The approaching vessel was a 26 foot late 1980’s Bayliner with two adult males. Male no 1. was standing behind a half smashed windshield with one hand on the wheel and the other methodically working the throttle. Male no 2. was laying over the bow, reaching for our port side lifeline. “Closer,” he said. They were both shirtless, decorated with a smattering of faded tattoos and surrounded by junk fishing poles.
One lesson was to not look like a liveaboard. That’s harder than what it sounds like. We live in little spaces, and it’s easy to set “things” on the deck or to cluster the cockpit. One pot or pan that needs to be cleaned turns into a few rusting bicycles, plants and a bag of trash. Our rule was that we should always be able to disconnect and go in 45 minutes. This rule has been a challenge to keep, but it keeps us simple and humble.
I stood in the back of the Express looking for a path through the jumble of boulders. Above us a gaggle of families snapping pictures watched intently, trying to catch that special moment when we run the dinghy aground on rocks. They were disappointed. The current from the old harbor pushed against the inflatable hull, and we pumped up the jam. “Faster Dad!” Eleanor yelled as I goosed the throttle and we slid into the quiet confines of the old harbor.
Cuttyhunk exists at the southern end of the Elizabethan Islands and has a small community perched on a gradual hill that overlooks two harbors. From the former WWII outpost, the exquisite view includes old fishing cottages, white sand beaches or conversely boulder-strewn barrier beaches. Most days, Martha’s Vineyard fills the eastern expanse of the horizon. To the north, one can see steep cliffs and crashing waves and the north Atlantic stretches on forever to the southeast.
I was relieved, but then He-Man said: “We have to help this guy.” Bracing against the ever-maddening wind, I looked at the center cockpit boat slamming into the dock, riding up and down with every wave and exhaled. He-Man was right of course. If you could fix it, you did. That was part of the sailor’s code. You help when possible. Without hesitating, He-Man ninja jumped Olympic style onto the heaving and pitching deck.
For days, we have watched a forecasted low-pressure system form off of the mid-Atlantic region between the successive high-pressure ridges. With the low-pressure system, we saw a prediction for 20 to 30 knots of wind driving out of the south and our opportunity to catapult from the Delaware Bay north to the Cape Cod region. Pushing our departure date back a day put our ability to be in position for the low-pressure system in jeopardy.
I kept thinking, something is going to break, and I knew that this beating was taking a toll on the crew. The sign that reinforced that thought was the 3 helicopters making large swoops over the area.
The low-pressure system that we were trying to beat south continued to grow in strength and intensity. The system coded in deep oranges and reds by various weather models passed across the mid-Atlantic region bringing torrential rain, flooding, road closures, high winds, and power outages.
In Rockland before departure, we watched heavy fog hang across the harbor. Visibility was just under a mile with the occasional encroachment to a few hundred feet. We hauled in 160 feet of chain and our number 1 anchor, hoisted sail and cruised out of the harbor. The fog enveloped us, and we watched pensively as a large cursing catamaran a few boat lengths off of our bow then the land to starboard vanished.
The community we are a part of is special. It’s what America was like before air-conditioning and TV.