Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lady Liberty in the mIst and please don't sink at the dock

I love New York City from the water. I think it is so exciting to approach from any of the 3 major directions (Narrows, Hudson and East River). It was a little extra exciting for us as we entered the Sandy Hook Channel at around 3:30am in darkness and clouds closing in. Mark was at the wheel, Richard and I were navigating and Mary was on lookout. Ships and buoys were alternately materializing and disappearing in the mist to our eyes and mercifully staying reliably visible on radar.

By now, we had learned how to work Channel 13 and hailed a 'securite' call announcing our inbound progress in the Sandy Hook Channel. We were immediately hailed by a super tanker heading out of Raritan that he was 30 minutes out. We told him we would stay to the far right side of
the channel. He thanked us and when he was at the other end of our channel he hailed us again, we found his lights, stayed on our side and watched in awe as the biggest ship yet glided past us in the misty dark. It was kind of cool to have such a textbook communication and crossing.

By 4:30ish when darkness was fading, the mist was getting thicker and we needed all eyes open as we headed for a small connecting channel with some unlit buoys. By then all 8 of us were on deck working out the route (our little unlit buoys were our only guide to stay away from some significant shoals and shallow spots).

Though I really wanted to stay up for the final approach, James had gotten some sleep and sense enough to convince me to do the same. They woke me just as the Statue of Liberty became visible. My grandmother, Anne Prince (Rozalia's daughter who was
with Rozalia on the SS Madonna that sailed from Constantinople to Ellis Island) used to cry when she saw the Statue of Liberty. For her it symbolized the opportunity that her (my) family took to make a better life for themselves here in the US (than in Russia). And though I generally do not tend toward tears, I, along with everyone else on the boat, could not keep my eyes off her as we sailed north toward Ellis and Battery Park in Manhattan.

What is especially unique about seeing NYC from the water are the glimpses you get down the streets and avenues and the stepped back perspective. And the nice thing about
NY Harbor is that it is deep everywhere so you really only need to worry about getting mowed down by one of the Staten Island (or zillion other) ferries. Sadly, NY was the get off point for
Richard and Mary who had to get back to Bristol, RI (and win some races on the beautiful Herreshoff boat Richard captains). First though we opened the champagne Mary had gotten in Annapolis and toasted to the trip, the boat and the project before nosing
up to a dock around the same latitude of Penn Station and literally dropping them off.

Trash-wise, I have to say that by now we were seeing a fair amount. Mostly evidence of people snacking and mostly plastic or foil packaging - bottles, wrappers, bags, cups. It was especially dense around tide lines and along the edges of the river. All of this kind of info we get prepares us for when we return with American Promise and are fully on the hunt (rather than bee-lining for repairs).

The wind was light and from the north so we motored up the Hudson. It was beautiful. The farther north we got, the better the weather. The Palisades are gorgeous, West Point striking and the lighthouses and huge mansions along the banks postcard worthy. We anchored on the east side of the river near Kingston in a pink sunset, funky looking clouds, a delicious dinner and lovely company. And as a bonus the Rocna anchor we used for the first time caught early and held fast all night through the tide change. Yeah Rocna (with everything else, having that go stress-free was nice).

Despite a healthy amount of condensation, Mark and I slept on deck (in sleeping bags - finally cool enough for sleeping bags). So nice. Again with the light northerly for our last day but it was sunny and smooth as we motored on to Albany. I had a treat in the form of 45 minutes up the mast. I am afraid of snakes but not of heights and loved it up there.

We stayed drama free to the Albany Yacht Club for a re-fueling (the boat did an impressive 1.27 gallons/hour for the trip) and pump-out and lovely smooth docking at Scarano's. And then we heard the sound of water. Not nice water lapping on the hull, a stream. From below decks.

It was the stuffing box doing it's best to sink us right at the dock. It took James, Ernie and Mark an hour (90F by now of course) to sort out the problem and stop the leak. And then the bilge pump got a good work-out removing all the Hudson River water that had invaded. If we had been waffling on the decision to pull out before, that did it and we had a word with the Scarano's to organize a haul/storage so we could address the structural and system issues that we had discovered on the way.

Our crew were amazing sweating away as we removed a lot of gear from the boat and wrestled sails below. Back to my parents for the best showers ever, a big BBQ, some Tour de France and early to bed.

We got everyone more or less where they needed to go the next day. James and Mark flew to BWI for cars, I drove the Reuters home, picked up Hickory and Smudge (our Newfies) and headed back to NY and the boat.

We are so grateful for the time, expertise, no drama, competence and great attitudes and friendship of Richard, Mary, Mark, Ernie, Bette and my dad, Allan. We could not have organized a better crew for that particularly eventful trip. We have pulled out so we can address all of the issues and make the boat one that is ready for a crew with a mix of experience so we can focus on collecting trash and the experience of sailing with total confidence in the boat and her systems.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Stay on your side of the channel.

The other watch was the first to handle the Delaware River. Luckily the radar worked great - we needed every bit of info concerning the location of the channel, the shoals it marked and the enormous ships that were going in and out. This photo to the right shows how well the radar worked - you can see a big ship out the starboard side window. Looking at the radar, you can see a target at 90 degrees. That is the same ship, right where it really was.

