Slick and I have been back in Boston for nearly three weeks. I had to wait to make a final blog post about the trip as it has taken some time to digest it all. Returning to the place I left has at sometimes been happy, strange, disheartening, annoying and amazing. I will get more into that a little later but first I suppose I should just finish off the sailing part, then get to my impressions of “home” later in the post.
At the very last minute a very old friend of mine from school in the navy volunteered to do the last offshore leg with me. Josh and I hadn’t seen each other in maybe 15 years but, as good friends do, we slipped right back into the groove warn by so many common experiences and good times. I suppose a few beers helped with that too. We had a last night out in Portsmouth and then when the weather turned and the tide was right – we left, bound for, at first Newport, but then changed to Quissette Harbor as the weather only gave us a short window.
Leaving Portsmouth was easy but a long motor by the enormous naval bases and shipyards that line the Elizabeth River. Once out into the Chesapeake we headed for the non-commercial entrances to the north. As we were leaving a sub was pulling in, I guess this brought a smile to our faces as we were not on those types of boats any more.
The sailing itself was fairly uneventful, I am not even sure we ever went off soundings. It was a couple nights and a few days off shore and eventually the wind would fill in only to die again each night until the last night. I guess that was OK as this was the last time I would be doing this on Slick, I didn’t need any surprise specials of the day when it came to weather. This was Josh’s first offshore experience and he really enjoyed it too. The entire passage though was full of fishing trawlers everywhere each night so I was happy to have him on board, not just for the company but also so I could get some sleep.
There are a lot of balloons off the East Coast of the US. I have decided I am never ever buying anyone balloons again as they all seem to end up in the oceans, not to mention consume the worlds helium supply for something totally frivolous. I think I saw more balloons than plastic bags, which is rare. Anyway, I am sure a balloon floated by as I had my last sun-downer at sea. As Gordon played away, I really had a lot to think about on that one, such a long trip behind me and such a long task ahead of me. Not just reintegrating but starting the next thing.
After the sun went down the wind started to build, which was unusual. We moved into our night routine which was supposed to be three on three off as there was only maybe 8 hours of darkness. Josh seemed to like night watch so much though he let me sleep which was good. By early AM we were in the approach lanes of Newport and the wind was still building. A few ships passed close by as well as a couple of tugs and we rode the tide up into Buzzard’s Bay. The waves had built pretty significantly with the wind too and I was happy to get into the bay and behind the shelter of Cuttyhunk. We sailed up on main alone in 25 knots down wind. As we approached Quissette harbor the sun was well up and we put the main away and motored in. Slick was home, or at least her childhood home. I always like this harbor where I bought her. It is so beautiful and well protected and the local moorings folks are always surprised to see Slick in port – especially this time. I dropped Josh off via the dinghy and he left. It was a nice night in the harbor as the wind howled just outside. The occasional remnants of waves would make it into the entrance and rock us gently, even though Buzzard’s was tore up.
In the morning the wind was supposed to lull a bit and this matched up well with the tides so I departed around 1030. We missed the rock that everyone seems to hit on the way through, I think Slick just knows where it is from childhood as we have never topped it and I am not sure if it really even exists. Everyone else I know who has ever come through here will insist they have hit it, but I find that a bit incredible. The lull didn’t last long and the waves built back up fast as they do in Buzzard’s Bay. I passed by Catherine’s Ledge Light, a little shallower than I ever would have before. Then we approached the Cape Cod Canal. It was odd being back in waters were I no longer really needed a chart, back to familiar waters where I knew my way around. The wind and waves calmed as we entered the shelter of the canal. Slick and I rode a strong current through the canal, the motor barely off ahead-idle and still making the 10 knot speed-over-ground limit.
When we popped out the other side into Cape Cod Bay we were in for a bit of a surprise. The wind was nearly double what was forecast and it only took a little bit of a reefed jib to keep the boat going at eight knots toward Boston. The wind was blowing off the land so there wasn’t much fetch and it was pushing us off the quarter. I think we made the fastest time I have ever made to Minot Light. Off Plymouth was the worst of it with sustained gusts over 45 knots. I saw a few other boats drop sail and motor very close to shore. Slick refused though and was now in a hurry to get back to Boston.
When we rounded Minot light the wind had abated some but was now on the nose so I furled the remaining jib and used the motor to get into the harbor approaches. Once the angle was favorable, I rolled it out again. It was a bit surreal coming into Nantasket Roads. Of course to be in the shelter of the islands was nice, but the waves were never really that bad. It was a strange feeling seeing things I recognized from sometime long ago. Boston Light, Georges and Lowell’s Islands, Nixes Mate, and everything else on the way in. I was finally back to where I started.
