As summer began winding down, our visits to Abeona became a combination of sailing and preparation for heading to Boston. We ticked off a couple of projects and started detailed planning for a couple more (holding tank, I’m looking at you). Once September arrived, Alex and I settled ourselves into a routine of obsessive weather watching.
Having sailed between Boston and Boothbay in less than ideal conditions in the past, we really wanted to find a weather window that would make for a pleasant trip. In a perfect world, the weather would be pleasantly warm, with wind on the beam at about 15 knots, low seas, all nicely centered around a weekend. Looking at the forecast each day, mother nature seemed determined to deliver two of our wishes at a time, with the opposite of what we wanted for the others. Just the right wind on a weekend, but combined with huge seas and cold rain. Wind against us the whole way. Three perfect looking days in the middle of the week. And then the forecast always changes.
We came up with a large variety of contingency plans. If we could find a good weekend overnight window of weather, we would grab a friend and sail straight down. Three or four days in a row of decent weather, we could take small hops down the coast. We planned routes to the Isle of Shoals, Harpswell, Portland, Portsmouth, Gloucester…
Everything fell into place for an overnight sail in the middle of September, and then Kinsley got sick. No way am I taking a feverish child on our first overnight passage.
In the end, we were running into deadlines and had to take an ok looking set of three days towards the end of the week at in late September and hope for the best.
Day 1, Robinhood Marina to Sequin Island to Harpswell Maine
We drove to Robinhood Marina for the last time on a sunny Thursday morning. Leaving the car with only a vague plan of how to retrieve it, we were on board Abeona by lunch and on our way just before 1:00. The plan was to head to Sequin Island, a two to three hour sail, and settle there for the afternoon and night, to make our second day a shorter trip. We hadn’t managed to visit the lighthouse all summer and Owen and Kinsley were excited. The seas were supposed to be a little wild but calming down as the afternoon progressed, and all in a direction to be well protected in the little harbor on the north side of Sequin Island.
The forecast lied, as would be true for most of our trip. We bounced and bashed and fought with the wind and waves all the way to Sequin. Fortunately, the dolphins and seals all thought the waves were great and we had more mammal sightings on this short trip than for most of the summer.
We reached Sequin to find all the moorings empty, but the size of the harbor smaller than our memories of it. With the sea more mixed up than expected, the waves curving around to bring their bounce into the harbor, and the wind from a less than ideal direction, picking up a mooring was more than a little exciting. We managed it and watched Abeona settle far closer to the rocks than we were comfortable with, about half a boat length away. Pictures couldn’t capture how RIGHT THERE the rocks felt. The waves and wind were tossing us up and down and showing no signs of settling, the tide was going down, and it was clear that neither Alex no I were going to sleep well that night.
It was time to make a smart decision. We called Dolphin Marina in Harpswell, hoping to move to there for the night and cut another hour off our second day. They were closed for the season (eek) but were happy to let us spend the night and check in at their restaurant when we arrived. Our heroes! Off we went, still bouncing on mixed up seas, to one of the prettiest little coves we know. Some day, our travels are going to work out to allow us to spend more than a brief overnight there. Protected from the wind at last, we settled in on glassy water to enjoy a dinner of bacon and eggs before all falling deeply to sleep.
Lesson learned: Always make the smart choice about where to spend the night, even if it means changing plans. Feeling safe to sleep well is worth it.
Day 2, Harpswell Maine to Isles of Shoals
Our second day was planned as our longer day, approximately ten hours to reach the Isle of Shoals. Alex double checked the weather forecasts before we dropped our mooring. Everything looked good, wind was fine and the waves should be settling down over the day. Again, weather forecasts lie.
Leaving the protection of our little cove we found the waves to be even taller than the day before. Odd waves too — we would have five minutes of long tall swell from the west, then five minutes of steep taller waves from the north, then back to the west, and then the north. It was as if the wind was weaving a herring bone pattern across the ocean. The waves were a new type for me, more like sailing up, across, and down a plateau rather than up and down a wave.
The shortest course to the Isles of Shoals took us in one long straight line. The reality of the waves meant I was steering us 30 to 50 degrees too high followed by 30 to 50 degrees too low, switching back and forth as the waves changed around us, trying to keep them from hitting us broadside. Imagine the feeling of the whole boat being swung side to side like a cradle and then switching to moving like a rocking horse, over and over and over. Unfortunately for us, the frequent need to suddenly adjust our course in response to the waves meant that Invisible Joe (our autopilot) wasn’t up to the job so I hand steered the boat for 11 hours straight.
