Southwestbound: Bringing Callisto Back Home

Tag: adventures

By David King

Callisto, Hull No. 490

(reproduced with permission of Mainsheet, the Catalina and Capri Owners Magazine)

It was too much fun to stop. With long, rolling seas, a 15-knot breeze on our back and sun in our faces, Callisto was boiling along at 6.5 to 8 knots. Our course, from Cape Porpoise, Maine, to the Annisquam River entrance at Gloucester, Massachusetts, demanded a dead downwind course that just wasn't going to work. No matter, twenty degrees to port made a world of difference, filling the cruising chute and generating the speed to make the Labor Day weekend passage back home from Maine's fabled cruising grounds more fun.

With Laurie, a long time family friend at the wheel, Callisto cranked up the speed as the wind moved from dead astern to the port quarter. With the cruising chutes's large area, she would round up with no hope of recovery if the breeze and wave action brought the wind too far forward, turning pulling power into reaching power. Laurie battled with it successfully, losing it only once or twice in rapid roundups. By easing the main and chute sheets, Callisto would return to her happy downwind state. Laurie and I balanced running and reaching modes with the Autohelm GPS speed-over-ground readout indicating 7.5 to 8 knots regularly. Callisto's flat sections helped us surf several times, a rush we all savored.

Whether it was chafe, sail load, or driver error, I don't know. Callisto suddenly lost its wave-racing pull and the spinnaker halyard went slack. We all watched as the multi-colored cruising chute rippled elegantly into the sea beside Callisto. Longtime sailing partner Dana, and new crewmember Laurie did their best rounding-the-mark imitation as they furiously pulled the chute on deck. After securing the soaked sail in the bag, Laurie presented me with the stainless shackle and four inches of frayed halyard still attached to it.

Family friends Laurie and Becky had arrived that Saturday from Colorado for a break from their demanding careers. I'd warned them about the perils of Gulf of Maine weather - spectacular days and nights punctuated by cold, foggy days and nights. As it turned out, we experienced a little of everything.

Departure Point: John's Bay

One of Maine's long and narrow north/south bays, John's Bay sits northeast of Boothbay Harbor areas, and just southwest of postcard-perfect Pemaquid Point. For years, this is where my grandparents, parents, and now my generation had spent their summers on boats and in houses close by. Callisto has graced my mooring at Foster Island and shared the seal, heron, and lobster-filled waters around John's Bay for the three seasons I've owned her.

Waving goodbye to cousins on shore, the four of us left John's Bay at 9:00am on Sunday. We packed perfect swordfish steaks in the icebox for our evening's destination, Cape Porpoise, some 53 nm away. With a schedule to keep, we began by motorsailing. Gray sky (but no fog) allowed us to slip through the Thread of Life, a sliver of water formed by a string of rocks and the South Bristol mainland. Bending west, we rounded Ram Island light before heading southwest towards The Cuckholds and passing several hundred yards outside Seguin Island. Near Seguin, a "local magnetic disturbance" can apparently impact compass readings up to 8 degrees. I've never verified it, but it was reason enough for us to sail the clear water outside island, rather than snake through the it's northern ledges.

Approximately halfway to our destination of Beverly Harbor on Boston's North Shore, is Maine's Cape Porpoise. It is a cruiser's gem dominated by serious lobstermen. Who could blame them for seeding their harbor entrance with a tangle of lobster pots to keep riffraff cruisers away? The harbor entrance is just a few boat lengths wide, with day markers placed on the most treacherous points. Goat Island lighthouse marks the entrance. It's easy to get lighthouse-jaded in Maine. Standing on the port and starboard lazarette hatches, I wound Callisto through the tightly spaced moorings that mix cruising boats, fishing boats - even a couple of derelict craft that could only be used to reserve mooring space. We dropped the claw in 18 feet of water at high tide.

Why does food taste so amazing after a day's sail? We broke out Shiraz and Bacardi and Dana whipped-up bleu cheese salad as the sun went down. By the time the swordfish hit the grill, Becky was sold on cruising life and Laurie was wondering how to fit cruising into a Colorado lifestyle. As late season mosquitoes begged for entry, we enjoyed a glassy-still night, awakened by lobster boats powering just feet from our dinghy.

Day Two

Powering out of Cape Porpoise, we soon were sailing under main and 135 genoa alone. That's when we decided to pop the cruising chute, so to speak. After passing several miles east of Maine's Boon Island and New Hampshire's Isles of Shoals, the four of us decided to keep the sailing speed up, setting the Yanmar at 2,800 rpm, so that we could pass through the Annisquam River and enter Salem Sound in daylight. Boon Island, which sits about 6 nm from coastal Portland area, is where history says a ship's crew resorted to cannibalism to stay alive while shipwrecked during a bitter winter. Nearing Portsmouth, we spotted an enormous submarine and support vessel, from Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, we guessed. It got us all thinking about the Russian sailors aboard the Kursk. The ocean is so unforgiving, and yet here we were, cruising it strictly for pleasure.

Approaching Cape Ann

The Annisquam Canal separates Cape Ann from Boston's North Shore. It is a 2 nm visual treat, with spectacular homes, yachts of all types, and a current that ebbs or flows to the halfway point. Silt buildup has made the river a giant slalom, with nuns and cans serving as the gates. A slack tide had mellowed the current that can rip through the gut at south end of the canal - the north end of Gloucester Harbor. The previous year had been a maximum throttle push to get through it.

Vast Gloucester Harbor opened before us, providing a view of the US Navy's finest. A guided missile frigate, perhaps? With the sky growing grayer by the minute, there was no time for a cruise past her transom to learn her name. Advancing past Norman's Woe, we rolled out the jib alone and Callisto heeled as we motorsailed a course that would take us the route the famous Salem traders took home. We aimed for Baker's Island, which, along with Manchester Harbor, Misery Island, and Bowditch Ledge, marks the beginning of Salem Sound. With the two 500 ft smokestacks of Salem Harbor Station and the constant light from Beverly's Hospital Point in view, the destination was at hand, and we were eager to get home.

The sky darkened further and the four of us donned foul weather gear, fully prepared to get soaked. Incredibly, the rain passed minutes before we entered the channel to Beverly Harbor. We threaded Callisto past moored yachts while Laurie and Becky extended the boat hook and grabbed Callisto's familiar home mooring. With my home visible on the Collins Cove shoreline, I reached down and pulled the red kill knob. Is there a better sound at the end of any trip?

There would be several more weekend daysails, but all of us knew that Callisto was headed for winter storage, and that the real sailing would await her return trip "down east" next Spring. 

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