Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tour de Bronx

I mentioned Charlie's boatyard a while back. Above is the nearby Pelham Bay landfill (this is the Bronx, after all). Below is the tricky narrow egress, difficult for a duffer like me to manage in a crosswind, as I may have mentioned before:

Charlie is at least the second generation of his family to run this boatyard, or so I hear. I wouldn't dare ask Charlie himself any questions about his family history, or indeed any questions at all not absolutely necessary, because I am rather in awe of Charlie.

Not that Charlie is a hard case, or an unfriendly guy. On the contrary: like most Boat Dudes, he's hospitable, kindly, sociable, and generous, which you don't realize at first because like most Boat Dudes, he has a somewhat laconic just-the-facts-Ma'am manner. Here is an exterior shot of part of Charlie's house, in the yard -- sorry about the Dumpster; I couldn't find an angle that didn't include it:

Charlie noticed me taking pictures, which piqued his curiosity since he wasn't expecting to see me again until October. He promptly invited me to take a picture from inside his house:

Nice, huh?

Charlie has a colleague named Emil, or maybe Emile. I would no more dare take a picture of Emil than I would twist a lion's tail, though Emil is also a wonderful guy and took suitable measures during a winter gale when a tarp I had secured badly over the Scapegrace blew loose. (He cut it away and let it fly off in a 40-knot breeze into Eastchester Bay, before it could pull the boat right off her poppets.)

Here's where Emil lives, or so I'm told:

I imagine Emil is very aware of the weather.

Eastchester Bay is very urban. Just on the other side is the New York police shooting range, where they also take bombs, or possible bombs, and the occasional bag lady's bag, to dispose of them "safely". It was probably illegal to take this picture, but I took it anyway:

Most afternoons at Charlie's yard one hears the ominous mechanical bang-bang of automatic weapon fire sounding flatly across the water from this dismal fortress. I didn't know what it was, at first -- thought it was fireworks, then realized there just aren't that many holidays. Unless you're a cop, and then every day is about gunpowder.

Whom, exactly, are they practicing to shoot? Not me -- not in their minds, anyway -- but having had some of those guns pointed at me, in my day, it's an unpleasant thing to hear. Whomever it is they're practicing to shoot, they won't shoot in the service of my interests.

I don't know how many of my fellow Boat Dudes at Charlie's yard would agree with my suspicion and dislike of the police. Some of them are retired cops, others retired firemen (who would possibly be more sympathetic; there's no love lost between the cops and the firemen).

The Boat Dudes don't love authority, but they don't love the underclasses either. So -- much as I love the Boat Dudes, I stay away from this topic.

On my way back from Charlie's, I took a detour to pick up an outboard motor part at Sheila's outboard motor place on City Island. I parked illegally and wandered for a few minutes through Pelham Cemetery, a very nice spot to be buried, if buried one must be:

Off across the water there is Hart Island, with its melancholy abandoned smokestack. Hart Island is New York's potter's field, where we bury our dead on the stingy taxpayers' tab when nobody else can be found to pay for the Dead Dude's last piece of private property.

Not too many people know about Hart Island, but it has a certain morbid fascination for me. I have sailed around it. There are signs warning you to keep away -- the burials are handled by prisoners from another island in the New York archipelago, Rikers Island, and so Hart's itself, and its humble dead, are now a fief of the Incarceration Sector.

Sheila's outboard motor place is right next to the dock from which Charon's ferry takes the unwanted and uncherished -- or at least, unpaid-for -- dead over to Hart's. The dock is plastered with dire minatory warnings from the wonderfully-named "Department of Corrections", but maybe one of these days I'll feel bold enough to take a picture.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ah, technology (Part Deux)

While I was out on the boat yesterday, I was looking reproachfully at the nifty little hook which failed me so disastrously as I was trying to get on the mooring the other day.

I couldn't for the life of me figure out why it had failed to close properly around the whatchacallit, shackle? on the mooring buoy. The opening of the hook was clearly large enough to accommodate the shackle; you could see that by eyeballing it.

So I put it back on the pole and walked up to the bow and darted it at the mooring buoy -- while still safely attached, this time -- and eccolo:

(As usual, click to enlarge.)

Doin' what it oughter, right? So why didn't it do that when I needed it?!

With the profound superstition of sailors, I can only think it was a message from the gods: Take nothing for granted -- especially technology.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Belt and suspenders

It may have been mentioned that I once lost an outboard motor overboard -- a brand-new one, I might add -- thanks to the New York city police. (No, I haven't ever actually told the story. What am I waiting for? A book contract, maybe?)

Anyway, I don't want to lose another. Motor, I mean, not book contract. So when the Scapegrace is moored on the choppy turbulent roller-coaster waters of the Hudson River, I wrap a dock line around the motor and secure it on either side, in case the motor mount itself -- which frankly isn't that sturdy -- should work loose.

Now this is ugly as sin, as you can see from the photo above. (Click to see more detail). But it does help me sleep better at night, which at my age is a great thing.

(You may be thinking, as you look at this picture, that all the motor has to do is work loose and twist once arsy-versy and it's gone. What you can't see is that the deck line also goes through a handle on the front of the motor. So there, Mr Subtle Topologist!)

I have a number of these repulsive, un-yachty, Appalachian po'-white-trash improvisations set up on the poor boat -- which certainly deserves better, but when the Cap'n is basically a pauper, this is what you get. Here's another such desperate improvisation:

It may not be very easy for non-sailors to see, but sailors will notice right away that the boom is held down, not just by the taut main sheet in the center of the picture, but also by an ungainly and inelegant dock line -- yet another repurposed dock line -- stretching up from the starboard quarter cleat to the boom, around the boom in a clove hitch, and then down to the port-side rail.

Hey, as long as I was doing something ugly, I thought I'd make it really ugly.

Now the reason for doing this is that the boat rocks a good deal, and every so often gale-force winds come roaring down the Hudson and pry loose anything that can be pried loose. Last year -- before I started lashing these brutal unlovely corsets on the poor Scapegrace -- I had a very nasty experience: The boom whipped around so much in one of these winds that a pin broke, the main sheet collapsed in a heap on the cockpit sole, and the boom was unsecured by anything except the very permissive topping lift -- the little cable that keeps it up above head height when you're not actually sailing, and creates that insouciant jaunty cocked-up boom angle that you can see in other pictures of the dear boat here on the blog.

Now we must make an entry in the Kindness Of Strangers file, a very well-filled jacket in any boater's life. The day that I came out to the boat and discovered that this mishap had occurred, probably a day or two before, I also found that somebody -- presumably another boater on a nearby mooring, perhaps even the guy who has the other Pearson 26 -- had quietly boarded the Scapegrace and improvised a lash-down for the boom, so it didn't bang around any more and damage itself, or the mast, or the standing rigging.

Of course I was pleased and grateful. Oddly enough, on my way back to the dinghy dock -- about a mile and a half of boisterous Hudson that year -- I passed another boat where the very same thing had happened -- one of the fittings on the main sheet broke, and the boom was whipping back and forth like a spoon in one of those in-sink garbage disposals, with an equally nasty and scary sound.

I had a moment's hesitation. It's a huge taboo to go on somebody else's boat uninvited. But somebody had gone on mine, and I was glad they had. It's the Band Of Brothers here at the Hudson River boat basin. So I tied up the dinghy on the other boat's cleat, and climbed aboard, and found a few random lengths of line here and there in the cockpit that I could fit together to jury-rig a lashing for the boom and keep it amidships.

What goes around comes around, they say. But it seldom comes around so quickly and neatly. A nice moment.