Saturday, 28 September 2013

Those Magnificent Men in their Foiling Machines!

Skippers thoughts on Americas Cup….sob!

Three years ago, Lord Larry of Lollyland sat down with Sir Russell and asked the question … “We’ve won the Cup, how can we keep it”?  “Simple!” said Sir Russell, “we create a class of yacht that is so expensive to build and race that no one can afford to compete against us!!”  “ Brilliant!!” said Lord Larry, “I like it, you’re hired !!!”   Shortly thereafter Sir Russell announced to the sailing world that Oracle would drag the Americas Cup kicking and screaming from the stone age into the facebook age with what we now know as the AC72 class of catamaran.  What amazing foiling, flying machines they are.

Initially the Chinese, Koreans and a couple of Sheiks said they would be there, as well as a few of the historically staunch AC syndicates from Europe and of course Team New Zealand.  Most fell by the wayside once they realized the true cost and commitment needed to be remotely competitive.  The plan was going well at that stage until the Italians and New Zealanders pooled their design and research resources, split the cost and both were able to front up.  Neither one would have been there without the other which would have a left a very gallant but very average Swedish campaign as Oracle’s only opposition.  This Americas Cup was very close to being a write off.  TNZ emerged as the only class act amongst them and the challenger series was a non event with boats regularly sailing the course with no opposition.  It was a total farce but provided TNZ with a good shakedown for what was to come.

The Americas Cup showdown was on as Team New Zealand stepped up to challenge the mighty resources and talent of Oracle Team USA and amazingly after winning the first couple of races, it was clear that TNZ had arrived in San Francisco with a superior, faster all round package. We just kept winning!!  We outclassed them!!

Lord Larry was not happy… he gathered his dream team of designers and sailors and said ”What have you lot been doing for the past two years?  How come we have arrived on the start line to defend the Americas Cup and we are so underdone?  They are slicker and faster at every tack and gybe - I pay you the big bucks because you are the best!!  What’s gone wrong?”

Meanwhile Oracle kept losing, and after yet another defeat, they played the postponement card to avoid having to race the second race of the day and to buy time.  Now this postponement card was agreed prior to the regatta by all teams in case of gear failure on these fragile speed machines.  No one thought for a moment that it would be used because a team just didn’t want to race and probably get whipped again.  Its a bit like being 30-nil down at half time and telling the ref you won’t be coming out for the second half cos you don’t want to loose 60-nil  (I’m talking rugby here).  Some say it was a smart move and they are probably right but I think it was spineless!!  The irony is that a few days later Jimmy Spithill realized they may now have a slight edge in the higher wind speeds, and he as good as accused TNZ of short changing the viewing public by not agreeing to race above the official wind limits.  Yeah right Jimmy!!         

It has become clear now exactly why Jimmy played the postponement card which preceded a lay day and then, as luck would have it, a race day postponed because of too much wind.  Up to this point it was clear that Oracle were not tacking the boat upwind very well but in addition  the crew were having serious problems managing the foiling stability of the boat through the down wind gybes and were losing races because of it.  They had capsized the boat whilst out training in February and as a result were months behind TNZ who had pioneered the foiling technology a year earlier and spent the last winter down under being flogged by the weather on a daily basis out on the water testing and finally perfecting their ability to raise a catamaran out of the water on a set of foils and then somehow remain in control as the acceleration kicks in and you and the boat disappear over the horizon.  From then on everyone including Oracle were playing catch up and it was obvious in the first week of the Americas Cup that Oracle had failed in that respect.  However, in the words of Jimmy Spithill, this was far from over. His team mobilized their enormous resources and within a few days had bolted on some serious technical kit to drive the foil trim automatically, way faster than a human can.  It is the same kit used on swept wing aircraft to retain constant stability.  Very clever stuff,  bordering on illegal and TNZ protested its use but it was deemed to be a grey area in the class rules and the protest was thrown out.  When racing resumed, Oracle were much faster and as their talented sailors mastered the new technology they just got quicker and quicker eventually foiling upwind at speeds in excess of 30 knots.  The writing was on the wall.   Team New Zealand still with a big points lead needed to close out this regatta and do it fast.    

