Cruising

All in a Day's Sail

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The wind is piping out of the southwest as we head for The Widows Cove just south of where Cape Cod Canal empties into Buzzards Bay. Our destination is less than a mile away, and we’ll have to cross Dry Ledge to reach it. The tide must be nearly full for us to clear the rocky entrance, but I’m determined to proceed. As the wind continues to blow, I consider slowing down to watch for breaking waves, but a quick bearing shows we’ll be able to sneak through safely, so we sail on. The Bullseye races ahead.

I love sailing this Herreshoff. At 15ft 8in with a heavy keel, Solo moves quickly and steadily. When she tacks, the self-tending jib takes care of itself. She is a fillip of adventure with a tension that bridges “Think we can do it?” with “So what if we can’t?” Best of all, if we can’t, either my husband Michael or I just get out and push. It’s what I call a manageable amount of risk.

As we sail closer to the coast, I take a couple of quick tacks to get a better angle on the entrance. The tide is still rising, but the wind eases to a whisper when we get close. Michael sheets in and I steer for the narrow passage between underwater rocks. Nerve-jangling noises of wind and wave give way to soothing sounds of leaves and grasses. Once we’re in, Michael drops the little Danforth over the side. There’s a clank as the chain pays out, then a wild cry from shore in response. We turn to see a great blue heron fly off in distress. I apologize silently, as I appreciate quiet as much as the heron.

We eat sandwiches in the cockpit and reminisce about the time we managed to walk our 36ft centerboard sailboat Beachcomber into a mangrove-lined cove in the Bahamas. There we found this same sense of isolation and security, as if embraced by the shore.

A loud cry from an osprey overhead breaks the trance, reminding us that we are in The Widows Cove, in a keelboat, on a falling tide. Michael sits up, “We better get moving or we won’t get out of here until midnight.”

I look around and realize the tide has been falling for a while. Rocks are poking through the surface of the water at the entrance, making the channel look too narrow to sail through, but still too deep to walk through. Michael weighs anchor, and we sail for the channel. Too late. Solo comes up hard on the rocks.

We jump overboard, stumbling to find our footing, and begin heeling Solo over. The wind helps us as we push and pull. “You’ll never get out of here!” somebody calls out from shore. But neither Michael nor I give him so much as a glance.

Michael lunges for the halyard, gives it a pull, and the boat floats free. The tide starts to carry her out and we begin swimming frantically to catch up and climb aboard. Michael uses the same halyard to pull himself up while I cling to the side. “You guys should buy a chart! Ever heard of a centerboard boat?” the voice on shore continues. Solo responds by racing forward between the last of the boulders, after which Michael luffs into the wind and I heave myself aboard, grinning. Sailing away I feel mighty pleased at having proved the Voice of Discouragement wrong.

Five minutes later we’re dropping anchor in the cove’s outer bay. From here we can get ashore for a walk on the beach of Stony Point Dyke, the westerly breakwater along the approach to Cape Cod Canal. I ease my legs over and slide off the gunwale into the freezing cold water. Balanced on tiptoes like ballerinas, we make our way to the beach. Willets, nesting in the grasses, cry out as they swoop back and forth. I look over my shoulder at the boat, then forward toward the marshy nesting ground, and appreciate this verge between the land and sea.

With a falling tide, there is firm sand for a mile-long walk along the water’s edge. When we return, Solo is still afloat, but bumping gently against the bottom. Though Buzzards Bay is notorious for its strong southwest breeze, the afternoon westerly provides a pleasant lee for sailing on to Bird Island. We tip the boat, climb aboard and set sail once more.

I ease the sheets for a reach along the dyke where I see our footprints in the sand, then harden up for Sedge Cove on the mainland. The sun is warm and light dances across the water.

The last time we sailed for Sedge Cove it was early fall, and there was nobody around. The entire area felt wild and secluded—precisely the solace I needed following a diagnosis of breast cancer. At 44 I learned I was not immortal. But I survived, kept sailing and realized that while I am alive, I may as well live. As a friend wrote during my struggle with cancer, “Cruising folks are hard to kill.”

By the time we reach Bird Island, the wind is nearly calm. Nesting terns swoop and dive all around us. Donning a life jacket, I slip overboard. Holding my camera overhead, I bob in the water taking pictures, while Michael sails back and forth between the island and me. It feels good to be alive, especially right now.

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