This is the journal from my experience on the Betty Ann sailboat during a delivery from Annapolis, Maryland to Point Judith, Rhode Island. This would be my first of many trips aboard this fine vessel. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did living (and writing) it!
After reading (or during, whatever your preference), make sure to view the pictures of this trip over at photo.killfly.com! There are also some pictures of a more recent southbound delivery, which are even geotagged, a new feature I was trying out.
Eventually, I’ll get my pictures of yet another northbound delivery, this one from Tampa, Florida to Charlestown, South Carolina. We had a stopover in Key West, which was, obviously, one of the highlights of the trip.
So grab a glass of your favorite beverage, light a fire if it’s cold out, and prepare to go on an adventure with me and the crew of the Betty Ann…
Sunday, May 20th : 8:38 PM
Whew man, long day. Today started at 5:30am in Quonny, RI. I cautiously opened my eyes to reveal a day starting much darker than I’m used to. “What is this daylight savings?”, no, just dawn AM, or the butt crack of morning, whatever you want to call it. No one cares about this part of the trip so I’ll just get right to the point so we can get to the good stuff:
- Drive to George’s house
- Park dad’s truck and Gerry’s car at some logger’s log storage area (what else would be in a logger’s storage area?)
- All pile into George’s car with his wife Maime.
- Get to KPVD, and unload the bags. The frozen Italian Country Chicken dinner made it through the x-ray scanner ok. This was slightly surprising, we expected to be asked at least a couple questions about it.
- Dad got the full security scan because of his steel hip parts. “I’m sorry sir, but you’re going to have to leave your hip here, I can’t let it on the plane.”
- Land at BWI, and all pile in Eric’s explorer and head for the marina where the Betty Ann is waiting for us.
- We sat down for some breakfast and Archie joined us. His breakfast turned out to be the best, the Crème Brulee comes highly recommended.
- Say goodbye to Eric who looked like he really wanted to come with us.
- Shove off into the Chesapeake.
Ok, now we’re getting to some boat talk, after all that’s why you’re reading this right? Let’s back up a little bit to breakfast. We all watched in detached pleasure (pleasure because it wasn’t us) as a sailboat attempted to depart its slip only to realize that the turn was too tight, and they weren’t ready for the wind that was going to blow them down towards the pier wall. I bet the wish they had a bow thruster (we do, ha ha ha). After watching the mini-drama unfold we took our first crew-vote on what to do today. There were two options:
- Leave tomorrow morning, and go visit the surrounding area.
- Leave right now.
We all chose option 2, let’s go sail!
Our departure was decidedly better than the one we had witnessed just minutes ago. We had the wind in our favor and a bow thruster to help our bow across, but I still think we looked pretty sharp, especially for a crew that had just come together. Gerry, who was tasked with getting our lines off the pier, almost didn’t make it back on the boat, but one quick leap from the edge of the finger pier landed him square on the boat’s deck. I think every landing/departure has to have at least a little drama associated with it.
We motor-sailed through the day, up the Chesapeake all the way to the beginning of the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal (CD Canal). The first thing you notice on the Chesapeake is the water; brown. I made a silent mental note to keep track of the water color and watch it turn from brown to blue, which is the color salt water should be in my opinion. The second thing you notice about the Chesapeake is how big it is. I’m sure this is the same feeling that sailors get the first time they venture out onto any of the Great Lakes.
Eric had told me weeks before that the average depth of the Chesapeake is four or five feet, or something like that. When you’re in a sailboat you can’t help but think about the keel underneath you, slicing through the water just waiting to hit something. However, after getting out into the larger part of the Chesapeake, most of those fears melted away; we had plenty of water. The fear-melting was accelerated by the pinpoint accuracy and information-laden GPS chart plotter we had on board (more about that later).
I was able to take a nice spate at the helm, and used that time to get the main functions of the GPS unit under my belt. I can now pretty quickly plot a new course, and get the autopilot to track towards it for me. Autopilot is cool, but I still prefer keeping my hand on the wheel. I think there’s no better way to learn, and remind you that you are in control of, the boat.
Because this waterway is trafficked by commercial vessels, it is heavily populated by one of my favorite navigational aids, the range light. I think there is absolutely no better way to stay on a straight line course then to keep two range lights on top of each other. For those who don’t know, a range light is two lights that you use to keep your vessel in a channel. One of the two lights is set in front of, and below the other. Using this simple setup you can see if you are drifting off course. Assuming that you’re driving towards the light, if the bottom light begins to move to the right you know that you are drifting left of the channel and need to adjust to the right.
We had planned on a stop at the Chesapeake marina, which is just inside the canal on the Chesapeake side. Archie called them on the radio and we were informed that they did indeed have space for our boat, but not until 9:00 that night. “Well, we’ll be by you by then.” said Archie, and we continued on deeper into the canal.
The canal itself isn’t all that exciting, you really feel like you’re just driving through a long breechway, which I guess you are in a way. After motoring around another few bends, we found another marina in the cruising guide that appeared to have depth enough for us. There was some brief confusion on the radio and in the cockpit about where exactly we should bring our boat in, I’ll try to recreate as much as I can remember here:
“Midway marina, Midway marina, this is the Betty Ann.” Archie said into the microphone.
