Saturday, August 30, 2014

Big apple finale

We are back at our old haunt, anchored off the end of 70th street in Manhattan, just south of the 79th Street Boat Basin (map).  When we first arrived at this spot just over month ago, I was prepared for it to be "OK for a night or two," but it turned out to be one of our favorite stops in New York.  Now that we're back, we've been here nearly a week.  That's yesterday's sunset from our aft deck, above.

We had a very nice, if short, cruise here Monday from our anchorage off Ellis Island in the harbor.  Since we traveled up the east side of the river the first time, we stayed mostly to the west side this time, offering closer views of some of the New Jersey landmarks, while at the same time more panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline.

Defunct CNJ terminal, now part of Liberty State Park and the Hudson riverwalk, undergoing restoration.

Hoboken Terminal, with restored ferry docks.  The clock tower was gone back in my day, victim of the elements.  It's been replaced now with a replica.

Stevens Institute of Technology.

After we left here a few weeks ago, I regretted having spent a week here without having made it to the handful of places I wanted to visit.  Having decided, rather than pressing on to New England, to instead take a more leisurely return to the Chesapeake, I wanted to remedy that with a few more days in New York City.  We had also agreed to meet our niece and her mom downtown on Wednesday, so this was the perfect place to stop.

Tuesday we had some downtime.  We did go ashore for provisions and for dinner, but mostly I got caught up around the boat, including a long-overdue oil change for the generator.  I also got all the routes from here to the Chesapeake plotted, and planned our stops.

Carnival Splendor, leaving a port call here earlier this week.

Wednesday we met up with our niece and her mom at, of all places, the Museum of Mathematics (and who even knew there was such a place?)  We got quite a kick out of it, because some of the exhibits were extremely well designed.  From there we walked over to the north end of the High Line, by way of a coffee shop where we had a relaxing stop.

High Line, looking south from near the north end.

Looking north from "the lawn." Old rails are intact on this section.

We all enjoyed the High Line very much, and ended up walking the entire length, all the way south to the Meatpacking District.  This latter neighborhood is nowadays full of upscale condos and high-end retail, but a few actual meat companies are still sprinkled around.  I actually grew up in the meat industry in New York, and worked therein on and off, but in the Bronx.  My dad worked in the Manhattan district both before and after that time; I expect he would hardly recognize the place now.

As long as we were in that neighborhood, we ended up having dinner on the patio at the Standard Hotel, just under the High Line itself.  I've never stayed at a Standard -- I'm sure they are very nice -- but this makes the third one where I've eaten.  They do a great job with the food, but prices are commensurate with their upscale aspirations.  Readers may remember our last dining experience at a Standard, in Miami, where they wanted to charge us $1.50 per foot to tie our tender up for dinner.

Dinner at The Standard.  That's the High Line above us.

After dinner we parted company on the 1 train, which brought us back to the Boat Basin.  Speaking of which, other than the fancy new fare cards and a $2.50/ride fare, the subway is more or less as I remember it, only cleaner.  I'm pretty sure they are using the same rolling stock I rode three decades ago, when it was brand new.  Of course, for our very first ride, we were treated to a car where the A/C did not work and a couple of guys boarded with bongos, passing the hat around the car for their "performance" ... some things never change.

Subway dog.

We again availed ourselves of the subway yesterday, riding down to the World Trade Center site and the memorial park there.  (We did not elect to stand in line for the museum.)  We were both choked up the whole time we stood there, and it was too emotional for me to go looking for the names of friends killed in the attack or to photograph the memorial pools.  I spent many hours in that plaza back in the day, among many visits to the complex, and the empty sky is heavy.

New 1 WTC, from the plaza.

From there it was a short walk (soon to be even shorter) to the PATH station, where we took the train to my old stomping grounds, Hoboken, New Jersey.  We walked along the new shoreline park there up to Stevens Tech, my alma mater, and strolled around the campus.  It was busier than I expected for the summertime, but the campus has not changed much in three decades.  On previous visits I spent time chatting with acquaintances there, but so much time has now passed that I don't know a single soul.

We returned to the beaux-arts Hoboken Terminal by way of Washington Street, Hoboken's main drag. The terminal serves not only PATH but also the surface trains I used to ride to school as well as, since 1989 or so, the ferries across the river. Here, the differences from when I haunted the town are more pronounced. Sidewalk cafes now line the block, amid a mix of mostly higher-end retail, and we stopped at one for a beer.  It was a working-class town when I was there, but the working class can no longer afford to live here.  As if to put a finer point on it, worshipful fans were lined up around the block to get into Carlo's Bakery across from City Hall.

On the way home we stopped off at Bleecker Street to pick up some prescription food for George, who is slipping away daily but still hanging in there.  We were thankful to find a Petsmart with a Banfield in the city, where we can get her food just by showing a card issued at another Banfield.  Strolling that section of Broadway is a little like strolling through a suburban mall; on our way to Petsmart we passed, for example, Best Buy and Forever 21.

Vector at twilight, from Riverside Park, after dinner at the Pier-i Cafe.

As long as we've been flitting around town like locals, I've also indulged in some of my old and favorite NYC food habits, to include real kosher bagels in the morning with a "smear," pizza by the slice which you fold in half to allow the grease to drip out, and fresh hot pretzels from carts on the street corners.  All just as good as I remember and I will miss them all again when we leave.

