Block Island Sailing Vacation
United States New York Mt. Sinai NY
Like this Adventure 0 Likes
As I am rowing out to the boat I notice that the flags in the marina are standing straight out. Uh oh, that is a lot stronger than 5-10. After loading gear we depart Mt.Sinai. Out in the Sound Lauren steers while I raise the main. The wind is much stronger than forecast, we have 15 kts, and it’s from due east. The tide was high at 10:00 so we could take advantage of the outgoing current. Unfortunately, the wind was from the east, and with the wind and tide opposite, the conditions in the sound were miserable for a small boat.
We were motor sailing with just the main up. With the engine at cruising speed we were making slow progress – only around 5 kts. Sailing at 30 degrees off the wind the boat speed picked up, but the speed towards Orient was still slow. The waves were 2-3’, not really large, but close together and short and choppy. We were taking water on deck, good thing we kept all the ports and hatches closed. The kids were not happy, Lauren was not happy, and I was not happy.
After 30 minutes of this, with the wind now up to 18 kts, I was ready to go home and try again another day. Unfortunately, the weather forecast had changed, and was not any better for the next day or two. At one point I actually turned the boat around, but Lauren insisted on continuing. So we pressed on. An hour later I unrolled the headsail. The speed went up, but we were sailing further away from our destination. The conditions were awful (to me) and this was not fun. I rolled up the headsail and we continued, making 4-5 kts towards Orient.
Two hours later I opened my chart and started looking at options. With the wind from the east perhaps we could sail north east to Connecticut, either Clinton or Westbrook. Unfortunately, the trip from there to Block would not be any better. And the ride NE was just as bad. Then I thought we would press on to Mattituck. By staying close to the Long Island shore, the conditions were slightly better. This really stunk.
Fortunately, the wind started to moderate. When it got below 15 kts, the whitecaps vanished and the ride got much better. Another hour or so and we were north of Mattituck and no longer bouncing. The wind was 10 kts, and had moved south east. We were actually able to sail towards our destination! The engine was off and we were just sailing What a difference a few hours makes!
An hour later the wind got too light to sail quickly, so the ‘iron jib’ went back on and we were back to motor sailing. The good news was that once the wind got light, the current really started to flow, and it was in our favor. We spend the next hour traveling THROUGH the water at 7 kts, and OVER THE GROUND at over 8 kts (Speed Through Water is known as STW and is how fast the boat is traveling through the water. A current won’t affect STW, but will effect the Speed Over the Ground, SOG). With a 1 kt current pushing us along, and the engine running at slow cruise, things were really looking up. Fred the Auto Pilot was working great, allowing me to either relax, make food, trim sails, write log entries, etc. The engine purred like a kitten and we were making excellent time.
Before too long I spotted the Orient Point Light. By now the current had turned again and our speed dropped. However we were close enough that it didn’t matter.
We rounded Orient Point and I called the marina.They told us we were going to be on T dock right inside. Let me write that the marina should be another story. First we had a difficult time finding our way in. We saw boats behind a wall, but no way to get in. Then we saw a small boat motor through a cut in the wall. Oh, so that’s the entrance. It was maybe 30’ wide, lined with pilings and about 50’ long. Once inside it was narrow and full of boats. I was not clear on where we were supposed to tie up, so I shifted into neutral and then reverse to stop the boat. When I hit reverse the engine died. Now we were coasting, unable to stop, and in a very narrow marine. I cursed loudly, fortunately the engine re-fired instantly. Then we saw two marina employees standing on the T dock. I reversed and was able to get us to the dock safely. After tie-ing up I was looking forward to a cocktail and dinner. It was not to be. As I was walking to the bar (not for the cocktail but to pay for the slip) the owner came and told us that the dockhands made a mistake and we could not stay in the current spot. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. First he wanted to put is in a slip next to the T dock. I looked at the slip and told him it was not wide enough for us. Actually it probably was just barely wide enough, but I didn’t see enough room in the small basin to get the boat into the slip. Then the owner said there was room ‘in the back.’ This I had to see, so I walked with him around the restaurant and sure enough, there were another 25 boats back there. The fairway was maybe 30’ wide, but I was able to get the boat in there and tied up. We went for a short walk around the state park and then had a nice dinner at the marina restaurant.
