Showing posts with label Crow Island. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crow Island. Show all posts

Monday, March 26, 2012

Scanned Photographs

Talk about being overwhelmed. A couple of years ago Jonathan and I went through some 4,000 photographs that I've been carting around since the photography bug bit me as a kid, and we shipped them off to ScanMyPhotos in California for scanning. The preparation process is a bit involved to get it right. I was terrified to part with the photos, even via the most secure shipment method, but the time had come to step into the brave new world, and jettison the hardcopy versions that just take up space.

These all were returned along with DVD disks which, although I've seen them all, I have yet to fully organize. But in the meantime, I had discovered still another +/- 4,000, mostly in boxes in back of closets, so buried I did not know they were there. I had suspected missing photographs as ones I took with my childhood Brownie and with my father's Speed Graphic were not among the first batch. I had sadly reconciled myself to losing them, but they were among this last batch, including a "self portrait" I took with my first camera in the hallway mirror of the first house we lived in, crossing my eyes to make a big impression. I was about 9 or 10.

There were also some photographs not scannable (those smaller than 3x3 and those in poor condition), so I digitally photographed them. Furthermore, several hundred 35mm negatives turned up, mostly B&W when I did my own developing, and they were able to be scanned by ScanMyPhotos. I've been pleased by the service, their turnaround usually in a week.

So, in total, I'm left with about 10,000 images all needing review and organizing, probably something I'll never really finish doing. But as I go along with the task, from time to time I'll post some here. That will be a idiosyncratic, eclectic mix, but that may be the only way to get some of them out "there."

I'll start with this sequence, shots of me -- I'm in my mid 40's -- attempting to stay on a windsurfer off our Norwalk Islands anchorage. I remember the incident well -- I was as successful doing that as I was water skiing. In spite of being on the water much of my life, water sports eluded me. It was embarrassing at the time, but laughable in retrospect. I made up for it in other sports, anything involving a ball. Good eye/hand coordination but lousy balance.....

Finally, a scan of my all time favorite photograph. When Jonathan was born, I was working with my Nikon F and I set up a studio in the garage. I took photographs of him in his Oshkosh jeans. My mother, who was a very good artist, did an oil painting of another picture I took seconds after this one (her signature "Grandma Penny" is on the left sleeve).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Costa Concordia Tragedy

Whether you are piloting a large ship or your own recreational vessel, most nautical disasters are the result of its Captain being overconfident, especially when it comes to the deadly mix of thinking he knows the waters well while having an opportunity to show off. Apparently, the Costa Concordia had "nautical flybys" the island of Giglio in the past, coming close to the island to bask in the approbation of tourists there and providing a close-up thrill for the passengers as well. Imagine, 114,000 gross tonnage lumbering along at some 15 knots hitting an immovable object.

On my own "ship" of some 40 feet, I once took my knowledge of local waters for granted and raced another vessel out to our Crow Island anchorage using a "short cut" as the sun was setting on a Friday evening and, unfortunately for me, as the tide had already started to recede, only to find my vessel hard aground a sand bar with no means of kedging off the bar. It's a long story, one that thankfully ended well, with no injuries other than to my severely bruised ego, and I'll tell it sometime, but it could have turned out very differently.

Showing off and thinking one has complete control of one's vessel under all conditions is just a lethal combination. I'm guilty so I know. I might also comment that of the two dozen or so cruises we've been on, none were on ships the size of the Concordia. The new megaships seem to be out of proportion, their height too much for the beam, with evacuation procedures not up to the standards necessary for a full complement of passengers and crew. Unfortunately, lessons to be learned now in retrospect.

January 21 Follow-up, Videos

Monday, July 18, 2011

Crow Island Raft Up

Since I seem to be on boating themes, might as well cover a beautiful day and evening at our anchorage off the Norwalk Islands, just this past weekend.

Various boats belonging to many of our long-time friends, along with our boat, Swept Away, tied to Last Dance, gathered for a perfect boating rendezvous. Relatively light winds guaranteed a calm overnight at the anchorage. Cocktails for all were on the cockpit of Last Dance. Our boat is in the background. Front row, left to right, Tom, Claudia, Chuck, me, Susie. Back row, Cathy, John, Myrna, Cindy, Ray, Ann, Norm, Dee, Steve. Photograph courtesy of Cindy’s iPhone and our son, Jonathan, the photographer, and thus not pictured.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Boating Tale

June 30 is an anniversary of sorts. On that day twenty one years ago we had a challenging boating experience, one of many in retrospect, but I had written something about this particular one at the time so there are details I had completely forgotten until coming across the article in my files. Much of it happened at our favorite anchorage in the Norwalk Islands, long before the advent of the GPS and boats that can be handled with bow thrusters and joysticks. That same anchorage today is even more crowded as the GPS has diminished "local knowledge" as a factor and joysticks and chart plotters have reduced the entry level barrier to handling a larger power boat without previous experience. It makes me want to stay at the dock nowadays.

Ironically, the article makes reference to friend's boat, a 39' Chris Craft which now is the boat we live on during the summer, having bought that classic from a friend he sold it to. And we are still good friends with Ray and Sue who figure prominently in the story so there are threads of continuity between then and now. Our boat at the time of the article was a 37' 1986 Silverton, one we had taken all over the Long Island and Block Island Sounds, Buzzards Bay, and the Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds. We were more adventuresome then.

So here is what happened on that day in 1990:

It was a Saturday like so many others we experienced at our customary anchorage in the Norwalk Islands, but what would evolve that night was like no other we have ever lived through. We arrived as the sun was setting the night before. Our friends, Ray and Sue, on their 38' Ocean, 'Rascel', had already arrived, and as ideal weather was forecasted for the weekend, we were reassured that rafting with their boat would be secure and tranquil.

