Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Block Island

Someone once said that Block Island was "one of the last ten greatest places on earth" and while we wouldn't go that far, it is still a place that we look forward to visiting every summer.  This year's cruise was slow due to a mystery problem with our starboard engine that only permitted us a speed of about 10 mph.  That, coupled with a stiff southwest wind that whipped up some nice big swells, kept us steering a lot as we climbed up one side of them and surfed down the other. We broke one of our favorite table lamps and rearranged some furniture but there was never any doubt that we'd get there, and we did.

Once again, we tied up at Payne's Dock, which to us is just the perfect spot. It's on the island's western side in the Great Salt Pond or New Harbor. If you love boats and the ocean as much as we do, this is the place to be.

Lots of people dismiss Payne's because you can't make a reservation or because it's expensive or because everyone is rafted together. The lack of a reservation doesn't mean much since we have never been turned away. It is more expensive than many mainland marinas ($4.00 per ft. plus $20.00 a day for electricity) but it's about the same as the other two marinas in New Harbor. Compare that to a hotel or cottage rental and it's cheap. Finally, rafting up against a pier is half the fun. We've met great people that way every time we have been at Payne's and that was our experience again this year.

If there's a downside for boaters like us, it's the fact that Block Island's tourism advertising has been so successful. Big ferries from Point Judith and New London land on the other side of the island at Old Harbor, which is the Island's shopping area. Ferries disgorge a thousand or more passengers each very frequently and there is hardly enough sidewalk or roadway to accommodate them. The motor scooters don't help either.

Not to sound to high-minded, we always walk across the island to Old Harbor and mix with the tourists. This year, we bought some t-shirts and had a very good lunch at the Mohegan Cafe. Even though the street was crowded, Frances can shop with the best of them.

We also like to get off the boat and walk. One day, we took a walk to the beach and on the way rediscovered the parts of Block Island that we really love.

This house was once a Block Island weather station. Further down the road and up a little nature walk and you can see how beautiful this part of the island really is.

As you can see in the distance, they're building new houses near the beach. Hope they don't ruin the view.

There's a touch of whimsey on Block Island. Here's an outhouse that we see each year. The architecture is really quite original.

On another day, we walked over to Block Island Boat Basin, the marina next to Payne's. Not much special about it but the flowers in the field next to it were worth stopping and admiring.

You can see the mooring field in the background. It's very popular and we know people who complain about not being able to find a mooring.

Here's the deal. When you come into New Harbor, call the Harbormaster on Channel 12. Don't just cruise through the mooring field looking for an open one. The green moorings are rentals and the others are either private or owned by the town of New Shoreham (Block Island's legal name). The Harbormaster will find you either a temporary mooring or one you can rent ($46 per day) if one is available and will direct you to it.

Block Island Boat Basin also has a dingy dock that always seems to be crowded.

There's also a nice little beach between Payne's and Boat Basin that is one hell of a lot easier to use provided you don't mind getting your feet wet.

Pooka, our boat cat, survived the journey with only a couple of minor bouts with seasickness.  Once at BI, he explored the cockpit regularly and found Payne's very restful.

One of the things we really enjoy about Payne's is what Frances calls the "Boat Ballet." This is when the crew moves one boat out from a number of others that are all tied together. This year, there were several good "ballets" and we recorded them on video. We've been part of these movements a number of times over the years and when you're at the helm of the boat being moved, you have to listen carefully to the crew's instructions.  "Bump the right engine" means do it right now. It's amazing how they can squeeze a boat out into the harbor without a scratch.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Catfish Tournament

As Frances got the boat ready for our cruise to Block Island next week, Bill headed off to take care of his annual duties as announcer and photographer at Portland Riverside Marina's annual Connecticut River Catfish Tournament. We helped organize the first tournament 19 years ago and while we've missed a couple, we've been there for most of them.

This year, there were 155 fishermen and the heaviest fish was 14-3/4 lbs. There were three cash prizes for adults with the heaviest fish and three for kids.

We asked the top adult fisherman what bait he used. Seems he tried ells but landed the big one with strips of shed.

All of the fish are kept alive in a large tank and released after the tournament is over. One old fisherman said that he swears that a couple of these big fish have been caught 3-4 times.

Sue Bransfield, Town of Portland's First Selectwoman, shows up every year to give out the prizes and  seems to genuinely love doing it. It's amazing how many of the people in the crowd she knows by name. Guess that's what good about small Connecticut towns.

Speaking of the crowd, these folks get into the beer quite early, well before the fishing ends at the sound of a canon. We know the guy who provides the canon and he really enjoys packing in the black powder.

The video shows the "bang" better than this photo.

Once the prizes are given out, there is a giant cookout. Featured each year is a side of beef cooked in a home-made fire pit and cranked over by a crazy, belt-powered spit. But it works surprisingly well.