It is now, of course, Labor Day weekend, and I'd just as soon not be navigating among the amateur boaters.  That said, we need to leave with the weather.  At this writing it looks like Tuesday or Wednesday will be the best day to start the long outside hop from Sandy Hook to Absecon Inlet.  It's the better part of a day from here to Sandy Hook, in mostly protected waters.  So we could leave on Monday to be well positioned, but since it is supposed to be raining from tomorrow afternoon through most of Monday, we'll probably weigh anchor tomorrow morning instead.

Rather than head straight back through the Narrows, we plan to take the more industrial back route through the kills around Staten Island.  It's a bit longer, but we'll get to see some new sights and remain in the protection of the island and the hook itself for the entire trip.  We'll end up waiting a day or so behind Sandy Hook for our chance to make the outside run.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tenth Nomadiversary

Ten years ago today, we closed the door of our condominium unit in downtown San Jose, California behind us for the last time, and drove off into a life of nomadic adventure in our newly converted, forty-foot motor coach.  It is fitting that, on the anniversary of that event, we are anchored in New York harbor (map), not far from where I grew up, and enjoyed anniversary cocktails and dinner on our aft deck with the glimmering skyscrapers of lower Manhattan as a backdrop.

It being the end of a pleasant weekend, we were also treated to quite a bit of activity on the water, with day sailers aplenty, Liberty and Ellis Island ferries running to and fro, and even a giant Norweigan Cruise Lines ship gliding past. How we came to be in this spot is something of a story in itself, which I will get to in a minute.

The Norweigan Breakaway heading past us to sea.

When I wrote about our ninth anniversary on the road at this time last year, we were still living on the bus while extensive work was progressing on Vector.  I described how we stole the very apt term "nomadiversary" from our friends and that we'd driven over 150,000 miles in that time, across 48 US states and six Mexican ones.  Sadly, I have yet to make good on my promise to summarize some of our road travels and touch upon the highlights.  Even more sadly, the first three months of the adventure are lost to history, as I did not start blogging everything until November of that year.

That said, this will be post number 1,995 on this blog, and if you ascribe any importance to whole multiples of powers of 10, that's just five posts away from another milestone.  The same sort of calculus makes ten years of roaming with no fixed address a milestone of its own, and tonight we raised a glass to the next ten years.

Speaking of milestones, our odometer here on the boat turned past 4,000 nautical miles just a few days ago; we're now at 4,143 nm in 763 engine hours.  Not bad for just over a year's cruising.  I am about a third of the way towards the 300 "sea days" I need for my masters license.  (We've moved the boat more than that, but it only counts as a "day" if we are under way four hours or more.)

Today's cruise definitely goes in my log book, as we were under way for five hours, going an hour or so past our planned stop.  It was a lovely day on the water, even though we once again found ourselves in the crowded western end of the Sound on a busy weekend day.  I only had to dodge a small handful of sailboats, and our plot line took us past the giant fishing tournament at a respectable distance. Our stabilizers nulled the effects of the enormous wakes from the several 80' go-fast yachts whose skippers just didn't give a hoot.

Stepping Stones Light with the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point in the background.

I set a rhumb line course from the last turn past Stamford harbor all the way to Huckleberry Island, then we hugged the north shore past Hart Island, where millions are buried, and City Island, before heading through the Throgs Neck into the East River.  Once in the river we picked up a favorable current of nearly two knots, which increased steadily all the way to Hell Gate.

Part of Hart Island.  No longer a prison here, but Rikers inmates conduct all the interments.  Still not a good place to land.

We opted to go around the north side of North Brother Island, having passed between the Brothers on the way out, and it was about there that I had to start hand steering due to the current.  As we approached Hell Gate Bridge and the Triborough Bridge, tide rips were evident in several places, and driving through them had water splashing up over the bow.  It was all quite spectacular, but the boat handled it with ease.

By the time we reached the north end of Roosevelt Island, just past Hell Gate, we had nearly four knots behind us, and we were ripping down the river at 11 knots turning only 1,400 RPM.  I had to overshoot my turn a bit to avoid crossing in front of a giant tour boat chugging his way upriver against the current. After making a U-turn I gave the Roosevelt Light a wide berth to starboard as I crossed over into the east channel -- four knots of cross-current can have an eight-knot boat on the rocks in no time.  Things were calmer in the east channel, and as I turned into Hallets Cove I found almost completely slack water.

This cove is a protected spot on an otherwise fast-running channel, silted to a depth in the teens (the river itself is 60' deep).  It's the only anchorage along this section, designated as unrestricted anchorage #14.  After getting in out of the current, we took stock of the place, and decided it was not for us.  The east side of the cove was abandoned industrial works, subjected to years of unremediated malfeasance, and on the north side was a city housing project, which are just as bleak and uninspiring as I remembered.

After catching our breath from Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, we opted to continue on down the river, at breakneck speed with all that current behind us.  I had originally planned to take the east channel, but that would have been closer to slack, and with four knots of current we instead went back around to the west side, which is both deeper and wider.

The UN, looking much as I remember it.

