Quetzal - Kaufman 47 "... Never lost, just hard to find ..."

John Kretschmer Sailing

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A Serious Ocean

You know it by the northern look of the shore,
by the salt-worried faces,
by an absence of trees, an abundance of lighthouses.
It's a serious ocean.

North Sea off Carnoustie by Anne Stevenson

Tomorrow will have an island
by William Stafford

Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island,
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

More Poetry...

Daddy's Stupid Wind

reprinted with permission of Cruising World Magazine

by John Kretschmer

            "There's a lot of daddy wind today," Nikki remarked with a hint of sarcasm as we struggled to clear Point Judith in the face of a rising southwesterly. Nari, her wise older sister looked at me with smirk that said, "You can't even fool her anymore." With my usual lack of patience, I'd preempted the approaching cold front. Instead of a fair north wind, clear skies and a sweet reach under the glare of stately mansions, we faced the dreary prospect of an all day uphill climb to Fishers Island Sound. The girls weren't all that concerned, they know I am Panglossian when it comes to sailing and they've learned to ignore my sanguine promises. At the ripe ages of 8 and 11 they've already cultivated a healthy disrespect for weather reports and their old man's so called expertise. Plowing ahead with a reefed main and staysail we were kicking up sheets of spray as the ebb tide, retreating faster than the vaunted Republican Guard, collided with the stiff breeze on its way out of Narragansett Bay. Hunkered down in the patio, the decadent full cockpit enclosure that, I confess, really belongs on a sport fish boat, I was pleased that Nikki had finally figured out the confusing concept of apparent wind.

            Earlier in the year, in the name of science or at least the county science fair, I'd duct taped a hand held wind speed indicator and GPS to her bike handlebars. After noting the true wind, she'd charge off, peddling like a maniac into the wind and shouting out her speed and ever increasing apparent wind. Somewhere during the experiment, as her devotion to science waned, she dropped the a and first p, and later, as I prodded her to make just one more ride, parent wind became, logically enough, daddy's stupid wind.

            The girls were, however, delighted to be back aboard. After an easy passage north from Bermuda, the three of us had spent the summer drifting about southern New England in our Kaufman 47 sloop Quetzal. We were not overly ambitious, okay; we were downright slothful, taking almost two months to mosey from Martha's Vineyard to Mystic and back to Newport, before they had to return to school in late August. One of our few objectives had been to find the perfect secluded cove in which to build a secret tree house. We found a few possibilities (I'm sworn to secrecy) and sketched a few designs on paper but nowhere that inspired actually hauling tools and timber ashore. However, a CW assignment afforded another opportunity to find that special tree as well as the chance to explore the eastern end of Long Island Sound, which had also been on the summer's to do list. I didn't hesitate to yank them out of class to join photographer Walter Cooper and I for one last cruise before Quetzal migrated south. Skipping school might have had something to do with their cheerfulness in face of twenty-five knot headwinds.

By mid October most boats in Newport Harbor are either being readied for a winter ashore or outfitted for an imminent offshore passage to sunnier climes. Naturally, we were doing neither, heading west instead, toward the Sound, which bucked both the prevailing winds and wisdom. "Why do you want to cruise the Sound at this time of year," asked Bill, the friendly Old Port launch driver as he escorted us toward Quetzal's mooring. "Everything will be closed up tight, it's October you know, it's cold over that way." He looked west, apparently beyond Goat Island, with genuine concern in his eyes.

            I was more than a little amused that Bill made the coasts of Connecticut and Long Island, certainly among the most ruthlessly civilized bits of rock and sand on earth, sound like a frigid, remote backwater. Yet, as absurd as that notion seemed, after a summer of scratching for moorings and paying exorbitant marina fees, I hoped he was right. We were fully prepared to contend with the wilds of Long Island Sound for the off chance of having an anchorage to ourselves. Indeed, October, with its fresh breezes, cool temperatures and empty harbors seemed like the perfect month for what we had dubbed, the Great LIS Adventure.

            I've been sailing in and out of Long Island Sound for a couple of decades, but my visits are invariably brief and purposeful, it's an occupational hazard. As a delivery skipper I have picked up and dropped off boats from City Island to Montauk. I am always in a hurry, pushing past alluring harbors all the while promising myself that one day I'll return and tarry in my own boat. Adding to my frustrations, I know these waters better than I should. For several years I taught coastal navigation and used chart number 12345, Long Island Sound - Eastern Part, for the course. I have created hundreds of fictional cruises that wound through the deep bays of the Fishtail, across the Sound from Essex to Port Jefferson and back, and forced too many bleary eyed, after work sailors to calculate the time of slack water at the Race and determine light characteristics along the Long Sand Shoal. It seemed odd to be plotting a "real" cruise of the eastern Sound.