“Betty Ann, this is the Midway Marina, go ahead.” the Marina replied.
“Yes, we’re fifty feet long. Fifteen and a half foot beam. We draw five and a half. Do you have anything available for us tonight?” Archie said.
“Roger captain we can accommodate you. Continue into the marina, you’ll see docks on your right, and some finger piers on your left. You can pull into the first finger pier you see.” the marina replied.
Meanwhile we are about a minute from the first set of docks, and the depth gauge is steadily dropping from the canal’s sixty feet towards our draw of five and a half.
“Did any of you understand what he said?” Archie asked the crew. In text the conversation on the radio is perfectly clear, but in real life it is often much more difficult due to static, other background conversations, and various other communication-inhibiting events.
“Hello, Midway Marina, can you repeat please?” Archie asked. The marina replied with essentially that same information, but worded slightly different.
“The first pier on the left?” Archie replied.”
“Yes sir captain, that is correct.” the marina replied.
This is where the main confusion aboard the ship commenced. A quick discussion between George and Archie went back and forth between whether we should pull into one of the slips at the entrance to the marina, or continue further up into the harbor.
The first slips were now just beginning to glide by on our port side, and the depth was very close to our keel (remember what I said about always thinking about the keel under the boat?). There were some red markers along the channel, but even with those on our starboard side we began to feel the muddy bottom tugging at the Betty Ann. Our speed slowed a knot or two, and Archie added some RPM to compensate.
“See those docks on the right up there? He wants us to take a slip across from those.” George said.
“No, I think he might want us to take a slip right here.” Archie replied, looking off to port at the empty slips sliding by. Another tug an the keel. More RPM. I can imagine his nervousness, his 48 foot Island Packet is slowly coming to a halt in the middle of the channel as the keel digs itself into mud. I’m sure the thought in his head was “What’s wrong with the slips right here?”
“Try coming left a little, towards the docks, I think the water’s deeper over there.” George said. Archie spun the wheel a little to the left, the depth improved slightly and the bottom released its grasp on the keel. We accelerated up the channel.
With our newfound depth we continued up the channel towards the transient docks. There were some good sized boats on both sides, so we knew that we should have enough water. It was low tide however, and a quick glance to the starboard side revealed a muddy beach reaching well out into the water towards the channel. We reached the transient docks and pulled left into the first pier next to them. With lines ready we prepared ourselves as Archie judiciously used spurts of bow thruster and rudder to spin the boat and back her into the slip. The deceleration sensation reappeared; the mud was again reaching up at us. However with some hard backing, tugs on lines, and some courage, we were able to get the Betty Ann into her slip. Success!
The slip itself was in fairly poor condition. They still had the winter water agitators lying around (these devices keep water in motion during the winter, helping to prevent freezeover), and the small-diameter blue nylon line to support the agitators was heavily coiled around many of the cleats that we now needed. It’s a funny irony that the mud actually helped us in this case. I needed at least thirty extra seconds to unwrap the pile of line on my cleat before I had enough to get my line around it. Had the slip been deep water, and the wind high, the landing could have had an entirely different outcome. In addition, one of the cleats on the dock which we were using for our stern line was barely attached to the dock!
Archie jumped off to go talk to the marina, pay for the night, and inquire about the location of showers. Perhaps the most important piece of information to the crew, apart from the location of beer, is the whereabouts of the closest shower. You never know when your next one might come.
The marina itself was pretty unique. It’s a long rectangular-shaped piece of water, with a small line of land to shelter it from the canal traffic, and a steep hill on the other side. Crawling up the hill is a series of long switchback ramps that Archie was now climbing to get to the office. We busied ourselves organizing lines and equipment while we waited for his return. A short amount of time later, he did return.
“Man, you had to climb those stairs all the way to the office?” Someone asked.
“Well, yes and no. I went up the stairs, and asked where the office is. They said the office is down. So I came back down.”
Quickly the important information of shower location was relayed and George and Gerry ventured off to go clean up. Dad and I prepared our shower equipment and waited for them to return with intelligence on the showers (I think it’s always a good strategy to go to the showers second, this way you can learn about any showers that you might not want to use…think cold water, dirty, no pressure, etc).
When George and Gerry returned they told us the exact location of the showers (up the switchback and look for the only lights up there). Gerry mentioned that their condition was “OK”. Dad and I disembarked and headed out towards the hill. At night, which it now was, the marina looked a lot better, there were lights lining the docks to guide you to and from your boat, and at night you couldn’t see the piles of blue nylon line everywhere. We continued up the lighted path and began our accent up the switchbacks towards the showers. I was wearing my flip-flops, and immediately remembered why I hate them. There’s something about that rope-type thing pressing into the webbing in between your toes that just drives me nuts. Plus they’re always threatening to fall off (usually because I’m trying to keep the rope-thing from pressing into my toe webbing). I just don’t like them at all. Not one bit.
