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(First printed in the MULTIHULL YEARBOOK 2001)


It’s “fall” in New England, the days are becoming shorter, and red flame colours have appeared in the trees. Flocks of birds fly around in the sky, gathering for their migration south for the winter.  Prime Time also awaits the azure waters and white beaches of the Bahamas.  She has been in Chatham, Massachusetts for a month following her summer cruise to the north.  Her twin 37’ hulls are ready to head south also.

Lynda and I arrive in Boston MA, after a good seven hour flight with Virgin Atlantic.  Boston was very wet and the Global Challenge fleet was in.  I sat next to one of the organising team on the flight. It is evening rush hour and the small airport buildings are inadequate to cope with two 747’s arriving at the same time.  We look through the sea of faces to see a copy of the Multihull Yearbook being waved.  We have found Fifi (real name Cornelia) Prime.  Half an hour later husband Bill arrives in the rental car at the terminal.  In the darkness we head into city traffic chaos, and eventually escape onto the open highway south towards Cape Cod.

Bill and Fifi are hungry so we stop at a friendly restaurant.  We watch them eat, while having a drink, after our long day of many transatlantic meals.  By 10pm we arrive at a family summerhouse on Chapaquoit Island, West Falmouth, and soon go to bed after seeing a few minutes of a public debate between the two vice-presidential candidates.  It all seemed very civilised and polite for American politics.

We slept through to the proper local time, in an attempt to minimise jet lag.  Daylight showed the summerhouse to be on the beach, overlooking Buzzards Bay.  After breakfast we continued by car to Chatham, filled two supermarket trolleys with provisions, and reached the boatyard. 


Prime Time had been moved to the fuel dock for our arrival.  We transferred stores and belongings on board, and topped up water and diesel.  We still had to dispose of the rental car and with three hours of daylight left we moved to a mooring so the fishing boats could take on fuel.  But first Bill and Fifi disappeared to see Bill’s old friend Ned, and we received a brief visit from Sue and Ned who were impressed with the spacious Victory 37 catamaran (actually a 35 with extended sterns and bigger steps).

On the mooring we were preparing for the trip when Ned and Sue motored past in a launch to check their lobster pots.  Bill shouted that we could all go along, so we grabbed coats to keep out the cold.  It was a dull day, but Ned knew the shallow grey waters where the tidal range was only a couple of feet.  We motored off in the various directions to stay in the channel, and gathered three lobsters from the pots.  Ned then said he would show us the seals.  A mile away about one hundred seals lay along an almost submerged bank, but many dived in the water as we came towards them rather quickly.  There were heads everywhere.  We moved on for another half mile towards a larger group, this time perhaps three hundred.  Most stayed put and we drifted past them for some minutes, before returning to Prime Time.

Ned lent his car so we could return the rental car to the next town.  On the way we stopped off at the Fish Quay and purchased three more lobsters of a similar size to Ned’s.  We were invited to dinner ashore at their house.  Ned had been Bill’s College ski team coach, and had recently re-established contact.  Ned is an architect and had sailed for years.  The converted waterside home was full of nautical detail, like cleats for kitchen handles, and a pair of dividers turning above the dining table to show the wind direction outside.

Saturday dawned with a dull sky, and little wind after the strong westerlies of the day before.  0730 we left the mooring and motored out of the estuary past an old lighthouse, now holiday homes.  An hour and a quarter later the sun was out and we were sailing west making 6.5 knots with a fifteen-knot beam wind.  The sonic outdrive leg was lifted to keep the prop from the water.  The Cape Cod coast to our north was visible but distant, and a ferry headed to Hyannis from Nantucket Island.
Our objective was to sail to Annapolis, Maryland, leaving Long Island either side, depending on weather, down the New Jersey coast, up the Delaware River, and through canal and Chesapeake to Annapolis.  Bill would then take Prime Time on to the Bahamas a few weeks later.  With about ten days available, it was to be a delivery cruise.

By noon the wind had died so Bill lowered the outdrive leg and started the engine.  We were approaching Vineyard Sound between Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.  In a couple of hours the current would be against us so we wanted to get past the narrows ahead.  That was where the QE2 had run aground.


