Hudson to home
We’ve grounded. Not a rudder-shattering grounding like our first night out last November. That one threatened to also shatter dreams of our sailing adventure. And not one of our many soft-bottom ICW and Bahamian groundings that caused us to frantically set to work to free Ariose, and if not successful, to resign ourselves to wait for the tide to do the work for us. Those ones caused no harm. Not even our unfortunately apt, emotionally explosive book-end to our adventure grounding on the last day of our journey. The painfully familiar sound and feel of keel on rock mid-Lake Ontario… but I’m getting ahead of myself on that one. Yes we’ve grounded, and it’s a momentous one, but this time, as you can see in the photo taken from our bedroom loft, it’s with Ariose up high and dry, on her trailer and our feet solidly and safely on Canadian terra firma.
This Ariose Note will back track a little and fill in the highlights of the final 2 weeks of our journey. We wrapped up the last Note as we departed from New York City for the closing leg of our homecoming.
We sailed out from behind the Statue of Liberty and north up the Hudson River, enjoying one final look at Manhattan. The tide was against us, so it was a slow-motion last look. The current was so strong, that by noon as we reached the neighbourhood of about 100th street, a paddle-boarder easily passed us so we decided to “borrow” a mooring ball for a couple hours while having a leisurely lunch and wait for slack tide to be off again.
We weren’t in a rush. We were acutely aware that our days of sailing were numbered and wanted to savour them. Soon, we would be forced to unstep our mast in preparation for transiting the New York Canal System. The final week or so to home would be under motor. We had toyed a bit with the idea of sailing all the way to the Great Lakes, instead of cutting in off the Atlantic at New York. We’d love to take in the New England states, the Canadian Maritimes, and sail up the St. Lawrence. The more we considered the logistics, though, the more we thought better to put those cruising grounds to our “next time” wish list. We would want radar on board to deal with the inevitably foggy conditions, and between the many extra miles and the St. Lawrence’s strong currents, we would likely be extending our voyage by months. We’ve found that as we move more and more into “return” mode, our appetite for new adventures is waning. Lengthening our route would feel like an unwelcome delay. We want to experience those waters when we can fully appreciate them.
Departing NYC on July 3rd meant that we would be missing the famous Macy’s 4th of July fireworks. We’re sure it would have been a spectacular show, but we had also been warned to expect thousands of boats to be out and security to be restrictive. That didn’t appeal. Instead, we made it from the Statue of Liberty to the town of Ossining. A day’s sail can certainly highlight paradoxes. That morning, we had been tucked in at the symbol for hope and freedom, and that evening, we dropped hook across the river from the infamous Sing Sing Correctional Facility, symbol of …
And the irony didn’t end there. As dark neared, we were alarmed to hear gunshots? Explosions? Being just across a narrow body of water from a maximum security prison can sure fire up your imagination. We then realized we were hearing test fireworks, and as dark decended, found ourselves with front row seats to the community’s Independence Day celebrations set off right at SingSing’s walled grounds rather cruelly reminding the inmates of the privilege they didn’t have. Or, perhaps the fireworks were offering a perfect distraction to a prison break?
The next night, we anchored at the base of one of several massive bridges that span the Hudson, this one at Poughkeepsie. As the sun set, we began to be joined by lots of other boats, and as suspected, we were treated to yet another fireworks show. Guess two in a row makes up for missing the big Macy’s show.
The Hudson River is surprisingly beautiful. It’s certainly not wild, but has many forested stretches with hills and rock, and is far less populated than expected considering that nearly 9 million people live downstream in NYC. That’s the equivalent of a quarter of all of Canadians packed at the Hudson’s mouth. We were able to still glimpse the romantic landscapes painted in the mid-1800s by artists belonging to the Hudson River School movement. Just as the distinctive outline of Manhattan’s skyscrapers fade, stunning escarpment takes its place. Here’s some of the standouts for us.
Final night on the Hudson, tied to the wall just south of the Troy Lock, which effectively ends the tide’s influence.
A day’s sail further north, we had an interesting American cultural experience. A Coast Guard vessel passed us, and as we offered our usual friendly Canadian wave, we noticed it contained a pack of uniformed people. They pulled a U-turn, came up close, and we could see that the Coast Guard folks did indeed have associates with them: Customs officials and the Sherriff. Hmm. Looked like they meant business. They informed us that we would have the pleasure of their company. They were boarding us to check our paperwork. I think I’ve mentioned customs procedures in other Ariose Notes. So far, it had been extraordinarily hassle-free. So far. While in US waters, we were required to report in every time we changed location, which often was daily – a nuisance but a minor one. Our original entry to the US was accomplished via videophone, with little more than holding our passports to the camera, and being subjected to some good-natured deriding for departing Canada so late in the year when most other cruisers were already enjoying the southern waters. Now to get permission to enter the Bahamas, those customs folks took their responsibilities seriously, with lots of paperwork to complete, requiring the same information in multiple locations on the forms. We handed documents back and forth and back again, but it was a smooth process. Returning to the US, once we finally figured out the correct number to call, was (too?) simple. A couple of questions during a brief phone conversation and we had obtained clearance. That was a relief, as we had been under sail for 3 days and 2 nights, and didn’t feel up to anything more complicated.
So, here we were on our home stretch and it looked like hassle-free was about to change. They tied up to us as we drifted mid-Hudson, and a relatively congenial Customs guy stepped aboard. As our passports and registration were handed from this person to that, notes were taken, computers were fired up, and it seemed by the tone of the hushed conversations that all was not well. They had cornered Tim in the aft cockpit, and me the fore, and were bombarding us both with questions. I’ve assumed an administrative role since we’ve been underway, keeping our log up to date, filing documents, etc., so Tim, understandably, was stumbling as he tried to respond to demands for specific dates and locations . I tried to do the dance of listening in to what he was being asked and prompting or correcting without sounding like we were up to something, while responding to the questions being posed to me, with both of us trying to play cool and keep our mounting anxiety under wraps. When we overheard “they’re undocumented”, alarm bells went off. We knew that Customs and Border Security has the right to confiscate any vessel suspected of illegal activity even without having evidence to support that suspicion, and here we were, in the US apparently illegally! This seemed so ludicrous – although we kept that sentiment to ourselves.
We had spoken to Customs every few days since returning to the US more than 6 weeks before, and I had documented the exact time and location reported, and the name or badge number of the official when provided. “Didn’t matter”, we were told, “there was no record of our entry”. I flipped pages of our log back to May 22nd, to refresh my memory on the details of our arrival day and was aghast to see that my usual detailed note only contained the word “Customs” and a check mark. In my sleep-deprived state, I had not requested any identification from the official I spoke to nor obtained a confirmation number to prove we had clearance. I do recall asking more than once if that was all, and being told that we were good to proceed through US waters. Thankfully, the main official dealing with us on the Hudson had recognized in our notes the name of a colleague he knew personally and that was good for our credibility. He even seemed to be making efforts to assist us despite some of his colleagues looking like they were enjoying the prospect of adding a Canadian vessel to their collection. He suggested that “if” we had placed this call that we alleged to have placed when entering the States, then our phone record would support that. Sure enough, I had been on the phone at 9:28am May 22 for 3 minutes to a CBS office in Georgia. Yes! We thought we had our “get out of jail free” card. Unbelievably, the discussion still continued among the uniformed ones with some persisting with the what to do since we were undocumented and others making the case that we could not be blamed for the mistake of that first Customs official. Finally, after phone consultation with superiors to sort out this complex situation (really?!), we were connected with officials by phone, and went through the process of obtaining clearance to enter the USA. That was provided on July 4 at 11:32am by Officer Chen who refused to provide his badge number and wouldn’t give a confirmation number. Needless to say, we documented those details. We then expected to be searched, but were only asked where we kept our weapons (easy answer – no weapons!). After letting us know that others have told them that their “worst day” cruising has been the day Customs boarded them (imagine that!), they wished us a good day, and were off for more 4th of July fun.
That brings to mind another Hudson River encounter with someone at the other end of the friendly & formality scale. We met Davy in Haverstraw back in December while we were there a few days having a sailmaker/rigger correct some errors in our newly purchased mainsail and forestay. Davy’s life story was an interesting one. In order to avoid the residential school system, he found a position on a sailboat, and 30 years later, still lives aboard. We kept in touch from time to time during our journey, and always valued the wisdom he shared, whether it was how to get the most out of the technology available or where to find the most economical supplies, to brief texts coaching us in learning courage and trusting our boat.
He had been having issues with his boat, and wasn’t able to get away for the winter, but we knew he had been off adventuring by land and air, so had no idea of his whereabouts. When passing by Haverstraw on our return, Davy was in our thoughts, so we sent a text. We were surprised to get an immediate response, and more surprised to learn that he was hiking on Bear Mountain, just a few miles up the Hudson. A rousing ½ hour text conversation followed as we updated one another on our journeys, and he gave us a play-by-play of how we looked from on high as we snaked along the river. He sent this photo titled “small boat, big journey” and as he cheered us on as we passed by, he commented that “it can be humbling to understand that the ripples from one small boat can be significant to inspire others to dream.” How poignant.
The further north on the Hudson we progressed, the more we were looking ahead as “real” life encroached on our consciousness. Our conversations were turning toward what we were and weren’t looking forward to once home. A list of projects we want to tackle began to emerge, things like creating a protective cover for Ariose to constructing a shed for our firewood, to building a straw bale home in our woods. Then there’s the minor detail of finances. We’ve budgeted so there’s no urgency in finding paid employment once we return, but at some point, we do need to replenish the bank accounts. Tim’s been keeping an eye out for jobs, although the opportunity to secure his usual summer biology field season contract did not come through. I’ve started working on my resume and not sure if it’s a sign of what a healthy break this cruising has provided, or an ominous sign of my aging, or maybe just an indication of my motivation (or lack thereof), but I’ve been taken aback to find that I can not recall the official titles of my last positions. (In my defence, I did hold similar roles in the same agency, with varying labels). A friend has helpfully sent links to positions that I’m qualified for, but rather than reading them with enthusiasm, I only feel tension rising and a particularly strong urge to turn Ariose southward.
Then we arrived in Catskill, a funky artsy village that for generations past and present has been the launching point to the summer cottage-country of the wealthy. A sign near the shoreline proudly announces that the land was purchased in 1678 from the natives. It doesn’t mention that the deal was paid for with trinkets.
It was July 6th. We settled into Riverview Marina for a few days’ work. This was our first marina stay since Alligator River, which meant this was also our first shower opportunity since June 15th. Although our personal hygiene standards have hit a new low while cruising, even we couldn’t deny the signs that we were due. Once that business was complete, we set to work on our other business: preparing to lower Ariose’s mast. Ahead was the NY Canal System, and we needed the mast to be secured on deck to pass under the many low bridges. Many step/unstep their masts at this marina, and a hefty pile of cast-off wood no longer needed by other cruisers was available for scavenging. Tim constructed a support, we cleared everything from the deck, loosened stays and shrouds, secured halyards, and moved over to the bay under the hand crane we would be using to assist us. Taking down the mast had to be a quickly effected manoeuvre. There was only sufficient depth to hold Ariose under the crane for about one hour on either side of high tide. By the time we had everything in place, and Tim had been up the mast to secure ropes, we had stays off and shrouds loosened, oops, not good enough, shrouds off too, and mast down, we felt Ariose settle on the bottom. Grounded again! We were already feeling rather bummed out knowing that our sailing days on this journey were over. We definitely didn’t want the frustration of having to spend 12 hours leaning against the marina wall waiting for the water to come up to release us. We hustled to get lines to the docks on either side then winched as though our lives depended on it. This worked. We slid into deeper water. This has got to be our last grounding of the voyage.
One more night on the Hudson, then it was westward into the Canal System. We had about 190 miles in total to go westward along the Erie Canal then northward on the Oswego Canal. That took us 7 days, averaging only 30 miles a day due to the delays at locks and yes, a couple of sleep-ins. It was a welcome surprise to discover that in honour of this year being the 200th anniversary of the start of its construction, fees were being waived. Along the way, we did have one fellow march toward us while tied to a canal wall, steam shooting from his ears, demanding to know if this rumour of free transit was true. Unlike us, he was not pleased. A laid-off canal employee perhaps?
Transiting 30 locks varying from 7′ to a lofty 40.5′ rise allowed us to boat uphill about 420 feet from the Hudson, then be lowered 175 feet into Lake Ontario. This time, it was far easier than on our outgoing voyage. Not only did our learning from then help greatly, but let me assure you, navigating in and out of the locks, and grabbing onto the ropes to secure Ariose while being lifted or dropped, is far more pleasant mid-summer than it had been in the freezing temperatures of our November transit. Still, there were a few tense situations. One resulted in our hefty port fairlead track being half ripped out of Ariose’s toerail. Its 90 degree bend served as a subsequent reminder of the power of the currents from the locks. We also got to watch the show, for a change, when a powerboat with over 100 locks experience lost control while water was being let in, and narrowly avoided collision with another.
