The Maiden Voyage of Gracie Anne (Part 2):
It had never been explicitly discussed, but I made the decision to sail with Winslow for at least the beginning of his journey, and he did not object. We took all of the first day to get Gracie Anne fully rigged and ready to go. The following day, Winslow spent the morning getting all his gear moved aboard and we left at noon from the fuel dock. We immediately encountered three draw bridges, and then a strong current in Point Pleasant Canal, as we motored to Barnegat Bay.
The big factor was the weather and it was on our side. Soon we had the sail up and we were gliding along at a good pace with Oliver, a Lowell boat shop original flat bottom skiff, named after Winslow’s grandson, in tow. We were pleased with the set and function of the fully-battened sail. All the halyards led back to the starboard side, including the three jiffy reefing lines. On our first leg, we sailed to Toms River NJ, and landed a slip at the famous de Rouville’s Boat Shop. We were welcomed by the owner and a great crew. We visited catboats being restored or put away for winter storage, including the celebrated catboats, Silent Maid and Vim. It was fun for a Cape Cod catboat crew to be visiting the heart of the New Jersey catboat community in late November.
By 1000 the next day, we raised sail and tacked our way back up Toms River with plans to make Atlantic City. We had a stiff cold breeze from the north, but it was sunny. Due to strong currents and a dying breeze, we ended up motor-sailing to Beach Haven arriving at sunset, which was just after 1600. The devastation visited on the Jersey Shore by Hurricane Sandy was evident. By 1800, I took a cab back to Brielle to find a hotel, leaving Winslow for his first night alone aboard Gracie Anne. It was going to be a cold night, in the high 20’s, but he had shore power and a small cabin heater.
The next morning, I arrived at the yard before 0800. Winslow had made his coffee and was ready to roll. It was cold and overcast, we could barley see Atlantic City on the horizon. It was rainy with a wind chill around 20 degrees. We had to point directly into the wind to stay on course, so we motored all day through some beautiful areas and some not so beautiful. We wore gloves, hats, and long underwear. We went under a few more bridges; we had clearance by just two feet under the fixed bridges. At sunset, we found a marina just south of Ocean City. It was closed for the season, but there was electricity, so we had some heat.
Since leaving Hoffman’s, I had been worried about Winslow and whether he would be able to do this singlehanded, his balance was not great. Winslow’s plan was to get to Miami on his own. He could easily do it, with competent help, but to do it alone was looking more like a dream than a reality. I had been informing his family of our progress and my concerns.
The next morning, we took a cab into Ocean City to take care of some business for Winslow, and pick up some supplies. We were back on the waterway by 1100. It was another cold day, gray with occasional sun, and the wind at 15 knots. We were hoping to make Cape May by sunset. We were very glad to be drawing only 2 feet; we rubbed bottom many times at low tide, and had we been out of the channel, we would easily have been aground. On the long straight sections, we were able to use the auto pilot and duck under the dodger for shelter from the cold. There was no boat traffic to worry about. In the entire week, we saw one sail in Barnegat Bay and maybe 6 other boats under power. As we wound our way around the buoys through the towns, under the bridges, and through the marshes, I kept thinking that this catboat was perfect for this journey. Winslow had spent the greater part of the last two days reading below, but he was great about coming up and giving me a break. The systems aboard were running well; we had the GPS radar overlay and depth sounder alarm, and the paper chart sitting in a plastic liner spread out on the engine box. Winslow was very pleased with the layout and ease of reaching everything, even the kettle on the propane stove was easy to grab for some hot tea.
We arrived to a beautiful scene at Cape May as a cold November sun was setting over the town. In the inner harbor, we tied up at South Jersey Marina, where I knew they had all we needed: shower, fuel and some charts for the rest of the route. I was surprised that there was only one other transient at the marina, a large ketch from Canada. The other slips were occupied by local fishing boats. We washed the boat down, cleaned up, and headed to dinner.
We found a nice seafood restaurant only 100 yards from our slip. We both ordered crab and we talked about many things, including my concern about his single-handling, he became a bit annoyed with my concern and said it would be fine. “I got it,” he said. He charmed the waitress to no end. She was from South America and it was then that I learned that Winslow was multi-lingual. He spoke Spanish, Japanese and some French.
