Tuesday 24 OCT
We are back in Port Washington. This second visit will be brief because we are now steadily in motion southward. Except for today, which is rainy and very, very windy, keeping us not only in town, but also inside the boat all day long. For a while it’s good, all three of us segregated to our corners of private activity. Eventually though, my body gets achy and I get up to do something else. This time I choose to make a little cake, a decision that will have gnawing repercussions later when I kick myself for eating too much of it.
In the evening Glenn and I watch The Meyerwitz Stories, the latest film by Woody Allen Noah Baumbach. On the surface it’s the story of an New York family going through life’s typical transitions (grown children moving out, divorce, retirement, etc.) Underneath, however, is a river of pain emerging out of years of matter-of-fact parental cruelty, the kind unconsciously but relentlessly wrought. Easily the most tragic and engaging character is Danny, played by Adam Sandler. His plight is so heartbreaking and so common that when I think of him after the movie is long over, I get completely sad. It hits a little close, being middle aged and realizing the accompanying limitations. Are there some things for which it is simply too late? Can one meaningfully pivot after fifty years of age? I’m not sure.
Wednesday 25 OCT
“I was in love with New York… the way you love the first person that ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again.”
-Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That”
New York is the only other city on this trip we visit twice. It is the one city I would gladly visit one hundred times, one thousand times. I love it and miss it now that we are living out of its reach. Though, I never lived in the city itself, I spent the first half of my life within a short drive of it. I didn’t come that often, but I knew I could come, and that, it turns out, makes a big difference. Strangely, I don’t miss the architecture; there are better cities for that. I also don’t miss the intellectual life around architecture, which can be full of pretension and politics here. Rather, I miss the productively aimless wandering. I miss the art I never knew. I miss thickness and diversity, the stew, the mélange, a mix of different faces and different smells. And I miss being uncomfortable, having to try it a different way, squeezing by, or having to wait. Most of all, I miss being reminded that whatever confidence I have is only minimally earned, the rest is accident or privileged by birth. For that is the advantage of the mixed-up mélange. It says doing it my way is actually just doing it away.
We ride the 9:11 train in to the city this morning and get in just in time for the shops to open at 10. We don’t have a high-minded agenda today, just a bit of clothes shopping. Had we stayed living in Michigan this year, Ava and I would have gone back-to-school shopping a couple of months ago. However, boat being school and pajama being uniform, we had no need for this yearly ritual. What qualifies as an appropriate outfit now, would have us cold-shouldered out there. But we miss the ritual! Clothes shopping, at least for Ava and me, is never a simple matter of merely filling our closets with necessary items. Like many mothers and daughters I suspect, it’s how we share each other’s understanding of ourselves with each other. It’s our ongoing conversation about who we are or who we want to be. So, like right now, Ava is in a phase where her favorite store is Banana Republic, a conglomorate aimed at thirty-something corporate climbers. It stocks fairly conservative office-wear in subdued color palettes with pops bright patterns and dashes of bling. It’s very proper. It suits Ava’s imagined future that one day she will be a member of the White House press corps, toiling for a liberal print newspaper and speaking truth to power. (Thank you, DT.) I don’t want to break it to her yet that journalists aren’t corporate workers, or rather, that maybe they now are, but that maybe isn’t so desirable. She will come to all of that on her own because if there’s one thing that Ava has is good judgement and a healthy dose of skepticism. These clothes for her then, are aspirational, and of that I want to be supportive. In the end, and as a compromise, we buy a cute wool sweater and skirt from Uniqlo that is a hybrid between high school student (me) and office-y gal Friday (her). This way both of us walk away pleased with who she is becoming.
SMALL ASIDE: Does anyone recall the OG Banana Republic? Before the office was the adventure, Banana Republic was a mail order catalog for kooky safari-wear. All of the items were surplus military clothes from a myriad of international locations. The catalog was hand drawn in a newsprint booklet and had a very rough feel to it. I couldn’t afford anything, but I loved receiving the edgy catalog nonetheless! Extra Fun Fact that I just learned: O. Henry coined the term “Banana Republic”!
After we dispense of our shopping lists, and after we eat our street tacos, and after I get kicked out of the Cooper Union Architecture building for trying to take a photograph of the interior (Seriously?), and after we search for but do not find a bookstore to our tastes, it’s time to do what we really came to the city to do: shower! Officially it’s been fifteen days since our last scrub down in Yarmouth, though we all broke down and washed our itchy heads in the cockpit one sunny day a week ago. Midafternoon we go to the Y in Chinatown, which, once inside, feels more like the Y in China. Ava and I weave past the weight machines, the running tracks, the swimming pool, and head straight for the sauna. But we can’t take the waiting, we just want to wash… and wash and wash. We move to the showers and take extra-long showers under strong pressure streams. Toward the end, I turn around and face the shower head. With closed eyes I move my head to let the hot water land on every curve of my face over and over. It is transcendent. For a moment I leave the earthly plane and all I can see is a giant golden light, brighter in the middle and wavy white edges. Instinctively, I know this is some form of higher power. Dear god, I say, thank you so much for indoor plumbing.
