Newport to Block Island

In the early years of the North Country Men’s Club, the NCMCers took a number of “bare-boat charter” sailing trips off the coast of New England. Jack, who learned to sail yachts by crewing for friends in Lake Erie, was the club member who, thanks to his sailing resume, was able to persuade boat owners and their agents to entrust the club with 35-foot sloops worth six figures. The NCMC sailed these boats out of Woods Hole, Newport and other harbors and anchored at Martha’s Vineyard and Cuttyhunk. There were a few mishaps. They ran aground once at Cuttyhunk and suffered the mess of a back-uped head on another occasion. There was also the infamous bare-assed rescue of Bill in Oak Bluffs harbor on Martha’s Vineyard that is a gem of NCMC lore. Overall, however, the trips were great successes and all hands returned safely.

There was always talk of reviving the charters, and, finally, in the summer of 2003, the NCMC once again set sail, this time from Newport to Block Island. Jack found the boat, a xx-foot C&C yacht named “Bravo.” The owner was a transplanted Kiwi with extraordinary self-assurance, both otherwise likeable.
Jack, Mary, Tom, Jan and Matt rendezvoused in Newport on a beautiful July Friday to go aboard. The Kiwi was no doubt a great sailor, but acumen on the water does not necessarily translate into skill on land: on the way to the dock he backed his van into the Semlers’ Honda Pilot, doing a bit of damage to the fender. Jack eventually got back at him, as we will see later in this account.

Before leaving them in possession of his yacht, the Kiwi made Jack take it for a test drive in the harbor, which was crowded with many, many vessels, both moored and under way (“Courageous,” the 12-meter yacht that Ted Turner skippered in a successful defense of the America’s Cup, was among the moored craft they saw.)

At one point during the trial run, on which Tom accompanied Jack and the Kiwi and demonstrated that he had totally forgotten anything he knew about sailing, the Kiwi wondered aloud if he would have to have his son accompany the NCMCers, but in the end he decided to allow the NCMC to proceed unchaperoned. They returned to the dock, picked up the rest of the party, and headed out to their mooring in the harbor. Once moored, the Kiwi gave the NCMCers a rundown of the ship and its gear. Jack then took the Kiwi to the dock in the Zodiac that was tethered to the sailboat. They had dinner that night in Newport, thanks to the water taxi that took them ashore and back.

The next day they headed out of the harbor under power, bound for Block Island. Once out in the Atlantic, they raised sail and cut the engine. There was some queasiness among some of the crew, however, and after a while it was decided to drop sail and steam on, which would get them to their destination sooner and with less stomach-turning pitch and yaw.

There was a global positioning unit on the helm, and Jack and Tom has both brought their handheld GPS units, so navigation was a breeze as Jack and Matt took turns at the helm. “It’s like cheating,” Cap’n Jack said.

They entered the big bay in the middle of Block Island in the early afternoon. It was a Saturday and the harbor was chock full of sailing and motor yachts, either moored or anchored. Bravo steamed among them in hope of picking up a mooring, but none were available. Jack’s old skills were coming back and he deftly maneuvered to an open spot among several boats, turned his bow to the wind, and ordered the crew to drop anchor. When the anchor grabbed and the line became taut, they saw that they had wound up closer to a yacht off their stern then they had planned, but they decided to leave well enough alone for the moment.

It was believed that Conor and Dylan were somewhere on the island, as they had promised to join the trip that day, at least for a little while. A shore party was assembled and dispatched in search of them. Conor and Dylan, as well Dylan’s friend, Kate, were located and brought to the ship. They had dinner on board and, at the urging of the captain of the ship that was just off their stern, pulled up their anchor and moved slighty forward. It was supposed to begin to blow hard during the night, and the other vessel wanted Bravo as far away as possible.

The wind did come up and it was blowing hard the next morning. Having done their duty of making an appearance, Conor, Dylan and Kate abandoned ship, and took Matt with them. Matt had concluded that sailing was really just camping with a big canoe, except that you never got to leave the canoe. The four eventually took the ferry to the mainland and left the old people to enjoy Bravo. Mary and Jan also went ashore for lunch while Jack and Tom readied Bravo for a day sail. Tom was unable to raise the anchor, however, and they, too, decided to go ashore, where they found Mary and Jan. They rented two motorbikes and took a quick tour of the island. Tom almost crashed his bike into a crowd of people during a short test drive when he turned up the throttle by mistake on a turn, but the guy observing the test was not watching, so his blunder escaped detection.
They had dinner on the boat that night down in galley.
The next morning, for the second day in row, they purchased coffee and pastries from a vendor who motored around the harbor shouting “Coffee on board your boat!”
They then weighed anchor, motored out of the harbor and hoisted sale. The winds were calm, but were blowing them directly back toward Newport, so they experimented a bit with sailing wing-and-wing, even using a mooring hook to boom out the jib. Jan thought it was exciting as watching paint dry, but eventually the wind picked up and they had a spirited sail back to the mouth of Newport Harbor. It was a Monday, but there were plenty of boats on the water, including impressive racing yachts unfurling their spinnakers on their downwind runs.
Once in the harbor, Jack they dropped sail and Jack took them on a tour among the moored boats. Their GPS eventually led them to the mooring that they had left on Friday and they hooked up. They spent one more night on the boat and then took it into the dock. They may have hit the dock slightly when they brought the boat in, but they got their deposit back, so “no harm, no foul.”
You can see photos from the trip here.

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