Friday, July 15, 2011

Photo gallery

Click to see full-size, as usual.

Aquambulists at Milford, mentioned earlier. A close look at the satellite view in that original post -- you may have to zoom in -- will unravel the mystery.

The electricity perplex.

I've had the terrible experience of having the nav lights go dim and then dead at the Hour of the Wolf, in the middle of Cape Cod Bay. This is a bad feeling. I replaced my inherited battery -- a starting battery, actually, which I don't need -- with a more capacious deep-cycle battery; but I'm still very paranoid and Pere-Goriot about amps. So I've embarked on an amp-saving campaign. Among other things, I've replaced the incandescent cabin light bulbs with LED versions. Here's the old inefficient bulb:

And here's the nice new efficient LED bulb, consuming, what, a tenth of the current the old one did. It's shown in situ:

It may be more efficient, but it sure spoils the retro Jetsons look of that original-equipment 1970s light fixture, doesn't it? Looks like some ill-bred child sticking his tongue out. The light quality is colder and less homey, too.

LED replacements for the nav light bulbs are next, though that may have to wait till next year.

I also sprang for a solar panel to charge the battery whenever the sun shines:

This image also shows the new dinghy -- I have yet to tell that story -- and a weird cylindrical object on the rail, over to the left, which is the receptacle for an imposing seven-foot LORAN antenna, now languishing in a Harlem storage locker.

You don't want to touch that antenna without gloves on -- it's made out of somewhat sun-degraded fiberglass, and it's like handling a cactus. Tiny splinters of glass fiber work their way under your skin, and itch for the next week.

There's a LORAN unit in the cabin, which actually worked when I first got the boat, and of course works no more, because the Coast Guard finally shut down the LORAN system last year.

I only once ever navigated a boat using LORAN, and that was, what, twenty years ago? The charts then used to have a Cabbalistic LORAN overlay.

Ah, progress. GPS is a lot easier(*). So I ought to take the antenna receptacle off the rail, and remove the obsolete receiver from the cabin. But I probably won't. I have a kind of preservationist mentality. I like the Scapegrace's period feel and won't change it any more than I can help.

Finally, here's the sort of thing you can see off your starboard quarter, at anchor in Port Jefferson, if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night:

It's not quite as scary as it appears. There's a big industrial mooring buoy a hundred fifty feet or so from where I anchored in Port Jeff, and tugs and barges use it a lot. This particular tug came in, during the wee hours, and tied up to the buoy. The subdued rumble of its idling engines woke me up, and I took the picture. The next morning, shortly after sunrise, a huge fuel barge came majestically into the harbor, bound for the Port Jeff power plant, and my neighbor cast off and went to help it dock.


(*) Though the FCC has apparently given GPS' adjacent frequency band to some fella called Sanjiv Ahuja, proprietor of an outfit called Lightsquared, whose business plan is to sell wholesale wireless data channels; not to people like us, but to "people" like Apple and Verizon. The sages predict extensive interference. I can't wait. Groping my way into Buzzards Bay at three AM, in the fog, and suddenly I've got no GPS because Sanjiv just cut a deal with Rupert Murdoch.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

All downhill from here

When I took the dinghy out of the semi-idyllic Sand Hole, there was actually some wind. By the time I got back on the Scapegrace and got the anchor up -- dying, dying, dead. So in the heat of the day I anchored again and tried to nap, a couple of miles west, off Oak Point:

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After several uncomfortable and steamy hours there, a bit of a breeze came up, from the north-northwest, and I was able to make a long board on the starboard tack past Sands Point and finally anchor, in the dark, in about twenty feet of water off Barkers Point:

View Sands Point, NY in a larger map

In the morning the gloomy vista of Hart Island, mentioned here before (scroll down), was visible a few miles across the Sound. Hart Island is New York's potter's field, where our penurious dead are parsimoniously salted away in six-deep tenements. But at least there, they need no longer fear being rousted by the forces of order or the the indignant proprietors of property. The place is a sort of memento-mori for me, in a way that a more ordinary graveyard is not, and I can never set eyes on it without falling into a very thoughtful state of mind.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A discovery

Attempting to leave Oyster Bay, I found myself becalmed, as usual on this trip, at the very mouth of the harbor. So I decided to improve the time by exploring a place I have often wondered about: the Sand Hole, on the west side of the outermost part of Lloyd's Neck (which forms the eastern side of the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor complex.) You can see the Sand Hole in context, a little vermiform appendix of water, bounded by sandbars, at the top of the satellite photo on the previous post. Here's a closeup:

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The chart shows enough water for the Scapegrace (which draws four feet) in most of the Sand Hole, except at the narrowest part of the inlet, just after you round the tip of the long rock jetty on the west and head south for a couple hundred feet. At low tide the chart shows three feet of water just there. High tide, of course, would be no problem -- the tide rises about seven feet in these parts -- but then the jetty would be submerged and invisible, a scary idea.