Our day wraps up with a walk to the magnificent Strand bookstore. Recently, Ava has been reading voraciously. She is currently on a Foer/ Franzen kick, alternating between the two authors. (This particular frenzy was kicked off by the book Everything is Illuminated. Thank you young deep sea diver for giving it to her!) In a quick clip, Ava picks up three more of their books, and then we are off again. We eat dinner around the corner at Wagamama, a nostalgic fragment from our London days when I was in grad school and Glenn was in a bicycle gang of one. And then we slowly and quickly drift back uptown to our train, to our dock, to our boats, to our beds.
Thursday 26 OCT
Laundry and grocery day. The only remarkable thing was to do five loads, buy groceries, and eat lunch, all in three hours. All hail giant laundromats!
Friday 27 October – Saturday 28 Oct.
PORT WASHINGTON to SANDY HOOK
Today is a sunny and pleasant day, a striking difference from two days ago when a gale blew through the anchorage for 15 hours with sustained winds of 30 knots and gusts just under 50. Port Washington has a long fetch to the south and this induced the build-up of 3-4’ waves throughout the anchorage. Part way through the gale I had some concern about the single pendant line to the mooring ball chafing and I added some chafing protection. In hindsight I wish I had added a second back-up pendant to the ball for peace of mind. All was well if not a bit rolly and the storm eventually abated sometime in the wee hours.
Today we are getting a late departure (1:30 pm). This is purposeful as our primary objective is to time our passage of “hell gate,” a notorious section of the East River, just at slack tide (the moment the tide switches from ebb to flood or flood to ebb – when the current is at its lowest rate.) In our case the current will be against us, but waning, until we reach the gate, then in our favor the remainder of the passage. We only have 21 miles to our anchorage behind the Statue of Liberty and our ultimate goal is to make this just before sundown @ 7pm for both practical and aesthetic reasons.
To understand why ‘hell gate’ got its name and why it’s so notorious to mariners you just need to look at a map of NYC and contemplate the geography. The East River is analogous to that pinched moment in the middle of an hour glass with Long Island Sound at one end and New York Harbor at the other. In 12 hour cycles these gigantic funnels force massive amounts of water one way or the other through a narrow gate. Hell Gate is located at a knuckle or bend in the river where it intersects the Harlem River. Not only do the tides create swift currents of up to 5 knots, but both the bend and the second river transpire to create eddies and reverse currents that can put boats sideways or spin them around completely. To add to this mayhem, the traffic on the river is prolific: Tankers, tugs pushing barges, ferries and pleasure boats conspire to keep us on our toes.
Prior to departing Port Washington, we are in contact with our sailing friend Patrick, whom we met in Nova Scotia. It seems he is taking the Swan 46 of his remaining delivery client through the river the same day we are. It’s a pleasure to see him and wave as he passes. We shout promises to catch up with him further south in the Carolinas or Bahamas after this delivery (his boat is safely docked in Charleston.) It looks as if he has a good size crew with him and will pass NYC and push further south – motoring throughout the night, his ultimate destination being Ft. Lauderdale. Given a delivery job, large crew, and a boat that can motor at 8 knots I would do the same.
On both Patrick and my mind is an impending gale that’s looking to be nastier than the last – due to arrive Sunday/Monday. Patrick had suggested the Atlantic Highlands, a breakwater inside of Sandy Hook, as a good place to ride out the storm. He will be able to make Cape May or Hampton Roads before Sunday. We would prefer to sail down the coast and want a night behind the statue with NYC as our back drop, so we plan to delay our passage down the coast and ride the gale out in the Highlands.
Our timing to Hell Gate is pretty good. We arrive @ 4:15, 15 minutes before slack tide. Of course, upon our approach a tug pushing a barge is over taking us. At that moment I look ahead and see another tug pushing a barge coming the other way. This one escorted by a third tug – whose role seems to be ‘fixer,’ in case anyone gets sideways. We play it safe – slow down a bit and ride the extreme edge of the channel. All is well and we make it through unscathed – continuing our passage up river, down river? I never know with the East River.
