Wednesday, June 30, 2021

New York, New York

As I begin typing we are under way southbound on the Hudson River, bound for the Battery and the East River, after a lovely three-week stay in New York City. As so often happens here, I am either ashore or working on projects, and the blog tends to get set aside. Also, I am months behind on comments, which I hope to catch up with soon. It's a short cruise today, and I will be busy at the helm, so I'll likely finish this post tonight from our next stop.

Showing our pride.

When last I posted, we were under way offshore to Gravesend Bay. That's a very familiar stop for us, as are the waters from Sandy Hook to Coney Island. That made it comfortable for us to arrive well past dark, the first time we've done so. It's eye-opening how different everything looks at night, and even though we had good tracks, I made a point of visually identifying all the landmarks. In all the time I've been passing the Sandy Hook Light, for example, I never had occasion to notice that it's characteristic is steady white, unusual for a lighthouse.

Approaching NY Harbor at night.

We had the hook down at 11:30 pm, in a familiar spot (map). There was just a single pleasure boat with us, and the commercial anchorage was empty. Even with the late arrival and no urgent need to be back under way, I set an early alarm to catch the partial solar eclipse at sunrise, but it was too overcast to get a good view, so I went back to bed after capturing a fuzzy image.

Our view from the anchorage. Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.

Later in the morning we weighed anchor with the tide for the short run upriver to our usual digs at the 79th Street Boat Basin. We missed our friends Glen and Julie by just an hour; they needed to make a beeline for Croton to effect some repairs and get pumped out and watered. I'm sorry we missed them, because it will be at least the end of the year before our paths might cross again.

One of many nice sunsets over NJ from our anchorage off 99th St.

We arrived to the anchorage to find that the Boat Basin had deployed all their moorings for the season; you may recall that last year they put none out, and we were able to anchor quite close to the marina on both visits. Notwithstanding the fact that there were just about a half dozen boats (on some 30-odd seasonal moorings), we still had to anchor 3/4 mile north (map), a bit further than usual because there was another boat anchored in the closest spot.

This floating ad for an Adult Swim cartoon was being towed around Manhattan. I think it passed us twice.

I tendered ashore to hoof it to the UPS store to return an Amazon purchase, and get the lay of the land in the ever-changing pandemic environment. I found the dinghy area to be rearranged, since part of the dilapidated docks had been closed off for safety reasons. Also, unlike our last visit when we literally had the place to ourselves, I had to squeeze in among a half dozen other dinghies.

Covid testing vans were ubiquitous around town.

We tendered back ashore for dinner at one of our old standbys, Amsterdam Ale House. We were glad to find most of our old haunts still in business, and very pleased that the hastily-constructed outdoor dining areas have been fleshed out a bit and still going strong. When we got back to Vector we found a jazz concert ongoing at the entrance to the red clay tennis courts, immediately adjacent to our anchorage. A quick search revealed it to be on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the Riverside Park Conservancy, which I will say has done a marvelous job of revitalizing this park and keeping it nice.

Tree huggers.

The following morning we made our first pilgrimage to our local favorite bagel shop for breakfast, our first real kosher bagels in half a year. When we returned we fired up the generator, and in short order we realized the impeller had failed. It normally takes me less than ten minutes to change an impeller, including draining the coolant to fish the broken bits of impeller out of the heat exchanger. This time, however, I dropped a wrench socket, which lodged itself someplace behind the fan belt.

Vector at anchor as seen from Riverside Park.

That made a much larger project because I had to move more things, remove another panel from the enclosure, and then remove the belt guard. Whereupon I discovered the belt in poor condition, with a couple of the "teeth" that allow it to bend around the pulleys broken off and lying at the bottom of the enclosure. I spent another ten minutes changing to a spare belt, glad that my fumble with the socket revealed this other impending failure before it happened. I also noticed the coolant pump is not long for this world, and I bought a spare on eBay while I had a good shipping address.

Moonset over NJ from our deck.

Once fully settled in and with a working generator, we had a very enjoyable couple of weeks. Among other things, we went together to the American Museum of Natural History, a nice walk from the dock, and spent an enjoyable few hours there. I've lost count of the number of times I've visited (and many exhibits have not changed a bit since my first a half century ago), but this was my first visit to the Hayden Planetarium since they demolished the iconic structure of my youth and replaced it with an even more iconic sphere within a glass cube. Disappointingly, the current show does not make use of the Zeiss Star Projector, which remained hidden in its lair beneath the floor.

Always something going on in Riverside Park.