Upon our arrival at the showers we realized that we had only brought one set of shower supplies. We quickly devised a plan, I received a single-use portion of shampoo in the cap of the shampoo bottle, and we would cut the bar of soap in half, Solomon style. It turns out that breaking a bar of soap in half without any tools is more difficult than it sounds. Dad tried slamming it into the edge of the deck, and the door, and only managed to put a dent into the bar. This was enough of a wound to the soap that we were able to tear it in half. I never would have guessed it, but soap is actually pretty strong stuff.
We finished out showers, called mom on the cellphone to check in, and walked back to the boat. Before getting on the boat I gave her a push to see if she had come free of the mud below. To my surprise the boat began to rock back and forth slightly. I was about to relay the good news to the rest of the crew when I realized that it was not the boat rocking, but the dock under my feet.
We made plans to leave early the next morning hoping that the tide would be high enough for us to leave.
Monday, May 21st – 5:00 AM
We awoke early in the morning to plenty of water under keel. We hastily readied the Betty Ann and shoved off towards the mouth of the harbor, and eventually the Delaware river. Rounding the corner into the canal I noticed a neat sign. Much like a highway amber-alert sign this had a pair of yellow lights and text that read “Lights flash when commercial traffic nearby” Thankfully it was not flashing when we came around to the east and back into the canal. Since it was still early morning, the lights along the canal were lit. Both dad and I had wanted to see these lights. We were both expecting something like the lights on a highway, or maybe even a ski trail. However these lights were more reminiscent of the lights lining a driveway. They would still let you see a vessel coming at you from the other side I suppose, but they were not what I was expecting at all. It didn’t matter anyway, we were heading into the sunrise, and the view of the rising run behind some of the bridges over the canal made for some beautiful pictures.
We tracked our progress down the canal against the charts, counting down the bridges and power lines remaining until we hit the Delaware river. Looking at the chart, the Delaware appears more treacherous than the Chesapeake. If you turn downriver too soon out of the canal you will run right into water that is only two to four feet deep. We motored well out into the river, found the range light upriver, and began cruising down.
As we went further downriver our speed continually increased until our speed over ground read 10.3 knots. The tide and river current were sweeping us downriver much faster than we had planned for. At this speed we would reach the river mouth just after noon. Along the way we had a few container ships pass us going up river. These ships are hundreds of feet long, and take a long time to stop and turn. Obviously we made sure to give them a wide berth as we passed.
There also had recently been a lot of rain in the area, so this translated into tons of wood, logs and various other floating objects in the river. At the helm I was constantly changing course to avoid running into these, the last thing I wanted was to hit something and take the chance of destroying our prop, rudder, or worse.
Further down the river, where it opens up and looks more like a large bay, Gerry popped up out of his seat and began taking great interest in one of the ships anchored in the area.
“I think that’s the Integrity.” he said. He related a story about the ship, and his daughter who used to be first mate on the ship. He switched the radio to channel 13, a common frequency on commercial vessels, and tried to hail the Integrity. He was eventually able to make contact with whatever radio operator was on watch. He relayed a short version of the story he told us to the Integrity. I couldn’t understand a lot of the conversation that occurred back and forth, but apparently the radio operator assured Gerry that the would relay his greeting to the ship’s captain. Afterwards, I took a few pictures of the ship and of Gerry with the ship behind him.
Since we had made such good time down the river, we now had another crew vote to make:
- Stop at cape May for the night
- Continue overnight and make New York harbor in the morning.
Again we all chose option 2. Sail! I like this crew.
Archie drew up the watch schedule for the night which looked like this:
|Andrew||12 PM||Andrew||10 PM|
|Jim||2 PM||Jim||12 AM|
|George||4 PM||George||2 AM|
|Gerry||6 PM||Gerry||4 AM|
|Archie||8 PM||Archie||6 AM|
I come on at 10 PM and take the wheel from Archie, Archie then moves to the lookout seat to help spot traffic and buoys. At midnight dad comes up to take the wheel from me, I move to the lookout seat, and Archie goes to bed. You keep rotating like this until the sun comes up, or in the case of an extended cruise, until you get to where you’re going. We were only going for tonight so this would suffice.
My first watch was at 12PM which was when were were just getting ready to make our turn to the north, around Cape May, and up the Delaware / New Jersey / New York coast. Both dad and I had been practicing sailing without the aid of autopilot. In this case it was actually better for sailing because we were sailing downwind, and our course was right on the edge of the jib’s ability to stay on the starboard side. Having a human brain making decisions about the boat’s direction helps out in this case. Even so, we ended up intentionally jibing the jib so we could sail a few degrees more to the north. In the end we ended up making our turn to the north a little sooner than we planned because we were tired of the jib constantly being a pain, and it would save us some time. We sailed towards an outer marker for a while until we had cleared the point off our port side, and then turned north to 060 degrees from 110 degrees, this would be our course until our next waypoint somewhere off New Jersey.
