Wednesday, 17 July 2019

9 July Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts

View from the top to the pond
Harbourmaster's office

The Elizabeth islands lie twenty-five miles east from Newport between mainland Massachusetts and Martha's Vineyard island and the first island, Cuttyhunk, is the only one not privately owned. The Forbes family of publishing fame own the rest.
We'd looked at the tide and current tables for the area and opted to leave Newport just before midday to go with the flow of the east setting current. On a windless afternoon we motored along, waternaker on and taking it easy. At Cuttyhunk there is a dredged inner pond with a close packed mooring field ($45 a night) and a small area for complimentary anchoring. You can also anchor outside the main channel. We thought we'd have a look inside just in case and got lucky; four boats anchored with one leaving. We took his spot in the north east corner, but only swinging too wide of the dredged area and touching bottom with the keel. We kicked up some mud but didn't stick.

local oysters, byo Californian rose

Cuttyhunk is cute; small, neat, uniform grey and white houses, a handy dinghy dock and a handy halfway on the journey from Newport to Martha's Vineyard. There's a mobile oyster and seafood delivery boat which delivers shucked oysters on request every afternoon. First night we had a dozen of these sweet and creamy shellfish, a bowl of clam chowder and a stuffed Quahog. A Quahog, pronounced co-hog, is a half clam shell filled with a mix of breadcrumbs, clam meat and scallop meat. It tastes of breadcrumbs.
Following a very quiet night we set out to explore. It's sufficiently small to be able to walk all the roads and paths in a couple of hours. First we had to reach the highest point for an overview; the pond, the clay cliffs of Martha's Vineyard and to the memorial to Bartholomew Gosnold who was the first European (English) to land and settle on the island.
Cuttyhunk Pond

Methodist church

The settlers now come from mainland Massachusetts for a summer of family fun, kids doing sailing school in the morning and playing on the beach in the afternoon. We met one family, Walt, Carolyn and daughter Angela sailing on La Dolce Vita, for who this is the start of their cruising life. Walt and Carolyn told us the history of the island and made recommendations of where we might explore further afield. We think New Englanders and especially friendly and helpful people. For example if you stand at the side of the road waiting for a break in the traffic to cross the drivers will stop and wave you across. Drivers allow other drivers to pull out from side roads. They really are most considerate people.
On day three we lifted anchor and negotiated the channel on a rising tide, out to an east setting current and another twenty something mile trip to Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard.

Friday, 12 July 2019

7 July Weekend in Newport

It had been our intention to head out to Martha's Vineyard on 5 July. The weather said 'no'. On Saturday we had heavy fog. 
Queen Mary 2 without fog

The ocean liner Queen Mary 2 docked a mile away and as the fog rolled past it was the case of 'now you see her, now you don't'. Last Saturday afternoon we had held on in a terrific rain and hail storm. Half inch balls of ice bounced off the bimini, the wind reached 30 knots, the rain bucketed and we held fast as did all the boats around us. Across the way a yacht with no-one on board dragged in to a 40' Nordhavn passage maker. Three harbour master boats were quickly on the scene and took control of the yacht moving it to a mooring ball.

While we didn't have a storm this weekend the fog was thick, making dinghy travel around the busy harbour unwise. Yes, there were still many boat out as the fog bells and horns were blowing.
On Sunday morning the wind was blowing from the NE which was exactly where we wanted to go. Instead we met an old cruising friend for brunch. The first time we met Zdenka and Jack of Kite was in Fiji and the last time was in Indonesia until we both came in to Newport on the same afternoon.
After a mega brunch we went for a walk around Fort Adam where a sail regatta had just finished. On this beautiful afternoon the views across the harbour are impressive.

Can I have one?