Although we had the anchorage nearly to ourselves that Friday evening, by late Saturday morning, with the tide nearly at high, thus allowing easy passage into the anchorage, other boats began to join us. Our friends Tony and Betty on their 39' Chris Craft dropped their hook nearby and other boats, unknown to us, made their way into the spot between Copps and Chimon. A stately, classic, two-masted schooner set their anchor somewhat to our starboard, while smaller powerboats were spotted here and there. A 30' catamaran skimmed in on the surface like a water bug, anchoring well behind our stern, and a descending plow anchor and chain announced the arrival of a 42' Grand Banks to our port.

The anchorage began to take on a party atmosphere, anticipating the evening, as the late afternoon sun shimmered over the Long Island Sound. A sea breeze had picked up and small white caps could be seen in the haze towards Eaton's Neck. I turned on the weather radio as we were expecting guests for dinner, and it would be far easier to run into the Norwalk harbor in my new Achilles dingy than to take our boat in. There, in the harbor, I could pick up our son's Boston Whaler, meet our guests and then, as the sun sets, bring them back to the dock, and return to the anchorage in the Achilles raft.

The weather radio announced complete cooperation for this plan: some thunderstorms to the north, with little chance one might drift over the Sound and a 10 to 15 knot breeze out of the southwest overnight. Since our anchorage is well protected from all directions except east, I lowered our Achilles and its new 4HP engine, and prepared to run into our marina, only about a mile away.

The new dingy and engine performed flawlessly and the 4HP engine even enabled me to effortlessly plane, making my time back to Norwalk less than expected. I tied up the new dingy at our slip and went to the one in which my son's 13' Whaler was berthed, Its 40 HP engine started without much coaching and I awaited our guests.

The run back to our anchorage was uneventful, and my wife's usual culinary feast was appreciated by all. So, the waning hours of the hazy sun were consumed by good food and talk. As the sun began to slip below the horizon, I readied the Whaler for the return trip. The southwest breeze had now picked up to 15 -20 knots.

After tying up the Whaler I got into the rubber dingy and started up her engine. The sky had changed from its usual sunset red and amber to a foreboding autumnal and stormy gray, laced with red. Worse, the wind had changed to the east so I tried to hurry back, getting up on plane well before the 5 MPH marker to return to our boat, on which my wife was on alone, still tied up to the boat of our friends, Ray and Sue.

Before completely exiting the harbor I was stopped by the Norwalk marine police. Although I assumed I was being stopped because of my speed, they said "where are you going, haven't you heard that there is a storm that is supposed to hit this area?" The increasing wind and the prematurely black sky in the west gave credence to their warning. So much for the promised tranquil weather as announced on the weather band.

I explained my predicament to the police. "You better get out there fast," cautioned the police. I resumed my flight on plane, with difficulty as the easterly wind now easily surpassed 20 knots.

Many years of experience at the same anchorage told me that within a short time it would become a maelstrom where we are anchored. In a westerly flow, it was a paradise. Out of the east, our pond became the ocean. It was important to get back to my vessel soon. Approaching the northern end of Chimon Island, in the gyrating water of the easterly wind, the outboard engine died. Repeated attempts to coax the engine to life were fruitless. With no anchor, my only hope was to make some headway by rowing to a sailboat anchored about 100 yards upwind. The time seemed to be interminable, but eventually I was able secure the dingy to the sailboat's stern. In the distance in the west the lightening lit up the descending night.

No one was on the deck of the sailboat so I knocked on her hull. A very inebriated women stumbled to the deck, entreating me to climb on board. Luckily, a more sober gentleman followed and I explained my predicament to him. I needed a few minutes to work on the engine and to get back to my boat.

As I had a handheld in my bag, I decided to call my wife or Ray on 72, our unofficial station for communication. As I suspected, the weather conditions, combined with my long absence, resulted in my near hysterical wife standing by.

Ray got on the radio offered to get into his dingy and come around the island to possibly tow me. I asked him to standby 72 and let me work on the engine for a few minutes. I thought that even if I couldn't start the engine, at least I was safely ensconced and the most important thing is that our boats do not go unattended.

So, as the storm meandered its way towards Norwalk, I tried to diagnose the problem. I went through every possible way of starting the engine, but without success. Maybe salt through the air vent had clogged the fuel line. Disconnecting the fuel line, I pumped some fuel overboard, and reconnected the line. Once primed, I pulled the cord again, and it started. At the same time Ray came around the sailboat in his dingy. "I said I would call if I needed help," I cried over the rising wind. "Why did you leave the boats?" This was a rhetorical question, knowing Ray would not miss an opportunity for an adventure.

We began to make our way in the dark around the island, knowing, from the muffled thunder, rising wind and flashes of light, that we had little time to return to our vessels. Finally, we arrived. As I suspected, the unrelenting easterly wind had churned up the anchorage and the, now, low tide had made us and the remaining vessels captives of the anchorage. We would all have to ride out whatever nature intended to deliver.

We dodged a bullet this time as the threatened blow never fully materialized. Thunder and lightning was followed by a brief, intense shower, but the fireworks we had sometimes the misfortune to experience at this very same spot were absent. While the storm passed, the east wind refused to abate. It foreboded an uncomfortable evening as our rafted vessels lurched and pitched in response to the seas. But we were tied well and had plenty of fenders out, and we felt sufficiently exhausted to sleep through anything so we bedded down for the night. At least our intention was to sleep for no sooner than our heads had touched their pillows the uncompromising sound of fiberglass clashing with fiberglass filled our ears. The scraping and the gashing sound said this was not a simple problem of a fender popping out between our boats.

