Monday, October 16, 2006

One More Year Under The Belt

Every year has its cycles. Like the swallows of San Capistrano, Inertia travels down the Hudson in the spring and back up in the fall. Last weekend was the trip back to Haverstraw Marina about 32 miles up the Hudson from the Battery on west shore just below Stony Point and Grassy Point.

In the past thirteen years, it usually has been a slog through bad weather - 20 to 25 knots on the nose, short chop, cold rain or mist, and general uncomfortablness. This year, however, was very different.

First, rather than hosting a party on Inertia, we had a convoy - a flotilla, as it were. Herb & Gina, Laura & Cory and Bob & Carol all decided this year to winter in Haverstraw. Mostly for reasons of cost. The marinas on the Long Island Sound have all suddenly gone insane, mostly due to the Brewers Yards. Apparently in an effort to ensure that boaters with a budget don't have anywhere to go they raised prices to astronomical levels.

Anyway, Friday afternoon we all met at the Haverstraw Marina to ride to over to Stamford, Ct. Along for the ride was Aaron and Suzanne travelling on Laura's boat. I went with Laura as well as a hand. Unfortunately, there was wind, directly on the nose - out of the west. That's ok, because all we were going to do was go to City Island for an evening at my club. We arrived at about 8 pm and all picked up a mooring with help from the launch driver.

Off to the clubhouse for a spectacular meal. We all got back to the boats around 11 for a great, if short sleep - Laura and gang wanted to go out for breakfast, so in order to leave at 9 am, we had to get to the Island Cafe at 7:30 or so. For early morning food on City Island, there are really only two sit-down places, the Island Cafe and the City Island Diner. Both are good, and the only benefit of the Island Cafe had this day is its proximity to the yacht club.

Well, after a big, comforting, and filling breakfast we waddled off to the boats to await the departure time of 9 am. I had to wait for Jack to show up, as he was coming along with me. I've been known to do this trip alone but it's always much nicer with company.

A side note, here, about tides. The best way to travel down the East River and up the Hudson is to reach the Battery (southern tip of Manhattan) 2 hours after low tide. Plus a little. The nature of tides in these two rivers is such that going from west to east there is a four hour window. From east to west, only two. Moreover, the currents in the East River can reach 6 + knots. Timing is everything. One trip took me 21 hours because with a fouled prop I couldn't make it through the East River in time.

This trip around the Battery is a bridge lovers dream trip. There are 10 bridges to travel under. If your mast is less than 40' above the water you could add one more. From City Island the first bridge is the Throgs Neck Bridge connects 95 to 295 via 695 and spans the waters from the SUNY Maritime College on Throgs Point to Cryders Point. It separates the Eastchester Bay from the beginning of the East River to the west. Willets Point is just to the east of Cryders Point.

The next bridge traveling west is the Whitestone Bridge spanning the neck fro Old Ferry Point to Whitestone Point. It carries US 678.

As you continue west, you pass Flushing Bay to the south where La Guardia Airport is. A little farther on the channel passes between Riker's Island (the NYC Dept. of Correction's prison) to the south and Hunts Point to the north. Shortly thereafter is the channel between North and South Brother Islands. South Brother is just a bit of rock and scrub, but North Brother is where the sanitarium Typhoid Mary was housed. The island is overgrown, but most of the buildings still stand.

There is a channel that goes north of North Brother Island, but only really big ships go that way. Passing South Brother there's a channel to the southeast into Bowery Bay. Don't bother going there.

The next bridge you pass under is the purple Amtrak bridge named Hell Gate Bridge. Right next to that is the Triboro Bridge at Negro Point. The area called Hell Gate runs from the Hell Gate Bridge past Mill Rock to the mouth of the Harlem River to the north and Roosevelt Island to the south. Although Hell Gate can have some wicked currents and eddies, all but the very smallest of boats will pass without problem. Hell Gate is named after the Dutch "Beautiful Water" rather than the more ominous interpretation.

Travelling south into the East River you'll see Gracie Mansion to your right. Roosevelt Island has an east and west channel. Stay to the west channel unless your mast height is less than 40 feet or you'd like to take you mast down in the most spectacular manner possible.

The East River channels are narrow and can be very fast flowing. I've gone past Roosevelt Island at 14 knots over the ground and 5 knots through the water. Because it's deep and narrow it can set up mogul like standing waves that are really unpleasant to travel over. Most vessels, including tankers and barges go through during or near slack tide. If you're not travelling up the Hudson, you can go at max ebb. It's a real sleigh ride.