Lauren and I woke early, around 6:30, to the sound of rain hitting the decks. We started to check the weather (Iphones are great!). Unfortunately, the forecast had deteriorated. Now the forecast was for rain and thunderstorms for the next two days. Great! Lauren and I evaluated our options. We could leave the boat in Orient and take a train home. We thought about taking a ferry to New London and going to Mystic, and we also thought about sailing to Block Island. After thinking about things, Lauren said that we should just go for it. The detailed forecast was rain Sunday morning, hard rain and big wind Sunday afternoon and rain all day Monday.
So around 8:00 AM, I started the engine and we prepared to go to sea. First I had Lauren man the helm while I used the dock lines to turn the boat around. Then we motored through the narrow opening from the marina and entered Gardeners bay.
Out in the bay the conditions weren’t bad – gray skies, some rain, wind from the SE at 12 kts or so. We raised the main, turned to the correct heading and turned on Fred the Autopilot. It was raining, but I had put the dodger side windows in so we able to sit under the dodger and stay out of the rain. 30Nm to go, around 5 hours at a speed of 6 kts.
Since we left earlier than originally planned the tide was against us and the speed was only 5 kts. Still, conditions weren’t bad, it even stopped raining. An hour or so later the tide turned, we now had an outgoing tide, but the wind increased and the seas got rough. Soon it was worse than yesterday. Heavy rain, rough sees, wind 30 degrees off the bow. Then I saw a squall line approaching. I prepared for heavy wind, but we never got it. Instead it was just heavy rain, visibility was down to 100 feet or so, but at least it wasn’t very windy. The squall passed and we pushed on.
The kids were all fine. Janine even spent about an hour sitting on the rail, laughing as the bow plunged into waved and shot spray aft. Eventually the wind hit 20 kts, so I had her come back into the cockpit.
We saw lots of motorboats and a few sailboats out - all going the other way. The motorboats were the worst. They would blast along at a high rate of speed, apparently right at us. Then at the last minute they (or we) would change course. Then we would have to deal with a giant wake left behind, which would send the boat bouncing like crazy.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. When we were around 10 nm from Block Island I noticed a very dark line of clouds to the south. It was going to be a race to see if we could get into the harbor before the storm. We lost. Soon it get very dark and I knew we were in for a beating. The light grew dim and it seemed like everything turned a dark shade of green. Then torrential rain, and finally the wind. The wind gauge started climbing, 20, 22, 25, 27, 30, and finally 33. I was afraid of giant waves but the seas got flat because the wind blew the tops off. With a full main I had way too much sail up but I wasn’t going forward to the mast to lower the sail. Instead I headed up very close to the wind, to let the main luff up and spill the air. The trusty engine kept chugging along and kept us going in the right direction. I was soaked, cold, scared and miserable. The kids didn't seem to mind, which was great. Finally the conditions got better, the wind dropped to 15 kts, the rain lessened and we saw Block Island.
Eventually we made it into the harbor and found the Block Island Boat Basin. It wasn’t raining when we arrived and I was able to get the boat into the slip, stern first. We are now tied up safe and sound. The inside of the boat is wet and clammy, but at least we’re safe and warm.
Sunday afternoon it stopped raining for a bit so Lauren, Eric, Janine and I walked to town to check it out. We were all hungry so we browsed just a bit and then had dinner at an Inn right across from the ferry terminal. Right in the middle of dinner a downpour started. Fortunately it ended before we finished and we walked back to the boat, only getting drizzled on a little.
Back on the boat we watched the Sponge Bob video we bought. Everyone was in bed by 9:30. The weather is terrible – wind around 20-25 kts and rain. The rigging is rattling and the boat is shaking. What a vacation!
