first night at sea

off Cuttyhunk, MA

In addition to the sound of splashing water, the whirr of the wind generator, and soft conversation from the next cabin, there is a periodic knock-knock-knocking, like the sound of the hull gently bumping against the sharp, sharp rocks off our port side. It’s out first night out.

I strap on my neato LED headlamp and go above. The rocks are still where we put them, 100 feet away. Far enough to be safe, but close enough to be menacing. The knocking I’d heard was from the boom swinging side to side with the waves. I tightened up the mainsheet and went back below.

Predictably, we set out late. Figuring out stowage slowed us down, as did forgotten charts and a last-minute run to West Marine. But finally we cast off at about noon, smoothly backing from the slip and motoring out into Naragansett Bay. We motored south past Newport mansions where clean and well-dressed people had picnics on the lawn between games of croquet. When we reached the sea, we set the sails and turned east, riding a beautiful beam reach all of the way to Cuttyhunk Island.

Cuttyhunk is a small island lying across the entrance to Buzzard’s Bay, west of Martha’s Vineyard and south of Fall River. It’s quaint and picturesque, and a popular stop along the eastern seaboard. As we approach we see a harbor filled with masts. My dad has a deep distain for moorings, seeing them as effete. He immediately picks an anchorage right next to a rocky ledge rising from the depths.

We drop our ‘hurricane strength’ 45-pound anchor and about 60 feet of chain. (Did I mention that the rocks were about 100 feet away?) It seems to catch, and we settle in for the night.

My aunt cooks us ‘dynamite’ submarine sandwiches for dinner. (Which consist of a lightly spiced hamburger and green pepper mixture, sort of like sloppy joes but less sloppy.) We eat some chips. (My aunt brought approximately 60 bags of chips on board. They fill the bilges, and would act as effective floatation should the ship take on water.)

After dinner my dad goes aloft to rig the flag halyards. Flags are important, and the ship carries many. In addition to the United States flag, we also carry the following:

  • owner’s mealtime flag
  • cocktail hour flag
  • Edward Teach’s pirate flag
  • my custom-made “That Girl!” flag
  • gay pride flag (redundant with the previous flag, I know)
  • the national flag of the Dominican Republic

The latter is an early arrival for our later, more southerly trip, though I’ve already seen one ship in berth in Portsmouth flying the flag of the Dominican Republic. Even more strangely, it was being flown in the position normally reserved for a ‘courtesy flag’, the flag of whatever nation you’re sailing through. It’s 9:30, and I’m going to call Dan and then bed down. Tomorrow is a long sail to Provincetown, and I want to catch up on my sleep.



A line passing through the ship from one side to the other. It is perpendicular to the imaginary line running from bow to stern. The ‘beam’ also refers to the measurement of the width of a ship. For example, you could say “That’s a very beamy boat”, or “The beam of the Phoenix is 15 feet.”
beam reach
A direction of sail perpendicular to the wind. This is the fastest direction of sail. It’s called a beam reach because the wind is passing across the beam of the ship.
The front of a ship. (Also known as ‘the pointy end’.)
The lowest portion of a ship, below the floorboards, where water and forgotten things collect.
The line which controls how much the boom can swing to the side. When pulled (‘sheeted in’), it pulls the boom towards the center of the ship.

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.