Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sailing Vacation 2007, Day 4


Hello from Shelter Island, NY. Shelter Island is a small island at the eastern end of Long Island, NY. We've never been here before, and it is quite possibly the most peaceful place we've ever been. Tomorrow we will actually explore the island, and I cannot wait to see what is here.


Tuesday deserves its own entry. I LOVED what we did on Tuesday, and I think you'll love reading about it. Enjoy!


Tuesday 8 August 2007

In the morning we were still in Noank. I walked into town to get more bread and cereal, and Todd saw about the stuffing box. He and one of the guys from the Shipyard managed to get the leak to a way more manageable level while I was gone, we were once again confident in our boat, and stopped having discussions about calling the trip and heading home.

We pored over the maps to decide where we were going next. We decided on New London, CT, and saw that it was only a few miles away. We reserved a mooring, and prepared to leave. We filled the water tanks, pumped out the waste holding tank and set off.

Blink. We arrived in New London. We picked up a mooring at Burr’s Marina, at the mouth of the Thames River. The Thames is a busy place, yet it's not as choppy as I expected. Right across the river on the Groton side is Electric Boat, where they make nuclear submarines for the Navy. The big hangar was open, and you could see the nose cone of some big boat they are building or repairing in there. Further up the river is the Nautilus Museum, where the Navy’s first nuclear submarine is on exhibit. Even further up the river is the Navy’s Sub Base, where there are often a few nuclear submarines hanging around.

It used to be that every Tuesday a submarine would return from sea and find its way up the river to the base. Now it is not as frequent, however one did come in on this Tuesday and we didn’t get the chance to see it come in. I imagine it is quite a site to see—a submarine motoring up the river, conning tower out of the water, bring sailors home from some unknown mission.

We hopped in the dinghy and headed north up the river to explore. We passed under the Amtrak bridge, and the bridge for route 95. We saw the Nautilus sitting at its dock at the museum, then ahead was the sub base. We motored along and saw 4 subs sitting at docks, and 1 in a dry dock with tarps strung all around it. There are patrol boats that are pacing back and forth around the perimeter of the base. Todd’s eyes lit up as he was looking at the subs in the base, as Todd has a thing for subs—actually for boats of any kind, but especially subs. I really loved seeing the twinkle in his eyes as we were motoring along the base, checking out the subs.

We flagged one of the patrol boats down to ask them a few questions. The patrol boat is a very intimidating looking boat. It’s inflatable with a wheelhouse on it. It has 2 huge outboard engines, and a very scary looking deck mounted gun on the front. One of the men in the boat came to the side to see what we wanted, and he had guns on his belt as well. I did not grow up around guns, I’ve never fired one, and just the sight of one sometimes makes my pulse race and makes me talk fast. We asked him what else there was to see up the river, and he told us that the Mohegan Sun casino was up the river about 5 miles. We could take the boat up there and dock it at their marina.

This put an idea into our heads. We raced back to Sabine. Todd got more gas at the marina and I packed some clothes for us and changed. We hopped back into the dinghy and headed north to the casino. It was 6-7 pm by the time we had left. We opened the throttle all the way and raced up the river. It is a beautiful river, well, in the spots that don’t have a power plant on them. I counted 4-5 power plants in this stretch of river.

The river is well marked, and we followed the navigation buoys to the bridge for the highway that leads to the casino. We came around the bend and saw the hotel for the casino loom over the trees, looking entirely out of place on the beautiful banks of the Thames River.

We motored closer to the casino and noticed a very obvious lack of marina, or a dock of any kind. We explored a bit more, ducked under a very low bridge, and still were not able to see a dock. We scanned the bank of the river and decided to beach the dinghy in a stand of trees that would hide the dinghy from people walking on the train track, just uphill from the riverbank.

We beached the dinghy and removed the gas tank from the engine, and took out the oars. Todd hid those behind a log, and we took the plastic key from the outboard engine. The plastic key is actually a very important little piece of plastic, as it holds out the stop button on the engine so that it will run. We often take the plastic key off when we are leaving the dinghy to prevent theft. The engine came with two keys. One of them came on a stretchy cord which is on Todd’s rear view mirror in his car where it wouldn’t be forgotten. (Well, we did forget it there before the trip, so maybe this strategy isn’t working out so well.) We have a spare that is hidden on the motor as well. We’ve been using the spare on this trip, seeing as how the one on the cord is in Todd’s car.

