Our Last Grounding! Ep. 63

You just can’t stay one night in New York City; the vibes from this metropolis pull you in and make you want to explore day and night! We ended up staying at the 79th Boat Basin for 4 nights, which gave us a chance to see some sights that we had missed in the Fall.

First on the list was a visit to Chinatown and the Little Italy area. They were doing a considerable amount of construction on the subway in Lower Manhattan, and at one point it felt like we were in one of those “ya caan’t git thar from hear” scenarios, but, New York never ceases to amaze, and we had no less then 4 people offer to help us find our way at different stages of the subway ride. With two kids in tow, a subway map unfolded and a befuddled look on our faces, I guess we appeared in need of help! Many years ago, when I visited New York, I was told by my Mom to avoid eye contact in the subway, to watch my wallet very carefully, and make yourself look tough! While there are still many examples of this persona on the subway, and many others that are lost in their world of iPods and cell phones, but I was struck by the kindness of mankind once again. On our first subway ride, a gentleman next to me began innocently chatting and then asked if we needed any help finding our way on the subway map. What ensued was a discussion between him and a young lady across the aisle on how best to get to the Chinatown area given the ongoing construction. When consensus was reached, we disembarked, and promptly became lost again! Throw a bunch of boaters on land without GPS and this is what you get! We were to ride a bus shuttle between stations, and a young man next to me freely offered, again before I could finish unfolding my map, to help us find our way. When our stop suddenly came and we clambered through the standing bodies to get off, sadly, I didn’t have time to properly thank him for his kindness. Only one day in NYC so far and we already had a lot to “pay forward”!

We found Chinatown, which was on the top of the kids must-do list, but some things aren’t as one imagines. The streets were extremely crowded, shop keepers seemed to have emptied all of the store contents onto the sidewalk for sale, forcing the throngs of pedestrians to either be forced into their displays (no doubt their objective) or join the sea of humanity snaking their way in and around the mayhem. This was time for man-to-man defense, as Karen and I each took a child and held on tight! At each intersection, garbage bins overflowed with the detritus of a shopping area that cared little for the environment, and storm drains tried earnestly to take away the foulest of thick gray ooze that had taken up residence in the gutters. Yet, the fanciest of high heels and penny loafers navigated these byways, worn by the swankiest of city folk, buying up fake watches lined up in neat little rows inside attache cases, and the latest knock-off DVD’s. We wanted to walk more of Chinatown, thinking that it would get better at the next corner, but we found nothing of interest to buy and fading interest in fighting through the crowds. A random turn down a side street brought quick salvation, though, as we discovered at least 4 restaurants with mouth watering Asian specialties on the menu – you just needed to ignore the fact that on one side of the street towered the New York City Detention Center (aka ‘jail’)! We chose a little Vietnamese restaurant, which served up cold beers for the adults and bottomless glasses of ice water for all – the heat of the day had left us fatigued.

Re-energized from dinner, we again embarked on the streets and quickly found the Italian district, butting up to Chinatown. Apparently, years ago, the Italians had a much larger swath of streets in the area but these have been obfuscated by the Chinatown dwellers. Still, a walk down Mulberry Street was far more pleasing to the eye, especially since they were in full swing with a summer street festival.

Here, instead of merchants selling every imaginable ‘patent infringement’ item, restaurateurs decorated their sidewalks with white tablecloth seating areas, festive lights and becoming hostesses. Our fun-o-meter was back in the green zone!

