About a month ago, I closed the sale on my Cape Dory FB 28 and moved her from Maryland to Connecticut. I brought along the family: two old Jack Russell terriers and a wonderful first mate, who is invaluable for moral support but otherwise inexperienced at sea.
It was a great trip, though it got off to a rocky start. About two and a half hours after we left Annapolis on a Monday around noon, the boat went from a happy 3,000 rpm to dead in the water, quite suddenly. The Racor filter looked pretty clean, but we could find no other obvious cause of the problem, so we replaced it.
Sidelined by a severe storm front the next day, we cast off again on Wednesday. From then on, Matinicus ran like a champ, and each day I fell a little more in love with her. She’s not as fast I had originally hoped, but she’s a heck of a lot speedier than Bossanova, and that was my goal. We did more than 14 knots coming down Delaware Bay to Cape May, New Jersey — with full fuel and water! It was scorchingly hot and blindingly bright, but once we were through the C&D Canal a light breeze wafted across the flat bay, and it felt great to be afloat again after several years ashore.
From Cape May, we ran to Manasquan Inlet, New Jersey. It was the sort of day where you’d rather not go out if you didn’t have to — rainy and gray with scattered thunderstorms — but seas were only 1 to 3 feet, and we were staying near-coastal. After a long day of watching the Jersey shoreline creep by, we tied up at dusk at Hoffman’s East marina in Brielle. It’s a favored spot of sport fishermen, and its certified scales have held many a record-breaker. Currents really rip through the Manasquan River, but the dockmaster, Mike, is one of the best line handlers I’ve seen and incredibly helpful.
We went in search of breakfast sandwiches before pushing off the next morning, which (deliciously) delayed our departure. And when I realized I’d forgotten to buy water, a guy who had been admiring my boat was nice enough to offer me a ride to a nearby convenience store. Turns out he was Larry Grafis, the owner of the marina and Mike’s dad. He bought Hoffman’s several years ago when it was down on its luck, rebuilt the docks and upgraded the facilities. He has put together a very impressive operation.
Day three was just gorgeous. Sunny, warm, breezy, with 3-foot seas — absolutely ideal. With a song in my heart, I put us on a direct course for Shinnecock Inlet, straight across the approach to New York, which we could see off in the distance, looking like a miniature version of the real thing. By the time we made it through the inlet and out of Shinnecock Canal to Little Peconic Bay, it was early evening. We were low on fuel, and I didn’t want to run at night, but we were soooo close … We decided to give it a shot and headed across Long Island Sound for the mouth of the Connecticut River.
The sky was turning a deep pink and orange as we drew nearer to our home port, but darkness fell with the finality of a guillotine as we waited for the eternally malfunctioning Old Saybrook-Old Lyme drawbridge to open. My nav lights, which were fine the day before, were suddenly not working, and I was exhausted. Though we were within a few miles of our slip and the end of our trip, we turned back and tied up at the fuel dock at Saybrook Point. The better part of valor is discretion, as the Bard said.
The next morning, as I dodged enormous limbs floating downstream, carried by recent storm runoff, I knew for sure we’d done the right thing. And when we were tied in our slip and washing down the boat by 9 a.m., I felt like a very tired million bucks.
As always, there were valuable lessons. Never again will I take the helm solo for a delivery run like this without an autopilot. I’m too old to steer by compass for 10 hours at a time, three days in a row. When we tied up each evening, I more or less collapsed as soon as the last cleat was wrapped. And though scheduling demands forced our pace, there’s no reason good enough to take what could be a pleasant journey and turn it into an endurance feat. I’ll take the boat to Maine next year, but I will add an autopilot first, or bring along someone who can spell me at the helm or — maybe best of all — plan on taking twice as long and running half days, with more time to stop and explore along the way.
After all, arriving is just a flimsy excuse for undertaking the journey.
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue.