Monday, November 19, 2012

the wake

My last moment in the cockpit of the dear Scapegrace. If you're thinking the heeling angle is rather extreme, you're right: she's lying pathetically on her side, high and relatively dry, having been hauled up yesterday after almost three weeks underwater since Sandy sank her.

Or rather, Sandy and I sank her. Of course I blame myself. If only I had doubled up on the mooring lines, or picked a different slip to put her in.

There's a very sad photo gallery.

The cabin is full of Bronx muck. I picked up my snazzy inflatable life jacket and no kidding, a live crab fell out of it. Everything is tossed this way and that. We were able to retrieve a few sentimental objects. Sunt lacrimae rerum, as the poet says. But it was clear that even before she sank, the Scapegrace was practically turned upside down.

This is, was, a boat that saved me many times from my own incompetence. My last attempt at competence -- taking her to Eastchester rather than leaving her in the Hudson -- doomed her, as it turned out. I don't exactly feel guilty about that, anyway -- I did what everybody thought was right -- but I feel very unlucky; and in the unjust arbitrary pagan world sailors inhabit, that's a very bad thing.

As another poet says, there are so many we shall have to mourn -- and so many we already have to mourn, come to think of it. So maybe it seems very shallow and selfish to mourn a boat.

I don't deny it. And yet I do mourn. I loved that boat. I claim the sailor's superstitious privilege: I believe boats have minds and souls, and I ask the dear Scapegrace's pardon. I will never forget her.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Scapegrace, 1979-2012, RIP

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I didn't take a camera when I finally got myself up to Charlie's boatyard today, to find out definitively what had happened to my dear old girl -- the first time I could get there, and Charlie has had his hands full, and for a long time he didn't even know which wreck was which. I wasn't optimistic, though hope dies hard; it was clear from earlier, fragmentary conversations, that the outlook was not good.

Since I didn't have the camera, I can't show you her spar, all that you can now see of her, still bravely bolt-upright above the water, in another marina a few dozen yards up-bay from Charlie's. Her hull is submerged, even at an exceptionally low tide, but she seems to have gone down plump on her bottom into the muck of Eastchester Bay, like a dowager duchess into an armchair. That was a hell of a boat. How I will miss her.

It was the storm surge that did it -- many feet over anything ever seen in Eastchester Bay. Waves -- big, solid, green waves -- were breaking over the asphalt in Charlie's yard, and undermined the pavement beneath the boats he had already hauled. His own sailboat, with all the rest, went toppling off her poppets, and ended up driving her bow through the windows of his house, before finally ending up on the riprap beneath. The yard looks like a demolition outfit has been at work on it with jackhammers -- big gaping voids in the pavement, a tricky shifting surface underfoot that feels more like quarry rubble than anything meant to be walked on.

Scapegrace had not been hauled yet, so what seems to have happened to her was that storm surge and wind and wave either tore her away from her float, or indeed may have torn the whole float away from its pilings, and she drifted -- bow to the wind, of course -- up the bay until somehow she grounded in this other marina. I have to assume the hull is holed, or she would have gone farther, with the water so high, and been beached at the head of the bay; wind and swell, I'm told, were driving right in from the south at the height of the evening tide, about 9 PM or so on that dramatic Monday, the 29th of October, 2012.

The map above shows you her resting place, at the arrow -- not, alas, her final resting place.

I would rather she had disappeared without a trace, somewhere in the ships' graveyard of Long Island Sound, among other respectable and long-lived vessels, finally and honorably done in by the insuperable greatness of sea and air. Strength and courage will take you far, whether you're a boat or a person, but there are divinities in the world much mightier than any virtue of ours, and when those divinities hand down their judgement, we can only kiss the rod. Complaint, somehow, seems more feeble and undignified than acquiescence. If you contend with the gods -- as all sailors do, ex officio -- you had better prepare to accept defeat like a man.

But alas, to disappear without a trace -- that noble fate was not Scapegrace's. She is now blocking traffic in a Bronx marina, and though I greatly approve of blocking traffic, in general, this means that her passing will be attended by squalid negotiations with insurers and the folks who will haul her out of her muddy armchair and off to -- what? I don't even want to think about it.