And just in time, the Wednesday night races were well underway and boats were already on their second lap to windward. Slick and I cleverly hid behind a ferry so no one could see us as the fleet approached, then as the ferry moved we were right in the way and all the racing boats from my yacht club had to sail around us. At first people were a bit annoyed by the boat in the way until they realized it was Slick and the angry screams of panic turned into joyous welcoming cheers. When we finally docked some of my friends came running down the pier with beer in hand to welcome us home. We went to dinner and perhaps I told a few too many stories for one sitting. It was a very nice way to arrive. And that’s it, Slick’s Adventure is over. It only took three years, seven months, six hours and sixteen minutes.
So now I move on to the next part of life. I am slowly reintegrating into the regular world. I have a driver’s license for the first time in a year. That went amazingly smooth. Slick has a regular marina, although the cost is absurd. She and I both have insurance now, hers is boat insurance and mine for health. It was quite a debacle to get Slick updated insurance though as the marina at first wouldn’t take it, even though it was from a company they suggested. The second time around though they didn’t mind a different company that is more live-aboard friendly. In the end it’s quite expensive just to comply with all the requirements of the living here. More than half my annual budget while sailing has been spent in fees, taxes and dockage.
Boston in general has gotten much more expensive than I remember. I talk with my friends about the rents and they have climbed, as has the price of food. Many of my favorite regular places are gone, although the Fours is still around and they remember me, which was nice. The Sail Loft too, although they still don’t have chowder and fries on the menu together, despite my best attempts. I live, essentially under a bridge which makes it loud and dirty on the boat, but at least I don’t have to care anymore what the weather is going to bring me.
The weather, its cold here and it rains a lot. There have been several very nice days but I had to plug into shore power for the first time in three years just to run a heater – in June. Fortunately though there have been some nice evenings and I have raced on a few other people’s boats. I think the first race I went on after returning was the first time I have sailed a boat strictly for pleasure in as long as I can remember. I also have people I can spend the evening catching up with, it is nice to meet so many friends from former work or school and the sailing community.
My impressions of America though are not always so positive. As much as I love this country it is different than when I left. I am constantly surprised by how unapproachable and unfriendly people are compared to the rest of the world, well, maybe not Western Europe, but everywhere else. America seems very divided compared to when I left, politically, racially, and financially. Even the role of police and citizens has taken a turn down. Although my friend Spencer who visited recently got some big help from some motor cycle cops when his battery died, so it is still nice to see they can care. Oddly on one of my morning runs I saw a statie wiping the word “pig” off of the back of his car. He was yelling obscenities as he was cleaning off the perhaps-shoe-polish and I couldn’t help but wonder both who would be so disrespectful and why would an officer of the law not have the bearing to control his temper. The most disheartening part was I saw this in a parking lot of MIT. One thing that I find especially disturbing, it seems really violent here. I don’t mean around me, but seemingly everywhere else. I guess I just forgot about the culture of fear. Along with that, I assume, there seems to be a constant presence of military helicopters over Boston that I don’t remember. Sometimes they are escorting LNG’s (this is the only place in the world I have ever seen an LNG escorted) but often they are just flying around. Why? Oh, and what’s with all the homeless people? Seriously, this isn’t something you see much of in the rest of the world. A little, but not like here. How has this not been solved and why did it get worse?
Anyway, as much as I occasionally wonder what the fuck I am doing here instead of sitting in some tropical paradise I have to remember that the grass on that side wasn’t always all that green either. There are great things about being back in Boston, not the least of which is that I can run when I want. And then there is um, uh, wait, is that the only positive thing? Functioning internet, that’s a plus. Hmm, perhaps I am just in the traveler’s phase of returning after a long trip where you are cynical about everything you see. That part of reintegration where despite the familiarity and friend’s the place you return to is not quite home.
In any case, I am not ready to go back out to sea. I don’t know if I will ever be ready for that. I was eager to start the next chapter of my life and now I am doing just that. Yes, some days are spent chasing bureaucracy or cleaning out the boat or throwing away all the things I have lived without for the last several years from my ex-girlfriend’s basement (thank you for storing it all though). Most days though are spent moving the ball down the field to start one or more companies based on ideas I had while traveling. I have looked into several common work spaces and have settled for now to do most of my prototyping at one and do the design and business side out of the boat. That is until I need to get more serious about the business part and then I will get an office of some sort. In three weeks I have learned an incredible amount about start-ups and how they get financed. I have also had the chance to meet with some people who are farther down the road or are more familiar with the local funding scene to give me great advice for a way forward. These are all great advantages of the area and this is the reason, after all, that I came back to Boston.