The final 120 of the final 400

Moving closer carries an eager anticipation the colder weather can’t dampen. Once we get to Sandy Hook, weather permitting the trip ends in two days. Long Island Sound can be a lovely sail or motor-sail (yah, when?) or a miserable pounding into wind and waves where you feel lucky to plod along at 5kts!

New York harbor is always a happening place, although on this trip we saw the least activity of our six trips. After a refreshing 12 hours of blissful sleep we headed up Chapel Hill Channel toward the Verrazano (how about that for a horse’s name?) Bridge. Heard the CG call container ship Dubai Express (Hong Kong) to discuss boarding arrangements for the required document check.

Big ship, little ship. So many containers.

Big ship, little ship. So many containers.

One World Trade was to have the top spire placed on the day before, but the wind didn’t cooperate so we thought maybe this morning; but no. We took photos anyway just in case, but later read that the top was placed on May 2.

One World Trade rises over Manhatten

One World Trade rises over Manhattan

Looking vintage among the new

Looking vintage among the new

The 130-yr old Brooklyn Bridge was receiving a facelift. Fortunately she was built with enough foresight and height to allow for ships much taller than we to pass under easily. The bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the U.S. and among the longest suspension bridges in the world. Designed by a German immigrant to be six times stronger than needed, the Brooklyn Bridge remains standing long after others built around the same time have crumbled into history.

The Brooklyn Bridge spans the East river

The Brooklyn Bridge spans the East river

A one to two knot and increasing, current was boosting our speed as we headed up the East River. Hell Gate would be at max flood (NE to LIS) around 11:30 making our 11am passage still quite swift. The tugs and their charges seem to avoid the hour around max flood and max ebb losing control would not be a fun experience during that time. We hit 13.4kts going under a bridge just past the Gate.

An over-4kt current mightly pulls at this buoy

An over-4kt current pulls mightly at this buoy

Controlling our timing with the current is one thing, the wind, another entirely. A forecast, claimed by all our sources, of SE proved wrong, damn wrong. NE was the order of the day- and hey, that’s exactly the way we are headed. Now, add in wind at 16- 20 kts and you have unhappy Ortolan crew! A promise of switching to SE in the afternoon occurred at 6pm, just before we anchored off Pleasure Beach by the Bridgeport entrance channel. The ferries to Port Jefferson on Long Island, NY slide by here and a fleet of oyster fishermen reside at the nearby docks, but none of that was any trouble. Anchoring was. We thought 20ft was too much, so why not try 30ft! Do the math, 30ft needs about 150ft of scope (all chain for us). Overnight conditions would be calm, which is typical although not always so. Of our 250ft of chain about half of it is horribly rusted. Last summer we switched it around so that the most used rusting half would become the seldom used half. After 125 ft had gone out and through the windlass, our shipwreck museum quality chain came out and the windlass started making a funny noise. Stop the presses. The cover/guard part on the top had loosened- mostly thanks to extra vibration from the rusted chain. An easy fix, then we completed the process by clipping on the bridle.

This chain is NOT from a sunken ship!

This chain is NOT from a sunken ship!

Now can I take a shower? Well, yes but while I did that Russ would be replacing the belt on the port engine water pump which was starting to shred; failure would be imminent. Stuff like this greatly boosts my desire to be back home in Deep River.

Wednesday- ah 50 more miles to go. We got moving by 6:45, greeted the incoming ferry and picked up a favorable current. The oyster fishing boats were out just a short ways the shallower waters. Spent the day motor-sailing and sailing as the NNE wind shifted to SE. Our ETA to the marina was 2:30. The only thing in our way, short of boat trouble, was the Old Lyme Draw, the Amtrak bascule bridge over the CT River. Excuse me? Did I hear that right? The Old Lyme Draw is closed for emergency repairs? Well, that’s what the message sounded like and we think we heard that it would open 3 times a day with one opening around 3pm. Checked with our marina and Dee confirmed an opening between 2:55-3:29, in between trains; that time we could manage to. Recall that the week before we left last October, the bridge had been closed for repairs.

The poor Dock & Dine. Irene came through and wrecked havoc. The well-known Old Saybrook establishment had just re-opened last summer, then bam, Sandy hits. Even the old mini-golf next door would be getting a make-over.

Dock and Dine readies for the season- hopefully.