On our second day in New York, we split up, with oldest child and Karen heading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and youngest and I visiting the American Museum of Natural History. We were hoping to see scenes from one of our favorite movies, ‘Night at the Museum’, but alas, while the exterior of the building looked familiar, Hollywood was up to their usual trickery, and much of the movie must have been filmed inside some other museum. There was far too much to see in one day, but the museum held some excellent exhibits on the evolutionary theory of mankind and on dinosaurs. Despite arriving at the museum right when it opened, we were quickly inundated by large groups of kids that appeared to be part of local summer camp programs. Imagine, if you will, a long line of maybe 40 waist high kids, all wearing the designated bright yellow t-shirt emblazoned with “Jersey City Boys and Girls Club” (or some other seemingly legitimate kids program) and a couple of teenage camp counselors bringing up the rear, more interested in discussing the latest cell phone skin designs then teaching the kids anything. Now, replicate this group 4 times, choosing a unique bright colored t-shirt design for each, and you have a sea of little M&M creatures wandering the dinosaur exhibits! Sure, there was the 1-in-10 kid that stopped momentarily to twist a dial or push a button, but this milli-second encounter with history did not hold their attention and the child was off to rejoin his or her buddies racing through the halls. This was no more then a new playground venue! Irked by the M&M crowd, I was determined to give our youngest a better experience, and we spent considerable time reading the signs, observing the creatures, discussing and debating their features. While we had this special one-on-one time, I was determined to make full use of it!

Karen and Zack were thankfully spared from the summer kid camp crowd over at the Met, and our rendezvous inevitably led us, like a magnet, to Times Square. I had thought, when we had been here in the Fall, that every available building wall was covered with billboards and screens, but amazingly there seemed to be even more lights and sounds then before. Whole sides of buildings had been transformed into enormous TV screens, flashing ads from the Gap, or CNN, or Budweiser. A new store had opened up where there once was an ESPN Zone – it now was the M&M store – this time with real M&M’s! If you were willing to pay the $9/pound price, you could get M&M’s in any of a mind-boggling combination of colors. How about a bag of patriotic red, white and blue, or maybe the NY Yankees colors, or one of many college team colors! While, outside, people and cars continuously criss-crossed this intersection. I read that 1.5 million people pass through this spot every day – shocking!

Our other activities in New York including a Broadway play, ‘The Fantastiks’, which Karen and I enjoyed, but the family consensus was that ‘The Spelling Bee’, which we saw last Fall was more funny and memorable. Still, you can’t go wrong with the live theater in this town! We also spent a day at the Bronx Zoo, a pretty impressive operation given that it is shoehorned in between the buildings and highways of humanity. It is remarkable that they can support the animals as well as they do.

On the way home on the subway, we witnessed the ‘other side’ of New York antics. It was standing room only, and, between stops, a middle-aged man abruptly started screaming ‘You idiot, you idiot!’ to his neighbor. The accused look confused and finally, when the man wouldn’t give up screaming, he exited the car quickly. The rest of us settled down and avoided eye contact, but gave him a wide berth – it was just another day on the NY subway!

Getting ‘mooned’ by a pair of elephants at the Bronx Zoo… these fellas definitely need a marketing refresher course!
A tiger at feeding time… yes, there is a chain link fence between that big guy and his trainer!

On Wednesday, August 1st, it was time to say our good byes to the Big Apple and turn our bow for the trek towards Mattapoisett. I examined the tides and currents closely to set our departure time. The Hudson River, which we were about 6 miles inside of, has a good 3-4 knot current at its peak, but timing it for the best downriver current left you fighting the tide in the much more treacherous East River leading into Long Island Sound. And, the East River includes Hell Gate, a spot whose name speaks for itself! Trying to hit Hell Gate at slack water – what every guidebook recommends for safe navigation – meant we should leave with the last of the ebb on the Hudson River, conveniently at about 8:00 in the morning. The only troubling issue was the accuracy of the current tables, published in the Reed’s Nautical Almanac, which included a footnote on the first few pages stating that the current diagrams are no longer endorsed by NOAA – the kingpin of navigational chart data. Yikes! The hour long run down the Hudson River was picturesque and uneventful, but as we did a near U-turn at The Battery and headed through the East River, enjoying the ever changing view of Manhattan, we were surprised to be picking up a 2-3 knot favorable current. It was doing great things to our ETA, but what did this mean for Hell Gate? Sure enough, as we got closer to that infamous confluence of the East and Harlem Rivers, we were being flushed through the grand rapids of the Colorado River! At it’s peak, the GPS was showing 11 knots over the ground!

