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

View Larger Map

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.