This Side Up

Summer is in the air


“Let’s have breakfast at Block Island.”

I don’t pass up invitations like these from Claude Bergeron. I’ve had breakfast at several different airports with Claude, and Block Island is one of my favorites. The breakfast is good, but not one of those fares you can’t get out of your mind as being exceptional. Rather, it’s eating at a counter, watching the action in the kitchen, taking in the chatter of the kitchen crew and listening to the stories of others, like you, who have made the island airport a breakfast destination.

Those who fly are a group unto themselves, and Claude is fortunate to have a friend with an airplane. They have their own lingo and – this is a good thing – I’ve found them to be detailed and especially fussy about having things in the right place. Claude doesn’t take chances when flying.

“I’ll see you at North Central at 7:30,” Claude directed.

And he had plans for after breakfast. Upon returning, we would meet again at Wharf Marina to take a powerboat over to Pleasure Marina in Oakland Beach and tow our 19-foot sailboats up the bay.

It looked like Sunday was all planned out, but then the weather is unpredictable. At 5:30 a.m. Sunday, fog shrouded the upper bay. Not even the channel markers a half mile offshore from Conimicut Point were visible. The Barrington shoreline was obscured. If the visibility was so poor here, it had to be even worse further south.

I waited until 6:15 and called. Claude picked up on the third ring. I gave him my report. There was a silence.

“Let me check; I’ll call you right back.”

When Claude says “right back,” you expect it to be almost instantaneous. He didn’t disappoint.

Conditions were no better elsewhere. Breakfast at Block Island would have to wait for another day.

We stepped up plans for towing the boats.

Warwick Cove is Warwick’s busiest, with more than 3,000 registered boats to my recollection, and I imagined for sure with it being Memorial Day weekend it would be jamming. By 10, the fog had lifted. The cove was like glass. A glance at the yard told me many people were late getting in. It was confirmed when I got out of the car and scanned the docks and found a majority of slips were empty.

Conditions could hardly be better for towing a couple of sailboats to their moorings up the bay.

Claude ran though his mental checklist – remember, he’s a pilot. The life jackets were where they were supposed to be, the engine oil was topped off and he had ample fenders and towing lines. He also had a cigar in his vest pocket, which I knew he would light up once we had rounded Warwick Neck and started the straight, long run to Conimicut Point. My job was to steer the boat at the end of the towline. That left a boat without someone at the helm between me and Claude in the powerboat.

We set off and the middle boat in the chain immediately started yawing back and forth like a caged cat. We went on like this until we were past the can off Anglesea. Claude slowed, lengthened the towline and then sped up. The sister ship settled down and we were on our way.

It was an easy run. I stayed dry, which is often not the case when either sailing or being towed in a small sailboat. The day was brightening, and the puffy white clouds on the horizon were harbingers of the sea breeze that would fill in by afternoon.

We passed Rocky Point, looking more grown over than I ever remember. The Shore Dinner Hall and Palladium are nearly obscured, and the giant parking lot is filled with brush. In another 20 minutes, we rounded Conimicut Light. A couple of fishermen were anchored nearby. We returned their waves.

We left one boat on a mooring off Conimicut and then headed for Bullock’s Cove in Riverside to leave the other. Soon we would be sailing them, but not Sunday.

Without boats in tow, Claude pushed down on the throttle and headed down the bay. The glassy water mirrored the blue sky. The bay was endless, with Patience and Prudence Islands smudges and the stanchions of the Pell and Jamestown Bridges whiskers on the horizon. We were doing 40 mph, a path of foam in our wake.

Ahead, advancing toward us, the waters were dark and riffled. The southerly wind was filling in.

The breeze was back, and while breakfast at the Block would have to wait, there was nothing better. Summer was blowing in the wind.


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