Friday, August 3, 2012

Pleasant Surprise

The next morning we were still anchored
 in Cuttyhunk outer harbor
This has been a day of surprises. We didn't go aground twice. Can you imagine?

It started when we awoke to find that we hadn't dragged anchor and hadn't landed on the beach at Cuttyhunk. The night before Anita asked, "Why are we the only ones anchored and everyone else is on a mooring?" Actually, almost everyone else -- several boats were at anchor on the far shore -- but still it was enough to make me pause. Why indeed? What did they know that we didn't?

Instead of sampling the pleasures of inner harbor we had anchored where recommended by the cruising guide: between Pease Ledge and Whale Rock. I'm usually loath to follow advice like where to anchor because everyone else is reading the same book and the herd ends up grazing in front of, on both sides of, and behind where we drop our hook. In this instance we were oddly shunned. The guide does contain the caveat that one should make sure the anchor is set, but that's always good practice, so nothing unusual in that. Still, why would everyone else cling to a $45 mooring when there's plenty of room to anchor?

As for Cuttyhunk inner harbor, it was jammed like a shopping mall parking lot just before the holidays, looking like one of those RV parks you see in the Florida Keys where trailers and campers are packed together like a school of minnows. Those moorings in Cuttyhunk Pond are reputed to be quite close together, leading to bumps in the night and hasty introductions while fending off and wondering whether you remembered to tug on a pair of pants before bolting topsides.

Chasing the Baileys twenty years later
It is true that Anthony Bailey, in The Coast of Summer, describes anchoring in exactly this spot and then awaking when they thumped onto the beach around midnight. It is true that getting the plow to set required gentling its point into the eel grass and nudging it down rather than giving it a good chain-stretching back down. Plus, there is a startling fetch to the north, where the distant Massachusetts shoreline is dim in the haze, so a good thunderstorm would create quite a rollicking chop.

Our evening was disturbed only by the rattle of chain when a schooner ghosted in and anchored near by. This was music to my ears since those schooner skippers know all the tricks. Or they read the guide book. Or they read Anthony Bailey. Whatever the reason, the lead cow had arrived and I felt so much better. Cruisers suppose themselves to be wily individualists but I wonder whether we are really just part of a herd.

As I say, we awoke to find Sweet Pea in the same spot, which was a pleasant surprise. As a bookend to that uneventful start, today ended with another pleasant surprise when we followed another sailboat into Lake Tashmoo and didn't go hard aground on a falling tide. Sometimes this happens.

The model is bumfuzzled by Buzzards Bay currents.
We had departed Cuttyhunk, expecting to ride a favorable current along the Buzzards Bay side of the Elizabeth Islands to Hadley Harbor. I have a nifty online tidal current model called SailFlow that displays a movie depicting the current direction and speed for the next 12 hours. I love watching how the water surges into and out of the various places. Actually it only shows colored arrows that jitter around on a chart. You have to imagine the water. The plot is fairly predictable. Still, I find it fascinating.

My smart phone's tide model told me we would be flung toward Woods Hole and Hadley Harbor. Too bad it was absolutely wrong. Rather than riding those fancy colored arrows east we found ourselves dodging them as the water surged the opposite way, turning a joy ride into a long plod in light airs.

Nailed Buzzards Bay currents
back in 1875
As we poked along, I was reading aloud from The Coast of Summer -- we Joneses like to keep up with the Baileys, comparing notes and looking for a chance for a little one-up-man-ship -- when Anthony casually mentioned that the tide in Buzzards Bay runs opposite that in Vineyard Sound. Astounding, simply astounding. There must be a giant whirlpool circling around the Elizabeth Islands. I had never heard of such a thing and apparently neither had my tide model.

Normally I would consult my Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book to see how the currents vary throughout the tidal cycle. No one cruises these waters without the maps drawn by Captain George W. Eldridge in 1875. They are the real smart-model though their arrows are only in black and white. Unfortunately, I offloaded the previous year's Eldridge before buying a 2012 copy. I must have been thinking that those maps changed this year despite being the same for the last century. Unfortunately none of our stops have included a store that sells it, which is odd since every little place seemed to have a yellow pile stacked by the cash register when I didn't need a copy.