Dock and Dine readies for the season- hopefully.

We call the bridge, oh this guy is royally dead pan. We assure him we’ll be up at the bridge for 3pm- I mean we are in sight 1 mile away. A train passes at 3pm- looking good… we wait and wait until I just have to call, “Old Lyme Draw. Ortolan.” Then we hear the next train as he tell us after the next train. Jeez, he could have originally told us that after the two trains passed over, then the bridge would open. A few small boats were out and enjoying the warm sunny day; we were the only boat waiting which made maneuvering easier. Finally at 3:10 the horn sounds. We get our nose lined up and wait, our eyes glued to the spot where the bridge will disconnect from the fixed section. Oh, you meant to tell us that the emergency lift system is in use and the bridge will raise extremely slowly, as in this will take 10 mins? Oh, right. Three Amtrak dudes in orange jackets are present to make this happen and I guess just enjoy the scenery otherwise. Once the bridge appears to have stopped, the bridge tender tells us, “it’s yours for the taking, catamaran.” “You’ve got 65ft, just hug the west side.” We zoom through, looking back to watch the s l o w closing. No wonder the opening time is a 30 minute window.  Hailed our thanks and wishes for a speedy repair (a part is coming from CA), no reply from Mr. Grumpy.

This relic is MUCH older than our anchor chain

This relic is MUCH older than our anchor chain

Yippee! One more hour to go. The current helps us along and we marvel at the lack of debris and the somewhat clear river water. A far cry from 2011 when after massive winter snowfall up north, half of VT’s fallen branches made their way through CT. We think we know which is mooring #2 but none have the second pennant we requested. We’d taken the bridle off and along with it the big clip we use, so I hurry to get that back on, making sure I don’t tumble in over the stays in the process. Lovin’ those headsets more every day. The pennant has a float with a whip to let you grab it with your hands, but this whip makes it harder for us. We have to pick it up (and mind you it’s moving around) in the exact way to allow me to get it inside the dolphin stay on the port side (the starboard has an add’l line that makes that side even more difficult), so with our bridle clip we just need to get it from the center and attach the clip to the loop at the end of the pennant. That done, we switch places and Russ runs our long black lines from the cleats through the eye loop so we are doubly secured and can snug up a bit closer to the ball. With the second pennant (soon we hope) we can get even closer and not swing too far into the channel.

Yes, good to be home. Thursday we’ll eat our customary “return breakfast” with David, catching up on nephew news and such. Bonny waits for us outside her winter home and we can’t wait to start tackling all those errands.

A misty morning greets us on May 2nd

A misty morning greets us on May 2nd

The Final Four Hundred

Miles that is. Weather forecast still good. Check. Diesel tanks full. Check. Offshore preparations done. Check.

From Top Rack Marina we still had one remaining opening bridge to contend with. For some reason the Gilmerton Bridge is no one’s favorite. Possibly because it’s at a bend and you can’t easily see boats heading the other way, but also because it’s the closest to Norfolk and gets more traffic. Since spring of 2011 the old bascule span has been replaced by a lift bridge that will raise to 135ft max, normally open to 75ft and sit closed at 35ft. More boats will be able to pass under in the closed position and that should relieve some congestion.

Our first boat parade this season, going under Gilmerton Lift Bridge

Our first boat parade this season, going under Gilmerton Lift Bridge

The 37nm trip would take us through the big ship area between Norfolk and Portsmouth, then cross over the channel to head for Kiptopeke Beach on Cape Charles, just below the old ship breakwaters and in between the fish trap stakes.

We’re not crazy about anchoring in 20ft- so much chain and then the time to rinse it all off. The local dolphins however love the area and at least a dozen were playing and eating around us; some even mistook us for talent scouts when they jumped high out of the water providing a free show.

Up and going bright and early with breakfast underway before we rounded the tip of the Cape to head NE to New York. Sounds so simple when put like that. Main got raised early; we hoped to at least motor-sail for half the 240nm trip. The weather usually runs true to forecast for the first half of the trip, but after that the accuracy drops miserably; oh visions of last season’s trip make my stomach churn. Overall, the trip was relatively boring and uneventful, but the anticipation of 15kts ratcheting up and the waves along with it, made me a nervous Nellie for more than a few hours.

