Aaron's blog

August in Maine

Submitted by aaron.axvig on Mon, 11/04/2019 - 17:58

The Seven Seas Cruising Association gathering, or "gam" as they call it, started in late July with a dinghy raft-up with potluck snacks.  We failed to make anything so ended up bringing potato salad from a local deli.  We were the first to arrive and tied on to the back of the SSCA president's catamaran, and within twenty minutes were surrounded by 20+ dinghies.  Everyone started passing food around between dinghies and swapping stories and tips.  We stayed for about two hours.

The next day was a potluck lunch.  On our arrival at the dock we were surprised to see Steve and Susie Dix of Thursday's Child who we had originally met in Stuart, FL (and "accidentally" borrowed their buffing tool).  After eating, everyone took a minute or two to take the microphone and introduce themselves to the group.  We were the youngest, and a few couples had owned their boats longer than Anna had been alive!  There was a speaker from the Marine Stewardship Council who talked about their programs to "certify" different types of seafood and how they are able to positively influence the health of various fisheries.

That evening there was a social at a café in downtown Rockland and then a group of about eight of us went to see the movie Maiden which happened to be playing at the nearby theater.  It is about the first all-female sailing team to compete in the Whitbread Around The World Race and was very good.

On Sunday Anna went to a Women Who Sail (Facebook group) meetup for lunch.  During the week we sailed east about twenty miles and spent two nights in Deer Isle's Northwest Harbor.  As we approached, there was a small rocky island full of seals basking in the sun.  We passed a little closer to get a good look and there were plenty swimming in the water too.  During the full day out there we took the dinghy about 5 miles south to Stonington where we met Janelle, a lady from the gam and Women Who Sail.  Aaron tried a lobster roll there and was not that impressed.  We sailed back to Rockland and decided to install an autopilot system, so we spent a day researching and ordering parts to be delivered to Eliot and Caroline.

The newlyweds arrived on a Friday to spend the weekend sailing with us.  Saturday morning we headed east (actually mostly sailing!) and anchored on the SE end of North Haven Island by early afternoon.  We took the dinghy to Burnt Island and hiked the ~3 mile trail around the island.  For supper we had a feast of pot roast, rosemary olive oil bread, and brownies.  We made it back to Rockland early Sunday afternoon and said goodbye to them.

We lounged in Rockland Harbor for a few more days and got the autopilot installed.  Very exciting!  Then we headed east about 30 miles to a spot just north of Swans Island.  When we were about 5 miles out of Rockland we heard two super yachts (which we had seen for a few days around the harbor) talking on the radio and planning to go on the same route as us.  Over the next hour or two they caught up to us and then passed us about halfway as we exited the Fox Island Thoroughfare.  It is very fun to see the big yachts like that out and about.  At the anchorage that night it was kind of close quarters, deep, and decent current so we ended up using a mooring ball that we found there.

The next day we came around the south end of Mount Desert Island (home to most of Acadia National Park) and anchored at the head of Somes Sound.  This is billed as a fjord, the only one on the east coast (or something like that).  It was very scenic to travel the 3-4 miles up it surrounded by dramatic granite outcroppings and cliffs mixed in with beautiful tree-covered mountains (hills).

We spent about 10 days there.  The little village of Somesville has an association that maintains a landing which is open to visitors, so we were able to take our dinghy there.  In Somesville there is a library, gallery, museum, and gas station.  We never visited the gallery or museum but the library was a nice place to take a break and use Wi-Fi.  Where the boat was anchored we had only intermittent cell service.  There is a free bus service that takes people around the entire island so we used that a lot.  It would pick us up at the library and then we would usually ride that line into the island's main town of Bar Harbor.  From there most of the busses went to various destinations in Acadia National Park so it was a very nice way to get around.  We saw all sorts of sights and one day rented bicycles.  We ended up riding 25 miles on the "carriage roads" through the park!

On August 25th we sailed to Isle au Haut (eye-la-hoe) and grabbed a guest mooring in Laundry Cove which is just north of the little town on the island.  Acadia National Park occupies part of this island so we went for a nice hike there up to the top of Bowditch Mountain.  And the town had a general store where we had a couple beers and played cards on the waterfront.

