Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day Four, continued: Boat names

Danford's Marina is a large rather flashy but obviously well-run place frequented by some very big and expensive boats. There was a motor cruiser tied up there so vast that it figured in the dockmaster's directions: Come into the harbor until you get to the Prediction and then go left....

"Prediction" is an awfully dull and uninspired name for a boat, isn't it? Some tens of millions must have been spent on this monster, which was the size of a middling warship -- and they couldn't come up with a better name? I couldn't help thinking that it was probably owned by some hedge-fund creep and the name celebrated this parasite's prowess at anticipating the market. (Let's hope it was the previous owner's previous prowess, and that the self-celebrator is now living a lot less large.)

This got me thinking about boat names.

They fall into several categories. There are girls' names innumerable: Mary Ann, Rosalind, Geraldine, and every other name a female human being ever bore. (Well, maybe not Hrotswitha.) There is the clumsily jocular, a numerous category: Buona For Tuna and the like. There's the name you come up with because you can't think of a name: Come Si Chiami [sic], another boat in Port Jefferson. There's the name that advertises your ancestry: Cill Dara, though I think this one may have been spelled with a 'K'. There's the grandiose -- Astraea, with a rendering of the Pleiades on the sail.

There's the slightly wistful -- Serenity (very frequently encountered, this -- there are two of them at the 79th Street boat basin); Daddy's Toy; Magic Hour. Sailing, in my experience, doesn't really live up to these expectations, though it has its charm; and Daddy's Toy, in particular, was last seen half-sunk and sadly uncared-for in Eastchester Bay.

There's the original -- Ishtar and Hambo, and there's the slightly ill-omened -- Palinuro; what were they thinking of? And there's the enigmatic -- Pitchi Poï, seen in New Rochelle.

This last, a little Googling shows, is a Yiddish phrase, though I can't find either word in Weinreich's dictionary, perhaps because I can't correctly reverse-engineer the Yiddish spelling from the transliteration. But I gather it's a phrase with not entirely happy associations. So why did somebody name his boat that, and render the name in whimsical humorous lettering, which I wish I had taken a picture of?

I might have asked, if I had seen Pitchi Poï's skipper. But I probably wouldn't have. I'm rather shy about approaching other sailors. Or other people in general, actually. Fortunately this is not true of all the other sailors out there, and so some agreeable encounters occur in spite of one's own shyness. I experienced just such an encounter later on today, Day Four; but that, and the saga of the dinghy outboard, will have to wait yet again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day Four: Sing, Muse, the woe of outboards

Spent a quiet night at anchor off Old Field Point, near Port Jefferson, shown below:

Awoke with the birdies on Day Four and wanted to take the dinghy, for some reason, and go into Port Jefferson. Needed gas, maybe? Can't recall. So I climbed down into the dinghy and released the ugly improvised lashing on the motor -- I lost a motor off this dinghy once, a story I may tell someday, and don't want to lose another -- and popped it down into the water and squeezed the little bulb on the fuel line and cranked and cranked....

It wouldn't start.

Now this motor and I have a history. It's a little Tohatsu four-stroke four-hp bijou of a thing. I bought it from a guy -- a guy on Long Island, now that I think of it -- after its predecessor was lost, as mentioned above. It was practically brand new: clean, pristine, all that. He had bought it and decided he needed more than four horsepower. It came with a tank and hose.

In retrospect, I think he must have left it standing around for a while -- who knows how long? -- with gas in the motor and tank and hose, and gummed up the works to a fare-thee-well. At any rate, from the day I bought it, it had been nothing but trouble. I had already had it in the shop twice this season to have the carburetor dissected -- an expensive hobby. Now here it was, dead again.

The second time I had in in for surgery, with Maureen the Outboard Queen of City Island, she sold me a new fuel filter and told me to be sure to put it in. Of course I had not done this. So with a sinking feeling that I was closing the proverbial barn door after the proverbial stolen horse, I changed it out on the water of Long Island Sound.

Which took forever. This motor is so intricately and compactly put together, with fiendish origami ingenuity, that it's like eating a lobster to get at any part of it. To reach the fuel filter you have to remove the little integral fuel tank, attached in three places with a highly refined arrangement of spacers, rubber washers (to prevent vibration, I suppose), nuts and bolts and little L-shaped clamps and lockwashers -- twenty or so different parts just to secure this schmoo-shaped little plastic tank.

Needless to say I dropped three or four of these parts in the water. You remove a bolt and don't realize that down where you can't see it, that bolt is holding something else on. It's like the ancient joke about the man with the golden screw head in his navel: when he finally unscrewed it, his ass fell off.

At last I got the filter changed and the motor put back together. It still wouldn't start.

My cruising guide told me that Danford's Marina, in Port Jefferson, did repairs. I called 'em up on the cell phone and they said, sure, bring 'er in. So I motored the Scapegrace, towing the poor dinghy, into Port Jefferson harbor and up to Danford's dock.

To be continued....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day Three: Intermezzo

Dawn of Day Three came up like thunder....

