The Mighty Hudson

anchorages along the hudson river

I am on the cusp of the Atlantic Ocean. New York Harbor. South of the Battery, the center of the tidal universe. Tomorrow, with the force of the mighty Hudson, the East River and the great Atlantic I will be sucked through the Verrazano Narrows, essentially, into the sea. -October 2

The Hudson River proved to be excellent training grounds for the rest of this trip. However, I feel like a much different person now than I was while traversing that body of water. It was the first time I would sail on tidal waters in years, and have contact with commercial shipping traffic.

Currents on the Hudson are gnarly. So gnarly, in fact, that even in 30 knots my boat would point stern to the wind if the current was opposed. After the third time this happened I stopped freaking out, and accepted it as merely uncomfortable.

I got a slow start and stayed on the Hudson probably longer than I needed to. Hurricanes were still pending and I had visions of the next Hurricane Sandy or Irene pummeling the northeast and decided to stay creekside until I knew the right path.

In Esopus Creek is a beautifully protected anchorage where the light is mesmerizing, A very nice man who worked at the Saugerties Steamboat Company pointed me in the right direction towards the best place to anchor, let me tie up for free at their unused dock the next day so I could meet some of my family. When he asked me my boat name I said, “Vanupied! It’s french for barefoot peasant.”

“But you’re wearing shoes!” He replied.

I never saw him again but had the entire brand new dock to myself that night.

anchoring esopus creek

From there I travelled to Kingston, NY and wound up staying ten long days awaiting a hurricane that never came in Roundout Creek. My only contact with other humans was at the power boat club and campground next to where I anchored. They were kind to me and when I left showered me with gifts like a flare gun (for protection), a bottle of rum, twenty dollars, and fresh gallons of water. Huge shout out to the Anchorage Marina folks in Rondout Creek for treating me as one of their own even though I was on a sailboat.

When I left Roundout Creek it was a fifty mile sail/motor sailing day down to Dundeberg Mountain–which isn’t really an anchorage at all and I had a miserable time pulling up my anchor in the 30 knot winds that morning.

Thanks to some friends ahead of me on an Alberg 30 I learned about the ‘Bowline Pond’ anchorage on the west side of the river across from the northern section of Haverstraw Bay. This place is the shit. Seriously a hurricane hole. Protected 360 degrees. The entrance is tricky and the waves can stack up as it gets shallow. Plenty of depth there, but if you attempt this anchorage make sure you keep the mooring ball in the middle to STARBOARD to avoid an actual stack of bricks on the other side of the entrance. This ‘pond’ is actually man made. My parents and sister visited me there and I illegally tied my dinghy to a public park entrance and we crashed a private party at the park with a live band until the ranger kicked us off. It wasn’t before I could row each one out to my boat, though! I also met some kickass New York sailors on a Westsail 32. The captain, Josh, gave me probably the most integral navigation lesson of my life which in turn saved my ass from being completely lost on the ocean during my offshore passage.

Still waiting for coastal swells to die down from hurricanes I went to Haverstraw Bay where it took me two days to fix my autopilot. All it took was some wood, epoxy, screws, and a sock. Who would have thought? I rode out another gale just south of there where I was convinced I’d drag into the shipping lanes. This was before I learned to sleep through gales.

My final stop on the Hudson before heading through NYC was the Nyack Boat Club. I fucking love this place. It’s an historical gem. I met so many wonderful people who gave me detailed current and tide lessons, anchorage spots all along the east coast, and kisses on the cheek when I left. My dear friends Aaron and Sarah on their Baba 35 where on their way north back to Lake Champlain after a summer sailing in Novia Scotia and they picked up the mooring next to me. It was the last time I might see them for a long while. It was in Nyack that I received a small single side band radio and the WQXR classical music station would become my constant companion.

The hudson continued to widen the further I went. Ferries zoomed past creating monstrous wakes. Helicopters loudly flew through the sky. There were no channel markers but many ships. It was like the wild west. While still much less crowded than NYC by land it was still quite chaotic and the worst was yet to come. I anchored for the night west of the Statue of Liberty.

The final section of New York Harbor was insanely crowded with commercial traffic. I felt like a needle in a haystack. I approached the Verrezano Narrows only to second guess my navigation and tried to hail some fisherman to ask them which way to go to avoid the ships. “That way,” they said. But I couldn’t see where they pointed since I was fucking around with the engine.

