You’ll all forgive me but with far too busy of a schedule today, I’m reposting a previous post from Write on the Water. I was discussing this very topic with a friend only yesterday, how, as the thermometer climbs to unpleasant heights, more than anything, I’d love to take a nice, refreshing dive into the Hudson.Yes, the Hudson River.
I know. People hear ‘Hudson River’ and they immediately imagine a stew of sewage and toxic waste, with mobster disposals, tires and God only knows what else floating in on the tide. But thanks to the efforts of the kind folks at Clearwater and Riverkeeper, along with countless other grass-roots environmental groups, the Hudson is a vibrant and healthy river, alive with blue crabs, record-setting striped bass, sturgeon, eels, and even sharks. During the winter it’s not unusual to see seals frolicking and basking on the vacant docks while bald eagles nest on the cliffs, osprey plunge down for fish, cormorants crowd the rocks and night herons patrol the shores. Occasionally deer decide the grass is greener on the other bank and you’ll see them swimming across. Foxes and coyotes are not uncommon, and Bear Mountain lives up to its name. But those unfamiliar with the area look at the brownish water, murky with natural silt in the same way as the Mississippi, and assume the coloration equals pollution. But I’ve long known, it’s some of the best swimming water you could imagine.
First off, that silty water has many wonderful qualities. For one, it holds warmth, so the water reaches a pleasant bath-like temperature much earlier than the Atlantic, and retains it well into fall. It’s brackish, not quite as harsh as pure salt water, but still retains those wonderful buoyancy-enhancing abilities. And that silt seems to have a ‘clay bath’ quality; a nice soak in the river leaves skin feeling soft and rejuvenated. After a lifetime of swimming in that opaque water, I’ll admit I’m almost suspicious of any water I can’t see. But I still get odd looks from those who don’t ‘get it.’ I still recall the time a transient boater at our boatyard, heading up the brown river, regarded my daughter and I in horror when they discovered we’d actually been swimming. I told them we’d both been swimming in the Hudson for our entire lives with no ill effects, though they regarded us strangely and looked far convinced. It wasn’t until later that I realized why they might have been a bit skeptical. My daughter was in her teens, at a point where she had been dying her hair a lovely shade of vivid blue, and I even sported a few cobalt streaks for fun. We still laugh about that.
But the funniest ‘swimming in the Hudson’ story will always be the ‘dead baby’. Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds, in fact it has gone on to be a family joke. Just stay with me on this one — I can assure you no infants were harmed in any way. We had dropped the hook at Croton Point, one of the most popular anchorages in the area, and we had some guests aboard. It took some coaxing to convince them the water was indeed safe for swimming – they were certain it lived up to every horror story they’d ever heard. Finally they went below, changed into swim suits, then proceeded tentatively to the swim platform… and that’s when the screams of horror erupted. One of our guests was incoherent, she couldn’t even relay what had set her off, it was so unspeakable. But her companion pointed overboard to the oblong ten pound shape, clothed in sodden white fabric and gently bobbing, half submerged, a few feet astern of the boat. “Dead baby…” he stammered, clasping the transom to steady himself. “There’s a dead baby in the water!” At which point, my entire family began laughing.
Yes, I come from a warped background. Shocking, I know. But we’re not *that* bad! (Okay, maybe we are, but let’s stay on topic.) We reassured our guests it wasn’t a deceased infant floating on the tide – it was dessert. Let me rephrase that – it was a watermelon. With limited room in the icebox and no air conditioning aboard, we’d found the best way to keep the watermelon fresh and chilled (or at least somewhat cooler) was to place it in a laundry bag, secured by line to the boat, and float it in the river while at anchor. We’d done it for years, and never once thought about how it might appear to someone unfamiliar with the process. But from that day forward, that ritual was referred to as ‘floating the dead baby.’
