What’s that we see as we look out over Ariose’s stern? Looks like lots of milestones marking our return journey. We’ve made our way back to the northern end of the Bahamas, then accomplished another Gulf Stream crossing, the Intracoastal Waterway was behind us, and now, unbelievably, New York City lay ahead.
To get there, though, we faced another off-shore passage but first, there were some things we needed to take care of, so we settled in for a few days’ stay at the complimentary “36-hour only!” Portsmouth municipal dock.
What did we need to take care of? It was definitely time to retire our rusted ignition and roasted starter. There’s no way were were going to head out onto the Atlantic without a reliable motor. And just past New York City, we would be taking down our mast so that we could head to Lake Ontario via the canal system with its low bridges. No mast = no sailing. Our motor would no longer be our auxiliary power. We would depend on it alone to take us through the homestretch.
The mouth of the Chesapeake has every imaginable boating service you can imagine, so it didn’t take long to find where we could buy a replacement starter. The trouble was, it would have been a long trek to get there, and Tim’s been dealing with a bit of a bum knee lately that would have likely rebelled at any more overuse. The option of taking a cab? Tim himself rebelled at that. Fortunately, fellow cruisers we had met when caught behind the Great Bridge had rented a car, and we gratefully accepted their offer of a lift. At the same time, we also got an unintended lengthy tour of the outskirts of Norfolk.
The three of us set out enjoying the novelty of car travel. We had googled the starter place’s location, so had a sense of which way to go, and knew we had to double-check direction at a tricky intersection, but that was miles away. Blame it on the unfamiliar speeds of highway travel – “what? we’re here already!? “- we were unprepared as we hit that critical intersection, and the confusing maze of overpasses funnelled us off to who knows where. That shouldn’t have been a problem, after all, there were three of us, experienced navigators all, with 3 phones, but they were useless. The phones, that is. One had a dead battery, 1 was out of data (and it’s owner unwilling to give Bell any more money for fleeting amounts of data), and the cheap Bahamian phone that was supposed to guide us was unable to pick up any connection. Well, now that I’m writing about it, I realize that the people involved might also qualify for that “useless” label. After covering lots of ground, we finally resorted to old-school navigation methods: stop, ask a local, and write down the directions.
Eventually, we found the place, ordered a replacement Yanmar starter and a new ignition, and the shop owner, perhaps taking pity, agreed to deliver the items when they arrived, to us at the waterfront. Mission accomplished!
While waited for the parts, and for favourable weather so we could be on our way, we enjoyed checking out Portsmouth, and Norfolk, which was just a quick free ferry ride across the Elizabeth River.
One of the best parts of cruising has been the interesting people we meet. Portsmouth & Norfolk were no different. Montrealers Claudie and Laurent, and their sweet toddler Aymeric, were our dock neighbours. They had been cruising for a year, and were now heading home to expand their family and their funds before setting out for full-time live-aboard life. We also had 5 boats raft up just in front of us at the dock one night, bursting with a couple dozen teenage Sea-Scouts and a handful of adult leaders. They were on an 11 day outing from the Chesapeake to North Carolina. The kids looked like they were having a blast, and it was only day 2, so the adults didn’t look too weary yet.
One day, when disembarking the ferry, a backpacker passenger asked where we were from, and as those queries often do, it turned into an engaging dock-side conversation. Walter, recently retired, was an avid hiker, and was training for a 500 mile solo wilderness trek (same distance I walked several years ago on El Camino, but far more challenging). He also had some experience sailing (everyone here in the Chesapeake area seems to have boating in their blood), so we had lots to chat about. That lead to an invitation to his home for a delicious seafood dinner and lovely evening together. When we asked how he had recognized us as not being from the area – maybe we hadn’t fully purged the “ehs” from our vocabulary? Or maybe it was our accent? Or Tim’s ponytail? Or that he saw us getting off Ariose to board the ferry? – Walter refused with a blush, explaining that it was too personal. When pressed, he finally revealed what had given us away. It was my rather inconsequential personal protest against society’s pressure on women to adhere to prescribed beauty standards that signalled we weren’t from “around here”. Hah! Who would have expected unshaven legs to open the door to such hospitality?