It was low tide when I decided to do my exploring, so I anchored the Scapegrace in the slightly shallower (lighter-colored) open water you can see to the west of the jetty, and take the dinghy in.

The throat of the inlet was indeed very narrow and very shallow -- certainly no more than three feet, maybe less. The current was still running out of it, creating a pleasant little bumpy rapids over the bar. It's one boat at a time -- if somebody's coming out, you wait before you go in.

Once inside, there's a nice Lost World feel, somewhat impaired by menacing signs around the first (southern) baylet you enter: PRIVATE NO LANDING PRIVATE NO ANCHORING PRIVATE PRIVATE PRIVATE GODDAMMIT HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU. But once you round the point that forms the eastern side of the inlet, and head north into the second baylet, it's all public land, apparently.

This was a Saturday, and the Lost World had apparently been re-found by some denizens of Stamford and such places. But there weren't many -- three or four boats when I came in, and they were all pretty well-behaved. Nobody playing music or shrieking with mirth.

I went to beach the dinghy in the little corner pocket on the west side of the northern baylet, and found to my surprise that you can't. The shore climbs at a forty-five degree angle, or nearly, and the bottom drops off an what appeared to be an even sharper angle below. So you don't slide up onto the sand; you bump into the bank, and your bow is nuzzling it while your stern is in maybe eight feet of water. But there was some kind of wrecked framework of big timbers a few feet up the beach -- the remains of a pier, perhaps? -- and the dinghy's painter extended far enough to secure it to this picturesque ruin.

I walked along the shore toward the east and north, exchanging civilities with a well-spoken small young family -- mom, dad, and tot -- paddling in the water near their motorboat, which they had backed up to the shore; that tells you how fast the bottom falls off. They had brought an anchor twenty feet or so up the shore, buried it in the sandy gravel, and put a big flat rock on top to keep the boat in place. Perhaps there was another anchor out in the water; I didn't notice.

There's a path that leads up into the scrub woods toward the north. Twenty feet from the water and all the smells change: dry, spicy, a little sweet and floral. There were some kind of cactus, or what looked like cactus to me, growing rife in little clearings, with very showy complicated big yellow flowers. Somehow I don't associate cactus with Long Island. I wish I knew the names of plants and birds, but alas, it's a closed book to me.

I wandered up a couple of the little ankle-deep rivulets that drain the big salt marsh to the east; this was really a lost world -- not a human sound; just the distant growl of the surf on the outside of the sandbar, the trickle of the little streams, the various cries of birds, so unintelligible and meaningless to an ornithomoron like me; it was like walking down the sidewalk in some parts of Queens and hearing languages that you can't even begin to identify; couldn't even tell what part of the world they might be from.

Had a quick and refreshing swim in the northern baylet. It was starting to get crowded -- some idiot even had a jet-ski, though he hadn't started using it yet -- and I packed myself into the dinghy and returned to the Scapegrace. I'd like to come back, on a weekday perhaps, after Labor Day, and try to bring the sailboat in -- though that initial entry would have me chewing my knuckles.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ruled by the wind...

... and circumstance.

An east wind this morning, after very discouraging progress toward Maine. And much to do back in New York. I hate a ticking clock -- they make me utterly miserable -- so I took the hint and turned back toward New York.

The Gods, acknowledging my submission, were kind.

Sir, no man's enemy, forgiving all, 
But will its negative inversion, be prodigal!
The east wind remained steady and whisked me across 24 miles of Long Island Sound in an afternoon, a very pleasant ride -- the sort of thing that might make a sail-hater reconsider.

But then the sail-hater would have re-reconsidered. Just outside Oyster Bay harbor, the wind died, and the rain came; but I motored in, glad for the coolness and the wet -- wearing a bathing suit and a ratty old cotton polo shirt for the first hour, and loving it, till finally I had to put on a jacket.

Oyster Bay/Cold Spring is a much-recessed harbor, a hassle to get in and out of. I want to be out soon, and I'm not expecting any heavy weather, so I dropped the hook in a non-standard anchorage:

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Weird waters -- the depth goes from sixty feet to twelve in half a second.

