38 C&D Canal to Block Island

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A chance encounter changed our plans. We had planned a stop at Cape May and then go north hugging the New Jersey coast into New York harbor. Then we swapped notes with Toby and Sonya on I Gottta Go while we were at the Summit North marina in the C&D Canal. Early the next morning we were off on a new adventure. The weather sounded promising and if it held, we planned on rounding Cape May without stopping and setting a northeast straight-line course directly for Block Island passing seaward of Long Island. For us, it would be our longest passage taking us offshore for two days.

Shortly after leaving the canal we had winds for sailing. The sails went up and we were a sailboat again. The wind even cooperated and moved aft allowing us to try out our new whisker pole. An hour later, the sails were down and we were motoring again. The fluky wind continued like that for the entire two-day passage to Block Island. We’d get to sail for an hour and then the wind would die and we’d motor for a few hours. Our big excitement was seeing thunderstorms roll in from the west when we were 30 miles off of New York City. We could pick up the intense portions of the storm on radar, and felt like we were in a living video game as we steered around squalls showing up on the radar screen.

Just after dawn the hills of Block Island became faintly visible through the morning mist. They played hide and seek with us for the next hour as we motored closer across a now almost flat windless sea. When we were just offshore, the mist retreated. Spread out in front of us were rugged fields of high grasses and low shrubs. Gray weathered shingled homes looking as if they were still trying to gain acceptance having intruded on such a wild natural place perched uneasily among the shrubs.

A narrow cut brought us into Great Salt Pond and a snug mooring in a beautiful harbor. Maybe it was because we had been at sea for two days. Maybe it was because when we pulled in at the fuel dock we discovered the dock master had been on a mooring near us in Hope Town in the Abacos. Maybe it was the beauty of the harbor, and the smell of the sea. What ever it was, we knew we loved Block Island and we hadn’t even been ashore yet.

Here it was June 20th and Block Island was just officially opening up for the summer boating season. They start off in a big way with the Block Island Race week. I’d read about race week in Yachting, now we were here the day before the expected 130 boats would start showing up. We took a mooring and settled in to enjoy the spectacle.

Block Island was formed from glacial melt. It’s 7 miles long and 3 miles wide. The hills and valleys are jumbled together in a confused pattern that makes them absolutely charming. The land was once farmed but now appears to be rough pasture, or covered with low shrubs that don’t obscure the view. To farm, the fields were cleared of the glacial contributed fieldstones. Every where we went, we found neat fieldstone fences along the roads and darting out into the fields, dividing them into smaller sections.

The stones were stacked 2-3 feet high in neat straight lines. The effort that went into creating the fences was incredible. We walked down into Rodman’s Hollow, a huge glacial depression. Off to one side was a stone fence with a section that had been knocked apart. For a short period we played stone mason and restacked some of the scattered fieldstones. We quickly learned strong backs and arms are required. It was apparent that we would have to work for some time to acquire the skill that was needed to stack and knit the stones into the neat uniform walls we had been enjoying. After maybe 20 minutes we had completed 2 feet of wall, having only rebuilt the top foot of the wall.

Both lighthouses on the island were fun to see and great exercise. We biked to both of them. The north light had been washed away once, rebuilt so far inland that it caused wrecks, and finally built out on a sandy point that required a long hike through the soft sand to reach. On our way back to the bikes, we collected flat thin stones that will serve as candle holders on Tranquility.

The day was sunny and hot. The ride back up the hills to the interior of the island was an effort in determination for us. It was hard, tiring, hot, sweaty pedaling. As we crested the hill dead tired we found two enterprising 12-year-olds had set up a lemonade stand. They were doing a brisk business with exhausted bikers. We learned that on their best day a few years ago, they had sold 600 glasses of lemonade at 50 cents a glass. We for one were delighted they were there.

We were moored in New Harbor. Town centers on Old Harbor about a mile away. That’s where the ferryboats arrive. We had mixed feelings about town. The character is Victorian from the late 1800’s when it was built. However the Victorian charm is almost smothered by heavy traffic, and T-shirt shops.

We’d spend half a day biking, and then crash on Tranquility to recover. The arriving racers provided entertainment. They started arriving Friday afternoon. More showed up on Saturday and Sunday. By late Sunday, the once empty mooring field was filled with sailboats.

As we drifted awake on Sunday morning, we became aware of someone shouting “Andamino!-Andamino!” off in the distance. We lay there drifting in and out of wakefulness to the gentle rocking of the boat. We woke up a little more and heard “Andamino!-Andamino!” again; now closer. Suddenly we realized what the call was and were out of bed scrambling into clothes and up on deck. We didn’t want to miss the first day of bakery boat making its rounds in the harbor. As the runabout pulled along side we were treated to a selection of fresh baked danishes, bagels, cinnamon rolls and other goodies to choose from. We made our selection, and sat back to enjoy the morning munching on mouth watering breakfast rolls. Hasn’t been a bad way to start the day. Now that the season is underway, we flag down the bakery boat almost every morning.

We’ve biked almost every paved on Block Island. Our tired legs keep reminding us that we’ve covered a lot of hills. We’ve also ridden some of the unpaved roads. They are a little tricky on a bike, Ruth has a skinned knee from an encounter with deep soft sand at the bottom of one hill to prove it. We’ve put walking some of the Greenway paths that dot the island on our agenda, but that will be for another visit. We’ve now gotten to know the Block Island marina dockmasters, Dick and Sheila off the trawler Patriot. They’ve offered the use of their mooring on our return visit. We suspect we’ll be back as we head south from Maine, but if not we’ll meet up again with Patriot down at Hope Town this winter.

For us, it’s time to head out into the fog and see if we can find another shore to explore.

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