Seeing Manhattan from the vantage point of a small boat on the river is a thrill. Anca spends the day on the bow taking pictures. Walkers and joggers wave to us from shore. The battery, the tip of the island, is a beehive of on water activity. Small speedy ferries and water taxis come and go from their terminal seemingly every minute. Statue of Liberty ferries and Staten Island ferries depart or arrive every 15 minutes. The river and harbor is a soup of wakes and chop in all different directions. We bounce and role and plow our way through it and make the anchorage behind the statue just before sunset. In this light the city is a spectacular sight from this vantage point. With all the harbor traffic the spot is a bit rolly, but well worth it. Things settle down later at night.
We wake before sunrise and take the ebb tide through the harbor just as the sun is coming up over Brooklyn. We don’t have far to go (17 miles,) but after crossing through the narrows its slow going with wind and waves on the nose. Crashing through bigger sets we are slowed to a near crawl (below 3 knots,) but soon we are half way across the Lower Bay and in the lee of Sandy Hook. The waves flatten out and we are back to 5 knots towards our destination, the Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club. After looking over the weather files I decide to splurge for a mooring ball ($50 a night!) On close inspection the mooring area will offer more protection than the anchorage field. I’m pleased to see two robust pendants on the ball. Our fee also includes launch service and showers, almost worth it not to have to blow-up or deflate the dinghy in foul weather.
Following the gale, departure and passage down the coast to Norfolk looks good for Tuesday and Wednesday – good breeze coming off the shore. We’ll see how this pans out…
Friday 27 OCT
When I was six years old I stepped into a new life through the city of New York. I found myself on an airplane, presented myself to customs officers, and rolled myself through this city-portal into the arms of my loving, waiting home. My parents picked me up at the airport on a dark summer night. In the back seat of their aqua Ford LTD I laid across a back seat with so much room to spare that even stretching my arms over my head I couldn’t touch both ends of the car at the same time. As we drove, the overhead streetlights on the highway washed a sodium-warm rectangle of light over my body over and over. I couldn’t see the city, but it wouldn’t have mattered. It didn’t mean anything to me yet. The significance of the city, this particular city, would only later get attached to this particular moment. For now, my mother revealed the freedoms only a child could appreciate. Here you can go barefoot in the grass, she told me. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend a place kind enough for that.
Today, as we float southward on the East River, I am irrationally elated. New York City is above us, the late sun pushing through its crevices bakes it golden. Everyone moves faster than us, the school busses, the bicyclists, even the walking students, which normally can be counted to be the slowest form of movement. For a while I act like a homecoming queen. I sit on the bow seat facing forward, feet dangling over the water. I wave to my people and they wave back, acknowledging my ascension to city queen. It’s a thrill. When the waters get more turbulent it gets wild, but Glenn keeps his steady course and his steady heart and when we can finally breathe again, we find ourselves at the feet of Liberty. She is both bigger and smaller than I expected. And she is strangely beautiful. The depth of emotion that hits me in this moment unmoors me, to use a watery metaphor. It’s a feeling that lasts the rest of the night as I make dinner and look into the faces of my two American anchors.
Saturday 28 OCT
We have a very early rise time and motor to Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. It’s an easy four-hour ride. We arrive to our reserved mooring ball before 11am. This place is expensive. Our mooring is $50/night. A transient slip would be $4/per foot or $156/night for us. I don’t delve too deeply, but I wonder if these prices are compensating for the complete reconstruction of the marina that took place after hurricane Sandy five years ago. The “superstorm” wiped out everything and even though FEMA helped, I’m sure it couldn’t have covered everything. Anyway, it’s a very nice, new marina.
After a while Glenn and I head into town. Ava stays home to visit with her pal Chrome. Against my better judgement (re. because I am lazy), I don’t bring the camera, which I instantly regret when I see that the entire town has turned out for a Halloween costume parade. I kick myself. I should have known. Jersey always delivers. Atlantic Highlands is an old town. Because of this it has a lovely and very walkable main street with shops, town buildings, and a park; it has neighborhoods with mostly middle class folks; and it is seriously segregated. Why?
Sunday 29 OCT
The wind begins early, the rain a bit later. By midday we are in a serious gale with gusts up to 50 knots. We are not surprised by this, it’s why we pulled over here. Glenn has been tracking the storm for days and sought the most protected area for a stop. We stay inside the boat all day and feel the force of the wind in the violent, jerky movements of the boat held in place by a strong mooring. Later we will hear that the magnitude of the winds north of us reached hurricane-level, that trees came down, and that power was lost in wide areas of New England.
Today is the five-year anniversary of Sandy. We are happy this wasn’t a reprisal.