NORTHBOUND LUNACY: Atlantic City, NJ, to Portland, ME

Flies onboard

As I departed the casino-studded shores of Jersey early last Thursday morning, sailing alone this time, there seemed no shortage of wind. There was a nice northwesterly, 20 knots or so, so I tied in one reef as I hoisted the main just outside Absecon Inlet, as I thought it might soon grow stronger. In spite of the firm breeze, the boat was soon infested with flies. Dozens and dozens of them. On the sidedecks, in the cockpit, down below. As if suddenly they had all decided that New Jersey was no longer worthy of their presence and they would risk anything, even a voyage on a boat bound for God knew where, to get away from it.

I have seen this in the past, but only in much calmer conditions. I remember once several years ago, for example, doing a magazine test-sail on a new Sabre on Long Island Sound. We drifted for an hour or more waiting for a breeze and were overwhelmed by flies that came out to us from the shore. The skipper produced a .22-caliber target pistol and a bag of ping-pong balls. In between swatting flies, we tossed the balls into the water and blazed away with the pistol, trying to hit them. Later, after we finally fit in a few minutes of sailing, we had to sweep up all the shell casings and more than a few dead flies off the deck.

In this case, I soon noticed, in addition to the flies, a few other species of bugs also came aboard: some butterflies, a beautiful dragonfly, and a very large wasp.


This is the wasp, sunning itself inside the doghouse window. I felt threatened by it, so I killed it right after I took this photo

Can anyone tell me why this happens??? I’ve never been boarded by bugs en masse in New England waters north of Cape Cod, but from Long Island Sound south it seems it is not at all unusual.

Anyway, the other bugs soon evaporated, but the flies persisted and became the major theme of this last leg of Lunacy’s homebound journey into another New England summer. Throughout the voyage I swatted flies morning, noon, and night, swept up their corpses, and kept right on swatting. Their numbers dwindled over time, but they never disappeared entirely. There are, I fear, a couple of Jersey flies still on the boat right now, buzzing about, waiting for me to rejoin them.

I was able to keep sailing for most of that first day into early Friday morning, but after that engine time became the other major theme of the voyage. That and trying to catch cat-naps while transiting the three major shipping lanes leading into New York City.

Motoring for long periods is inherently boring, but in this case there was lots of interesting traffic to keep me on my toes. Here’s one lesson I’ve learned: serious sportfishing boats–those big guys with massive outriggers and mega-engines that keep them flying at 20 knots or better–NEVER transmit AIS data. Which is very rude, and you do have to keep your eyes peeled for them. I assume they do this so that rival fishing boats can’t keep tabs on their whereabouts, but once they are well away from their hunting grounds I think it would be polite for them to play nice like the rest of us.

I also saw an unusually high number of racing sailboats, starting with Liverpool 2018, a contestant in the currently ongoing Clipper Round the World Race.

Lunacy sailing

Sailing when I could, motoring when I had to

Liverpool 2018

Liverpool 2018, or CV20, as she identifies herself both on AIS and via VHF voice transmission

The funny thing about Liverpool was I crossed paths with her late Thursday afternoon, while I still had enough breeze to be sailing (making 5-6 knots on a broad reach in 15 knots of west wind), and she was clearly motoring. I assumed at the time she was simply in delivery mode, but checking online later I figured out she was actually racing. Indeed, she was just six hours shy of crossing the finish line on leg 10, Panama-New York, of the current race. I see also she finished last.

By sunrise Friday morning I was south of Long Island and I’d pretty much seen the last of my wind, though it was still blowing in long fitful bursts from time to time. I worked these as well as I could and got lots of exercise making and stowing sail. In the midst of my last long spat of sailing, I was overhauled by another impressive sailing yacht, the three-masted schooner Adix.


Adix passes me by. I assumed from the stowed mainsail that she was definitely in delivery mode. Handling that beast must be a major pain in the ass

By Friday afternoon I was approaching Block Island and motoring hard, as I hoped to reach Cuttyhunk Island, at the foot of Buzzards Bay, before nightfall. Looking at my C-Map electronic chart, I was reminded, yes, there is now a wind farm just southeast of Block, and I would be passing close by it. (For the record: neither my Navionics chart, nor my fairly recent paper chart made note of this.) And lo! There soon appeared a line of giant windmills on the horizon in front of me.

I’ve always resented the idea of offshore wind farms, as it seems inconvenient, at least in the abstract, to have to sail around them. This in fact was the first time I ever encountered one up close and personal, and it really wasn’t a big deal. I will say though that they should be more precisely described than they were on my C-Map chart. Data should include their total height (evidently this is 600 feet!), plus the minimum clearance under their blades, IMHO.


One of five big mills now installed off Block Island. This is the first commercial offshore wind farm ever built in the U.S.

Block Is. chart

As charted by NOAA online

Once inside of Block Island I was next confronted with an enormous river of AIS targets, nearly 200 of them, flowing from west to east in front of me. All of them sailboats. Soon the closest ones were visible, and I realized of course it was the Newport-Bermuda Race fleet, which had just started for the Onion Patch. I was amazed at how quickly most of them were moving, given the true wind by now was only blowing around 5 knots. I also started stressing about having to dodge them all, but in the end came within a mile of only two boats.