The cold and the waves left all of us exhausted and more than a little crabby until the magic moment of reaching the Isles of Shoals. As soon as we had the island between us and the rest of the Atlantic Ocean, the seas calmed. Pulling into the harbor, everything quieted and smoothed out, and the sun even started coming out. We picked up a mooring, turned off the engine, and everything was amazingly, beautifully quiet and still. We sat in our glassy harbor and watched the spray crashing a dozen feet in the air above the breakwater to the west of us. The ocean was still wild, but we were tucked in cozy for the night. Mac and cheese went into the oven, M&M’s were passed around, and we all celebrated.
Lesson learned: There is nothing as amazing as pulling into a protected harbor at the end of a long day.
Day 3, Isles of Shoals to Boston
Again, Alex started the morning by checking the weather, at this point it was mostly to know what not to expect. According to the forecast we should have limited wind in the morning, dying away around lunch, and maybe a little coming at us as we entered Boston harbor. Reality? The seas were behind us and settling to calmer over the day. The wind was perfect until around 1:00, when it died down to almost nothing. And as we entered Boston harbor at the end of the day, it suddenly sprang back up to 15 knots (on the nose, of course). Just fine by us.
We headed out just before 7:00, hoping to reach Boston by 4:00. Assuming the worst about the weather, we held onto a backup plan of stopping at Gloucester if necessary. Fortunately, everything cooperated at last. Abeona settled into a beautiful rhythm. I set Invisible Joe and grabbed a speaker from below and the four of us passed the morning in the cockpit litstening to Neil Gaimen’s Norse Mythology. As a note, although most of the myths are great for kids, a couple were less than Kinsley appropriate.
Part way through the morning we picked up a hitchhiker, a little wren who rode with us for about five hours, hopping all over the deck and right up to the cockpit.
Passing Marblehead the AIS light up like a Christmas tree as we passed a huge sailboat race. I tried to catch as many as I could in a picture but there was just no way to capture so many. White sails, closely packed, enjoying the beautiful day. We had a great time watching and staying far out of their way while we had lunch. The wind dropped away to next to nothing and we motor sailed along.
And then, the engine sputtered, and slowed, and complained. Alex dropped our speed and we switched from relaxing quiet day on the water to trouble shooting mode. What would cause the engine to slow noticeably but dropping our speed could fix? Alex checked temperature and pressure and all looked good, but then the engine complained and our speed dropped again. Time to kill the engine.
Signs and symptoms all pointed towards the fuel filter being clogged, probably with debris stirred up by all the bouncing the day before. Which filter? Both? Alex opened the floor of the pilot house and I swapped between retrieving tools and spares from the laz and running up to the cockpit to check our course and watch for other boats. Invisible Joe was keeping us on a comfortable course in the barely there wind. One and a half to two knots of speed wasn’t going to get us to Boston any time soon but at least we were moving. More importantly, the little forward progress we were making kept Abeona from sloshing while Alex and I crammed ourselves into small spaces down below.
One fuel filter changed out relatively easily, while the other resisted our attempts to loosen it. We switched fuel tanks as well and turned the starter, fingers crossed. Nothing happened. When we bought Abeona, I learned that the current starter could be temperamental, sometimes not starting up right away, sometimes starting first try. We’d had only one problem all summer and had forgotten about it. Whoops. Without the starter we had no way of knowing if we had fixed the engine problem or not.
More calculations. At our current speed, we wouldn’t get into Boston harbor until well after dark. Docking in the dark sounded unappealing. Did we just need to wait our the starter and try it later? Should we try to pick up a mooring at one of the harbor islands and problem solve in the morning? In between debating all these options I kept turning the starter, no luck.
Given how slow we were going and that the wind was predicted to kick up strongly around dusk, we decided to call TowBoat. They cheerfully gave Alex a timeline while I talked with the kids about the change of situation. They were in the middle of watching a movie on my bed and mostly just nodded. Thank goodness for mellow kids.
As Alex hung up with TowBoat I gave the engine one more try, figuring there was a chance it would start, or I would just start baking cookies for the TowBoat driver. Wouldn’t you know it, Abeona kicked right over and was fine for the rest of the trip. A call back to TowBoat to thank them and cancel and we were were back on our way.
Despite the two hour delay, Invisible Joe had kept us on course. We rounded into Boston harbor in time to play Frogger with a cruise ship, a couple of barges, and half the population of Boston who all felt it was time to squeeze in one last sail. I’ve never seen the harbor so busy, and hopefully won’t again. It was a wild time, staying away from ferries, sailing school students, and impatient little motor boats, but we made it.
Docking was less pretty than we wanted thanks to a stronger current than expected and exhausted reaction times, but thanks to helpful neighbors we got Abeona docked without hitting anything so we can count it as a win.
Lesson learned: All the preventative maintenance, all of it.
From here, we are finishing one project on Abeona (a new holding tank) and then moving aboard. Then Goblin will get a spa treatment before she is listed for sale. Bittersweet to be sure, but we’re excited for the new adventures.