For most of the 1980s we owned Dodieva, a 35-foot, Sparkman & Stephens-designed weekender sloop built in 1939. Dodieva had spent the winter in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts and in the spring of 1986 my partner in the boat, Paul and his wife Carol, sailed her from the Vineyard to Padanaram, where I met them for the remainder of the trip to our homeport of Newport, Rhode Island.
We were late leaving Padanaram and the fog rolled in not long after we got out into Buzzards Bay, but aided by our Loran we eventually found buoy G1 near the mouth of the bay. The fog was now very dense so we circled the buoy, keeping it in sight while getting a bearing to our next waypoint. When we were about to head off again, a small open boat with four or five fishermen aboard appeared out of the mist asking us where Westport was. We gave them a magnetic bearing to the bell buoy off the entrance to Westport Harbor, but the fishermen said they didn’t have a chart or a compass, so for us to just point! We told them we were going to Sakonnet Harbor if they wanted to follow us, but no, they just wanted us to point toward Westport. We looked at each other, shrugged, and finally pointed in the general direction of the rock-strewn entrance to the harbor that was some four miles away. The small boat’s crew thanked us, waved and disappeared completely within about 50 feet. We never heard of missing fishermen, so I guess they made it somewhere safely.
We had abandoned our original plan of going to Newport, and wind and tide were not cooperating, so by the time we got near our backup harbor at Sakonnet Point, not only was the fog dense, but it was dark. We found R2A off the harbor entrance and took a bearing on the end of the breakwater, but as we slowly motored toward the harbor, we ran into fish traps with lines near the surface. We returned to R2A a couple of times to try again, but without success, so we finally decided to go a little way up the Sakonnet River and anchor near a soft shore and out of any traffic.
This being before cell phones were everywhere, I called the VHF marine operator and had her patch me into our home phone to tell my wife we were safe and not to call the Coast Guard.
It was the first cruise of the season, and we had only planned on making short hops on the trip to Newport. Accordingly, Dodieva had not been provisioned except for water and of course a case of beer, but now the three of us were destined to spend the night at anchor in the middle of nowhere. We were quite comfortable in Dodieva’s handsome oil-lit saloon, but we had long-ago eaten the snacks we had brought for the day and about now we were getting seriously hungry.
We started scouring the boat for anything edible, but all we found was a rusty can that had been stowed in the bilge since who knew when. The label was long gone, but the can seemed to be intact so we opened it to find tomato soup. We heated the soup to boiling just in case, and very carefully divided it exactly three ways in coffee cups. That was the best tomato soup I have ever, and probably will ever, taste.
The following morning, we woke to find that we were still socked in. Fortunately, a helpful lobsterman led us around the fish traps and into the Sakonnet Harbor. We spent the day on a guest mooring and were able to provision both Dodieva and ourselves very well. Unlike our fishermen friends, I have always had a chart and a compass aboard, and after this experience I will not depart on even a short cruise without provisions for a couple of days, at least some tomato soup.