For years I’ve moved at displacement speed, at first under sail and most recently chugging along at six to seven knots in my stocky little trawler. Displacement speed teaches patience. The horizon hangs off in the distance with oil-painting like permanency and the shoreline changes in incremental fractions. Other boats come into view, radioing their location to friends (“I’m coming up on some slow trawler,”) as though you’re a fixed aid to navigation and then continue on to disappear into that still unchanged horizon. You have plenty of time to think, plenty of time to remind yourself you’re in no rush, after all getting there is half the fun and all those speed demons are just racing from fuel dock to fuel dock, wallets in hand. But sometimes… sometimes the ‘GETTING there’ part gets a bit old. There’s still that other half, BEING there, especially when the weather turns ugly and ‘there’ is somewhere comfortable and secure, with a hot shower, dry clothes and a warm meal.
Back when I was working in a boatyard we had a hand-full of customers with insanely high-speed performance boats stop by from time to time. And on one particular occasion a fellow had launched his rocket toy and asked if anyone wanted to join him as he tested some of the latest performance tweaks he’d made to the engines. It was a slow day, none of us were doing much of anything, and my story had some chapters with a similar boat, so I said, “Sure, I’ll go.”
The river was glassy smooth as we set out, with the faintest hint of a breeze stirring along the Saturday morning sailors. As we cleared the mooring field my friend pushed the throttle forward, the engines roared, and I was forced backwards into my seat. The world around us seemed to freeze; at that velocity we were the only thing moving as we shot between the now motionless sailboats, and for a moment I recalled that scene in Return of the Jedi, where the speeder bikes threaded between the giant trees in the forests of Endor. Time and relativity had been turned upside down; I’m certain if I’d checked, the hands on my watch had stopped. The water beneath us had gone from a gently rolling fluid to rock hard solid, the hull banging across it like a runaway bobsled on ice as we shot beneath the Tappan Zee Bridge and past the astonished faces aboard the sloop Clearwater. Within minutes we’d covered water that would have taken me half a day’s sail to navigate. I couldn’t move, I don’t think I even blinked, but my tearing eyes shifted to the GPS and it felt as though my heart stopped. We were travelling at 92 mph. At last we had gone full circle and I was returned to the dock, dazed and stunned as I tried to process the wild ride. It was a hell of an experience, and one I came away from a bit bruised and a lot wiser, with plenty of material for those chapters I was writing and a new-found appreciation for displacement speed.
The following is a re-post of my post last Thursday at Write on the Water, where it received a resounding lack of comments. Perhaps the subject matter may have been a bit questionable. Judge for yourself… I felt it would be of interest.
While the calendar claims that it’s only the beginning of March, there’s no denying it’s been an unusually warm winter here in the northeast. Buds are swelling on the trees, the crocuses have been blooming for weeks, even hyacinths have been clawing their way through the dirt, reaching upward like green zombie fingers towards the sunlight, all well ahead of schedule. And this leaves me wondering: will Floater’s Week come early this year?
What is Floater’s Week? It’s a local event on the waters surrounding New York City. NYC and its neighboring communities hold the title as the nation’s largest metropolitan area, with roughly nineteen million people living in a region bordered by the Atlantic and laced with harbors, bays, vast rivers and hidden creeks. It’s a city of bridges and tunnels, over two thousand, in fact. Lots of people, lots of water, and lots of access to that water.
With those statistics, it’s a given that over time, a certain percentage of deceased bodies might eventually find their ways into said waters. Drowning victims, boating accidents, bridge jumpers, and unfortunate fatalities of criminal activity. As air in the lungs is replaced with water, a body will sink to the bottom, and so long as that water is cold, decomposition is slowed and the corpse will stay put, more or less. But once the days grow longer and water temperatures rise, bacterial activity and decomposition speed up, producing gases that make them buoyant, bringing these bloated bodies bobbing back to the surface in a synchronized resurrection.