I made a few excursions on the e-bike, including the requisite pilgrimage to the lone indoor gas station in the city to fill the dinghy tank, and a run all the way down the Hudson to Battery Park City and back. I made several trips on foot to the Amazon locker for project parts (and replacements for the fan belt and impeller I used) and new computer and tablet hardware. And I took many long walks around the city, including through Central Park a few times, down to Columbus Circle, and over to Gracie Mansion (the mayoral residence) overlooking Hell Gate.

Minuscule police car defending the river side of the mayoral mansion.

Hell Gate as seen from Carl Schurz Park near Gracie Mansion. These looks like rapids, but the water is 70' deep. A ship off-camera to the right was making less than a knot headway against this current.

Somewhere in all of this I got back on the subway for the first time in over two years. On our last visits we deemed it too risky pre-vaccine, and unnecessary trips were discouraged in any event. It felt safe; masks are mandatory and compliance is high, and the ridership is still very low compared to normal levels. I took several subway (and one bus) rides in the course of running errands or returning from distant walks. In the two years since I last rode, dedicated fare cards have been obviated by direct wireless payment readers at the turnstiles and on the buses; you simply tap your RFID credit card or wallet-enabled cell phone on the reader and walk on. Use the same card or wallet and it will recognize a free transfer. The fare card machines still exist for those who need them.

OMG, I'm on the subway.

I replenished the larder more than once at local grocer Fairway, exchanged a SodaStream cylinder at Zabars, hit up Best Buy, Target, and Home Depot for a number of items, and even made a trip to the paradoxical Amazon Books store (three levels above Amazon-owned Whole Foods) in the Deutsche Bank Center mall, to pick up a delivery that could not be sent to a locker. There is not much that you can't find somewhere in NYC, although a chandlery is on that list. West Marine closed their lone store in town since our last visit. We also both got massages, our first since the start of the pandemic, though they were a bit lackluster.

William Tecumseh Sherman monument.

On the project front, I tackled several urgent ones and many smaller ones when I was not gallivanting about town. In addition to the aforementioned generator repairs, on top of the list was the starboard stabilizer actuator, followed by the watermaker salinity probe and filter system. Rounding out the list were new laptops for each of us and an attempt to replace the backup plotter solution in the pilothouse. Louise, meanwhile, basted, quilted and bound ten quilts for the charities she supports.

Not sure why the Trump Hotel gets special NYPD treatment now that he is out of office. In my youth this was the Gulf+Western building and had a very different facade.

The stabilizer topped the list because it actually started leaking en route to New York. Regular readers may recall that I replaced the port actuator with a rebuilt one in May when it started leaking; the rebuilt cylinder and a loaner tool were sent to us in Hampton by Stabilized Marine in Florida. When I discussed the problem with them at the time, they warned me that when one side starts leaking the other is not far behind.

Columbus Circle and Central Park South from inside the Deutsche Bank Center.

After I returned my old port cylinder to them, they rebuilt it, and they emailed me on June 1st to say they were ready to send it to me so I could do the starboard side. I waved them off for the time being, for lack of a shipping address. And, sheesh, "not far behind" in engineering terms can be months, not days. But when I checked the fluid levels in Gravesend Bay, we were short, and a quick look in the starboard bilge revealed a pint or so of hydraulic oil. I contacted them as soon as we arrived at the Boat Basin and asked them to ship me the parts.


In a familiar pattern, UPS missed my delivery three business days in a row due to a "bad address," even though the address, by UPS's own admission, is correct. (They missed delivery on the watermaker parts twice for the same reason). To be fair, it's a weird address: "W. 79th Street at Hudson River," but all our US mail gets through, and Amazon has no problem with it, and UPS delivers here all the time. I think the driver got as far as the no-longer-existent "Boat Basin Cafe" and decided he was done, rather than coming all the way to the river. I ultimately had to go pick both packages up with the e-bike at the UPS Customer Center in midtown.

Half-disassembled mechanism mid-project.

Once I had the parts, I took a fortuitously timed rain day to make the swap, which took a full six hours, even having climbed the learning curve already on the port side. In part that is due to the cramped quarters on the starboard side; I first had to dismantle the built-in nightstand that covers it, and then spend most of the time on my knees or belly in the 16"-wide space between the berth and the wall. Other than that it all went well, and both stabilizers are now humming along. I put the old cylinder and the loaner tool back in the UPS the very next day. Those stabilizers ran 5,000+ hours before needing seals, and I got both of them done for around $700 and a dozen hours of my time, not a bad deal.

An ice cream shop in our neighborhood, part of a local chain.

