Friday, August 27, 2010

Heading north

Good-bye Long Island Sound, hello Hudson River.

Our last week in Long Island Sound was a taste of Fall. We left the Thimble Islands on a Sunday in the rain and the sun didn't shine again until Friday. The winds were so high and the seas so choppy we decided to sit it out in Milford, CT for two days. We weren't the only boaters unexpectedly enjoying the hospitality at the Milford Landing Marina. One boat tried to leave and came back, another ducked in after trying to head west from an anchorage just east of Milford.

When the winds dropped and the seas calmed, we left and went to the Larchmont Yacht Club. Everyone had said it was nice but a bit stuffy. We enjoyed it and didn't find it at all stuffy. Of course, it is summer, so they don't require jackets for men at dinner, as they apparently do in the winter. This was the first full service yacht club (lunch and dinner every day of the week) we've been in in a long time. Most of the clubs in Long Island Sound are small and very casual, many have no food service at all, just bars.

The sun finally came out when we left Larchmont. We went back down the East River and rounded the Battery in New York City, then went to a marina in Jersey City, NJ, right across the Hudson from southern tip of Manhattan. We had a great city view from the boat.

This morning we went up the Hudson, past the western shore of NYC, just us and all the ferry boats. Jim was amazed out how many ferries run between NY and NJ. Once we got under the George Washington Bridge, the boat traffic dropped considerably and we had a nice ride up the Hudson pushed along by the incoming tide.

We stopped in Westchester County, in a town called Croton-on-the-Hudson. We're here because we were recruited by the dock master. Jim posted a question on a boating listserv asking for recommendations on where to stay. Steve, the dock master here, called him to offer him a deal if we came here. There is an Enterprise rent-a-car agency less than 1/2 mile from the marina, so we will hole up here over the weekend, rent a car and see the local sites. The area is beautiful, the weather is perfect, and the local pizza parlor is well-reviewed on Yelp. What more could we ask for?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Old Saybrook and beyond

We had a nice ride from Watch Hill, RI to Old Saybrook, CT. On the way we were contacted on the VFH radio by a boater sailing next to us who wanted to know if we were the people who wrote the Mid-Life Cruising Sabbatical web site ( When we said yes, the guy said he had read every word and loved it. He invited us to be his guests at his yacht club. Unfortunately, his yacht club is on the south side of Long Island and we've done that already. I guess he saw a Down Time from Cleveland and figured there just couldn't be that many, so he took a chance and called us. We know the web site gets read because we get emails every now and then from folks, but this is the first time we've been contacted by a reader.

Old Saybrook was a charming little town of approximately 10,000 people. Everything was on one of two main streets, easily walkable. The old houses ranged from 1670s through the 1920s. On my morning walk I passed a church that was founded in 1646 and now worships in a building built in 1820.

Since we were in Old Saybrook for the weekend we decided to rent a car and do a little road touring. Jim wanted to see the Submarine museum in Groton, CT. We also drove through the Coast Guard Academy, not quite as nice a campus as the Naval Academy. But the Coast Guard has one thing the Navy doesn't -- a tall ship. The Coast Guard has a training vessel, the barque Eagle, which was seized from the Germans as a war reparation in 1946. We heard her on the radio as we were going from Watch Hill to Old Saybrook. She returned that morning from a 3 1/2 month cruise through the Caribbean and north coast of South America. We asked at the Academy if she was open for tours, they said yes and directed us to where she was docked.

Only the permanent crew was aboard (about 50 people), the cadets (about 150 at any one time) all left the day before when she docked. We were the only folks touring. We had been told we could go anywhere topside, but we couldn't go below. We started talking with a crew member and he took us below to the officers' ward room and the Admiral's quarters. He showed us the pictures of the German crew bringing the boat to the U.S. in 1946 (there were no Americans who knew how to sail her), the place where Alex Haley wrote some of Roots during the summer he spent cruising with them after he retired from the Coast Guard, and the bed where Hitler slept when she was commissioned in the 1930s. Since we weren't even supposed to be below I didn't think it would be cool to whip out my camera, but she is a beautiful ship, and much more commodious than a submarine.
From Old Saybrook we went up the Connecticut River about five miles to Essex, CT. Essex is a town designed for tourists, all the shopping is tourist stuff. Its claim to fame is the Griswold Inn which has been providing food and shelter to travelers continuously since 1776.

This part of the trip is very short days, the distances between things we want to see are 10-15 miles. Anchored off the coast of Connecticut one night then went into Clinton, CT for a stay at a dock. We need a dock stay very couple of weeks to wash the boat. This marina had a shuttle that would take you anywhere in Clinton that you wanted to go. We went to Lenny and Joe's Fish Tale for lunch and had the best seafood meal we've had on Long Island Sound. It is blue fish season and blue fish is my all time favorite fish. I had a perfectly sauteed slab of blue fish and Jim had his favorite, clam strips. Heaven. I can't imagine why any of you would be in Clinton, CT looking for a meal, but if you are Lenny and Joe's is it. Short on ambiance, long on good food.