Pres, Eisenhower slept here

4 July Bristol Parade

Bristol harbour

Rhode Island has many historic sites and traditions from the original English settlers to the oldest continuous 4 July parade in America. This is in the town of Bristol ten miles up the Nargansett inlet. We had to go and see watch the birthday party. All week we had been watching and hearing fireworks up and down the harbour. Every time there was a bang David and I turned to watch while Polly cat turned tail and ran to hide behind the laundry basket.
Meanwhile, back at the parade in Bristol. We found a comfortable spot in the shade to watch the action; marching bands, rock bands, re-enactment military, modern military, fire engines, helicopters and coast guard boats on trailers, heavy horses and everything in between. It lasted four hours. We lasted less than two before our backsides were numb from sitting on the grass.

2 July The Newport Mansions

Between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the beginning of the First World War America's population and wealth grew and the when the entrepeneurs wanted to relax in summer they chose the cooler Newport as their destination. It's a little over a hundred miles from New York and less humid. The captains of industry built their summer cottages on Bellevue Avenue overlooking the sea.
This period has become known as the Gilded Age taken from the title of a satirical novel by Mark Twain. He wasn't kind when he coined the phrase. He was referring to a base metal or wood covered with a thin layer of gold.
The summer mansions of Newport are now run and maintained as museums by the Preservation Society founded by heiress Patty Duke in the 60s. It set out to save these big houses from the wreckers ball as they became too big and too costly to maintain, white elephants.
Breakers ballroom

Breakers front aspect

Breakers flower garden

The most popular house is The Breakers built by Cornelius and Gertrude Vanderbilt at the turn of the century. It took two years to build, was used for two months of the year and cost US $11 million. Vanderbilt's money came from the railroads. He wanted to show his guests how rich and successful he was with his chateau inspired mansion and grand parties. At the time when most houses were lit by candles, he had generators and electrical lights. They had hot water and central heating. A year after completion Cornelius had a stroke and died a year later.
My next house to complete the day was Rosecliff. Big, white and square lines, it was built by the Tessie Fair Oelrichs, daughter of an Irish immigrant who struck the largest deposits of silver in Nevada. Tessie liked a good knees up and her parties were infamous.

Rosecliff ballroom

It is thought F Scott Fitzgerald visited and he based The Great Gatsby on Rosecliff. The film version with Robert Redford was filmed here.
When the Gilded Age of conspicuous wealth inevitably waned at the start of the first World War, and the smart set drifted away, Tessie stayed, eventually having a mental breakdown in the twenties and dying young.
While I was at Rosecliff there was an exhibition of John James Audubon's renowned original Birds of America etchings.
Audubon etching

Audubon etching

Two houses were enough for one afternoon and I went back next day with my five house admission ticket to view The Elms, Marble House and the much smaller Chepstow house.
The Elms music room

The Elms

The Elms lost all it's namesakes to Dutch Elm disease in the 70's but the grounds remain impressive. As does the scent of fresh flowers in each of the houses provided by the gardeners at The Breakers. The Elms was built with coal money and it too heralds it's inspiration in the chateaus of Europe. In 1966 it had been abandoned, the Belgian tapestries and furniture sold at auction and was destined to be demolished until the Preservation Society stepped in and bought it. The furniture and some tapestries have been replaced by donation. I think the statistic is 40 mansions of the Gilded Age in Newport were demolished due to lack of funds and interest to maintain them. Today many of these houses and the wooden houses in the town have Historical interest status and are protected.
Marble house marble entrance hall

Marble House rear view

The last big mansion I took the tour, self guided audio tours, was at Marble House. It has tons of marble from Italy on the floors, walls and probably ceilings. It was commissioned by Consuela Vanderbilt, daughter of Breakers Vanderbilt. She went as far as to purchase an entire room including the oak panelling, stained glass and the heavy wood furniture in Europe and ship it in. At first it looked like the interior of a Gothic church. Like The Breakers and Rosecliff it has lawns that sweep down to the cliffs.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

