Homeward Bound- Jones Inlet Danger and Death

It’s been months since my last post.  Why?  Because that Jeanneau Merry Fisher I had found on Boat Trader checked out on the survey, and (after a large draw on our home equity line) became mine.  Since then, I’ve been busy learning about my new baby’s inner workings (at times wondering if I had a serious lapse in judgment last July) and making upgrades and improvements.  There’s a happy ending to this story – lots of awesome adventures this summer and a weeklong vacation on board – but it took sweat (sprinkled with blood and tears) to get there.

I found Bay Ray 3 (soon to be christened PanaSea) in Freeport, Long Island.  That’s not far from home as the crow flies, but there’s a vast suburbia (Long Island) to traverse between Freeport on Long Island’s south shore and Branford, on the Connecticut side of the Long Island Sound.  While I could have paid to have PanaSea shipped over land to the north shore, that takes all the fun out of it.  Luckily, Captain Rich Hannon, who originally trained me at Carefree, graciously agreed to guide me out of Freeport, through New York harbor, and into the Sound.

 On a beautiful early morning in July, my dad and I drove to Bridgeport, Connecticut, hopped the cross sound ferry to Port Jefferson, and took an Uber, train, and another Uber, eventually arriving at Al Grover’s Marina, where PanaSea was ready to go.  (Interesting side note: In 1985, before EPIRBs and other modern safety equipment, Al Grover crossed the Atlantic in a 26 foot outboard, setting a world record.  His story is here:  The Legend of Al Grover).  

We crossed a Sound that was calm as glass. Conditions were perfect. While I was glad to have Captain Rich, whom I consider a friend, along on my momentous inaugural voyage, did I really need a captain?

Captain Rich met us at Al Grover’s promptly at noon and explained that he had done his research.  We’d see if conditions at Jones Inlet were favorable.  If not, we’d cross into the Atlantic elsewhere.  When I asked why he had done “research,” he referred me to “Jones Inlet DANGER and DEATH,” a Facebook group with over 2,000 members dedicated to keeping boaters apprised of this treacherous inlet’s shifting conditions.  I realized then how spoiled I was to boat on the Long Island Sound with its usually mucky, muddy (but relatively constant) bottom. And any thoughts that I didn’t need a captain evaporated.  While Long Island’s south shore has white sandy beaches and crashing surf, that same surf shifts that powdery white sand regularly and can render channel markers incorrect, especially after a big storm.  Boaters have gotten stuck on shoals and even died when pounding waves overturn stranded vessels.  As we approached the inlet, Captain Rich showed me how to watch for waves breaking offshore, which indicates shoals, and pointed out an area of flat regular waves, which indicated deeper, navigable water.  As we crossed, I nervously watched my depth gauge decreasing from 15 to 10 to 8 feet . . . and breathed a sigh of relief as those numbers reversed. We had left the inlet and entered safe open waters.  

Out of the inlet and into open waters- my first trip outside the protected Long Island Sound

We’d made it out of Jones Inlet and headed offshore where deep draft cargo ships were waiting to be piloted into New York harbor- the first leg of PanaSea’s journey home was complete.           

To Buy or Not to Buy . . .

That was the question. I’d been happily boating for several years with Carefree Boat Club. The club gave me the luxury of fixed costs, late model boats, and no worries about repairs, maintenance, or all those chores that come with boat ownership. But as my life got busier post-COVID and my kids’ schedules reverted to being packed with activities, it became more and more difficult to get everyone to the dock for a set block of time. I was also itching for experiences like a summer vacation on the water and weekends away on my boat. And, yes, I desperately wanted a vessel to buff to a shine and proudly call my own. I spent evenings scrolling through listings on Boat Trader. I’d bought nautical themed fabric to make custom pillows at a shop in Martha’s Vineyard. I’d already picked out a name.

In early July, I saw him: a 2016 Jeanneau with only 200 hours on the twin Yamaha outboards. He (and, yes, I call my boat he) slept four in two separate cabins and got 2 mpg in good conditions (which is very fuel efficient for a boat). Despite some staining on the upholstery, he looked to be in good condition, and with my skill set (sewing), upholstery is easy to replace. He was not far away, at Strong’s Marine in Freeport, Long Island. So I swiped right. Then I approached my husband.