I managed not to get run down by a ship and I was shit out in the Atlantic Ocean.

Shakedown sail

live aboard, solo sailor girl, pearson ariel 26

June 1— Launch was bad. Real bad. At anchor now and it’s blowing hard. Dealing with a lot, but it’s good. Managed not to panic, managed not to hit any boats. Engine died midway in the dock channel, on a collision course with a beneteau and my main halyard snags my topping lift. I lost my favorite hat to the wind. The miserable troll who owns the boatyard said something about my boat sinking as he lowered me into the water, then the yard manager said “good luck, sweetie,” and pushed me off the dock. The transducer for the depth sounder is leaking. It’s okay, but it’s below the water line, so I’m monitoring it closely. Wind is howling. I don’t know if I’ll raise sail today. In full on captain mode.

sailing lake champlain, sailing on a shoestring

June 2— The forecast is wrong so far. I’m anchored off a beach. The weather guesser says southwest, five knots, but it’s higher. I’m exposed. I’m nervous about lifting the hook and being blown in to shore. It’s supposed to clock around to the north, so I’m waiting, which could be a mistake. The boat’s a wreck. I have to eat and square away a lot on deck before I can even think about leaving. I’m basically engineless. I have to force myself not to just crawl back into the v-berth. It’s cold. Forty degrees last night. Yesterday’s sail was intense. I’m less worried about the leak, it’s slowed as the wood block has started to swell. I left yesterday at 6:30 p.m. Right off the reef in treadwell bay my jib halyard came undone. Wind still ripping when I went forward to fix it. I managed to tie it back on but forgot to go through the traveler, so sheeting became inefficient and tangled. At some point I was able to sail on a reach right into my anchorage. I anchored but not before jamming my finger in the hook I use to hold it on the bow. I know longer have a knuckle. I’m lucky I didn’t break it, but there’s blood everywhere. I’m grateful I learned to sail engineless last year. Still can’t believe I do this shit “for fun.”

carl alberg

Later— Weather guesser wrong again. Five knots. Ha! Maybe for five minutes. I had the rails in the water with a reef and my tiniest headsail. Five knots…

Leaving the beach was smooth enough. Sailed off the anchor broad reaching to clear the reefs. Winds were still kind of confused. SW, NW, W? Maybe I’m the confused one. Cumberland straights were easy. Nothing like that time we raced the trimaran in the McDonough, where it seemed like McDonough’s army itself was marching towards us in the form of ten foot rollers. Once south of there the wind started to rip. Gusting to 25, sustained at maybe 18. It was cold, raining, and I was getting broadsided. Do I want to keep sailing in this? No, so I made for Valcour Island, due west.

Vanupied went to weather with a serious bone in her teeth. She loved it. She’s a sadist, I swear. If only I could trim her sails properly. Always luffing no matter what I do. Maybe it’s her old, shitty sails, or maybe I’m a shitty sailor. Her backstay is sketchy. The whole time I just kept saying, “please don’t break.” If the fisherman weren’t impressed by my screeching into the anchorage and dropping the hook under sail, well I’ll be damned.

Everything is blue. Blue sleeping bag, blue lake, blue sky, blue dinghy. I’m in no particular hurry, I have to remember that. As soon as I get home though, bills are due. Car insurance, mooring fees, electric bilge pump, registration…but I don’t want to think about that right now in the blue.

live aboard sailor girl

June 3— Well, I’m happy to say Vanupied and I are in our home port. I’m showered, fed, and have everything I need right here. Even my bicycle is locked up on shore. I’m anchored far off the mooring field. Not yet wanting to deal with being in the throws with other boats. I just want to stay on the outskirts a little longer. When I arrived I was hungry and out of tobacco. It was a long, arduous day. Everything felt insurmountable. But not now. It all feels possible.

This time last year I wasn’t even in the water yet. And it wasn’t until another month that I found myself this far south. So, there’s time. Not much of it, but it exists.

Lost dogs

Sailing blog, dinghy dreams, bristol 24, live aboard

If you want an adventure buy a small sail boat, fix it up as best you can, and live on it traveling from port to port as long as you can. You’ll be amazed at what you’re made of. How quickly life reverts to basic instincts like finding food, protection from weather, and a safe place to sleep.

bristol 24 live aboard, live aboard sailor girl

You will be humbled by what you don’t know, surprised by what you do. You’ll learn a thing or two about integrity and your own work ethic–if you cut corners while fixing her up they’ll come back to visit when the drink gets angry (which she does, often).

lake champlain live aboard

You will come face to face with yourself. It may not be in the form of changing sail in a storm, alone on the bow of your boat, but in a relationship with someone you meet along the way–and you will meet so many, and you will learn why you are worthy of their time and help.