We took a Vineyard Sound sleigh ride through Quicks Hole to Lake Tashmoo.
Abandoning the Hadley Harbor plan and Buzzards Bay, we shot through Quicks Hole, well named since the current was slucing through at 4 knots, and hopped on the Vineyard Sound's people mover. It really was like stepping on one of those things at the airport when you just zing along in comparison to those walking. Most exhilarating, in a sailor sort of way. When top speed is a slow jogging pace, every half knot is cause for major celebration.

We didn't go aground in Lake Tashmoo channel.
We zipped up the Sound and arrived at the entrance to Lake Tashmoo way too early. The tide was still falling and I had little confidence in the channel. Our guide book said that depths had shoaled to 3 feet. While it was well out of date, nothing we could call up on the smart phone contradicted this gloomy assessment. As I write this I'm wondering about that term, smart phone.

We hove to just off the entrance channel and ate lunch, thinking to wait six hours for the tide to reverse. Half-tide falling and half-tide rising produce the same depths but are worlds apart when poking into a channel that may have already shoaled shut. My boat and I have served as a cautionary marker more than once and I didn't want to be the object of curious stares and clever remarks, yet again. So we waited, eyeing the sailing vessels that came charging out but didn't answer our hails on the radio. If they were so confident surely we could have made it. They might have been center boarders rather than keel boats -- well, you just never know.

Years prior we had been sailing the low country north of Charleston in a narrow ICW ditch when a tug pushing an oil barge about the size of Houston two-whistled us so it could pass. I was the stand-on vessel but that tug and barge was mighty wide. There was no way we were going to argue about rights since he would have won hands down and Sweet Pea would have been a bug on his windshield. I figured that following the 8-foot contour would keep us out of trouble even when his suction dropped the depth a couple of feet as he went by.

The suction didn't get us but the mud he stirred up blinded our depth sounder. It started bleeping in alarm and counted down the feet while I eyed the channel, wondering where to find deeper water. When we slid up on the bank it turned out that the depth sounder was seeing just fine. Four feet is six inches too short for Sweet Pea. The tide was falling like a barometer in a hurricane and had four more feet to go.

As we heeled on the mud bank, a skiff putted over, piloted by a local who was clasping a bottle of Southern Comfort. He struck up a slurred conversation -- we were truely a captive audience and he was only one of many bystanders who commented on our plight in a soft southern drawl -- and in the end offered me a shot to "tide me over". Southern Comfort, indeed. He might have been making a deliberate pun, but given his thoroughly inebriated state, I had my doubts. After a long day of listening to things clatter out of lockers as the tilt increased and then finally started reversing, we finally floated off around dark, truely understanding the difference between half-tide falling and half-tide rising.

As we hovered off Lake Tashmoo a sailing vessel eventually came within shouting distance. They probably wandered by wondering why our sails were arranged in such a bizarre way and why we were sailing so slowly. Well, she is an Island Packet so not too much surprise about our making only a knot in ten knots of wind, but that doesn't explain why I had back-winded the jib. That, they probably assumed, was how we did it in Georgia.

They assured us that there's plenty of water. We let them go first and, to our amazement, there was.

The entrance carried seven feet, so for Sweet Pea it was no sweat. At one point we were nearly brushing the rocks lining the port side of the channel but the fishermen kindly dipped their lines for us. Inside there was plenty of room to anchor and several other anchored vessels, assuring us that it was the right place to be. We let out a hearty moo of relief.

Tendril joins the local dinghys.
So here we are. It is really quite wonderful. There's a free town dock with enough depth to come alongside for unloading our bikes. Plus there is a water hose and a dumpster and a floating dinghy dock so we won't have to wade ashore. It's a 5-minute bike ride to Vineyard Haven, we hear -- and the bus is said to have an all-day geezer pass. Heaven.

 Big winds are in the forecast for this weekend and we don't intend to move an inch. Things are looking up. If only Anthony Bailey had anchored here we could compare notes. I'm sure my spot is better than his.

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