The second cabin as a storage room with stained cushions

We were visiting my in-laws that weekend and Freeport was only a 15 minute detour.  

“Let’s just take a look … as research,” I suggested. 

My husband rolled his eyes and concluded that there was now a 97% chance we’d soon be B.O.A.T. (as in Break Out Another Thousand) owners. Miraculously, he humored me and agreed to take a look.

What the second cabin could eventually be

The broker was kind enough to meet us over the holiday weekend. The boat wasn’t perfect. It needed a serious cleaning and smelled funny (more on that in another post). But the price was the lowest I’d seen since I started skulking around on Boat Trader, and the engines were practically new. I could see the potential- this could be our family’s oasis on the water. So I silenced all the contrary voices in my head, told my husband the boat would be my problem, not his, and we made an offer. Let the boat buying process begin . . .

Carefree in DC

In April, we took the iconic family road trip to Washington DC, retracing a route that my husband and I both travelled as kids. Back then, we rode in our respective Chevy station wagons. My family’s was gray. It had 110,000 miles on the odometer, as well as a rusted out patch of metal under the backseat footwell that I unadvisedly poked with my foot from time to time (I also enjoyed standing behind the bench seat so I could see out the front windshield). His family’s wagon was maroon and packed with five kids, so he sat in the death-trap seat– remember the one that faced to the rear so you could make funny faces at the drivers behind you? Thankfully, we both lived to tell the tale.

When I visited DC as a kid, there were no metal detectors or mandatory bag checks. The Capitol had not been the scene of anarchic violence, and government buildings were not protected by massive concrete barriers and tall fences. Perhaps automotive safety has advanced, but the world as a whole feels a lot less safe now, and I know that my eldest daughter worries about political unrest, plastic contaminating the ocean, and our deteriorating environment. Back then, the world just felt less insane (but maybe it was just as insane, and I was a sheltered kid).

In the end, we decided to skip the crowds and barricades, choosing to view DC’s iconic monuments from the solitude of the Potomac. We boated out of Carefree Boat Club’s Washington DC dock, viewing the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and other iconic buildings from a distance, in a place of peace and solitude. We even caught a glimpse of what I believe to be Marine One flying low over the Potomac.

As we meandered by the monuments snapping pictures, two orange and black ribs sped toward us, lights flashing. It was the Coast Guard. As we prepared to be boarded for a safety check, the officer said something I’d bet very few boaters have ever heard: “Good morning, Ma’am. You know this isn’t a no wake zone? You can open up the throttle.”

Yes, the Coast Guard actually asked me to speed up, not slow down. They were doing “training exercises” and we were in the way. Did this encounter have something to do with that helicopter? Who knows. I didn’t ask and gladly accepted the authorities’ invitation to gun it.

I’m sure that very few people who visit, live, and work in DC are carefree these days, but we were for at least a few hours on a glorious spring day.

Cabin Fever

This is my kind of cabin fever.


No way.

Like many boaters, the bitterly cold, icy winter months are a long, dreary slog spent dreaming about the summer to come.   There are upsides to winter.  There must be.  Perhaps if I sit down and think about it, I can come up with a list.




I give up.

No, seriously, though, winter isn’t all bad.  For instance, things actually get done.  All that pent up energy has to go somewhere.  The closets get organized, and instead of throwing together hasty meals that are portable (i.e. boat worthy), I’m cooking up soups, stews, and giving my new pasta maker a whirl.  The family looks forward to the off season, because it’s the only time of year I make Xiaolongbao (Chinese soup dumplings).    

Boaters can also spend the winter planning their summer adventures.  Where to go and what to do and see.  Some lucky boaters spend the winter acquiring a new vessel, others upgrade what they have.  And, of course, one can also think back on last summer’s blissful memories.  The photo above was from my summertime adventure out west to Carefree Boat Club’s Seattle location at Shilshole Bay on Puget, not Long Island, Sound.  Sigh.

As a last resort, when the winter becomes unbearable, and you just can’t take it anymore- when you’re literally climbing the walls and itching to be at the helm—there’s always the option to pony up some of that cash you’re not spending on boat gas to hop an airplane to a more amenable latitude.  

We’re just about 80 days away.  Hang in there, fellow boaters.             