No, it didn't. It came up like a semi-trailer cresting a rise on an interstate highway, over the godforsaken blighted accursed Robert Moses-haunted sad spoiled landscape of Long Island. And in due course its busy old beams peeped into the cabin of the Scapegrace and fell on my sleepy eyelids and I slowly, reluctantly, roused myself and poked my head abovedecks and took stock of my situation.

I was still miles from shore and a few miles further toward my destination and had a hundred feet of water under my keel, all to the good. The air was clear and the breeze mild and the seas calm -- quite a contrast from the lively night before. I made some coffee and then freed the tiller from its lashings and let the jib come over to starboard and then I sailed for a while. In fact I sailed most of the day, not very fast.

Truth to tell, I don't remember a thing about this day, after that first matin observance. I probably listened to the radio a bit, and no doubt gobbled some raisins and peanuts, and may have made a call or two on my cell phone. But it's a lost day -- which probably means it was a good day.

That afternoon I anchored off Old Field Point, just west of Port Jefferson, and spent the night riding calmly at anchor.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Day 2, continued: A wild night

Wind came back into the west in the late afternoon, so I pulled up the anchor and headed out.

The weather radio said short thunderstorms were "possible", and about an hour later it turned out this was understated. A black blinding squall, with rain falling in streams rather than drops, came roaring across the water like an express train and hit me a lot quicker and harder than I expected.

I was able to heave-to and reef the mainsail and partway furl the jib (thanks to the handy roller furler) and by the time I got that done the storm was over, the sky was clear, the wet decks were gleaming-clean and the little droplets of water hanging here and there sparkling like sequins in the horizontal light of the setting sun. Oh and the wind was a nice steady ten knots, a little north of west, and the seas were maybe two feet and leisurely.

This halcyon state of wind and sea persisted until nearly midnight. Then the wind got stronger and the water very choppy, hitting me pretty hard on the port bow and making it hard to keep my course. And I was tired: had gotten up in New Rochelle quite early -- for me -- and had been either sailing or hull-diving all day. I just don't have the dura-ilia for these 24-hour forced marches any more.

So I hove-to on the starboard tack about four or five miles from the Long Island shore. Went below and pottered a bit, trying to warm up. Then noticed that the GPS was telling me I was actually traveling a knot or so in the diametrical wrong direction: west, that is, back toward New York. My fuddled brain gnawed on this bit of data for a lot longer than it should have had to and then the penny dropped: if I heave to on the port tack instead I'll reverse my direction of travel by 180° and be making progress without having to do any work!

The half-tack required to get me there was a bit white-knuckle since the sea had come up a good deal and the wind was, shall we say, brisk. As I gathered way for the tack the swells were coming across my starboard quarter. The Scapegrace gets very skittish and playful under those conditions and I was slow and groggy. It took several tries: coming up into the wind almost almost almost getting the jib back-winded and then, bang, a wave knocks the bow back and it's all to do over again: fall off, gather way, put the helm down, mutter come on, come on... and then another damn wave. But finally I caught a break or the wave gods tired of toying with me and the bow came round as sweet as you please and I lashed the tiller and went below and fell sound asleep in the middle of Long Island Sound.

Well, not quite the middle, of course. I was pretty much on a line between Eatons Neck and Port Jefferson, on the threshold of the bight between them. If I can get the Google Maps api to play nice with Google Blogger -- which is not so easy as it ought to be -- a map will appear below:

So I was out of the shipping lanes. But still I suppose there's stuff to bump into, or be bumped by. As it happened no such disaster befell and I slept the sleep of the bone-tired until dawn -- which brings us to Day Three.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Maine-bound, day 2: Through the gut of Long Island Sound

Awoke early in New Rochelle. Made a sincere attempt to find the harbormaster, but didn't see him; so as he suggested last night, I "forgot about" what I owed the fine city of New Rochelle for my transient slip, and put-putted out of the harbor.

A nicer day than yesterday: sunny and warm, with a promising breeze from the west. But as the day wore on it veered north, and then easterly, and pretty soon it was dead foul. So I put in to the mouth -- just behind the lips, really -- of Huntington Bay, and anchored west of Eaton's neck in 20 feet of water, just sheltered by the land. Not a real harbor at all, just a spot to stop for a few hours.

My depth gauge has been giving me funny unreliable info for a while, and I have speculated that maybe so much algae has grown on the bottom that the transducer is unable to get a signal out, or back, or whatever. So I stripped and put on the face mask and the fins and dropped the little rope swim ladder over the side and went down under the hull with a plastic Brillo pad to clean the transducer.

First time I've swum off the boat since I've owned it. I remember these waters well, from windsurfing here twenty years and one marriage ago. Warm -- soupy, even, in August -- and a little cloudy. My crewman-to-be, Ishmael, thinks this is because all the septic tanks and fertilized lawns of Long Island drain into the Sound and eutrophicate it, and the theory seems plausible. Also, of course, Huntington Bay is quite shallow and heats up nicely during the summer.