And so we arrived at the day that TNZ won the Cup.  The day dawned with light winds.  There would be no foiling today.  For the first time we would see the big Code Zero downwind sails.  Here we were on match point, one more race win and the Cup was on a plane to Aotearoa.  We prayed and cheered as TNZ closed the finish line doing 20 knots in 10 knots of wind, over a kilometre ahead of Oracle.  Inexplicably once again Oracle were exposed as being woefully second best in manoeuvring under this different sail configuration!  It was too late to add more gizmos.  Nothing could stop TNZ now.

Then suddenly the phone rang on the TNZ boat ~ “yes … this is TNZ! … who?  what ?  Dean or Ray? ….. well they’re a bit busy at the moment, in fact….  I don’t mean to be rude, but we’re all a bit busy right now!  Can I get one of them to call you back after we’ve won the Americas Cup … it’ll just be a couple of minutes!….. Who is this again??  Oh … Race committee!! gosh … yes … I see  ... you want us to stop because you have to go to an ad break?  Well ~ I’ll tell them but they won’t be very happy ... how long do you want us to stop for?  I mean these boats cover a kilometre quite fast so we can’t  … what?  Oh I see! ~ crikey!! ~ bugger!!  Look I’ll put Ray on straight away!!”

The race was abandoned because TNZ were not going to finish inside a 40 minute time limit.  It was the gut wrenching turning point.  We were stunned, utterly speechless as we stared at the screen and watched Deano slow the boat and the boys roll up the sails just a few hundred metres from the finish line.  Absolutely bloody heart breaking.  I think we all knew deep down that from then on this was only going to end one way and we braced ourselves for the mother of all sporting comebacks. We all know that time limits in yacht racing are there to terminate races when the yachts are parked up for hours in no wind and glassy seas.  But in this facebook age where it is deemed that 40 minutes is the maximum attention span of the modern humanoid, even if one is barrelling toward the finish line at 20 knots with just 400 metres to go, tough!   that’s it I’m afraid your time is up.     

There was something else that influenced all this as well.  One year ago the maximum and minimum wind speeds within which the teams would race was agreed.  Minimum 5 knots, maximum 33 knots.  So TNZ built a boat to race within a 28 knot range.  It had to be a good all rounder.  A boat that could bat and bowl a bit so to speak.  A few weeks before the regatta and following the tragic Artemis accident the maximum wind speed was reduced to around 20/22  knots depending on tide etc.  The 40 minute time limit had also been long agreed, but that fateful race proved that in wind speeds of less than 10 knots, it was marginal as to whether the boats would complete the course in time.  So the race committee would no longer start races unless the wind speed was close to 10 knots.  Instantly that decision negated TNZ’s  last trump card.  There would be no more racing with Code Zero sails!!  So effectively the boats ended up needing to be optimized to race between the narrow band of 10 to 20 knots.  Nice to have known that a year ago.  Of course it is the same for both teams but it was clear that Oracle had the firepower, talent and budget to tweak their boat, more so than TNZ and once it was clear that all the remaining races would be sailed in a wind speed of 10 knots or more which is effectively foiling territory for these boats, it was going to be very hard for TNZ to pinch this last win. 

And so the rest is history.  Team New Zealand never won another race.  It was a slow agonising death as Oracle won 8 races in a row over a one week period.  It is the most bitter sporting pill I’ve ever had to swallow, and by golly there’s been a few.  Even surpassing the day I was goalkeeper for the under 7s in the cub scouts and we lost 21 – nil.  I left the field in tears.  Oddly, they made me man of the match - I was thrilled.  We had a very dodgy defence and none of it was my fault they said.  I was a grown man before I reflected upon that day and realized that they had done that to avoid my being mentally scarred for life

So Sir Russell, this brilliant Cup campaigner once again and for the third time broke the heart of his homeland.  But he did indeed drag the Americas Cup into the facebook age and full credit to Team Oracle USA.  Great recovery!!  What an amazing event.  It became way more than just a yacht race.  There were people next to me who knew nothing about yacht racing but were captivated by the spectacle of these extraordinary foiling machines piloted by their swashbuckling top gun crews.

