Cruising the Connecticut Coast

The week after Labor Day has become my favorite time to go cruising. School is back in session, crowds of tourists have all but returned home, but the weather-if you’re lucky-retains most of its summer warmth.

With a storm brewing to our west, blocking popular destinations like Block Island and Newport, Karen and I cruised east burning up some vacation time while discovering what else our new home state had to offer. From Clinton and Branford, to New Haven and Westbrook, we learned that Connecticut (a drive through or past state for many people) is filled with charming anchorages and cities on the rise.

I hope you enjoy some of the photos from our adventure, but more than that, I hope they inspire you find that new destination near you that might be hiding in plain sight.

 

Quality Time

Richard at Bimini_2012-from-Aimee.jpgTime. There never seems to be enough of it. Despite enjoying one of the most memorable summers of my adult life, what with my girlfriend Karen agreeing to marry me, the seesaw that is the work-life balance was tilting heavily in the hectic direction. An escape on the boat to unplug and recharge was calling my name. With the remnants of Hurricane Hermine kicking up seas to the east, we decided to spend the week after Labor Day cruising west and exploring the Connecticut coast.

During our first days cruising to Clinton and then on to Branford, I frequently felt the urge to pick up my iPhone, swipe left and check my work emails. Advice from my colleagues—John Wooldridge told me to “take it slow and enjoy every second,” and Jason Wood said, “Take a real break, chuck your phone in the drink on Day One and share your new number with us when you get back”—reverberated in my mind and allowed me to put the phone away.

And our week away from the real world provided everything we could hope for in a boating adventure. We enjoyed smooth sailing and squalls alike. There were nights when we slept peacefully beneath the stars and others when we cursed the boat while simmering in puddles of our own sweat. There was also a sleepless night in New Haven, where 2- to 3-foot seas on our mooring made for a night we’ll never forget. The seconds felt like hours waiting for the sun to come up. We enjoyed some great meals and a couple of terrible ones. We discovered destinations we want to return to and others we don’t.

With the end of our trip nearing, we had really found a groove. We were working well together and just enjoyed hanging out and being on the water.IMG_5254.JPG

That’s when I got news: My colleague at Power & Motoryacht, Richard Thiel, had suffered a major stroke. He wasn’t going to recover.

He spent a couple days in hospice, and early this morning he passed away.

It was a punch to the stomach. Richard was as active as they come; a cyclist and serious boater. My colleagues and I shared our shock and sadness, and Jason again provided sage advice: “If anything, this should be a lesson on how important enjoying your life outside of work is. Enjoy your boat and fiancée.”

Cruising home toward Essex this morning, the sun glinting off the ocean, my thoughts drifted to Richard. He was a legend in the marine industry whose time testing boats left a permanent—visible to all those who test boats for a living—wake on the ocean. Richard, always gracious with his time, followed my blog; it pangs my heart knowing this post will land in his inbox, never to be read.

Richard and I spoke frequently of sharing a meal at the Blue Oar, just up the Connecticut River. Alas, busy schedules and lifestyles prevented such a meal. In my last email to Richard, I suggested we get together for that long-anticipated breaking of bread (and beers). It would go unanswered.

After what I’m sure will be a long winter, I plan on visiting the Blue Oar when it (and the boating season) reopens. I will pour a pint for Richard. Instead of hearing tales from the “glory days” of marine publishing or soaking up knowledge from the longest-serving Editor-in-Chief in Power & Motoryacht history, I’ll sip a cold beer and be thankful to be a member of the brotherhood that is Power & Motoryacht. I’ll be thankful that I’m able to run in Richard’s wake. I’ll forever be thankful that, on every boat test from now until I hang up my notepad and decibel reader, Capt. Thiel is watching over me.

I’ll forever be thankful that I’m running in the wake of a giant.

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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.

Finding Solitude in an Empty Metal Shed

The gravel road rumbles beneath my tires as my headlights illuminate the deserted boatyard. I shift into park, pull one last long swig from my coffee cup and walk into the empty metal shed. Rain begins to dance atop the large roof; the light pinging is a soothing soundtrack.

IMG_8967           The task du jour is varnishing my 35-foot wooden mast, which is stretched out before me. We un-stepped the mast this year to apply six layers of varnish armor to it, ensuring that—after three seasons since it was built—it remains impervious to the elements. It would also give me, and some poor unsuspecting accomplice (read: Karen), the year off from trying to varnish it from a swinging bosuns chair.

I lightly scuff the spruce with 220-grit paper and wipe off the dust with a tack cloth. I then break out a closed-cell roller and a brush to apply Epifanes varnish to two sides of the mast at a time. After work I’d return, flip the mast and varnish the remaining two sides.IMG_8916

As far as boat projects go, this isn’t what you would call a difficult task, in fact it’s rather mindless. That said I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve been enjoying the uninterrupted solitude that this chore provides. My personal and professional schedule as of late has resembled that of a Nascar pit crew, Go-Go-Go.

Allowing my mind to wander and reflect while preparing for the boating season is a welcome win-win.

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Boating Season 2015: A Look Back

With the holidays in our wake and a New Year creeping ever closer, it seems a fitting time to reflect on the past boating season while updating ASailingStory’s followers on where we left off.

IMG_3635On a bone-chilling morning in late October, Karen and I motored from a nearly deserted Essex to our winter home of Portland, a distance of about 27 miles up the river. Not knowing that November and December would be a pair of the warmest months on record, we wrapped ourselves in layer-after-layer of clothes until we resembled the Michelin Man. At one point Karen pulled a fleece blanket from her bag of tricks, asking if I wanted to share it. Too proud (some say stubborn) to command my boat with a red fleece on my legs, I responded, “ohh no!”

