Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sailing Past Lady Liberty – A Dream Fulfilled (Day 1)

          Finally sailing past Lady Liberty was a dream fulfilled. When I purchased Mischief, a 1983 C&C 24 in August 2010, even though I had very little sailing experience, I dreamed of sailing through New York Harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, and up the Hudson.  Thinking I would be purchasing a sail boat, I completed a New York State Safe Boating course and a US Sailing Basic Keelboat course just a few weeks before the purchase.  After three seasons of sailing on New York’s Jamaica Bay and adding an American Sailing Association Basic Coastal Cruising course to my sailing resume, I was ready to reach for that dream.

            My dream started taking shape in Middle August 2013 when my sailing friend Harry was looking for someone to sail with him down the Hudson.  I offered to join him as his crew or, alternatively, he could join me as my crew as I sailed up the Hudson.  He chose to join me.
            As our planned departure of Friday morning, August 16 grew nearer, I started paying closer attention to the Marine Offshore Forecast for New York Harbor and the NWS forecast for the area around the marina in Mill Basin.  I also studied the tide tables for Mill Basin, The Narrows, and Hoboken.
            As late as the day before our planned departure the weather looked great but only light winds were predicted.  I have learned from experience that actual winds usually vary from the forecast.  If the actual winds were lighter than expected we would end up motoring more than I wanted.  If the winds were heavier than predicted, we would enjoy a great sail.  Thursday afternoon we decided to go ahead and hit the water the following morning and come home early if winds were lighter than forecasted.
            Leaving the house a little after 6:00 AM, we first stopped at Dunkin Donuts to pick up some hot coffee and breakfast.   We arrived at Mischief a little after 7:00 AM with three more hours of ebb tide to assist our departure.  Within fifteen minutes after climbing aboard we were prepared to sail.  I started the old Mariner 9.9 HP outboard and we were off.
            The outboard spewed more smoke than usual as we motored out toward Jamaica Bay.  I looked at the water discharge and could not see any cooling water being ejected.  I feared the worse – a malfunctioning impeller.  As soon as we were out of the basin and in the bay we hoisted the main sail, unfurled the genoa, shut down the outboard, and hoped for wind.  We were sailing in a light breeze by 8:00 AM
Harry at the helm
I knew that even if the impeller was not working, if I allowed the engine to cool down, I could still motor back into Mill Basin and maneuver into the dock before it overheated.  If the impeller was truly malfunctioning, however, we could not rely on the outboard to help us much in light winds.  With enough wind and an assisting ebb tide to move us through the bay on a southerly tack, however, we sailed on with Harry at the helm.
            About an hour later, making slow progress under light winds on a westerly tack, I chanced restarting the outboard for a little motor sailing.  As soon as I started the engine I saw cooling water discharging into the ocean.  The impeller was working!  Earlier in the season, on the very first sail, the impeller did not work the first time I ran the outboard but worked fine later in the day when I started it again and it had run without any problems since then.  I hoped it would work fine for the rest of our sail up the Hudson and back.
            The wind picked up not long after restarting the outboard, so after about fifteen to twenty minutes of motor sailing I shut the engine down again.  Less than two hours after leaving the dock we sailed under the Marine Parkway Bridge, also known as the Gill Hodges Memorial Bridge, the main western access from Brooklyn to Queen’s Rockaway Peninsula.  We were westward bound.
            I remember feeling a great sense of accomplishment the first time I sailed under the bridge, months after I had purchased Mischief.  Now two seasons later, passing under the span seems like a routine event, the bridge marking the point where I know I can motor back to the dock in an hour if the outboard is working.
            Even though we were under sail after passing under the bridge, we were making slow progress through Jamaica Bay as we tacked into an easterly light breeze. With Coney Island not far ahead off our starboard bow and wanting to make The Narrows as the flood tide started moving up the Hudson, a little before noon I once again started the outboard and motored past King’s County Community College.
            After half an hour of motor sailing it was apparent that the light breeze was starting to stiffen and that we were sailing faster than the motor could propel us.  I quieted the outboard as we sailed past Coney Island and turned north toward the Narrows and Verrazano Bridge.
            The Verrazano Bridge is a huge span.  Having sailed under it and back once before, I had learned that while approaching it the bridge appears closer than it actually is. Two hours after first seeing it, with a starboard broad reach, we finally sailed under this mighty structure around two in the afternoon, six and a half hours after leaving Mischief’s dock.  Soon after passing under the bridge I was sailing Mischief in waters I have never before sailed in.  The adventure had truly begun.  I wondered if what I was feeling was anything at all like how Giovanni da Verrazano or Henry Hudson felt the first time sailing through these waters.
Tanker in the Hudson
            Not long after passing through the narrows and under the bridge we encountered our first big cargo ship.  It was making its way south, out of New York Harbor, well within Ambrose Channel.  I looked at and said to Harry “We be sailing among the big boys now”.
            Moments later I was looking at the Statue of Liberty for the first time from the cockpit of my own sailboat.  I have seen Lady Liberty a few times from the deck of the Staten Island Ferry, the deck of the Norwegian Gem, sailing a boat belonging to Sailors NYC, sailing a boat belonging to Hudson River Community Sailing, and from numerous points on land.  Seeing this beacon of liberty from my own boat Mischief was a thrill that partially fulfilled my dream. 
Lady Liberty
            After passing Lady Liberty, I fixed my gaze upon the northern horizon.  Seeing small white specks, I raised my binoculars and saw what appeared to be dozens of small sailboats sailing down the Hudson toward The Battery.  As we transitioned from upper New York Harbor into the Hudson proper, sailing wing on wing, it seemed like every sailing school along the Hudson had their boats out, all sailing south as Harry and I were sailing north.  I felt like we had sailed into a swarm of gnats, or a flock of birds, all heading in the opposite direction.  It was like playing dodge ball or negotiating a metaphorical minefield as we tacked back and forth among chop, trying to make our way north while also avoiding all the other boats that were heading south.
            After a few hairy maneuvers we finally emerged through the swarm of boats and found ourselves in the Hudson proper.  While I was still sailing Mischief in water I had never before sailed her in, I was at least in familiar waters as I had previously sailed them once in a boat belonging to Sailors NYC and several times when taking US Sailing 101 with Hudson River Community Sailing.  