From the cockpit I made my way in the darkness along the gunnels to the bow to witness the enmeshing of our bow pulpit between the railings and gunnels of the 30' catamaran which I had remembered setting its anchor well to our stern in the, then, more cordial westerly breeze. Now that the wind had shifted nearly 180 degrees, it had broken anchor and was now totally impaled by our bow pulpit.

It was that night when I learned how imperfectly matched a catamaran, broadside to the wind, was with a powerboat at anchor, our boat rising as the cat fell. Remarkably, in spite of the smashing and scraping of the mismatched fiberglass, my wife and I were the only ones on the bow witnessing this spectacle. I speculated that the boat was unattended. We were calling out for our friends who, later I learned, were busing watching a movie, their generator contributing to drowning out all other sound.

Their anchor line kept the stern of the cat in abeyance from their own boat. I pounded on the side of our friends' boat, who finally heard our clarion call for help and joined us on their bow. Since the cat seemed to be abandoned, Ray was preparing to board their boat off my pulpit between the pitching of the sea when, suddenly, a dazed woman emerged from the cat's cabin. She made the leap to hysteria in a few short moments. Her impulse was to fend off our bow by planting herself on her gunnels and pushing off with her legs, failing to realize that the windage of the cat's pontoons was acting like a sail to the strong easterly wind abeam.

The force was beyond the ability of even a small army to extricate the boat that way. The lurching and pitching of the bow, the anchor hanging from the pulpit and smashing the gunnel of the cat created the danger of breaking this poor women's legs but screaming warnings to that effect went unheeded. Ray hollered "lady if you don't get out of there I'm going to get over there somehow and drag you away." She retreated.

Finally, a man emerged from the cabin and perhaps, now, we had enough hands on deck to figure something out -- if nature gave us enough time before serious damage was done to our vessels. The anchor line was caught by the tiller of the cat so we thought that if we could release their vessel by raising the tiller, we might be able to make some headway in untangling the boats. Meanwhile, the incessant pitching and crashing of the vessels reminded us that time was of the essence.

"Raise the tiller" we shouted to the new deck hand who was stunned, trying to take the picture in which his vessel was a prominent co-star. "I can't, I don't think I have the strength with all the pressure on it from the anchor line," he cried back. Now, it was our turn for hysteria.

In a voice that I last seem to remember coming from 'Rosemary's Baby,' our friend Susan growled, "Mister, get your ass over the tiller and pull!" Ray jumped on to their boat and was able to disentwine the line from the tiller. By this time, our bow and their railing had become such good friends, they still refused to part. It was now apparent that the only way we are going to break was for us to untie from our friends and to try to drop back. This was going to be very difficult for with an easterly wind, our stern was not more than 15 feet from a rock which was very much apparent at low tide. I fired up our 350 crusaders; no time to run the blowers or check the bilge, I thought.

We began to untie our lines and I realized that as soon as I dropped back, we would be abeam of the wind and immediately would have to get the bow into the wind. Thankfully, we disengaged from the cat which looked like a locus predator as it slipped away from my bow. As expected, we rapidly progressed toward the rock while abeam of the wind. With port engine forward and starboard in reverse, I steadily increased the throttle on the port.

The vessel pitched in the rolling seas and began to slowly respond. Too slow, I thought, and I continued increase the port throttle. We cleared the rock by less than 5 feet as our bow turned into the wind and began to make our way through the anchorage while the cat also was free.

Now our enemy was the dark night and the crowded anchorage. We threaded our way upwind, seeking a spot to drop our own hook; it would be dangerous to try to retie to our friends downwind, so close to the rock. We had never fully appreciated our windless, one that could be operated from the bridge, until that night. The choppy seas, combined with the darkness of night, made going on the bow dangerous, so dropping the hook from the bridge was not a luxury, it was a necessity.

The anchor was successfully lowered, letting out as much scope out as feasible, given the wind and the room in which we had to swing. Finally, we were able to rest. In the clear light of morning, it seemed as if we were on a different planet. The east wind had departed in favor of the more friendly, westerly flow. There was no sign of the commotion of the night before, other than our exhaustion.

I dingied to the bow of my boat and inspected the damage. The bow pulpit took most of the hit but there were some gelcoat scratches on the bow. The catamaran was now anchored, again, to our stern, perhaps by 100 yards. At 7: 30 AM there was no one awake. I circled the boat, 'Gull Wind,' and saw that my anchor had bent their bow rail and had done some damage to their port gunnel. Later, by 9: 00 AM, the owner aroused and, once again, I went over to discuss the incident. We exchanged names and address. He agreed to pay for the repairs which surprisingly turned out not to be extensive given what we experienced.

Boating is a inexplicable way of life. In how many other recreational activities can a leisurely pleasure turn into tumult without warning? The day and night of June 30 showed that while we might be able to take what the seas might dish out, there is no way to prepare for all contingencies.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice

The winter solstice was special this year because of a rare eclipse of the moon. But for the last thirty years or so it also has been a special day for my friend, Ray, and myself. Wherever we may be, we always made it a point to speak on that day. This ritual was to acknowledge that although the long cold days of winter were just beginning, the days were getting longer and it will only be a matter of time until our families would be back boating together again on the Long Island Sound and spending many weekends at our mooring off the Norwalk Islands. It also marked the beginning of our thinking about our traditional summer vacation at Block Island

Now, with our families grown, and both being retired, our boating lives have changed and in fact as he and Sue now spend their winters in the Bahamas on their boat 'Last Dance,' and we live in Florida, except during the summers when we still live on our boat 'Swept Away' in Connecticut (and they return to Norwalk as well on their boat), perhaps this particular day has lost some of its significance. Nonetheless, I will make the call or await Ray's call and we will talk, perhaps of days gone by but also of next summer, but certainly to commemorate the moment.

