The Big Apple

Trip Start Nov 06, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Chelsea Piers

Flag of United States  , New York
Friday, November 12, 2010

When asked how we feel after a long day of sailing, we've come to the concensus that it's something like being out sledding all day. Cheeks are rosey from the wind and the cold, and you feel like you've been using your muscles, but not quite as much as a day out skiing, for example. Other than the sail handling, which varies in frequency depending on the day, we really aren't doing a whole lot of active movement - just the constant bracing of your body for the motion of Hejira. The tiredness just kind of sneaks up on you. Luckily, living on the boat means we rise with the sun and, as soon as the boat is cleaned up for the day and our bellies are fed, we go to sleep shortly after dark. It all tends to even out, and I think we all really enjoy being in sync with daylight.

Our slip at the Cedar Point Yacht Club was still as could be, and I think we'd all agree it was a more restful night than most. We had been keeping an eye on the charts and the current for coming through Hell Gate into New York City, and we predicted that we would make it here by today. But after such a solid day of sailing Wednesday, we took another look and realized that if we made a move early, we could probably make it here mid-afternoon Thursday. Alarms went off at 5:30, and we got up and ready to leave. Connor started cooking breakfast, while Pete and I prepared Hejira to get underway. We were motoring out of the harbor by 6:00, with a beautiful morning sky to greet us, and by sun up Connor had some warm food for us as we made our way out into Long Island Sound.

The seas and wind were coming on our stern, and the winds were really light almost all day, but Hejira still manages to make some good time, even in light winds. Unfortunately, it just meant we had a day of rolling every which way, and there was a lot of experimentation with the sails to figure out how best to make way. As the winds were so light, we finally decided it was time to shake out our reef in the mains'l. As Connor and I were loosening the sail, we caught a big swell, Connor leaned onto the boom, and the buckle, which is attached to the wire that helps hold up the boom prior to the setting of the sail, snapped - the boom crashed down onto the port side of the cabin top, and Connor crashed down with it. I think Peter and I saw the whole thing happen and were almost certain we'd be firing up the engine to motor back to fish him out of the drink. Thankfully, in Connor's view, the whole thing happened in slow motion, and he was able to brace himself, hold on, and stay inside of the lifelines. We swapped Connor onto the helm so he could catch his breath a bit, and Peter and I got the boom back up and the mains'l set.

We switched between sailing and motorsailing as necessary throughout the day, and we enjoyed some sunshine with a view of Manhattan way off in the distance. At times, I think we were even a bit hot - it was quite refreshing. The currents that flow through Hell Gate are much talked about, and we knew we needed to time our entrance just right. We made our way to the end of Long Island Sound and, as we were ahead of schedule, we switched back to sailing as we neared the entrance to New York. Finally, we noticed that a few of the big barges that were just hanging out at the end of the Sound were making moves. We fired up the motor and followed them in, passing Kings Point Marine Academy, LaGuardia Airport, and Rikers Island, which, we learned, even has an overflow of prisoners on a prison barge - no joke.

We saw a small sailboat up ahead of us making their way towards Hell Gate, and they were under sail, so we decided to do the same - why motor when you can sail? We knew we had the motor warmed up enough to fire up if needed, so we gave it a go.  We made it almost all the way through until one bend in Hell Gate, filled with swirling eddies, had us pushed a little too close to land, so we motored out of it to the top of the East River. We were able to continue sailing until the tall buildings of Manhattan shadowed us enough that our wind was no longer sufficient. We fired up the motor, struck the sails, and enjoyed the views of the city. I'm sure we had our entrance to Hell Gate timed just right, not to mention that the boys just came off a summer of dealing with the current in the Hole, but it wasn't nearly as bad as we had anticipated. In fact, it was actually pretty fun.

Even with the ferries, water taxis, and Coast Guard scooting around, we all remained cool headed, and the whole experience of New York Harbor was not nearly as stressful as we had imagined. We made our way around the tip of Manhattan just as the sun was starting to set, with the Statue of Liberty off in the distance. We started making our way up the Hudson River, and negotiated spending the night at Chelsea Piers over the radio. As we started to come near it, we noticed a cooler floating out in the middle of the river - so we whipped some donuts and retrieved it. Sailing through Hell Gate and whipping shitties in the Hudson - not exactly what I had expected of our entrance to New York. It was pretty fun.

We got into our slip at Chelsea Piers, and walked just a few blocks to meet up with my dad, my brother Austin, and our friend Bronwen from Woods Hole for a pre-dinner drink. My dad is here on business, so it was just an added bonus that we get to see him. He had to head off to a work party, but Austin and Bronwen accompanied us to Harlem to Dinosaur BBQ to meet up with some other Woods Hole folk. We enjoyed a few drinks and massive amounts of delicious BBQ with Austin, Bronwen, Gillian, and Vansa. It was a really great time, and we look forward to spending some more time with all of them today - including Miss Alex Blair! Should be a fun time - though with the sensory overload of New York City, I know we'll all be ready to head south in the morning.

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Sally Adamson Taylor on

This is such fun to read! You are doing the sail I did on my little Hurley 20, but in the opposite direction. I too was terrified of Hellesgate (which means beautiful passage in Dutch) and catching the tides right, but like you, I followed another sailboat in, and it worked. With south winds, and two friends aboard for a day sail, we tore through at 12 knots under spinnaker! But there is a gremlin in that passage. I too lost a line, my spinnaker halyard gave way. I had to retrieve the head of the spinnaker from the river, in full view of all of east Manhatten, and relaunch on the jib halyard.

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