This year, there was a second spit sporting what the guys called "Miss Piggy."  Is pork good for the heart?

We usually leave after the awarding of the prizes. We'd love to dig into some of that meat but somehow, it's probably better to head home and sort through the video and get our stuff together for our trip to Block Island.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Frances takes the helm

While a cormorant dried its wings on a nearby dock (with a duck fast asleep next to him), we tackled a few things before we take off for Block Island.

We've had a tiny leak from around our new Bomar hatch for some time so this weekend we examined it carefully and added some sealant that appears to have done the trick. We also washed the entire boat, something we should do more often. We scrubbed off a lot of grime and now it looks fairly presentable.

Shrimp Scampi
Anyone who can cook can make scampi, right? Making it in the confined space of our galley makes it a little more work but Frances carries enough equipment on the boat to cater a wedding so on Saturday night, Shrimp Scampi it was.

This particular version comes from a recipe in The New York Times and it's remarkably easy, even on a boat. Even with the windows and hatches open, the boat smelled like an Italian restaurant as the cooking got underway and that's fine with us. The result was an excellent dinner that we heatedly enjoyed.

Frances takes the helm
For some time, we've planned to have Frances get some helm time, especially in close quarters. She regularly drives the boat out in open water but she wanted some practice in and around places like our harbor and gas dock. On Sunday afternoon, out we went with dock mate John H. riding shotgun.  Once Frances became at ease with using just the transmissions to steer the boat, she did okay and we expect to have more lessons in the future.  We've included some video of Frances at the helm. Listen carefully and you'll hear some of her comments.

Pooka on the fly bridge
Pooka, the Boat Cat has lived his entire life inside but he has taken to the boat very well over the last few summers. He's grown more and more confident to the point of actually climbing the ladder to our bridge. Frances finally recorded one of his climbs and we've included that in the video, as well.

Sunday visitors
On Sunday, we got a chance to meet some friends developed though the Silverton Owner's Club. Ed and Dana are experiencing their first summer on a 40 ft. Silverton convertible. They keep their boat in Niantic and had visited Montauk over the weekend. On the way back, they wanted to pickup some family members at our marina and give them a ride back to Niantic.

We had a chance to tour their boat and it is certainly the nicest big Silverton we have ever seen. It was a lot of fun finally meeting them and see how much more room they have than we do on our 34 footer. Their boat has an interesting back story, which at least partially explains why the boat is a beautiful and well-equipped as it is. We got a chance to sit in the boat's Stidd Helm Chairs, which cost more than both of our engines combined.

We included some video of Ed and Dana arriving and leaving. We hope to see them again soon.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Rainy weekend at the marina

Well, all summer weekends can't be great weather and this one was just proof of that. Our planned cruise down the Thames to check out our new carb didn't seem like a really good, dry idea. It rained a couple of times on Saturday and we spent the day puttering around the boat.

We also bought some local corn and tomatoes and on Saturday evening, fired up our electric grill. The menu was to be roasted corn and burgers stuffed with cheese. After a great deal of discussion, we decided to wrap the corn in aluminum foil. Frances wanted to roast the corn with the husks on but she was convinced, eventually, to try the foil. What a great dinner that was!  The burgers were a bit rare but the corn was perfect. We think the smell of the burgers cooking and our appetites made us take the burgers off just a little too soon, but they were still fine.

On Sunday morning, it was raining again. But, we've been through this before and for us on any Sunday morning when we're on the boat, a great breakfast and the Sunday New York Times make it a great day.

One side note that we always laugh about. The Sunday New York Times costs $6.00 outside of New York City. It says so, right on page one, but we've found a Norwich convenience store where they charge only $5.00. Each Sunday when we are at our marina, Bill picks up one of the two copies of the Times this convenience store has. The teenager behind the counter looks at the old sucker who pays so much for a newspaper and always sneers, "Five bucks." He usually has to look up from his phone to say it.

Well, the "old sucker" has saved about $10.00 so far this season buying The Times and getting a dollar discount from some kid who has probably never read a newspaper is really a forbidden pleasure. Hey, we tried pointing out the price difference once but he had no interest.

Even if it's raining, our boat is comfortable. While we finish the last few sections of The Times, CBS "Sunday Morning" is good watching. We understand (from The Times) that bow ties are in. Maybe Bill should buy a couple and try them at business meetings. Charles Osgood looks pretty good wearing his.

Eventually, we had to go outside and clean our electric grill. Frances found out that pouring hot water (from our new water heater) flushed the grease out very thoroughly.

As the rain started again on Sunday, Pooka, the boat cat, looked out a little wistfully. No problem, Pooka. There is still a lot of summer left and we're going places!

Just 60 seconds of video of our marina in the rain. Skip it if you've been here before. All marinas look a little sad in the rain.