Coincidentally, when Google Maps updated last summer, Ann and I just happened to be out on our boat that day, alone at the mooring we had shared for so many of those summer days. By putting in the Lat/Lon coordinates in Google Maps 41.061561,-73.388698 will first show the nearest land, and below that point the green arrow points to our boat on that particular day. A rare happenstance, a satellite view of the moment, perhaps like an eclipse on the winter solstice?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Slouching Towards Nostalgia

When I first began this blog, I really did not know where it would take me. I should have maintained an index as entries have floated like a dandelion in the winds of our time. They are idiosyncratic reactions to the macro and micro moments of my life, but true to my “mission statement” it has been focused on my primary interests, publishing, music, reading and writing, economics and business, photography, and boating. The presidential election occupied a fair amount of angst, not to mention the ongoing Great Recession, the disaster in the Gulf, and “circus occasions” such as the Madoff affair which led to a number of entries.

John Updike’s death was a great sadness to me, the passing of America’s greatest contemporary writer, but luckily, it appears that the baton has now been placed in the capable hands of Jonathan Franzen who has followed up his promising Corrections with Freedom, which has even been acclaimed as the latest “Great American novel.” I got my hands on one of the first copies from my friends at Amazon (a printed copy that is not a Kindle, which I continue to resist). I am so looking forward to reading it, that I am delaying the pleasure until we take a trip in a couple of weeks. Interestingly, taking a page from Updike’s Rabbit series, Franzen has neatly spaced his two novels a decade apart, giving us an opportunity to kaleidoscopically view the differences in our times. So Franzen, I am hoping, will be a worthy successor to a writer I have loved to read for the past fifty years, although he will never be as prolific as Updike, who could move gracefully in many genres, from the novel, to the essay, to the short story, to poetry.

While writing this blog over the past few years, I also “discovered” Raymond Carver, not that I had not read him before, but I immersed myself in his short stories with the publication of the Library of America’s complete collection and Carol Sklenicka's excellent biography, Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life. Many of his stories, such as Gazebo, continue to resonate in my consciousness, so perfectly constructed and moving. Carver always wanted to write a novel, but he was the master of the short story and was wise never to leave that field, including writing some very good poetry. Perhaps Franzen will follow suit, recognizing his territory as the novel, and one absolutely brilliant novel each decade would be more than enough by any standards.

I also renewed my passion for the theatre during this time, especially the productions of Dramaworks in West Palm Beach, and am looking forward to my preview seats for the forthcoming season so I can comment on the productions before traditional media intrudes.

But I started this blog with several entries of a personal nature, about my family and childhood, the good, the bad and the ugly and I see that several of my last entries hark back to more nostalgic feelings than was my original intent. This is a far cry from providing a ‘first hand” account of “our” times, and although family and reflecting on my life will always be a part of what makes me write, I’m taking a vacation from that for a while.

However, I can’t resist the temptation to recount one very recent personal experience, occurring on the night of Labor Day. We had taken our boat to our mooring off Crow Island which we have visited now for some thirty years. There we met friends, thinking we would stay for the day and return to our marina before sunset. Instead, we were easily persuaded to stay the night, enjoy a pot luck supper, including fresh dug steamed clams, and although my instincts told me that an exceptionally high tide might make it uncomfortable, I relied on the NOAA forecast of “relatively light winds” for assurance that we would not excessively rock at high tide as we slept. By dark the winds increased to some 20 knots pushing the water of the Long Island Sound over the bar that protects the anchorage. The End Result: all night we rocked, rolled, banged, bow and spring lines loudly snapping and tugging, things thrown off counters, to the point of virtually no sleep. By morning, with the tide subsiding and the wind backing down, we were greeted by this sunrise, a small consolation to a night from hell.
And a few minutes later…..

Friday, August 14, 2009

Block Island Days

Perhaps some things are better left alone. For instance, I recently visited the offices where I used to work. The building was brand new in 1979 when I leased those offices, at first the 2nd floor of the three story building, eventually occupying the entire building and the one next door as well. The last time I was in the building was about eight years ago. Since then the interior was reconfigured leaving a maze of cubicles and now the company has changed ownership. The offices are being closed and there remains just a skeletal staff in the transition phase. So, it was a bittersweet return, seeing a few people with whom I had worked, reminiscing about the “old times.” As I left the building this one last time, it was with a sense of sadness I thought I had already overcome.

You can’t go home again. There are certain memories you should put away in the museum of your mind, leaving them perfectly preserved in their protective cases.

In a sense, the many days we spent boating to Block Island have become such a treasure. Perhaps that is one of the reasons when we last left the Great Salt Pond of Block Island a few years ago, I suspected we might never return. Not having gone back, that sense of not wanting to revisit what had such an impact on our lives, has been reinforced with each passing year.

Those were our adult to later middle years and now, with our children grown, and with the rigors of boating becoming more challenging as we age, not to mention the explosive expense of fuel and dockage, Block Island is now just a wonderful memory.

For us the journey began in our little 28’ boat in 1984 -- ‘Spindrift’-- equipped with not much more than a compass and a VHF so our ninety mile trip from Norwalk, CT through the infamous “Race” with its frequent fog, turbulent water and numerous fishing boats to navigate around, into the Block Island Sound, exposed to ocean swells, and finally into the Great Salt Pond of Block Island, was an adventure. We relied on compass headings and visual sightings of certain buoys, zigzagging our way there.

