When the weather says ‘Jump’!

We woke up, looked at the weather, weighed anchor and were underway, just like that, after three weeks of feeding the fire and foraging in Covid-New England.

The day we flew the flag

Sailing south down the Narragansett with the wind and the tide was a brisk New England sleigh ride but the temperatures rose along with the wind all day long, making anchoring in Point Judith Harbor of Refuge more like a nice gentle trip down memory lane than a sailing adventure.

Underway, okay!!!

You’re not getting any complaints from us!

With a 48 hour weather window going our way, we jumped all right and our timing couldn’t have been better!

Day two was an easy start on rolling glass with the fair current but as the ripples rose so did the dacron and sailing did ensue.

5.5 and all is well...

By the time we got to The Race heading west into Long Island Sound we were doing 7.1 knots on the regs and S/V S.N. Cetacea was in her element. She was dug down deep in the washing machine chop throwing a growling hiss off her waterline with nary a heel to lee.

Sea at last, sea at last, thank the dog-all-mighty, sea at last...

We hugged the shoals to north passing the Thames and Niantic but soon the twins at the mouth of the Connecticut rose from the direction of our next descending squall.


The current angled as we entered the river’s flooding pull and the winds got fluky, like they do, so we rolled in the headsails and started the diesel.

Fuck-n-A! No cooling water coming out of the motherfucking exhaust pipe! Shut her down before the engine overheats!!! “All technology fails!”*

James was at the helm so I (Dena) rolled the yankee back out. The staysail is too easily blanketed by the main when we’re running, and it looked like we would have to enter the river under sail, downwind and down-current. With the current branching at the breakwater walls between the up-Long Island Sound current and the up-Connecticut River current, there would surely be a strange crossover point where the river would take over from the Sound.

As James crabbed us toward the narrow gap between the two rock walls protecting the river entrance, we discussed our options. There was the nervous entrance channel to be navigated, but then would we be able to make it into the much narrower secondary channel into the Old Saybrook Harbor of Refuge?

Not a good bet, especially since picking up a mooring under sail is something we’ve practiced even less than anchoring under sail.

Instead, we decided to anchor at what is basically a wide spot in the road…an area just outside the river’s channel and supposedly 9 feet deep.

The up-Sound current pushed hard against the side of the boat, and we were traveling almost 40 degrees farther west than where the boat was pointed. I milked every bit of wind with the yankee, holding it tight when it wanted to flap and letting it fill when it could. Finally, as we lined up with the rock breakwaters and the currents began to switch on us, James was able to turn us that last crucial bit into the wind so that we had firm control.

Had the wind died just then, we would have been at the mercy of the current and it almost certainly would have smashed us on the rocks.

Instead, the wind stiffened up and we sailed with confidence through the narrows on a tight reach.

I took the helm and James went forward to ready the anchor. Sailing into shallows calls for alertness and patience. I wanted to make sure we wouldn’t settle back on the anchor far enough to end up back in the channel, but I also needed to know that we weren’t going to end up running aground. James’s job on the bow was to wait until I said to drop the anchor and he had the hardest part. Waiting is always the hardest part.

I was waiting too, coming up into the wind to kill my speed and then falling off to get a little more. The range rings showed a better and better distance from the channel and a less and less luxurious distance from the shallows, but the depth just wouldn’t drop. Where was the bottom? I eased in, farther and farther, testing James’s patience and my own, before I decided that we’d better get the anchor down.

We were still going almost 1 knot when I said, “Drop the anchor,” and I tried hard to both round up into the wind to kill speed and not actually tack, because tacking would mean raking the chain across the bobstay. Instead, the chain raked the hull and much wincing commenced.

The anchor symbol in the orange circle above is where we stopped.

As soon as I was confident we weren’t moving, I jumped down below. Got out a new impeller. Retrieved all the tools I’d need. Cleared space for the engine cover. Pulled the water pump off the engine and removed the face plate.

James had been accessing and shutting off the seacock that fed water to that pump, so only some of the water in the engine flowed out. And then I saw…a perfectly intact impeller.

Damn it! If it wasn’t the impeller, what could it be?

James eased open the seacock and water poured from the pump housing, so that wasn’t blocked. I put the whole thing back together and…the engine was fine. Plenty of cooling water coming out with the exhaust. It must have been a bag or a jellyfish or who-knows-what blocking the raw water intake but not so firmly that it didn’t disappear between the bad start and the good start.

In both “what the fuck” and “that’s great” fashion, we celebrated briefly before hauling the anchor and hauling ass into the protected area we’d looked forward to since those nasty northerlies in East Greenwich. Because yes…the wind had continued rising and a small craft advisory had been issued. We went from not-enough to too-much wind in about an hour.

The Old Saybrook basin is well-dredged and we’ve picked up both town moorings and yacht club moorings in the past. This time, our rather shocked eyes beheld a basin devoid of moorings and oddly spacious. We pulled right up a safe distance from the town dock and anchored with our usual enjoyable precision.


Us, now...

  • I (James) have no idea who I’m quoting here but there’s never a truer thing been said.

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