        We soon sailed past Hoboken, NJ, our destination for the night.  With several hours of daylight remaining, however, we decided to sail further north, planning to turn around and head back around 6 PM, expecting to dock around 8 PM.  Boat traffic was now light and we had a good wind and an assisting flood tide so we made good progress.
            Continuing north, we sailed past The Frying Pan, one of my favorite fair weather floating restaurants, and its neighbors the New York Kayaking Company and Hudson River Community Sailing.  We soon passed the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, home of the Space Shuttle Enterprise, still under cover after Hurricane Sandy damaged the installation.  We sailed past the cruise ship terminals, the New York home of the Norwegian Gem, and eventually past the 79th Street Basin.

            The 79th Street Basin Cafe is another of my favorite fair weather restaurants, non-floating.  The Boat Basin is also where I first Harry, my sailing companion for this trip.  We met months earlier while waiting to board The Clearwater, Pete Seeger’s floating classroom and lobbyist for a cleaner Hudson, for an evening sail.  The Clearwater was nowhere to be seen this trip but both Harry and I recognized the view as we reminisced and talked about that evening sail aboard the forty year old sloop.
Riverside Church and the God Box
      As the clock clicked closer to 6 PM, I tacked and headed the Mischief’s bow downstream toward Hoboken.  There was only one problem.  We were still headed north!  The ebb tide was still flowing, and flowing strongly, even though the tide tables had it scheduled to have turned.  We were more or less ferrying back and forth across the Hudson, tacking south but slowly drifting north. 
      Well past the 79th Street Boat Basin I recognized the heavenly bound tower of the Riverside Church and just next to it the Interchurch Center, also known as “The God Box”.  I was not yet desperate enough to pray for the tide to turn, however.

       As time was passing and we were still moving north on the flood tide, Harry and I decided to start the outboard and motor sail back to Hoboken.  Fighting a flood tide the whole way, we headed down the Hudson near the New Jersey Shore until we finally arrived at The Shipyard Marina, where we had reserved a slip for the night.
            After an hour and a half of motor sailing, a little after 7:30 PM, we finally steered into The Shipyard Marina in Hoboken and tied up.  A check of my GPS revealed that we had sailed forty miles since leaving Mill Basin, five miles short of my one day record. We locked up the cabin, paid our slip fee, and headed out to meet a couple of Harry’s friends, Fran and Jo, for dinner.
Shipyard Marina, Hoboken, NJ
            After a delicious dinner at Hoboken’s Hudson Tavern, a dinner that included chicken, beef, and lamb kabobs as well as two Guinness draft, Harry and I returned to Mischief.  We bedded down for the night, Harry starboard and I port.  It was my first night to sleep on the boat.  While Harry had spent several nights aboard his boat, this was also his first night aboard Mischief.
            The Marina was quiet and the waters not nearly as choppy as they were earlier in the evening when we tied up.  Nearly twelve hours and forty miles of sailing under a hot August sun and through one of the world’s busiest harbors had been tiring.   I fell asleep soon after hitting the cushions and remember little else until I awoke the next morning. 
          Continued here ...


No comments: