Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day downtime

We are anchored in Sandy Hook Bay, just north of Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey and west of the spit of land also called Sandy Hook (map).  That's tonight's sunset over the nearby marina, above.  The protection behind Sandy Hook is a classical stop for cruisers heading in either direction up the coast of New Jersey, but we arrived here in a very non-traditional way.  I'll get to that later in the post.  First, let's catch up on our final moments in New York City.

As I wrote here last post, we ended up waiting an extra day in the city, because tomorrow (Tuesday) was really the earliest weather window for the outside run down to Absecon Inlet.  We might have stayed even yet another day, except the forecast for today was for storms, so we made the run here yesterday instead.

The extra city day was Saturday, and Louise decided she'd make the pilgrimage to the quilt shop downtown, in search of new fabric and some ribbon for a specialty quilt she is making.  If the quilt shop did not have ribbon (likely), the garment district was just a few blocks north. There, ribbon, and any other trim you can imagine, is available by the truckload.  Since she was going to be out and about all day, I decided to tag along as far as Times Square, and then go off in my own direction to, umm, relive my past.

From the Times Square subway station I took the shuttle (also a subway train) over to Grand Central terminal.  I've passed through this iconic train station myriad times over many years, but my last visit there was well before the city restored the station in 1998 or so.  I'd seen pictures, and I wanted to see it in person.

Wow.  Words do not do it justice.  Grand Central was a dreary place in my day, and only those embarking on (or disembarking from) a rail journey passed through it.  I remember the cavernous main hall mostly devoid of people, except those clustering around the remaining few operable ticket windows waiting for service.

Today the place is chock-a-block with people.  Many are tourists (as, I suppose, I was on this occasion), strolling the terminal and taking pictures with their cell phones (guilty, your honor).  A few are locals, hanging out at one of the eateries waiting on someone, or because it is now hip to do so.

What hit me most, though, is how bright the place is.  My cell phone, even with its wide-angle lens, could not capture the entire ceiling, but it is stunningly beautiful and bright.  In my day, it was, in a word, black, all from the tar and nicotine of four decades of smokers (really).  I snapped this photo of a small part of the ceiling, at one end of the station.  If you look right in the middle you can see a small dark rectangle (for scale, that spot is perhaps 6" by 8").  That is the tiny section that the restoration crew deliberately left untouched, so that future visitors could see the difference.  It's hard to spot in the vast expanse of the room, but I knew where to look.

I remember the go-to eatery in Grand Central was the Oyster Bar, often packed with commuters having a beer before heading home.  I'm happy to say it is still here, although it was closed for the holiday weekend.  The lower level, though, which was broken up by a host of partitioned-off sundry shops and fast food stands back then, has been completely opened up and restored, with an open-plan food court livening up the space and offering station patrons a wide variety of cuisines.

The scant few double-sided benches in the food court are all that's left of the waiting room seating, however.  Amtrak patrons have access to a ticketed-only waiting room, but the expansive station areas once given over to seating have been cleared of any vestiges thereof, the price to be paid for the progress of cleaning up the station and turning it into a tourist destination.  The staircase balconies on either end now host a pair of high-end eateries on one side, and an Apple store on the other.  All are wide open to the station interior; presumably, Apple pays someone to watch their space when they are not open.

The "dining concourse" on the lower level, with access to the lower tracks beyond.

After I had my fill of Grand Central, I walked through the lobby of the attached Met Life building, which I remember as the Pan Am building, complete with passenger heliport on the roof (the heliport closed for good after a chopper crashed, killing four on the roof and raining debris down on midtown Manhattan, killing a woman on Madison Avenue).  I then marched up Lexington, past the back of the Waldorf Astoria and the Intercontinental and finally ending up at what used to be Citicorp Center, the building with the angled roof.

Once upon a time I worked for Citibank, in their main headquarters across the street at 399 Park Avenue.  I often spent my lunch breaks in the mini-mall at the base of Citicorp Center.  On this holiday weekend, most of the stores were closed, save for Barnes & Noble which has taken over most of two floors.  Instead, the atrium, with its food-court tables, felt like a library -- quiet, with nearly every table full.  People were taking advantage of the free WiFi, with laptops and tablets in front of them.  One pair, though, had a small chess set instead.  The building felt like a ghost of its former self.

The view down Park Avenue from my old office.  That's the Met Life building in the middle, looming above the Helmsley Building just in front of it.

