Friday, July 12, 2019

Cruising Guide: Menemsha

Menemsha Harbor is on Martha's Vineyard Island up in the South West corner near Gay Head.  Menemsha is usually the first or last harbor cruisers visit on the Vineyard.  It is normally a comfortable day sail to or from Newport Harbor.

The harbor is small and features a couple moorings and some dock space.  Reservations are encouraged.  See the link below for details.

Pictured:  A raft up of four boats between 28 and 34 feet.  On this occasion, the harbor master allowed four sailboats to raft together.  Normally, only three are permitted to a mooring.  It is part of the adventure to share the mooring with other sailors.  One time, we rafted next to a family on a 40 footer that had just completed a year-long cruise with young kids.  Their story was fascinating.  It was told as we dined on an impromptu shared meal.  Then, we had to keep quiet after bedtime.  The nature of cruising.

There is a useful link about the harbor:  The local chart is viewable on line:

Ashore there are attractive walks along the beach and into the village.  We always buy fish from the harborside markets and cook aboard.  There is some outdoor seating for those who prefer "pret a manger." Either way, you can't go wrong with the choices of fresh seafood.  If you stay over for a day ashore, there is a bus that runs between towns and to the big super market.  The bus ride is not expensive and is a lot of fun as tourists mix with locals.  Be very careful to make the last bus run back to Menemsha in the late afternoon.  There is some good dinghy exploring along nearby creeks and into the pond.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Cruising Guide Outline: Newport to nearby ports of interest.

Start your sailing charter of Southern New England waters in the Jamestown/Newport RI area.  From there one has three or four different cruising regions from which to select. The beauty of this centrally located area is that it will take years to explore the surrounding waters.  Don't rush.  Enjoy a leisurely sail in one of the most pleasant cruising grounds in the world.  Come back next year and see more.

We sketch some of the possibilities here.  There are cross reference links below.

View up Narragansett Bay from the waterfront in Jamestown.

The Classic Cruise of five days and four nights
Weather during the prime cruising months of June, July, and August is generally fair with light winds in the morning building from the Southwest as the day progresses.  That said, a rainy Northeaster may show up for a day or so.  Fog is a possibility.  Forecasts for this area are easily obtained and quite accurate for up to a three-day period. Check the weather daily and adjust your plans accordingly.

Image:  Departing Chatham's Stage Harbor for Oak Bluffs Harbor on Martha's Vineyard.  The 25 nm sail was pleasant as the Southwest wind filled in and the fog dissipated revealing Nantucket Sound filled with yachts.

Image:  Oak Bluffs.  The day started inauspiciously and ended gloriously.

We use weather from The Weather Channel, Sailflow, Weatherbug, Ventusky, and NOAA.  You may have your favorites.  We pay attention to the forecasts to pick the best harbors and routes.

Two favorite links are:  It opens with a world map so drill down to our area.  Select the day and time from the menues at the bottom of the page.  This is the basic information from which all other weather services start working.

A note about internet links we cite.  We cannot vouch for their accuracy and we have no financial interest in the information or its presentation.  We hope they help, of course.  If not, tell us, please.

Make your plan and check your plan.  Listen to the weather forecast, look at the charts, make changes as required.  Have a fun cruise.


Let's sail beautiful Narragansett Bay, look at the yachts, mansions, see a stunning shoreline and visit some pretty New England towns and harbors.  This is a sailors cruise, terrific venue and a beautiful sail.  Note: In addition to the cruising guide, the mooring and docking reservation service, can help plan your trip.  Their web site links to marinas and services ashore.

Image:  Rebecca, a beautiful 42 meter ketch at anchor off Newport.  Those who appreciate stunning yachts of all types will revel in the sightings.

Day 1 is for boarding, boat orientation, provisioning and getting under way.  Normally, charterers depart our marina by noon.  Normally, the sea breeze fills in and the sail out of the harbor and into the Sakonet River is a delight.  Anchor off Third Beach and have dinner aboard.  The entrance is easy, two risks, Cormorant Rock and Flint Ledge are well enough marked.

Day 2  Bristol RI is a comfy sail up the Sakonet, under a couple of bridges (65 ft clearance at high water) and follow the channel into Bristol.  The town features a yachting museum, shopping, restaurants, and on the harbor's far shore, a large beautiful park.

Day 3 Dutch Harbor is a nice day sail down the Bay with all that sightseeing and around Beavertail Point into a quiet anchorage at the North end.  If you take a mooring from Dutch Harbor Marine it is an easy walk into Jamestown Village for dinner.  The sail down the Bay may be very busy with sailing craft of all kinds from classic to the latest in go-fast foilers.

Image: Southern entrance to Dutch Harbor showing Dutch Island Light

Day 4 East Greenwich or Warwick are two towns next each other and a quiet day sail up the West Passage of Narragansett Bay.  In that area are six marinas and some nice walks into town or relax at the marina.  Often, marinas have complimentary grills and cruisers gather for stories and shared meals.

