Category Archives: hudson river

Renewal…

It’s early March. The boatyard is gray and empty, with few signs of life… that is, aside from the raccoon tracks all over my decks. It seems some enterprising creature discovered by climbing the beams in the shed they could step across to my anchor and slip aboard. From there it was a simple matter of pushing in the screen in the forward cabin port, down the bookshelves, across the bunk and up to the galley, where ultimately they discovered that single bag of stale pretzels I’d left aboard as emergency rations. I can’t begrudge my uninvited guest their meal, especially since aside from the pillaged bag of pretzels there was no other damage, though I’ve lowered my anchor a few feet so it no longer provides a convenient gangplank for the four-footed bandit.

There are a few other signs that life is returning to the yard. The ice has receded from the river and crews are prepping the yard boat and the lifts. Docks are going back in. A cover or two has been pulled back and a lone extension cord snakes across the gravel. Next to the office, between melting piles of grungy snow a few crocuses have broken through the soil. Within weeks this place will be bustling with energy as boats shed their cocoons and the warming air is filled with the smell of solvents and fresh paint. The hum of sanders and the whine of the travel lift will drone from morning till night as boats move from the yard to the docks.

It’s a busy time, but a good busy. It’s a time to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen all winter, to catch up on life as you get things in order for those summer days ahead. There are those familiar faces, the ones that return year after year, though often I know them only by the name across their boat’s hull. There’s the older couple on ‘Fairwinds’, working away on that same boat they bought back when the kids, all grown and on their own now, were little. The fishermen with ‘Reel Good’, eager to launch early for the annual striped bass derby. And there will be new faces; there always are. The group of young friends with a scuffed up runabout preparing for a summer of waterskiing and wakeboarding. The retiree, proudly acquainting himself with that dream boat he’d worked years to achieve. A young couple ambitiously tackling a tired old sloop. We watch, realizing they have no clue where to begin, but what they lack in experience and knowledge they more than make up with enthusiasm and energy. And there will be missing faces and boats that sit untended, and talk of who became ill or passed away, and then you realize how little you truly knew about those people you’d known for years. But at least, looking back, there is a sense that the time spent with them was time well spent – laughing, swapping tools and stories, sharing drinks and dreams.

In this age of shopping centers and central air-conditioning, people have grown isolated. Modern life has fallen victim to its own success. A house in the suburbs with a big backyard and a driveway full of cars has created neighborhoods of commuters who rarely see and barely know one another. There was a time when societies flourished on communities working and building together, helping one another out. I suppose this is a big part of what I enjoy around the boatyard: that sense of community has not been lost. While there may be a diverse range of boats and owners, there is a certain unity. Backed to one another, transoms become porches and docks are communal sidewalks as we all pass one another while we come and go. People pause to stop and chat. A lifted engine hatch will immediately draw queries of “Everything all right?” and “Need a hand?” Friendships are forged as we sympathize, commiserate and assist, even if only to offer a cold beer. And I suppose that’s what I enjoy most about spring within this little village of eclectic boats – that promise of another season among friends, both old and new.Indeed it is. At least, in a manner of speaking.

UPDATE: Over the coming days I’ll be doing some updates/housekeeping here on this blog. I know some of my older posts have missing photos, and there are a few things I’ve written in the past for Write on the Water that I’d like to share here. I can only assure you that this is the start of much more. But in my usual cryptic way, I’m not going to elaborate on that just yet.

Stay tuned! (And thanks for hanging around this long — your patience will be rewarded!)

