A Memorable Sail Up Long Island Sound

April 1, 2020
A Memorable Sail Up Long Island Sound

We motored out of the harbor at the Liberty Landing base in New Jersey as the sun was rising behind the Statue of Liberty. It was a sight I shall never forget, a thrill for an immigrant to the USA.

Soft light illuminated the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan which were tinged with pink as we crossed the Hudson and passed around the southern tip of Manhattan and under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, leaving the dawn behind us. The huge distinctive yellow Staten Island Ferries were ploughing their way across the East River and as a 26 foot sailing vessel, Caroline, the skipper, had a challenge to avoid them. We were not allowed to sail in this area because the Ferries could not give way to sail, they move too fast and are not easily maneuverable.

We, my daughter and I, had arrived at Newark airport the afternoon before, sporting our gear. Caroline had checked in her backpack with a long paddle strapped to it. Her hand baggage consisted of an inflatable tender, a radar deflector, and canoe cushions which doubled as life preservers, whilst I had a new empty gas tank, a hand held GPS, a tool set and a first-aid kit. I believe we wore our life-jackets. My checkin was a cooler holding my clothes and the sleeping bags.

My son was teaching in Long Island and that was the year when he had a car in NYC, so he met us and took us grocery shopping. After delivering all our gear including the ice for the cooler to the boat, and meeting Tyler, the manager of the New Jersey Base, we went for a celebratory dinner.

I had my captain’s license, but Caroline had U.K. Yachtmaster’s certification and much more experience sailing in tidal waters.

Steve Colgate (the owner of the Offshore Sailing School and one of the designers of the boat) had been most helpful when I was unable to sell it in the week following its 3 year lease in Florida. He needed the berth for a new boat and offered to trailer mine to New Jersey where they could use it for the extra season, giving me longer to advertise it or allowing us to sail to Stamford, Connecticut, where i could leave it with a broker he recommended who used to be an instructor on the Colgate 26.

In conjunction with Tyler, they loaned us sails, charts and insisted on lending us an extra gas tank for the brand new 3.5 HP Nissan motor I had bought and had delivered to the base. Tyler was a good friend of Hilary, the broker, since they had taught together in Florida. He said I could leave everything with her and he would collect it sometime.

I had my captain’s license, but Caroline had U.K. Yachtmaster’s certification and much more experience sailing in tidal waters. She did her homework with tide tables and worked out we should leave soon after low tide which coincided with the dawn that August day. She said we would benefit from the incoming tide helping us up the East River. She needed to vary the r.p.m. on the brand new outboard motor which was to be sold with the boat.

She never had the throttle out more than 50% for the first 2 hours yet the handheld GPS registered 10 knots as we motored past the impressive United Nations Headquarters. On several occasions, we found ourselves rocking side to side, the result of  washes from numerous ferries racing each other as they crossed our bow or stern. Many were “New York Waterways” ferries carrying a lot of New Yorkers to work.

The wind was directly over our bow and had we been allowed to sail, we would have had to tack continuously. We motored all the way to Hellgate which we had been warned could become a whirlpool under certain current and tide conditions. The Haarlem River flows into the East River just as the tide along Long Island Sound converges on a narrowed channel when it turns south.

Moonlight shimmered on the water giving the night an eerie feel. 

Caroline was right when she predicted the outgoing tide in Long Island Sound would help us once we raised the sails after motoring under the bridge and through Hellgate without a hitch. We were able to keep on course and initially sailed close-hauled, later on a broad and then a beam reach, making excellent time, 4.5-5.2 knots per the GPS.

We put into Brewer Yacht Haven Marina arriving as planned about 4 p.m. The sunset was pretty, with pink wisps of clouds doing a scarf dance across the sky. The marina was experiencing a complete power outage, I slept up on deck, Caroline in the berth below. I had never slept on the pocket cruiser and found it very adequate for 2 persons, though one needs to be limber to crawl in below. The lack of electricity meant the marina was exceptionally quiet and dark, allowing us to pick out the constellations in the sky and appreciate many more stars than usual. Moonlight shimmered on the water giving the night an eerie feel. We slept like logs after our day in the sun.

We motored out of the river the next morning and found Long Island Sound like a millpond. There wasn’t one wisp of wind. The telltales sulked and pointed to the deck, so once out of the channel we got on course and were thankful for Tyler’s insistence on lending us the extra gas tank. An hour later, the wind came up across our stern and we sailed most of the day on a beam reach at 3.2 – 4.2 knots.

One of the sailors we met the night before had suggested we might want to spend our second night in Milford, a delightful Connecticut town one could walk into. We radioed ahead to make sure there was an available visitor’s slip, then motored up the river. The facilities were excellent, including picnic tables and barbecues, had we brought something to grill. After showers, we went into Milford and explored the center where they were having an oyster festival, before returning to sleep well under the stars again.

I tied everything down and prepared for a storm.

The weather threatened to break on our third and last day. As we motored out dark clouds gathered in the west. I tied everything down and prepared for a storm. We could see it raining on the horizon, though we never saw any lightening. The bad weather blew out across Long Island behind us, and when the sun broke through the clouds we started to get some wind from the southwest helping us on our course.

We were well offshore and sailing on a beam reach, but there was a lot of jib flapping as the mainsail took its wind. I furled it in but our speed slowed to 2.9 knots so Caroline decided it was time for the Spinnaker which Tyler had put in the sail bag. I had never sailed with one, so Caroline rigged it while I took the helm, which we shared throughout the trip. The red, white and blue voluminous sail was spectacular, and certainly helped our progress, increasing our speed to 3.7 and occasionally over 4.0 knots.

We managed to reach our destination and the broker mid-afternoon in time to furl in all the sails and clean the boat leaving it completely shipshape. As we were showing it to Hilary with all our gear under cover on land, the sky darkened, the thunder rolled and the lightening was relentless. We were soaked, just getting off the boat. We were so thankful we could call a taxi and go to a quaint bed and breakfast where we stayed dry and comfortable for the night.

David arrived after we had breakfast the next morning to return us to Newark airport.


Photo for A Memorable Sail Up Long Island Sound by Unsplash.

About Dr. Margery Franklin

After 40 years of practicing pediatrics, retirement has afforded Margery the opportunity to travel more extensively and pursue her interests in photography and writing. She often travels alone, but sometimes with one or more friends as when she walked 90 miles on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 2016.

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