Friday, May 24, 2019

In the canal

Hi everyone,

Man, am I beat! Very busy 2 days. Yesterday morning I got underway at 5:15 in flat calm conditions. Listened to the weather and they called for southerly winds at 10-15. Great, sez I, I will be able to sail. And sure enough, a couple of hours later I hoisted the main and killed the engine. Now one thing I have been noticing, is the tendency of the weather bureau to lowball the wind speed predictions. I see this over and over again. Now they do a really excellent job, forecasting the weather, but estimating wind speed accurately seems a bit problematic. So, as I was sailing along, the wind keeps picking up. I had thought about setting another sail, but I was exceeding 6 knots under just the main so there was no need. I kept looking astern at the really impressive mass of Whitecaps behind me, and thinking I should take a reef in the sail. But there were sandbars outside the channel and I just didn't have the room. It was blowing a good 30 in the sustained gusts and things were going well. I had the preventer deployed, a multipart tackle to prevent an accidental jibe, but I also knew that at some point I was going to have to jibe. And it was really too windy. When I did get to that point I ended up tacking instead. Basically, I needed to turn slightly to the left. Had I just made that slight turn I would have released the preventer, turned that small amount, and most likely have gotten myself into serious trouble, either damaging the sail or possibly dismasting the boat. So instead, I put the tiller hard over, and turned thru about 350 degrees. And it works fine. The sail pivots on the mast, and everything is good. I made a couple of these manoeuvres and approached the Rip Van Winkle bridge. I was very unhappy to see a large empty barge, being pushed by a tug, that was going to reach the bridge at about the same time as me. Having worked on a tug in an earlier life I knew that he had his hands as full as I did. I could not risk sailing thru there, especially as the wind was blowing even harder now, probably 35 in the gusts. So I started the engine, figuring to dump the sail. But, because I have been having some issues with my cooling pump, and because I always check anyway, I looked over the transom and was horrified to see NO cooling water coming out. I immediately shut off the engine and took a very brief look at the chart. I could sail outside of the channel and thru a secondary opening in the bridge. Once thru, I could drop sail and anchor the boat in about 12 feet of water. That's what I did, staying well clear of the barge, whose captain was undoubtedly wondering what sort of idiot would be out sailing in these conditions. I proceeded to do the worlds worst furling job on the mainsail, and went below to fix the engine. The tide and wind were in opposition and the motion was excessive, with the boat rolling wildly from side to side and circling around and around the anchor. I kept looking out the companionway to make sure we weren't dragging into a bridge abutment.  I had the problem solved in 15 minutes, but now had to get the anchor up. No way could that be done without mechanical advantage so I rigged a snatch block and led the anchor line back to the cockpit winch. We had that anchor up in several minutes and got underway. I said the heck with any more sailing.

Several hours later, I pulled into the boat club at Castleton on Hudson. I picked up a mooring, giving it a good inspection as I remembered the fiasco last fall, and made arrangements to unstep the mast. Now this operation really needs to be seen to be believed. They have a DIY mast stepping crane. You sign a release, pay $55, and do it yourself. How this place hasn't been sued into oblivion is beyond me, but I love it there. So, back on the mooring I get the mast ready. The wind is blowing way too hard for me to fold the sail, so I just stuff it in the main cabin. Plus, it was wet. I forgot to mention that I went thru a nasty thunderstorm an hour earlier. Had everything ready by dark. The forecast for today was for 15-20, with gusts over 30. Great. And that indeed, is what we had. I did the mast entirely by myself. The wind made for a real challenge as I was lowering it down to the deck, but I prevailed. At this point I was nursing a bad attitude towards the weather gods and really wanted to prove myself. I left a bit before noon  bucking a strong tidal current, and the wind, but eventually made it thru the first lock. There is a ton of water coming over that dam by the lock and it was nervewracking getting the boat in. So, the Champlain Canal is still not open, due to high water. Looks like I will be cooling my heels for several days.

