Flat Hammock, Anchorage of Decision

Over the last few years we’ve gained a lot of experience even though we haven’t really strayed too far from our home grounds of Long Island Sound.  Early last summer we took our Hunter 33 over to a small spit of sand in Fishers Island Sound.  Flat Hammock.  The curved shape of the sand bar is where it obviously got it’s name.  Can one sleep in a flat hammock?  We would try.  We tucked in as close as we dare and dropped our faithful Danforth anchor.  Who is Danforth?  Down below, after folding down everything that was something else and now became a bunk, we settled in for the night.  We watched some fireworks from Fishers Island.  Maybe they were celebrating their secession from New York, I don’t know but our oldest grandson thoroughly enjoyed it.  We noticed that the current was pushing us one way and the wind another.  The anchor line spent a great deal of time back under the boat, and to this day, still carries ablative bottom paint that the line has so carefully chaffed off of the boat.  We settled in at about 10 PM and there was silence about the decks.  From my couch/bunk/settee odd shaped soft place I gazed up through the plexiglass hatch cover and watched the full moon.  Tonight we would sleep.  At 12:30 AM I was awakened by what could only be described as carnival ride gyrations.  I looked up through the hatch cover and saw the moon zing by like a fast-pitch softball.  Back it came, did a few figure eights and took off again.  On the next pass it just bounced by, did a few lazy circles, then took off like a shot.  I leapt to the window and threw open the sash, so to speak, and gazed out on the 20+ knots of wind-whipped water and rushing current.  We were the only ones anchored there now, our 11,000 pounds of boat was being tossed all over the place.  I could hear the gulls on the sand bar, laughing.  Nothing we could do.  The wind died down a little so I laid back down and prayed for sleep.  I finally dozed off.  Once again, the ride started.  I gazed at my watch “Please let it be 3:30 AM…..” …. 12:45 AM, damn.  I thought of all those thousands of miles I had gone during my 20 years with the Navy, never once “losing my lunch”.  I thought about how fitting it would be to have the first time be at anchor on our plastic boat.  My luck ran true, and the nausea demons were thwarted by fear and fatigue.  Maybe next time I would sew a couple of those sea-sick wrist bands into the lining of my sailing hat!  Nobody would know except when I wore it to bed!  Anyway, I was up and down all night, checking our position.  I was in awe at how the other three slept through the nautical funhouse.  It wasn’t until morning that I discovered that my wife and daughter were just frozen with fear.  As with all grandchildren, our grandson slept right through and was the only one that didn’t feel like hammered crap the next morning and was oblivious the previous night’s festivities.  How could this be avoided in the future?  A bigger boat of course!  Getting the new boat, is a story in itself so I will pick up again several months later after we purchased and launched the big boat, ChrisDaLyn.

Our first “over-nighter” with the new boat was in, you guessed it, Flat Hammock.  This was a shakedown trip more than anything else and once again we tucked into the anchorage and settled in for the night.  This would be different.  Instead of 11,000 lbs. of boat, we now had 11 tons of boat and even if the winds whipped up, we would ride comfortably.  Just sailing into Fishers Island Sound probably raised the tide several inches at the surrounding points of landfall.  One heavy boat.

In addition to the same crew as the last visit, we took our little dog Sabot, and daughter’s boyfriend.  Plenty of room for all and we could still set up a berthing arrangement for the teens that would keep them out of hormone range.  Feeling a little guilty later, I did loosen the boyfriend’s bindings to allow him to be a little more comfortable.

Walking the dog was another problem.  Without going into detail, we had made some provisions to try to get him to use the antenna mast, aft, as a hydrant.  This failed.  After walking the dog around and around topside. He finally anointed the propane locker hatch and we settled down for some good boat sleep.