Not So Green(port) Anymore

Enjoying my 100th time at the helm

I’m unlike many of the boaters I’ve met on the water. I was not born or bred into the boating lifestyle. Instead, I spent my childhood surrounded by concrete, taxis, and graffiti-festooned subway cars, which rumbled below our apartment building and lulled me to sleep as a child (the city girl’s version of crickets). In New York City, nature is carefully contained within discrete, well-manicured spaces: the public parks and few scraggly trees that occupy tiny patches of soil dotting the sidewalks. An iconic river ran less than a mile from my home, but it was more concept than reality. I usually saw it from afar, my vantage point being a crowded highway or bridge. 

Don’t get me wrong— there was plenty to love about growing up in NYC— but my exposure to nature was limited, to put it mildly (at age six, I visited a relative in the suburbs, saw her backyard vegetable garden, and promptly concluded she lived on a farm).

One of my first times at the helm

After discovering hiking in high school and camping in college, ventured out on the water much later in life, but it was love at first sight— a nearly instant addiction to all things boat. 

The skills required to be a good boater? Those did not come so easily. During my first season at the helm, let’s be honest, I was not a natural. Things that I take for granted now stymied me: keeping the boat on a straight path down the channel, handling rough waters, accounting for the effect of the wind and currents, and let’s not even talk about my docking skills (or lack thereof) . . . Some days, I wondered if it would ever click.

But I had patient and supportive teachers – the folks at Carefree Boat Club and Captain Rich Hannon, in particular, and I’m not one to give up on a challenge. So I just kept practicing, despite some rattling near misses at the dock, and feeling at times like an outlier in a guys’ world (although now I see more and more ladies at the helm).

Plum Gut on Labor Day

Fast forward to 2021, and during a busy holiday weekend, I navigated crowded waters, kept us from getting swamped by an obnoxious 50 foot yacht that cut right in front of our bow at full speed, and delivered us safely across the Long Island Sound from Greenport to the Connecticut River in choppy waters with 2 foot waves at times. Now I can dock without someone to catch me from shore and have even docked solo a couple of times- all things I could not have imagined during my first season. I still have many things to learn, but I’m well underway. 

So thank you to all the experienced boaters who have given me helpful advice and guidance. To those of you who are new to boating (especially the recent wave of newly minted female captains), just keep practicing, take lessons, ignore the snide “COVID Captain” digs, and don’t give up if you really want it. I’m certainly glad to have stayed the course.

I would walk 500 miles . . .

and I would walk 500 more . . .” I tried. Honestly, I tried to go for 6 months without getting on a boat. Then the kids’ school announced remote learning for the first week in January and (for me at least) it was a no brainer. We loaded the car within an inch of its life and chased sunshine and salt air down the longest stretch of I-95 I’ve ever traveled (1,250 miles, to be exact).

We played it safe- eating meals outdoors (or in the car when it was too cold), stopping only at rest stops and gas stations with very few cars in their lots, following CDC guidelines the entire time. Fellow travelers wore masks and kept their distance, as did we. It was not your typical road trip, but it was certainly better than nothing.

Cruising along in Fort Pierce Inlet

Was the slog across ten states worth it? Hell, yes. Two days later, I was at Carefree Boat Club’s Treasure Coast location in sunny, 80 degree weather (instead of the freezing rain back home). We took a pontoon boat around Fort Pierce inlet, a pristine, undeveloped patch of wilderness between the intercostal waterway and the Atlantic. Right out of the marina, we spotted a pod of dolphins. Wild dolphins can be curious about boats, and we were lucky enough to encounter adventurous ones, who splashed and played in our wake. At club owner Lanie’s suggestion, we anchored in Tucker Cove and swam in clear, blue waters among the mangroves, spotting a lone dolphin as she surfaced about 200 yards away from where we swam.

Curious dolphins playing alongside the boat

Several days later, I satisfied my need for speed on a Crownline bow rider with a 200 hp outboard, which was more than enough for zipping along the St. Lucie River and the intercostal waterway. For once, I spent my birthday warm, happy, and doing something I love. (Historically, my birthday has been spent catching up with work during the first week back from the holidays- ugh).

Many thanks to Dan, John, and the Treasure Coast team for the birthday balloon tied up at my slip when I returned. We can’t wait to visit you guys again!