With a few deep breathes we were through the worst of it and settled down for a long motor on a windless day along the western Long Island Sound. Knowing that NY City was our last major tourist stop, and that Mattapoisett was just a few days away, I think we were all a bit introspective. We needed some vigorous sailing to take our mind off the impending end to the trip, but Mother Nature wasn’t working in our favor. We did still have a favorable current most of the day, and this allowed us to push on to the harbor at Port Jefferson, on the north coast of Long Island, by late afternoon. With it’s location about midway down Long Island, a ferry service has been able to still survive from the mainland Connecticut shore. If you look closely at the name of this car ferry, you’ll notice it is the ‘PT Barnum’.

The famous circus organizer, PT Barnum started this ferry service many a year ago to winter his circus animals on the fair lands of Long Island. The elephants, lions and tigers are long gone, but the town still thrives on what appears to be a strong tourism economy. I’m sure there are some that commute into New York from here, but it would be a long haul. Instead, we watched our youngest put their new balsa wood glider through initial flight tests in the expanding Harborfront Park, a very welcome addition to the waterfront and typical of what many of these progressive small towns are doing to draw people to the serenity of the water’s edge. Hats off to you folks at Port Jeff! But could you please add a public dinghy dock, for us wayward sailors?!

On our next day out, we needed to plan for our passage across The Race. This is a line of water that runs across the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound. Particularly in the shallow portions of the entrance, you will see a streak of standing waves and white water as the ocean alternatingly dumps in and draws away water from Long Island Sound. The Race stretches for 20 miles in a southwest to northeast direction, so, as a navigator, you have some options on where to cross it. We aimed for the middle, between Little Gull Island and Fishers Island, and what a ride it was! If you look closely at this next picture, you’ll see a line of white water in the distance. Now, as often happens on the wide open water with a little digital camera, the pictures don’t do the scene justice, but that white water is 3-4′ waves on an otherwise tranquil, windless day. In the foreground, you’ll see a pool of flatter water. These are large boils of water rising to the surface as less dense water (usually because they are less salty) than the surrounding water. If these boils are large enough, you can feel the push of their outward current on the boat as you pass.

In the middle of the race, I was impressed to see the GPS again read in the 11+ knot range, even though the circumstances were completely different than the compressed space of Hell Gate!

Discharged from Long Island Sound, we thought about, impressive as these currents were, how benign the Sound had been for us compared to our passage in the Fall. We all remembered with painful clarity the 25-30 knot winds and short steep waves that flipped our dinghy and beat us into temporary insanity until we found the protected waters of New Haven. If you asked about the handful of heavy weather experiences on the trip, that Long Island stretch is right up there!

Continuing our trip down memory lane, we motored on to our destination for the night at the Harbor of Refuge off Point Judith. There was some debate within the ranks about stopping at Block Island, but in the end the Harbor of Refuge won for its proximity along our rhumb line to Mattapoisett. On this occasion, we had a quite nights sleep without the worry of fixing the engine cooling pump, as it happened in the Fall. This was one reliable little Perkins engine, and I’d have to struggle to remember when the last time it failed us on the trip.

On our last day underway, we again pushed on under power. The wind was from behind us and just light enough to make sailing alone a rolling, slapping, banging affair. Fortunately, as we made our way into Buzzards Bay, we were able to put up sails and make respectable progress under wing-and-wing, followed by a romping beam reach for the last few miles into Mattapoisett Harbor. We easily found our designated mooring in the harbor, crowded with sailboats. This was it… our days of sailing were over! Now, we prepared for ‘reentry’! The task of getting the boat ready to be hauled, getting our house ready to move back into and all of the myriad of other things that life on land demanded of us was awaiting. Our first mission was to rent a car and drive to Kennebunk, ME where our good friends the Skillins were standing by with our minivan. Despite sitting for over a year and needing a new battery, it ran like a champ and we reveled in the world of 60-70mph life! My how fast you can put the miles away on the Interstate! We spent a few days sleeping at our home, in it’s cavernous, near-empty interior. How excited the kids were to run from one end of the house to the other, to discover their bikes again, and start unpacking toys they forgot they owned! The transition was in full swing. Back down at Mattapoisett a few days later, we began preparing Thalia to be hauled to our house. Getting grief from our New England boater friends for hauling in August, the best month in a very short boating season, we stuck to our plans – heck, we had enjoyed 13 months aboard Thalia in parts of the world that many people only dream of seeing. There would be other summers for us to re-discover New England sailing.