            We held our course until we scattered the gulls perched on floating green #18 marking the finger shoal that reaches north from Block Island. Tacking around to the northwest, the girls looked longingly as the sandy bluffs of the pork chop shaped island retreated astern. I had to laugh when I heard them explaining to Walter how earlier in the summer they used their keen eyes to guide us into Great Salt Pond in dense fog. For dramatic effect Nikki demonstrated the fog horn, my ears are still ringing, while Nari said coolly, "you know Walter we don't have radar, we had to rely on our natural senses, just like in the olden days." I think telling sea stories may be a genetic condition.

When we finally reached Watch Hill I'd managed to time the tidal current wrong and the floating markers were leaning our way, hard over, like drunks walking uphill. I couldn't help but sympathize with my former students, who frequently confused their tidal calculations and were forced to endure my patronizing suggestions. Walter seemed surprised that I didn't have a chart plotter with programmed tidal data aboard. I decided not to explain that I was an expert and didn't need one. With a boost from the diesel we made our way into West Harbor on the north side of Fishers Island. We picked up a mooring and I declared that we had officially entered Long Island Sound.

Technically of course, we were in Fishers Island Sound, which ambivalent cartographers at NOAA treat as a DMZ of sorts between Long Island Sound and Block Island Sound. Walter and the girls didn't care what Sound we were in, after a rough day cooped up in the patio they just wanted to get ashore. We piled into the dinghy and tied up at the nearly abandoned docks of Fishers Island Yacht Club.

Just six snaking miles long and roughly a mile wide, Fishers Island lies two miles off the coast of Connecticut but for some reason is part of New York. I mentioned this to the crew and all agreed that it was a miscarriage of justice. "New York is big enough," Nikki, insisted, "they already have the Empire State Building, they don't need Fishers Island too." We decided to rouse the residents and foment a revolution to return the Island to its rightful state of Connecticut. Unfortunately we couldn't find any residents to rouse. We took refuge, appropriately enough, in a peaceful cemetery, searching for the oldest tombstones and doing math quizzes by calculating the ages of the deceased.

The next morning we made one more attempt to stir up trouble and in an upscale gift shop we found a local resident who reluctantly opened for business as we milled on the stoop and peered in the windows. She seemed unconcerned about New York's power grab back in 1600s when Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York, handed the island over to the newly named colony of New York. I was also surprised that after twenty years on the island she wasn't sure why it was called Fishers Island. She suggested that we visit the museum up the road but unfortunately; it was closed for the season. After a leisurely dinghy ride through inner harbor, which was nicely framed in a blaze of red and bronze broad leaf trees, we set sail for Essex.

The front had stalled and blustery headwinds, parked in the northwest, turned a twenty-five mile hop along the coast into another daylong slog. It was a relief to find the lee behind the break walls of the Connecticut River. Thankfully, the wind and tide were perfect for sailing upstream and unfurling the genoa for the first time in days, we sped north. Walter even jumped in the dinghy for a few photo opportunities, at least that's what he said, I think he needed a reprieve from the Kretschmer clan. Beyond Saybrook Point, the sight of a once thriving colonial shipyard, the riverbank becomes refreshingly bucolic. Nari noted that the tall grasses swaying in the wind looked like they were waving as we passed. We had to tack abruptly when five cacophonous blasts announced that the train bridge was on its way down. Just before darkness we eased past the tranquil mooring field and made our way to the Essex Island Marina.

            The marina is well named, it's not only in Essex but it's on an island, which took us longer than it should have to figure out. After a couple of loops around the grounds we finally found the pontoon boat that shuttles marina guests fifty feet across a canal to the mainland and hiked up the hill to historic Griswold Inn for dinner. The Griz, as locals call it, is a Connecticut River landmark, it's been serving sailors and lubbers since 1776 and the guest book is impressive. It has an air of musty elegance and a lively bar. Guiding the kids through the bar to the dining room I encountered some history of my own.

I remembered a wild night at the Griz back in my BC (before children) days. I'd sailed in on a classic S&S yawl, Magic Venture, and met a nurse who was something of a specialist in sea chanteys and Bombay and tonic. She was impressed that I knew some of the words to "Haul Away Joe," (although less impressed when I started to sing) and she asked me what I did. I told her I was a writer and sailboat captain. Lets face it, that's a great line in a bar even if doesn't translate into much of a 401K plan, and we had a wonderful evening. Promises to keep in touch went unfulfilled and as I watched the kids marvel at the vast array of nautical paraphernalia on the walls, while struggling to deploy their best manners under the glare of a patrician couple nearby, I wondered where the years had gone, and if that lovely nurse still sang chanteys or even vaguely remembered who I was? Nothing marks time like kids, they're the rings on the tree stumps of our lives.

