July 15, 2011
I planned to take an solo 8 day cruise throughout the Long Island Sound, starting Saturday morning from my mooring at the 79th Street Boat Basin on the Hudson River. My boat is a 28’ Albin Cumulus, which is pretty basic. Hank-on jib, no bimini, no chartplotter, no working shower, no autopilot, ancient single cylinder Yanmar engine—but the boat sails like a dream, responsive and light and fast.
The Hudson River current dictated an early morning departure, so I shopped for provisions and loaded up the boat for the trip so I could sleep overnight on the mooring. Had dinner with friends at Café Frida on the Upper West Side and was on the boat bunking down for the night by 2300.
July 16, 2011
After a good night’s sleep, my alarm went off at 0515, which felt way too early. I slowly got moving, folded up my blankets and such, hanked on the genoa, removed the sail cover, and I was ready to go. The morning was warm, clear and calm. The Hudson River was tranquil in a way that only occurs late at night or early in the morning.
I cast off the mooring at 0545 to motor south down the Hudson toward the Battery. With the current I was easily making 7.5 knots across the ground, enjoying the quiet morning and the soft light of the sunrise. Before I knew it, I was rounding the Battery and heading underneath the Brooklyn Bridge up the East River. Still making great time, although for some reason, motoring up or down the East River always makes me slightly uneasy. I always imagine the engine quitting and ending up adrift in the swift current. Luckily, once more the engine kept putting along, and I glided past Hell Gate, North Brother Island, and Riker’s Island.
Still not a breath of wind, and by now it is getting hot. We (me and the boat) keep chugging along, still making decent speed past the Whitestone and Throg’s Neck Bridges and into the Long Island Sound.
After passing City Island, the temperature is well into the 90’s, not a cloud in the sky (and no bimini, hence no shade.) I stop twice to jump overboard to cool off a bit, and arrive in Port Jefferson, Long Island around 1600.
I picked up a mooring at the Setauket Yacht Club, make sure you have a reservation on a weekend. The launch service is quick and reliable, and the shore facilities are acceptable. Port Jefferson is somewhat charming, but lots of tourists—which I guess included me.
Good night’s sleep on board.
July 17, 2011
Sunday morning dawned bright and warm, with a nice breeze. I made a cup of coffee and started to get ready to cast off. I lifted up the floorboard to check the bilge, and to my surprise, all I saw was thick, black oil. Hmmm… not exactly what I wanted to see. I stuck my finger in the bilge, and it came back completely coated with nasty oil. Crap!!
Luckily, I have a friend of mine who is a great mechanic (which I am not) and owns a boat similar to mine. So, I called up Ron and explained the situation. He thought that it could be a spun bearing which resulted in oil blowing out the crankcase breather. Crap!
Well, the first order of business was to clean up the mess, so I took the launch into town and bought up a bunch of disposable diapers, paper towels, 409, and plastic trash bags.
I spent the afternoon cleaning up the mess, which was a bit of an endeavor. The disposable diapers worked great, and after 60 diapers, 3 rolls of paper towels, half a bottle of 409, a few hours, and about a gallon of sweat, I got all the bilges cleaned out and most of the accessible soot cleaned out of the engine compartment. What a friggin’ mess!! And it really was a lot less oil than I originally thought. Maybe 5 or 6 oz. Which, of course, coats everything, including the insides of the pipes that interconnect the 4 bilge compartments. I lined the bilge underneath the engine with diapers.
This pretty much killed the afternoon, and since I couldn’t get anywhere before dark, it was another night in Port Jeff.
After another phone consultation with Ron, I decided to motor out of the harbor in the morning, using no more than 2/3 power and check the bilges once I get a bit into the Sound. If there is as much oil as today, I’ll plan on heading back to Mamaroneck where I can get some maintenance support. If there is less oil, then I might continue out towards Guilford or Clinton, CT.
I figured I was lucky because I had all week to take care of this issue, and really had no schedule to keep, but I couldn’t help feeling cheated because the wind was perfect all day long.
After dinner in town and an ice cream cone, I was ready for bed and whatever tomorrow would hold.
