The next morning, we ran through all the issues again.
Oh, by the way, in case you missed the last post, we were at anchor off Lloyd’s Neck (Oyster Bay area) because our engine had died the day before.
We bled fuel through all the bleed points, including the pipe nuts at the injectors. Okay.
We took the air filter off in case it was clogged. Okay.
We sprayed WD40 in the air intake. Okay.
Nope. It just ended up blowing back out at us.
Each time we thought we might have found the problem, we tried to start the engine. With the cylinders decompressed, we ran the starter until it sounded strong and then pulled the compression levers. It’s like starting a car by rolling it down a hill. Anyway, we ran through a ton of amp-hours in a half day and killed the 7 year old starting battery that we’d meant to replace long since.
So we called the Oyster Bay Marine Center, who said they had what we needed, which we hoped at that point was just a new battery. They also said that they couldn’t come get us, perhaps for insurance reasons? We were 3 nautical miles away and our only way of getting there was the same as our usual.
The dinghy. If we have perfect conditions, we sail that dinghy. There was no wind, though. The water was glass all the way across the bay.
So we had to row.
It was epic, with mid-voyage switching and showers at the marine center. We both got a good workout that day, but the battery didn’t fix the problem.
We had options. The option we didn’t like was to call for a tow and be charged way too much money to have a local Oyster Bay diesel mechanic come out and do everything we had already done first and then start tearing into the expensive parts… No, we were not going that route.
I (James) had a feeling that we were both thinking along the same lines, and that was sail the 55 NM, engine-less, from Oyster Bay to New London, up the Thames River to Burr’s Marina where we knew people that would, at the very least, not go out of their way to rip us off.
The weather looked good, if a little light, for an over-nighter straight up the middle of the Long Island Sound and we knew that it would most likely take between 15 and 24 hours, maybe longer if we spent a large portion of the night fighting a foul current with no wind, but it just made sense.
At 0900 we had a fresh breeze out of the southwest that was warm and strong. It gave us the lee-shore-shivers but we sailed off the anchor without a hitch, tacked once to set us up on a port-tack, broad reaching out of the bay. After about 10 minutes of sail trim we set up the Monitor self steering rig and that was how we sailed for the next 8 and a half hours.
We settled into the 2 hour daytime watches and just let our boat do what she does best…
Once the wind died, it was precision sailing. We were at the tiller, but the boat wasn’t struggling against us. The wind wasn’t strong, but it was consistent. Night fell and we switched to 3 hour watches, starting with me (Dena) from 9-12. A full insulated pot of coffee kept supplying warmth and energy through the night. I settled into looking around and tracking our progress.
I watched the Long Sand Shoal come toward me, picking its western limit’s flashing red out from the field of lights and then the white that showed me its southern extreme. In the easy-going paranoia that characterizes a lot of my time at the helm, I made sure that I knew exactly where we were and how to get to New London, even if the instruments died.
That sort of exercise also gets my head out of the cockpit. Or as James would say, helps me stop watching the cartoons!
As we approached the white lights…shift kiss!
Just as the moon dipped behind the horizon, I (James) could feel the water changing. And then I heard a sound that was very much like a waterfall and noticed that we lurched forward. I looked down at the GPS and our speed had increased to almost 4 knots. The disconcerting noise continued to approach. Even thought it was pitch black and the only thing I could see for sure were the navigation lights on the water, out of my peripheral vision I could see a definite line across the Sound. It got louder as the line approached and, just before the boat made contact with the line, I realized that it was the tide change. When we hit it, we were doing 3.7 knots and, as it came astern of us, we were doing 1.3 knots at the exact same point of sail.
We varied between 1.3 and 1.7 knots for the rest of my shift.
We came up on and passed dangers like Falkner Island at glacial speeds, our gybes gentle and spaced at calm intervals. Mainly because we didn’t want to wake the other person up.
I (Dena) came up to a mellow world at 3am. Not cold, but a bit damp, the weather was not hounding us. On the other hand, a little more wind would have been lovely. Our speed dropped periodically below 1 knot during my shift, at the maximum flood current, and plumbed the depths at 0.7 knots.
The horizon started bleeding soon after I took over. The sunrise took hours, it seemed. Watching the sky change provided unending entertainment, and the opposite of my last problem. Now, instead of getting my head out of the cockpit, I had to remind myself to check our position and look around the murky light for early-bird fishermen bringing their own worms.
In all the years we’ve been sailing, we’ve never simply endured such conditions. Little to no wind, contrary current. Starting the engine has always been an option and we’ve exercised that option more often than not. This was the first time that our only two choices were sail or drop the hook. The effect is that we were hyper-aware of all aspects of our environment. Wind, current, pressure, and of course, other boats.
It also infused the night with the joy of achievement.
We were off Niantic when I (James) took over. The tide shifted and we were once again cruising at 5 knots in a very nice wind that had us heeled over at 8 degrees – nothing big but we were moving. So in no time, it seemed, I was angling up into the Thames River. I seriously considered just tacking back and forth outside the river. We heard that the Charles W Morgan, the last existing sailing whaler, was going to be doing sail maneuvers and they would be leaving the town dock under tow with a procession. Oh, and there was a rowing event off Fort Trumble. Oh, and the ebb was picking up speed. But the wind was just too perfect.
The wind was just too perfect! I (Dena) could stick close to shore to avoid the strongest part of the current. Sounded good, but the close to shore part also put us in the wind shadow of the town. Just north of the Quinnipeag Rocks, we stalled out and started drifting back down river. The Morgan made its stately way toward us and a dozen small boats darted and zoomed around it. I aimed my drift, best I could, away from the rocks. That took us toward the channel, not a great place to be, but James nursed a tiny bit of wind in the jib while I hand-trimmed the main, and we picked up a little speed.
This happened time after time. Sail up to the dead spot. Drift back down and toward the channel. Several of the sailboats traveling with the Morgan failed to take account of our limp sails and got caught in the doldrums with us. Eventually, they each cranked up the engine and chased the big whaling ship toward the New London Ledge Light.
Finally, we got a serious puff and rode it out toward the channel. About 20 feet shy of the green buoy and less than 200 feet from a huge oncoming ferry, we gybed and took the rest of that wind just beyond the dead zone. The ferry scared the shit out of us by coming outside the channel, between us and the buoy, and tossing us in its wake. Yep, we lost our wind again.
Since we were far enough up to catch another gust, we sailed strongly the rest of the way to Greens Harbor. We went behind White Rock, just off Burr’s Marina, and did a maneuver we’d never practiced.
It goes like this. Furl the jib. Broad reach until the bow hits the spot you want your anchor. Drop anchor and start paying out chain at the 5.6 knots we were doing over the bottom. The person at the helm, meanwhile, turns downwind with the main all the way out as soon as the anchor falls.
When the anchor sets, it pulls the boat to a sudden, shocking stop and whips it around on a hard gybe. Suddenly, you’re standing there on deck with nothing to do but pour the drinks.
Well, to be accurate, there’s letting out more chain and setting up the bridle. There’s sheeting in the main and then dropping it.
Finally, if you’re us, there’s an engulfing hug on the foredeck that turns into a waltz.