August 27th we sailed back to Rockland.  We chose a route on the ocean side of all of the little islands in hopes that there would be less lobster pot buoys to dodge.  There was, but we also were exposed to waves.  The ocean swell was 4 feet as predicted with a nice long period between waves so not that bad.  We saw a couple waves that were 5-6 feet--our biggest yet.  Watching these big waves crash on the rocky islands about a half mile away was quite nice.  About halfway through the day the big swell died down, but smaller locally wind-driven waves kicked up and those weren't as comfortable.  Anna really didn't feel well and Aaron felt it a little bit.  But we made it into the Rockland Harbor and settled in to our familiar spot (have arrived here four times now).  On the 28th we did laundry and cleaned up the boat a little, and we should be ready to continue south once we get groceries.  We are keeping an eye on storm "Erin" and at this point it looks like it may send 5 foot waves towards shore where we plan to travel, so it may delay us a couple days.

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Annapolis to Hampton, VA

Submitted by aaron.axvig on Sun, 11/03/2019 - 20:09

We hung out in Annapolis for a few more days after our Washington, D.C. adventure.  One day I took the dinghy way up Weems Creek until the highway bridge.  There I parked it in a sort of dodgy spot and walked about a mile to the Apple Store to get a Lightning->HDMI adapter.  Now we can watch things on TV streamed using the unlimited data plan.  I also stopped at Trader Joe's and got some groceries, including a healthy stock of Anna's favorite salsa.

Louise saw the vet one day to get a checkup and rabies test in preparation for visiting the Bahamas.  We also had a diver come out to clean the propeller.  When we first put the boat in the water we could motor a little over 7 knots.  When we left Miami it was more like 6.5 knots.  By the time we left Maine 5.5 was about the max for motoring, but when sailing we could still get up to 7 knots with a brisk wind.  So I figured that the hull itself was probably not that dirty (and doesn't look that dirty from what we can see around the edges) and after cleaning the propeller we are back up near 6.5 knots when motoring.  So our bottom is somewhat dirty but we will work on that a little once we are in warmer and clearer water.  There are some regulations that prohibit cleaning ablative paint so we couldn't have the diver do the hull cleaning.

On October 29th we motor sailed all day to Solomons, MD.  We got fuel and water on arrival there and then went up a little river and anchored.  It was very quiet and peaceful there.  The next morning when we pulled up the anchor it had a crazy amount of mud stuck to it, with a weird sort of jelly quality.  It was very nasty!  We motor sailed for another day to Dymer Creek.  The first place we tried to anchor didn't hold very well and we knew the next day we were going to sit there while some decent wind blew through so we went further up into the creek and found a spot where our anchor held very well.

It blew about 15 knots throughout the day and we were happy to not be out motoring straight into the wind and waves.  The waves are always choppy and uncomfortable on the Chesapeake Bay.  Then just after midnight a cold front came through with a sudden 90 degree shift in wind direction and gusts up to 38 knots.  The boat was really swinging side to side and then as the wind would hit us on the side we would heel a bunch.  This was exciting and stressful but we had the anchor alarm running on my phone and could see that our anchor was holding in the new direction so we did fine.  After about 30 minutes the front was past and we were able to sleep well.

The wind was still blowing about 15 knots gusting to the low 20s the next morning as we left so we were ready to put in some miles sailing downwind, at least until about noon when it was forecast to die down.  I got a little greedy though and put up the full sail as I knew our downwind course would result in a reasonable apparent wind.  But this made for a little tension as we were exiting Dymer Creek through the sort of winding channel.  We came out OK and then toughed out several hours of rolling back and forth as 2-3 foot waves came mostly from straight behind us.  Anna spent most of that time staying warm and comforting Louise down below.  It was a nice sunny day so even though it was about 50 degrees I stayed warm enough with a few layers on.  As we approached the end of the Chesapeake Bay the wind and waves faded and the last couple hours were a nice smooth motor sail.

In Hampton, VA we anchored in a narrow little spot next to the channel by Hampton University.  Thursday's Child was in the nearby marina preparing for the Salty Dogz rally so we joined them for a rum toast and then supper.

The next day we met up with Joy and Dave who Anna had been talking to for the last day or two.  Anna originally met Joy in Annapolis on our way north and they were excited to have us stay with them for a few days to enjoy their house and the surrounding Newport News area.  So we met them at the Hampton public dock with some laundry and bags packed for a couple nights.  Back at their house I took Louise to the dog park just a few blocks away.  Dave took Anna to Costco to stock up on many provisions and then Anna took Louise to the dog park.  We had Papa Murphy's for supper.