Another short day (2 hours) brought us to the Thimble Islands, rocky outcroppings off the Connecticut shore. The islands have houses on them and a water taxi that brings people out from Stoney Creek, CT to them. But the houses have no electricity or running water. Now you'd think under those conditions these would be pretty basic houses, but no. As you can see from the pictures, these are substantial homes. Some have solar panels. The tour boats that drive by (every 90 minutes all day long) say that most houses have generators that they don't use often because they are noisy and the gas has to be carried in by hand. Fresh water is either trapped from rain run-off or carried in. All in all it doesn't sound like an ideal vacation, but you certainly are away from it all, if you don't count the dozens of boats, jet-skis, tour boats, etc. in the anchorages surrounding your island.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Martha's Vineyard

We've just spent a week in Martha's Vineyard, our easternmost destination for this summer. Now we turn back, heading for New York to go up the Hudson River.

Martha's Vineyard was fun. We took a tour of the island, a land of famous driveways. Many well-known folks have places there, but they are all on big multi-acre estates tucked back behind the trees, so the tour bus driver points out "that is Ted Danson's driveway" or "over those trees is where Jackie O lived." But the views make the trip worth it. There are still members of the Wampanog tribe living on the far western end of the island, which is the high point. This picture was taken there.

The day after we took the tour, we used the island's bus system to go back to two of the towns, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Oak Bluffs claims to be where vacations were invented. The first houses were built there in the 1850s and 1860s. Methodists started holding a religious camp meeting there in the 1870s. Folks wanted to come early or stay longer to enjoy the beach, so some enterprising entrepreneurs built a beach front hotel and more houses. Voila! A vacation destination for the newly developing middle class. Also a vacation destination for wealthy African-Americans, many of whom are now the fourth generation to own their family's "gingerbread" cottage. As you can see from the pictures, these places are quite pretty and very well preserved.

This big green Victorian is the answer to the question "what does Peter Norton do with all the money he makes from anit-virus software?" Apparently this place was in need of serious re-habbing when he bought it. He spent four years fixing it up, then the next year, it burned down. So he had it re-built.

Our final day in Vineyard Haven we took the ferry over to Woods Hole to visit the Oceanographic Institute. They have a life-size mock-up of the Allvyn deep-water research submarine. You'd have to be really excited by your science to tolerate 6-8 hours diving in that thing. It is smaller than the early space capsules. But the discoveries they've made and the films they have taken are breath-taking.
So now we are headed west. Last night we went to Cuttyhunk Island. Everyone we talked to said to be sure to visit Cuttyhunk. I must admit the attraction escaped me. It is a quiet little island (year-round population of 40) where golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation. The most interesting thing was the local raw bar. On the dock you order clams, oysters, or lobsters during the day, and the raw bar folks deliver your order to your boat around 5:30 PM, just in time to cook dinner. It doesn't get any fresher than that. They harvest the clams and oysters, to order, from their own shellfish farm.

Tonight we are anchored in Watch Hill, RI and tomorrow we are on to Old Saybrook, CT, lifelong home of Katherine Hepburn.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mystic Seaport, Connecticut

Hello from Noank, CT at the mouth of the Mystic River. We've spent the last week in Connecticut, including visiting Mystic Seaport. I guess, technically, that isn't true since we spent one night in an anchorage off Fishers Island. Fishers Island in less than a mile off the Connecticut coast, near the Connecticut-Rhode Island border, but somehow it still belongs to New York. Go figure.

Our boating friends all told us to ignore the hideous cost and take a dock at the Mystic Seaport Museum. They said being there at night after the day trippers leave, or in the morning before they come, made the $4.50/foot/night docking fees (remember, Down Time is 36 feet long) worth it. I agree. We had a delightful time.

For those of you who don't know, Mystic Seaport is a living museum (like Williamsburg, VA) dedicated to preserving the nautical history of the U.S. They have many old wooden ships, pleasure craft as well as fishing boats and whalers. They have moved in a number of 19th century buildings and stocked them with appropriate furniture and other period pieces. The "town" includes a bank, grocery, and drug store. They also have a working blacksmith, a barrel-maker, a rope maker, and sail and rigging lofts. Many of the shops have craftsmen/women who actually demonstrate the skills that were needed in a boat building center in the 19th century. All in all, a very enjoyable and interesting place to spend a couple of days.

In addition to the museum, Mystic also operates a working marine preservation operation with 20 full time staff and 8 apprentices maintaining the boats. They are currently working on restoring the hull of a whaling ship that chased whales throughout most of the 19th and into the 20th century. When these boats were built, they were only expected to last about 20 years. This one, the Charles J. Morgan, made 37 trips over the course of 80 years, most of which were more that a year in length, a few of which lasted more than 3 years. I had no idea whalers were as big as they are. If you look at the picture you can see Jim next to the left end of the boat. That gives you some perspective on how big this thing is. The man we talked to aboard compared it to a floating three story building.

After we left the Seaport, we moved down the Mystic River to Noank. Shamus the dog and his people were motoring down the river in their little tug boat. I couldn't decide which was cuter, Shamus or the boat. We also saw a family of wild swans (top picture). I had no idea wild swans lived in New England. I hadn't seen any since we were in England on our honeymoon.

We're waiting for the wind to lay down a little and switch directions, then we're off to Newport, Rhode Island.