Sorry, I sorta dropped the story a couple months back.
Penelope and I arrived off Coney Island as dusk was falling, to encounter
four interrelated problems:
1) The wind had died down to a very mild and unhelpful westerly zephyr;
2) The current was strongly on the ebb through the Narrows;
3) I didn't think we had enough gas to motor, against the current,
all the way up through the Narrows and into the Hudson;
4) It was the Fourth of July, and because of the Macy's fireworks, Homeland Security
and other elements of the Enforcement Sector had taken the opportunity to declare a celebratory
lockdown of the Hudson River. Why? Because they can.
So I disappointed poor Penelope yet again, and dropped the hook out in the middle of the
outer harbor on this quickly darkening eve of Year CCXXXIV of American Liberty:
It's not quite as bad as it looks. The shipping channel is about a half-mile to the west, and that's seventy feet of water or so. But here on the East Bank flats, there was maybe twelve feet under our keel, and no weather expected. Good holding ground, though the sludge is incredibly stinky and foul when the anchor comes home. I paid out a hundred feet of rode and figured we were probably safe from anything except a blind-drunk patriot doing twenty knots in a planing hull. But it's a big body of water and the odds were on our side.
I hung a flashlight from the signal halliard on the starboard spreader, by way of improvised anchor light, in case the blind-drunk patriot wasn't entirely blind. I loathe fireworks, and I don't have much use for patriotism either, so I crawled up in the vee-berth and went to sleep. Penelope took care of our patriotic duty and watched the fireworks.
I was awakened by a change of timbre in the sound of the current under the hull, and the wind in the rigging -- about eleven PM, I think. Crawled groggily out of the berth to find my two girls, Penelope and the Scapegrace, both looking bouncy and energetic. I was looking, and feeling, anything but.
Still. The current was with us now, and the wind, still westerly, had freshened again. So we raised the main and sailed the anchor out of the East Bank muck -- first time the Scapegrace and I have done that. Set the jib and went bowling at four knots or so up toward Giovanni's bridge.
About a quarter-mile south of the bridge, the cool fresh sea breeze gave way to a hot sulfurous simoom off Staten Island. It was still wind, of course, and a sailor is always grateful for wind, but this was a very downscale wind -- a wind full of monoxide and motor oil and Axe armpit deodorant. Not to mention, fifteen degrees warmer than what we'd been used to for the last few days. Oh. July. In New York. Right.
You get used to the smell, if you live here. The mephitic wind took us up under Giovanni's bridge and almost to the Battery and then died. But we were near home now, and we had the current with us, and enough gas for the home stretch. So we doused the main and kept the jib up, for what little help it might provide, and dropped the little old outboard and fired her up and started chug-chugging up the river.
Motoring is not my favorite thing, but this was kinda nice. All the fireworks fans were gone. The river was empty. No commercial traffic, and the tall buildings on either shore half-lit -- in each of them there were probably a few driven cubicle rats still slaving away in chase of an ever-more-remote career prize, but surely, surely not many?
The water was calm and oily. One felt like a burglar, or a ghost, creeping along through the night while all the good citizens were asleep. It reminded me of a little book I used to read
my kids, when they were small, a sweetly illustrated version of Robert Louis Stevenson's nice tiny poem "The Moon:"
The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.
The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.
But all of the things that belong to the day
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.
The book I used to read to the kids must be long out of print. I can't find an image of
it online, and the vicissitudes of modern domestic life have shuffled the actual physical
volume off into some parallel universe where parents don't fuck up. But I remember the pictures: the darkness, the few dim warm lights from the houses, the dad and the little child going fishing, and the harmless comic-opera burglars climbing over the garden wall in the background.
On this tranquil and sentimental note I lay down on the starboard cockpit cushion, my head awkwardly propped against an empty gasoline jerrican, and fell into a deep deep primordial reptilian sleep, while Penelope steered the Scapegrace up the river.
She didn't even have to wake me when we drew abreast of 79th Street. Amazing how one knows
where one is, and what time it is, no matter how shut-down one's brain seems to be. Or perhaps
these profound slumbers are not so shut-down as we think, and our waking life is just a series of footnotes on what happens when we're asleep.
Whether or no: I popped awake, much refreshed, promptly forgot my travels in the land of the Mothers, and whatever I might have learned there. Saw vigilant Penelope at the helm, wide awake, looking as capable as stout Cortez and a lot more fetching. Our mooring was a quarter-mile away. The dinghy was still there -- not a thing to be taken for granted. I rummaged down in the cabin and found the clever quick-release hook and we crept up to the mooring and grabbed it on the first try, then closed up the poor boat any old how and dinghied back to the Boat Basin and slogged up the hill toward pavement and taxis.
We lucked out: the moment we emerged from Robert Moses' dank perverse subterranean Boat Basin, there was a cab, idling right in front of us, with a cheerful carefree young Chinese guy behind the wheel. Not a good place to look for fares, statistically speaking. One had the sense that this was maybe his first night on the job, and he was loving it: You mean... they pay me... to DRIVE? What a country!
We had to direct the happy young explorer turn-by-turn to our door, and you could just see him filing it all away for the benefit of the second fare of his career -- which may not happen for a while, unless he finds a better place to look for fares than the Boat Basin at two AM on a holiday weekend.
And so home, and so to bed, on a deck that doesn't move. What a concept.