I didn’t sleep much last night. The motion of the boat was bad, sort of like trying to sleep on roller coaster. Around 1:30AM I started hearing a banging noise every now and then. That could not be good, so I threw on a pair of pants and went to check the dock lines. Sure enough, they and stretched and stern of the boat was hitting the dock. I went forward and tightened the starboard spring line and bow line. Then I went back to bed. I slept for a bit, but by 6 I heard more banging, so I got up again and readjusted the dock lines. The stern had slipped back and rubbed against the docks. There is some damage but not too much.
I took a nice shower, got back to the boat and made coffee. Everyone was asleep, so I sat in the cockpit, under the dodger, drank my coffee and read the Saturday WSJ. The wind wasn’t too bad and it wasn’t raining. Maybe the worst was behind.
The kids and Lauren woke up around 10. I took Eric to the shower and he got washed up. Then we went for a tour of the island in a cab (really a Chevy Suburban). The driver, Hank, was great. During the school year he works as the school (there is 1 school on the island and it serves all grades) IT guy. His wife is 1 of the 2 doctors on the Island. In the summer he drives a cab. We got a great tour and learned the history of Block Island and saw many great places to ride, hike, and swim.
The tour ended around 1:30 and we were hungry. We looked at about 10 places before we found one that as open for business, wasn’t too crowded, and had food that everyone would eat. I knew Eric was hungry when he ate ½ my NE clam chowder and ½ of Lauren’s French Onion Soup.
After lunch we walked around the town, shopping for goodies. I originally wanted a BI hat and T shirt. Since I was freezing (the temp was in the low 60s I ended up with the hat and a fleece. We walked around some more and walked back to the boat, arriving around 5:30PM.
The plan was to see Dinner For Schmucks at 7:00PM. At the boat, conditions were the worst yet. The docks were under water and when we got to Day To Remember, the dock boys were there to add even more lines (the windward lines were already doubled). The windward lines are now tripled, and I doubled some of the leeward lines too. I saw 33 kts of wind speed and the boat was bouncing 2-3 feet up and down. The motion was terrible.
Later we took a cab in to town and saw the movie (which was very funny). The movie ended around 9:00PM and I wanted to get a later dinner (and stay away from the boat for as long as possible), but surprise – it was raining again and still very windy. In those conditions it would not be possible to sleep on the boat. We walked past the National Hotel and I stopped in to see if they had rooms. They rook pity on us and gave us two rooms at $200 a night. As we were paying for the rooms, two more people came in to try the same thing – there would be no way to sleep on a boat tonight.
The girls volunteered to go with me to the boat to grab some gear. Fortunately we are now in a room that is not bouncing and maybe we can sleep.
I had the best night’s sleep since we left NY. We woke up around 8:30, showered and went down to breakfast. Since the ferries have not been running on a regular schedule the restaurant was out of hot chocolate and apple juice. I had a great breakfast, then we decided on the day’s activities.
It was still blowing hard and raining, so I reserved the rooms for another night. Then we walked back to the boat and I was happy to see that it was still there and safe. A starboard spring line had snapped, but the other two held, and the boat looked fine. Smelly and damp below, but in fine condition.
We decided to take a cab to the south side of the island to see Mohecan bluffs and the lighthouse. The weather was cool and damp, but not windy there because the island blocked the wind. There were 140 steps down to the beach and the beach was very cool. The island is made of clay and rocks and you could see how the bluffs were made and how they were eroding away. Eric, Janine and Corinne liked walking around and seeing the sites. Lauren and I liked it too. I got a bunch of pictures.
After a bit we walked back up the steps and then we walked to the lighthouse and took a tour. Very nice, and in a few years the lighthouse will be renovated to include a museum and a B&B.
We walked back to town, had a snack and then Lauren, Janine, and I walked back to the boat to get clothes for Wednesday. It’s a 25 minute walk or a 3 minute cab ride.
