Brace for Impact!

OK, so I didn’t actually say those words, but I would have if I had more time to prepare—but I didn’t have that luxury.

After an unforgettable 4th of July, complete with watching the town of Hyannis’ fireworks from Hazel’s cockpit, we decided to push on to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. It was a well-earned 76 nm that we sailed on Tuesday, July 6. While many others (perhaps most others) would have chosen to motor through the Cape Cod Canal at the base of Cape Cod and then sail in the protected Cape Cod Bay, Rhett, Hazel and I chose the “outside route” and first sailed southeast through Nantucket Sound around Monomoy Island that “hangs down” from the elbow of Cape Cod and through Pollock Rip Channel and up the Atlantic side of The Cape.

Our course around “The Cape”

While that might sound straightforward enough, we woke on Tuesday to the wind blowing 20+ knots from the southwest. In addition Hazel’s diesel engine (technically her auxiliary engine, and nicknamed “Ox”) was giving us some problems with a low oil pressure alarm intermittently sounding. Therefore we had to gingerly work our way out of Hyannis Harbor and nurse Ox to push us against a lot of wind and a short, nasty chop. Once we got sailing, it was rather intense between the wind, the chop (short-period waves) and keeping an eye out for lobster “pot” (trap) buoys. Unfortunately, my first mate had neglected to apply a scopolamine patch the night before (for mal de mer [seasickness]) and soon she had to excuse herself and lie down for a bit. As we turned to the northeast in Pollock Rip Channel I gybed the boat over from a close hauled starboard tack to a broad reach port tack and we picked up significant speed.

The wind was ripping at this point in the mid-to-high 20s (knots) but fortunately it was from the southwest so we stayed a mile or so off of the Cape Cod beaches in 50 feet of water and took advantage of the relatively calm water as the wind didn’t have a lot of “fetch” (the wind didn’t have much distance between the shore and Hazel to build up significant waves). At that point, we thought we were in the proverbial catbird’s seat. We’d have a simple 40 nm reach up Cape Cod and on to Provincetown. Little did we know that on this sail, Rhett’s one big buoyfriend from an earlier post would be replaced by—literally—more than a thousand small buoyfriends. We’d learn later from the Provincetown Harbor Master that we were sailing through some of the best lobster territory in Massachusetts.

Soon, instead of a relaxing downwind sail enjoying the view of Cape Cod, we found ourselves in a non-stop dodging of lobster pot buoys. “Starboard bow! Range, three boat lengths.” was a typical communication between Rhett and me that day. Some buoys had flags and were brightly colored, others were small and drab and almost impossible to see until you were right on top of them. If we had more time, we could have sailed out into a couple hundred feet of water and not had to deal with them but we were sailing against the clock as we wanted to reach Provincetown Harbor before dark.

Here’s an “easy to see” lobster pot buoy with a flag (cliffs of Cape Cod in the background).
Where’s Waldo? This buoy is a “bit” harder to see. Can you find it?
It’s circled in red in this picture. Imagine trying to pick out thousands of these over a day.
Here’s Rhett on the sail (looking rather badass I must say).

As the sun descended into a thick scud of clouds in the late afternoon the day took on a decidedly Winslow Homer-painting feel that persisted until we reached the Provincetown Marina. Minutes after we had Hazel secured at her slip, the sun broke through the clouds for a few minutes and then set over the town. After a shore dinner and a shower, Rhett and I slept like the dead.

Our first sunset in Provincetown (Pilgrim Monument to the right).
Here’s one of the Pilgrim Monument the next morning.
A couple days later we climbed to the top of the Pilgrim Monument (Hazel James on mooring ball is in the red circle).

A couple days later we found tropical storm Elsa bearing down on us. It was ironic as one reason we sailed north from Florida in the summer was to escape the tropical storms and hurricanes. We decided to move Hazel from a slip (at a dock) to a mooring ball (a “permanent” anchor with a buoy) so that the winds of Elsa couldn’t knock us into the dock.

The eye of Elsa was predicted to pass between Provincetown and Boston Friday afternoon and the afternoon we readied Hazel by making sure her mooring lines that connected her to the mooring ball had chafe guards as they passed through Hazel’s hawsepipes and also that she had back up mooring lines rigged in case the primary lines failed.