Geez it was nice.  Quiet, very quiet.  Exactly 30 minutes after “lights-out”, I was startled by a howling sound coming from the hatch two feet above my head.  I popped my head out and looked around.  The wind had really kicked up and was blowing from the opposite direction from when we anchored.  Up I go and the instruments at the NAV station show I’ve got 25 knots of wind blowing.  Why me?  “Toto!  Toto!” I thought I heard.  The little mechanical man on the NOAA weather station said 10 knots from the south, not 25 from the north.  No worries mate, we’re 11 tons and will ride this out.  The lights from around the sound now look different than before.  We’ve been tossed around before but have never dragged anchor.  A quick look at the GPS said we were underway for West Harbor, on Fishers Island, and making good time at that.  Oh, goody.  “Everyone over the age of seven, hit the deck!”  “Spreader lights on!  RADAR to the cockpit, man the foredeck and standby to retrieve the anchor!”  I fired up the diesel.  Daughter and boyfriend manned the foredeck and I began to try to figure out what to do.  The GPS said we were ½ mile from where we dropped anchor, the RADAR showed about the same.  No visual NAV aides in sight.  I felt like I was in a planetarium and none of it looked right.  Lots of bad water around us too.  Oh joy.  I had steered submarines thousands of miles and never once could see where I was going.  I would not look at the lights, just the compass, GPS and RADAR.  Shaky evolution at best.  We inched along as I stared intently at the displays.  High drama.  Remind me to get a new depth sounder transducer since this one doesn’t work.

Other than a spreader light that ceased to function half way through this festival of fatigue, we re-anchored, and once again tried to get some sleep.  Tied up the boyfriend.  Sabot, daughter, and still sleeping grandson in the V Berth, lights out.  Sleep came only in short bursts, and I was up and down all night checking and re-checking our position.  I finally got to sleep just after dawn.  This didn’t last long as I awoke hearing a commotion from up forward.  It sounded like daughter getting up with Sabot for a morning walk.  I closed my eyes and tried to return to the sanctuary of sleep.  Just something about dog claws rustling against fiberglass, two feet directly above my head kept me from my escape.  The sound of a water jet hitting the deck above my head….. That was really gross.  Enough.  I struggled out of the bunk and headed forward.  By the time I had gotten out there, everyone was back in bed.  Silence.  Checked boyfriend’s bindings.  Coffee came from somewhere and I decided to head up into the cockpit celebrate the moments of my life.  I felt like I had relived the “Mattuese Challenge” from my submarining days in Sardina.  The thought of wine still makes me queasy.  I noticed that there was a blanket wadded up on the cockpit bench.  Closer inspection revealed why it had been tossed up here.  It seems like poor little Sabot had not made it through the night without a bout of seasickness, and also had been extraordinarily regular.  Poor little guy.  A quick check of my gag reflexes showed they were functioning and I quickly moved aft of the center cockpit the to expansive “Lido Deck.”  Love this big boat.

A gentle swell rolled the boat every so slightly.  The tip of the boom responded, kissing the side of my head as if to say “Good Morning!”  I stumbled aside, trying not to spill my coffee.  A puddle of water greeted my bare feet.  It was still slightly warm.  I can not describe the feelings that rushed over me.  I will leave it at that.  A few buckets of ice cold seawater on my feet and the deck, and it was time to start a new day.

A few hours later we were home.  Hosed down the deck, bagged up the bio-contaminated linen and  Sabot had earned his right to stay on shore and we had had, once again, another beautiful time at Flat Hammock.

The next two trips to Flat Hammock were made during the daylight hours with the express purpose of letting family and grandkids land, and enjoy the small beach and bountiful bird life.  It really was a very pretty out there.

The first return daytime visit was done during the week and we were the only boat there.  It was idyllic, and our “babies” shared the beach with gull babies and I was beginning to think that the Flat Hammock phenomenon had been a purely overnight thing.  Aside from having to make about five trips, each way, to ferry people ashore and back it, was very relaxing.