I learned much more about Winslow’s history that evening. He was active duty army in World War II. As an intelligence officer, he saw action parachuting into the South Pacific after the bombs had been dropped on Japan. Winslow and his second wife had experience in the newspaper business in New York City and helped start New York Magazine in 1968. With their connections to the media, they were invited to be the first couple to camp as tourists in tents on the Antarctic. They had a great experience but the wind was so strong, their tents barely stood. There had been a plan underway to open the Antarctic to tourism, but due to Winslow and his wife’s experience, the government decided they would be the first and last tourists to camp on the Antarctic unsupervised; tourists to this day have to go with a guide service.
Throughout the trip, Winslow told me stories of hikes he took all over the world, including one in Ireland. He was alone and misjudged a mud pit. As he stepped into it, he immediately sank to his waist and he could not move. At first, he thought that this was the end, but by using his back pack he was able to pull himself free. He hiked to a shelter where he met a woman; the mud smell was so bad, he thought she would dissuade him from approaching, but she washed his clothes and fed him.
Winslow had a particular charm that seemed to bring positive energy everywhere he went, which I believe reflected his mind set. Despite the physical limitations of his age, his mind still acted with a can-do, positive attitude. As we were leaving the restaurant, the waitress stopped me to say, “If he is a bother, I would be happy to take him home.”
As we walked back to Gracie Anne, Winslow needed to lean on my shoulder to walk the 100 yards. I was not sure if it was the gin or he was just tired. Winslow wanted the boat to himself, so I slept in a local hotel as I had on most nights. I arrived by 0600 the next morning to find frost on the dock. As we headed out, motoring down the canal to the entrance of Delaware Bay, we enjoyed a picturesque sunrise. We began to feel the warmth of the sun as the morning progressed. We were expecting light winds from the south but we were met with very disorganized sea conditions due to current and a change in wind direction. It was blowing 15 to 18 knots, so we slammed around for a while until we were clear of the breakwater and then set sail with two reefs. We set our course to sail down the Jersey side, we had a place in mind to spend the night but found no information about what would be available for service.
With Oliver in tow and three-foot broad reach seas we settled into our first real open water sail. We were only doing 4 knots over the bottom. The forecast was for the winds to become lighter and we were fighting a strong outgoing current, so we opted to motor sail to keep us at 6 knots. The winds lightened and we went full sail. The auto helm was a huge help on this leg because it was so cold; my hands were frozen despite not having to hold the tiller. The hours passed as we checked systems and depth. Even though we were out of sight of land at times, we were only in 11 feet of water. Winslow would come up for a watch and then head below to read. We discussed a plan to get me home for Thanksgiving, and with that, the start of his solo adventure.
We enjoyed another spectacular sunset as we motored up a tight channel into the sleepy town of Fortescue located a little over half way between Cape May and the Chesapeake and Delaware canal. There was a family on the water pulling crab traps, but otherwise we did not see a soul. There was no marina open. There were slips, but no shore power. As we entered the channel at low tide we had less then two feet of water at times. The sun was on the horizon as we tied up to a rickety float. As I was securing the boat, Winslow was on the phone to his grandson. About an hour later a car pulled up with a driver in a limo outfit.
Winslow was not going to sleep on the boat in the freezing temperatures that were forecast, so we drove 30 minutes to Millville and found a room at Holiday Inn Express. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant and I learned about the New York mafia and Winslow’s love for movies, in particular his favorite actor Al Pacino in the ” Scent of a Woman.” He told me I had to see it sometime. He had his usual double gin on the rocks and we told stories until we called a cab to get back to our hotel. Winslow was singing down the hall as we went to our separate rooms, I reminded him that I would be knocking at 6 AM.
In the morning, we went off right on schedule. By now Winslow and the driver were best of friends sharing all kinds of stories, including one about our driver taking Michael Jordan to the race track in town and how well he tipped. We arrived at the boat and the sun was now up. I held Winslow securely as we went down the icy boat ramp and back aboard. The engine fired right up, and we headed out into another beautiful brisk sunrise.
We set full sail and with the current in our favor, we had a glorious sail to the canal, arriving two hours earlier than I expected. There was not a cloud in the sky all day. At about 2 PM, we lowered the sail, and started motoring down the canal. We were not wearing jackets, people were running and biking on the canal trail in shorts. Winslow announced in a big yelp, “We are getting south, yahoo!”