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  • Writer's pictureSailing Koinonia

Cruising with Sharks, Seals, Scallops, and Shingles

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Date: 08/11/21

Location: Newport, RI

Temps Hi/Low: 79/72

Weather: partly cloudy and humid

It’s been way too long since we posted an update here. I could share a lot of reasons why posting long text posts hasn’t been a priority, but you came to read stories of our cruising adventure, so let’s skip the excuses and jump right to the good stuff. But before we do, for anyone who would like more regular updates, I recommend following our Instagram and Facebook pages because we typically post a few times a week. You can also find out where we are and track our route from our new noforeignland page.

We’ve now been living, working, and homeschooling aboard Koinonia full-time for nearly 10 months. We’ve traveled ~900nm, with most of that distance having been covered since we left Gloucester Point, VA on June 19th, 2021. We’ve had ups and a few downs during our summer voyage but no regrets.

A series of firsts

Since sailing to New England, we’ve experienced a lot of firsts as a family. We are still learning every day. This is our first visit to New England, by land or by sea, for example. With temps in the mid to upper 70s every day, it sure beats the heck out of the summer heat on the lower Chesapeake Bay, although it is still very humid here. The food has been great and the people we’ve met have been wonderful.

At sea, we completed our first overnight passage as a family, made our longest non-stop passage to date — a run of over 200nm from Cape May, NJ to Block Island, RI which we completed in 36 hours. We sailed through fog for the first time (13 hours of it and without radar). We also went under bridges for the first time too. None of them seem tall enough when you start to approach but there is plenty of clearance.

In terms of sea life, Amber spotted a single triangular dorsal cruising in search of an easy meal while we were offshore near Montauk. It was the first large shark either of us have seen in the wild. We’re pretty sure it was a Mako. We‘ve also seen our first wild sea turtles and our first wild seal. A lone grey seal surfaced about 50ft from the boat, took a few deep breaths, looked around for a bit, then swam off. We caught and cooked our first wild clams and bay scallops while we were at Block Island, which were delicious. The girls even dissected a squid at BIMI. It was an unexpected first but they loved it!

We anchored in 30+ foot of water for the first time, and tried our hand at scrubbing our own bottom…no, no…the bottom of the boat! We’ve always had a diver keep Koinonia’s bottom clean while living the marina life. It’s not very hard and is oddly gratifying — a bit like mowing the lawn, I suppose — but it’s a lot of work and takes a long time on a boat our size.

As far as terrestial exploits, we enjoyed our first traditional Irish band. Aiden’s Irish Pub in Bristol will be fondly remembered and considered a must do. We also ate at our first Portuguese restaurant. I don’t think we missed out on a lot of ice cream along the way because our girls, especially our youngest, is now convinced that going ashore is synonymous with getting ice cream. We are experiencing some widthdrawls in ice cream rehab. We hiked the Mohegan Bluffs at Block Island and plan to hike the cliff walk here in Newport. We have enjoyed walking and exploring all over Bristol, Newport, and Block Island. Using public transportation has been interesting at times. Uber/Lift is not always available and walking or biking to get groceries can take a bit of advanced planning, but it’s part of the experience. We have learned that delivery services like Instacart are a lifesaver and worth the added expense when we need to provision.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we’ve met some great people along our journey. We’ve befriended our cab driver at Block Island, Capt Jim, who lives on his boat with his wife, our new friends and fellow Christ followers, Tommy and Tracy on S/V Sailin’ Shoes and “adopted” daughter Bethany, Marc and Nancy on S/V Mer du Jour, Glenn and Debbie on S/V Colliope, and Jean Marie, an artist we met at Aiden’s and later took for a short cruise around Bristol Harbor. We also reconnected with my good friend Justin and his dog Sammy, which was a lot of fun. We are also eager to connect with new boat kid families and friends like the Pedigo's and, of course, all of our wonderful friends and family back in Yorktown/Gloucester/Richmond, VA.

What hasn't been great

There have been some unsettling, scary, and infuriating experiences, like having to run off a couple of drunks who decided to board our boat uninvited at 12:30am while we were sleeping. I couldn’t believe it. What was going through their heads?!? This was the first and last night we have spent at a dock this entire trip.

We’ve also had occasional difficulties sleeping, like the night we rode out a storm in 30-40kt winds and 2-3ft waves on the nose while on a mooring. We’ve watched in dismay as boats who anchored poorly dragged or even seeing them collide with other boats, their owners trying in vain to fend off the other boat in the howling wind and rain. We’ve also experienced a ridiculous amount of boat traffic waking us or passing too close, both while underway and at anchor. The number of clueless and discourteous boaters on the water can be downright maddening. Those are the times I secretly wish I had a few cannons and perhaps a torpedo or two. Simultaneously, I’m glad I don’t because the temptation would be too great to resist.

Lastly, I had a shingles outbreak from which I am still recovering. I developed pain that I thought was the start of a kidney stone and then, several days later, I developed a strange rash on my left middle and lower back. I didn’t put the two symptoms together because I wasn’t even aware someone my age could be at risk. It turns out, if you’ve ever had chicken pox, (and practically everyone born prior to 1995 when the vaccine became available in the US probably has), then you are at risk. They aren’t usually sure what causes it to flare up but it can be brought on by a lot of things: stress, lack of sleep, sun exposure, etc. The skinny on shingles is: it sucks. It hurts really badly for weeks and there isn’t much they can do for it. If you think you might have it, the earlier they catch it the better. I am much better now so thanks to all those who prayed for healing. I am hopeful I won’t experience any neuropathy.

What’s next?

The truth is we’re never entirely sure. That’s how life afloat goes. Our plans are greatly dependent on the weather and wind. Our “plans” can even change while we are underway, if the conditions warrant. While we could just motor around and avoid some of this fuss, we prefer to sail. It’s more peaceful and it’s a lot more fun. If we wanted to motor around all the time, we wouldn’t have bought a sailboat. Oh, I installed our new Halo 20+ radar with minimal fuss, so now we feel much better about venturing offshore at night or in a fog.

There is a lot more we want to see and do before we begin our migration south in mid-September. Our next stop is probably Cuttyhunk, MA, which is the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands. This is a bit of a fair weather stop, so we’ll see what happens but it is a neat place and a good jumping off point to other destinations. From Cuttyhunk, we will likely proceed East to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Alternatively, we may head north into Buzzards Bay, MA. Funny true story, the bay got it’s odd name because of the large nesting birds the colonists spotted along the shore. They mistook the native Osprey for Buzzards. If we decide to explore Buzzards Bay, it will be the farthest north we travel this year. Next season, we hope to make it as far north as Maine and perhaps even parts of Nova Scotia.

Well, that pretty well covers our recent experiences and here’s to making time to post updates to the blog at least once a month.

Blessings and fair winds,

Ben Ward

S/V Koinonia

265 views2 comments


cheryl irvin
Aug 22, 2021

i hope this finds you out of the path of hurricane henri. please know i'm thinking of you and sending an abundance of prayers!! stay safe!!! love, grandma florida


Glenn Ward
Glenn Ward
Aug 14, 2021

Quiet an adventure you all have had. Your experiences will help you each time you sail to a new location. Stay safe and keep in touch often. Dad

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