Our last year at sea

On May 22, 2022, we (Dena and I, James) went sailing. We left the City of Sin, Mass, and pointed the boat at Gloucester with our eyes on the Azores.

...and then we went sailing!

S/V S.N. Cetacea wasn’t ready for an epic adventure yet but we sure were. After two whole winters in New England we were more than ready…we were running away.

Dena at the helm P-Town receding

No one in the North Shore area was willing to pull our mast, and we had some real repair work to do on the yankee furler foil. A general inspection was also in order before heading out to sea plus we had a tricolor and windex to install. We weren’t going to wait for the local marinas to finish launching their winter customers, but it seemed realistic that we’d find some willing shipyard between Buzzard’s Bay and the Narraganset.

We had a good list of completed projects that made a shakedown coastal cruise totally possible. The primary energies tower was installed and we were taking on so much power that we couldn’t even come close to using it all with what draw we had. The watermaker was ready to run, and we thought that the main project left was pulling the mast for some repairs and installations.

Cetacea, today

While we finished readying the boat for a cross Atlantic run for São Jorge, we’d get some cruising in and find a few little things to fix here and there…If only it had gone like that! Instead, we ran into engine trouble almost immediately. We were getting a lot of oil out of the port side and broke a timing gear case bolt trying to tighten down that seam. Then the watermaker motor started popping the breaker and had to be deep-cleaned by a pro. James got deeply ill (the electric motor pro was a few towns and a long virus-filled bus ride away) and so the first couple weeks away were packed with adversity.

The broken bolt has grabable threads
Getting all up inside that engine

We swept into East Greenwich, RI, feeling relieved and hopeful. Illness gone, an array of boatyards (one of which was sure to want our money for the mast-pulling), and some reasonably good weather all helped us feel that, though we were getting edgy about the beginning of hurricane season, we were still in reasonably good shape for that big jump across the Atlantic.

There was only one boatyard that would pull our mast and so we went to Wickford. June 13th, they yanked that sucker and, on June 19th, they put it back. It was a hell of a big project and I (Dena) am glad we did it if only for this one thing…

Avoiding tragedy at sea
Tragedy averted!

And then the weather really went to shit! We sailed to different islands in the Narragansett for protection from the different gales, then took what weather improvements we found to do more shakedown cruising…and realized along the way that we were taking on way too much water from the packing gland. Another big project to take care of, unexpectedly, and by the way our bottom was way too dirty. So we did a haulout on July 14th.

0700 Sunday morning.
The dinner crowd couldn’t wait to see what we’d do next!

By the 18th we were back in the water!

Our Cetacea tonight

The boat was provisioned, the crew was exhausted but mentally ready, and with a few days of rest before the next perfect weather window we knew we’d be ready to jump when the time came. But what about that rig? Well…it had stretched quite between our initial tuning in Wickford and splashing in New London. I (James) knew we had some slackness but not really enough to do a full-on tuning before going offshore. I was wrong about that. (We both were.)

At 0600 on June 22, 2022, we left the Thames River on a fair current doing 6 knots on a cool fresh broad reach. Nine hours later we anchored in Block Island’s Great Salt Pond with all our tails between all our legs.

Out at sea, on the way across the local ocean, I had looked up at our mast and seen a thing I’d never seen before. Our mast sapped like a whip and our rig shuddered like a child freezing in the cold, cold, cold. We were pounded by the potato patch between Montauk and Block Island (as well as every 60 foot sportfisher descending from the fog). We took a ten foot wave over the bow…tucked up and turned back for Block.

That really was our agony. That was our agonizing reappraisal of what we were and what we were doing. Not only were we not ready to go…neither was Cetacea.

So we pointed the boat Downeast and went sailing.

Photo worthy meal

It definitely wasn’t all eating out and chilling out. In one of the most remote parts of the Maine coast, we managed to break yet another bolt. In a year of awful engine work, this took the cake. And yet, I (Dena) don’t want to talk about it. Fuck that story.


North to Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia would have been a little more easygoing without the aforesaid engine problem and Hurricane Fiona (thanks, beeotch) but we in our restlessness still needed to move on and definitely didn’t want another northern winter.

Heading south. Multi-day passages with night-sky realizations and the slogs through the internal passages because wow, weather! Ages later, November 1, 2022, we transited the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn at night in order to exit New York Harbor and get the fuck out of the Northeast.

Down the East River at night!

There was an idea that we’d meet my (Dena’s) dad in Mexico that got scotched by the combination of pains James experienced between the broken rib and the mother’s death. Not gonna revisit those here, but it really took us all the way through March without a way off this oh-so-glorious Eastern Seaboard. April was the weather eye toward leaving. May 2023 has turned into the month we free ourselves of a terrible weight.

We started out the last year with the idea that we’d fix the last couple things and then cross the ocean. We met so many reasons to change course and did what we needed to do, moment by moment. It ultimately culminated in a need to stop tearing the boat up every day to check the oil and pour in what had leaked to soak into the oilsorb pads. We practiced sailing on and off the anchor; we worked out the difference between speed and steerageway. Out of control? Not awesome. On track to hit harbor more than a day after we’d thought? Absolutely fine.

We did it, we shook her down and proved that what we needed to do was to prove to ourselves and to the world that we didn’t need to spend another dime, another thought, another calorie on the evils of humanity’s past. What we needed to do was remove our thirsty mouths from the petroleum tit once and for all. Remove ourselves purposefully from the very thing that will surely destroy the only Earth we have.

The engine had to go!

We sailed all the way down to Key West to say our goodbye’s to my (James’s) mother…then we went back to Vaca Key to give up another addiction. The worst one of all.

A hole...

So now we begin a new year of adventure, only this time we’re on a completely electric sailing vessel. A vessel who will take the three of us around the world without a single drop of oil.

S/V Lohan in the rain

It’s always nice to have goals…even little ones, right?


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