Operation Landfall: Exploring in our Own Backyard

The Dawn Treader is about to become a ship of exploration, heading off into the well-charted yet little-known waters of our own Narragansett Bay.


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Trip Wolfskehl and Dave Gracer on the Dawn Treader.

The Dawn Treader is a tiny sailboat – less than twenty feet from stem to stern – but she's about to become a ship of exploration, heading off into the well-charted yet little-known waters of our own Narragansett Bay. Her captain, Trip Wolfskehl, of Newport, and his crew, David Gracer, from Providence, are setting sail July 1 to visit every one of our forty-nine-or-so islands in the Bay and off the south shore, and along the way, they hope to discover a closer connection with nature and the ocean. "We all love our technology, and spend too much time indoors," says Gracer. "The Bay, which is this great gift the world has given to Rhode Island, is forgotten."

The two, who have been friends since 1998 when they met at a Toastmasters club, have been talking about the trip for years, and this summer the planning finally fell into place. The boat is borrowed from a friend, and they have chosen a cause to promote – Save the Bay's children's education programs. They built a Facebook page about the project, drew up a schedule and created a fundraising page online (all donations go straight to the kids, the sailors are covering their own expenses). Now they're ready to go. They'll be sailing for the month of July, three or four days at a time, anchoring at night and sleeping on the boat, and taking weekends off to spend with their families. The boat has a single mast, a tiny cabin with benches just wide enough for a skinny sailor to take a nap, and an unreliable little outboard motor that can be mounted on the stern, though they don't expect to use it much. 

They don't need a lot of space for provisions because they plan to forage for food along the way, catching fish and collecting seaweed (or sea vegetables, says Wolfskehl). They also plan to investigate all the life forms they can find along their journey. "We'd love to see an octopus," says Gracer. "And seahorses, we know they live in the eelgrass beds, but we've never seen one in the Bay." The rare eelgrass beds, once widespread in Bay waters, have been coming back in recent years, thanks to efforts by Save the Bay and other advocates. The voyage overall aims to be pretty low-tech, but Wolfskehl, an experienced sailor, has a handheld GPS for navigating. They plan to be close to land at all times, he says, but fog can create a white-out "like the inside of a ping-pong ball."  

Gracer and Wolfskehl won't be going where no man has gone before – our little Bay, after all, can be surveyed from shore to shore on any trip across the bridges – but their journey is an adventure nonetheless. They'll be just inches from the salty sea and all that lives within it, through long days and starry nights, in sun and rain and wind and waves and darkness, in search of a connection and a challenge. "Any real adventure is going to involve some misery," says Gracer, somewhat hopefully. Here's wishing them fair winds, and just enough misery to make it real.


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