’s Cove.