The first couple of years of venturing to Block we tried the docks at both Champlain’s and the Block Island Boat Basin, the advantage of the former being its salt water pool that our then 8 year old Jonathan loved, and the latter their floating docks – easier on and off the boat and no rafting (boats tied together, strangers trouncing across your boat to get to the dock).

Here I must detour in the story of our Block Island days. At this time we befriended Ray and Sue who have a son about the same age as Jonathan. Then we were at the same Marina, Norwest Marine in Norwalk. I briefly mentioned Ray in my article on Crow Island but I failed to mention how critical he has been to the story of our boating life.

Ray was my boating mentor, and there could be no better one. Ann and I have joked that if we were marooned on a desert island, he would be the one person we would want at our side. Give him a roll of duct tape, rope and a few other materials and he will build you a cathedral. In boating you can find yourself in unpredictable situations and Ray has frequently bailed us out. One time we arrived at Block taking on water because one engine’s muffler had burst and in the infinite wisdom of the boat manufacturer, this was below the water line. No problem for Ray, who immediately sized up the situation and decided to temporarily plug the exhaust with a large plastic coke bottle, a perfect, secure fit, stopping the leak until we could replace the muffler.

Continuing the story, my friend John was flying over to Block where he had left his boat with his wife Cathy and their two children, and he said, no problem, picking up a replacement muffler and between Ray and John, the repair was made, a perfect example of boating camaraderie and cooperation.

Ray showed us the path into Crow Island, long before the GPS made it a more accessible destination and it was there that our families spent countless weekends. Due in large part to his encouragement, in 1985 we bought a 37’ powerboat, and as a much younger man, I fearlessly took our new ‘Swept Away’ all over the Long Island Sound and its ports on Long Island and Connecticut sides, plus Newport, Cuttyhunk, Edgartown, and Nantucket for several summer vacations in subsequent years.

We cruised to those ports without Ray and his family as by that time he was convinced that there was only one port really worth going to, settling down for his summer vacation on their 44’ ‘Rascel’, at Block Island, and, specifically Payne’s Dock.

So, on our way back from one of our more distant ports we would stop at Payne’s to visit for a few days and, gradually, like Ray and Sue, we found ourselves spending more and more of our vacation time at Block until, we too, found ourselves going there for our entire summer vacations.

Payne’s is an enigmatic place, a community like no other we’ve visited on the water. It’s not just a dock, but an ongoing event, the same boaters showing up at about the same time, and settling into routines as mundane as hanging around waiting for the coffee to be made at the top of the dock, ordering a few or more of the homemade donuts we lovingly referred to as “sinkers”, sitting around the ancient wooden picnic tables sipping coffee in the frequently fogged in morning, to the evening libations at rickety Mahogany Shoals. Payne’s rafts boats during the crowded weekends but always seems to be able to match up compatible boaters. To watch Cliff Payne and his “dock geezers” move around boats, slipping them in and out of tight quarters was to watch a comical, sometimes nail biting, but effective chorography.

One weekend our older son, Chris, surprised us by biking 75 miles from Worcester, MA to the Block Island Ferry at Point Judith, RI, arriving with enough energy to join us and friends at Ballard’s in Old Harbor for lobster and then we all danced the chicken. Chris clucked and flapped his wings, none the worse for wear after his long bike ride.

After morning tasks, our families would dinghy to the eastern side of the Great Salt Pond, leaving our little boats, cross the Corn Neck Road causeway and settle in at Scotch Beach on the Atlantic Ocean for the day. Block has been called the Bermuda of the north for good reason, the water crystal clear, the waves perfect for body surfing which the kids did most of the day (OK, the adults too when we could grab their boards). Then, back to our boats, shower, and its cocktail time and pot luck dinner on someone’s boat.

We called fluke fishing at the mouth of the harbor “meat runs” as we were sure to catch that night’s dinner. Again, Ray was the leader of the pack, both in organizing those fishing parties and filleting the fish like a surgeon, squeezing every drop of edible fish leaving the waiting seagulls disappointed with the remnants tossed off the dock after surgery was completed.

Then there might be a “cook off,” the ladies preparing the fluke different ways, or sometimes as teams. To watch my wife, Ann, and Ray’s wife, Sue, cook in the galley was exhausting, pots, pans, plates, being passed back and forth in tight quarters, those beautiful, sun baked faces, flush with a cocktail or two, we expectantly awaiting the outcome of their culinary skills. Frequently, meals were served to accommodate an entire boatload of friends, everyone balancing plates and drinks in the cockpit. These feasts continued night after night, always with high praise heaped on the amazing kitchen crew!

Once we went tuna fishing off of Block. But I was the “accidental fisherman,” mainly going along to photograph the activities. The party thought it might be a good joke on our way back, after everyone had caught a yellow fin tuna in the 80 pound range, to watch me try to reel in one, using a stand-up belt (no fighting chair on the boat). They laughed as I struggled with the reel and the belt kept falling to my knees as my waist was too small, but I had the last laugh as I finally reeled in a 200 lb blue fin tuna. I couldn’t lift my arms for hours. Most of the tuna was sold at the dock at Montauk but we filleted one for ourselves and grilled it on the dock at Payne’s that night.

When not cooking up, we would pile into one of the cars that one of the family’s brought over on the ferry (this became the main means of transportation to the beach after our boys turned driving age), and went off to one of the many joints on Block Island, ending up at the one and only Ice Cream shop, which brought us to the Old Harbor, where the shops were. And when not at the beach, there was always a bike ride around Block, challenging because of its steep hills.

At one point we figured out ways of staying longer at Block, leaving our boats and families, taking the short flight to Westerly Airport where we would leave a car to commute back to our Connecticut offices for a few days to attend to business. On a couple of occasions we charted planes to Bridgeport Airport to attend to business, stretching out our Block Island stays.