I sailed through my watch without much action. I continued to practice sailing without the autopilot, getting used to the boat and how she reacts to different conditions. For a while, I even tried steering based upon feeling and not sight. Once you get into the rhythm of the waves on your current course, you can do this fairly well. It’s good practice for when you might be distracted later on and need to instinctively know when to bring the wheel around to keep the boat on course. At 2PM dad came up and I moved to the watch seat. At 4PM I went down into my cabin to attempt a few hours of sleep before the night arrived, I wanted to be alert for my overnight watch.
The night at the marina in the canal I didn’t sleep very well. The air conditioning was turned on, and my cabin quickly became very cold. Since I only had a little blanket to use, I also quickly became very cold. Anyone who has read the Appalachian trail journal will be reminded of the same thing I was, my night at the base of Mount Washington with a blanket not large enough for the job. My night in the canal was very similar, and I woke up countless times throughout the night. Now at 4PM the next day, I laid down in my bunk and got a couple hours of half-sleep. The same kind you get on a beach where you still hear things going on around you, but you dream a little bit too.
I think it was around 6:30 PM when I came back up on deck. It was close to dinner time so dad and I broke out the Italian Country Chicken dinner that was now thawed out enough to make it out of the container it had traveled in. For those who don’t know, Italian Country Chicken is made from:
Chicken (obviously) – small pieces cooked in a frying pan with a little oil, and pepper.
Italian roasted peppers
Your favorite pasta (I recommend ziti)
It’s a simple recipe, but tastes really good when you get it all together. This would be the first time we had tried freezing it though.
Cooking on a sailboat underway is always interesting. Archie helped us find a couple pans for the chicken-sauce and for the pasta water. Stoves on sailboats are on gimbles, so that when the boat heals over under sail, the stove stays level. It takes a lot of faith in the system though when you’re facing a pot of boiling water on a stove that from your perspective appears to be angled at fifteen degrees. We somehow managed to cook the ziti, and heat the chicken sauce so that it all came out at the same time. We passed the plates up to the cockpit and then sat down to eat. By this time we were directly off of Atlantic City, and the sun was beginning to set. We investigated the city with the binoculars and chowed down on chicken and bread. We saw a number of wind turbines, as well at the Taj Majal and other Atlantic City buildings. The Betty Ann quietly slipped past the city, and continued her journey northward.
After cleaning up in the galley I went up in the cockpit to get used to the night sky, and keep track of our position. Gerry was going down below and asked if I wanted anything to drink.
“I’ll have a Coke if you can find one.” I replied.
After a while rummaging around in the fridge Gerry returned, “The only carbonated beverage we have is Sprite.”
I was really looking for caffeine in anticipation of my upcoming watch, but a Sprite would be good too. Gerry passed the drink up and then sat on the other side of the cockpit next to me. I opened the Sprite and heard the plastic seal crack, but there was no hiss of escaping carbon dioxide gas. My first sip confirmed my suspicion; apparently we didn’t have any carbonated beverages on board. I didn’t have the heart to mention in, and it didn’t taste all that bad, so I just drank it the way it was.
At 10 I took the wheel, and Jerry went below to catch some sleep, he would have to be back up at 4AM for his next watch. The GPS display was still in daytime mode, and annoyingly bright. Archie had just been leaving the cover on, but I wanted to play with it a bit. I asked Archie how to dim the display (answer: multi button, then up/down), then began to play with one of the more advanced features of our GPS unit, something called MARPA. I’m not sure what MARPA stands for, but I think it’s probably something like Magnificently Awesome Ridiculously Powerful Astonishing feature.
MARPA allows you to set markers on radar targets so that you can track them, its origins in military technology are obvious. Essentially you move the display’s cursor on top of the target’s radar echo and select ‘Acquire Target’ from the menu. This begins the unit’s tracking of your target, which now has a box around it on the screen. A quick press of another button labeled ‘Show MARPA Info’ brings up additional information about your target:
Closest Point of Approach
Time of Closest Point of Approach
I couldn’t help but repeat the Top Gun quote to myself: “I’ve got good tone! I’ve got good tone! I’m firing!” Unfortunately I couldn’t find the “Fire” button on our GPS.
To our starboard side was a tug pulling a barge that had been on the same course as us since we turned up from Cape May. I “put a MARPA on him” so that I could easily keep track of where he was. I referred to this many times throughout my watch to quickly see where he was in relation to us. I could then quickly turn my head in that direction to get visual confirmation of his position.
At 12 AM dad came up to relieve me at the wheel, and Archie went below to go to sleep. I mentioned our course (018 degrees), the current configuration of the GPS unit, and our current position to dad as he came over to relieve me. After he was up to speed I unhooked my life vest’s snap ring from the boat, and moved out of the way so he could attach himself.
The moon was out, and there were bright lights on shore, so I showed dad how to brighten the GPS unit’s display with the Multi button (we never did find out what other purposes the ‘multi’ button had). Later after I had gone to bed it would again become dark and he would forget how to dim the display. “I was sure it was the ‘display’ button”, he would relate to me, “I tried it twice I was so sure.”
