Sunday, October 30, 2011

Another season over

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The Scapegrace turns into a pumpkin, as far as the 79th Street Boat Basin is concerned, on November 1. So this weekend I finally bowed to seasonal necessity and took her around to the Bronx, to Charlie Evers' wonderful boatyard, for the winter. I was expecting a milk run, having done this trip now a number of times. But I should have known better. Dat ole debbil, sea!

Here's the first odd thing. Getting out of the boat basin's crowded mooring field in a three- or four-knot current is a little tricky. One of the things you learn, after you've done it a few times, is what an mooring buoy looks like when it's been pulled mostly underwater by the current. (You do not want to run into one of these.)

They're round, the buoys, and they're never far underwater -- barely submerged, at most. So the water pillows up into a little smooth mound over the buoy, and there's a little turbulent wake downstream of it.

I worked my way through these menaces out of the mooring field into the channel -- or so I thought -- and started to breathe normally again, when I noticed, slightly off the starboard bow, a little lump of water, smoothly pillowed-up over something round, way further out into the channel than I would have expected a mooring buoy to be. And the wake looked different -- not just a patch of lumpy disturbed water downstream of the buoy, but a distinct vee-shaped wake, like what a boat would leave, or a rock in a fast-flowing freshwater stream.

Ten seconds' observation revealed that this object, whatever it was, was not stationary. It was forging upstream, at maybe two knots over the ground; five or six through the water.

Mooring buoys do not behave this way.

It was a whale, of course -- clearly a deeply bewildered whale, headed for Rockland County, with very little to expect in the way of cetacean amenities when it got there.

I tried to follow this poor devil for a while. All I could see was the very top and back of his or her head -- grayish, or rather tarnished-silvery in color; smoothly rounded; a conspicuous blowhole, single, not twinned, as far as I could tell. No clear idea how big the the underwater part was. I'm guessing maybe twenty feet.

He or she was stemming the current a lot faster than I could do. If I could have kept up, I think I would have followed this critter till I ran out of gas for the outboard. But no way; Leviathan had the advantage of what, a few million years of evolution, and Leviathan meant business. After five minutes of vain pursuit, Leviathan was a mere indistinct bump on the water, two hundred yards ahead; and so I reluctantly turned and left Leviathan to his fate, and pursued my own.

After this memorable encounter, it was an otherwise uneventful trip. Night fell, as it is wont to do. But I know the Hudson River and Hell Gate quite well, now, and motored -- no wind, alas -- blithely around the island and under the bridges and through the crazy swirling currents of Hell Gate without even glancing at the chart. (Ordinary I am a compulsive chart-watcher, so this was unusual, and I felt rather smug about it.)

Got into Eastchester Bay, and dropped anchor at about the spot shown on the map above, around 10 PM. I didn't want to try getting into Charlie's yard in the dark. Here's a closeup that may explain why:

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Close quarters and tricky turns.

I have anchored for the night at more or less the same position before, at the entrance to the bay, and spent a quiet night snoring tranquilly in the vee-berth. But this was not to be a quiet night.

Soon as I turned in, a nor-easter promptly blew up, sent big rollers all the way down the Sound and into shallow Eastchester Bay, where they turned into steep peaky nasty choppy things. Tossing the boat around on the anchor rode like a tetherball; I was worried that the rode might actually snap.

That big bruiser of a Bruce anchor wasn't going anywhere, though, not in that gluey muck of a bottom. Not a hair of anchor dragging, according to the trusty GPS, confirmed by my worried eyeball popping out of the cabin every half hour or so, into a very nasty cold damp night.

It was nasty damp and cold even in the cabin. When I noticed that my hands were shaking, I finally cranked up the little propane heater I bought two years ago, while marooned in Kittery, Maine, and that helped a lot.

Thirty knots of wind, gusting a lot higher. Crazy. Finally got so worried about the anchor rode that I pulled it up and went motoring further up into the bay, looking for a more sheltered spot. While I was doing that it got light.

Still didn't want to try going into the marina with a thirty-knot tail wind -- it's very confined in there and sailboats aren't that maneuverable in tight spaces. But as I was casting about for a suitable anchoring spot, there was a lull in the wind -- down to a reasonable fifteen knots or so -- and it started to snow.

So I nipped into the marina and if I do say so myself, got the boat into a vacant slip rather neatly.

Why is there never anybody watching when you do it right for once, I'd like to know?

Exhausted. Took a little nap on the boat, not having had much sleep during the night, then walked to the subway. Downed trees in the park, garbage cans blown all over the homely streets of the bungalow Bronx, and fat damp snowflakes landing on the hood of my jacket with an audible thump.

There's no such thing as a milk run.


  1. Do right for once? You missed perhaps the only chance you'll ever have to harpoon a whale! Think how proud you would have been, arriving home with food for the entire winter strapped to the roof of a taxi. Tsk, tsk.

  2. No way could I have harpooned that critter, even if I had had a harpoon and a peg for a shin and a grudge against whalekind. He or she had the legs of me by three knots or more.

  3. If I were marooned in Kittery, ME, I would shop at all the outlet malls there!

  4. I did! I loved the Kittery trading post -- is that what it's called -- and practically bought a whole wardrobe from the Barbour outlet store, including a pair of Scotch 'shooting breeks' in a loud plaid that I can only wear on Halloween.