Over the years we became part of the Payne’s “family.” Our son Jonathan thinks of Block as a second home and many of his friends are from the Block Island experience. At first Ray’s boat and mine were in the “pens” with easy on and off via our transoms, but later we went to the end of tees, our transoms facing each other. In our last boating days at Block we were rafted to Ray’s boat, the one they live on now, their 56’ ‘Last Dance.’

While our own boating lives have changed considerably these last few years, Block Island remains the prized destination in our boating memory.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Crow Island, Latitude 41.0612081 and Longitude -73.3906734, the epicenter of our boating life. This continues the boating thread that began with the following two entries:

At high tide it’s just a small pile of rocks but at low tide it’s part of the Crow bar, connecting two of the Norwalk, CT islands, Copps Island and Chimon Island. This link shows those two larger islands, with Copps in the foreground. Crow bar can be seen connecting to Chimon.

Aside from the Thimble Islands further east, the Norwalk Islands is one of the largest groups of islands in the Long Island Sound. There are a number of coves and anchorages, which make boating something special there. We called the water to the east of Crow Island “home” for countless weekends. When anchored there one would think you are in a far away place, with few signs of civilization except for the conspicuous presence of the Manresa Island Power Plant on the mainland in Rowayton (see the stack at the lower right of this photo).

Before the GPS became ubiquitous, Crow’s waters were relatively private as Beers Rocks and other assorted rocks loom just beneath the surface making it somewhat treacherous to find one’s way into the area. Many a boat has damaged its running gears in such attempts, and the word spread quickly, keeping other boaters out.

But, with local knowledge, passage is relatively safe, especially when dead low tide is avoided. So, for years friends and we enjoyed the waters as a private enclave. And, as members of the Outboard Cruising Club, an old local club, we even own the deed to that pile of rocks, called Crow. As the tide recedes, a little sandy beach emerges, a great spot our kids went to in our dinghies and where I dutifully walked our little Schnauzers when we had them, first Muffin and then Treat. One could find me there at dawn (my favorite time of the day) as my family and friends slept.

During the summers, Crow was our community, not the towns in which we lived, and our kids became best friends there. The usual routine was to go out to the island on Friday night. Ann would load up the boat, pick up Jonathan at school, and I would meet them Norwalk Cove Marina after work and off we would go in the setting sun to our anchorage
There, we would meet Ray and Sue, John and Cathy, Richard and Marlene, Tony and Betty, Bob and Bev, and Shel and Naomi (the only stalwart sail boaters in the group). Weather cooperating, we would raft together in groups, and dingy back and forth between boats.

We began our voyage to Crow with just a thought: we wanted an activity our family would enjoy doing together, something to get me away from my all-consuming work. We considered a small vacation cottage on Connecticut’s Candlewood Lake, much smaller than Lake George where we had vacationed before, but closer to our home. We began to get serious about that alternative, but the idea of cleaning more gutters and more home repairs were off-putting.
Our home in Weston was only a few miles from the beautiful Long Island Sound, where I had boated as a child, and that is why we began to consider boating. We initially imagined ourselves as sail boaters, quietly gliding upon the waters of the Sound to the coves and towns near its shores but we first needed to learn more about boating in general and the Sound in particular. So in January 1983 we enrolled in a Coast Guard auxiliary course to learn the basics of boating.

Coincidentally, in the summer of 1981 there was a boating tragedy in our nearby waters off of Port Jefferson, the sinking of the ‘Karen E’ – this became the focus of the course as the captain of the ship, a 36’ Trojan, did everything totally wrong causing untold tragedy for his family and friends. He left Port Jefferson as dark was closing in, for a port in Connecticut and failed to recognize the lights of a tugboat with a barge in tow, piloting his boat between the two. The Karen E ran into the steel tow cable and sunk somewhere between Brookhaven, L.I., and Old Saybrook, Connecticut. His wife and daughter were killed in the accident, along with three friends. Miraculously, the Karen E’s captain made it to shore after swimming half the night.

Studying this case made us acutely aware of the gaps in our knowledge, not only about boating, but sailing in particular, which is yet another skill one must master. We therefore decided that once we earned our Coast Guard Power Squadron certificates, that we would buy a powerboat and perhaps work our way up to a sailboat. So, in the spring of 1983, graduation “diplomas” in hand, we looked for a boat.

Our search ended at Norwest Marine, a small boat yard on the Norwalk River, with a few dozen slips and rack storage. There we bought our first boat, a used 20’ cuddy cabin with a single inboard-outboard engine, which we dubbed the ‘Annie H’ and even ventured to “far off” Eaton’s Neck (only a few miles across the Sound) and to some of the anchorages around the 52 acre Norwalk Island, Sheffield, the only island with a lighthouse, although now deactivated:

After only a few weeks though, coming back from a day on the Sound, the boat began taking on water. Ann was bailing out with a bucket as I tried to get the boat back to our slip. We discovered the block was cracked. We had bought a bumboat.

The owner of the marina agreed to take the boat in on trade for a new boat. We would have been better off doing that in the first place, so we traded for a new 22’ “Holiday Express.” It had a little sleeping area under the rear seats in addition to the cuddy cabin and a tiny stand up head, all in 22’ so the three of us could spend an overnight or even more time on the boat. We anxiously awaited delivery of our new Annie H” which was promised for the 4th of July weekend.

Late in the day on June 28, 1983 Ann was driving back from Greenwich on I95. Several hours later, the Mianus River Bridge on I95 in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, Connecticut – the very span she had just traversed -- collapsed, killing three people and injuring three. Because of that collapse, the delivery of our boat was delayed as it was on a trailer, scheduled to cross the bridge the following day. It had to be rerouted, as did all truck traffic, north to Route 84 and then south to reconnect with I95. As I recall, our new Annie H did not arrive until after the July 4th holiday.