In due time we passed the United Nations, the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges, and the South Street Seaport Museum, which I could not photograph because I was busy avoiding two ferries and a tour boat.  We caught a break in between Staten Island Ferries and squirted out into the Hudson, which I had to crab across at nearly a 20-degree angle just to come straight across to this spot, tucked between Ellis Island to the south and the old NJ Central Depot (now part of Liberty State Park) in Jersey City to the north.

Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.

The Brooklyn Bridge with the financial district in the background.

There's just barely enough room for us here, bounded as we are by a rock, a wreck, and a permanently moored tiki barge that is the clubhouse for the Manhattan Sailing Club, known locally as the Willy Wall.  There are a couple of other spots we might have tried, between Liberty and Ellis islands in designated anchorage #20, but those spots are even more exposed to river traffic.

The view from our aft deck earlier today.

The sheer volume of weekend river traffic made for quite the chop during the day, but it was very short-period stuff that didn't really move us much.  As I am typing here late in the evening, it is nearly glass-smooth, and I can see the reflection of the city lights in the river.  It's a shame my camera can not capture it.

The best my camera could do with city lights, at twilight.

Our reward for squeezing in here and enduring a few wakes during the day is a spectacular view nearly all around.  We have lower Manhattan right across the river, of course, but the aforementioned historic train depot with the vibrant new Jersey City skyline behind it is also pleasing.  In the other direction we have a nice view of the north end of Ellis Island, and we can see two thirds of Lady Liberty rising above it, beautifully lit at this hour.  A great way to spend the first day of our eleventh year of this grand adventure.

Can't really focus in this light, but you get the idea what our view is like.  That's Ellis in the foreground (with the flag), with Liberty Lighting the World behind it.

Tomorrow we will  continue upriver to our old anchorage at 79th street, but with a favorable tide.  It should be less than an hour's run.

Final hours in Connecticut

We are anchored in Stamford Harbor, behind one of the massive breakwaters that protect the harbor from the ravages of the Sound (map).  Just outside the breakwater, about midway across, stands the Stamford Harbor Light (photo above).  The vast majority of water in the harbor deep enough for us is covered in mooring balls, but we found an area with plenty of swing room across the rocks from the main channel.

It was quite choppy on the Sound yesterday, but we felt little of it until we turned north just outside the harbor.  The combination of a tight turn to starboard with winds and waves from the east rolled us to port well past the ability of the stabilizers to correct, and the fridge door flew open, sending items from the top shelf, including the all-important beer, flying across the kitchen.  Sea latches for the new fridge are on my to-do list, but we need to be docked near a hardware store for that project.

As soon as we passed between the breakwaters, the water got calm, although the wind pushed us all over the channel.  Quite a few boats passed us going the other way, heading out for a day on the Sound, and we thought they might not really know what they were in for.

Even with the last minute motoring around the harbor and squeaking over the shoals west of the channel, courtesy of a seven-foot high tide, we had the hook set before lunch.  That let us watch the festivities from the comfort of our easy chair -- more than one boat came back from the Sound speedy-quick, opting instead to spend their Saturday swinging from a mooring a bit south of where we anchored.

This morning's view of Stamford from our anchorage.  Ritzy waterfront homes, closer to us, on the left, with the city's newest condos rising skyward in the background to the right.

Weekends often bring a fair bit of excitement.  Across the sound near Manhasset bay, where we spent a lovely couple of days earlier this month, two sailboats sank in 40' of water (and earlier this week a boat exploded at the fuel dock there, killing one and injuring two more).  We had two separate DSC distress alerts send our radio into a frenzy, and I spent some time talking to the Coast Guard as well as to someone in a rental boat who thought his kids might have set it off by mistake.  No one, it would seem, actually reads the user manual that came with their radio -- one woman responded to the CG's "Pan-Pan" call with "What's a DSC alert?"

I chose this stop because I knew it would be well-protected from the weather on the Sound, and it was about four hours from our last stop and four hours to our next stop, a great mid-point.  Stamford itself was not really on our must-see list, and the listing in Active Captain said there were no dinghy landings here.  Once we were in quarters, though, my curiosity got the better of me and I started to research ways we could get off the boat -- we haven't been off the boat in three days and it will be another two or three days before our next opportunity.

There's not really a good way to get to town -- despite the historic harbor, Stamford is not really a waterfront city.  But I did find two waterfront restaurants attached to a marina, which offers a dock-and-dine rate of $1 per foot.  Ten bucks (our dinghy is 10') was an acceptable fee to get ashore for a meal and get four days of accumulated trash off the boat, and we tendered in for a nice meal at La Dolce Cubano, which was uber-trendy but had great food.

On our way back to Vector after dinner we stopped at the fuel dock across the channel just as they were closing, to top up the tender.  We realized at the last minute that we'd have no opportunity to get gasoline once we arrive at 79th Street Boat Basin.  The dock hands at both docks were extremely courteous and helpful.  I don't think Stamford sees many transients, so were were something of a curiosity.

Somewhere west of here is the summit of the Sound's tidal hill -- the point where the flood from the eastern Sound and the flood from the East River meet.  We will leave here towards the end of the flood to arrive at the entrance to the river in time for the ebb, which will carry us downhill to Anchorage 14, Hallets Cove, just south of Hell Gate.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chop chop

We are under way westbound in Long Island Sound, just south of Norwalk, Connecticut.  This morning found us anchored in a small cove off the Sound known as "The Gulf", off Gulf Beach in Milford, Connecticut (map).  We tucked in as far north as depths would allow, to get some protection behind Welches Point from the easterlies and the two-foot swell they were pushing.

