39 Block Island to Salem


We’ve slowed down to savor ports along the New England coast. With few exceptions we enjoy the current port as much as the last if not more than the last. We sailed from Block Island to Mystic seaport Museum in light air with fog adding to the atmosphere and excitement of tying up to the wall of a late 1800’s seaport. After closing, we wandered the museum streets enjoying the stillness and history as the sun set behind the masts of the square-riggers. Early the next morning, heavy fog enveloped the area. As we looked out the cabin window, we could just make out the masts of the whaling ship Charles Morgan. We sat enchanted in the cockpit watching the fog burn off, slowly revealing the rest of the museum buildings. Then, before the museum formally opened, we poked through buildings the early arriving staff had opened. We had our own private museum.

Stonington, was reported to be the most beautiful port on the East Coast. While it’s nice, we didn’t agree with advertising. We enjoyed exploring its narrow streets lined with homes from the 1800’s. The sound of bagpipes floated through town on a warm afternoon. We found a piper playing outside a church as people gathered for a wedding.

Sometimes things just seem to work out. We picked up e-mail just before leaving Mystic. Our Lake Superior friends, Ken and Pat, learning from our journal that we were at Block Island e-mailed suggesting we contact their friends in Mystic if we went there. We called from Stonington and the next morning we were treated to breakfast by Alan and Mary Jane Brush at there home from the 1850’s in Mystic. It was a wonderful time. Interesting people, good conservation, and a unique house.

A long day’s push brought us to Cuttyhunk Island just off of Martha’s Vineyard. Once moored, we set out to explore the tiny island, which appeared from the mooring to have homes sprinkled like specks of pepper from a shaker over the hilly landscape. Roads and paths tried hard to connect the homes. Only 25 people live year round on the island. The payphone listed an 800 number to call for fire or police emergencies. We wondered how long it would take to get fire help from the mainland. We planned to stay at Cuttyhunk for two nights, but with an ominous weather forecast, we decided to cut our stay short.

We were off early hoping to make Onset before the forecasted bad weather. Winds picked up and went aft. We set the whisker pole and immediately picked up over a knot in boat speed. We finally had a good test of our new pole and were happy with the results. The wind continued to build and seas grew to 6 feet and more. We were soon overpowered. It was a fight to get the pole off and jib furled. By now the wind was high enough that our boat speed didn’t diminish as we continued on with just the mainsail.

Rain started shortly after we reached Onset. The next morning we registered 3.5 inches in our rain gage. The forecast was grim. That night we caught one of the severe thunderstorms NOAA had been talking about. The sky lit up and stayed white with continuous lightning. Thunder was a continuous deep growl. For the first time, we experienced hail while aboard. The noise of the hail hitting the deck and canvas overpowered the thunder. We worried that it would destroy the canvas bimini, but we came through without damage. The rain gage picked up 2 more inches.

Current in the Cape Cod Canal can reach 5 knots depending on the tide cycle. We waited for favorable current and then headed east along the 7 mile canal into Cape Cod Bay. We were moving in a break in the weather. We cut our planned long day short as the wind moved north and seas began to build. We put into Plymouth, which lived up to our expectations of being a tourist trap.

Ruth found an interesting Marblehead entry in a book the Brush’s had given us. The town has turned down government offers to build a breakwater across the harbor entrance to protect the exposed harbor from nor’easters. The town figured that the breakwater would allow marinas to be built in a protected harbor, and marinas would attract powerboats. Instead they opted to leave the harbor unprotected with everyone out on very substantial moorings. Marblehead harbor has 2,300 moorings, with mostly sailboats. They say they are the sailing capitol of the world. We learned later, there is an 18 year wait for a mooring.

As we entered Marblehead harbor, we passed by Shamrock swinging on a mooring. She’s a restored 100 foot plus J boat that had competed for the Americas Cup back at the turn of the century. We were guided through the maze of moorings by a Corinthian Yacht Club launch to our mooring. Two moorings from us we saw Valiant a former 12 meter cup challenger. We were surrounded by other sailboats.

Ashore, granite bedrock pushes its way above the thin topsoil all around the harbor. Early settlers worked around the craggy rocks following the course of least resistance through valleys and saddles around the rocky hills to place footpaths and wagon trails. Homes were then squeezed between the trails and hills. Lacking space, neighbors allowed neighbors to build in the narrow confines with houses sharing a common wall. There wasn’t enough space for a front yard. In many cases, the back yard ends against a rocky wall. The modern residents of Marblehead have paved the streets, but they just barely accommodate cars. Narrow sidewalks barely allow two people to walk side by side. Window boxes filled will flowers stand in for front lawns and landscaping. On the rock walls, very nook and cranny that can accept soil has been filled with flowers. The net result is a maze of streets filled with intriguing houses from the late 1600’s. We wore ourselves out exploring the nooks and cranny’s of the historic district. Ruth added Marble Head to our list of places we should live when we stop sailing.

We enjoyed Marblehead enough to stay for 3 days. We’d spend the morning walking the town and then spend the afternoon sitting in the cockpit watching people sail in and out of the harbor through the moorings. It was nice having our own personal review of passing boats, some clearing Tranquility’s stern by just a few feet in the crowded mooring.

A New England Fourth of July has some unique features. A cannon went off at 8 AM. All the church bells began ringing and continued for a half-hour. The same thing happened at noon. The 3 yacht clubs in the area fired their very loud cannons at random during the day. Fireworks were proceeded by a ring of fire around the harbor. From our mooring, we had a front row seat.

We motored the short distance to Salem and were disappointed. It’s too much of a tourist town. The one thing we did enjoy was the tour of the House of Seven Gables. It’s very formal on the outside. Inside, the results of various additions leave all sorts of intriguing odd spaces; and of course, there is the hidden staircase. After that, we had to purchase the book to read about the house.


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