July 18, 2011
Monday morning was another beautiful morning. I made a cup of coffee, cleaned up a little oil out of the bilge, and cast off the see where I would end up.
The inspection of the bilge once I was out of Port Jeff harbor seemed ok, so I decided to continue the trip. I was in a sailboat after all, with a full complement of perfectly good sails, and an unlimited gold BoatUS towing plan.
So, I made it from Port Jefferson to Guilford, CT today. Sailing on a dead run most of the way, plus bucking the current for the morning which made for only a 4 knot groundspeed for much of the trip. A run is my least favorite point of sail, as it takes constant attention to keep the jib full and avoid an accidental jibe. Plus the boat isn’t very stable on a run with following seas, so trying to type on the Blackberry or make phone calls or even study charts can be difficult.
There were some scattered thunderstorms around, but luckily the storms stayed to the north, and the wind was fairly constant out of the west.
This part of the sound is maybe 20 miles wide, so I couldn’t see the Connecticut coast very clearly for much of the trip. Was also a little hazy today.
I’m sure that taking down the sails when single handed looks like a 3 Stooges bit missing Moe and Curly, but I always seem to manage. A power boat tied up near me at the Guilford Yacht Club, and the guy on the boat had seen me getting the sails down. He was complimentary, but perhaps he was just being nice.
Guilford is in a little narrow channel that is surrounded by rocks, but it is well marked and easy to navigate. The yacht club is fantastic, with sturdy new concrete floating docks, lots of maneuvering room, water with hoses, spanking clean bathrooms, a huge pool, tennis courts, etc. The pool felt great after being in the sun all day.
I have a friend from work who happens to live in Guilford, so he picked me up at the yacht club, and we went out for dinner. Guilford is a charming town—the quintessential small Connecticut waterfront sort of place, complete with a large town square with a gazebo in the middle. After a quick trip to WalMart for more diapers and paper towels, I was ready to call it quits for the day.
Dusk brought out swarms of mosquitos. I rigged up mosquito netting over all the hatches, and only a couple made it into the boat, with none surviving to tell the tale.
July 19, 2011
Another beautiful morning on Tuesday. After a cup of coffee, I motored around the bend to Brown’s Boat Yard to top off on fuel. The proprietor (Mr. Brown, I presume?) was on hand to take my lines at the fuel dock. Brown’s is an old time establishment with that shabby, utilitarian charm that seems so at home in New England. Mr. Brown was gracious, friendly, helpful, and full of tidbits of local knowledge. I razzed him a bit for not hiring my friend 20 years ago, when he was a 14 year old looking for a summer job. I think my bill for topping off the diesel tank and my jerry can came just shy of $20.
I left Brown’s around 0900 and was sailing in 10 minutes. For about 30 minutes I had a nice breeze off the port beam, but then it disappeared, and it was time to start the motor again. Going against the current to Plum Gut, with partial throttle and a hint of wind, yielded me 4 knots of groundspeed. My goal was to hit Plum Gut at slack current between 1400 and 1430, and I was there at 1415.
Approaching Plum Gut, we saw two tugs each towing enormous barges with probably 300 yards of cable. I gave them a wide berth. Couldn’t imagine what it would be like if one of those cables snapped. Not much other boat traffic along the way—some fishing boats, maybe 4 sailboats, and one huge power yacht.
Once I passed through Plum Gut and turned southwest past Orient Point, a nice breeze from the southeast developed. The engine gets shut down, and we had a beautiful sail for about 1.5 hours on a port beam reach. There’s more boat traffic now, but mostly fishing boats and power boats and ferries.
My mooring neighbor back at 79th Street had recommended Greenport, so that is where I was headed. I chose the Townsend Manor Inn Marina because they have a swimming pool, and the temperatures all week have been sweltering in the mid 90’s. The marina was quaint, with stern-to slips between pilings. I was a little nervous about maneuvering into the slip since I was used to a mooring and I had never backed into slip between pilings before. The marina was pretty tight, but I was proud of my maneuvering—I got the prop walk just right and backed right into the slip.