Yesterday's cruise was pleasant, owing primarily to the fact that the wind and swell were directly behind us.  We were more or less matching the speed of the waves, giving the appearance we were surfing a crest all the way.  We did not get under way until after 3pm, so as not to be pushing against an outgoing tide.  That made for a short day, and we dropped the hook just after 5pm.

We had hoped to perhaps take the tender up the channel to the small downtown in Milford for a nice dinner, or at the very least go half that distance, to the yacht club just inside the breakwater.  But it was cold, bleak, windy, and choppy when we got settled, and we did not relish the thought of splashing the tender and fighting our way ashore in that weather.  At least we had enough protection there to be comfortable overnight, with just a slight, gentle roll.

It really would not be life on a boat without something breaking, and yesterday's victim was the WiFi router.  We have a Ubiquiti Bullet on the flybridge, directly coupled to a high-gain omni antenna, which we use to pull in distant WiFi.  It's been a real boon so far, especially here in the Sound, where we've been able to find usable open WiFi at every anchorage.

At the moment, it all seems to be working with the notable and critical exception of the "site survey" function, which is what tells us what WiFi networks are available, which are open versus locked, and what the signal strength and noise floor is for each.  If I know the SSID of an open and available network, we can get on, but otherwise I can't tell what's out there.  A short-term workaround is to take a laptop up to the flybridge to survey what's available, but, of course, the laptops can't see as many networks as the Bullet could with its high-gain antenna.

Today I'm leaving the unit powered down during the cruise, to see if that helps  (power-cycling alone did not fix it), and if that fails, I will re-flash the firmware and do a master reset.  Otherwise I will be on the phone to Ubiquiti on Monday, but I am guessing the only remedy will be to replace the unit.  Fortunately, they are not very expensive.

This morning we weighed anchor before 7:30, to have a downhill run westbound on the flood.  It's even choppier out here today than it was yesterday, but it is once again behind us.  It's Saturday, though, and at every inlet we encounter a dozen or so small boats, out fishing.  They are bobbing around like corks, and one anchored boat even had waves breaking across it's bow.  Reminds me of the old saw about "the worst day fishing."

We'll have the current behind us most of the way to today's destination, behind the breakwater at Stamford harbor.  We'll have the hook set by 11:30 or so, giving us all afternoon to relax aboard.  If things are calm (and warm) enough in the harbor, we might even get the tender down and make it ashore for dinner.  We've been in Connecticut for three nights and have yet to set foot on land, and tomorrow we'll be back in New York.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Thimbles

We are anchored among the Thimble Islands, just off the coast of Branford, Connecticut (map).  The Thimbles are essentially undersea mountains consisting primarily of distinctive pink Stony Creek granite, and they are quite spectacular.  The islands are dotted with expensive homes.

Unsurprisingly, the islands are surrounded by boat-crushing rocks, and we had to pick our way in, but it was worth it both for the view and for the protection from the present easterlies afforded by High Island to our east.  I had originally planned to anchor one island east of here, but the anchorage is chock full of boats, mostly on moorings.  The Thimbles have been used by sailors seeking protection from the Sound for centuries.

We had a lovely four-hour cruise here yesterday from Old Lyme, riding the current the whole way.  En route we passed the massive Katherine Hepburn estate in Saybrook (for sale, I believe), just a bit too far to photograph, as well as the pair of lighthouses marking the Connecticut River jetties.  On the Sound side, we passed Falkner Island with its distinctive lighthouse.

Today we will have to push uphill, as we are now at a point in the tide cycle where it will be ebbing throughout the day.  As I am typing, we have perhaps one good hour of flood, and the flood will not begin again until 4pm.  We don't want to break the day into two short cruises, as the extra mileage to drop the hook in the middle will negate any tidal benefit, neither do we want to start out at 4pm.  Most likely, we'll make it a short day and get underway towards the end of the ebb.

One niece and her mom are still in NY, and we've agreed to meet them in Manhattan on Wednesday. That gives us a target, which is to be back at the 79th St. boat basin by Tuesday afternoon.  That will make for a nice leisurely four day cruise from here, through the East River and around the Battery, and back up the Hudson another four miles.

After we wrap up in Manhattan, our plan is for three hops back down the NJ coast (Sandy Hook, Absecon Inlet, and Cape May) before breaking new ground heading up the Delaware Bay.  Depending on when we arrive and how things are going with our friends' new boat (they arrived in Port Canaveral last night, following in our footsteps), we might make the run up to Philadelphia before transiting the C&D Canal into the Chesapeake.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Connecticut Yankee

We are anchored in Long Island Sound, just off the beach in Old Lyme, Connecticut (map).  There is a beach bar here called "The Pavilion," what looks to be a restaurant also on the beach, and perhaps a couple of other business up the street.  The listing in Active Captain said there might be a dinghy dock here associated with the bar, but there is none that we can see.

Yesterday we stopped briefly at the Mitchell Park Marina in Greenport to pump out our holding tanks after weighing anchor.  As we were bringing the anchor aboard, we both noticed that the bow thruster did not sound right, even though we were clearly getting thrust in both directions.  We opted to refrain from using it further until I could check it out, which made for some challenging docking over at the marina.  Fortunately, there was almost no wind or current, and the water was glassy all morning.

