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Small Boat Adventures in the Norwalk Islands

By Kate “Bob” Addison

May 23, 2012

The day was not much of a day for sailing a ship around Long Island Sound. Almost no wind; what wind there was came from exactly the wrong direction and it was grey and damp. It was even cold. So instead of giving up on all things nautical and moping about inside for the day, we left the ship anchored between Sheffield Island and Belle Island off Rowayton, Connecticut and took to the small boats out to explore the beautiful Norwalk Islands around our anchorage.

There’s as much to learn about seamanship in a boat as on a ship – boats can be less forgiving and quicker to let you know your mistakes, but it’s less dramatic when things do go wrong, which altogether makes for a good training ground. We have six boats on the ship at the moment and we took three of them out yesterday: the monomoy, our 23 foot double ended surf boat which 8 people row with long wooden oars, a wooden skiff with a little outboard, hand built in the ship’s home of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and the rescue boat which is our super-stable fiberglass boat with a powerful outboard that we can use when we’re mooring to take line handlers ashore or help push the ship round. The monomoy and rescue boat live in davits suspended over the water on each side of the quarter deck – rescue boat to starboard, monomoy to port. This means they can be launched very quickly. The wooden skiff, on the other hand, is stowed on top of the galley house so the crew had to use the yard tackle to hoist if up and swing it over the side of the ship to launch it.

Once all of the boats were launched and kitted out with lifejackets, bailers, anchors etc., Port Watch with 2nd mate Sam as coxswain went out in the monomoy, rowing across to Ram Bay, around Little Hammock Island, and taking a look at a splendid little lighthouse (built in 1868) before heading back to the ship for lunch. The boat looked like a bit like a drunken spider at the beginning as people struggled with handling the big oars and going at the same tempo as everyone else, legs flying everywhere and clashing here and there,but they had pretty much got the hang of it by the time they came back, everyone was more or less in time. As trainee Ron put it, “well we found out that it’s not all about brute strength, it’s really all about working together. And boy did we find out which people just don’t have any rhythm!”

After lunch we rotated around so Starboard Watch went out rowing with the chief mate, while Port Watch stayed closer to the ship rotating through a few stations: there was the skiff team, practicing steering the boat with the outboard going out in big loops so everyone got a turn at coming alongside the ship and leaving again; another gang were practicing throwing heaving lines straight and true and the last lot were learning the leadline with AB Susie. It may have been broadly superceeded by electronic depth sounders, but the leadline is a useful skill for a sailor, and it looks good and salty to have an AB standing on the rail up forward, swinging the lead and calling out the depth to the watch officer navigating from the bridge. The markings on the line are different shapes of leather and cloth so you can even take soundings in the dark should you want to. Electronic depth sounders give out too, a lead line does not.

And then when the boats were all safely back on the ship and the soggy life jackets were drying in the salon we had an impromptu dance party on the hatch for an hour or so after dinner. I think maybe that’s what happens when you let your crew have too much sleep. We had some visitors in the evening, caretakers of Tavern Island a small little estate of an island, which disappointingly no longer has a tavern on it, but was once a super-chic A-list celeb hangout complete with Marilyn Monroe’s signature in lipstick on a wall from back when Billy Rose owned the place. Or so we were told. It also was once the pilot station for the Norwalk River. The pilot would row out to the waiting schooners and small steamers and his wife would row the skiff back to the island. Anyway our visitors from Tavern brought us tasty pie. We like pie.

23 monomoy and picton castle
23Monomoy and Sheffield Island
launching the wooden skiff

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