Its hard to know how anyone can wrestle the Cup off these guys.  They are a driven outfit, bankrolled by the worlds 5th richest man who is passionate about retaining the Americas Cup.  Even if you manage to steal the march on them they have the ability to throw untold talent and resources at the problem and turn the whole thing on its head.  There is one thing though.  The new facebook yachting rules played into Oracle’s hands insofar as the time and wind limit delays extended the regatta out to 17 days.  It seems they have the extraordinary capability to analyse any pesky challenger who does things better than them and modify their package within a matter of days.  In hindsight agreeing to all these limits was TNZs undoing.  At the time it probably didn’t seem such a big deal , after all, its the same rules for everyone, but maybe its something to consider next time.                              

I feel gutted for Grant, Dean and the boys.  They threw everything at Oracle in those last few races.  What a roller coaster ride they gave us.  Little ole New Zealand went to San Francisco and blitzed the Oracle Dream Team.  We had the Cup won before they knew what hit them.  What joy, drama and agony they gave us.  It was unforgettable.  Bloody well done boys!

Sleep easy in the knowledge that you had done enough!!

Friday, 27 September 2013

Think We’re Going Back To Massachusetts ….. Sept 2013

13 – 17 Sep 2013:  Richmond Island to Gloucester – 42 36N 70 39W

P9130004Friday the 13th

With such an ominous date we weren’t too surprised to awaken to more gloomy weather.  Tropical Depression Gabrielle was still hovering but forecasts showed for an afternoon improvement so we readied ourselves for departure: the great southern migration was about to begin.  The fog cleared at 2.30pm and we lifted anchor in company with Serafina and headed south down Harpswell Sound.

By 3pm the fog had returned, along with rain, this was not in the plan.  There was no wind so we were motoring through pea soup, relying on radar and electronic charts for navigation; good luck for not snaring a lobster pot; and layers of thermals, fleeces and Southern Ocean wet weather jackets for warmth! P9140010 Admiral was NOT impressed.  We moved 18 miles south to Richmond Island, the wind picked up on arrival making the anchorage a lee shore and a slight swell had us rolling more than we had in a long time, meanwhile we listened to waves crashing on the nearby rocky shoreline, not one of our better days and anchorages.

We executed a 6am departure (no mean feat onboard Balvenie) hoping for steady winds to push us south nearly 70 miles to Gloucester.  We farewelled Serafina as we both pulled out of the anchorage, unaware that we would go our separate ways.  We made quite slow time in the light winds, once again we couldn’t match their huge light wind sail and they left us in their wake.  We made the call to break the journey at the Isles of Shoals, a 40 mile run. P9140001 We had planned to stop here on the way north but wind conditions made it a lee shore so we had carried on, this time conditions were favourable so we pulled in and were lucky to find an empty courtesy mooring buoy for the night, Serafina had carried on further south. 

We settled in to listen to the America's Cup Racing live from San Francisco, the joys of modern technology being able to receive internet coverage in remote places.  Team New Zealand were way in front but Oracle managed a win in the one race of the day.  Hopes were still high of a return of the Cup to New Zealand.  P9140007-001

Just on sunset, as the softening light made the harsh rocky landscape ashore glow, the wind appeared from nowhere, and wouldn’t you know it, it came in at 20 knots from the northwest.  Another lee shore and very bumpy night.  The smaller boats around us were bouncing up and down, burying their bows in the choppy swell, we faired much better but it was another uncomfortable night, our last two anchorages in Maine were our worst.   

Bye Bye Maine, Back to Massachusetts

We had planned to explore this rocky outcrop in the morning but the weather was dreary and cool so we said our final farewell to Maine and sailed south.  Winds were again light so progress was slow until a 20 knot sea breeze kicked in from the south, right on the nose and scuppering plans for an overnight stop in Gloucester.


Good ole Plan B was devised and we headed instead for the nearby tiny village of Rockport, Massachusetts which had excellent protection from the south.  P9160016Anchor was down and internet connected for another afternoon of Americas Cup Racing, one win each today, not such a good result but we are still leading – plenty of time yet.

Next morning we were ashore to explore by 9.30am, possibly a record for us.  We realise now why we never go out that early, nothing is open!!!!  We wandered the quaint little lanes of this  tiny village nestled around the compact harbour (too small for us, we were anchored off a sandy adjacent beach).  I imagine on a hot summers weekend it heaves with daytrippers from Boston but on this drizzly autumn weekday morning we had the place to ourselves.P9160022

Back onboard we continued our journey south with a short hop just 12 miles around the headland to Gloucester.  Light winds in front of the beam and flattish seas meant for a comfortable sail and a timely arrival to listen again to Americas Cup Racing –racing cancelled, the agony is prolonged!!! 

