Coming and going at Fort Adams

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 1:30pm

“You better put a life jacket on Mac when you’re crossing the harbor in the morning, you don’t want him to fall out of the dinghy while you’re heading over to Fort Adams,” said my wife Cindy.
“He’ll be fine, plus Mac likes to scope the harbor on the way to the fort, and he needs to keep his head on a swivel,” I said.
The bride had good intentions with her suggestion especially since Scottish Terriers tend to sink when they’re swimming; Scotties have solid and substantial chest muscles and good sized heads so they tend to dog paddle while aiming underwater at a thirty
degree angle. Furthermore, Scottish Terriers are just a tightly packed bundle of muscle which is heavier than fat tissue; so they can sink, fast. Cindy knows how Scotties roll. I knew Mac would not like a life jacket idea because he was a sailor dude, and had sailed with me in heavy air with our Ericson 30’s rail in the water. In rough weather I would tether Mac to me in the cockpit, and found him to be the most fearless dog I’ve ever met. And, he was tough and would strut around the Fort Adams dock while I lined up people for boarding the Nelseco. However, to placate Cindy one morning I did put a life jacket on our tenacious terrier. He didn’t like it and I could sense he was mortified and embarrassed; he knew he looked silly in the brightly colored and restrictive life jacket. But, I did the dutiful thing as per my bride’s request. I got into my dinghy, and then lifted Mac with the handle of the life
jacket. I put him in the dink amidships and turned my back to get my backpack for two seconds. Then, kerplunk Mac rolled out of
the boat and into Newport Harbor. I hauled him back in the dink, and took off his life saving rig. And, that, was that. Mac was my
assistant that summer for the M/V Nelseco’s summer run at Fort Adams to Block Island. Mac was cool and a great sailing companion. We miss him.

For over a decade while working those summers in Newport when the Nelseco ran out of Fort Adams linking Newport to Block Island, I got to witness many different things coming and going in and around the fort and the harbor: colorful people, festivals, and ships of various designs. Note the following example.
One summer the Queen Elizabeth 2 called in Newport and the Cunard Line had set up a reception tent at Fort Adams for the passengers of the refurbished ocean liner. The reception was part of a meet and greet protocol for the folks who were attending the Newport Jazz Festival. It was a pretty snazzy affair where the captain and his officers were hanging at the tent sipping
libations while chatting and eating finger food with the passengers, who were well-heeled by the looks of their getups. Ahem, they all sounded very British. I noticed an officer in her dress whites, epaulets and spit-shined shoes. I approached her for a quick hello; however, I had a question regarding her ship. I introduced myself while she nodded to the Block Island Ferry logo on my shirt and she probably figured I was worth her time for a chat—after all, she was on duty schmoozing the paying passengers. She was from London and was very proper and buttoned up while also seeming very approachable with a casual air about her.
The Queen Elizabeth 2 has made over eight hundred crossings of the Atlantic since 1969, and I’d read that few years earlier in 1998 she had encountered one of her worst crossings that her present captain and crew had ever experienced. I asked the officer If she had been on the liner during that particular six-day crossing. She indeed had been, and was on her bridge watch when a 24-meter wave hit the bow of the ship. She said every day of the six-day crossing had been rough; however, she said this about the largest wave she had witnessed during this particular crossing. “It was my watch at 0900 and we were moving along at four to six knots while sometimes adding one or two knots to stabilize the ship. The seas were very rough, but one particular wave broke over the bow of the ship,” she said, “and then things got very dark and quiet among our captain and officers. This wave had broken navigational gear on top of the bridge.” This very proper British sailor shared this with me in a professional and understated manner. Very British. I thanked her for the information, and later that day, I’d circled the ocean liner in my sailboat to get a sense of the mass of a 75-foot wave cleaning up the gear on top of the liner’s bridge. As I looked at the top of the wheelhouse, I got a sense of how rough this crossing of the Atlantic must’ve been for all on board. Moreover, I’m sure that everyone who was aboard must’ve been very happy making landfall in New York Harbor after getting bashed up and battered in the unruly North Atlantic. I took a picture off the bow of the ship from my other sailboat Celtic Legend.
The summer before last in July 2019 while taking off in Reverie for a couple of days of sailing, I saw another ocean liner coming and going. It was the Queen Mary in the outer anchorage offloading passengers to go ashore in the City of Newport to see the sights for a day. Again, as I sailed by this enormous ship while heading north to Prudence Island, I could remember my unsettling conversation about a seventy-five foot wave with the Queen Elizabeth 2’s officer, all those years ago. Certain things simply don’t change; things as in life, just come and go.