I slept very well and woke up around 7:30. I showered at 8:00 and asked Lauren and the kids to be ready for breakfast at 9:30. Checkout of the National Hotel was at 11:00 and then we would figure out what to do. As I was sitting in the room I saw this strange bright light in the sky. It was almost blinding and so bright that it cast a shadow. Oh yeah, that’s the sun! We hadn’t seen it since Saturday morning.
Breakfast was excellent, we checked out of the hotel and took a cab back to the boat. The weather was Ok and looking better. Lauren called Rustic Rides to inquire about a horse riding trip and the owner said he would come over in 15 minutes to pick us up and take us to the stables. Ok, time to get ready.
I put some damp cushions outside to dry, we changed into jeans, and then we got ready to go. We selected the 1 hour beach ride. Eric was in the lead on a pony, followed by Corinne, Janine, some young girl about Corinne’s age, then Lauren, the girls mother, and I was at the rear, on a large horse named King. The guides walked alongside the horses and we followed each other along a road and then down to the beach. Janine’s horse didn’t want to walk, he just wanted to eat grass. Janine kept having to pull on the reigns and kicking the horse to make him move. At one point Corinne’s horse decided to roll over. Corinne jumped off and the horse laid on his side and back. Then Lauren’s horse wanted some of that action, so he laid down too! My horse was excellent and knew exactly what to do. He surprised me by trotting a few times, but that was fine with me. When we got to the beach, Janine’s horse took a turn rolling over and Lauren’s horse joined in again. All in all it was fund and I would do it again.
Back at the boat we aired it out, then it misted for a bit. We then walked to get some donuts and to check out the beach. At Benson’s beach Janine and Eric wanted to swim, so they went in with their clothes on. Lauren walked back to get bathing suits and towels, but by the time she got back the kids were done. We walked back to the boat and ate a later dinner at The Oar.
I was up at 7:00AM to start the process of leaving. I paid the bill (about $540 total) and started undoing all the various dock lines. By the time everyone and everything was ready it was after 8:00. We finally got underway at 8:45AM and left to a slight drizzle.
We left New Harbor and I raised the main while Lauren steered. The wind was around 10 kts, but very close to the direction we needed to go. So once again we motor sailed with main up and no headsail.
The trip was quick and uneventful. The weather cleared up and became very nice. Fred did most of the work and with a decent breeze and the sturdy engine, we made great time. Around 11:00AM we arrived at Fishers Island sound and then turned west. We were docked around noon at Spicers.
Corinne didn’t want to leave the boat, so the rest of us took a taxi to Mystic Aquarium. As usual, the aquarium as fun and we had a nice time. The highlights were the sea lion show, Eric and Janine feeding Rays, and the touch tanks.
We left and started walking to Mystic town. We got hit with a brief rain storm, but it ended quickly and we made it to town. We walked around and then had a great dinner at Bravo Bravo.
A $12 cab ride and then we were back at Spicers. We showered and watched Get Smart on DVD.
I was up early, and had the boat underway by 8:00AM. The weather was great all day and we had a decent trip home. We were able to sail for a good part of the 50 nm trip and were back at the marina by 5:30PM. We filled the fuel tank (14 gallons of diesel for 160 miles, pretty good efficiency) then unloaded all the gear. The dingy was at the mooring, but it was full of water and the oars and oarlocks were gone. I should have secured them better before we left. I have spare oars on the boat so I was able to get to shore.
Back home we unloaded the car and brought dinner in.
That's it, the big sailing vacation was over. Would I do it again? No way! Having everyone on a small boat with bad weather is no way to spend a vacation. Truth be told, no vacation would have been great with the weather that bad, but being on a boat made it more difficult.
I was very happy with how the boat worked. Not a single problem! All boat systems worked great: engine, sails, plumbing, electrical, etc. And the boat is pretty tough. It's unbelievable how much of a pounding the boat can take going over and through waves. It never stopped going and kept us safe. She's a good boat.