The Townsend Manor Inn and Marina was charming. There is a shady lawn with Adirondack chairs overlooking the marina. The pool felt fantastic after being in the sun all day. The main part of town is maybe a 5 minute walk away, and the town has a very nice, down-home sort of vibe without being overrun by tourists.
The oil in the bilge is turning out to be manageable, albeit a little messy. Nothing that Pampers and 409 can’t handle.
July 20, 2011
Today was a killer day of sailing. The original plan had been to kick back in Greenport for another day and maybe take a short sail around Shelter Island. However, I awoke to thick, pea soup fog on Wednesday morning, and the forecast was for fog again on Thursday morning. Earlier in the morning, an old, experienced power boater (in an old, sweet wooden yacht) left the slip next to me and then came back after trying to make it across to Mystic. My concern was that if the fog on Thursday delayed my departure I would miss the slack current through Plum Gut, so when the fog lifted around 1215, I decided to hightail it out of Greenport while I had the opportunity and maybe make Clinton, CT before dark.
What a good decision that was! We had great wind almost all the way. Left the dock at Greenport at 1245. Started out close-hauled, then mostly on a beam reach until Plum Gut, then on a close reach across most of the sound. I was hauling ass, making almost 7 kts for the first hour of the trip.
I had read so many horor stories about trying to transit Plum Gut when the current is opposing the wind that I was a little leery about this portion. Because of the timing with the fog, I was making it through right as the opposing current was starting. All was fine, except for about 1/4 mile of steep and confused waves. Of course, the wind gets fluky at the same time, so I started the engine to power through it. It was all over in a few minutes, but not without significant water washing over the bow and a lot of wallowing. Still, all in all, it was kind of fun and exhilerating.
Other than Plum Gut, we had very light seas. Maybe 1.5 feet off the port bow. Eventually the wind started to die down and shifted more southerly to a beam reach, and it finally died out about 2 miles from the channel entrance to Clinton. So I’m at the entrance to the Clinton harbor, and I’m up forward taking down the genoa when I notice that the water around me is all brown and sludgy. Hmmm, I think, that doesn’t look too pleasant. It gradually dawns on me that a rather large boat must have pumped out its holding tank right outside the channel entrance. If you ask me, the punishment for that ought to be to make the captain of the vessel swim through the entire sludge slick.
Arrived at the dock in Clinton at 1830. All in all, a great day sailing.
The marina here in Clinton is kind of like a KOA, including the slightly too warm, over-chlorinated swimming pool swarming with kids. Still, a lot of fun, and it was nice going for a swim when I got in. Later, I have dinner at the bar of a restaurant overlooking the water, and the big screen is playing the Yankees game (unfortunately, they lost to Twins, 4-9.)
July 21, 2011
Sure enough, Thursday morning dawned cool and foggy. However the fog wasn’t too dense. I could see across the harbor, and the sun was visible, so I’m guessing the layer was only a few hundred feet thick. No wind, of course. I decided to head out anyway, back towards Port Jefferson. (Now I can’t remember why I chose Port Jeff again. I didn’t think I could have made Huntington or Oyster Bay, but another harbor on the north side of the sound would have been feasible.)
I hanked on the jib and removed the sail cover in hopes of some wind, and motored out the smooth channel into the Sound. The visibility is probably a mile and a half, and the sea is perfectly smooth. The air is cool and damp, which is refreshing after all week of sweltering heat and broiling sun. I’m steering a compass course for Port Jeff, and soon Falkner Island with it’s lighthouse shows up through fog to the port. Eventually, the fog starts to burn off, and sure enough, the breeze starts to build. I raise the sails, and before long am able to shut off the engine.
Very nice sail to Port Jeff, but the winds continue to build through the afternoon. Before I know it, the boat is heeled over and the winds are probably 20 knots (I have to guess because my boat doesn’t have an anemometer.) But, regardless of how you measure the wind, it becomes clear that I have too much sail up, and of course, as the wind builds, so do the seas, with choppy whitecaps breaking over the bow.