You will learn what you attract in this life.

Work exchange

Sitting in the cockpit at anchor I had this moment of extreme happiness. Tears nearly filled my eyes. The big bad lake behind me, the Adirondacks blue with low hanging clouds. North winds making this wide, open to the west, anchorage possible. Work is all done for the day. Testing my alternator, charging the batteries, checking voltage with the meter, filling the gas tank, pumping the bilge, flaking the sails. Finally time to cook a meal with fresh vegetables from Kathy’s garden. So satisfied. 

homegrown vermont, homestead, sailor girl

People tell me my boat is a money pit, but they don’t understand. I want to spend all of my money on her. I feel like this is my life’s work…

vermont sailing partners, solo sailor girl, work around the world

My reefing system on the boat was driving me crazy. More often than not, I should be reefed. All I had was one set of reef points with some lines hanging down to be tied around the boom. I guess some people call this “jiffy,” or “slab,” reefing, but it is fact not correct. It was incomplete. I needed, I would find out later, a pulley system, cleats, and new line to properly reef.

I called the local and most highly recommended Vermont sailmaker. I asked him for a quote for a second set of reef points, and advice on hardware to install on the boom. We had a good chat and he quoted my $230. I told him my story, and asked if he’d be interested in a work exchange of some sort. He laughed, but said we could probably work something out. I remained optimistic and set off Monday morning to find him.

With my sail in the bag and oars in my backpack I trudged through the small city and to the bus that dropped me off a few blocks away from the sail loft. I met the sailmaker and we went over everything I would need to reef the right way. He had a few cleaning jobs that he and his crew were too swamped to complete, so the next morning all I had to do was show up, clean, and I’d have my coveted second set of reef points.

After I finished working I hung around the loft all day and watched my sail getting worked on. I learned so much. I had no idea what a leech line was, and a few days later was finally able to remedy my constantly fluttering jib thanks to this information!

When I was kind of bragging about the time I put my rails in the water one of the sailmakers said, “Yeah? Was that fun? You could have lost your rig. Reef next time.”

My cheeks flushed red. He was right.

Single handed sailor girl

cruising, solo sailor girl, bristol 24

I’m starting to wonder if my karma is fucked. I’ve had only two days of settled weather since I launched my boat 10 days ago. Everyday I’m running from an ever changing wind direction, trying to find protection for the night. I’ve had a mutiny onboard already and my crew member left the boat today with her dog. I met a sailor boy who lives far away with a boat of his own. My heart aches a little just to think about the short time I spent with both of these humans.

My dinghy most certainly has a hole, and I’m draining my cruising kitty by passing three days of near gale north westerlies at a marina because I couldn’t find an anchorage in time for the approaching system.

Bristol 24, live aboard, solo sailor girl

But it’s not all bad. I spent the better part of the day kicking around the shop in the boatyard, picking the brain of the salty and knowledgable repair man, touching all the tools and admiring his gelcoat refinishing jobs. He helped me to replace the stuffing in the packing gland of my rudder, which was causing quite a bit of water to get into the boat. He gave me the names of all his friends at boatyards down this side of the lake, and encouraged me to use his name to try and find work.

I have the heater that I stole from my friend at the marina where I launched my boat, so I’m toasty and warm tied to the dock with an excuse to track him down on his boat next weekend to return the heater and rendevous.

My boat is finally my space again. My guests are all gone. I no longer have to worry about how long they are staying, if they are coming back, if they are enjoying my lifestyle. I’m free now, I suppose.

solo sailor girl, bristol 24, live aboard

A few days before launch I wrote in my journal about freedom.

“I have no job, no bills, no partner, no one to answer to or take care of. I’m fucking free, but I suppose there’s a loneliness in that freedom.” 

Two days later and therein I was consumed with new relationships, mending relationships, crumbling ones. All on top of a boat that never stops moving, weather that never stops pounding, fears that never seem to waver.

Despite all the drama with my ever changing and motley crew, I’m moved by what’s happened this past month and half. The onslaught of help, kindness, and encouragement. As soon as this storm passes it’s time to face the world alone in my little boat, just as I always intended to do.