Latitude 38: February, 2015

Latitude 38, “the west’s leading sailing and marine magazine” published part 2 of the first year of our voyage in the February, 2015 print issue.  It’s available online here:

Benevento — Pacific Seacraft 40
The Massaro Family
The Other Latitude 38
(San Francisco)

As we mentioned in Part 1 of our report, it’s been more than 12,000 nautical miles since we — my husband Darold, our 10-year-old son Dante, and I — left San Francisco in September 2013 on a two-year cruise. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, turned left, and six months later were in Puerto Rico facing the decision of where to go next.

One decision could have been to continue heading east toward the US and British Virgin Islands, and maybe as far southeast as St. Martin or Dominica. Doing that, however, would have meant that we would have to make doubletime it back up the East Coast of the U.S. in order to be in Georgia by June 1, something required by our insurance company. So we decided to head to the Bahamas, then north to the U.S.

We spent a month cruising the Bahamas, including a visit to Acklins Island (where we had the anchorage all to ourselves), Thunderball Grotto near Staniel Cay (which was like swimming in a kaleidoscope of fish), Georgetown (in time for the Family Island Regatta), and the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park (which was breathtaking). A month wasn’t nearly enough time to do justice to the Bahamas. In fact, our entire trip has seemed more like a sampling than a comprehensive tour. It’s really just been appetizers for a much longer trip in retirement — or sooner.

We arrived back in the U.S. at Fort Lauderdale, and spent time in Miami, the Everglades, and Cape Canaveral before traveling inland to Orlando. We do, after all, have a child with us. We dubbed the rest of the season ‘The Summer of American History’, as we alternated between going up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and sailing coastal waters north.

One aspect of sailing the East Coast versus the West Coast is the vast number of anchoring possibilities on the East Coast. It’s no problem sailing for the day and being able to find a place to drop the hook that night.

After stopping in St. Mary’s, Georgia and the Cumberland Island Seashore (famous for its feral horses, historic Cargenie mansions, and the trees that were used to build the hull of the U.S.S. Constitution), we made our way up to the Savannah River. Passing lots of container ships, we tied up at the Savannah city dock, which was charming. We then anchored in Charleston’s Ashley River, with Fort Sumter, site of the first battle in the Civil War, in view. Even though it was hot, we absolutely loved Charleston.

In addition, we thoroughly enjoyed the remote and beautiful anchorages of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia as we made our way up the ICW. Thanks to the suggestion of Robert, an awesome lockmaster, we tied up safely inside a lock within the Great Dismal Swamp as hurricane Arthur roared through the Outer Banks. Robert also converted the Triton’s trumpet conch shell we’d bought from the Kuna Yala in Panama into a horn, much to the delight of Dante.

After the hurricane passed, we continued to Hospital Point anchorage on the Elizabeth River between Portsmouth and Norfolk. We kept the boat there for 10 days while we rented a car and visited many of the amazing ‘Colonial Triangle’ locations in Virginia, including Jamestown (first British colony in US), Yorktown (definitive American Revolution battle precipitating the end of the war), and Colonial Williamsburg (Disneyland for history geeks). We loved it. The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News was perhaps our favorite museum. An entire day wasn’t enough for that alone.

Continuing our first-person American history lesson, we made a detour to go up the Potomac River to Washington, DC, stopping at Mount Vernon along the way. Tolling the ship’s bell three times has been a tradition since the night George Washington died.

Washington, DC has been one of our favorite stops so far. We anchored on the Washington Channel next to the welcoming Capital YC, with the Washington Monument serving as one of the bearings for our anchorage. For a small fee we were granted access to a secure dinghy dock, Wi-Fi, the yacht club facilities — and the very friendly members of the club. Even though we were there for two weeks, we barely scratched the surface of what there was worth seeing in the District of Columbia.

We then wound our way up the Chesapeake, and made stops in St. Michaels and Annapolis, and then crossed over to the Delaware River via the C&D Canal. It’s a tight squeeze in that canal — which we traversed at night — with all the container ships.

We continued north up the Delaware and spent a few days in Philadelphia. We found a small anchorage just north of Penn’s Landing, and had time to visit the city’s amazing historical center, have a few cheesesteaks, and run up the art museum’s steps a la Rocky Balboa. Dante had been learning about the Constitution, and visiting Independence Hall brought his history lessons in books to life. The National Park Service does an outstanding job of interpreting our nation’s historic sights.

We sailed directly to New York City, motoring under the Verrazano-Narrws Bridge just as the sun was rising. It was an amazing sight and gave us a feeling of great accomplishment. We briefly anchored by the Statue of Liberty for a photo shoot.

Transient slips in New York Harbor are quite expensive — upwards of $6/foot per night — so we made our way up the Hudson River to the 79th St. Boat Basin, which is operated by the New York Parks Department. We secured a mooring for $30/night. The price was right and the access to the city was excellent.

We made our way up the Hudson River, passing beneath the Tappan Zee Bridge to Tarrytown, where we picked up family. We would later anchor for a week at Croton-on-Hudson while visiting with relatives. Then it was back down to New York Harbor, up the East River, through Hell’s Gate — wisely timed with slack tide — and into Long Island Sound.

We made our way over to Mystic, home of the famous Mystic Seaport, where our Uncle Roger joined us for a sail to Block Island, Rhode Island, and Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts. Of all the anchorages we’d stayed in the previous year, Block Island on Labor Day was definitely the most crowded! In spite of that, it was still a great place to visit. From there we went to Cape Cod, leaving the boat at Hyannis while staying with family and getting Benevento and ourselves ready for the Atlantic crossing.

It was amazing to stop and think of all we’d seen and done in just one year of cruising. We can easily see how cruisers could spend years in single locations we’ve visited, such as the Sea of Cortez, the San Blas Islands, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, the ICW, the Chesapeake Bay or New England. We realize we’re moving too fast, but that’s the trouble with having a timeframe of only two years to do our trip. We’ve perhaps been a bit too ambitious in planning, but it has been worth it. Just about everyone has told us that the most dangerous piece of equipment on a sailboat is a calendar. They are right.

Our trip across the Atlantic was thankfully uneventful. It took 16 days to get from Cape Cod to the Azores, and then another eight days to make landfall in Lisbon, Portugal — which, like San Francisco, is at latitude 38. It was during the crossing that we used a professional weather service — Commander’s Weather — for the first time. We were pleased with their forecasts and service.

Now safely on the other side of the pond with a little time to reflect, we recognize that cruising is no vacation. Between home-schooling, provisioning, boat repairs, laundry and passage-making, it’s a full-time job. But it’s also the adventure of a lifetime. As it happens when you live life large, time seems to compress and expand like an accordion. Time is flying by for us, but when we look back at our photos it seems as though it’s been ages, not just a year, since we left San Francisco.

Our trip has been an incredible experience for Dante, who turned 11 in the middle of the Atlantic. He has become more worldly and mature, through both direct learning and osmosis. His favorite experience so far has been the San Blas Islands, we suspect for the friends he made as much as the snorkeling and scenery. “Boatschooling isn’t very much fun, but cruising is awesome!” he says. I think it’s time to give him longer watches!

— the massaros 11/30/2014