I continue to be amazed by the relentless voracious beach flies -- "greenheads", I think they're called, at least on Cape Cod. Sunset, temp in the sixties, rain pouring down, I'm scrambling around trying to dowse the mainsail and start the motor and keep the dinghy's towline from fouling the motor's prop; and a dozen greenheads are circling my naked shins like, I dunno, bail bondsmen at The Tombs. Every five seconds or so, one darts in like a dive bomber, grabs a chunk of high-fed Upper West Side flesh, and flies away before I can even start thinking about swatting him (or her? I can't tell).

The rain does slow 'em down. But even so, they're too fast for me.

About last night...

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Here's where I spent it, anchored behind Charles Island off Milford, Connecticut, a pretty spot. The town of Milford is a mixed bag. The public library (for fast free Wifi) is within walking distance of the town landing, as are several restaurants and the Metro-North suburban rail station, but apparently no grocery store, at least according to the pleasant girls in the restaurant where I ate dinner. (Of course suburban notions of "walking distance" are problematic and highly variable.) Anyway, no orange juice for me in the next couple of days.

While I was dining in high Milford style, another boater had come into the anchorage and situated himself far too close to me. I monitored the situation at intervals for a couple of hours, and finally concluded that we were going to bump into each other during the night. So I hauled up the anchor and moved.

It wasn't as difficult as it might have been, since the little anchorage has a nice even bottom with no nasty rocks. I had to put-putt around for a quarter of an hour so so, to find a spot that was reasonably sheltered by the island, and far enough from the other eight or nine boats, and far enough from the island that I wasn't likely to swing into shoal water.

Considerable rain and thunder during the night, which brought the temperature down nicely -- I was still sweating when I went to bed. Now a gray and cooler morning, with muttered threats of thunderstorms on the weather radio and a wind from the southeast.

What is to be done?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Escape from Port Jefferson -- sorta

When last heard from, your correspondent was languishing on a windless Wednesday in Port Jefferson, New York, which is a nice anchorage and not altogether an uninteresting place. There is a ferry which runs from there to Bridgeport, Connecticut, a place that will live in infamy as the home of Joe Lieberman.

I regret to say the ferries are car ferries; but as a result they are impressively large craft, and it's quite something to see them surging in and out of the narrow harbor. One of them is named the P. T. Barnum, which tickles me when I hear it calling on the VHF: "Securite securite, P T Barnum leaving Port Jefferson." I want to call back and say "This way to the egress, PT," but so far I have restrained the impulse. Wisecracks don't seem to be much indulged in on Channel 13.

Anyway, I ended up spending all day yesterday (Wednesday 6 July) and last night in Port Jeff. No wind in the morning, and then I had to wait for high tide to bring the Scapegrace up to the fuel dock and fill up the water tank. That was about 3 PM, and once it was accomplished, the weather radio was uttering dire threats about severe thunderstorms; and I don't love sailing at night, anyway. (I was planning on heading for Mattituck, which is about 24 miles away, and there's really nothing resembling a harbor or an anchorage anywhere in between.) So discretion -- or laziness -- triumphed and I dropped the hook again in Port J and spent the night.

The thunderstorms never materialized, though it did get a little breezy for about an hour.

This morning the wind situation looked a little better, so I fared forth. Of course, half a mile out of the harbor, the wind died.

Okay, I thought, I'll wait and see what happens. It's really quite unpleasant being out on the boat on a cloudless day in July, with no wind; the sun beats down into the cockpit, the cabin is an oven, and the sweat runs off you in rivers and literally pools under your ass if you sit down, and drips off your face if you bend over.

Finally a breath of breeze -- but dead foul; from the east; so I decided to modify my plan and head across the Sound to Milford, Connecticut, a place I've never been.

The little easterly breeze moved me along at two knots or so for a couple of hours -- then, you guessed it, died. In disgust I motored the last eight miles into Milford harbor, which has its charm. I'll write more about it anon.

Two hours of motoring full-throttle with my little Tohatsu 6 hp outboard consumed a gallon and a half of gas (or maybe a little less). It moves me along at four and a half knots and a bit, if I'm towing the dinghy (as I am). It's nice to know these stats but I never seem to take note of them.

Being in Port Jeff reminded me of a crazy windsurfing incident when I was much younger (though still old enough to know better). Maybe I'll write that up one of these days.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sights of the Sound

Holed up in the Port Jefferson public library; no wind. Here are some pictures. Click on 'em to get a bigger version:

Escape from New York:

Monstrosity in Oyster Bay, from the water. Looks like a branch of the US Mint, doesn't it?