28 June Newport, Rhode Island

welcome party on the lawn

busy afternoon

Pell bridge in the background

Fort Adam protecting the entrance
We cruised into Newport harbour at 5 o'clock on Friday afternoon meeting a cruise ship on it's way out, fishing boats returning to port, every sailing club in the area out for a sunset sail, day trippers. It was a grand entrance. On the east cliffs there were crowds of smart people having sundowners on the lawns of big hotels and on the grass in front of the large Fort Adam. Ahead the mighty Pell Suspension bridge spanned the river.
Apart from the many boats there were strategically placed lobster pot floats waiting to snag a propeller if you strayed too close to the shore.
We knew to expect large mooring fields inside the harbour, but they were far larger and wider than we had imagined. I'd thought Brenton Cove looked a fine place to drop the anchor – it was a mooring field. Consulting Active Captain in the Navionics programme once more I recognised my error. There is an area for anchoring for those who don't want to pay $1 per foot per night to take a mooring ball. It is north and east of the Ida Lewis yacht club and south of the cable running east-west.

one of the mooring fields

relaxing after the passage
We found a really comfortable spot in 5m of water at 41 28.31N 71 19.35W.
It was too late to go ashore for dinner; we like to stay on board for at least two hours after anchoring to ensure we are safe and the anchor dug in. Anyway there was so much to see around us with classic sail boats passing us, megayachts on mooring balls, the low level buildings and trees in summer foliage. All new, all different from what we have been used to in the tropical islands.
Arriving in Newport by 1 July had been a goal for several months and we'd done it. Now I could open our last bottle of sparkling wine (bought in Cartagena at Christmas) to celebrate. As if the authorities knew we were celebrating there was a fly over by a plane leaving smoke trails and after the sun sank below the horizon a magnificent firework display. We had arrived on the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Pell Bridge. I have a feeling we're going to like New England.
New England sunset

24-28 June Sailing north from Charleston to Newport

The forecast looks good for us to head north today and it seems we might be able to make it all the way to Newport, Rhode Island, 720nm away. In case the forecast changes we have three duck out spots; Beaufort, North Carolina, before Cape Hatteras, Norfolk, Virginia after Cape Hatteras, then Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
In the end we sailed and motored in the Gulf Stream making good time. In the last few hours of sailing in the Gulf stream before it turned east to Europe we had 6 knots of north flowing current and temperatures in the 28 to 29c range. As the sunset we were wearing shorts and t shirts, but within six hours, I'd added trousers, deck shoes and a fleece. Leaving the warm current our SOG dropped and the sea temperature dropped sharply. The windows were frosted with condensation and the floors damp.
An advantage of sailing north in summer is the daylight hours are longer. Sunrise was at 5.30am and sunset at 8.30pm. We cruised into Newport harbour at 5 o'clock on Friday afternoon meeting a cruise ship on it's way out, fishing boats returning to port, every sailing club in the area out for a sunset sail, day trippers. It was busy.
The trip from Charleston was 720nm. We took four and a half days and sailed about 60% of the way; more motoring than we would have wished for but it was quick with the help of the current.

22 June Historic Charleston

new builds

Once we discovered how easy it is to cycle around Charleston we went everywhere by bike. There are no hills, wide pavements and some cycle paths and plenty of conveniently placed bike racks for locking to. It's not too big either; in less than ten minutes we could be downtown and in fifteen in the heart of the historic district.
antique meets old

Calhoun Mansion

First I found the leafy streets lined with colonial style houses, all balconies and beautiful woodwork and some with real gas lamps at their doors. In the old town some of the lanes were still the original cobblestones. Charleston claims the first theatre in America; opened in 1736 it was the first building built specifically for performing arts. In it's history it has burnt down, a hotel built on the spot and this building has been converted back to a theatre. Much of the architecture of the churches follows the English style. More than one looked very similar to a church in London. But there is a timely reminder of how much of the early wealth of this area was created in the trendy and popular shopping and eating district. The slave market buildings close to the waterfront would have provided the labour for the plantations in South Carolina. The market has now been converted to a covered market of craft stores.

