September 27, 2022

Our journey south has begun—sort of—which is why we’re still in Season 3. After a three-day sail back to South Portland from Down East and a week of preparation, we left familiar waters and sailed five days south to Warren, RI, where we’ve been since Labor Day. We’ve been in the expert hands of Paul Dennis, the Freedom Whisperer, who has been working with us to repair and upgrade sv NIRVANA, the vessel that cradles and carries us into worlds unknown—The Big Adventure!

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It was the end of August and time to think about heading back to South Portland in order to be in Rhode Island the first week of September, which we’d lined up with Paul back in March. Before heading west, we decided to head east again from Swan’s Island to Frenchboro, a sweet island that was one of our favorites on our cruise last year. It being such a small island, we encountered a number of the same people we met last year. John, the coffee roaster from Michigan spends summers on the island with his family and delivers Lobster Love coffee to boats on his paddle board. One afternoon, we watched his son and friends jumping from the ferry dock! The island has a ferry that comes only four times a week, has no grocery store, and is largely preservation land, thanks to the foresight of people who care. The Island Market on neighboring Swans’ Island delivers food when needed, which is quite a service. We enjoyed a long hike to the far side of the island where we climbed the large rock isthmus with Mount Desert Island in the distance. One more overnight in Burnt Coat Harbor on Swan’s allowed us to visit the swimming quarry and get a few more Jonah crabs before heading back.

We left in dense fog for Monhegan, 46 miles to the southwest, motoring most of the way until the wind finally picked up, allowing us to sail the last hour or so. It was raining when we arrived, but we had the foresight to call ahead for a reservation at The Island Inn and had a fabulous meal peering out the window at our boat in the harbor. Leaving Monhegan, we checked our fuel to discover we had 1/8-1/16th of a tank, whereupon we immediately shut down the engine. When we left Swan’s, we were down to about a half a tank, but as the winds were predicted to be favorable for the next two days, Will wanted to hold off filling our tanks until we got back to Portland where he had a certificate for free fuel. That decision had us heading eight miles out of the way in very light winds toward the nearest fuel dock…until the wind picked up and we said, this is after all a sailboat, let’s just sail! It was truly a change of perspective, as we ambled along at 2-3 knots, half the speed we needed in order to make it back to Portland that night, as planned.

And so plans changed, and we decided instead on an overnight at Seguin Island, where we tacked upwind for the last hour, running the engine for a brief five minutes to pick up a mooring. The next day, we set off toward our home port, the winds teasing us all day as we sailed between 2 and 4 knots past Casco Bay. All the while, we were remembered the book we read, Penelope Down East, about sailing the coast of Maine in an engineless catboat. We were both grateful for our engine, as well as for the opportunity to do something we hadn’t set out to do, namely have the experience of getting from A to B without the use of our engine. The story could have had a romantic ending whereby we sailed into Portland Harbor, starting the engine only as we pulled up to the fuel dock. However, approaching Cushing Island as dark descended, sailing less than two knots, a severe thunderstorm was predicted and we broke down and called Sea Tow. We were hoping they would simply deliver us some diesel but that would have taken more time, so instead—I hate to admit this—we were towed into the harbor and up to the fuel dock! Well, the storm passed by us and the wind picked up, and as it turns out, we had about three gallons left in the tank. We chocked it all up to experience and motored to our cozy dock under the Casco Bay bridge in South Portland as night fell, relieved to be back.

Needless to say, the experience sparked a lot of conversation between us. From my perspective, I was initially focused on the “lessons learned” to “avoid” the experience in the future: 1) carry spare diesel, 2) keep the tank topped off, and 3) in addition to keeping track of our daily engine hours, keep a running total so we know how many hours we’ve run at all times. From Will’s perspective, he was initially grateful for the opportunity to experience something we might not otherwise have experienced, not something to be “avoided.” The next day, I approached his perspective and he approached mine, so eventually we arrived together, appreciating the communication it engendered between us, as well as the “learnings.”