The pumpout was free, and the marina also let us put some water in our tanks.  The place was nearly empty, a stark contrast from when we visited them on the weekend as we strolled around Greenport with our friends.  It's a bit frustrating that conditions were choppy for our whole visit, whereas it was glass-calm before they arrived in Southold, and again became so right after they left.

Calm conditions and pleasant temperatures made for a lovely cruise across the sound, more or less a straight shot after leaving Plum Gut.  We dropped anchor in 12' just offshore, noticing a number of mooring balls closer in.  Those turned out to be complimentary moorings for The Pavilion, which also provided a water taxi.  I'm guessing we could have persuaded the taxi to come get us, but beach bars without a decent food menu do not really call us.

Shortly after we settled in, I set to work on the thruster.  As soon as I got into the compartment, which is below the guest berth, I noticed a fine layer of "belt dust" covering every surface.  There is no belt in the thruster, but there is a splined coupling made of the same material that connects the motor to the gearbox; it's even made by Gates Belt.  I also detected an odor of machine oil.

After removing the motor I inspected the coupling, but found nothing really wrong with it nor any explanation for how it is shedding dust -- there is no slippage in the coupling as there would be with an actual belt.  Around the transmission drive spline I found a thin layer of oil with copious amounts of belt dust mixed in.  I don't think there is any machine oil in the electric motor, so I am guessing this oil is seeping out around the upper seal of the "drive leg," which is the underwater gearbox that connects the vertical motor to the horizontal propellers.  The drive leg is supposedly a sealed unit -- no way to add any oil -- so if it is leaking, we will have a big problem down the road.  We've replaced this once already, as long-time readers may remember, and a new one runs nearly $2,000.

Finding no other problems, I replaced the Gates coupling prophylactically with a spare I had on hand (having ordered an extra when we sheared one in half last year) before reinstalling the motor.  We did a quick test, but the sound was still off somehow to both our ears.  With nothing obvious on the inside of the boat, I decided to dive on the props to make sure neither was missing, coming loose, chipped, or otherwise broken.  It was a chilly swim, in 72° water, but on a bright sunny day I could easily see there was no problem with the props.

We'll continue to use the thruster as-is, since we can't find any issues other than a potentially leaking drive leg.  If the drive leg goes again, we'll be faced with the option of buying yet another replacement, or replacing the bow thruster with something else entirely, given that this appears to be a design weakness of this brand.  In the meantime, I will be keeping my eyes open for a spare drive leg on the secondary market.

When we first headed for this anchorage, we thought we might spend an extra day, just to get rested and caught up.  We figured it would be a good stop if we could get ashore for some restaurants or other services, or if we found good WiFi.  Since neither of those came to pass (we're not inclined to beach the dinghy just for bar food, and the pair of open networks here are marginal), we will instead move along today.  We'd like to have the tide behind us, so we are waiting for low tide to weigh anchor and continue west, around 2pm or so.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A great visit

We are still in Southold, New York, but we are now anchored in Southold Bay (map) instead of Long Island Sound.  We are less than two miles from our last spot, as the crow flies, but to get here we had a five hour, 24 nautical mile cruise. We are anchored as close as we could get to the Port of Egypt Marina, where we have been able to tie up the tender for $15 per day.

Shortly after my last post we managed to get the tender in the water, but landing on the rocky beach on the sound side proved quite the challenge in the surf.  We ended up dragging the boat up the beach for the remainder of the day, and getting it re-launched persuaded us thenceforth to just leave it a good 30 yards off shore (it has its own anchor) and paddle the rest of the way in our little blow-up raft for the rest of the visit, or at least until the sound calmed down a bit.

The forecast continued to deteriorate, though, and things just never got as calm as they had been the day we arrived.  While our good friends, who are our age, and their kids, who are still teenagers, would have no real trouble visiting us on the boat this way, it was going to be a challenge getting anyone else on board, and we'd have to make two round trips with the dinghy and three round trips with the blow-up raft each time, probably a half hour process or more.  So Friday morning we made the decision to move here instead.

We had been contemplating taking everyone on a day cruise anyway, perhaps across the sound to Connecticut and back, and so the five hour trip here presented that opportunity.  As it was again pretty choppy, we did have quite the adventure getting everyone aboard.  I suggested swim suits for all, with day clothes in dry bags.  Three round trips of the raft got four of us in the dinghy, with two left in the raft, which we towed behind.  The chop was so bad when we got to Vector that we had to hip-tie the dinghy and board through the side gate, as the swim platform was alternately under water, then two feet above it -- too dangerous for boarding.

Wishing "Leo" was here...

Getting everyone from shore to the boat and loading the tender back aboard took us an hour, and then we had a half hour delay retrieving the anchor, which had snagged the chain hook in a way that made the latter difficult to remove.  Once we got under way, though, where the stabilizers could do their job, we had a very nice cruise.  Everyone seemed to enjoy being aboard, with our nieces doing their best "Titanic" re-creation on the foredeck before stretching out on the boat deck to catch some rays.

Orient Point Light, at the treacherous Plum Gut.  We arrived close to slack for an easy passage.

