September 30th, 2009 – Newport, Rhode Island
by Herb McCormick
Over my long and eventful career as a sailing writer, I’ve spent countless nights bobbing around in small boats off dark shores waiting for the arrival of a boat or a sailor. Many of these vigils were spent peering into the night for the first hint of a sail or mast at the finish line of a long ocean race or the conclusion of a notable voyage of some sort. And most of them were in the company of an old friend and colleague, one of the best yachting photographers around, a fellow who goes by the no-nonsense name of Billy Black.
|It was sweet this morning when the crew of Ocean Watch sailed into Rhode Island Sound to my hometown, Newport.|
So it was especially sweet this morning when the crew of Ocean Watch sailed into Rhode Island Sound on the last miles of an overnight passage from Boston to the so-called City by the Sea – my hometown: Newport, Rhode Island – and a fast twin-hulled power catamaran came roaring alongside, piloted by one of the top waterborne shooters ever, a man who once told me that his true profession was “painting with light.”
A couple of hours later, Ocean Watch was tied up alongside Bowen’s Wharf in the heart of the small city. Some of the nearest and dearest folks in my life were there, as well as TV and video crews, newspaper and magazine writers, and friends and supporters (see photo above). Most fittingly, having ducked out for a moment from a board meeting right down the dock, David Rockefeller and Dan Pingaro of Sailors for the Sea where there to take our lines and welcome us ashore (Dave Guertin, another integral member of the team, had been aboard Billy’s photo boat, We’re Here!). We’ve had a ton of warm receptions since leaving Seattle, but this may have been the warmest yet.
The 100-mile trip from Boston had been – what else is new? – hectic. Photographer David Thoreson was the latest Ocean Watch crewmember to succumb to an emergency room visit after blowing out a calf muscle earlier in the week. A string of strange coincidences earlier in the day led to a rendezvous with David’s physician from Okoboji, Iowa, on the decks of Ocean Watch. The doc took one look at Mr. T’s leg, uttered the words, “possible blood clot,” and put in motion a trip to the hospital that delayed the boat’s departure from Boston until the early evening hours. Happily, David’s leg will be fine, though it is currently the color of an eggplant, and a vision not necessarily suitable for the faint of heart.
What this meant to the simple logistics of getting Ocean Watch from Point A to Point B – working backwards from the aforementioned midday media appointments – was a straight, nonstop trip from Boston to Newport via Massachusetts Bay, the Cape Cod Canal, Buzzards Bay and Rhode Island Sound. Luckily, for both schedules and nerves, it was a mostly uneventful run with the highlight being the wee-hours ramble through the colorfully lit Canal on a beautiful September eve.
Then, a few hours later, Aquidneck Island, Sachuest Point, Narragansett Bay – all named for the Narragansett tribe of watermen who once roamed these shores – hove into view. Soon enough, Billy Black was also alongside, using these happy, familiar landmarks – at least to me – as a backdrop to the record of our arrival.
|Clearly, I’m not an unbiased observer here, but I have to say, my old, familiar stomping grounds did not disappoint.|
Clearly, I’m not exactly an unbiased observer here, but I have to say, my old, familiar stomping grounds did not disappoint. The lighthouse at Castle Hill stood bold and proud at the head of the bay. Jackie Kennedy’s childhood home, Hammersmith Farm – the summer White House during the sad, short reign of Camelot – looked as regal as ever. The camera crew for the local news station had a perfect place to see Ocean Watch arrive under sail from the grounds of Fort Adams. Just for good measure, my cousin, Newport firefighter Paul Faerber, buzzed us from shore leaning on the horn of his big Triumph cycle. And if anyone forgot that Newport is the Yachting Capital of the World, the site of the old America’s Cup winner, Courageous – in that unforgettable summer of ‘77, with the Mouth from the South, Ted Turner, at the helm – powering out of town put that notion to rest.
Once alongside, the festivities began, and the crew now has a busy schedule for their abbreviated stop before heading to New York on Friday afternoon.
Many years ago, skipper Mark Schrader sailed into Newport after a 27,000-mile solo circumnavigation in the 1986-87 BOC Challenge. Today, after 8,500-miles, he led a crew back into town after a successful passage of the Northwest Passage. I have to say, for at least one brief moment before the craziness began, we looked at each other and became pretty darn emotional. Words failed us both.
But we were both thinking the same thing. In one way and another, we were both home.
- Herb McCormick with photographs by David Thoreson
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