The watermaker issue was that the salinity probe failed a few weeks ago, a fact the control panel was insistent about even though we have not made water in many moons. I went back and forth with cleaning the probe and triple-checking all the connections before biting the bullet and ordering a replacement. Installing it took maybe a half hour, but then I got filter alarms in the middle of a test run in silty Hudson water. I replaced filters until the alarms went away, and then shut down before I sucked in any more silt.

We passed many of these well-tended flower beds daily in Riverside Park.

Both of those projects were picnics compared to the morass that is upgrading computers. Regular readers may remember that Louise's laptop bit the dust on a hard roll exiting Charleston Harbor when we hit wake turbulence from a ship. She's been making do with a hangar queen I had lying around that needs an external keyboard to work. And my computer is having constant GPU hangs, which freeze the screen or sometimes crash the whole machine, so either I have GPU malware, or the board is just end-of-life. Either way, after pleading for help on the Internet got me nowhere, I decided to upgrade from this 2013-era clunker.

The ever-changing skyline. Midtown along Central Park South from near Columbus Circle. That's the old Gulf+Western globe sculpture at lower left.

Louise bought herself a Microsoft Surface because she wanted a touchscreen, and I bought a Chuwi Gemibook, after hours of research on laptops with backlit keyboards (a luxury I have been seeking) that could run Linux out of the box. I probably don't need to tell you what kind of upheaval is involved in moving your whole life to a new computer. Louise is mostly done, and I am still at about the halfway point. Her touchscreen is not as sensitive as she'd like, and my new steed has an inverted "Fn" key (you have to hold it down to get F1-F12, otherwise you get changes in volume and brightness and the like) and the Delete key where backslash should be, and power where Delete should be. First world problems.

Vector with Riverside Park in the background. I think of the building mid-frame as the Ghostbusters building, even though it lacks the gargoyles.

Upgrading both laptops prompted a change in the backup plotting where Louise sits under way, as she does not want to use her new laptop for it. I bought a cheap Android tablet to run one of our favorite nav apps, and a Raspberry Pi to send position and AIS data to it wirelessly. The cheap tablet was a no-go and is on its way back; the Pi is working fine, but even our nice Lenovo tablet is crashing with ~200 AIS targets coming in to it (previously I had no way to send it AIS data). I suspect a memory leak in the app, and the vendor is working with me. That needs to be resolved before I try again with a different tablet for her station.

Timed chess outside the Chess & Checkers House, Central Park.

We have not been meeting many cruisers lately, but on our way off the dock for dinner one evening we ran into a nice couple who were just on their way back. Pippa and Philip were on their sailboat, Heron, at one of the transient docks, about to start a round trip cruise up the Hudson, the same cruise we made our first time through here. After dinner we stopped by their dock for a beer and to chat about the trip; it was very nice to meet them and have some common interests. They live in Connecticut and we are hoping we will cross paths again in Long Island Sound.

Central Park Jenga!

As we entered our third week in the anchorage, we realized we'd need to make a pit stop alongside the dock to take on water and pump out, and we did so one morning at slack tide. It took two full hours to fill the water tank, a process that is always made longer because that is also when Louise runs a couple of loads through the washing machine, probably another hundred gallons in all. While we were tied up, I ran the backlog of recycling down to a barrel on 57th street on the e-bike; for whatever reason, the city has removed all the barrels on the upper west side.

Lime, the electric kick-scooter company, has gone into full-on street scooters in competition with Revel here in NYC. This one was left illegally on a sidewalk and already has a ticket.

When we finished we returned to more or less the exact same spot in the anchorage, except we must have been off by a couple dozen feet. The following morning after the tide reversed Louise noticed on the plotter that we had caught the chain on an underwater obstruction. One was marked on the chart, but whatever we hooked was a boatlength upriver. We immediately tried to weigh anchor, but we were caught hard and nothing we did would free us.

Practice. Practice.

Fortunately, we had only gone around the obstruction once, and I could tell pretty much the track we had taken from the plotter. We settled back in to wait for slack tide, and as soon as that arrived, we drove back around in the opposite direction, with a great deal of repositioning and tugging. This gambit worked and we eventually recovered the anchor, licked our wounds, and went another 150' upriver before dropping again. In the course of this, I tendered over to our nearest neighbors, a Dutch sailboat that was already anchored when we first arrived, to tell them what we were doing so they would not get nervous as we maneuvered closer to them. They shared that they had lost an anchor on the same obstruction on a previous visit.