The Hudson’s looking a bit crunchy…

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I haven’t watched the news all that much lately, though it plays, closed-caption, on a screen in a diner I frequent.  And whenever it’s on, much of the coverage is focused on the obvious. I don’t need the news to tell me, it’s COLD outside. Now I realize there are some of you reading this in more temperate zones, and while I do understand that your weather may be colder than normal, unless your temperature has been regularly dipping into the negatives, you’re not getting my sympathy. Unless dressing each morning to step outside involves layering your clothes until you feel like the kid brother in A Christmas Story, and your travel time has tripled or quadrupled due to an infrastructure stressed to the breaking point by these frigid temperatures, it’s hard to feel bad… though truth be told after anything more than a short time outdoors, it’s hard to feel much of anything. Fingers and toes quickly go numb, your face loses feeling, and if your nose runs, it won’t for long — it’ll freeze, plain and simple. This morning, some tea from my travel mug splashed onto my glove — and instantly froze solid. And according to all reports, this weather pattern won’t be shifting any time soon. DSC01319 The only consolation to this bitter weather is the beauty. We’ve been hit by relentless snow, and every time it starts to look a bit drab, a new storm arrives to freshen things up. The ice flows on the Hudson have yet again brought construction on the new Tappan Zee Bridge to a halt, and if you stand by the river’s edge, the soft, murmuring creaks and pops as the flows shift on the tide can be downright eerie. Yesterday I watched a tug and barge on a small strip of open water, waiting for an icebreaker to clear the channel. Today, even that open water looks as though it’s been swallowed by the ice. DSC01330 DSC01333 Yet, even with this bitter cold, life goes on. Particularly if you’re one of our local eagles, perched in one of her favorite trees.  In fact, she seem right at home with this weather.

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The Eagle has Landed…

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It’s that time of year again. I saw one flying by as I rounded the corner this morning, and now there’s another perched on a tree next to the travel lift. It’s January, ice flows clog the river, and the eagles have returned to the Hudson Valley. If it’s anything like last year, soon there will be seals lounging on the vacant docks.

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In the last week I’ve watched the temperature swing from the mid-60s down to sub-zero, and now it’s on it’s way back up. By Saturday it’s going to be pushing 50 again. I can’t even venture what the thermometer will read in a month, but either way, I’ll be jumping in the Hudson with an ever-growing crowd in the Stony Point Polar Plunge. Why? For a good cause. And because, why not?

<Update: Why not?  Doctor’s orders, apparently. *Sigh.*>

Sorting boats…

December has arrived, and once again the docks are all but empty on my little corner of the Hudson River. Activity at the yard, which had been buzzing along in high gear for the last two months, starts to scale back. For a few weeks there were people and cars and sounds of all sorts around us on the hard, but now the silence is returning. In another week or two, the only signs of life we’ll see around the yard are a few marina employees and the hardy little feral ‘yard cats’, occasionally soaking up a bit of low winter sun on a warm car hood. The season has ended and rows of boats have been sorted.

In most cases, when yards block up boats for winter storage, there’s a very specific order to where each one winds up, and why. Size plays a role, as does the all-important ‘When do you want to go back in’ factor. Last out is usually first in. Some owners wrap things up after Labor Day and don’t pull the cover until the end of May while others are geared up for fishing at the first signs of spring – don’t block them in! But there’s more to it. It’s no accident that the shiniest and newest of boats with custom covers or shrink wrap are closer to the main entrance and offices. For one, it just looks better and reflects well on the yard. It also keeps these boats where they’re less inclined to be visited by someone other than their owner. Further back goes to the boats with flapping plastic tarps or no covers at all. And finally, tucked in the furthest corners of the yard, backed to the brush and overgrowth, are the boats that have been on the hard for many seasons – the hopeless and the forgotten. They sit as testaments to abandoned dreams. At some point in their existence, each had been someone’s pride and joy. Now they stand as silent reminders of failed aspirations. Perhaps their owner had fallen upon bad times or eventually the reality of boat ownership outweighed the dream, draining and straining finances and relationships, sometimes past the point of no return. Like a novel in a desk drawer, these grand dreams fell victim to the harsh realities of day-to-day life.

