Dawson Don’t Move. Solo Sail Port Jefferson to Stamford back to Branford July 25th through the 29th
I cast off Dutch Wharf Marina on the Branford River noon Wednesday. With a Northwest wind I was looking forward to a one-tack sail to Port Jefferson on the western coast of Long Island Sound. With winds gusting to fifteen knots Brisa cleared Branford cove on a thirty-degree heel and the voyage began in earnest. Occasional gusts brought her near to putting rails in the water but Brisa stiffens pretty well at thirty degrees. It takes twenty to twenty-five knot winds to get her rails wet. Waves coming at the quarter starboard bow gave resistance producing a rough ride but Brisa maintained good speed in excess of 5 knots as she rose to meet the oncoming chop.
I prep sails before leaving the dock. I hank on the jib and raise the main so I can insert all the plastic glides that guide it up the main then tie off a small line below the bottom glide to prevent them from slipping out the bottom. Once in the cove all I have to do is raise the main and jib and secure the halyards. It takes a few minutes time but even so I cleared marker R “34” by 1pm and 3.3nm later waypoint RW “NH” before two. At current speed I had hopes of raising Port Jefferson by four thirty.
I’ve begun to doubt the accuracy of my magnetic compass and I failed to estimate enough leeward movement; Brisa was coming in too far south to successfully clear Mt Misery shoal and make the Port Jefferson harbor entrance on a single tack. I brought her over onto a Port tack heading away from my destination looking to clear Mt Misery shoals completely. Although the depth charts indicated enough water even at low tide for Brisa to clear, the first time I enter any harbor I do it by the books. On any approach you will see local sailboats who cruise the waters frequently go inside channel markers or cross shoals or reefs because of their familiarity with local dangers. With time you can learn what is safe and what isn’t. Plus, once you anchor or moor you can often trade local knowledge over a beer. Traveling a mile on the port tack I crossed back to Starboard and lined up the harbor opening.
Port Jefferson offers one more thrilling tidbit; it is the destination of the Bridgeport-to-Port Jefferson ferry. These large ferries cross the sound frequently carrying passengers and cars. Their wake trails three or four large waves you want to take off the bow or stern. To take them on the beam would produce rail-to-rail rocking for Brisa –no thank you. Also, the entrance would make for an exciting moment if Brisa and I found ourselves next to a ferry as we entered. I struck the jib to de-power and waited for the outgoing ferry to clear the harbor. On the advice of my map book I meant to motor in with just the main sail up for more control. The warnings of strong currents and tides at the mouth kept me cautious. As a solo sailor it is always about taking the safest course.
Once in the harbor I went to strike the main only to find the halyard had crossed over itself on the winch and with sailing had tightened to the point I could not release the main. The ferry coming from Port Jefferson, so far away only a few minutes ago, was now closing fast. With the motor slowed to a crawl for controlled headway I struggled to free the halyard using a marlinspike. In small increments I loosened the halyard removing one wrap on the winch. The ferry was at the harbor entrance. I loosened the second wrap and with the sides of the ferry towering over me not twenty yards to port I dropped the main. The friendly faces of the passengers smiled down as they waved pleased to see a sailboat so close. Still at the mast I embraced it with two arms as Brisa took the wake off her port beam and rocked violently. I knew I had made a mistake letting the halyard cross over itself on the winch. Instead of having an angry captain yell at me when I first let it happen I had twenty or so smiling ferry passengers waving down at me. I would have preferred the angry captain. And so we learn.
I spent the evening anchored in Port Jeff and read in the fading light of sunset. The passing of traffic kept Brisa rocking. Next time I would seek better anchoring within the harbor to avoid the wakes of passing boats.
The next morning I made coffee. Being on Brisa is a like tent camping; she isn’t long on amenities. My first solo sail made it clear I would welcome a couple; the ability to make coffee being at the top of my list. It’s amazing how the smell of coffee in the morning can set a person right. I could now heat my oatmeal too. Honestly things were looking up.
Around noon I called Port Jeff launch and motored over to accept a mooring. Sailing on the sound at summertime leaves you feeling tacky from the humidity. A shower is always welcome. I loaded up my ditty bag, trash and a change of clothes and called for the launch to get a ride ashore. Ah, nothing beats a shower and I loved mine. Cleaned up I set out to explore.
Port Jefferson is a popular destination full of touristy shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. Walking around I stopped into the Tequila bar and ordered a chorizo appetizer and a corona. Properly fed I sat off exploring the little town. I could see having a good time here and would have stayed in town longer but there was threat of bad weather and I didn’t want to catch the launch back to Brisa in a storm so I ended the exploration around five and headed back aboard.
Skies began to darken around six; by seven a well-defined front loomed to the west. Sharp flashes of lightening lit the front’s interior as it approached. I was apprehensive and thrilled to experience my second serious blow on Brisa. Confident of the mooring I watched with anticipation as the front moved overhead. I could hear the wind before I saw it. All the boats faced south facing but as the front roared in from the west Brisa and every other boat leaned as the wind struck us broadside. I was standing on the cabin sole my head poking out of the main hatch. The boats heaved around to face a west and righted. Then came the rain.