Bill became agitated as no thrust came from came from the prop.  He pulled forward the cockpit table, which lifted the rear half of the cockpit sole to reveal the engine. He unscrewed an inspection hatch, looked through at the outdrive leg, and announced “the trip is over”.  The yoke had broken again.  The drive shaft was out and its protective gaiter was torn.  New parts would need to come from England, and it was Saturday, and Monday was a holiday in the USA.  Bill talked about calling rescue service Boat US to tow us in, but in view of the time scale before repairs could be undertaken, I suggested that we had two days to reach a suitable yard, we are a sailing vessel, have clement weather, food, etc. and could make our own way to safety.  First we took a line through the dangling leg to ensure we did not lose it.  Then I called Alan Plant at Sillette Sonic, catching him in on a Saturday, to report the problem.  We were to fax the order for Monday processing for 24 hour delivery. 

A little wind filled in and we drifted into Vineyard Sound passing West Chop at 1400.  After more progress the adverse current strengthened. We were making half a knot away from our revised destination, now Tarpaulin Bay, on the Cape Cod shore.  We just cleared a tide rip having seen the depth drop to eleven feet.  The forecast was for little wind, and to reach Tarpaulin Bay in daylight we need to take some action.  We discussed the two ways of using the 9.9 Nissan outboard available with the small RIB tender, i.e. to tow the mother ship, or to lash alongside.


We launched the dinghy from the davits and Bill jumped in.  I shouted to Bill to pull away quickly as a high-speed catamaran ferry shot past on the same course just two hundred metres away.  Soon it’s wake lifted the bow of the dinghy before hitting Prime Time broadside on, things below crashed across the saloon on the violent impact.  With a tow line made from two docking lines, but without jacket or compass Bill pulled Prime Time towards the setting sun, but was obviously not comfortable, fighting to keep an approximate course as the current denied us some of the water speed we were making.  I tried to steer to keep the dinghy work easier, but sometimes pulled the dinghy over to signal the course required.


After three quarters of an hour Bill was tiring, and came back on board.  We tied the dinghy painter to the starboard bow cleat, and it’s stern line to the cleat half way down the starboard side and I took over in the dinghy, while Bill set the autopilot and ensured our course to Tarpaulin Bay.  An hour and a half later we dropped anchor in Tarpaulin Bay as darkness fell.  Bill had written in the log “Vineyard Sound is a bitch against the current”.

Margarita’s were served up, then a delicious dinner of pink trout, noodles and vegetables, followed by apple pie and a good night’s sleep.

Sunday dawned fine with a 10 knot NW wind and blue sky.  We took Prime Time into shallow water under dinghy power, dropped two anchors, donned wetsuits and walked under the aft bridge deck to inspect the damage.  A repair was out of question but we secured the lower end of the leg to minimise drag and further damage.  The wind was rising fast so we pulled away from the shallows to raise the main, then unfurl the headsail, and get Prime Time sailing.  The dinghy was released and as Prime Time pitched forward into the rising seas I came up to the stern and secured the painter for the beat into the 20 to 25 knots headwind.  I would not normally tow a dinghy in these conditions but it was our emergency power source.  The main was reefed with some difficulty from under the bimini cover.

Five miles further up Vineyard Sound we were able to bear away through Quick’s Hole where many small fishing boats were anchored in the calm water.  We made 8 to 8.5 knots across Buzzards Bay anchoring off Padanaram, South Dartmouth for lunch at 1500.  Arrangements were made to pick up a mooring at South Bedford YC in readiness for Concordia Yard to lift Prime Time after the public holiday.  We made our own way to fax the order for the replacement part, showered then enjoyed canapés and Banana Daiquiri aboard before going ashore for dinner.  

We decided that it was probable that the Chatham yard had taken the boat too fast to the fuel dock for our collection, then given full revs astern, despite a note on the bulkhead by the wheel that max revs in reverse should be 1500.  This is the advice by Sillette.  Above this the yoke can break as the sacrificial part to avoid losing the whole leg.  Unfortunately a broken yoke means no propulsion.  Bill had previously broken one by too many revs astern himself, but had not thought to warn the yard.  Most of the power boats in the region come in fast, then go hard astern as habit.

Monday was wet so we went to New Bedford Whaling Museum.  This contained the Joshua Slocum exhibition.  We discussed with Alan Plant whether should we order a spare yolk?  No, just one.  The temperature had dropped to an unseasonable 52 degrees F (11 degrees C).