The early end to racing meant we had time to whizz ashore for a much needed grocery run.  Fresh produce was at rationing levels, time to top up and we figured it would be easier here than in Boston.   Gloucester is very much a normal but pleasant functioning port town, not too much pandering to the tourist market here.  P9160032A large fishing boat fleet lines the shore and although there is an excellent harbour walk around the front it surely has that working town feel and smell to it.  Gloucester was also the home port of the fishing boat lost at sea on which the movie The Perfect Storm was based.  A monument in town remembers those that were lost on that and countless other occasions.  

We had an early dinner, easy to do in the USA as the restaurant kitchens seem to never close.  We caught the last of the afternoon sun which finally appeared mid afternoon, whilst sitting overlooking the harbour at The Cape Ann Brewing Company, a small local micro brewery.  P9160033We thought it interesting the only alcohol they served was beer, obviously due to the type of licence they have, but it was something we had never come across anywhere before.  Mark decided to leave both the Cucumber and Strawberry with Rhubarb ales for another day and went for the much safer option of a Fisherman’s Ale to accompany his Portuguese Fish Stew. 

Boston Bound

With sunny skies and a northerly wind forecast of 10 – 20 knots it was time to do the final leg of 26 miles to Boston.  We left at 9am as we had our new regular daily fixture of the Americas Cup Racing at 4.15pm to consider, we wanted to get there in plenty of time to see if we could find somewhere ashore showing the live coverage so we could actually watch it on television for a change.

Our downwind sail was the coldest we have ever been at sea on Balvenie, we both had so many layers of clothes on we could barely bend,P9170034 even the sun seemed to have forgotten to turn its heater on.  We later found out that it had been recorded as the coldest September 17 ever in Boston's history, 44 Fahrenheit or 6.66 Celsius, crickey - timed that well, didn’t we!! 

We made our way into the sheltered waters of Boston harbour early afternoon, Boston International Airport boarders the harbour so we had fun plane spotting as we were overflown by several jets.

We tied to our pre booked mooring, dropped the dinghy, headed ashore, found a nearby bar with helpful staff who found the racing for us and settled down for the action – racing cancelled, too much wind!!!  Oh well we got to watch two earlier races so finally got to see these magnificent craft in action without worrying who would win, much better for the stress levels!!!

Will Team New Zealand Win The 34th Americas Cup???


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Autumn is Coming - Time to Get Cracking ….. Sep 2013

04 – 13 Sep:  Rockland to Harpswell Harbour – 43 45N 70 00WP8120054

Back to Rockland do to the Chores 

September, so far, has provided us with some gloomy weather after the stunning crisp sunny days we experienced in August.  All the locals we spoke to felt that September was usually the best month, more settled weather, less fog – but maybe not this year.

We motored from North Haven Village across to Rockland in no wind, light drizzle and a sea mist that at least we could almost see through.  Sandpiper were in Rockland so we had time while rain bound to catch up with them and hear their stories of cruising South America. 

All our chores were completed once the rain stopped,  on our 2nd run to the supermarket we were picked up by a local yacht owner who drove us there, waited while we shopped for all the heavy things we needed then dropped us back at the dinghy. P9060011 Once again the American hospitality we have experienced has been exceptional, thanks so much Peggy.  

Cruising in Company Again

The sun returned but we decided not to leave.  Brits Rob and Sarah off Serafina were due to arrive in Rockland so we finally got a chance to meet them properly with an evening out ashore. 

Next morning the 2 boats set off west in light winds, it was lovely to have company again, but although Serafina  is the same size as Balvenie she was just a little too slippery for us with a freshly cleaned bottom and huge new light wind sail - soon we weren’t in company after all.  (Skipper not very happy!!!!)Sept_083

We negotiated a minefield of  lobster pots to get to the very picturesque anchorage of Maple Juice Cove, with a name like that how could we not visit.  

