19 June 2013

Sailing New England

The light and fog horn at the entrance to Newport

Just a brief update. We're still cruising New England (currently in Block Island) and we're in love with it, even if it comes with a few sailing challenges that we have to get used to.  

First of all, this coast has much more tide than we ever experienced before. The changing water level is not a problem, what makes it new to us is the current. All the time the tide changes, the water flows in or out into the Atlantic. Therfore you may have current with or against you. Some spots are known to have almost as much current as we can run using our engine. Just imagine, you go full throttle just to realize that you're standing still. So additionally to watching wind and sea state we have to time departure and arrival according to the tide as well. 

our "bible" while sailing this area

As you may also know lobster is the catch over here - everywhere! Which means the very infamous buoys for the lobster pots are waiting all over the place to catch your propeller. And did I mention it can as well get foggy - within minutes?

on this buoy a lobster pot is attached
fog can appear quickly in New England!

But there are other very significant new things as well. Instead of telling now some cruiser tales I just quote 1:1 from our guide books and charts - have fun:
- "Torpedo testing area"
- "Submarines operate throughout the area, appearing when least expected (especially interesting in the fog)"
- "an infamous section of the passage where 7 knots and shifting currents are not unusual"

10 June 2013

Newport sucks, really!

Coffee Stop at Castle Hill with Durbin

We stayed now for more than one week in Newport. And as the title says, it really sucks. 

First of all it's very expensive for boaters. I mean - really freaking expensive. A berth in a marina is 200 USD and up for a boat of 40 feet PER NIGHT. A mooring is 45 USD per night. No weekly or monthly rates available of course, even Rahel's charm didn't help (just seems to work in the Caribbean...). And like planned, the designated anchor field is cluttered with moorings and there is literally no space for some nice carefree nights on the hook. 

And if you think it cannot get worse, there are those people! Take Bill for example. We met him back in Culebra, Puerto Rico, where he was working in the "Dinghy Dock Bar & Restaurant" on the weekends. He actually owns a well known Irish pub back in Charleston himself ("Dunleavy's Pub" on Sullivan's Island). But since he rather likes to cruise than to work in his own bar his nephew is taking care of it now and Bill bartenders all over the US instead. Since twenty plus years or so. Which means he of course used to work in the best bar/restaurant in Newport and our favorite hangout - the "Black Pearl" - as well. No surprise he knows everybody, or better everybody who owns a bar or works or used to work behind a counter at one time. And that's now a real big disaster for our cruising kitty!

The "gang": Denise, Wolfgang (s/v Moony), Rahel, Dave, Marco (pic by Bill)

After one week most of the local bartenders in the hippest locations do greet us by name already ;-) They're not even asking anymore if we'd like to open a tap - it's taken for granted.  Not particular something you get for free!
And it got even worse: Instead of curing our hangover on the boat we had to meet up with Durbin at 10am ashore! He insisted to show us around Newport in his car. As you can imagine it was no fun at all... I mean, who wants to hang around with a local guy who knows all the details of each of the amazing mansions, or knows every secret sightseeing jewel no tourist will ever get to see? Who really needs to know that you can eat delicious sandwiches right besides the amazing super yachts in a working marina? To top the bad news, he gave me the best fishing advices since years. I caught one fantastic 20 inch fluke just within 20 minutes after using his advice and his lures. That really sucks as my wife now expects that I get the same kind of fish every night to make up for the too much needed $$ in the bars. And as you know, I really hate pressure!

Durbin & his lovely wife Ludi with Marco in front of Claiborne Pell Newport bridge

To make the whole story worse there is Dave, a sailing buddy of Bill's. We met back in Bermuda for the first time. He calls Block Island his home, which by pure accident will be our next destination. I can already foresee whole nights of discussions about things we do not agree on at all (besides the common understanding that one last beer may clear the other persons view...) And knowing me and my old sales habits, I will not stop until Dave understands...

