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BWSC 2008 WOMENS’ CRUISE

August 30th, 2008 Comments off

     On a sunny June day a group of enthusiastic members of the Blue Water Sailing Club gathered in Wickford, Rhode Island to begin a week long cruise through Narragansett Bay and environs.  The ages and range of sailing experience in this BWSC group varied greatly, but they had one thing in common in addition to their love of sailing—all were women who had left their families on shore to share a memorable week in the company of other like minded women combining their collective experience and bonding in a way that is unique in the BWSC community. 

Five boats ranging from 35 to 49 feet, made up the 2008 BWSC women’s cruise and each was skippered by a Captain/Owner and crewed by three or four other women.  Our arrival in any harbor did not go unnoticed.

Commodore Sue Patton and crew on Fiddler's Green leaving Wickford

Commodore Sue Patton and crew on Fiddler's Green leaving Wickford

Lambay Ready to Go

Capt. Bernie Gleeson's Lambay Ready to Go

 

Quintessence, a Hylas 49 was Captained by Cecily Grable

Quintessence, a Hylas 49 was Captained by Cecily Grable

 

Mise en Place Captained by Kim Vassello

Mise en Place Captained by Kim Vassello

Last but not least--Destiny gets ready to depart

Last but not least--Destiny gets ready to depart

      The Blue Water Sailing Club was organized in 1959 and as a virtual sailing community (www.bluewatersc.org.)  with no club house or dock to limit participation, the membership spans the entire East Coast from Maine to the Bahamas.  Members fly a blue burgee with a white seagull.  The club sponsors many cruises each season in addition to a wide range of educational programs throughout the non-boating season and is one of three sponsors of the Marion to Bermuda Race in odd years.

       The itinerary took us from Wickford, Rhode Island to Dutch Harbor on Jamestown Island, then to Cuttyhunk, a small island just 7 miles off the Massachusetts shore, then back to Newport and finally Bristol, Rhode Island.  With lay days in Cuttyhunk and Newport, there was time for socializing and sightseeing as well as hard sailing.

Destiny races to Cuttyhunk

Destiny loves the wind

      
      Four of the women captains had left a husband behind nervously awaiting the return of both his wife and boat.  In the case of three of the women, me included, it would be the first time ever that they had taken their boats alone with total responsibility as captain. 

Carol at wheel--I think I've got it!

Carol at wheel--I think I've got it!

     
      My experience was not dissimilar from many of the women who sailed with me this year, nor of the experience of the many women who participated in the BWSC Annual Women’s Cruise since its inception in 1997.  For the eleventh consecutive year, women of BWSC have taken their boats without “mates” for a week of cruising in a variety of New England venues.  Each woman who participated has her own story to tell of new skills learned, new insights gained and a sense of empowerment that comes from meeting a challenge.   Along the way we gained respect for ourselves, the respect of our spouses and the respect of other sailors who marveled at our tenacity.

2008 BWSC Women's Cruise Capts.--Carol, Bernie, Kem, Sue & Cecily

2008 BWSC Women's Cruise Capts.--Carol, Bernie, Kem, Sue & Cecily

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      As a new member of BWSC and first time Captain, I was motivated to participate in the women’s cruise by a desire to develop my self-confidence in handling the Bristol 45.5 center cockpit sloop, Destiny that my husband, Kent, and I had just moved aboard to begin our retirement dream of cruising the Caribbean and Mediterranean.   Of course, taking our “home” for a week meant that my husband would be “sleeping around” with friends while I was Captain on Destiny.  Taking on this challenge was not a small feat for me having come to sailing a mere six years ago. 
     
      When I first met Kent, an avid sailor for forty years, I was generous in my description of my sailing experience, which was limited to chartering crewed boats. The first time we sailed together, I was enraptured when he shut down the engine and we were charging along at 6 knots with the only sound that of water rushing past the hull.
     
      And so began the adventure that led me to the BWSC women’s cruise.  Kent and I joined BWSC in the fall of 2007 to take advantage of the Club’s many excellent education programs and meet people who had already enjoyed some of the experiences were we planning in the future such as traveling to the Caribbean.  During the winter we attended BWSC seminars in navigation, rigging, multi-hull cruising (even though we are seriously committed to mono-hull), and obtained our AED certification as part of a first aid course. 

 While I was motivated to captain Destiny for the women’s cruise, there was a lot to learn in only a few months. Before,  I had been content to let Kent do all the challenging stuff like setting the sails and running the various boat systems while I took the wheel to moor or dock the boat.  I felt much more in control when the engine was running since I had grown up around powerboats and spent most of my adult life owning one .  I also needed experienced crew willing to accompany a novice captain on her first solo adventure. 