The (Lightly) Seasoned Boater

Just about three years ago, I got behind the helm of a sleek Chaparral Suncoast for the first time.  I zig-zagged down the channel at Black Rock Harbor out onto the Long Island Sound, oversteering whenever I started to drift off course.  And my early days of docking?  Let’s not even talk about them.  Let’s just say I (barely) managed not to damage anything (or anyone).  

Today, docking no longer sends my pulse (or the dock staff’s pulse) skyrocketing.  I can steer straight down a channel, even on a windy day. And I’ve learned a few lessons, some only after trials by fire, some by anecdote- see if you can guess which is which:

Do buy plenty of floats, take the kids tubing, and entertain them onboard with playdough or similarly solid and fungible toys.

Don’t give the kids crayons and coloring pages, unless you enjoy fishing soggy images of Elsa and Anna out of the water with a docking pole while scrambling over tiny rolling, half-melted cylinders.  If that’s your thing, then go for it. 

Do serve your guests dinner in a quiet cove as the sun paints the sky orange and purple.

Don’t serve your guests a cheese board and sushi while anchored in 2 foot waves, unless they are unwanted guests whom you never want to take boating again. (Don’t worry, friends, you were very much wanted guests.)

Do crank the volume and rock out to your favorite tunes when you pass the no wake marker and gun it.

Don’t don your favorite hat or leave your favorite magazine (book / chart / winning lottery ticket) loose on deck when you pass the no wake marker and gun it.

Don’t dawdle in front of the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry when it’s trying to leave the dock.  The captain will honk at you . . . multiple times . . . even if you smile and shrug your shoulders innocently as if to say “Sorry, new boater.”  

Do zip through the ferry’s wake if it’s a calm day and there are no other waves to play in.

And steer clear of the rocky bottoms, unless you’re in a kayak.  Anchoring in them is an exercise in futility, and you definitely don’t want to hit them.  As Lady Gaga might sing, “I’m in the deep end, watch as I drive in, I’ll never touch the ground . . . Splash ‘cross the surface, where rocks can’t hurt us, stay far from the shallows now . . .”  

Kayak, don’t powerboat, near these

Although, in nearly every other facet of life, 2020 can’t draw to a close soon enough, I will miss this season on the water as I prepare to kiss my boats goodbye and hunker down for the long, dreary winter ahead.

Here Fishy, Fishy

One charter eleven months ago does not a fisherwoman make.  

My first solo attempt at fishing was quite underwhelming. Fish caught =0.  Minutes spent trying to untangle this: more than I’d like to admit.

What was I doing wrong? Just about everything. I was feeding the fish from the human equivalent of a food truck that I was operating from a helicopter . . . hovering 20 feet above I-95. No wonder there weren’t any customers!

It was time to call in an expert. I called Captain Rich Hannon of Premier Yacht Services, my trusted Boaters Ed teacher from Carefree, and he was kind enough not to laugh when I told him about my tangled-mess-of-a-line/zero fish excursion.

We left Carefree Boat Club’s Milford dock and headed to Stratford Shoal Lighthouse, which (according to the internet) is the most haunted lighthouse in Connecticut: https://www.nelights.com/blog/the-most-haunted-lighthouse-in-connecticut-stratford-shoal/.

The lighthouse was eeire, for sure– perched high on treacherous rocks and a crumbling stone foundation, with weathered boards covering its windows and a tolling bell– but for fish, the surrounding waters are home.

This time, under Captain Rich’s guidance, my girls and I fished the right way. In the right place (the nice fishy suburbs instead of the interstate), with lines at the bottom of the ocean, not hovering above, and drifting (not anchored).

And we caught three (THREE!) black sea bass.

So maybe they weren’t keepers. Perhaps all three were teeny, tiny . . . but success nonetheless!

My teeny tiny catch

As we headed back to shore, images of braised black sea bass with ginger and scallion danced through my head and whetted my appetite. Undeterred, I waived my magic wand (or, perhaps I waived my credit card at the local fish market), and volia- our tiny fishies were transformed into a feast!

Apparently fishing takes years to master, as well as a healthy dose of good luck. So I’ll keep trying- worst case scenario, I’ll get to spend more time on the water while keeping the kids occupied as summer lasts longer than usual . . . and maybe by the end of the season, I’ll prevail and bring home a catch.