Within a few days, Tim had the new starter and ignition installed, they were working well, and we had an okay weather window for our next homeward leg: a 3 day, 2 night Atlantic passage. New York City here we come! What do I mean by “okay weather window?” Really, it looked like the winds were going to be on the too-light side, but when facing the Atlantic, we definitely prefer to err in that direction versus the opposite, and we were eager to move on.
And the winds were indeed light. We ended up motoring almost the entire way. We could have sailed, and we did, but only for a few hours, as it became clear that our less than 2 knot speeds would have doubled or tripled the intended passage. The purist, sailing fanatic that emerges in Tim on interior waters disappears once we hit the open seas. We had thought it would be a good idea to get experience with a longer passage, but once out there, and especially after the usual first night’s sleep deprivation, our motivation to extend our time out was gone. What irony. We sailed most of the ICW, typically a motoring zone, and then once out on the open Atlantic, atypical calm conditions forced us to motor most of the way to New York Harbour. Here’s some images from that leg:
We rounded Sandy Hook and with plenty of daylight hours to reach our planned destination on Staten Island, finally turned off the motor and raised our sails. It was nice to end the passage in peace. A fellow remakably rowing from Miami to NYC easily passed us, and seemed to take pleasure in doing so.
The passage was uneventful, and memories of our previous passage in these same waters made us ever so thankful of that.
We dropped hook in Great Kills Harbour, a little wary of what debris undoubtedly littered the bottom of this busy spot. but the cost was right (none) and the harbour well protected. We got together with New Yorkers Bruce and Denise, a newly married couple we had crossed paths with in Charleston. They were on their maiden trip bringing their new boat home as they began to splice their lives together. We also hopped on the ferry (free!) across to Manhattan, and spent a very full day there. Crocodile Dundee, ah Tim, I mean, was not too eager a companion initially, but we paced the day with lots of green exposure so as to not unduly stress him. Here are some highlights:
A few days later, we had the itch to move, but weren’t quite ready to leave NYC, so sailed north in the harbour . It wasn’t nearly as intimidating as our first time last December, but still demanded a sharp watch as this is one hopping harbour: commercial vessels, tour boats, recreational boats. It’s busy! We tucked in behind the Statue of Liberty and dropped hook there – definitely high on our list of unique places we’ve anchored. We had spectacular views of Manhattan’s skyline just beyond Ellis Island, and of the lesser-seen aft-side of the Lady. The drawbacks? With the wake from all the traffic, we rocked and rolled quite violently, but that didn’t detract from how exceptional it felt to be there.We were also just a short row to a beautiful, but strangely deserted park on the New Jersey side. Here’s some photos from our 2 days there:
July 1st came and went, with the only acknowledgement of Canada’s birthday coming from the police officer who ensured we exited that New Jersey park and return promptly to our boat. We have mixed reactions when hearing of the hoopla that went into celebrating Canada’ 150th anniversary. Of course, there’s lots of basis for pride in our country but there’s so much darkness in our history of colonization, this celebration and the resources spent on it, seem to be misplaced. We were fine with being absent. Then July 3rd arrived, and the American 4th of July festivities loomed. Should we stay or go? We considered the prospect of chaos and extreme security on New York City’s waterway, we had had more than our fill of bright lights and people, and we were feeling the pull of getting home, so the decision was easy. We weighed anchor & moved on.
In our next Ariose Note, we head north on the scenic Hudson River, transit the New York Canal system including 30 of its locks, and cross Lake Ontario, wrapping up with a tense, but somehow very apt, book-end to our adventure.
We’ll leave off with this parting photo, one of our favourite views of Manhattan.