Time to haul anchor and head home.  Everyone onboard, two head-counts, and we made our way back towards the Thames River.  The winds had picked up considerably as we moved out into the sound so I left the sails furled and just proceeded on the “iron wind.”  Twenty knots gusting to 25 knots and we were literally unaffected and plowed right through with little discomfort.  Ahhh yes, the end to a perfect day.  Smack in the middle of the sound, the diesel started to take control of itself, speeding up, slowing down, Murphy’s Law was upon us.  As you’ve probably already figured out, silence from the engine room followed.  The mighty Perkins diesel ceased to function.  Having the luxury of two fuel tanks I dropped below, shifted tanks, and returned to the helm, like something out of The Matrix, and spun the starter.  Nothing.  All I could think of was that I was going to have to bleed the air out of the fuel lines.  A lengthy evolution that I had only attempted once before.  No problem!  Right.  We are adrift in the sound with wind and current making this more of a crisis than a knuckle busting time consumer.  We put out the “staysail.”  This was the largest sail I felt comfortable leaving in the hands the remaining cockpit party.  This little sail was also referred to as the “jiblet”, “pee-wee sail” and a few other things.  This was not time for training. The crew would have to go with what they knew.  I was a mile or two from any danger, in any direction, so I turned over the helm, gave the “don’t hit anything, try to go that way” order and jumped below again.  I dragged out tools, opened the engine access, and went to work.  Since we had already determined that the diesel would not run on air alone, I had to open up various fuel lines, spin the engine so it would pump fuel, and at each junction I opened, wait for air to stop coming out and quickly tighten the connection before much fuel had a chance to spray out.  Using a screw driver to short some connections,  caused the starter to turn the diesel (an old trick from the motor-head days of my youth). The line for the filters cleared quickly and yup, there was air in there.  Since this was a larger engine, the next step had two different lines that went to the fuel injectors to feed the four cylinders.  I did not have the guts to look out to check our position.  I had enough problems right here.  The grandkids occasional peaked out of the aft cabin, taking time from their Tele-Tubbies tape on the VCR, but quickly learned to stay away from Grandpa when he was flailing with wrenches.

Trusty screwdriver in place, arcs and sparks, the engine started to spin.  I watched the loosened piece of fuel line for signs of fuel so I could pull the screwdriver, tighten it up, and be on our way.  A funny thing happened.  THE DIESEL STARTED!!!!!!   The other line I didn’t open apparently was devoid of air and permitted the big diesel to get enough fuel to make a go of it.  I was briefly surprised at how quickly the engine started with fuel to just two cylinders.  Normally I would be elated about this but there was one problem, I had a fuel line open and any second fuel was going to come screaming out of there at high pressure.  From my contorted position, getting that line connected before the air was gone, was a pipe dream.  Since I had no way to stop the diesel, it was up to the skills of the cockpit crew to pull the knob at the bottom of the pedestal and kill the diesel.  Yelling over the wind and noisy diesel, I screamed “Kill the diesel!!!!”  Nothing.  I yelled louder and with a more urgent pitch.  I also added a few more descriptive terms to convey this was not a casual issue or one subject to a vote.  I heard the engine increase speed.  Shaft spinning one way, then the other.  Oh grand.  Lever roulette.  They had no clue.  The diesel responded well to the throttle but, unfortunately, that was not what I was looking for.  I heard the starter engage and teeth grinding.  Good, they had found the key!  Too bad it had no effect but I gave them high marks for trying.  More yelling…here comes the fuel as bubbles start to pour from the disconnected fuel line.  This is it.  Small faces played hide-and-go-seek at the aft cabin door.  Instinctively they snapped back to the safety of the cabin realizing that Grandpa was not having fun and that they did not want to share in this.  I got ready for my fuel bath.  I was growing horse now from all the screaming.  Someone finally saw the black knob and after pushing it for some time, decided to pull it once for good luck, and the diesel stopped as quickly as it started.  I guess that fuel line was purged now.  With the added lubrication of diesel everywhere, the opened fitting went back on easily.  Cleanup took only a few seconds and I dragged back up to the cockpit.  Excuses flew, but fell upon deaf ears.  The faces in the cockpit looked more like “he/she did it!” without the pointing.  Somehow, it got around to being my fault, so I knew everything was all right.  I surveyed our sailing progress and was pleased to find that we were not about to run aground.  Though, we were not going in the right direction, we had time to test the diesel and retrieve the sail and continue our transit home.