The canal was not crowded despite it the time of year. It was definitely more scenic in it’s summer garb, and we were more comfortable in ours. We appreciated the lush greens, but day after day of motoring quickly became wearying. We no longer had the benefit of the rush of anticipating the adventure to come. We were in let’s-just-get-home mode. The amount of debris on the water was alarming. It’s not fun having to slalom through masses of floating sticks, trying to guess which were attached to full-fledged logs just beneath the surface. We experienced a couple of hard impacts, and also felt snags on the propeller, but didn’t seem to suffer any damage. There were delays at many locks as the tenders struggled to manage the exceptionally high water levels causing dangerous currents. We had thought the longer daylight would allow us to travel further each day and get through more quickly than in November, but alas, the locks operate 7am to 5pm, so we would usually need to find a wall to tie to shortly after our final lock. We did appreciate, though, having a few daylight hours remaining once we did so to wander the canal-side towns.
Our favourite community was Phoenix. A canal-related museum is housed in the small lighthouse that welcomes boaters. Teams of volunteers, older folks joined by kids and teens, are there from 6:30am to after dark to greet arrivals, answer questions, run errands including picking up take-out from any of the local restaurants, and just generally do a good job of being friendly. On the night we tied up there, they were selling slices of home-made pie, and a band played canal-side. We joined 2 couples who had sold all their belongings and were now living aboard their motor cruisers to listen to the 60s/70s rock and swap stories.
So, one week after entering the canal, we arrived in Oswego. We tied up just behind the final lock, to enjoy the protection it offered from Lake Ontario’s waves. At 7am we nosed our way into the lock and said goodbye to the New York Canals. Up to this point, we had only seen one other sailboat since leaving the Hudson. Once again, our timing was off. Most had already returned from their winter in the south. We shared this final lock, though, with another sailboat, Privateer, looking as forlorn as Ariose with mast strapped to the deck. It had a well-travelled appearance. Onboard was a young couple with a 2 year old in the cockpit and a 3 month old snoozing below. Through the noise of the lock’s grinding gears and our motors, we exchanged quick biographies. Pete and Kelsey were from Alaska, having departed from there a few years ago, and have since crossed the Pacific, spent time in New Zealand and Australia, crossed the Indian Ocean, around South Africa, across the Atlantic, and, by the way, had 2 babies along the way. They were now looking forward to selling Privateer, and setting down roots on land, likely back in Alaska. Tim and I both felt a jolt of excitement and possibility as they shouted the abbreviated version of the highlights of their voyage. It’s contagious talking to others who have done so much more than we, and with this being the final day of our journey, we were especially vulnerable to becoming infected. We wondered about the adventures that we will have ahead. We didn’t need to wonder too long. One more incident awaited before we could close the chapter on this voyage.
Once we emerged from Oswego harbour’s breakwall protection, Lake Ontario was rolly. Really rolly. It would have been rough even with our rigging up, but the motion is always worse with the mast down. We watched Privateer buck and flounder, and called to be sure they were okay. They debated returning to await the next day’s calmer conditions. We had 10-12 hours to get to Kingston, and trusted the forecast which had predicted that the winds and waves would diminish as the day unfolded so continued on. Sure enough, after a couple hours, conditions settled, and it became quite pleasant. There were lots of other boats out there – perhaps a regatta was underway? – and it seemed especially cruel, rubbing salt in our sail-less state, as one after another sailboat with brightly coloured spinnaker flying, passed us by and rounded Main Duck Island.
Does that island ring a bell? For Tim and me, memory of that island in the middle of Lake Ontario is as etched into our memories, as, say,what limestone and stormy waters can carve into a keel.
Tim suggested we tuck in behind Main Duck, take a break from motoring for a bit, and go for a fresh-water swim. This is THE infamous island of many firsts for us: first night out anchorage of our long-anticipated adventure, first grounding, first major test of our resilience and determination, first Coast Guard Rescue (well, make that our only Coast Guard Rescue), and so forth. Initially, I thought it was a preposterous suggestion. Superstition was creeping into my usually rational brain, and my risk tolerance threshold was at an all-time low. I just wanted to get home safely.
It was sunny, and warm, and the water felt refreshingly cool. In the lee of the island, the waters would be calm, and any wind that would hit us would blow us away from any shore dangers. As we crossed the US/Canada border and neared the island, it no longer seemed in the least bit ominous, and I finally agreed. We could turn off the motor – a welcome respite after 6 hours of diesel fumes and noise – float for a bit, and savour our final hours.
