Cape Crusaders

It started, as so many of these things do, over a beer. At the time, a circumnavigation of Cape Cod sounded easy. After all, it’s our home territory.That conversation took place sometime in 2003, and here we were last summer, still planning this epic voyage. Not that we hadn’t tried. Twice, SAIL editors had set off in Corsair F-24 trimarans borrowed from the Multihull Source in Wareham,
Author:
Updated:
Original:
cape.int

It started, as so many of these things do, over a beer. At the time, a circumnavigation of Cape Cod sounded easy. After all, it’s our home territory.

That conversation took place sometime in 2003, and here we were last summer, still planning this epic voyage. Not that we hadn’t tried. Twice, SAIL editors had set off in Corsair F-24 trimarans borrowed from the Multihull Source in Wareham, Massachusetts. Twice, they were beaten back by contrary winds, ornery currents and dirty weather. On the first attempt, an all-female crew headed east from Wareham in a promising brisk southwesterly that faltered and died by the time they reached Chatham. At least they had a few good days cruising the south side of the Cape. A couple of years later an all-male crew set off clockwise, heading through the Cape Cod Canal toward Provincetown, which is as far as they got in what turned out to be a comedy of errors. At least they enjoyed some excellent seafood in Provincetown and Wellfleet.

Now here we were, ready to make an attempt in Ostara, our venerable Norlin 34 project boat, which sported a newish rig, new sails, recent electronics, a new autopilot and a reliable diesel engine. Would it be third time lucky?

A Cunning Plan

This time there was a twist in the plan. I wanted to make as few stops as possible. One reason was the difficulty of getting crew to commit to a 200-mile passage that would take several days. Another was that cramming a week’s cruise into two days would require as much planning as a much longer passage and would make an interesting exercise. There would be at least one night at sea; there would be tidal gates to contend with at the southern tip of the Cape and at notorious Woods Hole, so timing would be vital; current would be a factor at all times; there would be plenty of shipping to deal with; and then there was the wind, whose direction would determine which way we’d go around.

cape.int2

Should we go counter-clockwise? Leaving Salem Harbor, we’d sail south for the Cape Cod Canal, enter Buzzards Bay, slip past the Elizabeth Islands at Woods Hole, then head east past Nantucket through Nantucket Sound before turning north, popping the kite, and running up the outside of the Cape for a relaxing ride home. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. The prevailing wind in summer is from the southwest. After a tiring beat to the canal, which we would have to transit on a fair tide, we would likely be greeted by wind-over-tide chop at the western end of the canal where it’s not unusual for winds to exceed 25 knots on summer afternoons. I’ve heard tales of boats our size sliding backward down the standing waves there. Then there is Woods Hole, where an easy transit depends on the state of the tide. And even if we headed into Nantucket Sound with the tide under us, the prospect of negotiating the Pollock Rip channel with a stiff southwesterly churning up a west-streaming current was far from appealing.

I decided on a clockwise circumnavigation, if possible. Given a fair wind for the long haul across Massachusetts Bay and down the outer Cape, plus timing our departure to arrive at Pollock Rip and Woods Hole at the optimum state of tide, we should have little trouble. This plan would require wind in the north or east for at least 24 hours; if it went into the southwest once we’d entered Buzzards Bay, so much the better, as the canal runs more or less west-east.

The Plot Thickens

Much of the summer of 2009 had slipped by in a blur of wet weekends and domestic obligations before we could firm up dates. Old sailing friends Patrick and Ellie Doyle tentatively agreed to come along for the ride; we’d done a couple of Marblehead-Halifax races together so I knew they’d be good company. Rick Williams, another sailing friend from Marblehead, took the fourth crew spot. Ordinarily I’d happily undertake a long coastal passage doublehanded, but this ambitious agenda called for well-rested eyes on deck.

In the last week of August, everything came together. A trough of low pressure was forecast to elbow its way through New England on Monday, August 31, bringing with it 12- to 20-knot northwesterly winds that would veer north and then north-northeast before going farther into the east as a high-pressure system developed on Wednesday. By then we expected to be clear of the canal and heading north again.

The writing was on the bulkhead; we could wait a long time for another such opportunity. We slipped our mooring at 0930 on Monday morning, set the kite to make the most of the 15 knots of northerly breeze, and were on our way. Soon enough, though, the wind subsided and we replaced the kite with the iron genny and the autopilot. We wanted to be through the Pollock Rip Channel at the tip of Monomoy, the long chain of sandbanks off Chatham, around the time the ebb started at 0145 (in order to arrive at Woods Hole as the tide turned northwest), and there was no time to waste. As the sun inched toward the horizon we puttered past the white-sand beaches of Race Point, watching whales break the surface.

I’ve sailed down the outside of the Cape a half-dozen times and encountered almost every wind combination except the light northerly we experienced that night. It was a beautiful evening. The waning moon’s reflection shimmered on the water as we plugged south at a lazy 5 knots, following a string of waypoints Ellie had keyed in to the GPS to keep us a respectable distance off the beach. The last of these was just off the entrance to the channel at Pollock Rip, the ever-changing sandbar that almost ended the Mayflower’s voyage.

Related

Waypoint.image.cd

Say No To Waypoints

Ever since they first appeared in my navigational toolbox decades ago I have been wary of waypoints. They certainly do seem helpful, these electronic flags we plant in the ether to guide us to where we want to go. But I noticed early on they also tend to distort our perception. ...read more

Lead-shutterstock_429247

A Cruise up Florida’s St. Johns River

The chart showed 45ft of vertical clearance, and I knew the boat should be able to pass under the bridge. Still, there was that nagging voice in my head that wouldn’t let me be. “What if your air draft calculations were wrong?” it said. “And if you’re just a little too high the ...read more

pic00

Installing a Helm Pod

Our 1987 Pearson project boat came with an elderly but functioning Raymarine chartplotter, located belowdecks at the nav station. Since I usually sail solo or doublehanded, it was of little use down there—it needed to be near the helm. When I decided to update the plotter along ...read more

Panamerican

Pan American Game Success

Team USA’s young sailors went to the quadrennial Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru this summer with high hopes, and returned with a good haul of medals—two Golds, three Silvers, and two Bronze. Gold medals went to Ernesto Rodriguez and Hallie Schiffman (Mixed Snipe) and Riley ...read more

190916-AC75

U.S. Team Launches First America’s Cup Boat

Fast forward to around 2:25 to see the boat in action. First day out and already doing full-foiling gybes: not too shabby! Hard on the heels of the unveiling of New Zealand’s first AC75, the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic team has now launched its first America’s Cup ...read more

GGTobCaysHorseshoeColors

Picking a Charter Destination

Picking a destination should reflect the interests of your group, says People often ask about my favorite charter destination, and invariably, I sidestep the question with one of my own: “Well, what do you want to do on your vacation?” Most often I hear an incredulous, “Why, ...read more

sinking

Waterlines: Chasing Leaks on Boats

Chasing leaks on boats is a time-honored obsession. Rule number one in all galaxies of the nautical universe through all of nautical history has always been the same: keep the water on the outside. When water somehow finds its way inside and you don’t know where it’s coming ...read more

BestBoatNominees2020-Promo

Best Boats Nominees 2020

Bring on the monohulls! In a world increasingly given over to multihull sailing, SAIL magazine’s “Best Boats” class of 2020 brings with it a strong new group of keelboats, including everything from luxury cruisers nipping at the heels of their mega-yacht brethren to a number of ...read more