Best to all, Charlie

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Great beauty today

Hi everyone,

I wish you could have been aboard to see this stunning section of the Hudson I traversed today. The weather was downright glorious, if a bit on the cool side. I started out on the Tappan Zee, passed the nuclear plant at Indian Point, went under the glorious Bear Mountain Bridge, passed beneath the fortress of West Point, negotiated the swirling waters of World's End, and gazed upon the legendary Storm King Mountain. Then came Bannerman's Castle on Polepel Island.  There was plenty of barge traffic and folks in small fishing boats. Finally, I passed the exquisite lighthouse at Esopus Meadows, which has received a paint job in the not too distant past. There were other impressive bridges that I passed under and marveled at, thinking about the capital required for financing, and the actual human capital that did the work. While there is a great deal of natural beauty along this part of the Hudson, there is an equal amount evident in the manmade. Granted, the nuke plant was not very pleasing aesthetically,  but it and the wires marching across the river are pretty darn impressive. There are spectacular houses situated all along the river that exemplify the best in various eras of architecture. Trains, both passenger and freight run very frequently along both sides and demonstrate the importance of the river for travel. You would expect them to detract from the view but I, at least, do not find that to be the case at all. And then we have West Point, arguably ground zero for the development of the US Army. A truly impressive facility, regardless of how one feels about the long history of the military in this country. The story here goes back to the Revolution. As I passed I thought about Benedict Arnold and his attempt to hand it over to the British and of George Washington's shock at the discovery of the plot. The Hudson River was absolutely critical in terms of importance strategically to the newly born United States.

I remembered a couple of things from my first trip on the Hudson when I was 16 years old. One was the mothballed fleet of WW2 Liberty ships that were moored opposite the nuke plant, if I remember correctly. Probably cut up for scrap. The other thing I remember was an operating steam sidewheeler named the Alexander Hamilton that took people on excursions from the city, up to Poughkeepsie and back. What I was most impressed by was how fast the Hamilton could move. By far the fastest large vessel on the river and you had to constantly be alert for her whereabouts.

I am anchored near Kingston and hope to head out in the morning in spite of more lousy weather on the way.

Best to all, Charlie

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Beaten by the river

Hi everyone,

Last night was a miserable one for sleeping. I was anchored in the lee of Mt. Hook on the edge of the Tappan Zee, a wide section of the Hudson, and the wind just exploded in gusts down the mountain flanks all night long. For a good chunk of the night the tide was opposing the wind, causing the boat to yaw back and forth while rolling to an alarming extent. The dinghy, being blown around wildly by the wind would smash violently into the stern of White Seal. Normally, I would hoist the dinghy out of the water and put it on the deck but the motion was so violent I decided not to do it and just accepted the collisions. I do have an excellent rubrail on the dinghy so there was no concern about damage. So, after a lousy sleep, I crawled out of my bunk this morning and decided to give it a shot at getting underway. I made it about a mile. A short ways past that I was going to have to motor directly into the wind which was blowing 30 with higher gusts. Large amounts of spray were coming aboard as I got further out and I said the heck with it. I reanchored much closer to shore and spent the day reading. Very happy to report the wind is dying down and should be reasonable tomorrow.

Also, an invitation is extended to any reader in the general area who might like to join me for perhaps 3 days, as I go thru the canal. It is very scenic, and it is very helpful for me to have an extra hand as we pass thru the locks. You could join the boat in Castleton on the Hudson, where we take down the mast, then enter the canal at Troy. A couple of days of travel thru bucolic countryside and you could depart at Whitehall, Orwell, or continue on to journey's end at Kingsland Bay in Ferrisburgh. Email me at if you are interested.

Best to all, Charlie

Monday, May 20, 2019


Good morning all,

White Seal is moored at the 79th Street Boat Basin and the noise of the traffic on Riverside Drive is unrelenting. Who knows where folks are going at 3 AM, but they are. This is a crazy place, and the residents likely constitute a different species, but it is pretty cool to a country lad like myself.

What is very cool is coming to the city by small boat, as I did yesterday morning, creeping in at daybreak after a 24 hour run up the coast. There was a good weather window, with poor weather after, so I decided to just keep going past the 2 or 3 potential harbors of refuge. I arrived in the vicinity of Sandy Hook, NJ around 2AM and the entrance to the lower New York harbor was thick with boat traffic, mainly ships, and tugs with barges. So I decided to just jog back and forth under mainsail only till dawn. The boat will sail herself like this and it gives me a chance for some shuteye. This I did, until about 4 AM, when I began nosing my way over to the Ambrose Channel, the main entrance into New York. As I alluded earlier, coming into New York Harbor, is just an amazing experience. The wind had died, so I was motoring over a gentle, murky sea as the sun tried to make an appearance thru the haze. Earlier, in the night, with the benefit of the full moon, the Verrazano Bridge had looked almost toy like, at a distance of 20 miles or more, resembling a necklace decorated with tiny lights
 Now, as I drew closer, you could really see how big it was, and how spectacular. Low, thick rain clouds swirled around, and I was sharing the approach with a large ship. But with a good 4000 feet of space between the two towers, there was no concern about room. The rain came down in sheets as I passed under the bridge. It does not have the beauty of a Golden Gate, or the nearby Brooklyn Bridge, but it is really something special. As I proceeded up the harbor, I realized that the vessel traffic was not quite as crazy as usual, given that it was Sunday morning. So I was able to spend less time avoiding collisions and more time taking it all in. The rain had decided to stop, and I actually started to warm up a bit. I had taken on the look of the proverbial Michelin man with thermal underwear, long pants, rain pants, t shirt, flannel shirt, heavy sweater, fleece pullover, rain jacket, safety harness, and life jacket. So these items started to come off. Went by the Statue of Liberty, merci beaucoup France, Ellis Island, and the lower tip of Manhattan. Once again, I was on the Hudson, a wonderful river. Need to check the weather and decide whether to head further north this morning, or stay another day on the mooring. The current turns soon.