For the remainder of that summer though we were out on the Annie H every weekend and even ventured to a port that became one of our favorites over the years, Essex, CT, some six miles up the Connecticut River. There we discovered the joys of the famous Griswold Inn one of the oldest continuously operated inns in the country, having opened its doors for business in 1776. The original architecture and the marine art in the main dinning room conveys the sense of embarking in a time machine, transported to the time the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Coming back from Essex we ran along the old QE2, which was taking a “cruise to nowhere” in the Long Island Sound. Ironically, we had crossed the Atlantic in October 1977on the QE2 when Jonathan was still a baby – here dressed in his sailor’s outfit -- and here we were running alongside this leviathan in our little 22 footer. By today’s cruise ship standards, the QE2 would now be considered a small ship.

Most of that summer we spent around Sheffield Island and at Mt. Misery Cove just to the East of the entrance to Port Jefferson harbor, a sandpit with 60 foot high bluffs which we would climb to view the harbor and the Long Island Sound. We even managed to persuade Ann’s Mom to go out with us when she was visiting from California.

But one afternoon we had taken my Dad and our friend, Arlene, out for the day on the south side of Sheffield. We anchored and the current was running strong. Ann and Jonathan were swimming near the boat and the current swept them away to the west (luckily, Jonathan was in a life jacket). Showing my inexperience and my overconfidence in my swimming ability, I tried to swim to them with an extra life jacket, somehow thinking I could bring them back to the anchored boat. I almost drowned and had to be fished out of the water by a passing vessel. The captain NEVER leaves the ship!

Ann had given me an anniversary gift that year, a modest little book by Janet Groene, How to Live Aboard a Boat, which she inscribed as follows: Honey – Here’s to a “dream come true” one day! Happy Anniversary, Love, Ann. Little did we know at that time where our obsession would lead. The following year there would be a new boat and there would be others after that but more on those and our times at Crow and other cruises in another entry.

Meanwhile, as it so neatly merges my publishing and historical interests with information on our home cruising grounds, I am appending a section from the United States Coast Pilot by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, published by the Government Printing Office in 1918. This was scanned as part of the Google Books Library Project from a copy at the University of California library.

This passage, written almost 100 years ago, is very detailed (a disclaimer for anyone not interested in boating or the area). Although some features are antiquated, it captures the essence of the Norwalk Islands and its environs:

NORWALK ISLANDS are a group of islands, rocks, and shoals which extend from 1 to nearly 2 miles off the north shore of Long Island Sound and have a length of 6 miles from Georges Rock to Greens Ledge lighthouse. Cockenoe Island Harbor and Sheffield Island Harbor, good at low water for vessels of about 9 and 12 feet draft, respectively, are available anchorages, and are the approaches to Norwalk River. These anchorages are marked by Pecks Ledge and Greens Ledge lighthouses and are easily made. The bottom is very irregular around the islands and rocks in the Norwalk Islands; and, although the area is well surveyed, vessels should, as a measure of safety, avoid all broken ground and proceed with caution when crossing shoal areas.

Cockenoe Island, at the eastern end of Norwalk Islands, is marked on its south side by two knolls, the rest of the island being low and level. A bar, dry in places at low water but with general depths of 1 to 2 feet, connects the island with the north shore at Seymours Point. Cockenoe Island Shoal is an extensive and dangerous area which extends 1.5 miles eastward and east-southeastward and .5 mile southward from Cockenoe Island. The least depths found are shown on the chart, but the entire area is exceedingly broken with boulders and should be avoided by strangers, even in small craft.

Georges Rock, awash at lowest tides, is at the eastern end of the shoal, and is marked off its northeast side by a black buoy. A gas and bell buoy marks the southeast end of the shoal. Vessels rounding the eastern end of Cockenoe Island Shoal should give the buoys a good berth.

Channel Rock, with 2 feet over it, lies 400 yards southwestward of Cockenoe Island, and is marked by a red buoy placed 300 yards south- westward of the rock.

Cockenoe Island Harbor lies westward of Cockenoe Island, and is marked by Pecks Ledge lighthouse. It has anchorage for vessels of less than 9 feet draft, and is also an entrance from eastward to Norwalk River. The best anchorage for vessels is in the deeper part of the harbor, depths 12 to 25 feet, lying northward and northwestward of the lighthouse. Vessels should proceed with caution at low water when crossing the shoal with 12 to 15 feet lying southward and westward of Channel Rock buoy.

Directions, Cockenoe Island Harbor. — From eastward pass southward of Cockenoe Island Shoal gas and bell buoy, steer 254° true (W % S mag.) until Pecks Ledge lighthouse bears northward of 285° true (NW by W % W mag.), then steer for the lighthouse until up with Channel Rock buoy, and then pass eastward and northward of the lighthouse at a distance of 200 to 300 yards. From westward give the edge of the shoals a good berth until Pecks Ledge lighthouse bears westward of 350° true (N mag.), and then steer this course with the lighthouse on the port, bow, passing preferably eastward of the 12-foot spot lying 250 yards southeastward of the lighthouse.

The following islands and rocks are on the northwest side of Cockenoe Island Harbor : Sprite Island is high and has some trees. Calfpasture Island has several houses and a few trees. The island eastward of Calfpasture Island is low and covered with boulders. Sheep Rocks are covered at half tide. East White Rock is a high, white rock. Grassy Hammock Rocks are bare at half tide; the rock at the south end of the group is awash at high water, and is marked by Grassy Hammock light.