While Friday morning was quiet, around noon the rain bands started and the wind picked up. Finally, by mid afternoon we were seeing big waves in the protected anchorage and winds in the 30 knot range. I donned my “foulies” (foul weather jacket and pants) and checked our lines for chafe and was amazed at the pressure on them from the wind on Hazel’s rigging and the waves on her hull.

A view out one of Hazel’s starboard portlights as Elsa came through.

The night before Rhett and I talked about her applying another scopolamine patch in preparation for the storm but we didn’t think it would be “that bad.” We were wrong and Rhett was not feeling well at all as we got into the meat of Elsa. Eventually as the wind howled I decided that it would be a good idea to switch on the VHF radio in case any other mariners needed assistance or the authorities were making announcements. No sooner was the radio operating than we heard, “Mayday! Mayday! This is [boat name] we’ve broken loose from our mooring ball!” My first thought when I heard this was, OK, not to worry. It’s a big mooring field, it’s too bad for that captain and crew but I’m sure they’re not close to us. After I had that thought, I took a peek out the portlights “just in case.” To my terror what I saw was a classic 37-foot ketch (two masted sailboat) careening wildly toward us with one person at the wheel trying to to power her out of the situation and another on the foredeck trying to catch a line being thrown by the harbormaster’s powerboat. Instead of saying the eloquent, “Brace for impact!” to Rhett, all I could muster was a hoarse, “You need to hold on to something!” The boat that had broken off its mooring had scraped down the hulls of some other boats and while those were “merely” glancing blows, she was headed right at Hazel and—if she had slammed into us—we probably would have broken loose as well. Unbelievably just a few boat lengths shy of us, the harbormaster and captain managed to get a line between the two boats secured and they were able to halt her downwind motion and—ever so slowly—inch her to windward, away from Hazel and out of harm’s way.

Of course later that day and in the midst of the storm I needed some humor to wash away the trauma of the close call so I recorded this.

As if that all weren’t enough excitement in Provincetown, a couple days later we were up early and went exploring in Lil’ Dinghy.

Me at the oars of Lil’ Dinghy.

While we had seen a harbor seal or two from a distance in Hyannis and in Provincetown, on this stunning morning we hit the jackpot.

A “raft” of 30 or so seals.
A rather gregarious raft.
One especially inquisitive soul.

We’ve heard that when the seals come they bring the great white sharks with them as seals are a great white’s favorite food. Apparently an independent lab did a double-blind taste test of various foods with a panel of great white sharks and the sharks unanimously gave these friendly and playful sea mammals the “seal of approval” (nyuck nyuck).

The owner of this floating bungalow had clearly gotten the memo from the testing lab as he kept a shark cage “out back”—come to think of it, who doesn’t have a shark cage in their backyard?

It’s like a mullet haircut, “Homey in the front, shark cage in the back.”
Close up of the shark cage.

As we were seal watching, I also got several good sequential shots of a diving tern.

In looking at these tern pictures carefully, I was amazed that the tern was totally underwater for an instant and then had the ability to take off from a dead stop out of the water. Just amazing.

Tomorrow morning we are embarking on a one-day (24-hour) sail to Portland ME. We’ll be crossing Stellwagen Bank and Jeffreys Ledge, two of the finest whale watching spots in the world. Wish us luck to get some whale sightings!

PS: Lest anyone think that voyaging under sail is all fun and games, here’s of picture of me replacing the low oil pressure sensor on Ox (Hazel’s auxiliary diesel engine). Oil pumps rarely go bad on these engines so I’m hoping that the low oil pressure warning alarm that I’ve been hearing intermittently is a “false positive” caused by the sensor starting to fail rather than the oil pump starting to fail. I carry an extra sensor in Hazel’s spares locker so installed the new sensor and have my fingers crossed. If it is the oil pump, it should hold on until we get to Portland and we’ll have a professional mechanic look at it.

The captain deep in the engine room.

5 thoughts on “Brace for Impact!

  1. Good morning Dan!!!
    Love reading your tails. They are quite good. A lot of work involved in what you’re doing but beauty at the same time.
    I’m so sorry we didn’t get together before we all left. We’re up in Asheville. I so look forward to meeting read when we all return to South Florida.
    Safe sailing and keep sharing your wonderful stories.
    Lots of love, Kathy

  2. Sounds like “bracing” was a walk in the park!!!!!
    Thanks form the blog. Have fun in Portland.

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