Looking intermittently through Brisa’s ports I was alarmed to see what looked like an unmanned boat sail by. Suddenly it turned to starboard and became obvious it was securely moored. More time passed, the rain beating down on the cabin. As I read I became aware of voices. Nighttime now, I couldn’t imagine people being out. Peeking through the porthole I saw a man and two women row by in a small tender their bodies seeming to overflow the sides, rain coursing down their heads. Going ashore, caught out fishing? I don’t know but it was a strange sight.
Next morning I left port at nine on a strong SW wind skipping through the harbor entrance barely ahead of the outbound ferry setting off for the Connecticut side of the sound fifteen nautical miles away. The wind was good for the crossing but when I tried tacking back and forth for my upwind progress it became apparent I was never going to make Stamford. I motor sailed close-hauled for several miles back across the sound made the return leg and then struck sails for a straight upwind motor. While I was cursing the SW wind for this southwest leg of the journey I was looking forward to the return trip. LI sound enjoys a prevailing SW or NW wind during the summer months. It would make for a fast gentle forty plus mile ride home.
I pulled into the harbor mouth of the Rippowam River that leads to Stanford. The breakwater shows two entrances but one was to the right of the R”32” Bell marker where my map book warned me not to go. Another sailboat headed for the mouth was on an intercept course with Brisa so I steered behind and signaled for their attention. We got on VHF channel 68 and I received instruction for the entry. The channel splits left and right and I was headed for The Crab shell restaurant with a dine-and-dock pier. Fifteen bucks and I could stay till closing —such a deal.
Steve, Brisa’s former owner came down and we had a beer then went to his house in Stamford where he lives with his girlfriend Lilia. They let me shower and together we went out for dinner. Upon return I took Brisa out and crossed the narrow river to a brand new set of docks built in anticipation of a real estate development on the banks above.
Saturday morning I nursed my hot cup of coffee staring ominously at the flag blowing briskly in the Northeast wind. The very direction I needed to go to get home. Weather reporting revealed a prevailing N to NE wind for the next four days. Steve came down before work to climb my mast and rethread my topping lift line, the line that runs from the end of the boom up to a pulley at the top of the mast and down and is used to lift the boom out of the way when the main sail is down and secured. Failing to secure the topping lift well at the mast it had traveled up and through the pulley leaving my mast laying across the cockpit when the main was down —a sign of shoddy seamanship. And so we learn.
Steve formed a bosun’s chair by tying a bowline knot on the bight of some free line. Using the main halyard I hoisted as Steve climbed. It was heavy work for us both. Brisa’s mast is thirty feet tall. With Steve at the top it made her top heavy. The quad of my braced right leg was beginning to strain. I shifted my weight to change over to the left leg. When I did Brisa started to roll to starboard and Steve called out frantically, “Dawson, don’t move!” I quickly shifted my weigh to port and Brisa righted. Topping lift rethreaded and Steve back on deck we set down to a little breakfast of muffins and orange juice. Soon Steve left.
Freeing Brisa from the dock I headed out of port. Once beyond the breakwater the steady fifteen to twenty knots wind blowing southward into the north running tide created a jumbled reaction of four-foot waves. I was going nowhere.
I turned tail, ducked back into harbor and my nice little dock. I was learning the ways of the sea. Faced with an opposing sea a sailor makes do and starts fixing or improving things. I made new reef ropes for the luff and leech sides of my main sail. I whipped ends and burnt them on my dock lines to make neat ends that wouldn’t unravel. They had knots tied in them before. I took a bucket and washed the decks, oiled the bright work and straightened up down below. I also tried making sense of the wiring down below but no luck. The space is not easy to get into where the battery is and the wires are butted together red to black. It’s a mess. I need to rewire the whole boat. Steve and Lilia picked me up again for dinner and since they had paid the night before I told them fine but I was picking up the bill.
Barista’s is a a great restaurant with delicious Latin food. We had tequila’s and sangria’s and desert. The bill came while I was using the men’s room. I was met at the table with a look from Lilia that spoke of seeing ghosts. She glanced at the bill lying on the table. I extended my hand and carefully opened it as if it might explode. Clearly we had, had a very good time.
Sunday morning John from the development came down to say hello. He didn’t object to my tying up for free but recommended I be gone before the start of work Monday. Steve and Lilia came by once more and we went shopping, I picked up some gas and water and returning to the boat decided once again to stick my nose outside the harbor.
I cast off at one in the afternoon and found the LI sound quiet and peaceful. With the wind angle I felt confident I could at least make Port Jeff. Motor sailing I made a credible six knots right up the middle of the sound. I reached Port Jeff ten miles off the starboard beam by four and decided to strike out for home. I had lost the wind but the water was still peaceful and I was making an easy four knots with the motor. Night fell around 8pm with Branford River still four nautical miles away. I had night sailed with Steve once before and felt comfortable with continuing to my destination. I have an app on my iPhone that lets me plot my course in near real time. That along with the numerous flashing buoys and my chart I pressed on. I cleared the channel entrance under the light of the stars and moon around nine-thirty and motored up the Branford River to Dutch Wharf five days from my departure. Brisa had brought me safely home again.