Earning our docking merit badge

This week Steph and I sailed from Beverly, Mass. south to Marblehead, across the Boston shipping lanes to Scituate, through thick fog to Sandwich, and through the Cape Cod Canal to Onset.  “Sailed” is a very charitable way to describe what we did; we didn’t see so much as a breath of wind at any point, but it was a good and interesting time.

Navigating In Fog

Sailing in fog

Leaving both Beverly and Scituate, we ran in to thick fog.  Megatron is equipped with radar, and it works well.  And when we started sailing, we thought the way radar worked was that you turned it on, and it showed you where all the boats, buoys, land masses, and other obstructions were all around you.

Ha ha ha!  That’s not how radar works AT ALL.  Instead, it shows some of the things around you as little splotches.  Sometimes the splotches are big, sometimes small, and rarely related to the actual size of the thing in real life.  Big metal things, like oil tankers, usually give a nice big “radar signature” (that is, a splotch), but metal navigation buoys often show up the same size as tankers.  Boats smaller than tankers show up about half the time, often sporadically.  And a bunch of other things that show up don’t exist at all.

Meanwhile, eight tons of Megatron and us are steaming south at seven knots.  We pulled out the fog horn at one point, but we knew no lobsterboat would hear it over their own engine.  Plus one blast of it made Euonym jump through the ceiling.  Still we kept it handy just in case

The thing is, once you’re deep into a fog bank, there aren’t a lot of options.  Ours were: 1. turn around and go back to Scituate, a plan we discarded as just as dangerous as continuing forward, since we were halfway to our destination 2. head for nearby Plymouth, which we  discarded as too dangerous because we’ve never seen the harbor and did not want to enter it blind or 3. continue on to Sandwich and the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal.

We went ahead, three hours of both of us staring at a wall of fog 400 yards in front of us.  We saw two other boats, neither of which showed up on our radar, and it was a great relief when the breakwater at the entrance to the canal finally loomed out of the fog.

Our Docking Merit Badge

Megatron at the dockI don’t have a picture of Megatron at the dock in Sandwich, because Stephanie and I were too busy kicking crowded marina ass to take one.  Here in southern Massachusetts, most boats are still in the water, particularly commercial fishing boats.  Sandwich marina also houses a large Coast Guard station, and were playing host to several navy boats.  So it was pretty crowded when we arrived at the end of a long, foggy day.

In the picture on the left, Megatron is the only boat tied up to a dock almost 500 feet long.  The day we landed on that dock, I had to make several passes.  We eventually got tied up with the help of a very understanding harbormaster who caught our desperately-hurled dockline and hauled us in hand over hand.

The difference between that first day and this one is like two years of experience.  In fact, it is exactly like two years of experience.  We brought Megatron alongside the fuel dock, exchanged pleasantries with the very same harbormaster while we tied up and bought fuel, then pulled away from the dock, remained stationary in the middle of the fairway to switch the lines and fenders to the other side (this is harder than I thought it would be – “adrift” is not at all the same as “not moving”), and finally docked across the harbor all by ourselves.

Excuse me while I take a break to pat myself heartily on the back.

In the morning, we backed away from the dock and made a three point turn to exit the marina.  The guy who pulled Megatron out of the middle of the harbor two Aprils ago waved to us on our way out.

IMG 0847

So today I’m writing from Onset, one of the prettiest and funnest harbors in Massachusetts.  This is our third visit – in July, we had the best view ever of fourth of July fireworks from the middle of the harbor.  This time, we went exploring in the dinghy and were two miles up a nearby river when the dinghy motor quit.

We rowed home against a brisk wind for an hour and a half, and then I took the motor apart in the cockpit and smooshed the worthless piece of crap paper washer back into place between the plastic thingy and the more engine-y part of the engine.  God help me if something ever actually goes wrong with the dinghy motor – Steph has taken a three day intensive course in marine diesel maintenance, but my knowledge of gas outboards begins and ends with “oh shit, gas is dripping out of that thing? better unscrew some random parts and wipe them off with a paper towel.”


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