Richards sailing adventure aboard Karma

    As I’ve mentioned, I plan on posting some writings from Richard Rooney. He e-mails me his stories of his adventures aboard the sloop Karma, sailing the waters around Martha’s Vineyard. He has really good stories so I thought I’d share them with the world ( with his permission of course). Here’s one of his email’s. I’ve edited slightly for readability:  

  “I had not been able to stand straight for weeks, walking hunched over with a cane most days. I was unable to even get out to the boat — even to get into the dinghy. In Boston last Friday, doctors injected cortisone into the joints on either side of my spine. It brought instant relief to an intolerable pain that has crippled me since Memorial Day. Yesterday I felt reborn, my back pain numbed, standing straight, fore and aft, and ready to board KARMA once again. I went out to the boat at about 10:30am. As I sat in the cockpit, the weather was beautiful and inviting. The winds were light, out of the north-northeast about 10mph. The harbor was very busy. Some of the work to KARMA’s interior was still undone and in the same state it was left 4 weeks ago when I got hurt. As I sat in the cockpit — the sun and wind teasing me, I decided to start the engine and ride off the mooring for a short sail. I was barefoot, wearing just an oxford shirt and jeans. I had no water, no food (nor had I yet eaten breakfast).

I worked my way off the mooring steering through the thick harbor and eventually past the breakwater. Soon after, I set both sails. The time was 12:00 noon. The wind had veered, more easterly now, being a local breeze although the sky continued to show clouds working in from the northwest. The pilot book had the tide ebbing (move east to west), halfway through its cycle. It was pleasant and warm, in the high 60’s.

I sailed out along East Chop on a starboard tack and then moved out into Vineyard Sound. I was intending to ‘round the buoy’ at the harbor entrance and then return back to the mooring. But as I pushed into the Sound the tide was full-moon-strong and I was clearly not going to reach the buoy as intended, not with a strong tide and a light wind now easterly as I cleared East Chop. I eventually arrived just west of the bell in a current that had full hold of me. The breeze was weak offering me no help. My progress quickly gave way to being, once again, carried off of the green can at West Chop and drifting west into Vineyard Sound. At this point a decision was made: I could have started the motor and motored back into the harbor, but instead, I made a decision that would test my skills and patience and teach me valuable lessons about sailing in Vineyard Sound.

The time was 12:30pm and I was drifting west, one mile north of West Chop, under partly sunny skies. I made a decision to re-trace a former route that I traveled when last caught in the tides off of West Chop: travel north to slower currents, although this time, to do so without the assist of an engine. I wanted to know that I could do this relying only on sail. I also thought it a useful time to test the recommendation that I gave you (Frank) regarding traversing the Sound when coming from Mattapoisett to the Vineyard during foul tides. I learned very valuable lessons today that I now want to convey to you.

Sailing north to Falmouth (from section B to C) in a foul tide and wind proved to be a long useless slog. While always on a starboard tack and always pointing the boat eastward, my boat actually moved northwest and lost ground. My goal was to travel due north to Falmouth Harbor, but my eventual destination was more west than north. I resigned myself to the fact that it would take me whatever time it would take — without using the engine. Thus, two hours of retrograde motion played itself out until finally I reached the other side of the Sound.

Along the north side of the Sound, of great interest to me was an area off of the Falmouth shores that appeared to be ‘smooth’ water laying along the shores closer in. I thought, ‘now there’s where I want to be’. As I traveled toward it, I had to cross an area of very rough sloshing water that battered the rudder and was a bit difficult to cross in the light wind. Afterwards, I came to find out that I had crossed the northerly edge of the North Channel, an area of deep water running parallel to the Falmouth shoreline. The channel depth rises sharply as you approach shore and the sloshing water was just that — water sloshing up the underwater embankment, under the press of a full-moon tide, rushing eastward and broaching the surface with wave-like action. It was really a tremendous experience to have witnessed. It is important to always recall this condition when sailing here. But most importantly, my long, slow grind (from Section C to D) emphasizes the reality of sailing in this area of Vineyard Sound with a foul tide and light winds: I was pinched up against the shore and made very little headway eastward. In fact, I was pinned there for two hours, crawling, inch-by-inch, toward Falmouth Harbor — all the time thinking I was going to be pushed further west towards Woods Hole. But I eventually gained traction and made Waqout Bay by 6:00pm.

