Sunday, September 14, 2014

Schooner 18c Takes on the Isles of Shoals

A week ago Friday, I tested the Schooner 18c's sea-worthiness on a roughly 18-mile round trip from Portsmouth Harbor off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire to the Isles of Shoals, and back.

Along with me as crew was Dick Damon, a Shell Boats customer who owns a Swifty 15' and lives relatively nearby in the Amherst, Massachusetts area. About 20 years ago he made two trips out to the Isles himself in a different boat, and was eager to relive the experience.

Originally, we planned to make the trip on Saturday, but watching the weather all week it was clear by Thursday that weekend weather wouldn't be safe for small craft ocean boating. Fortunately, Dick was able to reschedule his work (he's a piano tuner) and come along a day earlier than expected.

We launched at Pierce Island Park about two miles from the real mouth of Portsmouth Harbor, and right off the bat my tablet with navigation charts proved useful because getting out of the harbor wasn't obvious; there are a lot of inlets going in and out.

Launching the Schooner 18c in Portsmouth Harbor 
Navigation was pretty easy once we were out in open water, since we could see the Isles faintly. Our trip out was under motor power with a little sail assist because there was a light wind blowing from the direction of the Isles. Tacking out would have taken considerably longer than the three or so hours it took us with the motor. We could have gone faster, but the water was somewhat choppy and we weren’t in a hurry.

The Isles of Shoals are a group of mostly rocky, low-lying islands with some sections of very shallow water (shoals) between them. When we got close, I was again glad to have charts to consult, because navigating into our destination harbor was somewhat tricky.

We docked for roughly 20 minutes at Star Island, after getting verbal permission to tie up from a conference center coordinator within shouting distance on shore. Star Island--which houses a large but somewhat primitive hotel--bills itself as a retreat center for spiritual/contemplative purposes. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country hold meetings here each summer. 

During our short landfall on Star Island, we basically just stretched our legs and had a friendly conversation with the retreat center's guest manager. She complemented the boat, and told us about the retreat center.

The hotel on Star Island charges guests about $100-plus per night for room and board and features somewhat primitive facilities. There's no off-site electricity available, so all power comes from generators, with the promise of solar panel help next year. Meals are served community-style on big tables.  The only way on and off the island, for people and supplies, is by boat.

Our trip back to mainland was all under sail. We chose the right day to go out; the seas were relatively calm (I've seen bigger waves on Lake Champlain) except for some big waves from fishing boats going by.

The Schooner 18c handled the seas really well. The motor is a really nice addition; it lets you go fast if you need to, and has a key start right at the helm.

The only mishap we had, if you even call it that, was getting a bit lost coming back into Portsmouth Harbor. That happened because we tried to eyeball the location of our inlet to the launch ramp area instead of using the charts, and entered at the wrong place. After a few minutes wandering around in a little bay, we realized our mistake and retraced our steps.   

Altogether, the trip took about 6 hours. I shot about 25 minutes of video in roughly 10 segments, and these will be published soon in a compilation on the Shell Boats YouTubechannel

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