The Boat Dudes at Charlie's yard were very kind. More than kind. Oh, they weren't effusive; there weren't any man hugs, or anything like that. Not their style. They too were men who had had losses, many much greater than mine, and took them in a fine heroic spirit; they even seemed to find a certain pleasure in rehearsing the spectacular horrors of that unprecedented night. Tony took me on a tour of the disasters, and hard-bitten Emil softened his expression momentarily and made a cell-phone call to somebody I needed to talk to. It doesn't sound like much, I know, but for the first time I felt like one of the boys, rather than a merely acceptable, polite, and well-tolerated outsider.

I have learned a lot from these guys, at a time of life when learning isn't so easy.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

On the mooring at last

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I don't suppose that's actually the Scapegrace in the satellite photo, though it could be; I have pretty much the same mooring I had last year -- right in front of the Normandie apartment building, and less than half a mile from the 79th Street marina, which is convenient. Here's the Normandie building (not my photo):

Named, I gather, after the ill-fated luxe passenger liner which burned and capsized at Pier 88, now the Passenger Ship Terminal, in 1942:

I assume they named the building after the ship before it sank.

I hate to see pictures of sunk boats, though there is a certain gruesome fascination in it. And I may have mentioned that my own poor dinghy -- almost brand-new -- sank at Charlie's dock, sometime in the week between the day I inflated it and put it back in the water and the day I came back to take Scapegrace and dinghy back to the Hudson.

Naturally I thought the project of taking Scapegrace back had been scuttled by the loss of the dinghy; how would I get back from the mooring to the marina?

Fortunately I had enlisted the company of an individual more resolute than myself, a friend of some years' standing -- let's call her Ariela. Ariela is a keen sailor and a great problem-solver. Her brother Pete also keeps a boat at 79th Street, and Ariela, upon receiving my dismal email canceling the trip, called up and said, Don't be silly; when we get there, Pete will come and fetch us in his dinghy.

So last Sunday morning Penelope drove Ariela and me up to the Bronx, and I'm sure she heaved a sigh of relief, as she drove home, that she, at least, did not have to spend the next six hours or so on the boat. Ariela had brought much nicer provisions than I usually get for myself, and the day was warm and sunny. We managed to get the Scapegrace out of her temporary slip and out into the bay without mishap, and sailed pleasantly south down the bay with a ten-knot west wind.

Then of course we hung a right at the Throgs Neck Bridge and the wind was in our teeth -- and it had freshened, too. If I were single-handing, would I have tacked all the way to the Brothers, or would I have motored?

Who knows? But certain it was that with Ariela on board, there was no question of motoring. So we did tack from Throgs Neck to Brothers, Ariela at the helm and me working the lines, and I got quite a workout, particularly with that balky mainsheet traveller -- can't recall whether I've mentioned it before, but it requires some serious manhandling. All quite exhilarating though, heeling fifteen degrees and more, and spanking along at six knots plus.

The wind kept backing southerly, and by the time we got to the Brothers -- the gateway to Hell Gate -- I really didn't feel bold enough to tack through those narrow waters, particularly with the current running four knots or so. We furled the jib and let the main free and just motored through the tricky bits. Ariela had brought along some homemade Bloody Mary mix -- with fresh horseradish -- and the other necessities, so on the principle that the sun was no doubt over the yardarm somewhere, we hoisted a convivial glass to the East River, not ordinarily my favorite body of water, but much pleasanter with a cheering beverage in hand.

Down the narrow river, current strong in our favor but wind fluky and mostly foul, so we just idled the motor -- enough for steerageway -- and let the river take us down to the Battery. Needless to say, as soon as we cleared the last pier and headed west -- under sail again -- for the Hudson, my old nemesis the Staten Island Ferry leaned on its direful horn -- tuba mirum spargens sonum, as the song says -- and even though it was Sunday morning, leapt at us from its slip, fangs bared, seeking whom it might devour.

This was the first time Ariela and I had sailed together, so our attempt to do a few 360s until the ferry got well clear were highly comical -- missed signals, fouled sheets, a certain amount of decent profanity directed at no particular target. The jib managed to wrap itself fiendishly around the forestay, but we somehow got that sorted out, and once the ferry had gone its dismal way to Staten Island -- facilis descensus Averno -- we headed up the Hudson.

