“We have restrictive conditions in the harbor right now which is pretty awesome,” is not something you usually expect a captain to say. But then again, Capt. Eddie Persichetti is no ordinary captain. And this was no ordinary day.
Fog had descended on Narragansett Bay, in Newport, Rhode Island, as the 21-foot Vanquish CC started to make its way toward Fort Adams, a former army outpost situated at the mouth of the Newport Harbor. At the Vanquish’s helm was Fawn Choate, a resident of Marblehead, Massachusetts. She was in town for the Newport International Boat Show when she decided to sign up for Confident Captain, a hands-on training course, with the idea that there’s always something new that can be learned or relearned.
The fog exponentially increased the learning curve. As we snaked our way towards Fort Adams, sailboats and motoryachts towered above us in the mooring field, which hadn’t yet been touched by the ghostly pall.
“We have a very simple philosophy at Confident Captain: if it looks expensive, don’t go near it,” said Capt. Eddie. Sitting idly above the helm was a dry erase board that he would pick up and draw on with a marker to emphasize a point he was making, like a basketball coach calling plays. Fawn maneuvered through the calm waters as Capt. Eddie urged her on. “We want to do idle speed for as much as we can,” he said enthusiastically.
The fog had rolled in in the afternoon, laying a thick blanket over the bay and completely obscuring the Newport Bridge. With only its towers poking out above the fog line, the bridge looked like the spiked back of large beast.
Capt. Eddie is wont to speak in aphorisms, and he was spouting them out every now and then while underway, noting Choate’s performance and interjecting only when appropriate. “Every boat has its limitations” he would say, or, “Don’t oversteer—find that little sweet spot,” and “You’re never ever going to break the wind. This is New England.”
He had handpicked the Vanquish for this lesson, on loan from the Freedom Boat Club, as Choate had owned a boat in that similar size range. She was idling it towards the mouth of the harbor when we heard the first in a series of loud sounds: the single, prolonged blast of a fog horn.
Another one sounded. And another. And another. But whether they were all from the same boat or different vessels sending out two short blasts at regular two minute intervals was hard to tell.
“You need a million eyes in Newport on a good day,” said Capt. Eddie. He pointed to the open face dock at Fort Adams where Fawn would practice creating spring lines while docking.
All of a sudden a giant shape moved in the fog to our starboard side. An enormous shape, its size matching the intensity of the fog horn that had just sounded. It was a Navy Destroyer shrouded in fog. For a second we all marveled intently at the vessel before it sped away into the obscuring haze.
Capt. Eddie, who has worked as a captain on superyachts and trained countless crew hands, guided Fawn through the steps to create a spring line without leaving the boat. “You are absolutely textbook perfect right now,” he said. She practiced tying off a few times before he asked her if she was ready to head back to the harbor, where she would be practicing docking in a slip. She nodded vigorously.
On our way back, seemingly ruminating on the close calls that were surely taking place in the bay at the moment, Capt. Eddie gave us his most valuable piece of advice. “When in doubt,” he said. “Don’t go out.”