I walked out to Park and sat for quite a while at the fountains just a block south of my old office.  After a time, Louise texted me that she was done in the garment district, and I decided to hoof it down there to meet up for a beer before heading home.  It's a long walk from 52nd and Park to 38th and 7th, and I zig-zagged based solely on the timing of traffic signals.  By chance, that took me right past Rockefeller Center and through Times Square.

The concourse at Rockefeller Center.

This latter venue was a mistake on a holiday weekend; I was still in nostalgia mode, wherein Times Square was definitely not a tourist destination.  The place was packed to the gills, and I passed within inches of The Naked Cowboy as well as every conceivable trademark-violation Disney and Marvel costume.  I did finally make it to the garment district, which is nowadays marked by a statue of a giant button being sewn by a needle, along with one of a garment worker at his sewing machine.

After a refreshing libation at the District Tap Room, we headed back to the upper west side on the 3 train.  We had a final dinner at a sidewalk restaurant before picking up some last minute groceries on the way back to the tender, which we hoisted on deck after arriving at Vector.  We were home in time to hear the last hour and a half of the free concert on Pier-i, which was at least acceptable if a bit loud.

After Louise turned in, I spent some time going back over the route and perusing the Local Notices to Mariners (LNM), wherein I found this little tidbit:
Mariners are advised that a Tugboat Race is scheduled to be held in the Hudson River from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on August 31, 2014. Approximately 15 tugboats and safety boats will gather at 79th Street Boat Basin around 9:30 a.m., form a parade, and race south to Pier 84 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Chart 12335. LNM 34/14 (CGD1)
I had figured to weigh anchor at 10am, to take advantage of a favorable current all the way to Raritan Bay.  With these boats marshaling right at our anchorage, that was going to be difficult if not impossible.  But who can resist a tug boat race?  We decided to just sit tight and watch the festivities.

Lined up for the start, just abreast of us.

Little did we know what ring-side seats we'd have.  We were literally at the east end of the starting line, as you can see in this photo taken from our flybridge.  There turned out to actually be 22 tugs, as is fitting for the 22nd annual running of the event.  I could not capture all of them at the start line in a single photo.

And they're off!

Churning up the water just a tad...

I'm very glad we were right at the start line, rather than just a little bit downriver of it, because as soon as the race started, these monsters turned the river into a roiling mess, with mighty clouds of diesel exhaust to go along with it.  It was quite the spectacle.  We missed the finish, of course, which was downriver of us a good ways, but we heard over the radio that the Robert McAllister won.  We did catch up with the fleet a short while later, after hurriedly weighing anchor so as not to have too much flood against us, and I caught the Robert M going head-to-head in a push-off contest with the biggest boat in the race, the U.S. Army's Anthony Wayne.

Anthony Wayne (right) and Robert McAllister have a pushing contest.

We had a blast, and I'm really glad we caught it.  I'm even more glad that we were not under way halfway downriver as the race passed us, which is where we may well have been had I not checked the LNMs.  It cost us a bit of fuel, as we lost the favorable tide and had to push against the current down river and into the Kill van Kull, but hey, we didn't have to pay the $25 a head that the Circle Line charged folks to watch the race from the water.

Distant shot of the "line toss" event.  Norwegian Breakaway is in the background, back from its one-week cruise.  The Circle Line tug race tour boat is at left.

Just before the race started, I looked upriver and saw the replica Hudson River sloop Clearwater, which we had noticed at the docks the day before.  I think it was on one of its many educational day sails.  The sloop belonged to singer Pete Seeger, who founded the nonprofit that runs it.

After we left the tug boat race in our wake, I snapped another couple of photos of some landmarks we had passed earlier, but at a greater distance or less attractive angle.

9/11 memorial at Port Imperial, Weehawken, consisting of a pair of support "tridents" from the tower facades.  I'd recognize these anywhere.

Immigration building at Ellis Island.  We anchored just to the right of this photo a week ago.

Lady Liberty on a clear day.  If you zoom in, you can see the huddled masses, who just disembarked the ferry...

After passing the Statue of Liberty, we wended our way through a commercial barge anchorage colloquially known as "Jersey Flats" but technically Anchorage 20F, which took us past Newark's cruise terminal, Cape Liberty (which is actually in Bayonne).  The Celebrity Summit was in port, making ready to depart on a 7-day Bermuda Cruise.  On the left side of the photo is the "Russian Tear" 9/11 memorial.

