May 17 – 19, 2003
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, Begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it…” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Our story begins on a cold, damp, coastal Connecticut day in late Maywith me standing on the deck of our very own 1981 Catalina 30 currently named “Euphoria” – nine months of searching for just the right boat had finally paid off!
The plan was simple – we would sail her down the Connecticut coast; across the Long Island Sound; down the East River; around the tip of Manhattan; up the Hudson River and into Haverstraw Bay to her new home. Those of you that know us are rolling on the floor laughing hysterically right about now.
Where to start? Oh, that’s right, the @#$%^ engine wouldn’t start!
Since that fateful first day, we’ve learned to take nothing for granted on a boat. Inevitably, things that should move, don’t and things that shouldn’t move, do… thus the need for WD-40 and Duct tape! But, no worries, we got hold of the broker, hooked up a battery charger and continued on with the business of getting her ready to go. She was in pretty good shape, but there was a lot of “junk” down below (at least by our standards), so we spent the next bunch of hours cleaning up, organizing, checking thru-hulls, engine oil, coolant levels, etc. All those books I read and all the info I got from folks on-line was sure coming in handy; if not for them I wouldn’t have a clew… Clew? come on, it’s funny!
Anyway, one interesting “find” during this process was our jib nicely folded in the V-Berth. What the heck was it doing there? To a new boat owner (me), that’s like buying a car and finding out you need to mount the tires in order to drive it off the lot! OK, perhaps not, but you get the picture. Only one real option was available; figure out how to set up our roller-furler. As it turned out, the previous owner had all his manuals in a big three-ring binder stowed away in the Nav Station. Fast-forward through a lot of head scratching, page flipping and bruised knuckles – it’s 2:00 PM and our roller-furler is up and ready to go. I’m still not sure what we were thinking, but we cast off and headed out…
It was amazing! OK, it was amazingly scary, but we were determined. We headed out of the harbor, rounded Charles Island, headed out into the Long Island Sound and proceeded to raise the mainsail. You guessed it; no such luck! Seems the lugs were jamming in the track and the sail simply would not go up. All this time, Maria is being a real trooper at the helm, trying to keep us heading into the wind while dealing with all the chop. I finally wrestle the mainsail back down, tie it off and return to the cockpit… “Let’s try the jib” I proclaim. This should be fun… I release the furling line from its jam cleat (see, I know what I’m doing) and proceed to crank in the rope… whoops, I mean the sheet, yea, that’s it the sheet.
The jib unfurled without a hitch, I killed the engine and off we went – Wow! We were sailing!
Time, no longer existed, we sat there in complete awe taking it all in; the smell of the salt air; the feel of the wind in our faces; the sound of the water rushing past our hull… that’s right, our hull!
We were sailing!
What we didn’t notice for quite some time was that, while we were sailing, we were doing so very, very slooowly! Yep, no way we were going to make City Island before nightfall. It was a tough decision, but it was the only one that made sense at the time and as captain, it was mine to make; we were turning back. Six hours from when we left, we were back where we started. Exhausted, cold and dejected, we tied up to the dock and went below to sleep… tomorrow was another day.
Our Maiden Voyage – Day 2
Well yesterday did not go exactly as planned… not particularly fond of failure; yours truly was in a rather foul mood this morning and started thinking that it might be better to pay someone that actually knew what they were doing to take her home for us. Fortunately, my better half had more confidence in my abilities than I did and convinced me to give it another try… sure glad she did!
The next few hours were great! We motored out of Milford Harbor, raised the mainsail, set the jib and pointed her home. Managing between 5.5 and 7 knots, we quickly (relative term) left Milford behind us. The lighthouse that yesterday lingered off our starboard side for what seemed like an eternity, quickly slipped away. As the day wore on, apprehension slowly gave way to the thrill of sailing away on our very own boat! We had done our homework, and it was paying off in spades. As I mentioned earlier, I had spent weeks plotting out our course; we had our chart book & tides tables; I knew exactly when we needed to hit Hell Gate in order to traverse the notoriously dangerous confluence of The Harlem River, The East River and The Long Island Sound… but for now, sailing was easy. For our first time out, we actually did reasonably well tracking our way across the Long Island Sound, matching the real world to the charts and noting our position along the way…
This post’s featured image is that of the Admiral hamming it up; making believe she couldn’t read the charts – This is what it’s all about folks!
It was an odd feeling sailing through areas we knew so well and yet not at all; everything took on a whole new perspective from the sea. We sailed along one of the widest sections of the Long Island sound just off Sunken Meadows State Park; a favorite childhood beach with glacier-formed bluffs and imposing towers of rocky cliffs that rise abruptly from the shore. Far in the distance off our starboard bow, we could make out the Eatons Neck Lighthouse marking the entrance to Huntington and Northport Bays – but it wasn’t all soft breezes and white sand beaches. As we continued our trip across the Long Island Sound, we were amazed at the amount of commercial traffic transiting the sound… cargo ships, tankers and barges; Oh My!