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The next week saw us schlepping stuff on and off the boat, driving back and forth between my house, the boat, the hardware store, and the grocery store, countless times. One of the keys to living on a boat is having only what you need, while at the same time, having everything you might need or want, all within the confines of 36’. We sorted through books and clothes, stocked up on some favorite food items, and brought along, among other things, the water maker Will had been storing in the basement in case we might want to install it one day. We replaced our mattress with new foam and in so doing, were able to pass along our somewhat worn but still usable thick foam mattress to our boat neighbor Rick, a lobsterman who has been fixing up his small sailboat and living aboard since the spring. To thank us, the next day he showed up with six hard shell lobsters, which we shared with friends and family over the next two days. Over the course of the week, we enjoyed watching many large boats come and go, always a fun pastime.

We visited our friend Alan who had just sold his boat and was getting rid of his chart books of the Bahamas, which he passed along with plenty of advice and stories. OK, this is getting more real by the day! Among the stories was how great it was to explore the islands on his folding bike. “Oh, is that something you want to sell?” “Sure,” he said, and on the spot, we decided to trade my electronic keyboard for two folding bikes in the precious space in our aft cabin, aka the “garage.” I had initially rejected the idea of bringing the single folding bike Will already had, but with two, this would add a whole new level to our exploration! Getting them on and off the boat in the dinghy will be the next challenge.

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A bunch of farewells later and we were sailing out of Portland Harbor on Sept 1 bound for Rhode Island. We passed lighthouse after lighthouse, rounding Portland Head Light, heading in a new direction and unfamiliar waters—namely South! I couldn’t help feeling a bit overcome by the momentous journey we were embarking upon.

Our first destination was the historic Isle of Shoals, a lovely archipelago off the coast of Portsmouth, with half the islands in Maine and half in New Hampshire. On Day 2, we tried out our radial spinnaker for the first time to try and catch some speed but ended up motoring all the way to Cohasset in no wind—grateful for the engine, and fuel! Rounding Gloucester and seeing the Boston skyline in the distance was positively surreal.

Day 3 was another day of motoring along the Massachusetts coast to the Cape Cod Canal, where we arrived at precisely slack tide, as planned, and saw 8.5 knots as we approached Buzzards Bay as the current turned in our favor. Our overnight anchored off the beach in Woods Hole was delightful, including a fantastic meal at a local restaurant. On Day 4, the winds allowed us to mostly sail across Buzzards Bay to the Sakonnet River in Rhode Island, then a downwind leg up the river to an anchorage called Fogland. Rain was predicted for the next day but held off long enough for us to motor the last leg, under two bridges, past Bristol, to the head of the river to Warren River Boat Works, which would be our home for the next month. Forgive my redundancy, but I’m strangely fascinated by all the lighthouses along the coast, which have guided mariners for centuries, as well as the audacity and ingenuity of man to have engineered and built so many bridges that span so many bodies of water.

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We feel incredibly fortunate to have found Paul Dennis, who is not only a Freedom expert who used to build these boats but is a mentor to so many Freedom owners out there as he generously shares his knowledge, wisdom, and advice on the phone all day long. Every day, he regales us with stories about the intricacies of Freedom Yachts, which we find fascinating. Although he certainly can and does get his hands dirty, his expertise is in knowing exactly what needs doing and then orchestrating the complex sequence of events to make things happen in a timely manner, including hauling the boat for a week at the nearby small, family-owned Stanley’s Boatyard. We had a long list of things we needed to have done, a shorter list of things we would like to have done, and an as yet unknown list of things Paul recommended that we have done. On day one, we let him know that Will was not only willing but eager to do a lot of the work himself, so under Paul’s watchful guidance and eye, and with the use of his shop and a loaner truck, we’ve been able to accomplish all that and more! In this cozy three-slip boat yard, we were helping with dock lines and laughed out loud that it is big enough to spring on us another Freedom named Nirvana and another Natasha! This just seems the norm here: tiny little Bristol/Warren is home to Herreshoffs, Bristols, Shannons, Tillotson Pearsons, Aldens, and Dyers, to name a few. It seems only fitting that John, one of the two Herreshoff boat-building wiz-kid brothers, did his work blind since age 15.