300-boat jet-ski event circling Manhattan. A USCG boat was nearby to keep them out of the anchorage.

While we waited for slack, I called a diver whose name I got from the marina, who turned out to be the very same one who had come to help the Dutch couple previously. He told me that the remains of an old pier are in this location. That sent me to the history books, where I learned there was a "96th Street Sanitation Pier" here in the 1930s, sandwiched between two coal plants. In hindsight, the 15' length of rusty steel that we helped a sailboat clear from their chain in this same spot a couple of years ago, described in the middle of this post, was likely part of these remains. I've marked it on the chart  so we will stay well clear of a line running all the way to shore in this location, and I am glad we did not have need of the diver.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. I did not go inside.

We had finished our errands and gotten a good fill of the city by the end of last week, but the tide was not favorable to round the island, and we had lots of extra time owing to arriving a week early. We decided to stay through the weekend, and that gave me a great excuse to go down to the Village for Pride, my first in NYC. Even though the parade was officially "virtual only" this year, there were still two marches, which had much of 5th Avenue blocked off, and PrideFest, which ran for several blocks along 4th.

Stonewall National Monument.

I popped out of the subway on Christopher Street, which was already a party by 11am. I could not get close to the iconic Stonewall, and the sculpture plaza at the National Monument was closed off by the Park Service for the duration, but I still managed to move through the crowd safely before making my way over to the festival on 4th. I walked all the way to Bryant Park, where one of the marches was slated to start, before getting back on the train at Times Square. I would have stayed longer, but after three miles of walking and a lot of standing, I was done.

Closest I could get to the Stonewall itself.

We ended up waiting until this morning to move along, mostly because a favorable tide would have meant an uncomfortably early departure earlier in the week. That found us still at anchor for two unseasonably hot days, and we basically stayed on the boat in the air conditioning all day until dinner time. We normally run the gen about two hours a day, and we've average more like six over the past three days. It was still so hot at dinner time we found uncrowded and well-spaced restaurants both nights and dined indoors, our first in NYC in over two years.

Washington Square on my way from Christopher Street to 4th.

Speaking of restaurants, I'm going to list them all here mostly because we've stopped here so many times that we can't remember from visit to visit which one's we've tried: Amsterdam Ale House, Bettola's (which has always been Italian but now includes German food), Sala Thai, Fred's, Hi Life, Harvest Kitchen, Bellini, Haru, St. James Gate, Il Violino, El Mitote, Nice Matin, Sarabeth's, Maison Pickle, Viand, and Thai 72. We also enjoyed the ice cream at Van Leeuwen's.

PrideFest. Everyone was happy.

Other than the last few days of heat, we had mostly perfect spring weather for our visit, and the river was cooperative. It has been quiet on this part of the river for a year, but on Monday service resumed on the Edgewater ferry route, and we've endured the ferry wakes during the rush hours at each end of the day. Perhaps a signal that it was time to move along.

Waiting for the march at the Flatiron. Some impromptu dancing on the sidewalk.

We hope to return in the fall on our way south. It will be our last opportunity to be Upper West Side residents on the cheap; the Boat Basin will be closing for good at the end of this season in anticipation of a $90m renovation, to include the rotunda where the cafe once operated, that won't even begin until 2023. It might be the end of the decade before the marina reopens.

Party atmosphere at Bryant Park.

Update: We are anchored in a familiar spot at Port Washington in Manhasset Bay (map). We had perfect timing and a great push down the Hudson and back up the East River, through Hell Gate, and all the way to Manhasset Bay. We opted to take the channel east of Roosevelt Island this time, new ground for us, whizzing past Dutch Kills, Long Island City, and Astoria before rejoining the main river at a roiling confluence that mandated hand steering.

There is a museum for everything in this city.

We had the hook down a little after lunch time, and I immediately immersed myself in the logistics of our stay here and some other items, to the detriment of finishing this post. By cocktail hour we were getting dire weather alerts on the radio, and we gave up on dinner ashore in favor of battening down and eating aboard. The storm hit with a vengeance after dinner; our anemometer lost power after recording 43 mph winds but we are sure they went much higher. The boat next to us had his tender capsize and it is still upside down in the water, its engine now fully immersed. But we got all the salt from our cruise rinsed off.

Some things are timeless. Upper East Side.

We'd been running the AC full time and the generator on and off since we set the hook, but the storm brought the temperature back down into the 70s. Tomorrow it should be cool enough to go ashore for errands, in between patches of rain. We'll be here another night or two before moving one bay to the east for the holiday, where we hope to see some fireworks.

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