Crossing the Delaware entrance area where several big ship lanes converge, plus you always see a bunch at anchor waiting for their turn to go in, takes a good four hours. We are always doing this at night. A nearly full moon was invisible thanks to overcast skies and approaching rain. The “off-Delaware entrance” passage was easy and not once did we need to alter course to avoid a ship; most were at anchor so that helped. If only they showed a different color on AIS that would be a huge help. Checking 8 green triangles to see if they are moving or not takes a while, then what if they begin to move? The triangle becomes solid red and enlarges if the distance or approach becomes dangerous. Various options allow you to set up your warnings based on time and distance.

My fears of big winds and seas off New Jersey were for naught- thank goodness, but I was too anxious to get any sleep. When sailing or motor-sailing the daggerboards and base of the mast move around, making too much noise for me to sleep. Russ did better, still; we knew Monday night would be a long, wonderful slumber.

We found a trip speed calculator on our Garmin that would display our average speed. We also did a check every three hours of distance to go and the speed we had to average to arrive by 7pm Monday. An average speed of 6.7kts would do it and anything more was gravy. Between all possible combinations of two sails and two engines we had no difficulty maintaining the required average, in fact during much of the “off New Jersey” stretch we sped along when the wind picked up . The main stayed up the entire trip, but Mr Finicky Jib fusses at apparent wind less than 40 degrees so he did his best squeeze box imitation- in and out. No feathered visitors, precious few pleasure boats and dolphins; the trip did prove to be mostly uneventful. As you well know, it’s not over until it’s over… and anchor down. But even then, maybe not.

Around 3pm Monday our trip average speed hit 7kts- sweet. Russ changed over the display that showed that number and I made a log note, also noting that we were off Long Branch, NJ. Don’t ask why I wrote down where we were; just seemed like a good idea at the time. Long Branch is about 6 miles north of Asbury Park and we were two – three hours from arrival. Roughly an hour (more or less?) later the CG made a Pan Pan for a report that a white sailboat might be in need of assistance off Long Branch. Hey, that’s the place I made that notation at 3 o’clock. We didn’t see anything although at that time we were about 2 ½ miles off the coast; much closer than the 12 miles earlier in the trip.

When the wind picked up a bit I’d stowed some loose counter items figuring being over-prepared works every time. As we approached the Sandy Hook Channel I put them back out- hey we’re almost there. We’d just discussed if big ships used that channel (it’s the smaller of three) when I looked back to see Mr Big heading in, checked AIS and sure enough he was moving along at 10kts. He’d be right there when we wanted to enter the channel and cross it so we could jibe and continue in. Pulled throttles back to 1000 rpms and bobbed along until he passed, but before he came by I re-stowed my counter items just in case his wake was yucky. (it wasn’t). The Coast Guard patrol boat was heading out from the station at Sandy Hook.

By 5:30 we are anchored near the CG station – in 20ft again! No debris spotted bigger than a foot long piece of wood once or twice. Balloons won as most spotted- at least 10 for the entire trip, just bobbing on the water. We ate and crashed, running the genset so the heaters could run for a while. Cold here and no sun all day. 54 degrees and colder at night. Brrrr. My warm weather PJs gave way weeks ago to a long-sleeved night-shirt and non-matching PJ bottoms- but who cares, right? Matching or not they keep me warm. Russ’s mantra is “electric blanket.”

Winkin’, Blinkin; and Nod are upon me when I hear an odd sound (the anchor chain?) then a horn/siren noise. What the? Russ is asleep. I hear the horn noise again and instantly I know who it is. Do you? The Coast Guard patrol boat paid us a visit. I tell Russ to get up (just in case) and I go up, dressed in my night best, open the stern panel and stick my head out. No, we’re not getting boarded (phew), nor asked to move (double phew), they want to know 1) where we came from 2) did we stop and 3) are you ready?- did we hear the announcement about a vessel in possible need of assistance? I answered and by the second question I realized that they were trying to determine if WE were the subject vessel or did we see anything. Not us and didn’t see anything. But isn’t it really weird how I made that notation off Long Branch and that’s where the sighting took place? We didn’t turn the VHF back on but I know the CG went out there (took them what 30 mins one way) and found zilch. Came back and saw us. Figured they’d better check. Good-night, sleep tight, do not let anything else disturb us tonight!