Undaunted, we continued westward and soon had City Island in our sights and beyond it the Throgs Neck Bridge; the first of seven bridges we would sail under as we circumnavigated the Island of Manhattan. Over the next couple of hours, we sailed under several more bridges and train trestles; waved at the people walking along the park trails and gawked at the towering buildings lining the East River. But first we had to face (queue scary music) “Hell Gate”!
By the time we spotted the tower on the tip of Roosevelt Island, we felt like veteran sailors. Ah, that “tower on the tip of Roosevelt Island”, that’s just after passing through Hell Gate… talk about anti-climatic! I guess like everything else, a well planned journey avoids problems. After seeking advice on the Sailnet.com message boards and familiarizing ourselves with the currents and tides from Reed’s almanac, Hell Gate was a breeze. Down the East River we went; amazingly gorgeous views. No, we weren’t looking at tranquil palm lined beaches in the South Pacific nor the majestic mountain vistas of the Pacific Northwest, but plying the murky waters of the East River deep within a canyon of concrete and glass was, in my opinion, just as beautiful.
The perspective from the river is amazing… a totally different experience from traveling those roads for so many years. Well known and ignored landmarks are shiny and new again when viewed from the water; the UN, the Chrysler Building, the Manhattan Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc. I have to pause here to say; of all the bridges connecting Manhattan to its surrounding neighbors, none is more beautiful than the Brooklyn Bridge. No, that is not an opinion, it is fact!
Well, it’s been almost 9:00 hours since we left Milford CT… While still far off in the distance, Lady Liberty is a sight for sore eyes! The plan was to anchor north of the George Washington Bridge, but it’s getting late and our timing is a bit off; we’re going to be fighting the tide heading up the Hudson… perhaps it’s time to call it a night.
As we approach Battery Park, we make the decision to stay at one of the marina’s on the New Jersey side of the Hudson for the night and continue our journey northward in the morning. We check our cruising guide and decide on Liberty landing Marina. Now it gets interesting; I “know” how to use the VHF radio, but I’ve yet to actually use it. What channel do I use? I don’t know. Flashbacks to Smokey and the Bandit race through my head “breaker, breaker, this here is SV Rocinante; come back ” No, that can’t be right! In the end, I grab for my trusty cell phone and dial the number in the guide book. Luck is with us this evening; the dock master is still around and they have a slip available. We make our way across the river, past the stone breakwater and ease into the waiting slip… We made it! Time to celebrate our first day at sea… okay, okay not exactly at sea, but close enough for two newbies! Not looking our best, and in no mood to try to improve on said appearance, we hit the local bar for a quick snack and a drink then back to our slip for a well earned rest.
Our Maiden Voyage – We make it to Haverstraw, NY!
Manhattan – New York City might never sleep, but we sure as heck did… exhausted after a long days sail, we fell asleep quite easily in spite of the fact that we were freezing and the wakes from the passing ships seemed to ignore the breakwater and bounced us around for what seemed like an eternity.
After two days of mostly cold, damp mornings, we woke up to a beautiful view of Manhattan and glorious sunshine!
A casual stroll to the local coffee shop and we were ready to go. We picked up fresh coffee and bagels for breakfast back at the slip as well as sandwiches and chocolate cake for later. Food for the day squared away, it was time to head out and prepare to dodge those ferries!
Holy Mackerel what a mess! The Hudson River along lower Manhattan on a weekday is no place for a couple of newbies. Our little vessel was tossed about like a child’s plaything! The admiral kept watch behind us yelling out warnings as ferries and water taxis flew past us in all directions. I did what I could to turn into the wakes without running into the ferries racing across in the other direction, but in the end, there really wasn’t much I could do, so we hung on and hoped for the best as we sailed north through what seemed like the inside of a giant washing machine! Soon enough, it’s all behind us and with Capt’n Carlos at the helm, we steamed upriver. (okay, okay so there was no steam involved!) A few more hours go by; The George Washington bridge is in our wake and the towering Palisades rise majestically ahead… about three more hours to Haverstraw!
The sailing has been wonderful; as we continue to head north along the Hudson, gorgeous views of the Palisades are visible off our port side for miles. Five hours after we left The Battery, we catch our first glimpse of the Tappan Zee Bridge in the distance. Our sense of distance and time are not exactly honed yet and so neither one of us wants to go below to use the head for fear of not being on deck as we pass under our seventh and final bridge of this journey and so we wait… and wait… and wait… we finally realize that it will probably be a good hour before we get to the darn bridge and take turns going below… we wait and wait some more!
We make the turn around our final buoy and sail towards the marina, head up into the wind, drop our sails, motor gently into our new slip and tie off! With Rocinante nestled safely in her new home, we toast to the next voyage… may it be as memorable as the one we just completed!
Photos – Maiden Voyage
We sailed under 8 bridges and 1 train trestle during the course of our maiden voyage;
These are the Throgs Neck, the Bronx Whitestone, a train trestle, the Queensboro and the Manhattan respectively.
For more pictures, check out our Maiden Voyage Photo Gallery