A Cruising Guide to Essex, Connecticut

There are a lot of reasons to go to Essex, from its rich maritime history to its excellent birding and scenic beauty. But what first brought us to the Connecticut River town was more basic: current and storms. Leaving Port Jefferson and ultimately headed to Block, we were looking for a stopover so we would not have to fight the Long Island Sound currents. A front was also forecast to come through the next night, bringing wind and storms, so a snug anchorage would provide some comfort. With relatively few secure anchorages on either side of the Sound between Port Jeff and Block, Essex became our destination.

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Our Plans for the End of the Summer and Winter

Folks who have talked to us about our sailing plans over the past couple months know that we have been debating taking Bear south for the winter. In fact, we even discussed doing so the previous year. Of course, we left her on the hard in Rock Hall last winter and came to regret it while we were spending a lovely five weeks in Florida over the new year that we knew could have been even more exciting over in the Bahamas.
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An Update from Newport Harbor

We are long overdue for an update on our summer cruising.

Currently, we are sitting on a city mooring in Newport. After waking up to a calm harbor this morning, the southwesterly sea breeze is starting to fill in now at about nine o’clock. While the town seems to be waking up a little slowly on this Monday morning, there is still loads of activity on the water with dinghies flitting about, the harbormaster making “bed checks” on all the transient moorings, lobstermen and the pilot boat going in and out, and the big luxury yachts arriving and departing endlessly. In just a bit, the day charters – 12 Meters, old schooners, and your regular rusty day boats – will start parading around the harbor full of tourists.
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A Sleepless Night Aboard Bear

I am anxious.  And perhaps a bit frustrated.

It is about halfway into our third season aboard the boat and I am realizing just how much I do not know about the most important part of the boat.  Don’t get me wrong, I know more about sailboat maintenance, navigation, weather patterns, tides, and other essentials sailing components than your average Jane, but my knowledge is by no means extensive.   However, I can hold my own with some salty sailors at a bar tossing out stories of foul weather and boatyard antics.  I can also probably impress quiet a few of them with my boatyard skills.  For instance, I can walk you through how to change the standing rigging on a sailboat using Stay-lok fittings.  I can show you how to replace all of the components to your raw and fresh water systems.  I can make you a new sailpack or sew you new v-berth cushions. I can tell you how to determine your average amp hours so that you can purchase the correct-sized solar panels.  I can show you how to work with West Systems epoxy and Duraglass.  I can help you move your chainplates from the interior of your hull to the exterior. I can sand and revarnish teak like a pro.  I know how to change both a v-belt and an impeller.

I also have some other handy skills on the boat.  I can pick up a mooring ball like a champ.  I am not afraid to call grouchy bridge tenders on the VHF.  I can tell the RPM of our diesel engine by sound alone.  I can read a chart and plot a safe course.  I can do a mean and clean pump out.

The really cool thing is that these are all new bits of knowledge that I have picked up during our last few seasons on the water.  If you had asked me the difference between a fin keel and a full keel in 2012, I would have had no clue.  And I am really proud of all of this new knowledge.

However, there is one serious skill that I lack.  A really important one that has to do with those big, flapping white things flying above the deck.  I don’t know how to sail.

There, I said it.  It feels like an admission of guilt.  A big, weighty sense of helplessness that is dragging me down and often ticking me off.

As I lie awake tonight, pondering our upcoming trip to Maine, I am feeling quiet anxious about the passage we are planning from Provincetown, RI to Mount Desert Island, ME.  This will be the longest passage we have taken and it will be the furthest offshore we have sailed Bear.  The more I read about sailing in Maine the more excited and worried I have become.  The landscape sounds incredible.  The wildlife and flora are beckoning me.  However, the thought of sailing through a “pea-souper” does not excite me one bit.  In fact, it makes me very uncomfortable.  Perhaps anxious is a better word.  You know, the kind of unnerving where your knees tremble and swallowing becomes challenging.   I know that I don’t like sailing in fog because we have done it twice now.  Once during our first season on Long Island Sound jumping from Port Jefferson to Oyster Bay.  We ended up ducking into Mosquito Cove because I could not see more than 100 yard in front of the boat when I was standing on the bow.  The second time was just a day ago as we travelled from Essex, CT to Block Island, RI.  After we came through The Race, and bounced over the tidal rips into the ocean swells, bands of fog enveloped us.  It felt suffocating to be riding up and down on undulating waves while not being able to see where the next one was coming from.  At some points, it looked like we were going to sail off the end of the earth.  Mix together the feeling of instability with a dash of anxiety and the sound, but not sight of, ships in the distance and you have created the perfect concoction of fear and seasickness in my belly.  Luckily, the fog cleared about 2 miles off of Block and we sailed into the harbor safely as we discussed the merits of radar and AIS.