We were treated to close-up views of several more lighthouses, passed the tourist mecca of Greenport which they love to visit when they are here, and dropped the hook just in time to hoist the cocktail flag.  We retired back to the house for dinner after a round of cocktails on the flybridge.

The Long Beach Bar light.

We spent each subsequent afternoon and cocktail hour on the boat, shuttling folks back and forth in the tender from the dock at the marina.  In addition to our good friends Jay and Marjorie and their daughters (our "nieces") we entertained at various times two of the girls' cousins, our host (Jay's mom), our friend Eric who came over from Connecticut on the ferry, and Marjorie's mom and her friend who drove out from Long Beach.  They fed us dinner at the house each evening and we came back to Vector well past dark each night in the tender.  It is dark enough out here that the first night persuaded us to leave more lights on than just the anchor light when we left after cocktails.

Jay and one niece had to leave Monday morning for California, and his mom and a cousin headed back with them.  By yesterday it was down to just Marjorie, the other niece, and us, and they left yesterday mid-day after we received a last-minute express delivery at the house of some more fluids for our cat.  We got back to the boat yesterday afternoon and collapsed -- it has been a very busy visit.

This morning we will weigh anchor and head over to the municipal marina in Greenport, where they have a free pumpout.  It would have been nice to just stay there for the visit, but marina rates are sky-high around here, and even higher on the weekends -- we just could not see spending over $160 a day.  Gas for the dinghy has cost maybe $30 for the whole visit, and we've used another $10 a day in generator time, on top of the $15 dinghy fee.

Meanwhile, our friends Martin and Stephanie have finally accepted their boat and are getting under way today from Stuart for points north.  That adds some definition to the formerly nebulous plan to meet them in the Chesapeake, and with that date looming less than one month hence, we've decided not to make a mad scramble to New England and, instead, have a much more leisurely cruise back along the north shore of Long Island Sound, through New York City, around Manhattan, and making the stop we missed in Hoboken before continuing south.

We've been so busy the last few days that I have not had time to do any actually route planning, so what stops we make are as yet undetermined.  We're not quite sure even where we will end up this afternoon -- perhaps no further than Gardiners Sound.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rock and roll

We are anchored again in Long Island Sound, north of the village of Southold (map) and just east of the Horton Point Light (shown above).  Somewhere on the bluffs above us overlooking the sound is the summer cottage that belongs to the family of our good friends from California, and we chose to anchor here so we can just dinghy over to the beach and climb the long set of stairs to the cottage.

We'd have a lot more protection if we ran another 20 miles around this peninsula, past Orient and through Gardiners Bay to drop the hook northwest of Shelter Island.  That's just two miles from here as the crow flies, but we'd need to then find a place to land the dinghy, where we could also leave it all day long, and our friends would have to schlep us back and forth.  There are some marinas a 20-minute drive from here, in Greenport, where we could drop the scooters, but prices start at $3 per foot and go up, and $160 a night or more is more than we wanted to spend for a visit.

When we arrived Monday evening after a nice cruise from Port Jeff, most of which was one straight 30-nm stretch, this cove was calm and it was like anchoring on a lake.  In fact, part of the reason we wanted to get here Monday, not just one but two full days before our friends, was that we knew conditions would be calm then and we could take our time scoping out the anchorage, which is bordered by a rocky shore to the south, dangerous rocks to the east and west, a dangerous wreck to the northwest, and deep water with a hard bottom (where the anchor would not set) to the north.  It did take us two tries to get the anchor to set properly, but were were right where we wanted to be, at least 600' from the hazards in any direction.

We knew the calm would not last and that, actually, a storm system would pass through yesterday that would rile things up a bit.  No problem, we've been in rougher anchorages and a little rock-and-roll does not bother us.  But yesterday morning at 3am we were rousted out of bed by the anchor alarm, which is almost always just being a drama queen but in this case was dead on -- we were dragging across the anchorage in 15-knot winds.  Oddly, the winds were beam-on and the boat was holding its heading without flinching.

We don't normally set a trip line when we anchor.  In fact, the whole time we've owned the boat, we've only done it once before, in the Alligator River, which is reported to be foul with ancient roots along the bottom.  But we set one here, because there are massive rocks strewn around the bottom (the ones that stick up far enough to be a hazard to navigation are actually charted).  We love our genuine Bruce anchor, but one of the known limitations of its design is that it is prone to catching on large undersea objects like rocks and coral heads, and more than one Bruce has been abandoned and left behind when it could not be retrieved.  We once brought a sizable rock up from the bottom ourselves.

A trip line is basically a rope long enough to reach the surface and attached to the "hook" end of the anchor (the anchor rode is attached at the other end, the shank), and can be used to pull the anchor from the hook end to get it unstuck from rocks, roots, cables, coral, or other immovable underwater objects.  The loose end of the rope is attached to a float so it can be retrieved at the surface and pulled in to the winch.  We have several round Polyform "buoys" that double as fenders, and we use our smallest one for the trip line float.

When we started dragging Tuesday night, I turned our spotlight on and swept the sea looking for this float.  It's a good 18" in diameter and bright orange, so it should be easy to spot.  We must have looked for 15 minutes but the float was nowhere to be found -- not where the anchor "should" be (even after dragging), nor anywhere else.