Day 5 Jamestown and there is no rush to get home, it is a short sail.  Lunch anchored off Potter Cove on Prudence Island is a nice stop.  The final day sail down the Bay to view the yachting scene at its best finishes the trip on a high note.

What do we like the most?  Narragansett Bay has a blend of quiet coves, Mackerel, Dutch Harbor, Potter, Third Beach, Fogland Point to name a few.  It also offers the go-go Newport experience which we only visit before a regatta and All-American Bristol which is adjacent to Colt State Park and some grand walking.  There is a lot going on in a small body of water catering to some of the world's finest yachts.  There is a lot to see and do.


Let's do the Elizabeth Islands and Martha's Vineyard.  Weather and current are governing factors.

Day 1 is for boarding, boat orientation, provisioning and getting under way.  Normally, charterers depart our marina by noon.

Jamestown to...? Cuttyhunk or Menemsha, 5-6 hrs. or Sakonnet, 2 hrs.

With a noon departure, you can make the five hours to Cuttyhunk during the afternoon.  Don't make this plan unless you are departing the harbor by noon.  Cuttyhunk entrance has no lighted buoys and some unmarked reefs so caution is advised especially in low light.  Not to mention, the harbor may be full by late afternoon.  There are a lot of moorings and also places to anchor.  It is a pretty safe bet.

An option:  Go for Menemsha on Martha's Vineyard if you have called for a reservation that day.  Menemsha is a bit farther, another hour or so, but sets you up for an easier return.  Good seafood markets ashore.

The late departure option:  Newport to the mouth of the Sakonnet River anchoring off Third Beach is a reasonable plan especially if you get a late start.  The route is well marked and the anchorage is beautiful.  With binoculars you can get a good view of the mansions and 12 mile drive as you sail around the tip of Aquidneck Island (Newport).

Day 2  Cuttyhunk.
From Sakonnet, arrive a little after mid day, secure a mooring, and dinghy ashore for a walk around.  There is some nice beaching.  You may want to order ahead your lobster dinner for delivery aboard.  Lots of choices!  The island has no liquor store so bring your own.

If you are already in Cuttyhunk, consider staying for the day.  It is a pretty spot.  Maybe jump to the Day 3 plan.

Day 3
Opion 1 Cutty to Tarpaulin Cove:
Late risers...this is a super day for a short scenic sail out of Cuttyhunk Harbor into Buzzards Bay, through Quick's Hole into Vineyard Sound and up to Tarpaulin Cove on Naushon Island.  It is a stunning anchorage.  Dinghy ashore, walk, swim and have a dinner aboard.  The place is a classic New England anchorage and really not to be missed.  It is about 12 nm of scenic sailing ending with a rewarding vista.  Tarpaulin Cove is worth a day of lingering ashore and aboard.  Relax?

Option 2  Cutty to Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs:
Vineyard Haven and
Oak Bluffs

Early risers depart Cutty and lunch in Tarpaulin Cove (12 nm from Cutty) before sailing over to Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs which are another 12 nm.  This may be a little longer timewise than you first think if the current in Vineyard Sound is against you.  Oak Bluffs is the Vineyard's "fun city."  The launch runs until the clubs ashore have closed.  You get the idea. There is fuel, water, and pump out here.  Vineyard Haven is where all the wooden yachts are.  The launch stops running when the driver wants to go home.  Oak Bluffs or VH, your choice.

Day 4 Menemsha
The day is all about getting into position to return to Newport.  Usually, that means going to either Menemsha or back into Cuttyhunk.  Let's consider Menemsha.  First, call ahead for a reservation.  There are moorings inside and outside plus you can anchor off the beach, too.

The other choice is to position in Cuttyhunk for a slightly shorter trip back to Jamestown.

Tarpaulin to Menemsha is SE about 10 nm, you already know the 12 nm route back to Cutty.

From the top of the Vineyard to Menemsha is about 25 nm and a foul current can make the trip slow. It is also straight upwind.  Departure timing is very important.

Day 5 is about rising early and returning to the marina.  Breakfast underway is likely.  The trip is about 25 nm and it is upwind in light air in the early morning... usually. Remember time to fill water and fuel as well as pump out all holding tanks.  Plan to enter Newport/Jamestown harbors by 3 PM.

The big question about your cruise: rush from harbor to harbor or sightsee and linger?
So, the question is always, "What do you do?"  We like to linger.  Day 1,Jamestown to Cutty.  Day 2 and 3 Tarpaulin.  Day 4 in Cutty or Menemsha and home on Day 5.  On occasion, we have had perfect conditions and have motor-sailed from Oak Bluffs to Jamestown.  It is very long and dull.