Best to all, Charlie

Friday, May 17, 2019

Cape May

Hi everyone,

I had laboriously typed up an entry last evening but then twitched a finger and the whole thing disappeared.  I was too tired to make another attempt so just crawled into my bunk and slept the sleep of the exhausted. Mary has told me not to tell readers about my tech shortcomings, saying it makes me look like an idiot, but hey, I know it, you know it, and it's all ok!

To recap, after leaving Annapolis I had made it into the C&D canal, where I spent the night at a charmingly quaint little town called Chesapeake City. It is a survivor from the canal building time of around 150 years ago. Very small houses prevail. Not much commerce to be observed but great for the curious pedestrian. In the morning it was raining steadily and it was quite cold, with a cold front due shortly, but I headed out anyway with a favorable tide to challenge Delaware Bay. It should be noted that this is a sea level canal-no locks. I got thru with no issues, the cold front passed, and the Bay was pretty mellow. However, you feel a bit like a target in a shooting gallery as there is a continual parade of commercial traffic. Some of it is very large and moving with considerable speed. I managed to avoid getting obliterated and pulled into Cape May about an hour before dark. Today, I decided I needed to rest, and to be honest, warm up. It has been cold on the water. As I mentioned a while back I wish I had some much warmer gear. Perhaps it is a function of age but I could really use some kind of waterproof snowmobile suit. I mean, I have a ton of layers I put on and I am still freaking cold.

I will probably start heading up the Jersey shore tomorrow. Weather looks reasonable for a couple days and I may be able to get to NYC.

Best to all, Charlie

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Sublime to the mundane

Hi folks,

I decided against sailing closehauled in winds up to 25 and getting doused with cold water every few seconds. Hence, I remain in Annapolis.

The sublime, you ask? The Maryland Statehouse. What a thing of beauty. It has been in continual use since the revolution, although it did receive a nicely done addition over 100 years ago. It was the Capitol of the United States for a few months in the mid 1780s and in one of the chambers, General George Washington tendered his resignation to the Continental Congress. His letter of resignation is right there, for everyone to see. Truly an inspiring place to be. One thing that is great about a trip like this is touching so many of the places that have figured in our country's history. Like seeing items used by John Paul Jones at the Naval Academy. Or sailing across the mouth of the Potomac the other day, with nary a boat in sight, while imagining the same spot during the Civil War. I could go on, but you get the idea. The East Coast is enveloped in a rich covering of history that manifests itself wherever one turns. And I love it.

The mundane? Later, in the mid afternoon, I headed back to the shadow of the capital, and about 100 yards from the room George Washington addressed Congress, I dumped a load of rancid laundry into a machine and began the process of ratcheting up my standard of living a bit.

Good night, all


Monday, May 13, 2019

Cold and dreary

Hi everyone,

Still in Annapolis with really wretched weather. On the bright side, the sun came out for a bit in midafternoon and I made my way to the museum at the Naval Academy. As you might expect, it is a really great museum. I spent a little time there on Saturday with my niece Elena and her fiancee Michael. But I had to get back there. One thing that was interesting was just how much attention they gave to the battles of Valcour Island, and also Plattsburgh, on Lake Champlain. They were both considered very important strategically. The exhibits covered the history of the Navy from the beginning up to within about the last 20 years. There is also a spectacular exhibit of sailing ship models upstairs that was really something. My father would have loved it. He was in the Navy on a destroyer escort during WW2 in the Pacific. And not too many people know this but I tried to enlist in the Navy, only to flunk the physical. It was because of poor depth perception with my vision. I was absolutely devastated not to get in at the time.

The rain seems to have stopped and perhaps I can get underway tomorrow.

Best to all, Charlie