Pecks Ledge lighthouse, on the west side at the entrance of Cockenoe Island Harbor, is a white conical tower, middle part brown, on a pier.

Goose Island and Grassy Island are low. The rest of the Norwalk Islands are hilly and are partly settled. Chimons Island is marked by a windmill and water tank. Copps Island has a prominent survey signal. Sheffield Island, the westernmost of the Norwalk Islands, is marked by a disused lighthouse tower (granite building). There is a boat landing on the north side of Sheffield Island.

Great Reef, lying 14 mile southward of the western end of Sheffield Island, is covered at half tide and marked by a spindle. Hiding Eocks, Old Baldy, and Old Pelt, lying northwestward of Great Reef, are bare at low water.

Greens Ledge is a rocky ridge extending from Sheffield Island to Greens Ledge lighthouse. There is little depth and rocks bare at low water in places for a distance of nearly % mile from the island, and thence to the lighthouse there is a depth of about 7 feet on the ledge. Depths of 10 to 15 feet extend about 400 yards westward and southwestward from the lighthouse, and this part of the ledge is marked at its southwest end by a red buoy. A rocky ledge, on which the least depth found is 22 feet, extends 1 mile west-southwestward from the lighthouse.

Greens Ledge lighthouse is a conical tower, lower half brown, upper half white, on a pier. Budd Reef, a small ledge with a least depth of 25 feet, lies % mile south-southeastward of Greens Ledge lighthouse. The bottom is very broken on the south side of Greens Ledge, and deep-draft vessels should pass southward of Budd Reef and the ledge with a least found depth of 22 feet lying % mile south-southwestward of Copps Island.

Sheffield Island Harbor, also known as Norwalk Harbor, is formed by the western Norwalk Islands. It is frequently used in the fall and winter, and by tows. The depths at the anchorage northwestward of Sheffield Island range from 12 to 16 feet. The directions from westward for Norwalk River lead through the harbor. The shoal flats on the north side of the harbor have rocks and boulders in places. A black buoy and a horizontally striped buoy mark the edge of the shoals with depths less than 10 feet on the north side of the harbor southwestward of Tavern Island.

Tavern Island has a number of houses. Little Tavern Island is marked by a prominent, high water tank. A row of piles extends from Tavern Island to Little Tavern Island. A rock covered at half tide lies 250 yards northeastward of Little Tavern Island. A bare rock, marked by telegraph poles, lies westward of Little Tavern Island. A shoal with little depth over it extends 250 yards south-westward of Tavern Island. A rock bare at low water lies about half-way between the southwest end of Tavern Island and the wharf at Wilson Point.

The following are objects near the channel leading from Sheffield Island Harbor to Norwalk River. White Rock shows above high water. White Rock Reef light, northward of White Rock, is located in a depth of about 9 feet on the southeast edge of the channel. Long Beach light is on the east side of the channel, near the end of the reef extending northwestward from Long Beach. Round Beach light is on the northwest side of the channel at the entrance of Norwalk River, and lies 400 yards westward of Hound Beach. The latter is a grassy shoal awash at high water, and is marked on its western side by a private spindle with cask.

NORWALK RIVER is on the north side of Long Island Sound northward of Norwalk
Islands, and is important commercially. The river has been improved by dredging a channel 150 feet wide and 10 feet deep to South Norwalk, and 100 feet wide and 8 feet deep to Norwalk. The principal entrance to the river is from westward, through Sheffield Island Harbor, and is good for a depth of 10 feet at low water. The entrance from eastward, through Cockenoe Island Harbor, is good for a depth of about 7 feet at low water. The deepest draft of vessels going up to South Norwalk and Norwalk is about 14 feet at high water.

Dorlons Point, marked by a clubhouse and wharf, is on the east side of Norwalk River 1/2 mile above the entrance. On the west side of the river abreast Dorlons Point is a shallow creek, crossed by a lift bridge with an opening 30 feet wide, above which are several marine railways to which a draft of 3 feet can be taken at high water.

South Norwalk is an important commercial and manufacturing city on the west bank of Norwalk River about 1% miles above its mouth. The depths at the wharves below the bridges range from about 5 to 12 feet.

East Norwalk, opposite South Norwalk, is reached through a channel dredged 75 feet wide and 6 feet deep, which is used mainly by small pleasure craft. In 1917 the channel had shoaled to a depth of 2.2 feet, and at low water is marked by the flats. Fitchs Point light marks the entrance of the channel at the junction with the main channel leading to South Norwalk. A stake and flag marks the southeast point of the entrance and another stake the turn abreast the lower wharves. The upper section of the channel is marked on both sides by stakes, to which small craft moor. The yacht club is at the head of navigation.

Norwalk is a city on both banks of Norwalk River at the head of navigation 1.1 miles above South Norwalk. There is a depth of about 10 feet at the wharves. The channel from South Norwalk to Norwalk is winding, with extensive flats on both sides, and requires local knowledge, even at low water, to follow it. Bridges. — Two bridges cross the river at South Norwalk. The lower one is a double-leaf lift, with an opening 70 feet wide. The second, or railroad bridge, is a center pier draw, with an opening 60 feet wide on either side…..Freight steamers make regular trips to New York from Norwalk and South Norwalk. The latter is on the main line of the N. Y., N. H. & H. R. R. Supplies. — Coal and water can be had at the wharves of South Norwalk and Norwalk. Provisions, gasoline, and other supplies can be obtained. Ice forms in the river and usually obstructs navigation for about six weeks in winter. Tides. — The mean rise and fall of tides is 6.9 feet. Some local knowledge is required to follow the best water in Norwalk River and approaches. Proceed with caution and preferably on a rising tide.