Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sailing the Seas off the Foggy New England Coast When the Sun Is Bright, the Breeze Is Fresh, and the Vessel Is Ship-Shape, an Invigorating Experience Ensues

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sailing the Seas off the Foggy New England Coast When the Sun Is Bright, the Breeze Is Fresh, and the Vessel Is Ship-Shape, an Invigorating Experience Ensues

Article excerpt

The east wind has brought in a sea fog thick enough to can and sell to Midwesterners as "Stonington Stew." The fog's salty molecules are infused with lobster flavoring: Upwind in the mist is a work boat pulling out last night's crustacean catch.

Suddenly, we see a lighthouse perched on a hidden reef only a few hundred feet away. There is no foghorn. Instead, the lighthouse issues a sharp, familiar "bing." We know exactly where we are and how to get across Noyes Shoal into the harbor.

Fog is a regular customer here, at a port my wife and I consider the jumping-off point for New England cruising. Once you get used to navigating through rocky harbors with the equivalent with a blindfold on, sailing here brings out the old salt in everyone. On the days when the sun is bright, the breeze is fresh, and the vessel is ship-shape, it can be invigorating. From Stonington, it's easy to head east to Newport, R.I., and the Massachusetts islands of Cuttyhunk and Martha's Vineyard.

Our inclination is to vacation in September when cold fronts push the sea fog back to Georges Bank. On a brisk September day, it's an exhilarating ride into Newport.

One year, as SeaKap, our 35-foot sloop, tacked off Newport, I quipped to my wife, Kathy, "Your job is to look for whales and sharks." She immediately looked off the stern of the boat and announced, "There's a shark." A five-footer was attacking something on the surface. We did not stop to watch but continued toward Block Island.

In New England waters it's also not that rare to see whales. Last year, not far from Newport, Kathy watched as a long thin shadow swam just below the surface. A gull banked in a tight circle around the shadow. Melville's Captain Ahab is not the only sailor to see a New England leviathan. Thar she blows!

While the waters off Newport offer aquatic diversions, the town can entertain almost any sailor trying to avoid a nor'easter or just gawk at graceful wooden sailboats built to keep the America's Cup at home. At times during the summer, however, Newport resembles a different kind of maritime repast: canned sardines.

Schools of tourists flit into stores selling T-shirts, ice cream, and tickets for harbor tours. It has now become so crowded that Newport has added parking meters. Locals are upset - with the parking fines.

On the Newport waters - where there are no meter maids - there is plenty to do. For those with deep pockets, there are sailboats to charter. For those only acquainted with the sea through the writings of nautical author Patrick O'Brien, there are schooners that provide a taste of sailing while the crews sing sea chanteys.

From Newport, it's usually downwind to Buzzards Bay. As the wind funnels toward Cape Cod, it accelerates. We have had our share of exciting rides down the whitebeards on our way to Cuttyhunk in the Elizabeth Islands. …

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