It took us a while to figure out what had happened, but we finally concluded that Vector, in the process of swinging back over the trip line as the tide changed, had snagged the line on the running gear somehow and literally tripped its own anchor, dragging the anchor along with it by the trip line.  Fortunately, I had posited this as a guess early on, and we opted for that reason not to start the engine unless absolutely necessary.  If the line and buoy had been caught in the propeller that might have caused a problem -- we do now have line cutters on the shaft, but the line could have just been wrapped on a single blade, and the propeller could easily have pulled the anchor up all the way to the boat, causing real damage.

Fortunately, we only dragged a hundred feet or so before we caught again, and while I did not see the buoy pop up, our track on the plotter clearly showed us moving away in a different direction, with the boat quickly swinging to a new heading.  Being held at the bow by the heavy chain and at the stern by the trip line was what had kept our heading steady with our beam to the wind.

All's well that ends well, and our new anchor position was acceptable, still 600' or so from all hazards (we have 170' of chain out), with the anchor appearing to be well set again, so we climbed back in bed.  We awoke later in the morning to choppy seas of two feet or so, and yesterday we mostly did things that did not involve getting out of our chairs.  Tuesday, at least, had been calm enough to get a few things done, including prepping the dinghy for anchoring off the rocky beach here.

Today was supposed to be calm, with light winds and seas less than one foot.  The forecast deteriorated late yesterday, though, and this morning it is still too rough to lower the tender.  Our friends will be here by noon, and things are supposed to calm down as the day progresses, so we're hoping we'll be able to get ashore when they arrive.  In the meantime, we are still in "one hand for the boat" mode this morning.

We'll be here for a few days, visiting.  Unless conditions deteriorate, we will probably remain right here and not go around the corner to the bay.  Where we head next, though, is something of a mystery.  We'd like to be in Virginia at the beginning of October, and it's about two weeks from here to there.  With the remaining three weeks or so we might try to see a bit of New England and/or spend more time cruising the Chesapeake.  As a plan develops I will post it here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Port Jeff

We are anchored in Long Island Sound just north of Old Field Beach, a spit of land that separates Port Jefferson Harbor from the sound (map). Unless you are fortunate enough to own one of the two or perhaps three multi-million dollar estate mansions that front the landward end of the spit, the beach is accessible only by boat, so it has been mostly empty and secluded since we arrived.

The last two or three houses on the right have access to the beach.  That's the Old Field Point light peeking up on the far right.

We said farewell to Nassau (as with our last "Nassau," the county in New York, not the city in the Bahamas) just past noon yesterday and headed up Manhasset Bay to the Sound.  Wow, we've never seen so many boats on the water.  It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon, and we did some quick back-of-the-envelope math after Googling the number of recreational boats registered in the state, coming up with perhaps 4,000 boats out on the water state-wide, give or take a few hundred. I would say we personally saw ten percent of that number under way yesterday afternoon.

Execution Rocks Light.

The western end of the sound was so crowded that we had to slow and alter course several times to avoid flotillas of sailboats. And even though seas on the sound were just one foot yesterday, our stabilizers got quite a workout just from the powerboat wakes -- common courtesy appears to be in short supply here. On the plus side, Long Island Sound sports dozens of historic lighthouses, and we had nice views of several in the binoculars, most too distant to photograph.

Eatons Neck Light and Coast Guard Station, the oldest station in New York.

Old Field Point Light, before we rounded the point to anchor.

Speaking of wakes, I'm not sure this was the best choice of anchorage for the night. We got rocked a bit by some of the aforementioned powerboaters until they were all in for the night (although traffic had thinned out considerably as we moved further east through the sound), and the enormous Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry comes by twice an hour, not to mention the half dozen or so commercial tows that have been in or out of Port Jeff since we arrived. Still, those occasional wakes just gave us a gentle rocking for a short while, nothing that kept us up at night.

My original planned route had us going in through the inlet and anchoring on the other side of the spit. That would have given us more protection from the wakes and also from any weather on the sound, but there wasn't any of the latter, to speak of, so we decided to save the last couple of miles and just drop the hook here. Had I been thinking ahead, we could have stopped one cove further west, a bit further from the inlet traffic.

Our private beach.  The house in the middle is for sale for $2.5M.  There is actually more water between it and the beach.

The tide swing here is eight feet, and I could only see a handful of sailboat masts on the other side of the beach when we anchored at low tide.  Now that we are close to high tide I can see that anchorage is actually quite crowded. By contrast, we were all alone here on the outside, and it was blissful. We enjoyed a nice steak dinner on deck, and watched the "super moon" rise over the green-and-red flashes of the Old Field Point lighthouse.

A bit crowded across the spit from us.

The best my cell phone could do with the super moon.

We are once again waiting on favorable tide for our departure.  We'll weigh anchor right at high tide, a little past noon, and ride the ebb all the way to Southold, our destination for this cruise. Our friends do not arrive at their house there until Thursday, but we wanted to be at least a full day ahead of them. We need time to scope out the anchorage, get Vector squared away, and find a way to land the dinghy on their extremely rocky beach.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

East Egg

We are anchored in Manhasset Bay, on Long Island (map), just east of the stately waterfront homes of Great Neck.  Across the bay from us on Cow Neck are a line of marinas, yacht clubs, and moorings in the hamlet of Port Washington, part of the town of North Hempstead (political boundaries in New York are byzantine).  If you read The Great Gatsby, Cow Neck is East Egg, and Great Neck is West Egg.