Other things to consider
Clothing, provisioning and shoreside diversions.  In our sections on harbors we will talk a bit about what's ashore.  In terms of your personal preparations, be prepared for a range of conditions.  It may be cold at night.  It is seldom stormy for too many days.  If you have a PFD, bring it for dinghy trips.  There are many good opportunities for long walks so pack your hiking gear.  Most ports have a grocery store as well as a variety of restaurants, art shops, and so on.

The inner harbor at Cuttyhunk.  Lots of moorings, limited services ashore, beautiful walks, and you can order a complete lobster dinner delivered the the boat by a local restaurant.  Stay for days?

Beaches anyone?  Cuttyhunk outer harbor viewed from the inner harbor.

An overview of places to go and logical weeklong routes.

Region 1: Narragansett Bay is about 25 miles long and has four branches, many harbors, activities ashore and quiet anchorages with beaches.  It is scenic sailing in protected conditions. The plan here is to have a brief day sail see the sights such as rolling farm land visible from the Sakonnet River, super-yachts and the mansions.  The harbors of Bristol and Warwick have walks and restaurants.  There are a couple of secluded anchorages.

Region 2: East to Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands.  This is the classic ground of Southern New England.  Harbors such as Cuttyhunk, Menemsha, Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs are legendary. You choose from quiet anchorages or busy harbors. While Nantucket and Chatham are within reach, they are a stretch and not recommended for a one week cruise.

Region 3: Block Island and West into Long Island Sound offers choices of harbors in either New York or Connecticut.  The waters of Long Island's Gardiners Bay or Connecticut's Fishers Island Sound are filled with history, entertainment, and pretty harbors.  

Region 4: Buzzards Bay and the Elizabeth Islands.  This route heads up Buzzards Bay which roughly parallels Vineyard Sound and ends with the Cape Cod Canal (transit is not suggested).  Harbors along the route include Cuttyhunk, Padanaram, New Bedford/Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Marion, Red Brook Harbor and Hadley Harbor.   It is a mix of historical sites and modern marinas.

Schooner Shenandoah with a "kids cruise" in progress at anchor in Tarpaulin Cove, Naushon Island.  Martha's Vineyard is in the background.  This is a beautiful cove with a long white sand beach.

The beach at Tarpaulin Cove.  The island is privately owned and visitors are allowed ashore to swim and walk the beach.  This is a perfect place for those who want a quiet anchorage.

Reference materials include:

Eldridge Tide and Pilot.  This book has lots of valuable local knowledge, current charts and tide tables.

Marina and Mooring reservations

Maptech Chart Kits and Maptech Embassy Cruising Guides are essential analog references.  Sure, its all on-line but nothing beats having a set of paper charts and a guide book in hand as you plan your trip.

There is a way of viewing charts on-line.

Select your area and zoom in to the relevant chart and click "view." For example:

Not required reading but certainly useful are Chart One and COLREGS/Navigation Rules. Both books are readily available in marine stores and on line.

A cruiser, well known to us, always downloads the rare bird alert and has field guides for sea birds packed away with binoculars.  The hiking trail guides for the islands are part of the success of the trip ashore. It is not just about sailing.

The area is historic and books such as Temple to the Wind about the Herreshoff family of Bristol or Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum are relevant. There are whaling museums in Nantucket and New Bedford and a Herreshoff Museum in Bristol.

Map of no-discharge zones:

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Celestial Navigation: Sight Reduction

work in progress...
I need some good days for photographing the sextant work.
9 May 2019, sunny but I had a conflict.

The Nautical Almanac is the one book required for sight reduction by hand.  The single volume Nautical Almanac is required when using other tables such as HO 211 or HO 249. Since the Almanac includes a set of tables and the useful forms required for sight reduction, no other books are required.

An excellent tutorial is available on YouTube here:

Let's look at the NAO Concise Sight Reduction Form. In the 2019 Nautical Almanac, it is on page 319.

The instructions for using the pro-forma are found on pages 277 through 285.

The first two things a navigator needs are time and angle.  See my notes on that in an earlier post.  Once the time and altitude are captured, the calculation using the Almanac is not too complex.

Step 1.   please wait.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Celestial Navigation: Altitude and Time

Work in progress....

The starting point for a celestial sight includes two things:  Time in GMT/UTC and Sun Altitude/Angle by sextant measured in degrees and seconds and minutes.

Time:  A simple way to get GMT is

Local time is a function of your Longitude:  The sun moves 15 degrees of arc every hour. At W070 deg Long the local time is 70/15=4.66 or 4 hours and 0.66 of an hour after Noon in Greenwich, England. The decimal converts to minutes this way: 60x0.66=39.6

Local noon at W070 is 4 hr 39.6 min after noon at the Greenwich Meridian. This will become important later when doing the noon Latitude observation.  Time = Greenwich Mean Time or the modern equivalent,Universal Time Coordinate, UTC.

