Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Heat wave on the Hudson

We are enjoying some very pleasant weather at anchor today after a very hot few days. Saturday night in Gravesend Bay was still pleasant, but we awoke Sunday to still air and a haze over the city that often accompanies summer heat.

Approaching Manhattan. Haze and heat often go together here.

We weighed anchor on a decent flood for the four-hour jaunt upriver to Alpine, New Jersey, where we anchored just offshore of the Palisades Interstate Park (map). We anchored at the very northern end of Anchorage 17, a designated unrestricted anchorage, less than a half mile from the Alpine Boat Basin.

Heading under the George Washington Bridge. Our destination is just beyond the point of land to the left.

The boat basin, like its cousin further south the Englewood Boat Basin, and many other features and fixtures of the park, were constructed in the early part of the 20th century, much of it by the WPA during the depression. Many of the original structures still stand, and have an unmistakable look that speaks to that era.

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.

We actually cruised past the basin and then circled back to anchor; we considered briefly anchoring a bit closer, or to the north, but decided it was worth a couple of extra minutes in the tender to be settled in a designated anchorage. As we passed the basin southbound we saw the schooner A. J. Meerwald tied up and taking on passengers.

Just as we were dropping the hook, the Meerwald hailed us; they were about to start a slow southbound trawl and wanted to ascertain our status. Sure enough, they passed us at trawling speed a short while later, pulling a net. I'm not sure what they were after, but it was clearly loaded with tourists, so we are guessing some kind of eco-tour.

The A. J. Meerwald from our deck as she passed. Yonkers is in the background, across the river.

We wanted to be near the boat basin so that we could land the tender and meet up with my aunt and uncle, who drove down from their home about 20 minutes up the Palisades Parkway. We had a nice visit with them, with cocktails and dinner in nearby Tenafly, New Jersey, one of the stomping grounds of my youth. There's nothing at all in Alpine, but along this section of riverfront there are no other places to land a boat.

By the time we had dropped the hook, the mercury had already climbed well past 90°, and so it was nice to spend the whole afternoon and evening off the boat. We ran the generator and air conditioning for an hour or so before we left, and we left the boat all closed up while we were gone, knowing full well that we'd need to put the AC right back on when we returned.

They dropped us back off at the boat basin around 9:30ish, with outside temperatures still in the 90s. The boat basin closes at 5:30, so we had to check in with the park police, drive around a barricade, and then MacGyver our way past the chain link gates for the docks themselves (as instructed by the dockhand when we landed). We arrived back at Vector well after dark, and Louise went right inside to start up the generator and the air conditioning while I secured the tender for hoisting.

As I was getting the lifting straps ready I realized something was odd about the sound of the generator. A quick glance toward the exhaust confirmed what my ears were telling me -- no water flow. I yelled for Louise to shut it down, while at the same time scrambling to get back aboard Vector in case she could not hear me. She did, though, and managed to shut it down before it overheated.

So there we were, at 10pm, on a dark, hot boat in 90°+ stagnant air. We ran around the boat shutting off whatever we did not need, to preserve what was left of the batteries for the fridge and the instruments. I'm sure the batteries would have made it through the night (and we can always charge them by running the main engine), but we probably would not get much good sleep in that kind of heat. No time like the present, then, to tackle a generator repair.

Fortunately, by the time I actually started working on it, the draft beers and Chianti from cocktails and dinner had mostly worn off. We popped the back hatch to the engine room to allow some cooler air in, set up all our fans, and I stripped down to my skivvies and got to work.

Having already done it three times previously, changing a generator impeller is now a slam-dunk. Fortunately, that's all it needed (as opposed to, for example, having a plastic bag blocking the underwater intake, or the exhaust elbow self-destructing). After spending several minutes moving gear to get to the proper side of the generator enclosure, the actual process of opening the pump and replacing the impeller takes less than two minutes.

The much bigger issue is always getting the shards of old impeller out of the heat exchanger, where they lodge after being ejected from the pump (pictures and description here, from the first time we did it). On this particular engine, that requires draining a half gallon of coolant from the system, taking the exchanger end-cap off, removing the broken bits, and then adding a half gallon of fresh coolant after putting it all back together.

No problem on a cold engine, but after running under load for a few minutes with no water flow, the engine coolant quickly reaches 200° or so. Cramming my arm behind the exhaust manifold and turning the drain petcock while holding a catch cup without being scalded is an exercise in patience (and sweating).