We had not really planned this stop -- we ended up here because we needed to pump out our waste tank. After combing the web, consulting our guides, and making myriad phone calls Friday trying to find a marina along our route with an accessible, working pumpout, it turned out that our simplest option was to press on a bit further than planned and anchor here, where the town operates a pumpout boat.

We're glad we did.  It's a lovely spot, and having the boat come first thing in the morning was easy, painless, and inexpensive.  Once we had the hook set and took stock of our surroundings, we learned there was a free dinghy dock over in Port Washington within an easy walk of a large grocery store, and there were several restaurant options as well.  We splashed the tender yesterday morning after taking care of business, and went to town to re-provision.  Yesterday evening we returned for a nice dinner at a local Italian place.

Friday's cruise from Yonkers was great.  I had some apprehension about the entrance at Spuyten Duyvil, but we made it through without incident.  The railroad bridge was already open, having opened for another boat ten minutes before us, and we blasted in through the north opening rather than our planned southern approach just to shave a minute or two off the whole process -- in this kind of cross-current, he who hesitates is lost.

Once past the railroad bridge it was smooth sailing the rest of the way, and we both ended up sitting up on the flybridge for the length of the Harlem River just so we could take in all the sights.  While Manhattan's Hudson and East River waterfronts are the glitzy face of the city, the Harlem is more the industrial underbelly.  I was impressed, though, by how much it has been cleaned up.

The Harlem River today, looking south.  That's a boathouse for human-powered boats on the right, with the series of high arch bridges downriver.

In my youth, the river was foul and both banks were a wasteland reminiscent of a war zone.  Graffitti covered everything the eye could see in an unbroken tableau from one end of the river to the other.  Today the graffiti is all but gone, and the banks have been redeveloped into parkland and shopping centers.  Kayakers were out enjoying the river, something unimaginable back then.

The elegant University Heights swing bridge in our wake (clearance 25' MHW).

It is a part of the city that few recreational boaters ever see.  There are no tourists here, and even most New Yorkers know little of the Harlem River or the Spuyten Duyvil.  We enjoyed it immensely.

The High Bridge Water Tower, in High Bridge Park.

My carefully planned timing turned out to be perfect.  After the tricky entrance, we then had just enough current against us the whole way to make all the other potential trouble spots into non-issues.  The lowest of the bridges was a good two to three feet above our antennas, and even meeting the giant Circle Line tour coming the other way was no problem.  The tour was packed, incidentally, and a fair number of guests waved to us as we passed.

Looking back at the High Bridge, being renovated.  Original 1848 stone arches to either side of the 1928 steel arch (which replaced more stone arches, to facilitate river traffic).  The bridge carried the original Croton Aqueduct over the Harlem River.

For our readers who are Yankee fans.  Best shot I could get of New Yankee Stadium (the old one was still in use when I left the area; I went to many Yankee and Giants games there).

Decorative lighthouse only -- not to be used for navigation.

The NYPD has not only a fleet of boats, but also its own boatyard, complete with two Marine Tavelifts.

We arrived at Hell Gate right at slack, which meant we had the current behind us from that point on.  By the time we were approaching the Whitestone Bridge we were doing eight knots at just 1500 RPM.  I had set our end point at General Anchorage 7, just west of Little Neck, but with the extra speed it was a slam-dunk to continue on to Manhasset Bay, making maximum advantage of the favorable tide.

Manhattan skyline framed by the Triborough Bridge.

As the Hell Gate and Triborough bridges recede, the skyline rises above them.

LaGuardia Airport.

Just part of NYC's massive jail complex on Rikers Island.

When the island is full, here is a jail barge.  Note the exercise "yard" at upper left, shrouded in concertina wire.

One for my family: Hunts Point Market, where I worked in my youth.

Whitestone Bridge, with Throgs Neck Bridge beyond it.  New York may hold the record for the number of miles of wire rope used in suspension bridges.

Fort Schuyler defended the north side of Throgs Neck ...

... while Fort Totten defended the south.

The US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point.

The Stepping Stones Lighthouse marks the beginning of Long Island Sound.

The weather was perfect yesterday, and, it being the weekend, the bay quickly filled up with boaters out enjoying the season.  I'm glad we caught the pumpout boat first thing, when he was not busy.  By mid-afternoon, a dozen or more small boats were rafted in the shallows over by Plum Point, with what looked to be a hundred young men and women having the sort of party you see on spring break videos.  They had their music cranked up so loud we could hear it below decks, and we're over a half mile away.  Several other boaters called the North Hempstead marine patrol to complain, but there is no noise ordinance here until 11pm.  By then, the raft-up had dispersed.

There are more boats out on the water here than we've seen any place else to date, with the possible exception of Fort Lauderdale (and even that I am not sure of).  As usual in these kinds of places, the radio was busy with distress calls of one sort or another all day.  We were happy to just be sitting it out at anchor.

We could easily stay here another day, and I am guessing this afternoon will again be a hotbed of activity.  But the favorable tide gets later each day, and we want to be in Southold a couple of days early to get settled in before our friends arrive to meet us, so we will weigh anchor at noon to ride the outgoing tide all the way to Port Jefferson, our next and final stop before Southold.  With any luck, Long Island Sound will not be nearly the zoo it has been here in the bay.