If possible also collect the temperature and barometric pressure. For most yacht navigation in temperate climates,these are not critical.

Altitude:  After taking a sight with the sextant, the angle first observed must be corrected to get a "true altitude."

A very good explanation is give on YouTube at this address:

The lecture is delivered by Josslynne Masters who has many excellent such presentations on celestial navigation.

Some of the terms:
SA = sextant altitude, what you read off the instrument after observing the sun
IE = index error, + or -, the sextant error which can be calibrated just prior to taking a sight
OA = observed altitude, the result of combining SA and IE
Dip = HOE = height of eye, always negative
AA = adjusted altitude, result of combining OA and Dip
TC = correction for Upper or Lower Limb observation. Use sign given in Almanac
TA = true altitude. This angle is where one begins the sight reduction process.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Voyager Notes: Section 0: Overview

Sailing schools offer ocean voyaging classes and experiences. These sections entitled "Voyager Notes..." are designed to help candidates as they pursue the ASA 108 program. The material is mine and mine alone. It is based on my experience and does not reflect anyone else's views.  The following pictures and comments are a bit about who I am.

Enjoy, comment, suggest corrections and amendments.

Harwich MA

Our boat, Averisera

Averisera and a Cal 33 we frequently raced. Both on Boston Harbor

In cruising mode at the Black Dog Wharf in Vineyard Haven

In Provincetown after an overnight double handed race we did not win

Shortly afterwards a squall blew through and destroyed the kite.

Looking for wind on a windless day

Home during the years 1960 and 1961

We built the Skerry from Chesapeake Light Craft kit

Voyager Notes: Section 1: Planning a Voyage, an Atlantic Circle

From the ASA's 108 standards, skills 1 and 2

1.Plan a passage across the North Atlantic or Pacific and state the advantages, disadvantages and hazards of various routes, utilizing Ocean Passages for the World, climatic charts, Great Circle plotting charts, plotting instruments, etc.
2.Plot a series of rhumb lines on a Mercator chart to approximate a great circle route.

Let's discuss charts. We will use a Mercator Chart, pilot chart, and a Gnomonic chart. Each has it purpose.

 At the outset, let's make Plan A: the top shows two of the possible planning tracks. On the Mercator Chart, a pilot chart, the great circle route plots as a curve, the white pins. The great circle route goes into the cold reaches of the North Atlantic north of the Gulf Stream. The warmer and somewhat longer route is plotted as a curve to the south of the rhumb line. Advantages are warmer water, a fair current, and favorable wind direction and strength. The dark pins mark the route this sailor prefers, Plan A.

Pilot Chart for North Atlantic in June

 A view of the big picture. The Azores are most of the way across the Atlantic and on the route to Gibraltar and the Med. It is over 2300 nm from New England which is about 16 days at an average speed of 6 knots or 20 days at an average of 5 knots. I'd plan on 20 days!

A closer look at the Gnomonic chart comparing the Great Circle Route (straight line with flags) to the straight line on a Mercator chart (curved line marked with pins). The pined route keeps the heading constant at 093 degrees True. On the top chart, our desired route is planned out to be below the rhumb line defined by the blue pins (above chart). It is longer and more comfortable.

Once we arrive at Horta, Azores, what are we doing next? Aside from cruising the islands, how about another voyage? Maybe an Atlantic Circle? (If you can get the book Atlantic Circle by Kathryn Lasky-Knight, do so. True story about a young couple a long time ago in a small boat and eventually with a little kid.) 

Using pins on the Gnomonic chart, the Atlantic Circle is detailed. The regulator of the trip is the Atlantic Hurricane Season, July through November. One must not be too far west as hurricanes brew off the Coast of Africa. Madera, The Canaries, and Cape Verde Islands  are for lingering until the crossing season starts in late November or early December. A first landfall in Barbados, for example, starts the Caribbean cruising circuit. that ends somewhere in May with a run to Bermuda and then into home waters off New England.

The Atlantic Circle

Voyager Notes: Section 2: Reading and Reference

ASA 108 Level Skill Standard 3:
3. Describe the publications required for prudent navigation on an offshore passage including:

The navigation station requires some basic books and materials. The Nautical Almanac and a sight reduction table compliment the sextant. For a sight reduction, I use HO 211, Ageton, so that's what is pictured. The publications HO 229 and HO 249 are also commonly found in navigation stations. Along with the books is a notebook, plotting sheet, chart, etc.

Also included are two books by Jimmy Cornell: World Cruising Routes and World Cruising Essentials.

Cruising guides are invaluable to the voyager. Guides for popular sailing destinations are easy to find. Other areas, such as the Azores are more difficult. A hiking guide might be the best you can find. More than one world cruiser has been glad to have aboard a simple tourist map to help arrive at an unplanned harbor.