The algae theory abut the depth gauge had a lot to recommend it. The hull was shockingly overgrown. Isn't the poisonous bottom paint supposed to prevent this? Or is that just barnacles? The keel looked like one of those fur-hatted Hasidim in Williamsburg -- luxuriantly hirsute, trailing tendrils and fringes and skirts and lappets of sea-hair every which way.

I haven't been under water much, recently, and found I couldn't hold my breath for very long. But after half a dozen quick dives I had cleaned off the transducer pretty well. Time to get back into the boat.

This, it turns out, is not so easy. The swim ladder is not a rigid metal one; it's made from rope. And like an idiot, I've hung it off the bow, which falls away at a sharp inward angle. So as I try to climb the ladder, it swings inward toward the hull and away from me, and I'm hanging backwards like a tree sloth, trying to pull myself hand-over-hand up the rope like a kid in boot camp.

Which I am not.

After much ungraceful scrambling and the usual quantum of swearing, I made it back on deck, bone-tired as I always am these days after any modest exertion. Lay on the deck to dry off in the late afternoon sun and the mild warm breeze, which felt very nice indeed. Then boiled some eggs, and tried to go to sleep -- unsuccessfully, as the sequel will show.

Day 1, continued. The backside of America

New Rochelle has a sweet funky municipal marina, with buildings in that cool Thirties ocean-liner style. (Of course I forgot to take a picture, which will also be a recurring theme here.) There is a restaurant in the marina, and I decided to go have dinner there.

This project proved more difficult than you might expect. I couldn't find the entrance. I could see the windows of the dining room on the second floor, facing out onto the water, but there was no stairway up to it, and no door. I walked around to the street side of the restaurant, which turned out to be a blank wall with a small door -- obviously a service entrance to the kitchen -- where several busboys were lounging and smoking cigarettes and conversing in languid drawling Portuguese.

Finally, after about 20 minutes of fruitless prowling around the perimeter, the light dawned. There is an elevated parking garage next to the restaurant. Another trip back to the street and then down the ramp into the garage and voila, an awning and a double door and a sign and a board with the day's specials.

Moral: If you want to find the front of anything in America, pretend you're a car.

The water side of the restaurant -- and this is true of most waterfront structures in America -- presents a gaze but not a face. It is a place intended to be seen from, not to be seen or approached. It has no expression, no iconography, it makes no sign to you, conveys no message of welcome or grandeur or menace. It is not expecting you to be there, and you always catch it unawares -- en déshabillé, so to speak.

As for the actual street frontage -- since the building is right on the street, there's no room for a parking lot in between. Now the public face of any American building must give onto a parking lot. This is literally the law. You will approach in a car. You will no more approach on foot than you will approach in a boat.

There are alternatives. Here's Dublin:

Here's Venice:

From a boat, as from a train, you see the backside of America, in all its unsuspecting bare-assedness.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Maine-bound, Day 1: Escape from New York

Caught the ebb tide from my mooring on the Hudson at 11 pm, an hour after slack water. My mooring buoy is semi-submerged, and absolutely submerged when the current is strong, bounding around three or four feet underwater like a Rhinemaiden on methedrine. Left a note for Joe the harbormaster and buoyed the mooring lines so I could pick them up more easily (we shall see what became of that ingenious scheme).

Had to motor down the Hudson -- wind versus current, bumpy and disagreeable -- in that weird still wee-hours world, when the city isn't asleep but it's a little groggy and its eyelids are half-shut.

So much light. A big fish jumped out of the water and splashed back with a startling explosive noise and nearly startled me out of my skin.

Naturally the southerly wind died as soon as I rounded the Battery, so I also had to motor up the East River. Got through Hell Gate without any hair-raising encounters with barge traffic -- a first, actually -- at about 3 AM.

I've always loved the Hell Gate railway bridge:

There was a passenger train going across it as I approached. It looked like the Polar Express in the Chris van Allsburg book -- all lit-up with warm yellowish lights shining from the windows, snug and cozy-looking, the headlight from the engine illuminating the girders of the bridge from the sides and below, an angle of lighting you never see otherwise. Very beautiful, very poignant and evocative, I couldn't tell you why. Not just a mechanical vehicle passing over a dead piece of architecture -- more like the intertwined bone and sinew of some vast living thing.

Got to sail a bit after the Triborough -- if I ever call it the RFK Bridge, may all the gods simultaneously strike me dead -- and tacked twice between the Whitestone and Throgs Neck. Then the wind died and a grim steady cold depressing rain settled in, like Noah's flood come again, and I ran into dear old familiar New Rochelle and begged a transient slip off the harbormaster.

"Shall I settle up now?" I asked.

"Naah, tomorrow morning," said the harbormaster.

"I might be leaving early -- maybe I won't see you."

"If I don't see you, forget about it."

I love Boat Dudes. This will be a persistent theme.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back on the grid

Not to give the ending away, or anything, but I made it to Maine, and I made it back. I'll post a day-by-day account of the saga, in all its low-mimetic comedy, starting tomorrow.