Oddly, there was a newly-overturned barge in the anchorage, with a tug maneuvering nearby; today I heard the Coast Guard announce that "salvage operations" would be conducted there.  There's a story there that I would love to hear.  Shortly after clearing past the barges we made the turn into the Kill Van Kull.  Guarding the entrance to the Kill and marking a shoal to its north is what remains of the Robbins Reef Light.  The structure to its right is a circa-1915 sewer outfall for the Passaic Valley.

Across the channel from Robbins Reef is St. George, where one finds the southern terminal of the Staten Island Ferry.  In the background is the west end of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The Kill van Kull proceeds under the Bayonne Bridge to Newark Bay and the Port of Newark, the busiest container terminal on the east coast.  You can see work ongoing on the bridge; after years of allisions, they are raising the deck to provide a few more feet of clearance for today's larger container ships.

We briefly considered turning north into Newark Bay and anchoring there, because the morning forecast had called for thunderstorms to hit by 3pm.  By the time we were approaching Shooters Island, however, the forecast had changed to show the storm hitting instead around 7pm.  As it turned out, it never really hit us at all, but we would have been slammed if we had remained at 79th street, and small craft advisories were issued for many now-familiar places along Long Island Sound.

Leaving the Goethals behind us.

Instead we turned south, as planned, into the Arthur Kill.  Together the Arthur Kill and the Kill van Kull separate Staten Island from New Jersey, and if you look at a map, New Jersey more or less envelopes the island.  After passing under the Goethals Bridge and the railroad lift bridge just north of it, the industrial waterfront of Staten Island gives way to marshland, fronting the massive and now mostly shuttered Fresh Kills landfill.  On the New Jersey side, industrial waterfront continues until the Kill meets Raritan Bay at Perth Amboy.  These are mostly chemical and petroleum terminals; you see the other side of them from the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95).

The Outerbridge Crossing is the southernmost bridge connecting New York and New Jersey.  I did not realize that it is nicely lit at night until I noticed it in the distance from our aft deck after sunset.  Finally, the Great Beds Light heralds our arrival into Raritan Bay.

On this holiday weekend, we crossed paths with few commercial tows.  In the Arthur Kill we saw only a single other pleasure boat until we reached Tottenville on the southwest end of the island, where there is a marina.  Once we were in the bay, though, there were sailboats everywhere -- I did not realize Raritan Bay was such a sailing mecca.

Our plan had been to cross the bay and anchor just inside Sandy Hook itself.  However, winds when we arrived yesterday, and all day today, were from the south and west, so we opted to come down here instead.  Here we have great protection from the south afforded by the hills of Highlands, and good protection from the west afforded by the Atlantic Highlands Yacht Basin and breakwater.  It's been very calm here since we arrived, except for the occasional wake from the Seastreak high-speed ferries whisking people to and from the financial district in lower Manhattan.

From here we have a nice view of Manhattan in the distance, showcasing the the new revolving beacon atop One World Trade Center, along with the festively lit Verrazano-Narrows bridge and Outerbridge Crossing.  To the west, beyond the boat basin, the view is dominated by the enormous munitions pier for the US Naval Weapons Station Earle, extending nearly three miles into the bay -- we had to skirt around it and its security zone to get here.  To the east we have the historic Fort Hancock, Sandy Hook Light, and the coast guard station, all within the Gateway National Recreation Area on Sandy Hook.

Diverting here means we will have a extra three miles tomorrow, about half an hour.  In order to have the most favorable tide, we will weigh anchor at nautical twilight, about 5:15am, which should put us in Atlantic City by dinner time.  The forecast is for two to four feet with a seven second period -- less comfortable than we'd like, but if we don't make a run for it now, we'll be pinned down by weather for another week.  As it stands, we will have to sit Wednesday out in Atlantic City -- it will be too snotty outside -- and use the last remaining good-weather day, Thursday, to make the final outside hop to Cape May.

I used my day of downtime here to get some work done around the boat.  The forward anchor roller is not rotating and thus wearing out, so I replaced it with an old one until we can get the carriage out of the roller assembly and straighten it all back out again.  I also adjusted the generator oil level (I had overfilled it a bit at the last change), and replaced all the watermaker filters so we can make some water under way tomorrow.

5:15 is pretty early, and Louise has already turned in.  She'll get a chance to review this in the morning, and I expect the post will actually get uploaded under way off the New Jersey coast.  I'll try to post again from Atlantic City, where we will have another day of downtime as we wait for weather to pass.

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