I have to admit that the other watch had to deal with most of the traffic overnight. And deal they did. We monitored VHF channels 16 (for emergencies) and 13 (which is the dedicated ship to ship channel).
We also had a device on the top of the mast that makes our signature on radar quite big. That meant that when a huge super tanker was still many miles away they could see us, call us on the radio and then yell at us to stay on our side of the channel. Or maybe I should say vehemently suggest rather than yell. The YP's got yelled at.

By the time our watch was on at midnight, most of the big ships had come or gone and we had a dark, wind on the nose but luckily low traffic few hours until we handed everything over to the other watch at 4am. Overall it was all very tricky navigation-wise and bouncy wave-wise and seemed like the current was always against us (literally not figuratively) but American Promise handled it all just fine and we were all very excited to get east of the last river/shoal buoy to take advantage of a southerly wind to take us up the coast.

We raised the main and # 2 jib (which is the second biggest) and sailed a broad reach course all day long. Ahhhhhhhh - right up the New Jersey coast with the thunderstorms staying on shore then clearing completely. We had been keeping our eyes open for trash along the way and were mostly finding bottles and chip bags (the usual). Our unusual find was a beach ball around 10 miles off the Jersey Shore. Richard was driving and we had a great plan to nab it... I had Mark's ankles and he was poised for the grab over the side... when our bow wave pushed the ball just out of reach. Argghh. The ball carried on and in that breeze hopefully stayed intact to land on a beach on the south shore of Long Island.

If we could have just left it at that - a beautiful downwind sail up the coast, I would be in Maine right now. But, as happens with boats, that was the time we discovered 2 gallons of hydraulic oil in the bilge (suspected major leak), that the water system that had worked at the dock no longer did despite the Reuter's best efforts (we had plenty of drinking water though), that the chart plotter was intermittent (not so dire as we were keeping track of our location and had a back-up GPS), that a thru-hull had lost a set screw (could sink a boat but was caught in time) and that the generator was not charging the batteries (could lose all electronics if something happened to the engine as well).

But again, the sail was a great one. A little lumpy on starboard (actually quite lumpy) but smooth like butter on port. I will admit to skipping dinner (looked great but we had been on starboard for a bit) and I was not the only one. The combo of the motion plus the extremely, everywhere smell of hydraulic oil was not one that generated a huge amount of enthusiasm for a big dinner. At the 8pm watch change we made a plan for approaching New York City (staying on the inside heading for the Sandy Hook channel, so exciting). We woke at midnight just as the breeze died, the main came down and the motor went back on. Unfortunately the swell did not get the memo and stayed up (so glad I skipped dinner).

Next entry will take us into New York Harbor and up the Hudson.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

At some point, you just have to leave the dock...

Thanks to Mary and Geoff Ewenson, we slept in total air conditioned comfort and since Mary was heading out for an early stand up paddle, we did not need to tiptoe around but could pretend that it was normal to have all 8 of us up and moving at 5am. Because of the need to shore up the deck beam the day before, we had to divide and conquer: me and Mark off to the grocery store for food/water for the voyage and the rest of the crew to the boat for a variety of manual labor and normal prep for sailing and be ready to drop the dock lines by 8am and make it out of the basin with enough water (the boat draws 10.5 feet).

It was all a whirlwind. Luckily the grocery store was empty (as expected at 6am on a Monday morning) and we could maneuver our multiple carts around without taking anyone down. Got everything into reusable bags and stopped at West Marine for more very last minute items before screeching to a halt in front of the boat. With 8 people, a pickup bed full of bags is quick and next thing I knew I was on the radio asking for permission to leave the Naval Academy's YP basin (permission was granted). And yes, I have to admit to having a bit of a flutter to really be off.

Our first stop was not very far away... the fuel dock at Annapolis City Marina. James
was at the helm for our first docking. His comment was, "She has a lot of way on." which means the boat is big and heavy and once set in motion will glide, with speed for a long time. It was nothing that a spring line could not handle and James' first docking was a smooth success. The woman at the gas dock asked that we go to one end of the dock or the other which was pretty funny since we were longer than the entire dock. Again, luckily it was Monday morning so despite the fact that we took up the entire dock for our fill up with diesel and water (and coffee and unbeknownst to me and James at the time, champagne thanks to Mary) we did not seem to hold anyone else up. While at the dock, we tested the water system. The boat has 2 sinks with foot pumps as well as pressured hot/cold fresh water and pressured salt water. We tested all but the hot water (it was already 90F at 8:30am) and flushed the system and were pleased that it worked (though what came out of hoses that had not been used since 2008 was pretty gross).