The observant reader will remember I said “two” daylight trips to Flat Hammock.  Why would I EVER want to go back there?  Easy.  What else could go wrong?  An “alligator statement” if I’d ever heard one.  This one was going to bite me in the butt sure as I am sitting here typing, but at that time, I wanted one idyllic, uneventful trip.  A quick checklist.  Dog?  Home.  Anchor?  Switched to larger anchor.  Fuel?  The port tank is possessed, switched to the starboard fuel tank.  We would go again.

The last Flat Hammock trip, for the season, was on a weekend.  If there had been mooring balls floating around, one would’ve thought that this was the anchorage on Block Island.  I don’t think I had ever seen so many boats greased into this small piece of Fishers Island Sound.  We eased in, snaking between the large and small boats, dodged deflatables full of kids zinging around, and after two attempts, set the anchor hard.  I had gotten us in pretty close and, once again, the trusty landing shuttle made it’s rounds ferrying family to the beach.  All was well.  After everyone was safely ashore, I pulled the deflatable up onto the beach.  I managed to make a small awning out of towels and the oars, and crawled up into the leaky craft to take an early afternoon nap.  I did witness some comical attempts of various vessels trying to get in close to shore.  One determined sailor even jumped over the side of his sailboat, carrying his anchor, to try to bring it up onto the beach to securely attach his boat to the beach, given he did not have a small boat to get ashore.  I had to sit up to take this one in completely.  Breaking the Laws of Physics usually results in an instant guilty plea and sentencing is usually swift and sure.  Down he went.  I had to hand it to him for original thinking but somehow this novel approach to the problem seemed flawed.  Negative buoyancy indeed became an early issue.  I don’t know whether he dropped the anchor and dragged it, by the line, or what, but he eventually reappeared on the surface.  Yelling helm orders to the crew to counteract the boat dragging him back out into the sound, this was one of those indelible sailing moments.  I was happy for him.  Memories.  Struggling ashore, the valiant captain attempted to bury the anchor in the sand.  This just does not work.  His anchor line happened to go right over a one of those “Personal Water Craft” dammits that was minding it’s own business, securely affixed to the shore.  I couldn’t watch anymore.  The warm sun, spongy deflatable, and otherwise peaceful sounds, lured me back to my short nap.  Damn they’re good!

There are many ways to be awakened from a sound sleep.  Submarines were known for providing, what we referred to as a  “cardiac” wakeup.  From “zero to sixty” in the opening of an eye.  Many things could cause this, like flooding, fire, very large unplanned angles, very LOUD noises, screaming, etc. etc.  I was not fond of those and had grown sensitive to these rapid changes in reality.  Fore-shadowing here.  This was going to register only about a five on the Richter scale but none the less, one of the last things a boater wants to hear, especially from a sound sleep.

“Hey Mister, is that your boat?”

The kid is not talking to me.  As the darkness shifted to a hazy panorama of the anchorage, I noticed that it had grown much more crowded.  If it had been in black and white, and the battleship Missouri  present, I am sure someone would’ve been surrendering.  Break to a commercial?  Our boat was not where I left it.  No.. no… I flailed off my towel and oar tent and continued to scan left, quickly, towards the sand bar.  Our boat had quietly, stealthily crept all the way across this crowded marine parking lot toward the shoal water.  How did she miss all of those other boats?  How did all the other boats miss eleven tons of fun moving through with nobody at the helm.  Maybe they figured I too, had tried the anchor-swimming technique and was busy walking my boat over closer to the beach, underwater.

Blessed be the inquiring minds of youth.  Kids in a deflatable were spinning around the shallows watching us intently.