At the middle of Roosevelt Island is the 59th Street Bridge (real name: Queensboro Bridge). It's the one from the song by Simon and Garfunkle. It's a beautiful iron link suspension bridge with exquisite tower top ornaments.

A mile or so later is the Williamsburg Bridge. There's not alot to be said about it. It's short and functional, and it precedes the turn west towards the Battery. As you round that corner Governors Island, the Statue of Liberty, South Street Seaport, and the Battery heave into view.

Shortly you'll pass under the Manhattan Bridge and then the famous Brooklyn Bridge. At this point, if you've calculated your tide correctly you'll be fighting between a 1 and 2 knot current. No worries, though, because it's only for a quarter mile or so until you round the Battery with the Staten Island Ferry Terminal to your right. There will be a short way with no current, and then you'll be sucked up the Hudson.

By the time we got to the Battery, we were worried that we would not make it - our speed had reduced to 3 knots against the current. Of course, we did, as planned. The wind was out of the southwest so we set sail as soon as we rounded into the Hudson River. We were travelling at 5.5 knots through the water, but up to 8 knots over the ground in gusts. What a ride!

By 2pm we had reached the George Washington Bridge with the Little Red Lighthouse beneath the east tower. With the wind still more or less from the southwest we were able to cruise up between the Palisades to the west and the Bronx to the east, past Spyten Dyvil, the northern terminus of the Harlem River.

When the river widened out a couple of miles south of Piermont, the wind increased to 18 - 20 knots and away we went in earnest! It was spectacular sailing! A couple of squalls passed, and we still sailed under the Tappan Zee Bridge. Sailed on towards Hook Mountain. Then, in the shadow of the mountain took the sails down in preparation for arrival. Good thing, too, as the wind veered north - or, on the nose for the last half hour.

All of us arrived at the Haverstraw Marina within a few minutes of each other, with Cassiopeia first, Inertia second, Goldeneye third, and Spirit last. No matter - the entire trip was 8 hours and 15 minutes - the fastest I'd ever done it. It was just perfect!

Of course, nothing would do but to have cocktails and snacks aboard Cassiopeia, and so we did. The group broke up around 7:30, and I took Jack to Suffern for a bus - we ate at a little Mexican place called Sal y Limon. It's the smallest restaurant with only a few tables, but the food is good, service is great, and if you like Mexican food, it's the best place in Suffern. The other Mexican restaurants there are to fru-fru or expensive for me.

Anyway, Jack got on the 9pm bus to Port Authority, and that was that. I toddled on home for a well deserved good night's rest.

Inertia may be up the Hudson for the winter, but I hope I'll still see you on the water!


Zen said...

A mild adventure in the autumn winds, topped off with a margarita...simple pleasures can be the best with friends!

Michael said...

A great story, and filled with the anal-retentive information a true sailor will enjoy...

I'm planning to bring my 26ft. trailer sailboat to Manhattan this year, and this story helped to inspire me...

Cap't Bob said...

Michael, I sure hope you do - it's a great ride and if you're confident in your vessel, lots of fun.

The only caveat I have is that in heavy winds (small craft advisories) the Hudson can be really mean. Short steep chop that is exquisitely uncomfortable.

But on nice days with the current with you, it's one of the most spectacular sails a person can have.

New York Boat Cruise said...

Sounds like quite a trip. I made a similar one a few years ago, but had to wait the weather out at Hell's Gate. Glad you guys didn't have any major problems like I did!

Cap't Bob said...

I sound like I've never had a problem through Hell Gate, don't I. I remember one year the trip took 20 hours - all because of a fouled prop. That wasn't fun...

Chris said...

Great info. I've been thinking about taking a boat from the sound up to our marina on Lake Ontario via the Hudson and the Erie Canal, and had been looking for exactly this kind of detail around the city. Thanks tons! Question - is it possible to take the Harlem River? I can see some current issues if you hit it at the wrong time, but I've heard such worrisome descriptions of Hells Gate and the rips around Roosevelt... Could going through the Harlem save time? Is it worse? Not possible at all?

Cap't Bob said...

Hi Chris,

The biggest problem with going through the Harlem River is height - if you're over 25 feet you'll have a really hard time getting bridges opened. The Coast Guard really doesn't want a million boats going through there.

If you time the currents in the East River and Hell Gate it's really not hard to go through. If you can make more than 6 knots or so, you can still get through the East River anyway. Many power boaters do.

So if you're over 25 feet tall, you have no choice, it must me the East River and Hell Gate. Time your run so that you reach the Battery at 2-3 hours after low tide and you'll get a lift up the river.

Chiquita said...