An hour later I’d swallow my pride and say, through chattering teeth, “ok give me that thing.”

Karen raised an eyebrow before quickly responding, “ohh noo.”

We’d eventually find our mooring off Yankee Boat Yard in Portland. It wasn’t until we thawed out and looked through the below pictures that we realized how pretty the river was.

I’d sneak out to the boat a couple more times before it was hauled, each time enjoying the location more and more. One evening after removing the sails I kicked back in the cockpit and admired the Middletown skyline for nearly an hour. The water around me was mirror-flat, the only disturbance came via collegiate crew team gliding up the river. I’m very much looking forward to spending a few weeks there in the water next season before returning to Essex.

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The boat has since been winterized and covered up for a long winter’s nap. We unstepped the mast this year—the first time since building it—in order to buildup its varnish armor and replacing an AWOL wind vane. It also allowed me to inspect the rigging, which looks no worse for wear.

As always seems to be the case, the upcoming winter and spring will afford us the chance to tackle a list of improvements we’d like to make to the boat.

The next boating season is 5 months away. On cold, snowy days like today that feels like a lifetime, but I need only close my eyes and I’m again sitting in the cockpit with the warm sun on my back or hopping into a dew-covered dinghy for a 5:00 ride to shore. I know those warm memories will help winter fly by.image.jpg

 

 

 

Destination Micro-Adventure

colleague recently turned me on to the Twitter account for Alastair Humphreys, a British adventurer whose four-year around-the-world bike trip is just a single bullet point on his expedition-filled résumé. Despite living a life most would deem clinically insane, he champions a concept that he calls the microadventure, which is just what it sounds like: a mini, midweek adventure that doesn’t cost much, and can be accomplished on a typical weeknight. Some examples of a microadventure that Humphreys touts in his new book Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes are sleeping on a hill, cooking a meal over a fire, swimming in a river (there’s one I can do!).

As a marine journalist I read—on a daily basis—about boaters doing some extraordinary things. In fact, at this moment I have e-mail threads going with a couple who are cruising their Nordhavn 40 through the Pacific Northwest, a blogger aboard a Kadey-Krogen bound for Russia and a family of four from Texas that moved aboard their express cruiser to see the world. Despite this seemingly endless dose of inspiration, this past summer I found myself getting sucked into a, well, rather cushy routine. After work I’d hit the gym, make dinner, maybe do laundry or some other chore, and settle into an episode of God-knows-what on Netflix (a service I very much have a love/hate relationship with). I wasn’t being lazy per se, but boring would be a fair descriptor.

Boating had become a weekend endeavor for reasons I’m not quite sure of. So, right around the time of our July Mid-Summer Boating Fest, my girlfriend Karen and I (thanks in part to Humphreys’s inspiration) made the conscious decision to make better use of our limited summer schedule and get out on the boat more often. So on one or two weeknights each week we’d head out to our classic old boat resting on a mooring off Essex, Connecticut.opener?

We swapped evenings in a crowded gym with sunset swims, reheated dinners for cookouts under the stars, and swapped Netflix episodes for a good book or magazine. We found ourselves falling asleep earlier (something about swimming just knocks us out) and waking up to early morning rays pouring through the forward portlight instead of the blare of an iPhone alarm.

Not much of a morning person, I eventually grew to look forward to our 5:00 a.m. dinghy ride to shore. The river can be absolutely still at that time, and the only sound would be the soft mumble from our outboard running just above idle. You know when you’re in for a good day when your morning commute begins with a dinghy ride.

Stepping into the office those mornings, I felt as if I were carrying a secret. Relaxed and rejuvenated, it was almost as if I had just returned from a short vacation. In fact, I guess that’s just what it was.

The magazine’s July 12th Boating Fest fell at a busy time for Karen and me so we didn’t get to spend the day in an exciting  new location like we would have hoped, but knowing that it doesn’t take long before the rejuvenating effects of boating to kick in, we escaped for an evening just up the Connecticut River in the forest-lined Hamburg Cove, a former shipping hub in the early 1800s that today is a popular spot on the river shared by trawler owners, fishermen, and kayakers alike.

IMG_2594We grabbed a visitor mooring from Cove Landing marina for $20 and hopped in the dinghy for a leisurely ride up a lazy river. With tall conifer-covered hills on each side it took only a little imagination to feel like we were exploring a stream in Maine. You can tie up to the dinghy dock at the nearby marina and stretch your legs if you like. There is a general store about a mile away and not much else.

IMG_0961As dusk began to settle on the cove, the sound of swimming and shrieking kids began to fade; the smell of charred hotdogs wafted atop the calm water as couples sat in their cockpits sipping chilled glasses of white wine. If there is a more peaceful way to spend an evening I’ve not discovered it yet.

We’d return to Essex and “real-world” responsibilities early the next day but the positive effects of our short boat trip had sunk in. Our arms seemed to swing more freely at our sides; free from knots and tension as we went about the tasks at hand with the well-rested mind that you only get after spending a night on the hook.

I think that’s the point that Humphreys (and our Mid-Summer Boating Fest) is trying to make; you don’t need to leave land for weeks at a time or battle huge seas in order to have an adventure; sometimes the most rewarding, memorable adventures are the ones on a random Sunday night in July. 

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Look for this, and other great stories in the December issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.