September 29-30, 2018
The heavy rains we had been experiencing provided repeated opportunities for rain catch, thanks to the brilliant design and integration of a gutter system mounted to the overhead solar panels by Tom Chalkley.
However, the rains were a double edged sword.
Simultaneously, while we eagerly collected water without having to leave the boat, we lamented at our inability to charge our batteries with free solar power. And without solar charging, we had to fall back on our diesel consuming generator.
The biggest problem lie in the fact that our house battery bank was dying. The batteries were eight years old and obviously on their last leg. We had begun to have problems with the electronics starting to shut down while we were under sail in cloudy weather or even overnight. The massive power draw from our anchor chain windlass was also forcing us to run the engine for a while before starting to bring up the chain.
We knew the batteries were living on borrowed time when we purchased Exit; now it appeared their demise was growing very near. We had already replaced the two starter batteries in Charleston, SC one month ago when we began to have problems starting the Perkins engine and had to run jumpers to the house bank.
Our boat speed indicator had also become inaccurate again. It was earlier in Charleston that we had also first found barnacle and marine growth on the hull around the transducer paddlewheel to be causing the problem. The growth surrounding the transducer caused turbulence around the paddlewheel which, in turn, affected its’ performance.
Having a functional speedometer was not imperative, but we found it to be exceptionally helpful in the continual process of adjusting our sails. We could see increases or decreases in boat speed as we fine tuned both the mainsail and the genoa. Without an accurate speed display, we were having to do a lot of guessing.
We hoped the batteries would last long enough to get to Harrington Harbor North, just beyond Annapolis, where we had purchased Exit and planned to do our haulout.
The speed indicator, on the other hand, was a simple fix.
So, at 7:00am, just before we set out from Block Island, I undertook the “invigorating” task of jumping into much colder water than I would have liked to first thing in the morning to scrub the underside of Exit’s hull right around the transducer.
Thankfully, the job only took a few minutes. Even more thankfully, once we got underway, we were immediately rewarded with a fully functional and accurate speedometer.
We had finally committed to take the Long Island Sound route to New York City, not so much out of fear for inhospitable offshore weather, but rather on the hope that the forecasted wind direction (and anticipated wind shifts) would allow us more sailing than motoring through the Sound.
It did require that we adhere to a rather tight schedule in order to benefit from favorable currents. If the timing wasn’t right, we’d have the current against us much of the way.
As we set out with the Big Apple awaiting us nearly one hundred twenty five nautical miles away, or just over twenty four hours, I noted in the ship’s log: it looks like we will have to really work for the wind, but it’s a beautiful, sunny day; not cold at all.
Erratic wind shifts certainly made the day challenging. At times we found ourselves doing nearly eight knots in eleven knots of wind followed by a struggle to make four knots in fifteen knots of wind.
At one point, we saw a one hundred twenty degree shift in wind direction with breezes that went from five to fifteen knots in only a couple of minutes time. The wind forecasts we had studied seemed to apply to an entirely different area than we were in.
In addition, currents seemed to vary considerably, which also added to the overall inconsistency of our success at being able to sail rather than motorsail.
Though, to our amazement, we found ourselves nearly three hours ahead of where we anticipated being by evening, we were rewarded with the unpleasant reality that this fact completely screwed up our timing with the tidal currents.
Consequently, during our passage to NYC, we ironically ended up racking up close to as many hours running our engine as we had in all the combined time of traveling some twelve hundred miles since we had left Charleston. The only silver lining we could find in this was the fact that our terminally ill battery bank seemed happy with the constant charge being delivered from the engine alternator.
Despite the depressing aspect of so much motorsailing, we were fortunate to not encounter any seriously hostile weather during the entire passage. We even found that the nights required minimal layers of clothing to stay comfortable.
By the time we reached the East River, which would lead us straight under the Brooklyn Bridge to the Statue of Liberty, it was 5:00am, and our schedule based upon currents had gone completely out the window.
We ended up having to temporarily drop anchor until early afternoon, as the currents in the East River reach five knots, requiring a sailboat to pass through only when those currents are favorable.
While we awaited the current change, in the distance we could see the rough and tumble buildings of Queens and the Bronx on opposite sides of the East River, with multi-million dollar homes lining the shoreline of Long Island right next to us.
Our navigation down the East River proved rather uneventful, though exciting.
We were surprised how little boat traffic we were encountering as we passed under the Bronx Bridge, under the La Guardia Airport landing flight path, followed shortly afterwards by the formidable and intimidating looking prison housed on Rikers Island.
Just beyond Harlem was Hell Gate, a choke point in the river where currents reached five knots and the surface chop resembled an ocean more than a river. It was here that we started having to weave amongst power boats moving in both directions as well as ferries traveling at a staggering rate of speed.
During this entire time, as Exit bucked and pitched in the substantial chop of five knot currents battling against an opposing fifteen knot wind as well as the wakes of passing boats, we had the breathtaking Manhattan skyline looming above us on our starboard side.
Then, with Hell Gate behind us, we passed first underneath the Manhattan Bridge, followed by the Brooklyn Bridge, upon which we had been pedestrians only nine months earlier.
Before we knew it, the East River spit us out into the mouth of the Hudson River. Just on the opposite side, stood the iconic Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
We had made it… aboard our sailboat with New York City all around us… spectacular.