The next day Joy made an excellent breakfast and then went shopping with Anna.  I took Louise to the dog park.  Then I went to the nearby Maritime Museum while Dave and Anna went to the grocery store.  The museum had a crazy collection of stuff.  There were many artifacts from the CSS Virginia and USS Monitor, the first iron-clad ships that fought in the port here (right where we drove our boat!) during the civil war, and a full size replica of the USS Monitor.  Then there was a huge Fresnel lens assembly from a lighthouse, a huge model ship collection with maybe 40 or 50 ship models that were between five and ten feet long, and an Oracle AC72 catamaran from the America's Cup race.  We went to Cook Out for supper and had Joy and Dave's special recipe margaritas later that night.

We returned to the boat around 10:00am the next day and put a few things away and then decided that if we left soon we would be able to make it through the Gilmerton Highway Bridge before it stops opening at 3:30pm for rush hour traffic.  We made it through there by 3:00pm and then arrived at the Deep Creek Lock on the Dismal Swamp Canal in time for its 3:30pm opening.  Louise had fun running around in the lock yard with the operator's dog and we raised the boat about 4 feet.  Then we tied up at the dock just past the lock.  There was one other boat there, Walkabout, and we chatted with them for a few minutes.

The lock operator had invited us to coffee the next morning so we showed up at 8:00am for that and talked about the lock, boating, and everything else until about 11:30am.  Then the lock operator went to open the nearby lift bridge and we were one our way about 15 miles to the Great Dismal Swamp Visitors Center.  The Dismal Swamp Canal is a very straight canal...we only made one turn.  It is short of shallow and is known for the trees along its banks that occasionally fall in and then boats hit them.  Clunks are expected for any boat here and we did about average for this leg, with two great whacks on the keel and two other small bumps.  Walkabout was radioing whenever they hit things so we avoided a couple by having some warning.  Also there is duckweed growing on the surface of the water and as we approached the visitors center it became so thick that it covered the entire the surface in a green layer.  The water is also VERY brown, like even where it splashes out of the engine exhaust it looks very dark brown--it has always looked foamy white there in the past.  Walkabout got the last spot at the visitors center dock so we tied up to them which was a little exciting being the first time we have ever "rafted up".

Tomorrow we will make it to Elizabeth City which is renowned on the ICW for its free docks in town.

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Boston, MA to Rockland, ME

Submitted by aaron.axvig on Sun, 11/03/2019 - 19:15
A school of fish at the surface with Rockland, ME in the background

This one covers most of July:

After the wedding we showed a few relatives the boat and then moved to near Pleasure Bay where we anchored next to a yacht club's mooring field.  Aaron flew to Iowa for a few days to do a little consulting work (and eat Taco John's for the first time in a long time!) and Anna partied with the friendly yacht club members.  After a week or so there we went up the coast to Gloucester.

In Gloucester we rented a mooring ball from a yacht club for three nights.  We wanted to do some laundry and also Anna's aunt and uncle Lisa and Ray were meeting us there.  They were on a camping trip across the country for about a month and spent several days sightseeing with us.  We enjoyed a few places in Salem and around Gloucester, especially a cool castle built by Mr. Hammond (an inventor).  Some of the yacht club members invited us to join them on Sunday night for their supper of leftovers from the weekend so we ate very well that night.  Very nice people, including Tom Silva from This Old House (he knew a lot about Charleston, SC--where we purchased the boat and spent so much time).

We spent a few more nights anchored towards the south end of Gloucester Harbor.  One day we went to walk around the downtown part of Gloucester, and checked out the historic shipyard area.  We were just reading an interpretive sign when a guy we had seen working on a boat walked up to us and started talking to us.  He found out we were going to Maine and insisted that we needed the "Taft & Taft" guidebook (the authors' last name).  Zim Zimmerman is his name, and he had already sold his extra copy to someone and so was calling around to local stores to try to find a copy for us (even offered to have his wife pick one up on her way home from work 45 minutes away).  He gave us many tips for Maine and we look forward to finding him on our way south for another chat.

