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Cruising in Long Island Sound

By Kate “Bob” Addison and Captain Daniel Moreland

Monday May 21, 2012

This leg of our voyage is unusual for a couple of reasons: firstly it’s just a week long, and secondly we only have about 80 nautical miles to cover between New York City and Greenport, Long Island where we will be at the Greenport Tall Ships Challenge Festival. So we’re going at a nice leisurely pace and anchoring every night; basically we’re on a yachting holiday with a barque and it’s great. But more importantly it gives us a chance to sail every day, tack and maneuver under sail and sail up to and away from almost every anchorage. This is good stuff. And hopefully allow us to get lots of workouts in the small boats, the long boat for rowing and the motor powered skiff.

We sailed from New York City yesterday morning with a pilot and apprentice pilot aboard, and headed East up the East River, out towards Long Island Sound. It was a lovely transit under power through the great New York Harbour: sunshine, tourists on ferry boats taking our picture, wonderful view of the historical ships at the South Street Seaport Museum. Going under all of the big bridges was impressive; it always looks like our masts are going to hit the bridges but they never do, which is good. The bridges look very dramatic too, with this amazing New York skyline in the background. Here are some more details from Captain Moreland:

Sailing away from Manhattan

Having a pilot aboard in NY harbour is now mandatory for the Picton Castle (it did not used to be). So when it came time to sail away we called the Pilot Dispatch and ordered up pilots for a 0900 departure from our fine berth at Pier 25, West Side, North (Hudson) River. Sailing at that precise time would give us a flood tide that would push us off the dock and then give us just the right amount of time to get up around Manhattan in the East River with a little push and through what’s called Hell Gate at about slack water.

Hell Gate is a very narrow cut about quarter mile wide between the western end of Long Island and the rest of the continent of North America. Between Hell Gate and the Race at the other end of Long Island Sound, all the ocean that gets in and out of the Sound must pass through. Both of these sluices achieve a rate in the order of up to 5 knots or so. That is a lot. It seems that about 9,000 years ago what we call Long Island Sound was a fresh water lake before rising sea levels due to melting glaciers rushed in over these ends and turned it into a salt water sound. And Hell Gate has sharp turns as well. So ships and tugs try to go through these two spots at slack water which happens about every 6 and a half hours. “Slack water” is that period of no current between the tide coming in or going out. You get a ‘slack-water’ at extreme high tide and then one again at low tide, more or less.

So our good Senior Pilot showed up and and due to the fact that the pilots rarely get the call to take a ship through the East River and Hell Gate he brought along an apprentice pilot and asked if that was OK with us as a training exercise in these waters. Since we actually do not need a pilot at all hereabouts being both familiar with the area and the ship, and that we are all about and for marine training, we said that was just fine. So, with yards braced and fore lower topsail set to catch the wind and help us off the dock, we backed down on the stern spring, got away from the pier nicely and out in the stream, got the boat hoisted and off we went under power on a lovely cool sunny day.

South around the Battery, past the Staten Island ferry terminal and east bound (which is actually north) in the East River, under the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, past the United Nations building, under the Queensboro Bridge and another three bridges before sticking our jibboom out into the Sound. Had to blow the whistle a couple times to alert a couple yachts out of the way, I guess that they don’t have rearview mirrors. They astutely slipped over to the side and stopped taking their half out of the middle and let us by. We waved, their dog barked. It should have barked earlier said the pilot. We passed Hell Gate just fine and we headed off under sail in Long Island Sound bound for Greenport, Long Island.

Out in the Sound it was gorgeous sunshine, lots of yachts flitting about – some getting much too close so they could take our picture and give us a wave. We were tacking about too, a little more involved in a square rigger than a yacht, but we are getting reasonably slick. A little after lunch we dropped off our pilots near Stamford harbour on the North of the Sound, and had a fabulous sail back across to Huntington Bay a bit further East on the South side. It’s very pretty here: little sandy beaches cutting into the dark green of the tree line; here and there a big clearing for a grand house. We decided the people in big houses were probably jealous of us though, sailing about in the sunshine. After tacking about off and near Oyster Bay we anchored for the night in Huntington Bay.

This morning we got up for breakfast and the lovely view of the day before was completely wiped out by a thick grey fog. It was chilly and damp and visibility was almost nothing so we delayed going sailing, instead practicing some drills for the morning while we waited for the fog to lift. New hands went ‘up and over’ for the first time to practice going aloft safely and they all did very well. We also ran through a fire drill and abandon ship drill, and talked about the different possible emergency scenarios and how we would respond. We then spent some time practicing launching and recovering the rescue boat, which is an involved piece of seamanship and a critical part of our man overboard drill. The boat lives in davits hanging out over the water and you lift it up and lower away using the ‘boat falls’, a big block and tackle arrangement with 4-way reduction. Even so it’s heavy enough, really does take everyone to hoist it easily, and after doing that three times over we certainly felt like we’d done some exercise.

We sailed off the hook just after lunch, which sounds breezy but involves 1) going aloft to loose big wet heavy sails 2) back on deck to haul lines to set the big wet heavy sails, 3) hoisting up three shots of chain and a great big anchor with the windlass 4) bracing round the foreyards from hard over one way to hard over the other. We had four people lined up on the bar on each side of the windlass to hoist away the anchor; port side pushes down while starboard lifts up, then down the other way and that’s one pump. A shot of chain is 90 feet, and it took 201 pumps on the windlass to lift one shot. I counted. We were puffing like elderly asthmatic smokers running for a bus by the time we were done. But it was lovely to be sailing, nice fresh breeze filling our topsails we looked like a ghost ship gliding through the fog, our foghorn sounding long-short-short every couple of minutes. And then there was hot chocolate.

About 5pm we arrived at our anchorage for the night: we’re back on the North side of the Sound, inside the Norwalk Islands just off Noroton Point and Rowayton. So we took in all sails, dropped the anchor and then up and stow the soaking wet sails, which by now were about three times as heavy as when they’re dry. Hard work! Everyone was damp, tired and hungry by the time the ship was snug and tidy for the night and Donald, as always, stepped up to the challenge with an awesome dinner of golden crispy battered fish, potatoes and salad and the best chocolate brownies of all time: fudgy on the bottom, delicate crisp on the top and decadently gooey in the middle. There’s nothing quite like good food and feeling like you earned it!

2 NYC, bridge and watertaxi (2)
3 Pioneer
5 under the bridge

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