Thursday, 18 December 2008

New York, New York……

What can we say about New York that hasn’t been said and written before? Well it took us a while to get there, involving a number of stops as winds were either too heavy, too light or from the wrong direction. We left Newport for Point Judith, the Harbour of Refuge between Long Island Sound and Buzzards Bay where we anchored for a few days. It was on the second day as we were idly listening to the VHF and the USCG and a yottie struggling to make sense of something or other that we heard a slightly hysterical “Mayday, Mayday” cut across the CG. A 42’ fishing boat with a lop-sided load was taking on water and the skipper had got everyone into survival suits whilst they attempted to stabilise the boat. The USCG took the particulars and put out a call for near-by vessels to assist until the CG boat arrived. Minutes went by and several boats indicated they were steaming to assist, including a tug pushing a huge barge. The fishing boat skipper came back on to tell the CG he had it under control and the tug skipper radioed to say he had arrived on scene. More minutes past and the CG came on to tell the tug that the CG boat would be arriving in 8 minutes or so and it was then the tug skipper came on to tell the USCG that the fishing boat ..”was going, it had begun to turn over and there were three bodies in the water, all swimming away from the sinking boat….” We were listening to this with horror as this was happening a little more than eight miles away on a day with winds of 25 knots max with seas of possibly 3 feet. Luckily everyone was picked up and came into Point Judith some time later but we felt very emotional about the whole thing and had us thinking about survival suits etc. The star of the whole thing was the tug skipper who manoeuvred his barge to protect the vessel from the breaking seas and offer some shelter to the crew once they’d abandoned ship. His radio communications were calm and very professional. Should it ever happen to us let’s hope someone like him is about.
And so into Long Island Sound and the slow movement westward toward New York. We enjoyed the time in there, not least when we heard the name “Blackthorn”, Robin and Jackie’s boat on the VHF. We called them up but later realised they were 30 or so miles behind us and we’d heard Towboats US talking to them with a powerful transmitter regarding the entry into Mystic. (That’s a harbour not a spiritual destination). We tucked up for a few days and then on a day with little wind we had a half-hearted attempt at calling them ourselves and were shocked to hear them respond. With one of those quirks of coincidence we had called as they were passing a few miles to seaward of us and on their way to a nearby anchorage. We headed out after them and have had the pleasure of company for the last few weeks. Returning to the USCG and rescues for a moment - it was the Sound that we heard the coastguard inform a searching CG boat that the person they were looking for had last been seen in the water…”opposite Billy Joel’s house….”
The entrance into New York from Long Island takes you in via the East River and where Harlem River joins it, is an area known as Hells Gate.

As ever with Pilot Books the warnings are stark and certainly if you were daft enough to attempt to motor against it then it would a very long journey as the tide runs at anything from 3-6 knots but it was, for us, fine and both boats cruised along on a misty morning with the southern end of Manhattan opening up alongside us. Building spotting became the pastime of the moment as we tried to identify the more famous ones….which in our case ended after the Empire State building as the rest just seem huge skyscrapers.
 Which isn’t to say it isn’t inspiring; and then as we almost reached the end of the river we caught our first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, beckoning us toward our anchorage for the night. This city really is remarkable in that, as we crossed a very busy harbour with ferry boats going every which way and taking no prisoners, we knew we were going to anchor behind one of the worlds most famous landmarks. For free!
 And so it was; true the channel is narrow and, for us, shallow, particularly at low water but as we dropped the hook and the sun set we could clearly see the head, shoulders and raised arm bathed in spotlights.
The following day we had intended to cruise up river to pick up a buoy at the 79th Street Marina but as it was foggy decided to stay put. But on Sunday, November 9th we pulled out into the harbour with Blackthorn on a beautiful sunny day. We cavorted around the Statue to get photos of each other and then began
raising sail to potter the 7 miles up to the marina.
We had the whole river to ourselves, the sun gleamed, buildings sparkled and Manhattan couldn’t have looked finer and many photos were taken as we took in the sights of this incredible city.