Black sea bass for dinner- thanks, not to my fishing acumen, but to Number One Fish Market in Hamden

Eat Local, Shop Local, and – New for 2020 – Vacation Local

Beaches and boats- that’s what we’d planned for this summer.  Granted the beach was Martha’s Vineyard and the boat was a cruise to the Greek Islands.  As COVID-19 ravaged the world, summer arrived, and then case rates skyrocketed in much of the U.S. (but, thankfully, not in our sensible, science-guided, home state of Connecticut). All our carefully made plans went back to the drawing board.

            Many people scrapped their summer vacations altogether.  Doing that would make me (and most others) cranky and bitter—and there is more than our fair share of crankiness out there this year.  Undeterred, I set out to plan a COVID-safe, family getaway with no quarantine restrictions at either end of the trip.  

Sunset from the private beach at the Madison Beach Hotel

The result?  A beach and boating vacation within a 25-mile radius of our house. We saved big on travel expenses—they were the cost of a daily commute to the office, back when people did that sort of thing.  We used those savings to splurge on a luxurious ocean-front room with a balcony at the Madison Beach Hotel.  With its private beach (no crowds getting in your face), and Connecticut’s quarantine restrictions for travelers from hot-spot states, we felt safe there, and indulged freely in some much-needed pampering.  

Beachside lunches delivered to our loungers, cocktails and dinner overlooking the water at The Wharf, and jaw-dropping sunsets bathed in an oceanfront breeze. Just what I needed . . .

Another bonus? Torturing the kids with stupid parent jokes the whole ride there:

 “Madison- such a quaint little seaside town- I wonder who lives here?” (A decent number of friends and work colleagues)  

“The Connecticut shoreline’s so pretty- enjoy it, girls, we may not come back here again.” (for two to three days)

Lucky for the kids, the car ride was short. Lucky for mom, replacing the boating was easy.

We bookended the trip with two boat rides—the first out of Carefree Boat Club’s Steelepointe Harbor dock to our new favorite, socially-distanced swim area at Pirate’s Cove in Port Jefferson.  On the last morning of our trip, we headed out of the Clinton location for the first time, checking out new waters and anchoring off Duck Island for a swim. 

It wasn’t crystal clear, turquoise waters off the coast of Greece (downside), but I got to steer the boat (definite upside).  I don’t think the captain of our cruise ship would have allowed me to take the wheel, no matter how much cajoling I tried (… and I would have tried, for sure).

Exploring Duck Island off the coast of Westbrook

Our summer plans—like most things—were radically altered this year, but we returned refreshed and relaxed, nonetheless.  Vacationing within 30 miles from home may sound silly, but I think that everyone should to do what they can to safely seize moments of joy during the cluster f–k 2020 has become.  We all can get through this, but only if we are kind enough to ourselves to allow us to be kind to others, and to halt the ongoing descent into bitterness, division, and rage.         

A Pirate’s Life for Me

Port Jefferson isn’t just a small seaside town with quaint little shops and seafood restaurants. Just inside Port Jefferson Harbor, you can find a wild, socially-distanced beach party at Pirate’s Cove (a/k/a Mount Misery Cove).  

My pirate crew was raring to go, so on a hot sunny day over the 4th of July weekend, we set out for an afternoon of pillaging and plundering.

My first mate is fiercer than she looks

Luckily, we arrived early enough to snag a prime anchorage spot with a ringside view of the scene unfolding around us. The place was chock full of paddle boarders, kayaks, and people floating in inner tubes with cup holders (I’m definitely getting one of those next summer). The water was calm enough to swim in with young kids, and it is only a short distance to shore if you want to hike on the bluff or wade in the shallows. You can either paddle to shore in a kayak or inner tube, or even swim there, depending where you’re anchored.

On the other side of the cove, there’s a pristine, quiet beach that had one person on it– only one person–on a holiday weekend with perfect beach weather.

If you hike up the steep bluff, you’re rewarded with this quiet beach on the other side

 The people watching was one of the best parts, from ogling fancy yachts, to buying ice cream from enterprising college kids selling it boat-to-boat from a dinghy, to these crazy daredevils:

(This makes me glad to have daughters. I understand that Stony Brook Medical Center is a good hospital, but even so . . .)

So perhaps I did a little less pillaging and plundering, and a little more floating and relaxing, but after all the craziness 2020 has wrought, I deserve a little R&R. I’ll save the pillaging and plundering for next time!