Sailing New England's coast by the book
Classic guide filled with nautical advice makes an invaluable companion
NEW YORK — It was a typical day on Long Island Sound. In the morning, the "iron jib" provided the horsepower east. But, in the afternoon, as the sea breeze built to 20 knots, the sails took over.
Once my wife, Kathy, and I reached Mattituck, N.Y., it was time to find an anchorage if only we could actually find the entrance to the harbor in the haze that obscured the shore.
I slipped down below and pulled out the charts. They didn't help. We had no electronic navigation aids but we had brought along a book, "The Cruising Guide to the New England Coast," (W.W. Norton & Co., $49.95).
Within minutes it told us what to look for some oil tanks on a hill. With the book in my lap, I read to my wife the precise directions to navigate the many shallow spots in the channel.
From then on, the "Cruising Guide" acted like an old salt on board, warning about shoals outside a harbor or dangerous riptides through a passage.
But we quickly found it was more than just a book about following the buoys. The main author, Fessenden S. Blanchard, could be a tour guide: When in Mattituck, for example, don't forget to visit the tank museum.
He could also be full of social commentary, noting how money and the automobile have changed towns that once relied on wooden sailboats and the vagaries of whaling.
But harbors change silt can block channels, and bays that were once a delight to anchor in are now full of moorings. So, for those who sail, or motor, up and down the New England shores, it's certainly good news that there is a new edition the 12th.
By now it's the fourth generation with four coauthors still turning out the crisp writing and nautical advice. But they haven't forgotten their roots. The book begins with an apologia, written by Mr. Blanchard sometime after 1934 when he first planned a cruise from Woods Hole, Mass., eastward.
Blanchard recalls his first yacht, "Dizzy," which had beautiful lines but leaky planks. "She sprang a bad leak, and we put into Scituate [Mass.], where she nearly sank in the night," he writes. "My wife unsympathetic with this adventure, which had also involved two of her brothers waxed sarcastic and referred to the boat as having had a 'severe sinking spell.' "
Yes, we know what a sleepless night on the boat is like. The authors write that Hadley Harbor, just west of Woods Hole, "is one of the best-protected" harbors around. It usually is but they should have been there the night a nor'easter blew in and the anchor dragged on a boat named Berserk and its dinghy named Amok. Even at 6 a.m., I managed to tell my wife, "'Berserk' has run 'Amok' on us."
I'm sure this has happened to the authors at least once. The book is full of warnings about places where anchors don't hold. That's useful information and not the kind of thing you find in your usual guidebook.
Boating, in fact, has changed a lot since Blanchard published the first edition in 1937. Yachts carry radar, GPS, and even computers with charts that can be read from the helm.
But one thing that hasn't changed is this bit of advice from the guide: "Don't ruin your cruise by hurrying." Another piece of good advice is "If you find it thick or raining when you put your head out the hatch in the morning, pull it back in again and lay over for half a day or a day."
That's the kind of advice that can make your cruise and your marriage more enjoyable.
What more can one ask from a cruising guide?