We checked the chart again. We were rounding Yorkshire Island at Main Duck’s tip, and noted the shoal area to the east. They indicated 10 feet minimum, and we knew the lake’s levels this year are about 3 feet higher than usual. I wanted to avoid the area anyways even though there was obviously plenty of depth, wanting to err on the side of over-caution by giving it a wide berth. Tim was at the helm, and preferred to short-cut through the narrowest part. He promised to proceed carefully, and was puzzled by my insistence that we detour. We continued to debate, tensions rising between us, as we headed toward the shallows. Then 3 things happened in quick succession effectively cutting that debate short. First, the depth alarm sounded. We had 4 feet under our keel in an area where we expected triple that! Then we only had time for a quick breath before the sickening and oh-so-familiar crunch of rock under keel. “F#$% !!!” (An utterance that rarely comes from my lips, but seemed particularly fitting in the situation). Third, Tim issued the quickest apology I’ve ever heard fly from his lips.
Back to the usual grounding interventions, although this time, we were both well aware that we had no tide to rescue us. Quick reverse. No movement. Dig out a bathing suit and snorkelling mask, not worn in a while, and over the side to check out the sitch. “We had wanted to go for a swim,” I muttered before taking a breath and diving. We were just touching, with larger waves looking like they might lift us off. The bottom was similar to river rock, and I thought if necessary, we could try moving some aside to dig a channel for Ariose. We only needed to nudge forward a couple feet to get through the narrow part of the hourglass shallows and be in deep water. I was worried about risk of injury in doing that, so we’d try other options first. We untied Poco and Tim rowed an anchor out for kedging. No luck. We then emptied our water jugs, transferred our 3 anchors and diesel jerry jugs and Tim into Poco (“All unnecessary weight”, I stressed, obviously not yet accepting Tim’s apology.) Hopefully, we could get Ariose floating a little higher. Tim rowed from the dinghy, pulling on Ariose’s bow with every ounce of effort he could muster, and I gunned the motor. We were free!
It took a little longer to free the tension between us though. This final grounding, in hindsight, a fitting ending to our adventure, was a flash point for an inflammable brew of mixed emotions we were living on this final day. It made for a sullen return, but we eventually worked through debriefing it, and were finally able to see the humour.
As our interpersonal storm abatted we watched with trepidation as clouds loomed over the Ontario shoreline on our approach to Kingston. My brother Dave, thousands of miles away in British Columbia, was following the weather radar and texted reports. Fortunately, we only had a few drops of rain, and arrived about 6:30 pm to a warm welcome at Collins Bay Marina where we launched last fall. We made it full circle. Some welcomes were more shocked than warm. We figure there was probably a betting pool created on the likelihood of us making it. Perhaps our return meant no financial return for some of the more pessimistic?
The next day, Tim bussed 3 hours to Toronto, then 5 hours to North Bay to fetch Ariose’s trailer. I stayed behind to begin to clean 9 months dirt and salt accumulation and unload, but really, I spent more time just hanging around watching the swallows, and letting the reality begin to sink in. I was feeling intimidated by the challenge adjusting to “real” life of having our days directed by work and other commitments rather than by our whims and the weather. Four days later, Ariose was craned out.
Two hundred and sixty-two days since we left home and have been living on board and 254 since we set sail. Really, though, the adventure began long before, with years of dreaming and more recently, making some easy and some difficult decisions to enable it to happen, and then months of hard work preparing. And we now have memories to carry with us for life. I feel some pressure to end this post with something profound, but really, we’ve been back in Canada for 2 weeks and home for a little over a week, and we’re still in a bit of a fog. I’m not feeling very profound.
Ariose is looking a little worse for wear, but we are filled with gratitude for all that we’ve experienced, tremendous satisfaction in our accomplishments, sadness at this voyage being over, and eager anticipation of reconnecting with those we care about. Tim’s relishing being on home turf, cocooned by our lovely woods. I’m feeling a bit more uncertainty about resuming land life. Our friend Kevin so perfectly described that internal schism that arises before departing and upon returning from an adventure, and how it destabilizes and can make you second guess choices. That’s where I’m at, but I trust that as Tim is rapidly doing, I too will settle in and we will both embrace other opportunities for adventure as they arise.
Ariose Notes isn’t over. Once we settle in, we’ll put out an occasional post as we reflect on our adventure, transition to land-life, and prepare Ariose and ourselves for voyages to come. Cheers!