For the boat geeks out there reading this, we’re repairing numerous issues with the boom and mast, including replacing the wires and adding insulation so they don’t clank inside the mast while we sleep. We’re getting a wind instrument that actually works and ties in with our autopilot, imagine that! With the help of Paul’s welder, we’ve repaired some broken fittings on the boom and are upgrading our outhaul, reefing system, and lazy jacks to catch more of the sail when it drops. We’re replacing halyards and lines, upgrading the original, difficult-to-operate rope clutches, and adding a flag halyard, which Freedom yachts don’t have because they have no stays! In fact, you need to fly a courtesy flag when you enter a new country, and we just bought one for the Bahamas. We’ve replaced two leaky opening ports, and repaired two more with spare parts from Paul’s shop. And we will soon replace the hazed fixed ports with tempered glass that we can actually see out of, as well as two leaking hatches, one of which is over our bed in the v-berth. What an upgrade all this will be!

We’ve repaired the rudder, which had too much play from day one and involved removing the steering quadrant, dropping the rudder, modifying and refitting the bushing, and replacing the rudder and quadrant. How, you might ask do you “drop” the rudder with its long rudder stock? The first time, the travel lift lifted up the boat. The second time, Will dug a hole under the rudder in the gravel! “Caribbean style, mon,” according to our neighbor Steve. We’ve sanded and painted the bottom, and raised the waterline so we have less visible marine growth. At Paul’s recommendation, Ethan the mechanic replaced the worn propeller shaft, replaced our dripping stuffing box with a dripless shaft seal, and replaced the raw water intake thru hull and strainer with a larger one. All this means no more water in the bilge where you don’t want it and more water going through the engine where you do. We’ve installed a temperature gauge and replaced the worn wire from the engine to the batteries. And if all that wasn’t enough, Will, the dear, removed the head holding tank and is replacing it with a tank of the exact same size that just happened to be hanging around Paul’s shop. His shop just happens to have parts like custom bearings and mastheads, and doors and antique faucets that fit our boat and which he is happy to be rid of, so we couldn’t have gotten work done at a better place. The used watermaker which had no backstory miraculously worked on the second try, and the new water tank is perfectly sized to take up no existing storage space. It will hold the fresh water that we will be making using  reverse osmosis  that turns salt water into fresh! Friends tell us it’s a game changer as it means less worry about running out of water and more showers!

In between all the work, we had a chance to visit the Herreshoff Museum in Bristol on the site of the former Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, which produced some of the finest steam, sailing, and racing vessels ever made, dating back to 1878, including numerous America’s Cup winners. It was truly a thrill to see a warehouse full of Herreshoffs, including a “catamaran” designed by Captain Nat in the early 1900s, as well as all of his hand-made models that he used to design his boats. We also got a tour of a “food incubator” in Warren that has been running for ten years, offering food entrepreneurs the opportunity to create food in one of four impressive commercial kitchens. Warren, it turns out, is full of great restaurants within a short walk from where we’re docked.

We had a visit from my dear friend from Junior High School who just moved back east with her fiancé, as well as my aunt and uncle, whom I haven’t seen in years. I also went back to South Portland for a week to enjoy my house for the first time in over a year because it’s been rented, find new tenants while we’re away for the winter, and visit family and friends once again. And after months of waiting, I also picked up our brand, new sails from our sailmaker in Boothbay! Our dear friend Rebecca offered to drive with me back to RI with the sails, and we enjoyed the spectacle of Water Fire in Providence before she headed back with my car.

One more week of boat work and we should be ready to set sail toward the Bahamas, which we expect to take us a couple of months as we slowly make our way down the coast, day sailing, heading into the Intercoastal Waterway from Norfolk to Beaufort, and dodging hurricanes, as required. But that’s the future, and we’re in the now, so look for another blog when the now is the past. Until then, all things continue to unfold magically in front of us.

4 thoughts on “NIRVANA S3:E4

  1. Sounds like you’re both having lots of excitement, challenges and satisfactions. Have a great winter and safe travels!


  2. What a busy month! And what great progress both geographical and boat projectly. Can’t wait to see you both again down south. – Chris & Alex


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