Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Passage to Provincetown, Cape Cod

Our passage from Nantucket north to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod was one of the most enjoyable sails I’ve experienced.

We raised the anchor in Nantucket Harbor on Sunday night at midnight under clear skies and with a nice southwest breeze (Force 3, for those of you familiar with the Beaufort scale). I had to choose between two routes to get around the shoals at the southeast end of Cape Cod. The shorter inside route would thread us through the narrow Pollock Rip Channel between two shoals, potentially strong currents and tidal rips. The Coast Pilot did not recommend this route during “thick or foggy weather”, but it looked like we could navigate the channel before any morning fog might occur. However, when I looked at the timing of the currents, we would be fighting a 1.7 knot current against us. So, I chose the outside route which doesn't have strong currents, the impressive sounding Great Round Shoal Channel that would have us sailing east before turning north to round the outside of the Monomy Shoals.

We had a nice sail eastward, dodging a few well-lit fishing boats along the way and, once past the shoals around 0330, turned north to head up the outside of the cape.  The wind died and we encountered a one knot southerly current as we made the turn, requiring me to switch on an engine to comply with the “Four Knot Rule” established for this passage, to keep up the minimum speed necessary to reach Provincetown by sundown.

We entered a foggy patch about an hour later and I turned on the fog horn for safety in the eerie damp gloom. Sitting alone surrounded by fog, I felt a great wave of satisfaction arise in me, recognizing that I have achieved a fair degree of mastery as a sailor. I know what I’m doing. That doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes or that I don’t have more to learn and experience, but it means that I am completely in my element, in my happy place, in “flow” as some might say, when I’m sailing. It is a warm but humble feeling of peaceful confidence and contentment. It feels so good. Even in the fog.

Lisa came on watch at 0600 as the sun was rising. She’s a warm weather sailor and suffers in cold weather. While I was wearing a light jacket and long pants and was barefoot, she stood watch wearing a wool hat, long sleeve shirt, a sweater, a jacket and a down coat topside and leggings, leg warmers, wool socks and a blanket below. She look stoic but pitiful curled up on the helm seat. I felt sorry for her.

I had a nice four hours off-watch and then relieved Lisa just as the wind was starting to build and the current went slack so I shut down the engine and start sailing again. By this time we were about halfway up the cape, the shoreline a long line of tall, golden sand cliffs. Everything was crisp and sparkling, the sky, the sea, the land, and I was taken by the beauty of it all, feeling intensely grateful and happy to be alive in and for this moment.

I couldn’t admire the scenery for very long as the sea was littered with the buoys of lobster traps. Rows and rows of them, a few boat lengths apart all around us. I had to turn off the autopilot and hand steer through them for hours. I turned it into a bit of a game, trying to plot the course that would require the least amount of dodging and, when I did have to turn to avoid a trap, minimizing my diversion, passing as closely to the buoy as I dared. Being alone on watch, I had to time my bathroom, coffee and meal making carefully to occur while we had a clear path ahead for a few minutes. It got to be a bit tiring and I was grateful as we rounded Race Point at the northern tip of the cape just past noon and the number of traps greatly diminished.

We had to motor westward against a head wind for about an hour, but as we started turning south to head down the hook of the cape that forms Provincetown Harbor, we could enjoy sailing again in a decent breeze. As we turned and our point of sail transitioned from a close reach to a beam reach to a broad reach, it was a great opportunity for Lisa to hone her skills for trimming Intermezzo’s sails.

We dropped anchor in Provincetown Harbor at 1500, off the shelf of a lee shore not far off the northwest end of the breakwater for the town anchorage and docks. It was reasonably comfortable despite a long fetch chop coming across the harbor and a strong breeze. We decided to stay on board rather than visit shore and get some rest after our 15 hour passage.

The sailing conditions, the sense of mastery that I felt, and that moment of sparkling beauty made this passage a special one for me.

Lobster boat working along the Cape Cod coast

Doesn't capture my moment, but gives a general sense of the scenery