      BWSC member Pat Marshall has sailed since she was a child.  Pat’s experience included racing in the Women’s Sailing Nationals, PHRF racing, Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race, extensive cruising in the areas from Newfoundland to the Chesapeake, a Panama Canal Passage to the Galapagos Islands, and numerous boat deliveries from the Virgin Islands to New England.  When Pat agreed to crew for me on Destiny and help me find additional crew, the commitment as made.

Pat Marshall trimming Destiny sails

Pat Marshall trimming Destiny sails

    
      With Pat’s encouragement and her help enlisting another long time BWSC member, Cathryn Griffith, to crew I became one of the five women Captains for the 2008 womens’ cruise.

Kathryn Plots Course

Cathryn Plots Course

     
      Cathryn, who was our navigator, had previously captained a Bristol 35.5 sloop for a decade and her credentials included a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s license and several Marion to Bermuda Races. 
     
      Our final crew member was Betsy Gabrielson, another new BWSC member who with along with her husband sails a Hinkley Sou’wester 50 yawl named Lyra.

Betsy at the Wheel

Betsy at the Wheel

     
      Kent went into overdrive preparing Destiny for the trip.  He was determined not to leave anything to chance since he wouldn’t be there to take care of any problems that developed.  Thanks to his hard work and preparation, the only mechanical problem we had was a broken latch on the refrigerator door, which I was able to repair with a screw driver.

Kent exhausted from preparation

Kent exhausted from preparation

     
      When my crew arrived in Wickford for the start of the cruise and Kent left the boat, I felt adrift in the most literal sense.  Our itinerary included familiar ports, Cathryn was an experienced navigator and Pat a wonderful instructor, but I had never before set sail on Destiny without my husband.  My head was spinning with Kent’s last minute instructions and I reviewed the written operations checklists that I had prepared for every system and activity.

Destiny's Capt. and Crew

Destiny's Capt. and Crew

      That evening as we gathered for a group barbeque the air was electric with excitement.  People introduced themselves, shared their history with BWSC and the women’s cruise and reminisced about prior cruises.  Many of the women, like Janet Brown, were long term BWSC members who had participated in numerous women’s cruises both as crew and captains.  Others, like Lori Stott were accomplished sailors who had never cruised before.  What makes this experience unique, is women mentoring other women.
     
      The next day’s itinerary was intentionally easy to give everyone an opportunity to bond as a crew.  The sail from Wickford to Dutch Harbor was less than two hours so Pat suggested that we go just outside the bay where the wind and waves were a little more challenging and put me through my paces.  She knew just how far outside my comfort zone to push me, and I am told they could tell by the pitch of my voice the level of my stress. 

Pat was a wonderful mentor

Pat was a wonderful mentor

And Now we'll try wing on wing

And Now we'll try wing on wing

We did it!

We did it!

   
      Daily captain’s meetings aboard one of the boats included a weather briefing, discussion about departure times and information on the next destination.  Generally there would be a cocktail party each evening aboard one of the boats, which gave everyone an opportunity to get to know other crew members and share stories about the day’s adventures.  The custom was to bring your own glasses, drinks and hors d’oeurez to share.  The assortment of food was amazing, and the host boat crew generally went out of its way to be hospitable.  It was easy to identify the cocktail boat by the many women on deck and the raucous laughter.

Cocktails aboard Destiny

Cocktails aboard Destiny

     
      On cruising day two, Destiny challenged the Commodore’s boat Fiddler’s Green to a race to Cuttyhunk and our respective navigator’s worked out the details of a course and rules.  Although not an “official” club race, things were going very well for Destiny and we were well in the lead when Fiddler’s Green had to withdraw due to several seasick crew members.  The winds were a solid 15-18 but waves large and rolling and somewhat on the beam which made for a not so smooth ride.

Fiddler's Green Trailing Destiny to Cuttyhunk

Fiddler's Green Trailing Destiny to Cuttyhunk

     
      Cuttyhunk has a narrow channel and is known for strong currents, so entering and mooring can be a challenge.   All five BWSC boats were able to moor adjacent to one another, although it took me two passes and a rather tight maneuver to land the mooring.  When the wind caught my bow and started pushing me in a circle in a very tight area because I took the power off too soon making my approach, my mind was racing and all I could think about was not hitting another boat.  In retrospect, I know that making more than one approach to a mooring or dock is not uncommon, particularly in gusty wind.  I comforted myself by noting that no one on the surrounding boats had rushed to deck to fend me off, so it had at least appeared that I was in control.  In fact, I had an opportunity to talk to the skipper of a boat already moored adjacent to my mooring who told me that he had made two approaches as well and thought I had done a great job.  At times like this I wish Kent were here to see me, but then again maybe it is a good thing he isn’t.  I’m already nervous. 