Same, from above. Apparently it's actually somebody's house:

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Anchorage off Eaton's Neck. The Sound seems to be reclaiming Long Island. There are a number of houses perched above bluffs like this.

Clouds with shadows of other, lower clouds (maybe contrails?) on them. The sun had already set so the light was shining up. A curious sight.

Another monstrosity, this one in Port Jefferson. Note the denudation of the hillside. Possible the landscaping isn't complete, but the slope looks very steep to me, and the all-holy lawn may not be an option. The chainsaws were still busy in the woods to the right as I was anchoring. I don't believe this thing was here last time I visited. Surely I would have remembered?

From above. The hillside looks downright scrofulous.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Slow progress

I'm writing this, 72 hours after starting out, from a highly characteristic restaurant in Port Jefferson, Long Island. Haven't gotten very far, as you can see.

The project may have to be re-thought -- may turn into a little cruise in Long Island Sound, researching harbors I haven't visited before.

I might try the Connecticut coast for a change, though the charts make all the harbors look very intimidating --narrow crooked channels and rocks all over the place.

Spent Saturday night at anchor in Manhasset Bay; then after a discouraging slow gray rainy day ghosting along with almost no wind, the second night off a place called Peacock Point (if memory serves -- I didn't bring the log or the charts ashore). Lat/long, for those who know their way around Google Maps, is 40.901366,-73.61342. Don't have enough bits to embed a Google Map myself just now.

This was a little tiny cove half-protected by a cat's claw breakwater. Interesting as a glimpse of an older Long Island; there were rich people's houses on shore, but they were almost entirely hidden by trees. The more recent Long Island look is to build a grotesque monster McGormenghast and cut down all the trees for a quarter-mile around, so the glaring horror is set in a staring bare-faced lawn which extends right down to the beach.

I once wrote an essay that began, "The only thing more vulgar than a lawn is a view." Perhaps I'll try to find and post it. Long Island wealth these days seems to do both the lawn and the view con brio.

Third night, after another frustrating slow sweltering day wallowing at half a knot across the entrances to Hempstead Harbor and Oyster Bay, I dropped the hook on the eastern side of Eaton's Neck and spent a quiet Fourth of July night there. There's a long spit of low-lying sand called Asharokan (or Asharoken?) Neck connecting Eatons Neck with the rest of Long Island, and apparently it is a local custom to light bonfires every hundred feet or so along the beach on the Fourth. I think this is much nicer than fireworks, which always seem very Westphalian to me, not to say Louis XIV.

Once could see, through binoculars, the silhouettes of the celebrating local citizenry in front of the fires. It wasn't apparently all left up the The Experts and The Professionals; a rare thing these days.

Then today a slightly brisker run to Port J -- 2.5 knots or so, but the wind died a mile short of the harbor entrance and I had to motor in. The dinghy, which I'm towing, had banged at some point against the outboard, and jammed its bracket, which I had to pry loose, with much swearing, in order to get the motor back down into the water. Outboards! They'll be the death of me.

Into Port J for groceries and fuel and a meal that's been cooked, also a few beers. The city dock charges $12/hr to tie up your dinghy, but posh Danford's Marina only charges $10/day. Go figure.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Escape from New York

I wish I had a picture for you. I don't, for reasons that will appear below.

Once again, I've taken off for Maine -- Quixotically enough, since it takes forever to get there, and I have a million indispensable things to do this summer.

Well, maybe they're not quite indispensable; but I'll be severely criticized if I don't do them.

Still, bloody-minded and self-indulgent as I am, I'm on my way. How many more times, at my age, will I have this opportunity? Not many.

I got a little portable 3G/4G mobile hotspot from my ISP, and it actually sorta-kinda works -- I'm writing this update by lamplight, on anchor in Manhasset Bay.

Took off from 79th Street at 3 PM or so, motored down the Hudson against the wind but with the current; timed it just right and caught the turn of the current at the Battery at 5 pm, and eased up the East River and through Hell Gate on a following wind. Didn't even bother to raise the mainsail -- anything for a quiet life. Used the old creaky self-furler to open up the oversized genoa, which I'm using these days for reasons that require another post.

Much to reflect upon: the anxious knot in one's gut before one sets out on a mad adventure like this -- now gone, of course, twelve hours after its worst. The mental weather got better as soon as Scapegrace and I left the mooring.

Oh, and why no picture? Because the 4G/3G guys charge me by the bit. There'll be pictures as soon as we tie up somewhere and can use somebody else's network.