The anchorages in Maine have been outstanding, consistently the best we have ever had.  Nearly all of them have been land locked with hardly a ripple over the flat water.  There has been no wind most nights, the calm conditions are a cruisers dream.  Anchorages in or near fishing harbours do get the 4.30am lobster boat wake up call, literally a wake up call as the wake slams up against our transom, but it doesn’t last long and sleep returns.  Funny really ….. we seek out the perfect little rickety fishing hamlets but baulk at the noise the pesky fisherman make at such an unearthly hour.


Always Good To Have Plan B

Sept_094We moved on late morning to take advantage of the outgoing tide and the afternoon sea breeze.  But we spent far too long manoeuvring in very light winds through the ghastly minefield of pots we had negotiated the previous day, then the sea breeze kicked in much stronger than forecast and it was right on the nose.  Hard on the wind with 25knots even in flat water is just no fun at all, after several tacks the call was made – Plan B came into effect and we both bore away downwind and headed for the tiny harbour of Round Pond.  20 miles sailed for a net gain of 8 miles west, not one of our better days but the bonus was that we had discovered yet another top spot. 

P9070014Sightseeing & Shopping Extravaganza 

Just after Balvenie and Serafina had anchored we were visited by local couple Karen and Walter.  Karen very kindly offered to take the 4 of us touring the following day so we could see a little of inland Maine, offers like that don’t come our way often so we gladly accepted. 

Next morning we were off on our sightseeing and shopping tour.  Karen was an excellent tour guide (and driver) and soon had us travelling down cute country lanes and through quaint inland villages.  It was interesting to see that the inland towns and villages were just as well cared for and presented as their coastal cousins.  We wondered if we had been seeing an “air brushed” version of Maine in the touristy harbour towns but inland was just as delightful. 

P9070016We stopped at a small local market and saw some of the most unusual vegetables I’d ever seen, purple and white carrots, stripped tomatoes – maybe I just don’t get out enough!!  Next up was Beth's Farm Market, located it seemed in the middle of absolutely  nowhere, this place was absolutely buzzing.

It seems Beth has an excellent business going, acres around the store are owned by the business and planted in all manner of produce, on sale just minutes after being harvested, doesn’t get much fresher than that.  Following on from the multi coloured carrots and tomatoes spotted earlier we now experienced the biggest range of pumpkins/squashes you could ever imagine, yes see the photos as evidence.  It’s amazing what you can find in the countryside these days!!!  2013 Maine

We met up with Walter for an excellent lunch in Damariscotta, then continued on touring around.  We went through Bristol and Bath, then arrived in Freeport home to LL Bean a huge Outdoor Sports, Activities and Clothing Retailer who have stores here open 24/7. 2013 Maine-001 They also have their outlet store here and that has encouraged many other retailers to base their outlets here, making a bargain hunters shopping haven.   While Mark went in search of Wi-Fi to follow the first races in the Americas Cup Challenge yacht racing, it was time for the rest of us to do some serious shopping!! 

Karen even stopped on the way back so we could do a quick supermarket top up.  After an excellent long day out we were back at the dinghy dock just as the sun was dipping over the trees.  Once again an amazing display of Maine hospitality, this one will surely be unsurpassed, thank you so much Karen for driving us around all day and to Walter for letting us borrow his lovely wife for the day. Sept_089

Tropical Depression Gabrielle

We left Round Pond early the following morning. With winds forecast to get up to 23 knots later in the day it seemed a good idea to get some miles under our belt while conditions were lighter. Tropical Depression Gabrielle was heading our way so we had a rather gloomy forecast for the week, it was time to get in some miles westwards and tuck up for a few days. 

Somehow things just didn’t turn out as planned.  With gusts of 32 knots while crossing the bottom of Boothbay (still in the morning) it really did seem like a good idea to put Plan B into force and head for shelter at Five IslandsSerafina were ahead of us and reported 22 knots around the next headland and they were just able to lay the course to Harpswell Sound, didn’t sound too bad. P9080058

Therefore deployment of Plan B was not undertaken and we carried on in their wake.  Not one of our best decisions but conditions change so quickly it is so hard to know. 