 Of course the whole time here I could hear Rodgers and Harts wonderful “Manhattan” playing in my head…… even though most of the buildings you see here are actually in New Jersey…..
The anchorage behind the statue is on the New Jersey side and you needed to take a ferry to Manhattan in order to get amongst it but the marina rents out mooring buoys for $30 per night and it’s a 15 minute walk
to Central Park from there. With showers and free washing machine it’s a great place to explore the city and we wandered through Central Park, Times Square and back.
Unfortunately the current in the river rips along so timing is everything when getting from the boat to the shore and back.
 Whilst we enjoyed the brief time we had, we much preferred the solitude of our Liberty anchorage so the following day, leaving Robin and Jackie to try and locate the camera they’d mislaid and enjoy the town we headed back. And ran aground in the entrance trying to get in too early but heh, no big deal.
We got off about an hour later and rowed ashore to explore a little of Springsteen’s home town – a local trucking company has lines from his songs emblazoned on the cab doors and found ourselves fascinated by a wood pulping company’s operation we viewed from a bridge. Took some photos and wandered on. A mile or so later we were “accosted” by a guy in a truck who asked what we were doing taking photos of the wood yard. He accepted the explanation but it left us feeling a little uncomfortable.
 The last part of New York we’d decided would be to go down to Coney Island where, we believed, it was possible to anchor and then catch the “subway” into town. We set off but were soon overtaken by a USN aircraft carrier with its escort of Police and USCG as we were picked up by the ebbing tide and rushed away from the skyline. Working our way round the south side of Coney, crossing very shallow water we slid into Sheepshead Harbour to find it very crowded with moored boats and I felt we’d need to look for an alternative. But spotting a figure working on a mooring barge, Bee leapt into the dinghy and rowed over to ask him where a good place to anchor might be. She came back saying the anchorage was at the far end but the guy said we could use one of the club buoys, as could Blackthorn who had heard us on the radio and were only a mile or so behind us. Not only did we get the use of the buoy but he gave us a key to the club-house giving us access to the internet and showers!
 In the end whilst we didn’t use the buoys as they weren’t suitable for heavy boats we thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality, the friendship and great advice. So, Coney Island –it’s a great place to get into Manhattan and we did , wandered around the streets, visited Grand Central Station and a wonderfully ornate Central Library. Unlike R&J and Pete & Lucia (now sadly, for us, back in England) our ability to take in the sights is minimal so whilst we can say we’ve been to NY we certainly haven’t seen much of it. But the following day Irving, our man from the mooring barge, ran us down to the Boardwalk area of Coney Island. I’m making an assumption here that the Drifters song “Under the Boardwalk” is based on this area but what it doesn’t mention, probably because they hadn’t yet arrived, are the amazing Russian shops. Carousel, hot dogs and French fries in abundance though and we managed to sneak a plate of chips in Nathans, an apparently “World Famous” for its Hot Dogs. World Famous in this case should be taken in the same context as “World Series” i.e. it’s something known or played only by Americans. Having said that, the chips were pronounced a winner by Bee, who considers herself an authority on said potatoes.
 Shops full of the most incredible foods and beers (the ones we were interested in anyway) they stretch along a main street with a huge variety of smaller stores between them. Apparently Russians began arriving about 20 years ago and settled the area as it reminds them of Odessa. In that time they have carved out significant lives for themselves as retailers; property developers and more. We loved the area and rated it as one of our favourite experiences.
 As we walked back from this trip we came across a Holocaust Memorial Garden. Simply done with granite “boulders” they carried names of individuals or background information on the death camps. It seems, to me at any rate, that no matter how well known the facts are to you, seeing something as physical as this is still very moving.
But time was moving on and we needed to get ourselves heading south, away from Coney, Brooklyn and this very friendly yacht club. They keep themselves to themselves, are very down to earth with no airs and graces but if you happen to fall in with them you’ll count yourself very lucky. And no, we’re not telling you the name of the club.