Destiny Moored in Cuttyhunk

Destiny Moored in Cuttyhunk

     
      After a lay day in Cuttyhunk spent swimming off and between our boats, hiking and beaching, my crew and I had lobsters aboard and tossed the shells overboard with abandon.  We left for Newport on a day that was forecast to be foggy with little wind.  We have come to expect that the forecast and our actual conditions tend to be quite different. 

Lobster Dinner

Lobster Dinner

     Destiny left somewhat ahead of the other boats and arrived at the Ida Lewis Y.C. in Newport about 2:30 in the afternoon with wind blowing steady at 18 knots directly off the dock where we needed to land to take on water–another challenging test for me and my crew.  Thank goodness for a bow thruster and experienced dock hands.
     
      From a mooring directly in front of the New York Yacht Club, we enjoyed a glorious sunset followed by dinner aboard.  At 4:30 a.m. I was awakened by thunder and lightning as a front moved through.  I rushed topside to reattach the steering wheel which had been removed for our cocktail party the night before, and batten down the ports and hatches before returning to my berth. 

Newport sunset

Newport sunset

           By sunrise, our lay day in Newport was glorious and sunny.  After lunch ashore at the outdoor patio of the Black Pearl the crew went shopping and sightseeing while I prepared a dinner for Pat, Cathryn and Betsy.  After cocktails ashore at Ida Lewis Y. C. with the entire cruise, we adjourned to the boat to enjoy dinner topside and an amazing sunset behind the Jamestown-Newport Bridge.

   

Capts. and Crews

Capts. and Crews

      As the cruise neared its conclusion with only Newport to Bristol as the remaining leg the forecast was for morning fog.  This time the only disappointment is the accuracy of the forecast.  I awoke at sunrise to fog so dense that I couldn’t see the boat on the next mooring   At the captain’s meeting aboard Fiddler’s Green owned by BWSC Commodore Sue Patton, it was decided that each captain would decide based on their personal comfort when to leave for Bristol which was further inland from Newport.  After consulting with the launch driver and calling the Bristol Y.C. for an update on their conditions we decided that Destiny would leave between 11:30 and noon hoping to catch the window of best visibility. 
     
      After a crew meeting aboard Destiny and watching the Jamestown-Newport Bridge disappear then reappear but only partially, we decided that the visibility was about as good as it was going to get.   As we anticipated, there was patchy dense fog just outside Newport Harbor, but the visibility rapidly improved by the time we were under the Bridge.  Cathryn’s excellent navigation brought us through the foggy patches easily and we had a downwind sail to Bristol arriving in bright sunshine and gusty 18 kt. winds.
     
      I was feeling jubilant as we approached Bristol having nearly completed my weeklong adventure as captain, but Pat was quick to remind me that my job was not over until we were safely moored.  Having been in Bristol on prior occasions when the harbor was flat as a lake, I wasn’t mentally prepared for conditions that met us.  Maneuvering in the crowded harbor against wind and current was challenging and after three unsuccessful attempts to moor my stress level was peaking.  We finally determined that it was the mooring and not our skills that was the problem since the pickup line was wrapped around the mooring chain and required some untangling before our final attempt.
     
      As I turned off the engine, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had done it.  I had captained the boat without my husband, albeit with much assistance from my fabulous crew who made me look good even when I screwed up.  I also learned, as I believe all the women who participated did, that I know a lot more than I think I know about sailing and managing boat systems. 

My Fabulous Crew

My Fabulous Crew

     
      I also have a greater appreciation for how hard it is to be “captain” and a new respect for the amount of time my husband spends keeping our boat running smoothly.  I don’t think I will routinely be checking or changing the oil in the engines, but I knew what to do on our cruise when fluid levels needed to be checked or the generator coughed and I had to remove the cover and tweak the starter to get it going. 
     
      Not everyone had such an uneventful trip.  Kem Vassello and the crew of Mis en Place a 35 ft. Island Packet had an alternator and regulator fail on the last day of the cruise and returned to her home port of Wickford under sail without an engine or electronics.  Best of all, her husband didn’t know what happened until she was safely at their dock.  
     
      The story doesn’t end with the conclusion of the cruise.  It just begins.  For me sailing will never be the same.  I have been empowered by this experience.  The next chapter will be the Caribbean 1500 Rally in November.  Kent now refers to me as “Co-captain” but we’re still working that out in practice.

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