first theatre in America

Back on the cycle trail we followed the shore along the Battery. Apparently the first shot of the War of Independence was fired at Fort Sumter at the entrance to the harbour. There are still a number of eighteenth century forts around the harbour which you can visit.
I have a particular fondness for King Street for the many ladies clothes shops. Many of the familiar high street names and a plenty of independent stores made for a happy afternoon of retail therapy and instantly my wardrobe is reinvigorated with a few carefully chosen shorts and summer tops. OK. I admit I'm a cliché. New clothes perk me up.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

18 June US inward clearance in Charleston

Entry into Charleston at dawn was easy with clear channel markers leading us into the anchorage off City Marina. With all three marinas full when we arrived we had to anchor in the river. There is plenty of room for twenty or more boats and we found a spot. The problem is not dropping your anchor, it's retrieving it from a foul bottom of sunken wrecks and an abandoned mooring field snags your anchor.
With anchor down we took the dinghy across to the dock office at City Marina. We had enquired about a slip and were told they were full. However, the staf couldn't have been more helpful giving us their phone to call Customs and Border Patrol to arrange our check in. The officer arrived from the airport within an hour, looked at Jackster at anchor in the river and said that was fine no need to come alongside. A really friendly and welcoming man, he checked our passports and visas and issued us the maximum six month visa.
We returned to the marina office to pay the $5 dinghy dock fee and received the happy news they had shuffled bookings and there was a space for us if we were 50' LOA. The lady ageed 15.8m is 48' so we were in. Hurrah! It was approaching slack high water so time to beat feet back to Jackster and prepare lines and fenders. The anchor came up clean.
City Marina spreads out along the river set beyond the shallow marshes and has space for 500 boats. If you're on the end it's a long walk to the office and shower block. Our spot was nicely central and our timing was good. Tonight there was complimentary happy hour for marina guests: beer, wine and snacks for a couple of hours under a tent on the dock. It was a really nice to meet people.
Next day I called the Customs office at the docks and arranged an appointment for a cruising permit. This time we go to them with our paperwork. Charleston turned out to be bike friendly city; the area is flat and cycling on the pavement / sidewalk is quite acceptable to stay safe. A twenty minute ride across town, an hour of filling in forms, $19 and we have a Cruising Permit License with a unique reference number. Each time we move to a new port we are obliged to phone the local CBP and report our arrival. Failure to do so could result in a large fine and a a phone call takes less than a minute.
Within 24 hours of arriving in the US of A we have validated visas, a cruising permit and a berth in the marina. Time to do some boat maintenance and (better for me) time to explore and shop.

15 to 18 June Passage from Bahamas to Charleston, SC

Since we received our US visas we've been monitoring weather forecasts for a passage to Newport, RI, a distance of about 900 miles, or 6 days. But we are finding if the weather looks good to leave, the forecast for the second half of the trip seems to be beset with either no wind or a low trough breaking off from the New York area with thunderstorms and high winds. Our solution was to break the trip into two halves and to make for Charleston first, a trip of three days.  From there we can either hop up the coast in shorter weather windows, or we might be lucky and make it all the way to Newport.
The distance from Green Turtle Cay to Charleston is about 420nm and the forecast needle is stuck on light winds all the way day after day after day, albeit the light winds are from the south east and we'll be heading north west. A persistent area of high pressure sits between the Bahamas and Bermuda killing any gradient wind. 
 We opt to set off with the prospect of gentle downwind sailing and motoring, but we'll be on our way.
The journey was a pleasant three days with just one short period of rain, just over half the distance was downwind sailing and less than half motoring in no wind.

12 June Green Turtle Cay

A couple of miles north of pig island is the larger island of Green Turtle Cay. The bay is shallow a long way out and we had to motor around to find enough depth to let stay afloat at low water. It's a pretty place with pastel coloured houses around and inner lagoon and a few shops. It also has Customs and Immigration in the same building as the post office managed by one lady and open Monday to Friday.