With a favourable forecast we all felt we could either do the 270 mile trip to Norfolk in one hit or, as was more likely if it proved very cold, we’d stop in Cape May on the edge of the Delaware Bay. We kept close to shore as we sailed south but that afternoon the winds became very light and with the forecast of a 40 knot blow for the following day we both motored to keep the speed up. Along this coast there are very few places you can creep into, especially with a deep draft boat, so we kept on through the night. In the distance we could see a glow of a city and as we drew closer the inevitable skyscrapers could be distinguished and then we stared in amazement at buildings alive with laser light shows and more. We were passing Atlantic City, home to Trump Towers and a well known gambling city (although not to us as we only realised this when listening to the local radio station) Onward we crept and 22 hours after setting off we motored up the harbour entrance with the tide flooding and into a very shallow anchorage. It blew that day and later on we watched as huge black clouds worked their way out to sea from south of us. Had we carried on we knew that it would have been a wet, windy and very uncomfortable ride. Luck was with us.
Couple of days later headed out for the longer leg down to Norfolk, Virginia but first had to cross the shallows outside the harbour where wind over tide combined with the shallows to produce steep breaking seas. Bee, who was on the foredeck sorting out a headsail, said she’d never been swamped by such seas since Greenland so we weren’t very happy. Luckily it was only about 10 miles across so we eventually cleared it and settled down for what we all knew was going to be a cold day and a colder night. Speeds were good, rarely dropping below 5.5 knots and we rejoiced in the fact that at this rate we’d be into the yard by early morning. We should have known better….. In the early hours of Friday morning it began to drizzle which rapidly turned to snow and life was miserable. (Remember this when you imagine us lolling around in the heat, sipping chilled drinks…)But things pass and we arrived off Cape Charles with a wind that was fading and threatening to head us. Although we have only entered the Chesapeake once before it left a scar; the town of Norfolk and Portsmouth lie about 30 miles from the entrance and its hard work getting there. This time we’d arrived off the entrance with only an hour of favourable current and so faced a long slog. We motored to clear the bridges and then set about sailing the remainder. Blackthorn wisely chose to push on as another band of low pressure was coming through but we played at sailors and beat back and forth until a wind shift put us the wrong side of a shallow bank and we came to our senses and motored to get clear and a better angle on the wind. However the wind now began to pick up and all the while a huge aircraft carrier was working its way up the bay escorted by Coastguard vessels. The CG were hailing small boats in its path and informing them that they must maintain a distance 500 yards under penalty of death or worse and eventually they hailed us. “Was this the best speed we could produce”? and “You must be prepared to clear the channel to enable the Dwight D Eisenhower to pass” As we were sailing at over 6 knots we thought that this was a nerve but we cleared the channel anyway then hove to whilst putting in another reef and then watched with ill-concealed annoyance when the carrier was manoeuvred into its dock astern of us and nowhere near to our position. We called the CG up, cleared with them, moved off, met up with Blackthorn already at anchor but agreed that we’d head onto the yard where Cary had offered us berths. Cary, you may remember, is the owner of Red Bird, the boat we’d worked on in the summer. Then the yard was a haven of tranquillity, but now the wind kicked up a chop and reversing into the piles would be a real trial with a strong wind from the beam. It went well enough to begin with but before long no amount of manoeuvring could prevent the bow blowing off and we found ourselves up against the piles. A struggle ensured but, with some judicious advice from Joe and Cary we managed to get in to the berth. Robin and Jack wisely chose to await a calmer moment before they reversed into the next door berth as they had our bowsprit to contend with as well as the stiff wind.
So here we are with a few days to go before R&J also head back to England/Ireland for a few weeks. We’ll stay on here a little longer before heading down the ICW to avoid the various Capes that lie between here and, hopefully, better weather.
Dec 12th A short update; last week we ran the engine to charge the batteries and heard an ominous rattling noise…. To shorten the long tale we removed the gearbox to get to the drive plate and found the input coupling had parted. A call to Greg in Belfast Boatyard started the ball rolling and within days we had a replacement, thanks to Alex and Howie, on its way from Herts. via California to here. As yet we still don’t know why it happened but will let you know. I can’t believe the problems we have had with this set up and wonder if the gearbox and drive plate are up to the hours we put in. Any ideas out there?