Did I mention that Bill will start working in a bar on Block Island in a few days and Durbin and his lovely wife Ludi are going to spend some time there too? For some racing, fishing and bocce on the beach?

Folks, please get me out of here...!

PS: Here you can see Bill being interviewed back in 2012 about the "Polar Plunge" at his pub, an event to raise money to benefit Special Olympics SC athletes ;-) 

06 June 2013

Caught in a warm eddy!!!

the circles are "eddies" (from www.oc.nps.navy.mil)

Ever heard of a warm eddy? We neither! And before you now think in the wrong direction - Yes, it has something to do with sailing! But let us explain:

When we sailed over from Bermuda to New England we had once more to cross the Gulf Stream. That’s this river of warm water flowing with a high current up the East Coast of the US. But this flow is not between two narrow coasts, it lays somewhere between Bermuda and New England, both landmasses are roughly 700nm apart. Means, you will enter this sometimes vicious current after three days of sailing in the middle of nowhere. And just that you can picture it: the stream of water moves around 30 – 150 million cubic meter water per second depending on its location. As a comparison, all the rivers combined which drain water into the Atlantic are estimated with just 0.6 million cubic meter per second. Guess it's fair to say there is a good amount of energy out there in the nowhere. 

Therefore planning is important: we wanted to enter the stream where the flow was easy and, more important, narrow. In our case, the forecasters named a spot where we would have just a 30nm wide “window” of current to cross and then could sail out of it again. So far so good. But it gets better, there may be a warm eddy on our way. In simple words, that’s a circular movement of warm (or cold) water which could push us even a bit more in the direction we needed to go. Current from behind sounds cool on a sailboat as we all long for some extra speed. We were excited!

Gulf Stream is Red (from http://www.opc.ncep.noaa.gov)

As a matter of fact, the Gulf Stream crossing was easy. Like the whole trip we had almost no waves and the wind was a bit on the light side. Around midnight we supposedly had all behind us and Rahel went to bed leaving me on the “after Gulf Stream Nightshift”. It was a blast: Wind picked up, I put even a bit more sails out and Habibi screamed with seven plus knots into the dark. Until I noticed a sudden course change – we steered off course! That’s when you start to check things: Wind shift? Current? Autopilot? Everything seemed normal but the course change went worse. I hand steered and ended up almost 180 degrees off course – no way I could hold direction!! The sails were now flapping and everything seemed out of control. I needed help - fast! I got Rahel out of her well deserved sleep to help me steering while I dealt with the sails. That’s when it got really strange…

We finally had all the sails down and the engine was running. So we tried to go back on course. But there was no way to steer the boat – it went all over the place. We assumed that the rudder was broken (an almost impossible thing on an Island Packet) – of course, it was not. Sooner or later we realized that we must have been caught in a circular current (or eddy). A quick look on the thermometer proofed the theory; The water temperature in the Atlantic over here is around 13 degrees Celsius. It showed almost 26C! That damn eddy wasn't moving us forward - it was spinning us all over the place!

It was really scary! The engine was running at full throttle, we were doing eight knots in one direction and then boom, the boat turned 180 degrees without any rudder movement and we were doing 0 knots! Whatever we tried, the boat turned with the current and it seemed there was no way out. Of course it was pitch dark, there was nothing to get our bearings – just the compass and the GPS. We tried for sure 10 times – no chance to get out of this mess. The circular current had a firm grip on us and it seemed it would never let us go. Would this really be the end of our trip? Will Habibi and its crew end as a ghost ship like the "Flying Dutchman" and circle the world forever??

Well, not this time. At one point (when the now blank panic on board finally settled) we decided that we had to move with the current and act as soon it would weaken. After drifting for some time with this damn eddy we realized we could now steer again in a certain direction (and believe us, we did not even care if it would bring us to the North Pole at this time). One hour later (which felt like an eternity) Habibi left this eddy behind and was on course again. The crew on the other hand was still pretty shaken. And we still are if we think back…

May this force never be with you!

innocent sunrise after "eddy"