Sailing from Falmouth Harbor to Waquot Bay (Section D to E) was a rather rough sail due to the immense amount of water interacting with the coastline. You don’t really appreciate just how much lee the island shores provide making for smooth water on the south side of the Sound and areas around Vineyard Haven compared to the rather raucous north side of Falmouth. The important thing here is that, if necessary, you can make your miles against the tide, even in a light foul breeze, at least as far as Waquot Bay.

So, by 6:00pm I had finally gained enough east to think that I could begin my southerly run. But by now, I had been on the water for over six hours wearing just a shirt and jeans and I was cold. And this just two days after having the procedure on my spine. The temperature was now in the low 60’s and mostly overcast. I was tired, my back was weak and getting sore, and my legs were cramping. This was the first exercise I’d had in four weeks of gimping around with a cane. And now I’m at the tiller for six hours straight. But I could not complain. The overcast sky blocked the sun most of the time, but when a bright, warming sun peaked-out, it was glorious! The whole Sound was before me, in both directions, and sparkled like only a sparkling sea can. Vessels of all sorts plied up and down the Sound. Many small craft could be seen fishing on Middle Ground and the ferries scooted back and forth seemingly every hour. For a time, all seemed right with the world. Then the clouds would obscure the sun and I would get cold again, and thirsty. But I was determined to sail the whole way. Throughout the afternoon, the light winds that had been insufficient to power me through the tide were shifting more and more around to the south as the late-day sea breeze drew-in cooler sea air from the south east, overpowering the light northwest winds that carried the clouds aloft. This meant that my rhumb line to Vineyard Haven Harbor was now well inside irons and I would be forced instead to tack back and forth along the line to make any way towards my destination. Cold, tired, and a bit weary, I started my southerly decent toward the Island. The tide seemed to be going slack because the affect on my course was minimal. By now the sun was setting and outlining everything in the sky. Cold blue-purple colored clouds continued to stack-up from the north. As time wore on, they were being silhouetted in the gold and silver of a new sunset, turning everything all manner of colors – from bright white, to orange, to purple. Note to God: Vineyard Sound is simply lovely at sunset. By 7:00pm, I was mid way through the Sound and pinching every degree I could out of a slow breeze that stayed on my nose during virtually every leg of my trip. The forecasted northwest winds of 10mph were, locally, due to the sea breezes, exactly opposite making for a long day. By now my nose was running and I was shivering. Every now then a great shake would overcome me and I would laugh out loud thanking that no one was witness to my pathetic chill on this long sail, unprepared with even water, yet alone warm cloths. But my end was in sight.

By 8:00pm, after numerous course changes against a slow breeze I finally approached West Chop, aiming inshore for the West Chop light house, paying particular attention to the buoy at the entrance of the harbor that many hours before alluded me. From there I tacked across the harbor entrance toward East Chop to settle into my final leg, a gentle and slow port-tack toward the mooring field and the breakwater. Furling my sails and turning on the running lights, I finally started my twenty year old outboard and slowly putted into Vineyard Haven Harbor, standing on the deck of my little accomplishment and admiring the grand sailboats on the visitor’s moorings with all their mast lights coming to life in the darkening skies of the last of the day’s moments on July 1, 2007. By 8:30pm, nine hours after contemplating ‘a quick trip ‘round the buoy’, I came to greatly understand a portion of this Earth in much the same way as others had a century before. Shivering and tired, I tied KARMA up for the night and rowed ashore in the dark as schools of striped bass slashed at the running bait fish streaming inward along a sandy shoreline rimmed with young boys excitedly fishing out the scene.”

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