Dad wanted something crunchy so I went below to find something to munch on. I found a box of Wheat Thins and brought those back up. Even though Archie had earlier brought me an apple and some chocolate, the Wheat Thins proved too appetizing and we were soon both digging handfuls of them out of the box. For me at least, it helped to drive away tiredness. I guess if you’re sitting there chewing on a crunchy chip, your brain needs to stay awake.
Somewhere off the Jersey coast we noticed two bright lights up ahead. They appeared to be on a reciprocal course to our own (opposite to ours, 198 degrees). At night it is even more important to take action early, so on dad’s request I grabbed the glasses (binoculars) and inspected the lights up ahead. What I saw was like no other ship I had ever seen. It looked like some overgrown white spider, floating around the ocean. I also thought I saw them pick something up over the side.
Dad asked what they were, “Well, it’s either some sort of wacky fishing boat, or an alien spacecraft over there”, I said pointing to the white object up ahead. Spacecraft or not, we would need to get out of its way, so we adjusted our course to the east a bit so that we would miss the closest of the two vessels. Another peculiar thing about the ships is that they weren’t showing any lights to indicate that they were fishing (squid was our guess because of the bright white lights surrounding the entire ship).
In order to pass the time, dad told me about a dream he had been having right before he came up on watch. In his dream I asked him “How do you see the logs in the water at night?”. Of course, there is no way to do this without an absurdly bright light on the top of your mast. I’m sure this dream was in response to my concern earlier that day about the wood and logs in the Delaware river.
At 2AM George came up to take the wheel. It was finally time for me to go to bed. I had been counting down the minutes until this time. I hadn’t had much sleep lately and desperately needed some. I left instructions to be awoken at 4AM, which was our expected arrival time at the entrance to NY harbor.
Tuesday, May 22nd – 4 AM
I awoke to the sound of dad’s voice, “Hey, sunrise over NY harbor?”
“Mmmmnnnm blababbhbab.” I mumbled.
“Well here’s the ‘bug blanket’” The bug blanket was a blanket intended for use to keep bugs out of the boat when off New Jersey. We didn’t hit them this trip, but both George and Archie told of times where, somewhere off New Jersey, the boat would suddenly be covered in flies. Sometimes little black flies, sometimes house flies.
I grabbed the blanket, a nice soft fleece thing and replied “I guess I could sleep a bit longah.”
Even after having only a few hours sleep I was still good for an improvised Monty Python joke. I drifted of to sleep again, the last thing I heard was dad joking about trying unsuccessfully to get another ‘sun to rise’.
I slept for another hour until 5 when the smell of brewing coffee stirred me. I wanted to sleep more, but I told myself that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wanted to join the ranks of few who sailed into New York harbor with the sun rising at their back, and gaze at Lady Liberty as we glide by.
I poured myself a cup of joe, black, and went up on deck. Maybe it was the excitement of coming into port after a long sail, but I felt surprisingly awake for the amount of sleep I’d had in the past 48 hours. There was some joke that I had missed from the early morning hours, because Archie grabbed the empty Wheat Thins box and called out to George “Hey George, give Gerry his empty Wheat Thin box! Ha ha ha ha.”
We motored up the river, laughing at the poor commuters on their way into work. It’s times like this that you start to think to yourself, “Boy, wouldn’t it be sweet if this was my job? Sailing around on a boat?” Conversation dropped to a trickle as we all admired the beauty of the city’s skyline on our way in. Under the bridge and around the corner the Statue of Liberty appeared. I ran down to get my camera (I did this run a lot on this trip). It’s one of those pictures that you know has been taken millions of times already, but you just can’t help yourself. On Gerry’s request, I snapped on picture as one of the orange NY Transit ferrys passed between us and the Statue.
“See if you can make her a passenger on the ferry Andrew.” said Gerry.
I set up and snapped a shot as the ferry went by. Thanks to the miracle of digital photography I was able to review the picture right away. There she was, standing on the front deck of the ferry. Thanks Gerry, that’s a pretty cool shot, and one that I’m sure hasn’t been taken millions of times.
We made our way up the Hudson, posing for pictures in front of the Manhattan skyline until we turned left into the Liberty marina on the New Jersey side. A brief discussion with the marina revealed our final berth on pier E. We motored down, turned left, and backed her into her new stall without incident.
We didn’t even bother with showers, we all wanted to go see New York, the 9-11 memorial, and drink beer. Gerry secured some info on the water taxis that run between the New Jersey side and New York side every thirty minutes. For five bucks you can get a ride to one of three locations, what a deal! You’d pay that much in tolls, never mind the amount of time it would take to drive.
George, Gerry, dad and I walked over to the taxi loading dock. There was a water taxi there, almost ready to leave. Gerry wanted to take that boat, but George and I needed to use the head (bathroom) on the lightship next to the taxi loading dock. I had been holding this particular need at bay since I woke up. One of the rules on a boat is you don’t use the on board head for #2 if you don’t have to. There are two versions of this story from here. Gerry maintains that we didn’t want to ride on the ferry with him out of fear that we would get beat up for associating with someone wearing a Red Sox hat (Gerry). We maintain that he just really wanted to get to the other side and didn’t want to wait. We settled on the plan that we would take the next ferry, and meet him on the other side. I think we were all pretty sure that we would not be able to find him among the millions of people in New York.