From Gloucester we headed north to Isles Of Shoals.  These are some scraggly islands with a small town on one of them.  They were scenic in a way.  There was no good place to anchor except those filled by mooring balls.  People had told us that in Maine people just use mooring balls and if the owner comes you find a different one.  We hadn't quite wrapped our heads around that yet and all of the certain colored ones in this harbor were taken already so we turned northwest and headed to Portsmouth.  Things didn't go that well there either.  We tried to anchor in the only nook we could find and the anchor drug across solid stone, funny how that sound so distinctly transmits up the chain.  So we paid for one of the town mooring balls.  I (Aaron) took the dinghy to shore and found two fancy restaurants full of weekend revelers--didn't really match my down mood after the day's defeats.  So then I took the dinghy a mile or two up the river (pounding through the chop of the 3 knot current) and tied up to the city dock.  The attendant said no need to pay since it was the end of the day so off I went exploring.  The mood downtown was much the same with weekend revelers so after a beer at the brewery I went back home.  Now maybe my impression was cursed ever since reading something like "it is hard to imagine a place more actively hostile to cruisers than Portsmouth" in the guidebook but this was a low point of the trip.

The next day we anchored in Stage Island harbor, a little bay just east of Kennebunkport.  The Sunday recreators were there in force when we arrived so our best option was to shoddily anchor in water that we knew would leave us high-and-dry if we were still there when the tide went out.  As the afternoon wore on the speedboats thinned and we moved a few hundred feet to deeper water.  It was a very peaceful spot.

Portland, ME is where we spent the next few nights.  We anchored in spot on the east end near a mooring field.  As we arrived a small storm system was passing through so it took some debate to convince Anna that it was going to be a nice comfortable spot in twenty minutes.  Aaron then went to downtown Portland to see what the dinghy options were.  The only option charged $20 per day, it was evening so I talked them down to $10, had a burrito at the food coop (groceries were atrociously priced there!), a PBR at a dive bar, and then went back to the boat.  The next day we went around on the north side of Portland and Anna shopped at Trader Joe's for a bunch of groceries and a few things at West Marine.  There is just a rip-rapped shoreline to pull the dinghy up to and we didn't want to leave it unattended there, hence the solitary shopping trip.

As we left Portland we sailed amongst the islands of Casco Bay and it was gorgeous.  Our first real taste of Maine, I would say.  We intended to make it to Booth Bay Harbor but we stopped a little short, in Five Islands Harbor.  The free mooring balls there did not have pendants on them (need those to tie to) so we went back a half mile to Harmon Harbor.  We had read that a guy in there encourages the use of his mooring ball so we were finally ready to try that whole "help yourself to a mooring ball in Maine" thing out.  And then the guy came out onto his porch and yelled at us to go ahead an use his mooring ball, that it was full of kelp but should be structurally solid.  The kelp situation was no joke--it was so thick on the pendant that I couldn't lift it up (limited not by my strength but by not wanting to break the boat hook :) ) to pass our line through the loop on the end of it.  I managed to loop our line under the pendant which held us until I could hack at the kelp a bit with the boat hook and then finally lift the correct part out.  After we settled in I dropped the dinghy and went up to the pendant to hack off all of the kelp--should be easier for the next person.

Harmon Harbor was so beautiful.  It was very quiet and well protected, and we would occasionally see seals poking their heads up.  They were present around the entrance especially, welcoming us and saying bye-bye!

The next day we arrived in Rockland which was our next big destination.  The Seven Seas Cruising Association was holding a gathering there and we arrived a day early.  So we did some laundry and explored the town.

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Atlantic City, NJ to Boston, MA

Submitted by aaron.axvig on Sat, 11/02/2019 - 17:56
Sailboat entering fog in Cape Cod Canal

Why don't we write about things in a more timely manner?  Good question!  This was written at the end of August and describes our travels from Atlantic City in June until Aaron's brother's wedding in early July.

We walked the boardwalk in Atlantic City one day with Teri and Britt from Sea Otter.  Then we waited a day or two for good weather and headed north.  Sea Otter headed straight for Cutty Hunk Island but we wanted to go through New York.  Their neighbor from the previous night was also going to New York (Mark on The Naked Truth) and as we left the inlet at Atlantic City we saw him a few miles ahead.  We eventually caught up to him and then led just in front of him up the remainder of New Jersey.  There was a one knot current against us the entire time.  Based on some graphics that we found online, this is a normal eddy that spins off of the gulf stream.