So there you have it. Floater’s Week. Annually, that perfect mix of conditions usually arrives sometime around mid-April, though, like fishing, it varies based upon a number of factors including position of the body in question and whether or not they may have been additionally ‘weighted’, so to speak, as well as depth, current, hours of sunlight and so on. And yes, in case anyone is wondering, I have encountered a floater or three in my time on the Hudson. Around here, we see it as a sign of spring.
(And here’s a nice, upbeat song by Justin Townes Earle, titled ‘Harlem River Blues’, about taking a permanent swim in the Harlem River.)
Among the projects we have planned for Annabel Lee is the addition of a proper mast for a steadying sail and mounts for the radar and other electronics. Most of Annabel Lee’s sisters left the factory with spars; we managed to find one of the few boats that didn’t. Directly across the river from us is an old boatyard in which, I’m told, many a boat has met its end. My old friend Butch, who passed away a few weeks back, had always told me I should visit there. He also warned me to be careful; surrounded by old boats he felt I could get in trouble, though that was back when I had a far more simple boat to care for. But now, being that I have an old boat of my own I figured I would be less inclined to adopt some new project. All the same, in all these years I’d yet to visit that marine graveyard… until last weekend.
Saturday the temperature was once again pushing 100 with extreme humidity, no clouds and no breeze. Frank couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to spend the day grinding away at fiberglass and suggested we take a ride instead. So off we went, winding our way up the Hudson to the Bear Mountain Bridge and back down the other shore. Despite living here my entire life, despite all the times I’ve seen this stretch of the river both by land and water, the beauty of it still amazes me.
We located the boatyard, parked and looked around. I stepped into the office, occupying the basement of the house on the property to speak with the manager. I explained that I was looking for a mast, and there based upon my friend Butch’s suggestion. “A shame about Butch,” he said. “He’ll be missed.” I nodded in agreement. I’d known Butch for years, from long before I’d worked in another boatyard with him to long after I’d left. The manager mentioned not making it to the viewing; I told him I’d been there. He asked how I’d known Butch; I explained and he said he never knew Butch worked in that boatyard. The Butch I knew had worked there for decades. He reminisced about his memories, referring to Butch as a ‘big happy fellow’, always with a smile. Now I was really confused. Those were the last words I’d ever consider to describe him. I told the manager, “I’m beginning to wonder if your Butch and mine were one and the same.” The Butch I knew and loved dearly was hands-down the grumpiest old bastard I’ve ever known. The more we compared notes, the more the Butch he spoke of and the one I knew were two entirely different people, literally. It turns out there were two Butches, one on either side of the Hudson, who both passed away recently, leaving the world an emptier place.
Anyhow, here’s some pictures of the boneyard. It’s a fascinating place, though tragic to see some magnificent boats sitting derelict and beyond salvage, no more than failed and forgotten dreams. There was much for me to fall in love with, much I could get myself into trouble with if not for the fact that I already have a boat that owns me.
You were right, Butch.
That plumb bow in the middle has such magnificent lines, even as a derelict the elegance is still there.
An old Tollycraft and a Viking. These two looked like they could be brought back… with MUCH work.
The nesting ground of the old Evinrudes.
Ladders? Lots of ladders.
And swim platforms! Several of these looked to be in better shape than ours.
A forgotten Wheeler Playmate, buried behind other boats. This was as close as I could get. The cabin looked like a greenhouse with vines climbing between the curtains.
Such wonderful words, and so refreshing to hear after last spring’s ‘rushing’, it turns out, is what led to our major rudder headaches that rippled through a good part of this summer and, in turn, left us with yet another repair for the coming winter. More on that later. But first, Saturday went PERFECT.
The original plan was to move Annabel Lee to her new winter home on Friday, with both high tide and daylight in our favor. But by Friday morning the wind was ripping from the north and the river churning. By afternoon high tide, the only time we can ease our four foot six inch draft out from Piermont’s shallows, conditions had only worsened. We still had the option of the next high tide at 4:16 a.m., which coincided with a predicted lull in the winds, which would shift to a more agreeable easterly direction as well.