George and I ran to the lightship (an old ship that used to be stationed at the entrance to the harbor and acted as a floating lighthouse) and occupied the two stalls inside. When I went to wash my hands I made the mistake of looking into the mirror. Wow, what a scrubby looking dude! Even though I had a short buzzcut, my hair was still all messed up and greasy. This look might work on Block Island, but I was pretty sure the chicks in New York wouldn’t go for it. I decided that a quick wash with water and soap from the sink would fix the problem. One of the advantages to a short buzz cut is you can do things like this. After wetting down my head with a few handfuls of water, I reached over to the soap dispenser only to find that there was none. “Oh well, at least I got it wet, it’ll have to do” I said to myself. Of course there were no paper towels either, so I squeegeed out as much water as I could with my hands, used my jeans to dry my hands, and went back outside. It was a sunny and bright day, so I wasn’t worried about being a little wet.
We stepped off the ferry-taxi, or whatever you want to call it, and looked for Gerry. He wasn’t anywhere nearby so we headed off to look for something he described as ‘a big green atrium’ thing that you could see the 9-11 site from. We couldn’t see anything from where we were (I later noticed that we would have been able to see it from the water-taxi), so George went to ask an information booth where the 9-11 memorial was. Armed with a destination we headed off in that direction, which was sadly away from the ‘big green atrium thing’ where Gerry was waiting for us.
We walked around the 9-11 site, which for the most part now really resembles a construction site, just a really massive one. The fence along most of the route isn’t really conducive to viewing, there’s chain link fence, with another green mesh nylon fabric that prevents any really good views, and certainly any good camera shots. It didn’t matter anyway, I had left my camera on the boat. I was anticipating a barhop and didn’t want to drag that around, or risk losing it.
At the back side of the site (back side from the water) the actual memorial sits with pictures from the day, and a long list of names.
We continued on around the site, and ended up back near our original location, and consequently standing right in front of the ‘big green atrium thing’. We took a walk around inside, but were unable to find Gerry; by this time he was off on an adventure of his own. There was an ATM inside the atrium, so I loaded up on cash (I was still expecting a barhop), then went back outside and continued our search for Gerry. There was an outside restaurant, which I remarked to my dad and George was serving beer, and which my dad remarked might be a good place to sit and wait for Gerry. We passed it by however, and ended up back in the water-taxi en route to Liberty marina and the Betty Ann. There would be no bar for me tonight.
Back on the boat we cracked a few beers, threw in the sailing CD I had brought with me, and lounged in the sun. We occasionally looked up towards the gate at the top of the gangway to see if Gerry might be there, needing to be let in (the gates are locked my magnetic keycard). It was still too early though, we didn’t expect him back until much closer to the time of the last water taxi.
Dinnertime came around and dad, Archie and I went off to the restaurant nearby to get some dinner. I had eaten a sandwich a few hours ago, but the lure of a restaurant meal was too strong to overcome. Upon entering I realized that I was way under dressed for the the atmosphere. This place expected casual to formal, I was in a hoodie sweatshirt and running pants. As we sat down I heard someone remark behind us, “Well, that’s sailors for you.” Yeah, you’re right, we are sailors and proud of it.
One of the specials on the menu was a ribeye steak. We all ordered that, and just that. No salad please, just three steaks, all medium rare, two gin and tonics, and a corona. The steaks came, and were really good. Then the bill came, and we remembered that good steak is usually followed by a large bill. After tip I think it came to around $175. We settled up, content with our full bellies of beef, and walked back to the boat.
Somewhere around 8:00 we were surprised to see Gerry walking down the dock towards us. He was smiling. We’re not sure how he got in, I suppose he must have met someone coming out of the gate by chance. He related to us the quick version of his adventure. A few martinis, a walk around Battery park, a few martinis, talking his way into a “Running with the Bulls” road race tee shirt, and meeting someone in a bar (whose wife was running in the race). This new acquaintance said he’d be able to take a picture of our boat from the 59th Street bridge the next morning. We all shared a round of rum and cokes, and watched as the setting sun painted the New York skyline various shades of blue, yellow and red. A while after sunset we all began to get ready for bed.
I retreated to my bunk, planning to write in my journal for a while. However, Archie had a legal story about a couple named Bobo and Vivian that he wanted Gerry to read. To Archie’s surprise, Gerry began to read the story aloud, and soon was laughing nearly too much to continue reading. Additionally, at the end of every paragraph Gerry would call over to George who was in his sleeping bag trying to get to sleep.
“George? Are you with me?” Gerry would ask.
“Mmmmm” would come the faint reply from the sleeping bag.
“Ok, we don’t want you going to sleep on us now.”
Another paragraph read.
“George, are you still with me?”