As I ponder our passage from RI to ME tonight, I am fearing the worst possible scenario.  Let me paint you a picture.  Jeff and I are sailing along comfortably and the auto-pilot dies.  Not a huge deal (as it has happened before) but it becomes a tiring journey to have to hand steer for 160 miles.  During this hand-steering debacle, Jeff becomes incapacitated – let’s say a boom to head collision – or African Sleeping Sickness – and I am left to manage the boat by myself.  In the middle of the Maine Sound.  40 miles or more offshore.  Now imagine that the engine won’t start.

First, I know that there are a lot of what-if’s here.  But bear with me a few more moments.  My point is that I don’t know how to sail the boat back to a safe harbor.  I know that if the engine worked, I would drop the sails and check the charts for the nearest harbor with safe depths for our keel.  But it makes me frustrated and a little angry with myself that I haven’t yet learned how to sail the boat.  And because of this, I want to make shorter passages that are closer to shore.  These trips feel safer, less exposed, less risky.  I prefer five 60 mile days to one offshore jump that might cut that transit time in half.  This limits our adventures.  And that is what makes me the most frustrated.

I have wanted to take sailing lessons for a few years now.  This late night blog writing has made me realize that I need to do this sooner than later – for my safety, for Jeff’s safety, for the safety of our boat, for the safely of those around us, and for the fact that I want to see things that are going to require longer hops offshore than a quick romp up the Jersey coast.

So, if you have any suggestions for sailing classes that are affordable, women-friendly, and offered in Florida during the winter months, please leave me a comment below.

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Energy Needs and Solar Aboard

We have been talking about getting solar for some time. However, we wanted to get comfortable with our energy needs aboard Bear and learn something of her electrical system before we dove into purchasing and installing some charging system that was not right for us. After two years, we were more than ready for some solar, but we were still not sure we knew exactly what our system would be like in the end. So, we decided to start with a simple and relatively inexpensive 80-100 watt package, including panel and charger, and continue to build and configure from there. With Margaret doing most of the research, we settled on a Go Power! GP30 100 watt package, which we picked up from Defender for about 650 dollars (for more about installing this system, see our post here).
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Go Power! 30 Amp PWM Solar Controller and 100-Watt Panel

The Go Power! package is great in that it includes the panel itself, the charge controller, and almost everything you will need to hook it up, but we did find that a few things are lacking in the kit. If you are considering purchasing a package from Go Power! or are preparing to install one, you might want to pick up a few things in addition to what is included so that you can best complete the installation.
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Extreme Shoaling in the Entrance to the Chesapeake City Basin

We had heard from a couple different folks that the entrance to Chesapeake City on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal had shoaled up a bit over the past two years since we were last in there. Thus, we were a little anxious about getting through the entrance, especially because our depth alarm had been screaming on our way in that last time.
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Hit by a storm on Chesapeake Bay

Yesterday we took our first sail of the season, leaving at 5:30AM from The Sailing Emporium in Rock Hall, MD heading to Chesapeake City, MD on the C&D canal.  Around 11:15AM we heard a Coast Guard warning on the VHF regarding a dangerous line of storms tracking our way.  After a quick check of the radar, we decided to head for shallow water, and the lee of the land, so that we could drop the anchor to ride out the storm.  Just as Jeff returned to the cockpit from dropping the sail and anchor we got pummeled.  High winds, pelting rain, and a swift current whipped up the seas into a very confused state.  The strong gusts blew us all around and heeled us over.  Below is a video of our day.  We hope you enjoy the show!

Return to Seasons Sailing: Hit by a storm on Chesapeake Bay

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Hauling and Winterizing in Rock Hall, MD

Haul Out in Rock Hall, MD

Want to know how we winterize our sailboat for a long winter hibernation? Check out our latest episode in which we sail from Baltimore to Rock Hall, where we get hauled out at Sailing Emporium for winter storage.

Hauling and Winterizing SV Bear in Rock Hall, MD

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Baltimore Cruising Videos

Bear at the Francis Scott Key Bridge on the Patapsco

We recently put up two new videos about cruising in Baltimore, MD.  In Part 1, we tour the Patapsco River and Inner Harbor in our dingy.  In Part 2, we spend sometime ashore, walking around Fells Point and Patterson Park.

If you are planning to visit Baltimore by boat or land, you might also be interested in this video ;Visiting The National Aquarium.


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