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American Pie: Yorkshire Lass Part VI

...The following day we set sail for Duck Island where we had spent a night on the outbound leg. The day was blessedly clear, with a fresh breeze that pushed us along in fine style, and we made good time to the Island, allowing us the luxury of an afternoon nap in the cockpit. Our luck must finally have turned. Later, in my half-dozing state, I observed that Yorkshire Lass was pointing in a different direction to the other boats in the anchorage.

That’s strange, I thought dreamily. Then suddenly I was wide awake, my heart pounding...

John Merchant, with the salty tang of adventure in every paragraph, concludes his account of a cruise from hell.

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Part V concluded with Yorkshire Lass in thick fog, heading down Vineyard Sound to Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, our first destination on the return from Edgartown.

At first we were dismayed. We had rarely sailed in fog before, and never this dense. We had no radar, and only a small, hand held GPS for navigation. But surely it would soon burn off, or at the very least we would sail out of it. I positioned Sandra as a lookout in the bow, and commenced the bell ringing and horn blowing that are required in such conditions.
With eyes glued to the compass and the GPS, I fought the temptation to respond to my imagined impression that we were veering to port or starboard. Such hallucinations are common in fog, and have been the undoing of many a sailor and airplane pilot. At times, Sandra tried to convince me we were circling. The Vineyard Sound waters are deep, so there are no channel markers, and such buoys as there are mark rocks, so we had no references other than the GPS, and I placed my entire faith in it.

Occasionally we’d be unnerved by the sound of engines that seemed to be coming straight at us, but we never sighted the vessels. Suddenly, out of the fog, loomed one of our group that had been ahead of us, but was now heading in the opposite direction to ours! A radio conversation revealed that they had been on course for the rock bound cutting leading to Cuttyhunk Island, our destination, but couldn’t find the marker, so they turned around – just a little too far as it happened.

One of the group had radar, and had managed to navigate the cutting, and afterwards tried to talk the rest of us through it, but I for one wasn’t about to attempt it, and made a decision to press on to Third Beach, where at least we had some prior experience. Several other boats made the same decision, and we all made it, spending the next 48 hours at anchor, waiting for the fog to clear. Later we learned that the Cuttyhunk channel marker had been removed for maintenance!

Once underway again, and heading back to Noank, much to my dismay, I again saw the alternator voltage fluctuating. Surely it couldn’t be the new drive belt slipping this soon. And it wasn’t. On a trip below to prepare refreshments, Sandra noticed a strong chemical smell. Almost the minute she mentioned it, I could smell it from my position at the wheel, and I knew immediately it was battery acid. Leaving Sandra reluctantly at the wheel, I hurried below. One of the three batteries was steaming, and too hot to touch!

We limped into Noank Harbor, and immediately set about trying to find a new battery, but without success. There was nothing for it but to disconnect the faulty battery and hope we could get by on the other two. What more could possibly go wrong on this trip? Plenty as it turned out.

The following day we set sail for Duck Island where we had spent a night on the outbound leg. The day was blessedly clear, with a fresh breeze that pushed us along in fine style, and we made good time to the Island, allowing us the luxury of an afternoon nap in the cockpit. Our luck must finally have turned. Later, in my half-dozing state, I observed that Yorkshire Lass was pointing in a different direction to the other boats in the anchorage.

That’s strange, I thought dreamily. Then suddenly I was wide awake, my heart pounding. The Duck Island currents had lived up to their reputation and tangled our anchor line.

Climbing into the dinghy that we towed, I could see through the clear water that the line was wrapped several times around our wing keel. The horizontal fins on the keel precluded any possibility that the line would uncoil its self. I clambered back into the cockpit and we discussed getting a diver to come out from Westport the following day to free the line. I had visions of waiting hours, or even days for a diver to be available, and quailed at the thought of how much it would cost.

Calmed by our enforced inactivity, I suddenly thought I could see a way out of our difficulty. It would involve committing the unforgivable sin of untying the anchor line, the so called “bitter end,” from its cleat in the bow, but what the heck. First, I pulled in some slack and tied the loop to a second cleat. Then, with great trepidation, I untied the bitter end. Once the strain was off, taken by the second cleat, I could slowly pull the tangled end free of the keel. It worked!

Now all we had to hope was that the currents wouldn’t repeat their trick while we slept. After an uneasy night, I went on deck as soon as I woke, and with huge relief saw that Yorkshire Lass was parallel with all the other anchored boats, and facing in the same direction. We had been spared. Our home port was just a few hours sail away, so surely we could make it without more misfortunes.

As we slipped around the end of the Duck Island breakwater and pointed our bow towards Milford, there was a slight mist on the water, but nothing troublesome. Then we began to hear other boats on the radio talking about fog, and suddenly we were in it. But, unlike our last experience, there were channel markers, and plenty of open water, so we were not too concerned – until we saw the first freighter loom out of the murk.

This behemoth was anchored off New Haven, in company with a number of others, all waiting for their turn to dock. We gingerly threaded our way through the obstacle path of boats, all the time concerned that one would up anchor and move.

With our top speed of 5 knots, and their 10 to 15, it would be no contest. Thankfully, all of them stayed in place, and as we cleared the anchorage the sun broke through. In the distance we could see Charles Island, off Milford Harbor; never a more welcome sight. The cruise from hell was over.

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