We reached a major milestone a few weeks ago on the late November day when, upon completing the Erie Canal, we took a starboard turn onto the Hudson River, and headed due south toward New York City.
We had heard of the beauty of the Hudson, immortalized in the mid-1800’s by the Hudson River School movement of landscape painters. If you’re interested, Google them for a slightly air-brushed romantic view of the scenery, albeit, with far fewer signs of humanity than there is now. Gentle hills grew in steepness, and at the south end of the river, just prior to New York City’s skyline coming into view, dramatic escarpment cliffs marked the banks. Some areas were wide open water, and others surprisingly narrow and windy. Rural areas, forested segments, villages, towns and cities and even West Point Military Academy passed us by, our days punctuated by massive bridges providing solid waypoints for our journey. Once again, we were basically alone out there, just Ariose and commercial freighters and barges on the Hudson. Their wake gave us a preview of the waves we would face the next week on the Atlantic. Although we no longer were under the pressure of being the last boat in the canals, our desire (need?) to out-race winter and be in comfortable conditions for life onboard lent a sense of urgency. We just took in the glimpses we caught through mostly grey days, of the varied scenery from our cockpit, with little opportunity to explore. If you’d like to see a bit of a slideshow, just click on any photo to enlarge and scroll through.
The Hudson brought us our first experience with tides and currents. In one of those frustrating quirks, it seemed that the favourable currents always occured while we were sound asleep, so that meant it could be a slow day’s journey motoring along at 5 knots minus the 1-2 knot current. In some areas, there was as much as a 6 foot rise/fall twice daily. Reading the tide table, navigating and at day’s end finding safe anchorage in those conditions, even figuring out how to adjust the lines when we had a dock to tie to in the post-dark pouring rain so that we wouldn’t wake to find Ariose hanging from a post … all new learning.
We were tired of being in a motor boat, and now that we were beyond low bridges, we were eager to get Ariose’s mast up and begin to sail. As on the canals, most facilities here were also closed for the season. We spent quite a bit of time on the phone, using precious minutes, trying to track down places to refuel, somewhere to raise our mast, and yes, even a needed repair facility. We were ever so appreciative to find 3 different marinas along the Hudson, each granting us exactly what we needed from that list.
Back in Kingston, post-grounding, while desperately trying to piece together a plan B that would allow us to continue on with our adventure, we had considered hauling Ariose beyond the canals to have her repaired on the Hudson. If taking that option, we decided to go with Shady Harbour Marina (with a name like that, it’s got to be a nice spot!). This boat yard had agreed to undertake the work. It ends up that we had the repairs done in Ontario. Desperate for fuel, we called every option downstream, and happened upon Shady Harbor. Although closed to recreational boaters, Brian and Kathy graciously opened to provide us fuel, a dock for the night, and even left keys in their car should their “Canadian friends” need to do errands.
Riverview Marina in Catskill is well known by cruisers and was the next marina to earn our gratitude. We called it home for several days. Mike runs a basic sort of facility, but he “gets” what cruisers are doing so stays open for the last stragglers heading south. A haphazard beaver lodge-like pile of wooden debris behind the office speaks to the numbers of boats who use Riverview as a staging point for building or dismantling stands to hold their masts for transiting the canals. He offers a mast-stepping service, but that was beyond our budget, so with a gruff-edged kindness, Mike provided instructions on operating the hand crane, and offered to turn a blind eye should we decide to use it. “As far as I’m concerned, you came in here with your mast up,” he warned, while staying close enough to offer helpful suggestions. We had a 2-hour window during high tide in which we could fit Ariose in the water under the crane, and just managed to get her mast up under deadline.
Over the next few days, while doing errands and reprovisioning, we explored this well-preserved historic town, a launching area over the last 150 years for moneyed folks to summer in the Catskills. The architecture was charming, and we admired the town’s ability to keep the chain franchises to the outskirts. We did laundry for the first time since our departure (yes, it’s possible to wear the same clothes every day for 2 weeks, although sometimes we changed the order of the layers just to mix it up a little!), and enjoyed a long, hot shower every day. Every day. And did I mention the showers were hot? What luxury! When not in the shower, we tackled further work on Ariose. We installed the mast steps and did electrical work. We set up the rigging we had purchased before departure for an inner forestay for our new storm jib. It would also serve as a safety redundancy should our forestay fail. Oh no – the collar to secure it to the mast needs to be adapted. After a couple hours of Dremmel work, Tim cut and drilled it to fit. Another oh no – the newly purchased forestay cable is way too long! We tried to hank on our brand new snow white sails and faced a third oh no: the main sail’s sliders that attach it to the mast were too large for Ariose’s track. Argghhh. No task on a boat is as straightforward as it seems.
Mike recommended a company that would be able to do our rigging work a day or so south, so off we went to the third marina along the Hudson to grant us our wishes. Meanwhile, Doyle Sails offered an apology for their error, and immediately got on the task of figuring out the quickest way to repair our sail. Although these errors in our new gear caused frustrating delays, there was some satisfaction in the mistakes not being of our own doing (for a change!).
George, of Samelot Marine, in Haverstraw agreed to resize our forestay. While I watched him work, I was getting emails from our Doyle contact, who had just determined that there was an affiliated sail repair person in a town on the Hudson called – you guessed it – Haverstraw. I mentioned this to George. He paused from reswaging the stay, looked up and said “I’m the guy”, and in one of those serendipitous coincidences, he was. We were offered free docking since we were having repairs done, and by the next morning, our new sail was refit with the proper sliders. Excellent customer service, albeit with an unnerving basis. George kept insisting he had to get us on our way quickly.