This continued for at least a half an hour, and soon became much to entertaining to ignore. I put down my journal and listened to the story of Bobo, Vivian, and the stolen motor home unfold.
Wednesday, May 23rd
The tides in and around the Hudson and East river are notoriously tricky. We slept in a little today because we knew that we couldn’t leave until around 10:00 anyway, and we could all use a little catch-up sleep after the overnight sail the day before. We had to time our departure so that we would hit Hell’s Gate at the right time. Hell’s Gate is a spot where the East and Harlem rivers come together. Taken together with a strong tide, the currents at this location can be tricky at best, and dangerous at worst. Add in the presence of barges and other commercial traffic in the river with you, and this spot can become exciting very quick.
Around 10:00AM we pulled in our lines and made our way out towards the Hudson river. We were greeted by a police boat telling us to turn around. We initially figured that they must be looking for Gerry, some untold portion of his story from the night before. Thankfully it was something much more benign, there was a Naval parade coming up the river, and we were not to cross in front of it.
“Everybody knew about it.” the police officer yelled. Well, I’m not too sure about that. Apparently neither the marina, or anyone who we talked to about our departure, knew anything about a parade. Archie spun the Betty Ann around and pointed her back to slip we had left just minutes before. We pulled out all the lines we had just stowed, and set them up to ready ourselves.
I was on the stern line, and as Archie rotated the boat in front of the slip I jumped off to the dock to get the stern line back to the cleat in the rear of the slip. As the boat was backing in George called out for me to fend off. I looked to my right and saw that the beam of the boat was going to hit the corner of the dock. I leaned into the boat to try to keep her off the dock but was unable to overcome the inertia of the heavy boat. I called out “A little help!” to no one in particular, just anyone who would listen. The beam ended up hitting the dock and rubbing for a bit. It’s one of those communication breakdowns that happens in the blink of an eye, but that you kick yourself for later. You always want every landing to be perfect, and letting the boat hit the dock on the way in is not the way to do it.
After we secured the lines, we ran off to the end of the nearby park to watch the naval parade. It was pretty neat and included an AGEIS cruiser, helicopter aircraft carrier, some other type of cruiser, as well as a couple fire boats and flybys by an AWACS, C-130, and fighters that I think were F-16s. I took a bunch of pictures, wishing I had brought my zoom lens. While the parade was neat, I think we were all thinking more about Hell’s Gate and the tides more than anything else. After the last ship had gone by upriver, we made our way back to the Betty Ann.
The parade was a two part affair. The ships would go up the river, turn around, and then come back. This meant there was a window where we might be able to get across the river, if given permission. Dad got on the radio and attempted to hail the police boat at the mouth of Liberty Marina.
“Police boat at the entrance to Liberty Marina, this is the Betty Ann, over.” No reply.
“Police boat at the entrance to Liberty Marina, this is the Betty Ann, over.” Again no reply from the police boat.
“Betty Ann, this is the Coast Guard cutter Chinook.” The cutter replied, trumping the State police boat who hadn’t responded.
“Yes, we’re wondering if we have time to make it across to the East river, we’re currently docked at Liberty Marina.” Dad sent across to the cutter.
“Betty Ann, what is your maximum speed ?” The Coast Guard voice responded.
“Seven knots.” I suggested for an answer, this is pretty close to our cruising speed. Dad relayed this to the Coast Guard cutter and awaited a response.
“Betty Ann, sorry but your speed is not sufficient, there is a Naval escort underway in the Hudson river.” The cutter replied.
“Shoulda said faster.” Archie said.
By one o’clock the parade was over, and were were able to head back out into the Hudson, and begin up the East river.
The tide was still with us, and we pushed 9+ knots the whole way up. Archie took the helm the whole way through, and dad and George followed along with the chart, keeping track of our position and calling out the buoys as they passed. It’s a strange sensation motoring a sailboat through a city. We had Manhattan on our port, and Brooklyn on our right. We soon made a turn and Rikers was on our right, as well as a big blue barge on our left. George said that he thought this was a prison barge, to handle the overflow from Rikers I suppose. We also passed a replica of the Niña, which was closer to 30 feet instead of the original 70.
We continued to pick our way through the buoys until we made it into the beginning of Long Island Sound. It was around this time that the wind started to pick up. We brought out the jib and main and were soon sailing along at around 8 knots, with the aid of the engine. Dad and I were up on deck at the time, and everyone else was down below. We had both been eying the third staysail that had remained furled the entire trip. Dad asked Archie if we could bring it out and Archie agreed. The staysail operates a little differently from the main jib. There is an outhaul and an inhaul that are both operated from the same winch, and a sheet that looks more like a downhaul. We wrapped the outhaul around the port side small winch and began to crank. The staysail came out easy, and we were soon flying three sails, something I had never done before. The wind had built to sufficient strength that Archie killed the engine and we sailed at seven knots with sail power alone.