The winds picked up to a peak of 38 knots apparent, we got more salt water over the boat in 2 hours than we have in the last couple of years, P9090001 we struggled see the lobster pots because of all the white caps, and we were worried our very well worn headsail might finally fall apart if we reefed it in such strong winds (new headsail on order, to be collected in Rhode Island soon).  So we ended up motoring - bashing into it as the wind shifted right on the nose.  Eventually we reached the lee of land once again and finally the calmer waters of Harpswell Sound.  Extra tot for Skipper and Admiral at happy hour!!   

We spent 5 nights back in Harpswell Harbour waiting for favourable winds to start our migration south.  We had our last Maine lobster meal ashore with Rob and Sarah, fittingly at Morses Cribstone Grill on Bailey Island which was where we had our first Maine lobsters weeks earlier.  Another superb meal with service and setting to match, hard to beat anywhere in the world.P9070052

The rest of the time was filled doing boat jobs, catching up on emails, blogs and world events on the computers, sharing happy hours, dinners and playing dominoes with Serafina.  Hours were spent hiding below from a serious amount of thunder and lightening, and bucket loads of rain (cleaned all that recently acquired salt water off and filled the watertanks!).  In between all this inclement weather we had fog, lots of it and at times very dense.  All in all it was a week of very gloomy weather.

Definitely Time To Get Cracking South!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Misty & Moody Maine ….. Sept 2013

30 Aug – 03 Sep:  Little Cranberry Island to North Haven – 44 07N 68 52W

Slight Detour East Before Turning Around
We spent the morning in Southwest Harbour on Mt Desert Island catching up on a few chores after having had a few days in the great outdoors.  Mid afternoon we did a short hop across to Little Cranberry Island, picked up a visitors courtesy mooring then were kindly invited our to our neighbours yacht for sundowners.
Although the Cranberry Islands are just a couple of miles off Mt Desert Island, Little Cranberry is a real step into rustic Maine.  Life here for a good part of the year is for the truly hardy, winters are described as brutal, the harbours can ice up but the lobstermen still go out year round whenever they can.  They are a tough breed, and walking round Little Cranberry the following morning we certainly felt we had left tourist Maine behind and really got behind the scenes.

front lawn collection – pickup truck, golf cart, snow plough, firewood & lobster pots, more lobster pots line the road
P8280048Fickle Fog

The tiny post office here is said to sell the most postage stamps of any post office in the USA, they have embraced mail order and the sales have flowed in, good for them.

We went for a walk across the island and watched as pockets of fog rolled by, all very mystical.  I stopped and picked a huge bag of wild blackberries, Mark kept moving, trying in vain to avoid the hordes of enormous mosquitos that appeared from nowhere to devour us as a lunchtime snack.   We returned to the harbour as the fog enveloped the bay, neighbouring islands and boats were included in the disappearing act on display.  There would be no afternoon departure for Balvenie today!  P8280002

With dense fog set in we armed ourselves with GPS and compass and ventured back ashore for dinner fully expecting to be the only patrons at the remote waterside restaurant.  What a shock when we opened the door; every table was jammed full and just one bar stool stood free.  The helpful owners dug out another stool, we perched at the bar and sat watching in amazement as boat loads of diners arrived, tables were reset at speed and the place buzzed for hours.  It was no wonder, the crab cakes were superb and the burger was judged the best yet in the USA by skipper, accompanying New England beer – Baxters Pale Ale.

P8300027Heading West

A gloomy cold day dawned, there was still some sea mist around but most of the heavy fog had cleared.  It was one of those dreary mornings when you just want to roll over and stay snuggled under the duvet but there was a light favourable breeze so we donned our warm clothes and started our journey west.

After 7 hours of sailing, 34 miles covered and at least a 1000 lobster pots negotiated we entered the amazing landlocked harbour of Seal Bay nestled in the south-eastern corner of Vinalhaven Island; we were back in beautiful Penobscot Bay.  Seal Bay was an absolute stunner, just a few modest homes tucked away in the trees, a handful of boats at anchor and no other signs of civilisation, not even any phone signal – now this was “getting away from it all!”
We were treated to another invite onboard a neighbouring boat for drinks.  It has been enjoyable to have the chance to meet some locals and hear their tales of cruising these Maine waters and up to Canada in the very short cruising season they have.  For winter they must haul their boats, take the rigs out and either store their boats at a yard, a heated shed or have them trucked home or to a friends field.  If left outside they are covered in shrink wrap so the snow slides off!  For us it seems like such a huge amount of effort and expense to go to for such a very short cruising season – 3months at best, but there are thousands of cruising yachts kept up here and they all go through this procedure.

