Scheduling Time, Tide and Weather

The alarm began the usual 0445 routine with a gradual crescendo. The phone was in my hand half a second before the friendly “start your life” procedure began. Through the night, a series of sharp waves rocked the anchorage. As the pitching started, I stalked through the cabin and stood in our dew slicked cockpit watching anchor lights pendulum around us. Down below, I tucked back into my damp bunk and waited for the next round of rollers. I spent the night half awake, waiting for the alarm, waiting to haul anchor and push my luck trying to time a tidal change 54 nautical miles away.

Ducking out of Sandy Bay, we left the broken breakwater to port and Rockport MA to stern. Alison guided us through lobsterpot fields, beyond a series of shoals to where we unfurled the mainsail. We felt the westerly freshen and Caprica enjoyed a steady heel. Her bow easily plowed the gentle ocean swell, and we sipped our cockpit coffee watching the twin lighthouses of the rugged Thacher Island disappear into the horizon.

From 24 nautical miles, Boston’s skyline appeared out of the haze to our west. The buildings stood as monoliths against a blue background. Dozens of fishing boats, express cruisers, and one laboring tug filled the foreground. Further south, away from the frantic center cockpit fast movers, occasionally a lone whale broke the still waters of Cape Cod Bay with a gentle roll or a casual lift of its sleek black flipper.

With the binoculars, I spotted the entrance buoy to the Cape Cod Canal and checked my watch – then laughed. We spent the day underway, pushing hard to beat the tidal change and the notorious current pulling water through the man-made cut between Buzzards and Cape Cod Bay. The current was capable of creating a wall-like standing waves and dangerous eddies identified by the centrifuge-like boiling water. (On some occasions, these pull enormous steel channel markers under water.) If we caught the tide in the right direction, the Cape Cod Canal could almost double our boat speed. I realized that we had made it and way ahead of schedule.

Our boat speed began to tick upwards as we slid between the colossal corps of engineered breakwaters. The water swirled and hard-boiled around us. Caprica’s bow lifted and dashed through standing waves that had suddenly appeared. I clutched the wheel as the rudder was yanked hard over by an eddy then looked at the breakwater to judge course. It was lined with fishermen and the occasional sunbathing beauty accompanied by a gaggle of bronzed boys. Caprica was manhandled by the wake of a heavy motor cruiser that blasted by us. We were lifted by its wake then turned by the current just as another cruiser ripped to our starboard. I throttled forward to 90% as we broke through another series of standing waves and escaped the pull of another swirling eddy. 

Bracing her arm against the cockpit table from the starboard cushion, Alison quickly woke from a nap that was started an hour prior in Cape Cod Bay. “We’re in the canal,” I said, and we hurtled around snaking bends and were catapulted down long stretches of white water. We shook our heads at the occasional sailboat laboring against the remarkable current or the powerboats that nonchalantly blasted by us dangerously close.

In the final stretch before our immediate right-angled turn into the narrow channel to Onset that parallels a rock-strewn beach, the wind began to freshen against the current. The 20 to 24 knots of breeze built full, steep, blocking waves and I immediately regretted leaving my deck hatches open as waves broke over the bow. It was too late, the motion of the boat was too violent to move around, but I quickly lost interest as a new problem appeared at my turn.

A large cigarette boat drifted mid-channel and abeam to us. Several men braced in the cockpit, one hand on a rail and another on their fishing rods. “Where is canal control? Where is a harbor master or a coast guard patrol boat?” I thought as several boats diverted around the drifting cigarette fishing crew towards us. Another powerboat was overtaking us, and we were at the channel. I vectored starboard and tuned the wheel hard over, and Caprica ripped into the tiny channel that took us to Onset. We lined up the green and red markers, watching that the current wasn’t dragging us out of the channel, avoided a shallow area and pulled into a crowded anchorage.

Just at the edge of a mooring field, we unloaded 100 feet of chain and set the anchor alarm. I stood in the cockpit looking across an anchorage filled to capacity; something I have never seen in Onset, and it made me wonder if I missed a forecast. Boats of every description clung to moorings or set their anchors. Flags from France, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Bermuda flew from stately catamarans and sleek sailing machines. These were our neighbors for the next few days as we prepped for our return to the Chesapeake.

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