…And then we went sailing!


We motored hard through a thick coat of fog from Dutch Harbor, RI, to Onset, MA, and anchored in Onset (on-sit, remember, we’re in Mass, pronunciation is everything) Harbor. The trip was a loud, bone shaking ride through big following seas and absolutely no wind so showing up in a familiar place, that we really like, was a much needed quiet reprieve.

The harbor in Onset is well protected but also quite open. There’s a private island between the anchorage area and the town dock, so it’s a bit of a row. This time, we anchored nearer the island than we’ve managed before – only three boats were anchored in the whole basin when we arrived – which ended up being nice, considering how many times we rowed in and back.

After anchoring, we rowed into town for groceries and got pizza. (Yay, pizza!) Back on the boat, we had a quiet evening and went to bed at a decent hour, since we wanted to leave by about 8am. At 7:30am, we decided to check the oil and put a hose clamp on the valve cover breather hose, which had torn when Carl was helping us diagnose our engine trouble. It was causing a little bit of carbon monoxide to leak in the cabin, making belowdecks a bad place to be while underway. Mostly just right over the engine compartment, but still.

So we took the engine compartment apart, again, and I (Dena) pulled the dipstick. Oil was nice and dark. I know, that’s not preferable to light and oily, but it is preferable to milky looking. We’re keeping an eye on that, since the mixing elbow was like-new, not new, and when the sea-water portion of the elbow corrodes, it can let water into the oil.

The oil was not full, though, and I took the opportunity to add some. The oil filler cap comes off and goes on a paper towel. The oil goes in the engine. The cap goes back on the engine.

Or at least, it starts to.

I was using the paper towel to turn the cap, but it was getting in the way. I thought I had a couple threads on, so I pulled the paper towel away, and the cap leapt for freedom. In this case, freedom meant dropping behind the engine, under the transmission, in the 4′ deep cavern in the hull that is a repository for lost items akin to the Peter Pan Isle of Lost Socks.

It mocked us by landing on a floating piece of…I don’t know what…and remaining in view while I stretched and wiggled, trying to get close to it. I extended my reach with a long pair of channel locks but did not touch it. I grabbed a piece of light wooden trim we had lying around (I know, weird) and broke it to the right length.

At the very first tap, the floating thing flipped upside down and bam! The cap was gone.

I (James) was in the cockpit stowing the oil stuff when the aforementioned event happened so I opted to stay out of her way when she started to scramble to get our oil cap back. After exhausting her reach Dena asked me if I wanted a try so I attempted to get the bright orange cap myself but still came up about 3.5 feet short of the mark.

This is the perfect time to describe how Dena Hankins, the one person in the world I truly love, deals with a mistake of such incredibly frustrating proportions.

First the color in her face changes pitch to the pinkish-red part of the spectrum, her lips tighten, a slight crease appears in the skin between her eyes, and her movements become quick and focused.

In other words… She stoically bears the burden of her watch.

She grabs her phone…

After a few minutes she finds all the auto parts stores within ten miles of our current location and she begins to pack her backpack for a day of walking.

“Are you coming with me?” she asks and my response is a simple, “of course.”

I (Dena) couldn’t believe that such a small item, such a quick mistake, could make us dead in the water. Running the engine without the cap would throw oil all over the engine compartment, both running the engine out of or low on oil and creating a toxic mess that would be pumped out into the water around us by the bilge pump. Unacceptable.

We rowed in and got a possible replacement – which didn’t fit. On the third trip into town, I bought two – one of which was sure to fit! I had even gotten out my handy-dandy calipers to be sure they were the right size. The trip back from the store was a slog of a walk. Not scenic enough to be enchanted on the 4th pass, I hitched a ride from a very cool young man who was on his way to picnic with his family. My very first success at hitchhiking was a pleasant experience.


I saw this really cool sand-frog carved in the beach when I got back to the town dinghy dock.

By the time the new cap was in place, it was far too late to head through the canal. We can’t fight 4-6 knot tides in a boat that motors 6.5 knots at 3000 rpm. We got drunk instead.

Motoring through the Cape Cod Canal the next day was uneventful. We pulled into the Sandwich Marina (delicious!) at the eastern end in order to fuel up on diesel and propane. Once again, we got lucky and another boater offered us a ride to the propane store, which happened to be attached to the best breakfast spot on Cape Cod, the Marshland Restaurant. Propane and breakfast – how perfect!

And then we went sailing.


The wind was light to begin with, but after our trip up the Long Island Sound, we were comfortable with going very slowly. This is the reason we do this. Sailing is such a profound experience – it’s peaceful and intense at the same time. There’s always stuff to do – trimming the sails, straightening up the deck, adjusting the Monitor windvane – and it’s all, all of it, an absolute pleasure. The word that is so overused and so flogged by pop culture – sublime – is the only word that I know of that is apropos. Sailing provides us with a place and a role in the grandeur all around. Air and water, light and motion, all negotiated with and bowed to and used.

When we made our approach to Plymouth it kicked up to about 20 knots steady. We struck the jib and blazed into our anchorage under full main against a strong out going tide but stuck the anchor in a clean sandy spot right smack in the middle of the Cowyard just north of Plymouth Rock.


The next day, we put the sails up in a steady breeze right off Gurnet Point, after we passed the Plymouth Light. The Monitor worked well, but the variations in wind caused a winding course through the water. Those are the choices – sail with the Monitor based on wind direction, trimmed properly and sailing a variable course or sail with the Tiller Pilot based on compass direction, flogging and over-filling the sails and sailing a steady course.

We choose the first. It means that the enduring wind changes, of which there were many around points and off hills and beaches, require the Monitor to be adjusted and the sails to be trimmed.  But that’s just proper seamanship. That’s sailing.


Over the course of the day, we tucked two reefs in the main. She sails really well under a reefed main. We believe it’s because our mainsail is a little old and stretched out of shape.


Even though the winds died out a bit, we left one reef in the main for the rest of the day because we were sailing perfectly.

Reaching Boston Harbor, we took the Nantasket Roads (I love these names) through the Quincy (quin-zee) Bay and into the Weymouth (way-muth) Fore River. We toured the area, scouting the best place to anchor, and found only one spot with sufficient depth and room to wander on the 100′ of rode we needed for the 12′ tides in the area. Hook down, we read ourselves to sleep in the gentle breeze of a warm summer evening.



  1. This story was so charming, suspensful, & satisfying, it makes me want to go out and buy a sailboat. Wait a minute, I do own a sailboat–oops! 🙂


    P.S. Tie a string on that trouble making dipstick–maybe?

  2. BTW,

    On a totally different topic, I’m thinking about buying a little better camera, and I had a question for a cruising expert. So I thought, why not check with you guys!!

    Just curious. Do you take any special precautions concerning keeping your camera dry? Silica Gel? Ammo box (or other waterproof box)?

    If you use silica gel, do you have a way to dry it when you are cruising?



  3. Alan,
    I have a hopelessly inadequate but damn-near indestructible “waterproof” (lie) Bag that I bought at West Marine before we sailed to Hawaii in 2006.
    There is no such thing as water proof, water resistance, etc… Water, salt water gets into everything! The only way to fight it is to buy really good gear.
    I recommend Leica… I wish I could afford it myself.

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