He explained there was a favourable weather window later that week for us make it down the Atlantic Jersey Coast, and he didn’t want us to miss it and kill ourselves out there. We took the rest of the day to install our new boom vang, and finalize our rigging set-up re-purposing a bronze shackle to secure the sheets (ropes) to the foresail. The next day, we were underway again.
If I may, a little tangent from 2014 re: this boom vang thing and why we were outfititting Ariose with one. Most sailboats have a boom vang, a device which, among other things, prevents the boom from flying up, and, well, booming. We never even noticed that Ariose had no boom vang, until I was out with Deb, my close, but inexperienced sailor friend/colleague, two summers ago. The winds were stronger than we had yet experienced on Ariose, and it was my first time sailing her without my usual crew (i.e. Tim). Well, I completely lost control. I subjected me, Deb, and Ariose to a series of uncontrolled gybes – this is when the wind is behind and catches the sails to force them – often violently – to the other side of the boat. This, I would hazard a guess, is where the “boom” got its name. As the horizontal heavy metal pole flies across at head level, it threatens to brutally boom anything in its way. Without a vang to hold it down, Ariose’s crashed against the backstay with a frightening force. I had visions of it breaking the stay and the mast crashing down. Deb hung on, ducked when instructed, and bravely kept her calm, explaining later that she had confidence in me. That’s one of the few times I’ve known Deb to exercise questionable judgement.
Okay, back to the present, and our journey down the Hudson. Oh, before we leave Haverstraw, though, we must mention a highlight of our couple days there. This was the first place we encountered other sailboats – we were no longer plagued with doubts, wondering why no one else was out there. We made a new friend of one of those cruisers. Davy, as a young indigenous teen, ran from residential school, landing in Hawaii, where he got a gig crewing on a tall ship. That ignited his passion for sailing, and 30 years later, he still lives aboard and explores the world, currently on a steel-hulled yawl (I think) from the 1950’s. His intention is to sail the Northwest Passage back to his British Columbia homeland. He personally chauffeured us around town in a borrowed vehicle to all the places that offered the best deals on things we needed. Although that was great, what we really appreciated was his generous sharing. He filled us with hints and resources, and shared words of wisdom and encouragement that meant so much to us in the challenging days ahead. Not sure if you’re reading this, Davy, but if so, know you have a special place in our hearts and we look forward to crossing paths again.
The day we set out from Haverstraw was the most surreal to that point of our journey. We left before dawn. As the day unfolded, the typical grey-skies, evolved into a brilliant blue day. By noon, we glimpsed the unmistakable New York City skyline. Our only experience sailing together on Ariose prior to this journey had been the summer before on Lake Temiskaming. Approaching a new community on the water meant seeing the “skyline” of the towns of New Liskeard or Ville Marie, with a few rooftops and maybe a silo or two. We had no frame of reference for what we were now witnessing, as a strong wind and current, finally in our favour, caused us to fly by the skyscrapers. We felt like we were in a movie set. Is that the Empire State Building? No, that must be it. Wow.
Originally, we planned to dock and play tourist for a couple of days, but it was late in the year, a time when the north Atlantic is known for its storms. We next faced the stretch of coast down New Jersey notorious for dangerous shoals. As George had warned us , we had to take advantage of the upcoming favourable weather window we had been gifted. Otherwise, we might have to wait weeks for another opportunity to continue south. So our tour of NYC was limited to this water fly-by, where removed from the from hustle-bustle of the millions of people on Manhattan Island, the city seemed peacefully beautiful. Even Tim – with his strong anti urban bias – agreed.
As we reached the Battery at the tip of Manhattan, surrounded by tour boats and freighters beyond, the winds picked up force. We did want to check out Ellis Island and its neighbour, the Statue of Liberty before moving on, so adjusted our course, and headed over. Just as we approached the Statue, that bronze shackle we had tied on the day before bent open and unleashed the sheets that were supposed to be controlling the foresail. Most hardware on a boat is stainless – for good reason.
Ever wonder where the expression 3 sheets to the wind comes from? I just Googled it and yes, it does have nautical roots. As we found out, when 1 sheet is loose and flying in the wind, the boat behaves as if slightly drunk; when 2, moderately drunk; and at 3, it is falling over inebriated. Ariose was a definite 2 sheets to the wind. Tim tried his best to stay in the lee of the Statue of Liberty (did I detect a bemused grin on her face as she looked down?) while I, tethered and hanging on for dear life at the bow, wrestled the sail back into place. I used one sheet to secure it and after a whipping (literally), donated the other brand new length of rope to the depths below. Whew. That was exhausting. There were boatloads of people passing by and lines of tourists at the base of the Statue, all with cameras out. We suspect we are in a few shots.
We lowered the sails and took a few moments to breathe and take in the Statue as we zig-zagged on the perimeter of the “restricted zone” at its base. My Mom, on another December day 69 years ago, as a young teen from northern Ontario, had just boarded a ship in NYC to set off on one of her lifetime adventures. She was to cross the Atlantic to live in Spain for a year. She passed by this same Statue and still speaks of it with wonder fresh in her voice. On a previous trip to NYC with my kids, as one of hundreds of jaded tourists on a boat, the Statue of Liberty seemed particularly unimpressive. This time, on our diminuitive Ariose, having arrived through much perseverance, Tim and I were both struck with some of that awe my mother experienced so many years ago.
We continued a few hours across the Upper & Lower Bays, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and across Sandy Hook Bay while avoiding the enormous freighters along the way. We docked for the night at Atlantic Highlands in New Jersey, with images from our surreal day carrying us off to sleep.
We’ll end off with this short video – with it’s slo mo corniness – so you can join us at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.
*Music accompanying us at the Statue of Liberty: Joni Mitchell “Circle Game”.