Having taken the big decision so early in our trip, we now had lots of time on our hands. So like good ‘uns we hightailed it for Cape Cod and a visit with Mike’s Aunt Vickie and Uncle Hugh. Mike and Hugh sailed together for years out of Marion, Massachusetts, where Hugh’s Vindö 50, Mashantam, is moored.
Even as an octogenarian, Hugh’s love of sailing hasn’t diminished a bit. He remains active as an instructor in his local chapter of US Power Squadron and sails whenever he can get crew. When we arrived he was busy preparing for a weeklong cruise of Buzzards Bay and Block Island sound and he suggested that a daysail on Tuesday would be beneficial as a preparatory shakedown. We immediately agreed.
I’ve been using a nifty iPhone app called PocketGrib for some years and its proven to be a usefully accurate forecaster of weather on sea and land. Thus, while Monday night's radio forecast kept changing its mind about the amount of rain we could expect and when it would end, the gribs stuck to their schedule. By 08:30 the rains ended and the clouds began to lift slowly as we made our way down to the harbor. With winds out of the northwest at 5-10 knots it wasn’t going to be a strenuous day, but enough to get us moving.
Hugh familiarized Carol with boat operations as I put a reef in the main for no other reason than it hadn’t been done this year. This was, after all, a shakedown. Dropping the mooring bridle we made our way gently out of the bay and headed towards Cleveland Ledge Light.
Away in the distance we could see a helicopter hovering near a boat, its bright white searchlight flashing occasionally in our direction. Inching closer it became clearer that the Coast Guard was conducting some kind of exercise with a support vessel that looked like it was towing something like a ladder or rescue litter. The object was being dropped in the water, picked up and then passed back to the support vessel. Rinse and repeat. Conditions for training were pretty much optimal.
Given that these maneuvers were being conducted directly along our course, with the helicopter hovering close enough to the water that it was nearly engulfed in spray from its rotor wash, Hugh decided to hail the crew and find out what was going on. After all we didn’t want to disrupt things or cause a GoPro moment by entangling Mashantam’s 50’ mast with $17 million dollars of flying ambulance.
Picking up the handset, Hugh dialed in channel 24, the Coast Guard’s preferred hailing channel for public correspondence.
“Coast Guard, hello Coast Guard, hello over Buzzard’s Bay, this is Mashantam, sailboat approaching you from the northwest. I just want to know how far away from you I ought to stay.”
——— Pause (four beats) — ——
The radio crackled on and an impatient New England accent spat out: “Why do you need to know that? The fucking thing is in the fucking air!”
Really? We collectively caught our breaths at his response; it was both unbusinesslike and downright rude. Our tax dollars at work have, it appears, new instructions on dealing with the citizenry.
“Ahem, roger that. Got the message. Mashantam out.”, Hugh replied. He then maintained course and we watched as the exercise moved northwards and out of our path.