Saturday morning we were underway beneath a crisp, star-filled sky, with a light breeze and smooth water. Traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge was light, and even lighter beneath it. The only other vessels we saw through our trip were a pair of tugs pushing barges.
Continuing north, daylight gradually lit the sky and the sun rose as we reached Haverstraw. We tied up as the yard opened and then moved Annabel Lee into the pit. The lift went smoothly and the yard crew worked with easy, practiced precision. One minute we’re floating, next, suspended high in the air.
While the yard crew pressure-washed Annabel Lee’s bottom, we took the car, dropped off two nights earlier, and ran up the road for breakfast. We would have brought back coffee for the guys, but they said they were good. After they finished up, we set to work removing the skeg and disconnecting the rudder. We checked to be sure we weren’t holding things up and were reassured there was ‘no rush’, and we could do whatever work we needed. So we proceeded to flush the engine, winterize it, and yet again change the oil. Again we checked, and again were told ‘no rush’. After last winter and spring, where everything was ALWAYS a rush, always hurry-hurry, this was a pleasant, though unfamiliar, change of pace. So we washed the boat down before she would go indoors. Then the yard lifted the boat higher and we eased the rudder out. Sure enough, there were suspicious wear marks, slight, but telling. By now it was lunchtime and the car was loaded to capacity with no room for the rudder, so we ran home to grab lunch and switch over to the truck. The yard told us after lunch they’d move the boat to the shed. When we returned, there she was off to the corner, blocked neatly and perfectly, right where we’d hoped they’d put her.
The nicest part was seeing how professionally they’d set her, with blocks running the length of her keel (not just TWO, like two winters ago in Massachusetts, and six stands, chained together, not four, the way we began last winter.) This is the proper arrangement for a boat of her size and weight, and seeing that the yard set things up so well only added to our confidence that we’d come to the right place. Being in a yard where work proceeded smoothly and efficiently, without rushing and shouting, was very reassuring. I’ve both worked at and been a customer in yards where a sense of urgency, real or imagined, creates tension, mistakes and unnecessary damage, such as dismastings, dropped boats, toppled cranes, and our rudder. (Back to that later.) True, we deliberately hauled prior to the peak fall haul-outs, but even when yards aren’t busy I’ve seen them racing themselves, as if they’re scored on how fast they can get a boat from water to blocks. This doesn’t appear to be the case here, and that makes me very happy. And considering they have no issues with our intentions to do extensive work on the boat ourselves, it seems we’ve at last found the ideal location for Annabel Lee.
At the moment we have much of the shed to ourselves, aside from the Wiggins forklift and a graceful little wood sloop tucked safely behind a large stack of wood. By the looks of things, someone was moving along with an ambitious restoration, though it seems work came to a halt years ago. She looks quite sound and sturdy, and being well protected, doesn’t appear to have suffered any further deterioration. I’m curious what her story is, and glad to see she’s not outdoors, where weather would take its toll.
And the rudder…
You regular readers may recall my mention no only of our ongoing aggravation with the rudder sticking at a certain angle, but of last spring’s gray-hair-inducing rudder installation, which occurred at the end of the Great Keel Ordeal. Following repairs on the keel, we reinstalled the shaft and rudder, which required the Travelift raise the boat high enough that we could c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y lift the large and heavy rudder back in place. This involved several volunteers above and below. We were midway through gently jacking the rudder in position when the yard manager, ever in a rush, insisted he’d speed the process up by LOWERING the boat over the shaft. Even as we shouted “NO!” he proceeded anyways, and for a moment something hung up in the housing, with all the boat’s weight bearing down. After what seemed an eternity he finally heard our frantic shouts of “UP! UP!” and lifted the boat enough for us to align the shaft and things to slide into place. Needless to say, we could only hope no damage occurred. Fortunately everything seemed to aligned perfectly, and we hoped for the best.