Fast boat

A fast-moving Bermuda Race boat

Slow boat

A slow-moving Bermuda Race boat

Cuttyhunk mooring

On a mooring off Cuttyhunk

Cuttyhunk chart

In the end my timing was perfect, and I reached Cuttyhunk just as the sun was setting. Here was a chance to eat a hot meal (potatoes, onions, and sausagestir-fried in curry simmer sauce), drink a little too much wine, and sleep all night long.

I was off again at sunrise, so as to catch fair current through the Cape Cod Canal. This was Saturday morning, so there were lots of recreational fishermen in small skiffs who, like me, came out with the sun to work the current to their advantage.

Fishing skiffs

At the western canal entrance

I hoped to find some wind in Cape Cod Bay, but instead found a Coast Guard launch with a crew asking to board me. It had been a long time since this had happened to me, and it occurred to me they might not like the European safety equipment I bought in France after taking delivery of Lunacy last year. But they were cool, handed me their inspection report with a smile, and never made an issue of my non-CG-approved gear.

I spent all day motoring across Cape Cod Bay and then Massachusetts Bay and again managed to park the boat before nightfall. I have often sailed by the twin light towers on Thacher Island, at the end of Cape Ann, but have never stopped at Rockport, so I was curious about what I’d find there. It seemed very peaceful and prosperous, but mostly I was impressed by the great wall of granite masonry and rip-rap that surrounds the harbor.

Rockport indeed.

Thacher Is.

Thacher Island lighthouses at close quarters


Transient boats at anchor in Sandy Bay


Rip-rap with some altitude

Rockport chart

From here it was just 20 miles to Portsmouth, where I live and wanted to stop so that my family could worship my paternalness on this, Father’s Day. There was no need to start too early in the morning, though I was off by 0730 and arrived at the mouth of the Piscataqua River (motoring all the way again, alas) at around 1100 hours.

Just as I was coming in the river there was a very unusual vessel coming out, a large white thing attended by a tugboat. It had strange orifices at its bow and stern, was streaked with rust, and carried all sorts of inexplicable equipment on deck.

Zeus bow

Strange vessel bow

Zeus stern

Strange vessel stern

Portsmouth chart

Googling around later, I learned this was the U.S. Navy ship Zeus, a cable ship designed to lay and service submarine cables, the only vessel of her type in government service.

After mooring Lunacy in Pepperell Cove in Kittery, I spent the remainder of that Sunday at home in the bosom of my family, and all the next day too. The forecast for the following day, Tuesday, looked most propitious for sailing the boat at last to her permanent mooring in Portland. The wind was forecast to blow from the northwest at 15-20 knots (this after a day of near gale-force southwesterlies), which meant a fast, comfortable beam reach to Portland. With the wind coming off the land, the water would stay nice and flat, so there’d be no need to bring the dinghy aboard. Or so I assumed. After all that boring motoring, I was alive with anticipation.

For this final mini-leg I did have crew: Denise Tinlin, an auxiliary family member, daughter Lucy, and dog Baxter. Little could they guess what they were getting themselves into. In the end it proved to be the most exciting part of the entire transit north from Florida. The wind was much stronger than forecast, 25-35 knots much of the time, and a bit north of northwest, so we were close reaching, even closehauled sometimes, instead beam reaching. During the one jibe we needed to make outside the Piscataqua River mouth to lay Portland we blew out the starboard-side lazyjacks. The dinghy, meanwhile, trailing behind us on its painter, had such a wild ride I at one point had to round up and stall Lunacy, pull the dinghy up close, and then leap into it to bail it out and save loose gear.

All this made Lucy and Baxter a bit nervous, though Denise, who once served in the Coast Guard, loved it. To keep everyone chill–and the dinghy right side up–I decided to keep the boat under-powered, flying just the reefed main and staysail, and from that point forward we had a comfortable ride. The water never got too angry, due to the proximity of the shore to windward, and we were a bit slow in the lulls, but we made good time nonetheless.

Sailing in 30

Sure doesn’t look like it’s blowing 30 knots

Lucy and Baxter

Lucy and Baxter stay calm

Denise in Portland

Denise in a Zen state as we pass Portland Head light

Lucy at work

After we got to Portland I hauled Lucy up the mast to fix the broken lazy-jacks

Let the summer begin!

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5 Responses
  1. Robert R. Bartlett

    The Canadian Coast Guard operated the ice breaking cable ship “John Cabot “. She was built by Vickers (like the airplane) in Montreal and saw searvice roughly between 1965 to 1995. She did Yomans Work for both the the Canadian government as well as the United States. She was instrumental in several underwater recovery projects that were perhaps twenty years ahead of their time.

  2. Tim Murphy

    Looks like our game of hopscotch will conclude in Casco Bay… After our near-miss in Jacksonille/St Aug, I passed you at Morehead City, then just missed you at Atlantic City. See you later in the summer, I hope!

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