The whole process took an hour from start to finish, and by 11:30 we had the generator running and the boat cooling down nicely with every air conditioner going full blast. I immediately took a nice, cool shower. While it was still pretty hot overnight, we were able to sleep fairly comfortably by cooling the whole boat down into the 60s, then leaving it all closed up after shutting down the generator.

I'm a little disappointed that we got only 315 hours out of this impeller before it self-destructed. To be fair, we're still using up spares that were on the boat when we bought it, so the shelf age of this impeller was unknown, and the rubber can embrittle over time. After this change-out I am again down to my last spare and we will need to order more.

To put this heat, and the need for air conditioning, in perspective, we normally run the generator two to three hours per day in temperate conditions. On warm days we'll try to time that for the heat of the afternoon, and run the air conditioners then. Between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon, we ran the generator for 11 hours, and that's with having been off the boat for a good 10-11 hours between the two days. Still, 11 hours in two days is less than $50 (even at the rate we're going through impellers), far less than what a marina costs.

While the boat was cooling down we hoisted the tender back on deck, in the relative cool of the evening. Monday morning we weighed anchor at slack tide and headed directly across the river, to the free dock at the Yonkers Pier (map). The river is three quarters of a mile wide here, so we racked up but a single mile on the odometer, which started the morning at an even 8,500 nautical miles.

Isn't there some kind of pennant for this?

We remembered this dock fondly from our last visit, and importantly, we remembered they had a water spigot. We filled the tank, and Louise was able to run three loads of wash while we had the generator running anyway for air conditioning. We topped the tank back up at the end of the day.

On this visit we explored a bit more of Yonkers, walking to the Yonkers Brewing Company for dinner and then around the corner to a large Shop-Rite supermarket to re-provision. We also took the trash off the boat, figuring to shove off on the last of the ebb Tuesday morning.

I'm not sure if it was the extra alcohol in the locally-brewed beers, or the lack of sleep the previous night, but whatever the reason, we both slept in until 9:30, acing us out of an ebb or slack-water cruise downriver. We opted to just stay at the dock for another day, which gave us the opportunity to go out for breakfast.

We wandered over to an excellent bagel joint that's opened since our last visit, Manor Bagels, named for the historic Philipse Manor right across the street. On our way back, we walked through the nicely designed Van der Donck Park, where the city recently "daylighted" a section of the Saw Mill River that has been encased in a concrete tube for the better part of a century.

Louise stands at the west end of the newly daylighted section of Saw Mill River. This was all a parking lot four years ago.

Having decided to just spend another night, we walked to El Guapo Mexican restaurant for dinner, which was quite tasty, returning to the boat just before a squall hit that had us pounding against the fenders and scrambling to close all the windows. The good news here is that temperatures have remained blissfully cool ever since.

Louise turned in sometime before 11, while I remained up, watching some TV and trying to get started on this blog post. Shortly after 11, I heard a voice on the dock trying to get my attention. It turns out that the sloop Clearwater had reserved the dock for the night, for a set of cruises today. The woman on the dock was their shoreside crew. The Parks & Rec staffer with whom I had checked in had neglected to mention this, most likely because he did not even know -- the on-site dockmaster was eliminated years ago and some distant city office deals with the commercial dock rentals.

I rousted Louise out of bed, and we discussed the option of moving forward to the end-tie of the Yonkers Pier, which is also available but is less attractive because it is a set of fixed pilings and a variable step up to the wharf. The Clearwater needs the floating dock to board its guests. Had we learned this in the daylight we might have moved to the pier, but in the dark, with a sleepy crew, it was easier for us to just cross the river back to our old friend Anchorage 17 and call it a night. The Clearwater people were very appreciative that we were willing and able to move on short notice.

Even with all the late-night shenanigans, we were up early this morning, and had a nice push downriver on a strong ebb. We dropped the hook at a favorite spot, just north of Pier I at the end of 70th street in Manhattan (map). From here it is a short tender ride to the 79th Street Boat Basin, where we can land the dinghy for $26 per day, a bargain in this town. Restaurants, stores, museums, and Central Park are all an easy walk, and the subway will take us anywhere else.

I expect we will be here through the end of the month. We'll try to get a few projects done, and, of course, enjoy what the city has to offer. We have plans to visit friends in eastern Long Island early in August, so we'll head across the city and into Long Island Sound on the 1st or so.

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