Unfortunately, hoping was not enough. Through the coming weeks it became apparent something was clearly wrong, something that even the mid-summer short-haul could not correct. We spent the summer suspecting the worst and ultimately using the boat very little. Sure enough, when we pulled the rudder, as stated, there were some wear marks, likely from a slight bend in the shaft. This is repairable. A quick inspection of the housing, shining a light up inside, revealed marks in the metal, and damage of some degree. It ‘s possible that was bent as well. Fortunately the good people at S&S Propeller assured us this is something they know how to tackle, so it looks like I’ll be heading over to Flushing in the coming weeks.
If anyone wonders why we put ourselves through all this, as I’ve stated from the beginning, we’re clearly out of our minds. But our sanity was somewhat reassured as we paid a visit to the Norwalk Boat Show earlier today. We went there hoping to find some resources for repairs, parts suppliers and the like, but discovered that was not to be. The vendors, for the most part, were either offering their services or selling things like (I kid you not) LED lighted cup-holders. Clearly, this was not a show for the do-it-yourself crowd. I’ve heard the wooden boat shows may be more of what we’re looking for. But we’d paid our admission, so I suggested to Frank we take a stroll down the dock to view the shiny new stuff floating there. I can’t even venture to guess the price-tags on those gleaming toys. As the saying goes, if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it. But amusingly, as we strolled among the window-shoppers, we paused to study construction on some of these multi-million dollar yachts, noticing the nice and the less-than-nice workmanship. There were details that impressed us, and just as often, places where corners were cut. For that kind of money, I expect my corners to be steam-bent and perfectly fitted. The more we looked, the more we came to appreciate our well-built little boat. I’d like to see how some of these fine boats weather 32 years of love, knocks and neglect. Will all this work we’re doing restoring this boat be worth it in the end? Financially? Probably not. We knew that going in. But the more I look around, the more I see, they just don’t build them like they used to.
And finally, in the life of Moxy, Loki and Rex… we’re gonna need a bigger couch!
With a driving north wind coming down the Hudson, it was ugly out there to say the least. As I watched whitecaps smashing against the seawall, I remembered standing on a dock with Felicia, back to when she was around five. It was a nasty day, not unlike today, and she looked out across the water, remarking that it was nervous. As in, the opposite of calm. I think that sums it up perfectly.
I haven’t posted much these days not for lack of stuff to post, but for lack of time to post stuff. If that makes sense, you have my sympathy. Needless to say, I’m still feeling meh, overtired, underslept, and finding not enough hours in each day to make a dent in the things I need to do.
Such is life. Oh, and it keeps raining. Lots of rain. On the bright side the bridge canvas fits like a glove and all is dry above and in the cabin.
If I recall, months ago I said I’d put on some pictures from the summer as soon as I had some free time. How optimistic of me! Free time. HA! If only.
All the same, here’s a few long overdue shots of the crew on warmer days past.
Up the river a bit… Rules are, all small children and such must wear their PFDs (and leashes) while underway. The dogs have run of the cockpit and salon, though we have to leave the lockers open so they don’t step up to the side decks or go forward.
Once we’re docked, jackets come off and everyone gets a walk ashore. Then Moxy naps in her favorite spot.
…continues. As in, Annabel Lee remains unmoved, unless you count me adjusting the docklines, occasionally firing up the engine and spinning the prop to flush away the Hudson silt beneath her. Truth be told, I’m not surprised. This is the nature of a boat, especially one of advancing age, and the choice is to either gracefully accept the fact or be miserable. Misery is rarely a productive state, so I stick with acceptance. As one wise and experienced friend said, “Watch the engine hours. Every 25 hours or so, expect something to go wrong, and you’ll rarely be disappointed.” At least I have a delightful view of the river from the dock, and it is so tranquil down there in the morning when there’s no one else around. Unless you count the duck with her five tiny hatchlings bobbing along. I really should take some pictures. But for now, it’s back to my imaginary world, where at least the boats run most of the time.