P8300003We stayed the next day in Seal Bay, exploring by dinghy many of the nooks and crannies, did some bird watching, sneaked up on some lazy seals and for the first time ever at anchor heard dolphins talking from inside the boat.  We have heard dolphins before but always when we have been sailing, never at anchor, it was magic.

We also caught up, very briefly as they were leaving, with Karen and Derek on British yacht Sandpiper.  We last saw Sandpiper in the Cape Verdes, they were one of the few boats that headed from there down to Brazil while most of us went straight to the Caribbean.  It was great to see them briefly and we hope to catch up again soon
Did We Mention Fog?????

Seal  Bay was the sort of place you could lose a few weeks, but August was ending and autumn would soon be upon us.  Plus it was time to do mundane chores like supermarket and laundry runs, find good Wi-Fi for blog updates and we needed to keep nibbling away at the miles.  We left Seal Bay after a lazy latte on the bow, it was a glorious day with brilliant blue skies above and it was almost warm.  But that didn’t last long.
Once away from the harbour the temperature plummeted, the fog rolled in as thick as pea soup and we carefully motored slowly around the headland and nudged our way into the next anchorage at Carver Cove.  Just 4 miles were covered but we really have no desire to be motoring around in these conditions trying to avoid now invisible pots, granite ledges, half submerged rocks and islands – and that's not mentioning other boats.  Fogbound again.
It wasn’t until the following afternoon that the fog lifted enough for us to move on so we took the opportunity to head for Rockland.   We motored through the Fox Islands Thorofare, a narrow sliver of water running between North Haven and Vinalhaven Islands and passed North Haven Village.  It looked an interesting place, wooden buildings perched out over the waters edge, lobster boats on moorings, all very unpretentious so we did a u-turn and decided to stop for the night to investigate more.

scenes from sleepy North Haven village on Labour Day
Our plans for dinner ashore were short lived, North Haven Village was closed.  Now it’s not a big place anyway but there wasn’t a soul in sight, only one car passed through while we were ashore and the only restaurant had shut at 4pm, it was a public holiday but we hadn’t realised.  So we walked for a while one way, turned and walked for a while the other way, found a spot in the sun outside the library with Wi-Fi and updated computer things then headed back to Balvenie for dinner instead!
Definitely Time To Find Civilisation Again!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Spruces & Gooses, But Alas No Mooses ….. August 2013

25 – 29 August 2013:  Somes Harbour, Mt Desert Island – 44 21N 68 19W


Acadia National Park, Mt Desert Island

We lifted anchor from Southwest Harbour mid morning to take advantage of the last of the incoming tide to cover the few miles up Somes Sound.  This stretch of water is currently listed as a fjord however we read in the local paper that geologists are questioning the use of the term fjord – slight ice age hitch, I’m sure.  Whether or not this is technically a fjord remains unclear, what is clear is the stunning natural beauty of this area, steep wooded cliffs drop down into the narrow sound, surely the most spectacular scenery we have sailed by so far on this eastern USA seaboard. 

We slipped into the bay at Somesville, tucked deep at the top of Somes Sound, and found a spot to call home for the next few days.  At high tide the anchorage appeared expansive – water, water, everywhere, but at low it was a different sight, especially with the full moon and spring tides, what an amazing difference 12 feet of water makes!

We had come here to explore America’s 2nd most visited National Park (Yosemite is 1st), Acadia National Park.  Most of the parklands are located on Mt Desert Island, but it extends to some of the neighbouring islands also.


P8240290A Little Bit of History

Originally named in 1604 Isle de Mont-desert (literally island of barren mountains) Mt Desert – pronounced Dessert – was yet another area the British and French fought over for many years.  Rich in granite, lumber, fish and ice; and with several safe harbours surrounded by protected waters it was another strategic point along the coast.

In the mid 1800’s it began to gain favour as a popular spot for East Coasters to come to experience a slice of nature, then the extremely wealthy moved in and built grand  “summer cottages” whilst enjoying the peace and tranquillity.P8240320  In 1916 Woodrow Wilson established the park with 6,000 acres of land.  Since then thanks to some of the summer cottage owners; Morgans, Fords, Astors, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers and Rockefellers, the parks acreage has increased to over 49,000 acres, all of this land has been donated.