Encountered a blustery cold wet squall at about Canal Street which lasted maybe fifteen minutes and left us both drenched and cold but did no other harm. We were a little early for the turn of the tide, and there was a half-hour or so after the squall when the wind wasn't strong enough to stem the current and we had to motor again. But as the current slackened the wind picked up, and we ended up making our way up to the Boat Basin in fine style, under sail and looking very competent, I think.

Picked up the mooring without incident, and Pete came out in his dinghy and took us ashore. The sort of day that reminds you why you like sailing.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Take nothing for granted

No images for this post, alas, and no background. I should have chronicled the whole arduous process of getting the boat water-ready this year, including a preposterous comedy of errors in connection with the notoriously worn Pearson 26 lower rudder-post bushing, which I shimmed up in a very ghetto fashion. It might last the season; let's hope.

Finally, everything was ready. I inflated and re-floated the rubber dinghy. I retrieved the outboards from Sheila's Home For Wayward Motors on City Island(*), put one on the dinghy and one on the Scapegrace, and gave Charlie the green light to put Scapegrace in the water.

Came back a few days later, ready to take the boat around the Horn -- I mean the Battery, of course -- and into the Hudson. What should meet my eye but the dinghy deflated, sunk at the dock. Some kind soul -- I think it was Emil, whom I have mentioned before; I know his knots -- had tied a lined around the outboard and cleated it to the dock, so it hadn't been immersed, and that was OK.

But the dinghy -- a downscale rubber-ducky -- was a dead loss. It appeared to me that somebody had pinched it hard against the dock and driven an aluminum floorboard right through the walls of the starboard and port pontoons, making a foot-long tear in each. Maybe somebody could patch wounds like that; but I cannot.

I felt like cutting my throat. But the Boat Dudes soon made me feel better. I was invited onto one boat for meatloaf and mashed potatoes -- which were delicious, let me tell you -- and given some sage advice there. And I got plenty of other sage advice; the most creative was to fill the pontoons up with two-part foam and you'll never have to worry about inflating it again. Emil showed me a three-quarters-sunk dinghy which the cops had found floating in Eastchester Bay and dragged into the marina three years ago. A few bolts, and a lot of 5200, and it would be fine.

I'm sure Emil was right. In an afternoon he could have made that dinghy a thing of beauty. Bit too much of a project for me, though.

I had lined up a couple of prospects to come along on the trip from Eastchester to the Hudson, via Hell Gate and the East River and the deathly lair of the Staten Island Ferry. But this disaster seemed to have knocked that project on the head; once we were on the mooring at 79th Street, how could we get to dry land without swimming(**)? So I called my pals up and told 'em "indefinitely postponed".

As it happened, things worked out a bit better. But I'll save that for another post.


(*) Sheila doesn't have a Web site: this is the best I can do:

(**) Which would be quite easy, actually. The mooring is maybe 30 feet from shore. But it seems unthinkable, somehow. For one thing you'd have to walk home starkers for a mile and change. I wouldn't mind if I were in better shape. But I'm not.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring is... springin'

So work has begun, belatedly as always, on the Scapegrace, who survived a remarkably mild winter remarkably well. The picture above kinda makes it look like she's in the water, but that's a ways off: bottom needs scraping and painting, the ugly blue patch of duct tape covers a hole where the thirty-year-old Ritchie compass came off the bulkhead to be sent home for reconditioning, and there's more work to do than I even want to contemplate.

Oh, and the human girl is my dear daughter who kindly accompanied her dad to the yard today.

It was a good day.

There are dirty days to come: here's the bottom:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Scapegrace is sleeping quietly on her poppets in the Bronx, and the outboards are sleeping quietly at Sheila's place on City Island, and the fishy-smelling folded-up rubber dinghy is stinking up our storage locker in Harlem. But the weirdly temperate February weather has started up the old itch, an itch that wouldn't have shown up for another month in a normal year: time to go out and scrape the bottom -- especially that dismal boot stripe; I owe you a picture but I'm almost afraid to take it. And the sails need some stitching, which I could have done two months ago and haven't. And I should take the covers off the cushions and bring them home and wash them; two sweaty bachelor weeks in Long Island Sound last year left them smelling like the lion house at the zoo.

Being a sailor is a bit like being a Mormon: you have more than one spouse, and strangely, the voiceless boat has her ways of invading your dreams too.