On Tuesday the Yard started a number of jobs, including sorting the on board hot water system, but the parts did not arrive from England.  Finally they pulled Prime Time into the sixteen foot wide travel hoist but she did not fit.  The two circular metal tubes were taken off the hoist and this made the difference for the second attempt first thing on Wednesday morning.  We had taken Fifi to Providence airport, as she had to attend to the sale of a horse next day.  We visited with Bill designer Chris White, who showed us his new Atlantic 55 plans, and we discussed sinkers (monohulls) and floaters (multihulls).

Prime Time was back afloat by midday Thursday and we were four days behind schedule.  The weather improved and sun and warmer temperatures returned.  As the main was raised the reefing lines became tangled.  Once these were sorted we headed off into Buzzards bay motor sailing into a 16-18 knot head wind.  Each sea hit the bridgedeck and the motion was not comfortable. The cut of the headsail enabled it to be set when motorsailing close to the wind.  As we approached Newport the famous mansions were clearly visible.  The final two miles towards Newport RI, were a reach and the most pleasant time of the day.  We docked at the Newport YC at 1750.

The welcome was particularly warm as I am a member of the Royal Western YC; the two clubs together being famous for the single and double handed transatlantic races. Dinner ashore was good but expensive in Old Newport.  One of Chris White’s Atlantic 42s had berthed near to us.

We left Newport YC on Friday 13th October, but the progress was easier without the stronger headwinds and seas of yesterday.  As we neared Block Island we discussed the options of Long Island Sound, light headwinds, and the passage through New York, and the alternative of an open sea passage of some two hundred miles towards the Delaware River, with a forecast of 15 to 20 knot headwinds for two days.  We chose the New York route passing Plum Gut at 1730 with a foul current.  A large red sun kissed the horizon at 1810 and set. We entered Saybrook anchoring at 1930 just inside the entrance in 6.5 feet as a huge cream moon rose above the water to the east.  The pilot did not reckon on shallow draft multihulls so did not recommend the spot.

Bill could not sleep so I was awakened at 0600 on Saturday by the sound of the engine.  I grabbed clothes and went on deck to help, raised the anchor, and saw Prime Time clear the walled entrance channel before returning to bed.  The forecast was temperature into the 80s but we did not experience this at sea with the continuing headwind.  Bill made his “shrimp stew” for lunch and we again motor sailed for much of the day.  We took the opportunity to sort out the reef lines and try the third reef for the first time.  Again the best sail was the last couple of hours in late afternoon past Norwalk.  We anchored with weekenders at Zieglar’s Cove where for the first time we dined in the cockpit under the bimini on asparagus, pink trout again (excellent taste, more like salmon) and blueberry pie.


It should be said that certain things are different in these waters compared with Europe / UK.  For a start the red and green buoyage is used in America, but the opposite way to our usage.  So red marks the starboard side of the channel there, but the port side in the UK.  It is difficult to understand the tidal streams as there is no reference point like HW Dover.  Instead reference is to slack water flood beginning, or slack water ebb beginning.  We were some two hours adrift one day between expected flood and ebb, so needed to get this straight before heading to New York where five knots can be expected at Hell’s Gate.  The twenty four hour VHF weather forecast channel was very useful, but the synthesised voice grated.  We nicknamed it Boston Bouy (booeee), one of the locations for weather reports, and the Americans call buoys, bouys, and red ones are called red nuns!

Many lobster pots were on our track and we needed to alter course a few times to avoid these.  Not seeing one in the dark could have had dire consequences. 

As our first night passage approached the safety gear came out on deck.  The approach to New York on Sunday was calm, and the water busy with the weekenders, and a club race start was being prepared. Greenwich Village slipped past and at 1125 we passed under the Throgs Neck Bridge, the first of many.  Later some twenty powerboats shot past at speed, apparently racing, but no-one wore helmets or life jackets as they dived between yachts and commercial barges at perhaps 60 knots.


The notorious Hell’s Gate approached, and we knew we had the currents right this time as we made 6 to 7 knots over the ground.  The straight run of East River followed, with the towering skyscrapers on our starboard side, and the double-decker roads.  We wanted to see the Statue of Liberty so needed to take a right fork at the end.  We duly turned to the right fork, grabbed cameras to take the shot of the Statue of liberty framed within the next bridge, then Bill shouted out.  We had no propulsion again.  A long submerged log came between the hulls.  It had hit the sonic leg, and the yoke was again broken for the second time in eight days.  There was a spring tide, which returned debris to the river.