To make Thalia road-worthy, we needed to strip the deck of most of its hardware in order to drop her over-the-road height for the bridges – there would be no bridge openings for this stage of the trip! Here’s a picture of poor, naked Thalia!

After a long day with all four of us unscrewing bolts and folding sails, we needed a little levity, which came in the form of a dinner ashore with our friends from Dalliance, Marco and Holly.

We had first met Marco and Holly in Christiansted Harbor, St Croix. Holly was buzzing along in dinghy with the little outboard at full throttle and a beaming smile that said “I come in peace” and we enjoyed their presence ever since! They hail from Portsmouth, RI and were on a similar timetable to get through the Bahamas and up the East Coast, but despite many tries, we were unfortunately only able to rendezvous once in Charleston. So, it was with much excitement that we enjoyed dinner together and recounted the highlights of our two trips. Their one year journey had taken them across to Europe and then circumnavigated the Atlantic by way of a return leg to the Caribbean.

On the next day, Wednesday, August 8th, the capable folks at Brownell Systems hauled us from the ramp at Mattapoisett. Brownell invented the hydraulic boat trailer widely in use throughout New England for hauling keel boats. The entire trailer lowers down the ramp into the water and with six adjustable hydraulic pads, they can support the boat as the trailer is winched up the ramp. It is a fabulous system. Thalia was, for once, aground intentionally!

After a couple turns to loosen and unpin the rigging, they had the mast unstepped and she was on her way.

The end of Thalia’s travels… at our home in Bedford.

As the jackstands were secured and the truck pulled away, I turned to Karen and said, “Well, the adventure is over, ehh?!” So concluded an incredible year-long experience, a trip whose preparation nearly broke our spirit countless times, a trip that pushed us to the limit of fear, of exhaustion, of elation, of beauty, of friendship, of self-discovery. Karen and I struggle with how to answer the most common question, “So, how was your trip?” Where does one begin? We are so very fortunate to have completed this trip. Thank you to so many of you that have supported and encouraged us along the way. We could not have done it without you! Some cherished moments will never go away, like the generosity of Saba fisherman Leroy, which started with a 28 mile tow of stranded family’s boat to a rare glimpse into life aboard a tiny but proud Caribbean island. There was Carib1500 fleet doctor Miles who fielded my many anxious questions before and after the rally, few of which were medical-related, and Rick aboard Sophisticated Lady who tireless tried to fix our refrigeration in the heat of Village Cay Marina, and refused any kind of payment. I can clearly see the peaceful and proud face of Albert, our river guide in Dominica, and Moses, a Rasta-man who redefines the concept of a soup kitchen. Smiles come my way thinking about warm rum and cokes in the good company of Richard and Marni aboard Heaven Won’t Wait. And I can’t think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and St Patrick’s Day than with Asseance and Arctic Tern – you guys left us with a lonely trip back North! Bob, aboard Villomee, your geology lesson, in the lee of the volcanic islands, couldn’t have bee more timely. And, then there was Halifax. Almost a year ago, we were secure in the helping hands of the best Nova Scotia can offer – Gerald and Stan. Thank you, thank you! To the staff at the Bougainvillea Clinic, thank you for stemming the fear of a young boy, to close to the surgeon’s knife and too far from the comfort of home. To the nearly blind guide (OK, that sounds strange!) in Savannah, who walked us through the charms of the city and the city came to rest in our hearts – you were a one-of-a-kind! Thank you, Mo and Suzanne, for that watchful eye over our house and our bills. Your capable hands brought peace that will take a very long time to repay! … and we could go on and on!

For those of you in or near Bedford, Karen and I are planning a slide show night at the public library this Fall. Look for more details soon.

