Falkner Island, Long Island Sound
Boat Restoration at Mystic Seaport
Aquinnah Cliffs, Martha's Vineyard
Life with Principle
|There are two options for northbound sailors leaving New York City: 1) head offshore into the Atlantic, passing around the south side of Long Island or 2) navigate the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn and hold onto your hat as you transit "Hell Gate" into Long Island Sound (a 100 mile long stretch of protected water bounded by Long Island on the south side and Connecticut on the North).
We chose option 2. Although we knew Hell Gate would prove exciting (read, stressful), the 100 mile stretch between Long Island and Connecticut would be well-protected from weather and a nice change of scenery. It would be hard to miss the flotillas of garbage peppering the Hudson and the East River.
The "gate" is actually a narrow section of the East River which separates a region with a large tidal variation. The western Long Island Sound has a tidal variation of 8 feet and upper New York Harbor has a range of 3 feet. As tides change every 6 hours, water rushes through the East River from the high to low side creating an impressive (and scary) tidal current complete with whirlpools, eddies, frothing wavelets, and can nearly resemble a horizontal water fall. It’s so strong that the max flow rate that at the narrowest point (Hell Gate) the tidal speed actually exceeds the top speed of our boat. And, this mess reverses directions every 6 hours with the tide change.
Consequently, it’s VERY IMPORTANT to time your passage through Hell Gate so that you are sailing with, and not against, the current. We scheduled our departure accordingly, and had a screaming fast passage down the East River. We actually registered a top speed of 12mph on our GPS. This is jet-like speed for a boat with average cruising power of 5 mph.
A few hours after entering Long Island Sound, Christine pointed out a foul odor coming from somewhere in our boat. I opened the engine room door and was overwhelmed by the smell of diesel fuel. There was a good size puddle of the stuff on the engine room sole (sole = floor). After several minutes of futile cursing, I decided to grab a flashlight and see what the hell was going on in there.
A gasket on the fuel pump had gone bad and the pump was steadily leaking fuel. Fortunately, a few baby diapers were all that we needed to stave off the situation. We keep a good supply of baby diapers on hand for cleaning up after oil changes (turns out those things absorb a lot more than what they’re intended for). After a bit of experimenting we discovered that by stuffing diapers under the engine we could actually run it for several hours before it "needed to be changed". Of course, this was a temporary fix. After calling a mere local 100 mechanics (all off for the Labor Day weekend) we found a shipyard that could do a real repair in Mystic, CT.
2 days later we limped into Mystic's Harbor to pick up the mooring we reserved with the shipyard's mechanic. When I called the Harbormaster that morning, he informed us that we might want to wait for high tide to pick up our mooring. It turned our new anchorage was in 3.5 feet of water. Our boat drafts 5 feet.
I was irritated this wasn’t mentioned during our previous conversation and pointed out the obvious to him. That while we might be able to sail in and pick up the mooring at high tide, things would turn mighty interesting 6 hours later at low tide. "Dont worry, our bottom here is very soft mud, you'll just sink right in.” Perfect. And we did, sink right in. We moored at Mystic for the next 5 days, doing a bit of foot touring while the engine was repaired.
Mystic, CT wasn't on our original New England itinerary, but it turned into a highlight. Its home to the world’s leading wooden ship recontruction yard (part of the Mystic Seaport Musuem). The yard has a fleet of restored wooden vessels, everything from yachts and small work boats and a massive brigantine cargo ship. It’s open to visitors and volunteers.
When we toured the facility they were in the process of re-caulking their latest boat project ('caulking' a wooden boat is the process of ramming a mixture of hemp rope and tar in between the planks of the hull to make them water tight). We spent two days in and around the boat yard and museum and we were in nautical heaven. The stay in Mystic re-kindled my ambition to build a 1-man plywood pirogue (southern canoe), which I never quite found the time for in Texas.
By the time the fuel pump repair was complete we had to hustle to meet up with my parents on Martha's Vineyard in Massachussetts.
We had a great sail from Mystic to Martha's Vineyard, a fast broad reach the entire way. Our momentum however was shortlived. When we arrived at Vineyard Haven, dropped the sails, and anchored, we discovered that our newly repaired engine would not start. My response to our predicament was to perform the one and only diesel repair that I actually know how to do for a motor that won’t start: bleed the
This actually worked! The engine started and hummed along perfectly as we navigated the entrance channel to Vineyard Haven . . . and then died again. After shouting at the seas, giving the engine a kick (and insulting its mother) I gave up. We did somehow manage to manuever into the Vineyard anchorage under sail alone. Hurray! Who needs a motor?
With the anchor set, I went about trying to bleed the fuel lines again, and probably would have successfully run the engine for at least another 3 minutes if the battery hadn't died while bleeding the lines. Arrgh and blast!
Fortunately Vineyard Haven is a sizeable town with a fully equipped marine store within walking distance of the beach. Now, in need of a new starting battery, we decided to dinghy ashore, recycle the old battery and purchase a new one.
By the time we made it back to the boat with the new 50 pound battery in tow, I'd calmed down enough to realize that I should probably do something more permanent than just drain a new battery while starting the engine only to have it die again. Building on my limited knowledge of diesel engines (and I mean limited people, remember, if it doesn’t involve bleeding a fuel line I can't fix it), I decided to check every spot I could find along the fuel lines where air might be leaking in.
MIRACULOUSLY, I actually found the root of our problem; the mechanic who replaced the fuel pump forgot to tighten the bolt on our primary fuel filter! It was so loose it was rattling around. So I tightened the hell out of the bolt, bled the lines one last time and we were back in business.
We met my folks in Vineyard Haven and had a couple of lovely days of sailing paired with a few days of historical land touring together. We left the boat moored at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard (thank you Mom and Dad!) and ferried to the mainland to tour New England.
First stop, Plymouth, MA. We toured Plymouth Rock, the original pilgrim settlement, and a Mayflower replica, that was built in England and actually recreated the original voyage under sail to Plymouth Harbor in 1954.
After Plymouth, we drove to Quincytown (a suburb of Boston), and toured the presidential homes of, you guessed it, the John Adams' (both jr and sr). We visited the first presidential library ever built and ended our tour with a short trip to Walden Pond. Visiting Thoreau’s Walden was a quiet change from driving and touring. The pond is really more of a lake and reminded me a lot of northern Wisconsin. The National Park Service has constructed a replica of the cabin there. This proved easy to do, since Thoreau describes the cabin in Walden with excruciating detail, right down to a line item budget of construction costs. The original site of the cabin and foundation are also preserved. The surrounding landscape felt exactly as Thoreau described it. Our walkabout Walden was the ideal end to our week apart from the boat.