System-wise, the boat had been OK during the days we had preparing her. Always a few foibles but eventually we had the generator working and powering the AC system, shore power worked, the engine (after a scare) did what it was supposed to do. A battery condition monitoring device that had worked when we first looked at the boat was not working (anyone know anything about a Heart Interface Link 20?) but we have a system voltage scanner which gave similar information. The chart plotter seemed to work as did the radar and GPS. The other instruments were a little hot and cold including depth and wind info (depth seemed not to like to work with the engine on but OK without). We had coaxed various pumps into submission and were happy that the electric and manual bilge pumps all worked. The head put what it was supposed to into the holding tank and sinks drained into a gray water tank. The world's oldest microwave may or may not work but the propane stove and oven both did. Both fridges worked, the freezer would not make ice but kept ice cubes square.

The log records we departed the fuel dock at 1111 on Monday July 12 bound for Albany, NY via the Chesapeake
and Delaware Canal, Jersey coast and Hudson River. First order of business was to raise the huge main, do the same for the number 2 jib and enjoy what this boat was built for, some downwind sailing. It was blowing from the south and we were heading north - perfect.

What a great sailing boat. She rolls along at a speed at odds with the wind strength and her own size (faster than expected). We got in a few hours up the Bay before some squalls and the entrance to the CND Canal forced us to drop the main and start to motor. There was little traffic in the Canal which was very pretty.
Saw a bald eagle getting harassed
by a little bird who seemed to want to catch rides on the big eagle's back and were passed by a convoy of the USNA's YP boats on a training cruise to RI. Enjoyed a delicious dinner prepared ahead of the voyage by Mark and fell into our watch system: 4 hours on, 4 hours off with 4 people per watch: first from 12-4pm was James (captain), Ernie and Bette Reuter and my dad (Allan) and second (4-8pm) was me (navigator), Richard Feeny, Mary Lotuff-Feeny and Mark Naud. Our watch ended just as we popped out of the canal into the Delaware River.

Next post will take us from the busy and bumpy Delaware River north to New York City.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Welcome American Promise - the first days

I have never met a sailor without a lot of stories. I think it is because it is hard to go sailing and have everything go just right and, "we sailed and it was sunny and perfect" just does not hold a crowd. And though I was not after developing a crowd pleaser during our maiden voyage of American Promise, I cannot just say, "we sailed and it was sunny and perfect".

American Promise is a beautiful boat with a very cool history. You can read some about her on our web site and a Google search will reveal everything from a record breaking circumnavigation by Dodge Morgan (who along with Ted Hood and a team of boatbuilders at Little Harbor in Marblehead, MA built her to his specs and needs for the record) to a sinking and resurrection and many, many hours spent at sea training the US Naval Academy's midshipmen. We have acquired her to use as the
mothership for the Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean. She will spend this next phase of her life as the platform for marine debris pick-up, research and programs starting on the East Coast. for more info.

Our adventure with her began July 7th with a closing in New Hampshire (yeah for the SBA and Optima Bank in Portsmouth) and a drive down to Annapolis (which was 102F). Mostly I just
remember making a lot of lists on that drive.

Above is how she looked sitting in her berth at the USNA's small craft basin (though there is really nothing small about American Promise). So pretty and capable looking. Despite the heat and thanks to the help of a team of fabricators, sailmakers and her 'boat keeper' we worked through a lot of the systems and got her ready to go. Sort of. Or at least until it started raining with 2 days to go. The fact that is was raining was fine, a welcome break from the heat even, the problems began when we started tracking the various leaks. One from a hatch (fine, fixable), another from a deck prism (also fixable) but then there was a brown liquid leak above the watertight companionway door (yuck and ??). We were not sure about that one and wrapped up the day's work with it still a mystery.

James (my husband and partner in all of this adventure) had a revelation overnight. When we got back to the boat at 7am the next day with 24
hours until intended departure, we followed up on his hunch. He is often right (grrrr) and this was no exception... we tested the middle bolts that hold the traveler bar to the boat and they just spun, no catching at all. We ground on the mainsheet and, as expected, the traveller track bowed up toward the pull. That is more than just not good, but potentially dangerous. Next, he pulled off a metal backing plate to reveal a huge area of rot in the deck beam under the traveller (photo below). Now the day before departure that was supposed to include some cleaning, fixing little items like light bulbs and packing the boat/provisioning turned into a scramble to make the traveller stable, strong and safe enough for us to sail. The best way we saw for that to happen was to drill holes into the metal backing plate and find longer bolts to through-bolt the traveller on. My job became driving around Annapolis like a crazy person looking for nearly impossibly long, small diameter bolts with just the right thread length... dropping them off and then driving around other parts of Annapolis looking for an impossibly long screw driver.

In the midst of all of this, we decided that this problem is significant enough to need a full fix, not just a temporary one. We called John Scarano at Scarano Boat in Albany, NY. We have known the Scaranos for a long time, refit another boat there, worked for them and James
had a shop there, we knew they were the right place to go to get this fix done correctly (and we can stay with my parents while it happens).

By the time most of our crew arrived from Vermont and Saratoga, NY we had finished the temp fix and had plans to head for the Hudson (bummer our Hudson River charts were all sitting in a tube in Vermont). They were a breath of fresh air and much needed energy. We finished the day with good food and their good company at the Boat Yard restaurant near Severn Sailing Association at around 10:30pm.

Stay tuned for the story of our voyage to pick up with the day of departure...