We returned to Curiosity in the late afternoon, intending to relax and read. We turned on the generator to charge the batteries and give us some power to cook dinner, as we decided to have a pasta casserole we had prepared and frozen before we left. All was well. We were awaiting the final Jeopardy answer when the generator suddenly cut off. The generator panel said there was insufficient water flow. So we headed to the engine room to look at the generator’s water strainer. It had some debris in it, but it wasn’t clogged. Jim cleaned it out anyway, popped it back in and started the generator again. It started right up. Problem solved. We eventually headed to bed and were getting close to calling it a day when the generator cut out again. Again, insufficient water flow. But the evening was cool and still very windy, so there was no need for the A/C. This time, we let it be and figured we would deal with it in the morning.
The next morning we fired up the generator again, and it ran without any problems for about 2 hours when we shut it down. Jim emailed Burr Yachts to see if they had any thoughts on the issue and they mentioned that there was a heat sensor on the exhaust pipe that might be bad. This would require getting a tech on board to troubleshoot the problem. Ugh! We thought the problem was that something had clogged up the intake line and now was off. At worst, we thought we might have to get a diver out to check the intake. But all seemed well so we called the launch and headed into Newport.
This was Saturday, the second day of the Newport Folk Festival taking place at Fort Adams. The docks were filled with people taking water taxis and launches to the Festival. We probably would have tried to get tickets to the festival, but when we arrived on Thursday the Festival was sold out. Just as well. Saturday was going to be a hot and humid day, and baking in the sun all day did not appeal to us.
Instead, we hiked over to Bellevue Avenue, where the mansions are located, to tour Marble House, the home of Alva and William Vanderbilt. As you might have guessed from its name, Marble House is constructed almost entirely of marble imported from Europe. It was a gift from William to Alva. Alva had selected a warm gold and cream marble for the entry way, which was a perfect cube shape, two stories high and huge, because she didn’t want the house to look or feel like a mausoleum. Instead she wanted a home that took its cues from the Palace at Versailles, so you can imagine how understated it was.
The dining room was done is red and gray marble on the walls and gold boar’s and stag’s heads on the ceiling. The dining room table could seat at least 12 and the chairs were made of gold-plated bronze. The side chairs weighed 75 pounds, the host and hostess chairs 100 pounds, and all required footmen to push them in and pull them out for family and guests.
Across the center hall from the dining room was the formal sitting/living room. It was filled with mirrors and carved wall figures, which were plated in 22-carat gold.
Behind this room was the Gothic Room. It had dark red walls and all its windows were constructed with gothic arches and stunning stained glass collected in Europe. The purpose of the room was to house the Vanderbilt’s collections of gothic artifacts, such as ancient books, illuminated manuscripts, altar pieces and more. Alva apparently believed that they and others in their class were the American aristocracy comparable to European aristocracy. As such, they needed to have collections of ancient artifacts just as the Europeans did. But unlike the European families who had had centuries to establish their collections, the Americans only had decades. The Americans (and the Vanderbilts were among this group), therefore, decided they needed to buy collections en masse. The Gothic Room was the result of that effort.
Up the main staircase on the mezzanine level were two rooms, one for men and one for women. They were small, by Marble House standards, but their purpose was to provide a place for house guests to rest from their travels and clean up a bit. This was the late 1890s and early 1900s, when the wealthy were traveling around in carriages and open cars. As our audio guide pointed out, they got dusty and needed to freshen up, and these rooms were designed to provide a place for that.
The second floor housed the bedrooms, one each for Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt and two for their three children, two boys (William and Harold) and a girl (Consuelo). Surprisingly, there was only one guest bedroom, which was quite large and elaborately decorated with an en suite bath. Apparently, many of the families in these mansions did not have a lot of house guests during the summer social season. They tended to socialize with the other families who were living in or renting the mansions, or who were staying in nearby hotels.
Marble House did not long remain a family retreat for the Vanderbilts because Alva divorced William in what was a shocking move on Alva’s part. In those days, according to Alva, the only people who got divorced were Hollywood stars, certainly not the upper crust of American society. Her husband begged her to accept a separation, but she refused. She wanted to be a trailblazer for women, to show them that they could be independent and survive. So she got divorced and became a major supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. After the divorce, she used Marble House to store clothes and furniture.
Having seen the upstairs and the downstairs of life in the Newport Mansions, we decided to return to Curiosity for some lunch and R & R before dinner at Jo’s Bistro. We hiked back to the wharf to pick up the launch and met another huge group of people trying to get over to the folk festival. Normally, to get a launch all we had to do was show up on the wharf and in about a minute one would show up. Not so that afternoon. Many boats and launches came and went, but none were shuttling people to the mooring field. Finally one showed up and we were able to return to Curiosity.
As mentioned, our destination for dinner was Jo’s Bistro. The festival crowds were waning by early evening, and we had no trouble getting a launch. We hiked over to the restaurant and were grateful for the A/C because the evening was still a hot and muggy affair. We had high hopes for Jo’s Bistro because it had great reviews, but alas it didn’t quite live up to its billing. The food wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t that great. Jim had seared scallops over mashed potatoes with peas and corn, and I had grilled shrimp over a pea and melon risotto. Sounds good, but both dishes needed better seasoning and more flavor. The rolls, however, were excellent.
Our return to the boat meant that it was time to fire up the generator again. As with the other times, it started right away. But after about an hour it stopped again. And again it was because of insufficient water flow. We thought the problem had resolved itself when the generator ran without trouble the previous time. Wrong! This was becoming a real problem because we were planning on going to Nantucket the next day where we would be on a mooring for three days. If the generator wasn’t working we’d either run our batteries down or be forced to get a slip, and there was no guarantee that one would be available on such short notice at that summer boating mecca.
We really thought that it was something that was clogging the intake. I had seen clumps of seagrass throughout the harbor when we were coming in on Thursday. So I stepped outside just to see if there was anything on the port side where the generator and its intake are located. And lo and behold, a long clump of sea grass and seaweed was wafting along the port side. Now this was not definitive, but it certainly suggested that a glob of this stuff was periodically getting sucked up into the intake. We decided to take a deep breath and forget about it until tomorrow. We were planning on running the watermaker on our way to Nantucket, for which we would need the generator. If it could power the watermaker for several hours without stopping, then there was a good chance that the clog theory was correct.
So we forgot about our generator problems and hit the sack. We would have to be up at 5:15 for a 6 am departure the next morning.