We grabbed our backpack and scurried up the bank to the train track. From there we tried to figure out exactly how to get up to the casino. There isn’t exactly a paved path leading to the casino from the riverbank. This little adventure will call for some bushwacking. We saw a sign along the track that we decided to use as a landmark to help us find our way back to the trail that will lead to the boat. We made our way along the track to find a way to get up the hill to the casino.

We found a trail in the woods long the track, and scampered up a hill covered in briars. We found ourselves in the employee parking garage of the casino, and asked one of them how to get to the casino. We came along a shuttle driver who offered us a lift to the casino. He gave us his name and told us to ask the valet to call him and he’d come pick us up when we were ready.

We had dinner, Todd played 3 card poker, and I just hung out. Casinos aren’t really my scene, but the people watching is fun. There was a man sitting next to Todd at the table who kept shelling out $100 bill after $100 bill after $100 bill. He opened his wallet to get another one, and I saw a stack of hundreds in there about a half inch thick. He could barely fold his wallet closed with all those hundreds in there. Yet, he kept slapping them down on the table over and over again. To me, a casino is the same thing as just letting someone stick their fingers into my wallet and letting them take whatever they want, and it often makes me sad to see all the people in a casino hoping to win big.

Todd finished gambling and we decided to head back to the boat. We called our trusty shuttle driver, and he was there in a moment, and he brought us back to the employee garage. We made our way down the hill with the prickers, and then found ourselves on the railroad track. That part was a bit creepy because you never know who might be on the railroad tracks behind a casino at night, even in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut.

We followed the track in the darkness, careful not to make any noise as to draw any attention to ourselves. We found the break in the trees that opened up to the trail leading down to the river bank, where our dinghy waited, tied to a tree. Todd pulled the gas tank and the oar out of its hiding place, and we put everything back into the boat.

Then Todd turned to me, “Where’s the key?”

“I don’t know. I never had it. Is it in your pockets?”

“No, I just checked there. Crap. Is it in the backpack?”

“I don’t know. I’d have to take all our spare clothes out, though this thing is packed pretty tightly, I don’t know that it had room to slip in there anywhere.”

We pondered what to do about the lack of key. Todd, being the MacGuyver that he is, found a way to re-create the effect of the key and got the engine started. (Which basically means that we can steal any dinghy we want.) The engine rumbled to life, and we were on our way back to Sabine on her mooring at the mouth of the Thames.

Once we left the glow of the casino hotel behind, we were in darkness. There are power plants along the river, and those provide a great source of light by which we can see the navigation markers. But it is completely dark between the plants. On the water, in the dark, it is very important to be able to see the navigation markers. In the direction that we were traveling, the red ones needed to be on our left, and the green ones on the right. The marker buoys have a reflective tape on them, so that we can scan the surface of the water with a flashlight and pick up the reflective tape. Then we will know on which side we need to be on so we will not hit any submerged obstacles.

Going back at night was a bit slower than it was during the day, as we had to be sure of the marker buoys. We were motoring along and saw a single white light on the shore. It looked like a boat coming right at us. I shined the flashlight in its direction as if to say “Hey, were here. Please don’t run us down.” The light looked like it was coming closer, and closer and closer. I started to get nervous, “Who is this jerk coming after us in the dark, in the middle of nowhere? Todd, get us the hell out of here!”

The light stopped moving. In fact it was never moving at all. We suspect it was a light at the end of a dock, and paranoia was playing a trick on our eyes. We motored on.

Eventually we got back to the sub base. We slowed the motor, turned on our flashlight, and made sure to be slow, vigilant, and law-abiding looking. That was when the gas ran out.

The gas ran out, right in front of the sub base. What better way to look like terrorists then to have our “gas run out” right in front of the sub in the dry dock that we were specifically told by the guy in the patrol boat earlier that day not to photograph.

Eagle Scout Todd made sure to fill a spare tank with gas when he went to the gas dock before we left on this little adventure. I was untying it from the front of the dinghy when we noticed that the patrol boat was taking an interest in us. We started joking about calling our families from the brig as I fumbled with the rope on the gas tank. I got it free, slid it over to Todd and helped him fill the tank for the engine. The patrol boat appeared to have lost interest in us, but was still hovering at a slight distance and keeping an eye on us. You know, just in case we were in fact mixing fertilizer with the gasoline, or something like that.

We filled the tank, got the motor started up again and managed to get away from the sub base without causing a stir, ending up in a cell in Guantanamo Bay, or worse.

Within 20 or so minutes we were back on the boat to retrieve the dogs for a walk ashore. We laughed about scaling a pricker laden hill to get to a casino, and running out of gas in a high security area. A story we’re likely to tell over drinks to our friends when we get home.

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