1947 was a dry summer and in late October a fire started in the park that raged for nearly a month, over 14,000 acres of parkland, 170 houses and 67 summer estates were destroyed, 3 lives were lost.  Few summer cottages were rebuilt, but the towns bounced back, tourism boomed as people flocked to see the fire damage and the islands economy somehow survived.

There are over 120 miles of signposted hiking trails and 55 miles of superbly maintained carriage roads in the park making it an outstanding hiking and biking destination.  John D Rockefeller Jr, one of the parks major benefactors had the carriage roads and several granite bridges built, initially for his families enjoyment – now because of the Rockefellers generosity in donating thousands of acres we got to enjoy them too.


Starting with Some Hiking

We caught the free Island Explorer bus from Somesville to Bar Harbour each day. Bar Harbour is the hub for all the free buses that operate throughout the island as well as the main tourist and shopping destination and home to Park Headquarters. We purchased park passes and a hiking/biking map, grabbed a latte (amazing – several decent cafes to chose from!!) digested all the information we had collected then caught a bus to one of the trailheads.

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We spent the afternoon walking the Bubble and Jordon Ponds Paths and hiking the Bubble Rock Trail.  At 768 feet it was a reasonably easy climb up with a great vista at the top, but the trail downhill sure had some steep bits.  We timed the bus well and had enough time in Bar Harbour for a wander around and a well earned drink at a waterfront bar.  Mark tried yet another local brew “Thunder Hole Ale”, not a bad drop so I am told.  There are so many boutique breweries in New England producing beers with some pretty funky names, will there be enough time for skipper to try them all?

And Now For Some Biking 

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We awoke to another perfect day so it was back ashore, on the Island Explorer bus to Bar Harbour and off to the cycle shop to hire mountain bikes for the day.  Coastal Kayaks run a very slick operation and we were sorted out with our excellent bikes within 15 minutes, then back to the bus stop for the special bike bus to Eagle Lake, and we were off to explore.

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Of the 55 miles of carriage roads we covered 24.8 miles, an excellent days effort considering we have not been on bikes since Cuba.  Once we got a couple of miles away from the bike bus stop we almost had the paths to ourselves.  It was such a pleasure not having to worry about traffic, the tree cover kept us cool but there were plenty of breaks in the foliage for some wonderful views over the ponds and lakes on the island, across the bays and out to the ocean.

2013 Rhode Island

Cadillac Mountain – Just Had To Be Climbed

Day 3 dawned another ripper, with some energy left and remarkably few aching muscles we once again headed for Bar Harbour.  Enough time for a latte and muffin then on the next bus to the trailhead of the Cadillac Mountain hike.  Never a good sign when you are the only ones to get off the bus!!

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Now although it’s called a mountain it is only 1,530 feet high, not quite up there with the 17,000 feet we have hiked to in Nepal, but it is the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA.   There is even a road that goes almost to the summit for those who want to enjoy the great outdoors without actually having to go outdoors!!   This meant the trail was almost deserted for us hardy hikers, just perfect.


We did the 8 mile trail from north to south, made countless stops to enjoy the outstanding views on another cracker of a day, then rendezvoused with another bus to return us to Bar Harbour for more New England Beer Tasting.   The “Bar Harbour Summer Ale” seemed not even to touch the sides after a hard day on the mountain!


West or East – It’s Decision Time

Mt Desert Island had been our goal for the season, now we needed to decide whether to carry on east (its not actually north and south up here, east is towards Canada, west is back through Maine and then south), or turnaround from here and start heading back. 


P8260037Our immediate destination was easy, we headed south back down Somes Sound and spent the night back at Southwest Harbour.   We went ashore and had a walk into the sleepy little town - such a contrast to busy Bar Harbour - then wandered back to the docks to a shacky little restaurant perched lopsided over the water that we had spotted on the way in.

It was time for lobster again, accompanied by a local “Lobster Ale”, I am told it didn’t taste fishy at all but can not confirm that, sensibly I just stuck to the chardonnay.

Decision Made – Time to Turn Around