And finally, since I’m back in the job market, if you know of a position in the technology management space, please let me know! I can assure you, I’m the most refreshed and energized candidate on the market today!

Thanks for hanging in there and reading our updates. Lastly, if you are interested, we have put together a list below of trip statistics and anecdotes, some of which will hopefully produce a chuckle! Once you are done reading, shutdown that computer, get out there and make a day of it, OK?!

Trip Statistics

Total duration of trip: 13 1/2 months

Total length of trip: 7360 nautical miles

Average speed: Approx 5.5 knots (6.3 mph)

Total engine hours: 1197 hours

Total gallons of diesel burned: 623 gallons

# of gallons taken on by sportfishing boat ‘Buffer Zone’ in Davis Harbor, Bahamas: 825 gallons

Average gallons burned per engine hour: 0.52 gallons/hr

‘Miles per gallon’: 11.6 miles/gallon

Number of times ran aground: 8

Number of times ran aground before the ICW: 2

Number of times ran aground in the ICW and north bound: 6

Number of man-over-board situations: Thankfully none!

Number of times we voluntarily went overboard: Nearly everyday in the Caribbean!

Most precious thing lost overboard: My Mt Gay Rum Carib1500 cap (off Jost Van Dyke), and my homemade boat hook (Mattapoisett, our last day!)

Most talked about overboard item: Tom’s undercooked BBQ chicken, disposed by Karen!

First day of school: August 14th, 2006

Last day of school: June 29th, 2007

Typical school day: 8:00 – 11:00, but occasionally 9:00 – 2:00 and sometimes 7:30 – 3:30, and on one rare occasion 8:00 – 9:45!

Number of lessons: 160

Number of complaints about doing schoolwork: 160

Number of delayed openings/snow days: 0

Number of guests: 12

Number of fish we caught: 0

Number of fish that caught us: 5 (of the flying variety!)
And, next, we polled the crew with various best and worst questions…

Favorite Restaurant:

Karen – Sea View Restaurant in Dominica, Tom – Maho Bay Campground for Christmas Day dinner, Our oldest – Jimbo’s in St Martin, Our youngest – Long Bay Beach Resort breakfast buffet (Tortola)

Favorite Snorkeling Spot:

Karen – S of Canouan Island in S Glossy Bay with Todd and Julia, Tom – Tobago Cays, Our oldest – Mermaid Reef off Marsh Harbor, Abacos, Our youngest – Baths at Virgin Gorda

Favorite Bay:

Karen and Our oldest – Tobago Cays, Tom and Our youngest – Cinnamon Bay, St John, USVI

Least Favorite Anchorage:

Karen – Point Judith Harbor of Refuge, RI, Tom – Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, Our oldest – Saba, Our youngest – Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard

Scariest Moment:

Karen, Tom, Our oldest – Leaving Provo, Turks & Caicos through the coral, Our youngest – Griffon Ride at Busch Gardens!

Favorite Town:

Karen – Clifton Harbor, Union Island, Tom, Our oldest and Our youngest – Les Saintes (south of Guadeloupe)

Best Sailing Day:

Karen – Norman Island to Tortola when the dinghy photographer found us, Tom – Off coast of NJ going south in Fall, Our youngest – Going into Rockland, ME past all of the tall ships

Favorite Major City:

Karen – Savannah, GA, Tom and Our oldest – Halifax, Our youngest – Philipsburg, St Martin

Lowest Point:

Karen – St Martin when she broke the 2nd new digital camera!, Tom – Finding out our dinghy was stolen while the fridge was being fixed and our boat threatening to be impounded, Our oldest – When we knew we had to have our rudder fixed again and then the backpack was stolen, Our youngest – When we equalized the batteries at Dominica, St Martin and Tortola.

Most Beautiful Single Scene:

Karen – The two kids sitting on a rocky ledge overlooking the Tobago Cays (2nd place: Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia), Tom – The Pitons, St Lucia, Zack – Rogue’s Roost, Nova Scotia, Our youngest – Ram’s Head on St John, USVI

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