One of my issues with single handing is that it is pretty hard for me to put in a reef on the mainsail by myself. Without an autopilot, the tiller tamer doesn’t hold the boat into the wind long enough, and with the wind whipping the sails around… Well, you get the picture. So, since I have the wind between a close reach and a beam reach on a starboard tack, I figure that I can just get rid of the genoa and sail under the main alone (remember, no roller furler for this purist.) I start the engine, head into the wind, release the genoa halyard and head up forward to tackle the sail and get it tied down. As I’m up of the foredeck struggling with the genoa, the boat veers off the wind, and heels over about 30 degrees with waves breaking over the bow. I’m on my belly with my toes searching for the toe rail (got it!), wrestling with the genoa and the sail ties, getting doused by the waves, when it occurs to me that jack lines and a tether would be a brilliant idea. Well, its a bit late for that, and I manage to get the genoa inelegantly tied down without falling overboard, and I scramble back to the cockpit and breath a sigh of relief.
The boat sails much better on the main alone, and we make it into Port Jefferson harbor with out any more drama. Still, a great day, going from glassy seas and tranquil fog to a rip-roaring wind with waves crashing over the bow. I really do love this sailing stuff, although I vow to set up my jack lines and buy a decent tether at the first available opportunity.
July 22, 2011
Friday morning I slept in a little. Was off the mooring at 0755, about the same time as the boat on the mooring next to me. Once we were out of the harbor, it became clear that we were both headed in the same direction. The wind was out of the west southwest, which is the direction I wanted to head towards the East River, so I started out on a starboard tack towards Stamford, CT.
The other boat was a few hundred yards ahead of me, and before I knew it, we were ‘racing.’ I could point better than he could, but he was slightly faster in all but the light winds. My ability to point gave me the advantage when it came time to tack. After he split off (maybe headed to Stamford?) I had a calm period, then a nice breeze that was westerly enough to for me to comfortably sail close hauled on a starboard tack all the way from Oyster Bay to the Throgs Neck Bridge.
Rather than tacking down the East River to Flushing Bay, I motored in past Kings Point and the SUNY Maritime Academy down the East River. By this time I was ready to get out of the sun and heat (hottest day of the year, 104 degrees in Central Park) and get a shower. Pulled into the dock at World’s Fair Marina (after fueling) at 1815. At least the 1.5 hour subway ride home was air conditioned. But, all in all, another superb day of sailing.
July 23, 2011
After a night at home in air conditioning, I hopped on the subway Saturday morning to head back to Queens to pick up the boat for the final leg, down the East River, through Hell Gate, around the Battery, and up the Hudson to the 79th St Boat Basin.
The way the estuary currents run, it is possible to ride the current down the Hudson, around the Battery, up the East River, and into the Long Island Sound. However, you can’t do that in the reverse direction. The best you can get is a favoring current down the East River, but you’ll have to buck the current around the Battery and up the Hudson.
Unfortunately, on Friday, the big sewage treatment plant in Harlem suffered a huge fire, pumping millions of gallons of raw sewage directly into the Hudson River. (This is two miles north of my mooring at home.) Still, I had to be at work on Monday and wasn’t about to leave my boat in a slip in Queens for the next week. So, I pushed off the dock and headed up S*&t Creek.
Not much wind, so the trip was rather uneventful. A float plane (Cessna Caravan on floats) landed next to me as I was motoring down the East River. Once I rounded the Battery, I was making maybe 3.5 knots against the Hudson current.
I armed myself with latex gloves and Clorox wipes for pulling my mooring lines out of the water. Typically, if you leave the mooring lines for a week or so, they look pretty nasty anyway, but this time… Well, perhaps it was my imagination, but I couldn’t separate the brown goop all over the lines from the constant news reports about the sewage spill.
So, the trip didn’t go exactly as I had planned, but it was still a blast. I had a variety of sailing conditions, saw some great places, built up a little bit of experience, and, despite slathering myself with sunblock all week, came home with a complexion that looked like a broiled chicken from the supermarket.
Next year I’m taking two weeks off work.