The next morning the wind finally abated and, naturally, was replaced by fog, real New England style fog that leaves the world beyond the bow to the imagination and the optimists. We decided to spend the day in Essex. The kids broke out their scooters and charged into the mist, heading toward town. While Nikki went looking for the steepest hill she could find, Nari and I made our way to the Connecticut River Museum at the foot of Main Street. She loves history, she's the kind of kid that rates Mystic Seaport slightly above Sea World and several notches above Disney World. The museum was closed. "Maybe we should have listened to Bill," she mumbled, her disappointment unmasked.

The fog lifted in early afternoon and the forecast warned of another rapidly approaching cold front. I decided to skip what might become another long beat to Port Jefferson the next day and instead chose to take advantage of mild winds and amble across the Sound to the eastern end of Long Island known as the Fishtail. While most sailors would call this decision, simply, cruising, I am still laced with guilt whenever I alter plans and opt for the easy way out, but I'm working on it. With the sails free and the patio panels furled, we slipped through Plum Gut into Gardeners Bay. The sun's warming rays conjured a bit of a sea breeze and we hardened the sheets and raced the fading daylight toward Shelter Island. Walter hopped in the dink for more pictures and the girls enjoyed the ride on the bow. I watched the speedo arc past seven, then eight, and flirt with nine knots before we rounded up near Long Beach and picked up the channel markers leading into Greenport.

            Long Island is shaped like the muscular bluefish that once patrolled its edges in vast numbers. The east end is carved into flukes indented with coves, islets, narrow passages, sandy fingers and natural harbors. While there isn't much wind during the summer season, leaving the waters exposed to the rhumb line impatience of too many power boaters, autumn is another story and crisp breezes make the fishtail an enchanting cruising area for nimble sailboats.

            The opening into Greenport's inner harbor is not much wider than Quetzal, but we slipped through and snagged the first open mooring. The girls hastily set about carving a pumpkin we'd picked up in Essex and Walter warmed the cabin by roasting the seeds. Despite the rapidly plummeting temperatures we made our way ashore and into downtown Greenport. While Main Street clings to a patina of its storied past, with small shops and chandleries sandwiched into two story wood framed buildings, sadly the once bustling commercial wharf is surrendering to the onslaught of condominium developers. We couldn't resist eating at Claudio's, a legendary eatery near the wharf that claims to be the oldest continually owned family restaurant in the country. "Do you think that's true?" Nari asked after reading the plaque displayed near the door, her historian's curiosity piqued. "Of course," I assured her, not wanting to add another chink in the armor of her already fading idealism.

            We cast off our mooring early the next morning and drifted a couple miles to Dering Harbor on the north side of Shelter Island. By dinghy we followed a shallow neck beneath Bridge Street, the quaint village's main drag, until it turned into a secluded, stagnant pond surrounded by stately Oaks. Hmm, I could see girls surveying the trees approvingly, this was definitely a potential tree house location. "Did you bring the GPS?" Nikki asked, she was responsible for noting the coordinates of each location. When I shook my head she rolled her eyes and gave me a look that questioned my competence to lead such an important expedition.

            Back aboard we spent the afternoon circumnavigating Shelter Island. Neptune himself couldn't have done a better job than the glaciers of the last age did carving this handsome island into a sailor's playground, it's dimpled with protected harbors. It's also a playground for the rich, and decorated with stunning homes, appropriately spaced from their neighbors by acres of manicured lawns that reach down to the water. We gazed at these country palaces in amazement, and with a slight air of disgust, or was that envy? Pointing to a particularly grand affair, with columns that looked like they'd been pinched from Parthenon, I said, "I'd never want to live in a place like that, it's just too opulent." Nari quickly agreed and Walter grudging concurred. There was a long pause before Nikki chimed in, "I could probably live there."

            Tacking around low-slung North Haven Peninsula we sailed toward Sag Harbor. Perched behind a forest of masts at bottom of a broad cove on the southern fluke, an out of place windmill, housing the tourism office of course, makes a prominent landmark. The inner harbor was full, so we dropped the hook outside the break walls and hurried ashore. The guidebook mentioned that the Whaling Museum was open until 1600 and we dashed up the elegant, tree lined Main Street. Housed in a mansion built in 1845 for a whaling tycoon, the museum was, alas, closed for repairs. Nari and I had the same thought, "Bill," but at least she was able to drown her sorrows in an ice cream float and while away the afternoon in three bookstores in town.

            The calendar was closing in, it was time to head back to Newport to make preparations for the passage south. A stiff southwest wind pushed us past Gardiners Island into Block Island Sound. The squat, greenish brown waves that define the Sound as accurately as any set of coordinates rocked Quetzal as she raced before the wind. Nikki snuggled up behind the wheel and surveyed the instruments on the pedestal. "Not much daddy wind," she said approvingly, and I planted a kiss on the top of her golden head.

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