Throughout the day the wind continued to build, and we made good time towards Port Jefferson. We each took turns at the wheel and soon a competition emerged as to who could get the highest speed at the helm. Gerry was the first to hit 9 knots, and George bested him by getting 9.1 knots at his next turn on the wheel. I took the wheel for the last four miles to Port Jefferson and I’m proud to say that I was able to reach 9.4 knots on a set of particularly strong wind gusts to around 19 knots. The only problem was that the boat was getting an enormous amount of weather helm (when the boat wants to turn into the wind), and at times I had the wheel hard over just to keep her on course. A sail adjustment helped some, and I think if we had eased the main and jib some more the problem would have been eliminated. Our only other option was to reef the sails, but neither of us wanted to do that just yet.
Around 7:30 PM we dropped our sails and motored into Port Jefferson harbor. We wanted to go int the town and have a look around so Archie called the launch service on the radio.
“Port Jefferson launch service. Port Jefferson launch service. This is the Betty Ann, over.” Archie called into the microphone.
“Betty Ann, this is the Port Jefferson launch service, go ahead.” The reply came back.
“Yes, ahm, what time is the last launch?” Archie asked.
“We run until eight o’clock.”
A few seconds of silence ensued while Archie looked at the clock which now read close to 8:00.
“Is there another launch service?” Archie asked. Again my Monty Python and The Holy Grail script popped into my head, I couldn’t help but think of King Arthur asking ‘is there somebody else up there that we can talk to?’.
Denied our shore leave, we resigned to a night on a mooring. For the last hour there had been a lasagna that Archie had put into the oven cooking away and sending up tantalizing odors that sent my stomach rumbling. We were all hungry so after securing the boat we quickly set up in the cockpit for a fabulous dinner of lasagna and toasted garlic bread. I was so hungry that I went for seconds, had three pieces of toast, then ate the morsels leftover in the lasagna pan. For desert Archie brought out fresh cut melon and chocolate. I ate quite a few of these, and washed it all down with the remains of my Yuengling beer. For this display of self-gorging, I was given the appropriate nickname of “Dispose-All” by Gerry. Of course anyone who knows me knows that in normal life I tend to eat small portions, but in normal life I’m not living on a boat. I don’t know what it is, but being on a boat always gives me an appetite.
Soon after sunset we all went to bed. I wrote as much as I could in my journal, and then drifted off to dreams of that day’s sail. It’s days like this one that irreversibly addict you to sailing and its way of life. It’s the ultimate freedom, and an equalizer between you and the Earth. It gives you such a great respect for nature, and for the good fortune of being there to enjoy it.
Thursday, May 24th – 5:00 AM
We rose early again today to catch the tides down Long Island Sound in an attempt to get through Race Rock in New London before the outgoing tide changed to incoming. We cast off the mooring lines and headed out of Port Jefferson at twilight. There was very little wind, so we motored most of the way down the Sound. With the benefit of the tide we were again moving along at around 9 knots.
Today would be our last day on the water, and the first day that we would be in home water. It’s always a nice feeling when you get to your home waters. You know where you are, you can put away the charts for the most part, and you can relax in your knowledge of the area and take in the sights. I took the opportunity to savor the feeling of being on a boat, moving through the water towards a destination. One of my favorite parts about boating, and sailing in particular, has always been the journey.
Our GPS showed the tide changing at Race Rock at 11:20, we made it through by around 11:40 but I think we still had tide with us. It certainly felt like we were being pulled through, and the difference between the boat’s course over ground, and our compass course was enough to prove it. Shortly after lunch Gerry asked me if I wanted an English Muffin – Fig Newton sandwich. I replied that there were certain things that even Dispose-All wouldn’t eat.
By 2:00 we were inside Point Judith, and coming in to the fuel dock. There were two young girls waiting to take our lines. I passed our bow line to one of the waiting girls who used it to slow the boat down. Satisfied that she knew what she was doing I went about getting the fenders placed to keep us off the dock. She tied the line to the cleat on the dock about midship. The bow began to drift away from the dock so I ran up to pass one of the fuel dock’s lines to dad. I threw the first one I saw which it turned out was way too short. He was able to get it to the cleat, but it wasn’t ever going to make it around the cleat. I found a second line that was much longer and threw it over his shoulder. He was able to get it tied off and the bow stabilized. After we tied up she remarked that this was actually her first day on the job. That must be a little stressful, first day and your tying up 40 to 50 foot boats.
We filled up with 101 gallons of fuel, pumped out what was in our holding tanks, and then brought the Betty Ann back over to her home slip.
“Am I clear?” Archie asked.
“No, you’re not clear. More to port.” I replied, motioning with my arm which way we needed to move. Archie rotated the boat more and aligned the stern with the waiting slip. As we backed in I jumped off and observed our final movement into the slip.
“Watch the beam.” We backed her up slowly. “How far back?”
“So you can jump off onto the dock” Archie replied.
We gave the Betty Ann a good wash down, and unloaded all our bags and gear. This is always a tough part of a cruise like this. You’re glad to be home, but you don’t want to leave what has been your home for the past week. And not only has it been a place to live, it has carried you across seas, winds, currents and open ocean. In the end you have to leave the boat behind, and wait to sail another day.