Quickly summoning my faithful son-in-law, we picked up the deflatable, side by side, and rushed into the water, leaping into the boat, and pulling the cord on the little outboard to speed us out to our vessel.  A little white water behind the outboard and away we went.  I said, away we went.  We were not moving, just bobbing.  The motor goes, but the prop doesn’t.  I must’ve kissed the bottom with the prop and some safety feature flew into action to make sure we couldn’t go anywhere.  Oh come on!  Score: Football 1, Monkeys 0.  One supportive soul offered me the use of her swim fins and mask to swim out to our boat.  “Are you smokin’ Crack?”  Geez, that’s why I have a boat!  I stay OUT of the water. I could look out to our ghost boat and realize that, in a few minutes, I could walk out to the boat easily from shore.  The kids in the deflatable offered us a tow out to our vessel and away we went.  There was no shortage of entertainment at Flat Hammock today!

As we approached the boat, I did not see the tell-tale wobble of a sailboat aground.  We still had time.  If we had a foot under the keel, we had an inch.  The depth sounder occasionally indicated we had around a foot under the keel.  Hastily my son-in-law and I got ready to retrieve the anchor and get back into deeper water.  With super-human strength, son-in-law hauled on the anchor as I powered cautiously away from the beach.  Getting in back in close was out of the question, due to the crowd, so we finally reset the anchor at least 200 yards from the beach.   Seven people ashore and the afternoon breeze was starting up.

There was no need to keep the outboard on the deflatable so we hauled it up on deck.  Son-in-law was chosen to row back ashore with a radio.  I would try to hail those deflatable riding kids back or get someone to ferry the crew back, saving five rowing trips to the beach.  This was a good time for someone to make a quick $50.  Eight now ashore, as son-in-law rowed up to the beach, and me on the boat.  I tried the radio, waving, yelling, and nobody seemed to acknowledge with more than a yachting wave back.  I removed the outboard from the rail, resisting the urge to “float test” it, and did an autopsy.  It seems that there’s this little pin that sacrificed itself to save the plastic prop.  I had an extra prop, but no pin.  I rummaged through the various places I had squirreled away all of the non-descript pieces-parts I had hoarded over the years, and came up with a piece of stainless steel just the right size!  After cutting, unbending, and modifying, it went right in.  The score?  Monkey’s ONE, Football ONE.  I now had a working outboard, no deflatable and eight people on the beach however.  Good thing the radio I had sent with son-in-law, did not work.  Sooner or later, someone would get hungry, or have to use the head.  I went up on deck and saw an orange speck fighting it’s way against the current and chop, headed for the boat.  It was youngest daughter and boyfriend rowing roughly in my direction.  After a time, wet and complaining, as only teens can, they came along side.  Before letting them onboard, I lowered the outboard to them.  After the outboard was firmly in place, they came onboard.  (‘Bet you thought something would happen there huh?)  Six on the beach and I have the deflatable and motor.  This was reminiscent of the old brain teaser puzzle about shuttling a duck, a fox, and some other critter across a river in a rowboat.  The fox and the duck?  Bad news… Who goes which time?  If I go, it leaves daughter and boyfriend alone on the boat.  I am NOT sending either one of them back with a motor, after seeing their skillful approach under oar power.  No time to bind the lad and lock daughter in a cabin.  Since the grumbling was still in progress, I chanced a subliminal threat to the boyfriend and a subtle hint for them to stay topside, hands in the air, ten feet apart.  A teenage daughter’s father must be ruthless and NEVER misconstrued as weak, slow, or anything less than unpredictably sneaky. And, last but not least, potentially dangerous.  I fill the bill.

The little outboard did its job.  After several shuttles, back and forth to the beach, I recovered the remaining castaways.  Iron-winding it home, a recount of these adventures still left me wondering about Fishers Island, New York and it’s mysterious ability to befuddle those within it’s waters.  We WILL go back next year!

"Hey Mister, is that your boat?"