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American Pie: Yorkshire Lass - Part III

...In bright sunshine and a stiff breeze, we fairly flew eastwards along the north shore of Long Island towards Port Jefferson. Florence was in her element. Her only complaint was “Why can’t we go faster?”...

John Merchant continues his account of his love affair and first cruise iun his boat Yorkshire Lass.

Part II found him in Manhasset harbor after surviving the trip around the Battery, up the East River and through the dreaded Hell Gate.

Now read on...

Part II found us in Manhasset harbor after surviving our trip around the Battery, up the East River and through the dreaded Hell Gate.

A common problem cruising sailors face, particularly novices like ourselves at the time, is that once you have arrived in a harbor it is sometimes difficult to leave. The longer and more arduous the journey, the harder it is to set sail again. Friends of mine who sailed the Atlantic to Spain, spent 6 months getting up the resolve to continue with their travel plan. In the end, it was only when their visa expired that they left the Spanish port.

This being our first cruise alone, we found plenty of reasons to hang out in Manhasset. Not least of these was the proximity of an elderly cousin of Sandra’s, now deceased. Despite her age, Florence loved to sail, and the more boisterous the conditions the more she enjoyed it. After a day of getting to know the area on our own, we agreed to take Florence for a day sail, along with her son and daughter in law.

In bright sunshine and a stiff breeze, we fairly flew eastwards along the north shore of Long Island towards Port Jefferson. Florence was in her element. Her only complaint was “Why can’t we go faster?” Much to our consternation, she insisted on lying on the bucking foredeck, despite the spray. When I exercised my captain’s prerogative and confined her to the cockpit for my own peace of mind, she gave in, but not happily.

The following day we decided to get on our way, pressured by the knowledge that we only had 6 days left of our vacation. In a reversal of the previous day’s rollicking sprint, we left our slip in calm conditions, heading further east for Huntington harbor. The wind remained light for the rest of the trip, making for a long day, even though the distance was moderate.

The final leg took us down Huntington Bay and into the long, narrow channel to the Harbor and West Shore Marina, where we had reserved a slip. At that time the Harbor area was relative uncommercialised, and the few restaurants and stores that existed were clustered on the opposite side from our birth. This involved a significant walk, but it was good to exercise after sitting on the boat. Our hike was rewarded by finding a small Italian restaurant with good food, in what had been a small private house.

Huntington is like most harbors on Long Island’s north shore. It is pretty and quaint, with clusters of white Victorian gingerbread houses, set in the surrounding hills amongst old maple and chestnut trees; and it is peaceful for the most part. But like the other ports of call, a walk into the town proper reveals a very different place. The traffic there is intense, and there is an urban feel about the people and the business activity.

This is Long Island’s true identity until one gets further out on the Island and away from New York City’s influence. We have revisited Huntington several times since that trip, and each time there was increasing evidence that the Harbor also has fallen prey to development, with large, sophisticated restaurants and nightclubs lining the waterfront.

That first visit happened to coincide with the Fourth of July holiday. There was also a gathering of tall ships in New York Harbor, with thousands of small boats anchoring to watch a spectacular firework display, staged on barges all around Manhattan. These attractions had the effect of emptying out Huntington of boaters, but there were enough people left, including ourselves, to enjoy the annual, antique boat regatta.
The parade of wonderfully restored, classic mahogany boats, with their crews and passengers in period dress, was a treat to see as they circled the harbor. Many of them had belonged to the magnates and tycoons of the early twentieth century. Some of the original wealthy owners had captains to pilot them into Wall Street after spending the weekend at their summer homes. En route, they were bathed, shaved and dressed by their valets before being served breakfast.

The next day we decided to leave and head home. It hadn’t been an ambitious cruise, but as a first attempt we were satisfied with our limited achievements. We’d learned a great deal that could be applied to future trips, and had overcome the doubts and anxieties that attended our novice status. The following day would test some of that newfound expertise.
Dawn arrived with fog and rain. Despite a forecast of “Occasional showers,” the rain gradually became a deluge.

The marine radio weather station at the Empire State Building at one point reported that rain was falling at the rate of one inch per hour in Central Park! We had no doubt. We didn’t have radar at that time, and only LORAN navigation, which was notorious for “blind spots,” so we literally sailed from channel marker to channel marker, feeling our way back to Manhasset.

After an uneasy night there, we set sail on the next to the last leg, back through Hell Gate and down the East River. The fog soon burned off, and just as we were congratulating ourselves on making good progress, we were dismayed to see a flotilla of sailboats coming at us in the narrow navigation channel, just before Hell Gate. They were apparently returning from the previous night’s fireworks. Many of them were flying spinnakers, the balloon-like foresails that allow only limited maneuverability. It was all we could do at slow speed to avoid collisions.

This delayed us quite a bit, and, as a result, we missed the favorable ebb tide on the East River. There were times when we were making no headway at all against the current. We eventually rounded the southern tip of Manhattan in the late afternoon, and it was clear that we would not reach our destination for the night in Haverstraw Bay.

At dusk, we slipped into the tiny Alpine Marina, set in a notch in the towering Palisades cliffs, just north of the George Washington Bridge. We left at dawn, anxiously hurrying back to our homeport. We’d be a day late for our return to work by the time we had unloaded Yorkshire Lass and made her shipshape.

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