I took the helm and tried to find steerage way in the light wind, as two knots of current was about all we had to reach open water half a mile ahead.  We remained about 30 metres from the shore walls as we drifted past.  I felt secure in the in the knowledge that the current flows fastest in the middle so we should be washed through the river without being sucked to the concrete sides.

Meanwhile Bill was below on the mobile phone calling for assistance.  As we approached the berth of the Staten Island ferry, Bill called them up on the VHF to explain our difficulty.  They wished us luck and waited until we were clear.  Just before we reached the engine wash of the ferry I decided to tack as the wash would turn us anyway, but on this tack we lost all steerage way for a few minutes, before managing to return to the other tack.  Bill spoke with a Boat US operator, explained that we have an emergency, could they come and tow us to safety, also our position in the busy waterway, with no wind and no power.  The advice was to drop the anchor.  “Where “ said Bill in the view of our position.  “In the water” was the curt reply. 

I advised Bill that we had one knot of boat speed, and 3 knots over the ground and that we were out of the East River, and into the relative safety of The Harbour.  We made some progress south towards the Narrows which would take us to sea.  Bill scoured the pilot books for a yard which could haul us, as the wind completely died.  Four large steel barges were moored in the middle of our course to The Narrows.  We cleared the first, but the angle on the second stayed constant as we drifted towards it.  This was not something to tie up to.  We lowered the dinghy, Bill jumped in, and we were able to clear the bow of the barge by 5 metres with the outboard pulling. 

The likelihood of wind for the afternoon was minimal, as we changed to shorts with the unaccustomed heat.  Bill had identified a yard some twelve miles away on the south side of Brooklyn with a travel hoist, so we returned to our proven system of propulsion, dinghy “at the hip” and headed towards the disturbed water of the Narrows, under the Verrazano Bridge (known to many marathon runners).  It was a difficult and wet ride in the dinghy, but a quarter of a mile past the bridge the water again became calm.  We made good progress towards the marina where we tied up a couple of hours ahead of darkness.

We were helped to a berth there by two French guys off a spartan 50’ catamaran.  They had sailed from France a year before, and like us had struck debris in the water ten miles before reaching New York.  They lost a rudder and asked the US Coastguard for assistance.  They nearly lost the boat as the Coastguard towed them at twenty knots, causing a gash down most of the starboard hull.  Their repairs were complete and they prepared to head south.

We had been in the marina for an hour when Len and Eleanor Feldman arrived to see the damage.  As President of Victory Yachts, and a resident of Brooklyn, he came in response to a message from Bill.  They took us to a French restaurant in Brooklyn for an excellent meal.  Over dinner Len explained that he too had radioed for assistance to the Coastguard, to check current details of a little used shallow harbour he had entered some years earlier.  On arrival at the harbour he was boarded by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), and the boat was stripped from stem to stern.  Obviously the Coastguard had considered him suspicious, and tipped off the DEA.

The British Coastguard are dedicated professionals who understand the sea and it’s users.  The US service is always hiring staff, many of whom join to get a job, and have no background or interest in boats.  The message is avoid them if at all possible.

The yard hauled Prime Time on Monday morning, but it took four of their staff, with their underpowered launch, plus three of us to turn, fend, and align the catamaran into the lift in the strong wind.  They seemed unused to the windage and the size of the boat.  Len had ordered the replacement parts this time, and we had flights back to London on Thursday, so this time for us the trip was over.  A car was hired and we all headed to Virginia.  Bill was to return with two new crew the following Monday to continue south, not via the Delaware River, but down the Atlantic coast to Norfolk VA, to have a hydraulic modification made to the Sonic leg system,

It was exciting to pass Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Long Island and New York, but a disappointment to fail to achieve our objectives because of the mechanical problems. 


Heavy weather sailing
March 2009

"I have been capsized, foundered, run-down and placed in more survival conditions than I can remember"


A Voyaging Canoe for Tikopia
March 2009
A project to build a sailing double canoe for Tikopia.

Tikopia is a tiny remote Polynesian island in the Western Pacific, which has maintained self-sufficiency for 3000 years.

Using a Parachute Anchor
March 2009

Peter Clutterbuck, MOCRA Safety Officer, examines the benefits of carrying one on board, and compares with the conventional anchor.

Budget charters in Thailand
March 2009

We sailed "Veni Vidi Vici", one of Siam Sailing's Tiki 30's for two weeks in January

Read on...

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