The selected anchorage for the night was around Sandy Hook and then south a couple miles.  During this south-bound leg Aaron spotted a whale.  Anna looked in time to see the tail.  We think it was a humpback whale which are known to be found in that area.  The anchorage was a bit rocky but compensated by the excitement of seeing the NYC skyline in the distance.

The next day we got a late start to time the tides/currents, something like 10:30am.  Mark left around then too but chose to motor at a slower pace so we didn't see him until the end of the day.  We went under the HUGE Verrazano-Narrows bridge and could see the Statue of Liberty ahead!  The harbor was pretty busy, mostly ferry traffic (no cargo ships).  We headed up the western side where the statue is and bounced around on the ferry wakes there for 20 minutes or so taking pictures of ourselves, the boat, and Louise, all with the statue in the background of course.  Then we headed across to the SW corner of Manhattan and followed it eastward into the East River.  This was where the tide planning really paid off.  The East River flows up to 5 knots in either direction and we had it favorable to us.  At one point we saw 11 knots speed over ground!  Seeing all of the iconic buildings was amazing, looking down the "concrete canyons" as we passed each street was cool, and Anna loved seeing Rikers Island (big fan of Law & Order).  It was all sooo awesome, totally worth going through NYC.

We anchored between two mooring fields on the west side of City Island.  Mark joined us there a couple hours later.  For some reason we had a craving for Chinese food so we picked Mark up in our dinghy and used one of the yacht clubs docks (Mark knew someone there).  We grabbed Chinese to go and ate in the cockpit of Marks boat, a pretty nice 40+ foot center cockpit Hunter.  He works from the boat, taking phone calls from people who want to ship cars and then setting them up with shipping services.

After our night there we had a pretty uneventful day to Port Jefferson (can't remember anything about the day 2 months later!).  We got fuel and water there.  The next day was the adventure with the rain that we actually did write about back then!

We continued eastward from there, past Fishers Island and Block Island.  As we passed Fishers Island we noticed North Dumpling Island with its lighthouse, solar panels, wind generator, and well-maintained look.  Apparently it is owned by the Segway guy!  It was on this stretch that we encountered our first real fog.  We could see it off in the distance for a while and then finally we were in it.  Visibility was probably still 1/4 mile so it didn't seem too dangerous and was mostly a "cool new experience".  We don't have radar but do transmit our location on AIS so any large commercial traffic would know where we are.  Everyone else is slow enough or very very dumb, so ultimately we felt pretty safe.  Eventually we found Sea Otter at Cutty Hunk Island (five miles from Martha's Vineyard) and spent the night there.

Passage through the Cape Cod Canal was on the agenda for the following day.  On the approach to the canal we remembered that one of our battens was twisted in the sail so put the sail up partways to remove and reinsert it.  We radioed Sea Otter to ensure them that we were not crazy.  A few minutes later they put their sail up…their engine was not being reliable so they wanted to have a ready backup in the narrow canal.  A good strategy, though I think we did read something later about it being prohibited to sail through the canal.  (As we have gained more sailing experience we now frequently have the sail up in canals for various reasons.)  At the end of the canal it became foggy again for a couple miles.  We continued up the coast and anchored in Plymouth Bay.  This was easily the most wavy anchorage that we have chosen.

And the next day we arrived in Boston!  It is a busy port and there were a lot of wakes.  We went into the main harbor in downtown Boston and anchored just outside of a mooring field, sort of the only place to anchor in the proper harbor itself.  It was a wavy spot during the day with ferries and water taxis rushing around all the time but the location was unbeatable.  We eventually found out a good place to take the dinghy and spent several days before Aaron's brother Eliot's wedding exploring downtown Boston.  One evening Laura & Brandon, Eve & Jameson, and Nick & Laci came out to check out the boat and have sundowners.  Aaron got a warning from the Coast Guard for going too fast on the last trip shuttling them back and forth from the dinghy dock.

During that past week or so we were in touch with the lady who was going to enjoy the boat for the long wedding weekend and watch Louise.  Negotiations with her fell through as she asked for us to cover more and more of her costs and she apparently would not derive any value from being on the boat (we thought it was an attractive offer to spend the 4th of July weekend in Boston on a boat!).  So we took the boat a few miles east, moored it at a yacht club, and took Louise to the family's rental house for the wedding weekend.  We had a great time!

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