Yet, glimmers of hope spring up in these forgotten corners, like a rose blooming among the oil drums and weeds. Every so often someone with the right mix of skill, perseverance, delusional optimism and determination sets their eyes on one of those forgotten boats, and you’ll see it re-emerge from death-row to float and sail once more. I recall one boat where the cabin and bridge had been partially destroyed by fire, though the hull and engine remained intact. It was placed in the corner to languish for years. But then one day someone new arrived. The fellow who repaired her did so the only way he knew how — with sheet-metal. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but year after year he’s out on the water happily fishing away. On the other end of the spectrum a friend of mine acquired an old ketch that had been caught in the wrong end of a shed collapse, and he restored that boat to exceptional magnificence. In both cases, these boats were brought back from the dead and each is a victory. It’s that ability to see beyond the work to the potential, to press on in the face of all adversity, hoping someday it will be beautiful — or at least float. I sometimes wonder how many of those resurrected boats belong to writers.

Right or left???

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. My days of working in and around marinas and boatyards, either as an employee or a customer, has provided me an abundance of writing material.  Boats sinking, burning, heavy objects being lifted and shifted by heavy equipment,  stray electricity, storms, heat, ice,  and so on. Case in point: the above photo. The memorable quote in the above case was: “The mechanic stated he smell gasoline, and when he started the boat it just burst into flame.” Uhm….yeah. No comment. Amazingly, no one was hurt. A bit singed, perhaps, but the boat was a total loss. And then there’s the humans you find around the water. The marine environment attracts some truly unique and interesting characters, from the yard crews and office staff, to the customers, and even an occasional critter hiding in the attic. The transient pictured below was gently and humanely relocated to the nearby marshland. I could — and ultimately will — fill pages with the things I’ve seen and heard over the years. Of course, in a fictional context, names and situations will be changed, but the material I encounter is a virtual well-spring of inspiration on the behavior of humans on and around boats.  Some times I have to shake my head and laugh, (or at least try to laugh,) because you simply can’t make this sh*t up.  For example: the boat we found tied to the dock in the morning, half sunk, with a flooded cockpit, the forward hatch open, THE MAIN UP and the jib piled on the deck and hanging overboard. When I called the owner, he replied that he had left it that way because he “went sailing yesterday and will be going out tomorrow,” and he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand why leaving his boat under sail at the dock was an issue. It was a miracle it hadn’t gone over during the storm we’d had overnight, though he fully acknowledged that his cockpit drains were permanently clogged, which explained the abundance of water on the wrong side of the hull. Yet he couldn’t understood why I felt it necessary to call him on any of these matters. Maybe I’m being too picky, but behavior like that makes my head hurt. It’s something marinas deal with constantly, so we should be used to these ‘quirky’ customers.  And whenever I think I’ve seen it all, like the fellow complaining that someone dinged his boat – – a bashed up center console that annually sinks, is filled with junk and quite literally has grass growing through cracks in the cockpit — that I get a call that takes the prize. Caller, sounding slightly aggravated: “Yeah. How do I figure out where I am on the river?” Me, already getting a bad feeling: “You’re calling from a boat? Are you in distress? Is there some sort of emergency?” Caller: “No. I just want to park at the restaurant for lunch. How do I find you guys?” Me: “Uhm. Charts. Navigational instruments. Do you have them aboard?” Caller: “I don’t know how to use them. Can’t you just tell me which way to go?” Deep breath. Me: “Where did you start from, and are you travelling north or south.” Caller: “I got gas but I don’t know where that was, and when I left there I made a right. I don’t know that north and south stuff.” His tone grew more irritable. “Can’t you just tell me if I should go right or left?” Wince. These are the people we share the waterways with.  Another deep breath. Me: “Do you have a smart phone? Look up Google maps. That should give you a general idea.” Caller: “Oh, hey! Great! Thanks!” And when ultimately he did arrive, aided by his data plan,  it was aboard a shiny new $250K boat sporting every bell and whistle, including all the latest and greatest nav instruments. No, you can’t make this sh*t up.

Shall We Dance?

My kind of entertainment!

Shall We Dance?.

Sunday morning down on the Hudson…

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