As we had struggled up the St Lawrence River and down the canal systems toward the Hudson river, discussion of what to do afterwards had been largely put off. There was too much to think about in the rush to not get stuck in Quebec for the winter. The original plan—that is, the plan we’d vaguely sketched while in Newfoundland after giving up on an Atlantic crossing, was to carry on to the Bahamas from New York city. Subject, of course, to funds and motivation. But at the mouth of the Hudson, instead of carrying on with a fair tide through the Verazzano Narrows toward Sandy Hook and the Jersey Shore, we had turned without even a longing glance into the East River, where our last blog post left us anchored in the lee of City Island, with Newport, RI fairly in the crosshairs.
The truth is, and this had dawned on us but gradually, we were ready for a break; we were ready to go home. The chunk of cruising we had bit off when we decided to go counter-clockwise around Newfoundland had been pretty big; the season already getting on when by rounding Cape Race we had set the plan in stone. The race to get south from the Straits of Belle Isle ahead of bad weather had been exhausting, and the thought of cruising the US east coast again had little appeal. I had said to Danielle, half-jokingly: “Do you really feel like working the ICW and sketchy fall weather all the way to the Bahamas just so we can pay their government $300 for the privilege of squeezing into overcrowed anchorages where everyone will drag on top of us and we have to buy water and there’s not much in the way of supplies?”
Of course, there’s much that’s pleasant in the Bahamas in spite of that; the bigger downside was that we would have to get back to Newport by late April in order to work during the sailing season, and it’s a long way from the Abacos to New England during the uncertain weather of early spring. And had that been the only consideration we might still have gone. We had known deep down when we sailed toward Nova Scotia in the spring that this cruise would be our last big Hurrah; that our little family was well into outgrowing the boat, and our cruising days were numbered. There is simply not enough room for the children and their necessary things on our 31-foot boat, even when kept to the barest minimum.
By now we were below the minimum, and had been for a while. Everyone needed shoes, from Damaris who was wearing twice-handed-down slippers with holes up forward to Danielle who was stretching out her only pair of three-year-old flats by packing the soles with newspaper. Everyone needed coats and dresses and socks as well. One of Danielle’s relations had complained that in every Facebook picture the girls were wearing the same clothes. Back in Harrington Harbor I had put on my best shoregoing rig, and thought I was looking pretty dapper when my wife pointed out that my trousers had bottom paint on them, the shirt cuffs were ragged, the waiscoat sagged, and my jacket zipper was too corroded to zip. In short, the family needed many things that our bare-bones cruising budget couldn’t supply—not if it was also to see us to the Bahamas for winter and back by spring.
It was, again, the sum of a dozen little things that made us set our sails toward home. We saw each one not as a problem to overcome, but as a guiding circumstance, like channel markers showing the right way to go. The final circumstance, that put the cap on our decision while we waited for the tide in Nyack, was the weather. It was a fair forecast for crossing Long Island Sound, a not-so-good one for getting south along the Jersey shore. And even in the sheltered waters of the sound the following wind proved to be almost too much—twice we were whooshed under double-reefed main and staysail into safe havens—Huntington harbor first, then several days later when that gale had abated, into Branford. We had wanted to stay longer in the Sound, to visit with friends in Branford, to cruise up the Mystic River, to explore the Thimble Islands. But the relentless fall weather in general and a frightful forecast kept nipping at our heels, and we took advantage of a perfect window—it would prove the last good one for weeks—to get around Point Judith into the familiar waters of Narragansett Bay.
Though not unexpected, since there’s almost always wind in the Bay, it was a nice treat to come back into Newport harbor under sail. Six months earlier we had groped our way out in the thickest fog, and now the pale November sun gleamed bravely, lighting us back in with a beatific light. It was almost as though the weather was rewarding our labors, and the dogged perseverance we’d had to show to get to this point. Though we’d not set out to do so, our 3,000+ mile summer cruise had turned into a complete circumnavigation of New England, and though there’s others who’ve done that, we stand among the few who’ve gone about counterclockwise, with a detour around Newfoundland as a bonus.
There were a few other rewards. Thanks to the miracle of cellphone texting, we were expected back, and as Ganymede passed jauntily under full sail by the boat shed where I’d worked last winter, the boys there fired off a signal cannon for us. It was most earsplitting and satisfying, even if we’d gotten a little past before they got the fuse to light. Then at the end of the harbor, sails bundled hurriedly in the rising wind, we were met by our old neighbor Green Brett, out in his dinghy to help push Ganymede backwards into the tightest spot she’s ever been wiggled, the last slip left in the marina where everyone was seeking shelter from the coming gale. Our summer cruise was over, and not a day too soon.