Repairs (ka’ching)… upgrades (ka’ching)… improvements (ka’ching)…  essential equipment (ka’ching)… spare parts (ka’ching)… more repairs (ka’ching)…. Yes, all the definitions of a boat being a hole in the water into which you throw money are appropriate. This is the never-ending story in sailing. But it would be a mistake to reduce the stress of repairs to purely financial pain. First there’s the stress of the breakage itself – which can be dire when you are underway. Then there’s the stress of figuring out if you can fix it yourself, and if not, who can. Add to that the stress of getting to somewhere close to where the repair will be undertaken. You still have to remove said broken part from boat. Taking down the mainsail, removing and storing the battens, strapping it on board while underway, lifting the heavy thing into the dinghy, and then onto the dock, is no mean feat. This is the ‘other’ side of the cruising life. The dark side…. The one we don’t like to talk about! Add to all the above stress a scary and powerful storm that created, yes, you got it, more repairs for us to deal with, and you have a recipe for …well…depression.

A look of concern on Skipper Steve

But every cloud has a silver lining. Even our storm clouds. Charles (‘Butch’) Ulmer of UK Halsey Sails was ours. He went above and beyond to help us. Providence. Not the town in Rhode Island – we passed right by it and did not even stop. I mean “providence” as in the divine care and direction by god or nature over the creatures of the earth! This continually leads us to amazing people along our way. Kindred spirits who we have instantly connected with – like Peter and Laurie, Rick and Ken, Dave Long, and many others. And Butch Ulmer.

As we headed down Long Island Sound from Old Seybrook on a calm sunny day, we called the four sail makers in Norwalk we had found listed on Google. The first ‘live’ person we got on the end of the line was Butch Ulmer – the owner of UK Halsey which was not in Norwalk at all. In fact they are all over the world but the head office is on City Island, NYC. Steve said he sounded very helpful, knowledgeable and friendly. Little did we know then that he is a world-class sailor, a well-known guru in one of the largest sail-making organizations in the world.

But we had 53 nm to go to Norwalk, and City Island was 20 nm further. A very long way in a day for a sailboat. So we called all the other sail repair places in Norwalk, and, when we found one, we called the marinas there to see if they could accommodate us. Meanwhile the day marched on and we were making good progress. We thought about the advantages of being closer to the Throgs Neck Bridge for our East River transit through the heart of New York City to Great Kills Harbour on Staten Island. We knew a storm was on its way and we wanted to get the sail fixed while we waited out the storm and then get underway again. We figured and re-figured and finally agreed that we could make City Island, and anchor on the North East side before dark. After that everything went smoothly, we anchored close to shore and ate our dinner in the cockpit.

City Island

We were woken by a call from Butch Ulmer the next morning at 7:30 am. He was concerned about the forecasted force of the storm and advised us to get into a slip in Minneford Marina, near where we were anchored. We tried to call them, but no-one came in till 9:15 am by which time the wind had picked up from 12 to 20 knots and the waves were starting to pound. Butch offered to cross the road from his sail loft and sort them out. They were supposed to call us back when a dock-hand arrived and they found us a slip. We specified that we did not want to be on the south-facing, open, exposed breakwater.After an anxious wait while the weather deteriorated further, they finally called us back at 10:30 to tell us to come into the marina. Eddie the dock-hand would be waiting to direct us on the dock. So we hauled anchor and made our way into the marina. Eddie was waiting alright. On the south-facing, very exposed breakwater. Steve did not want to enter at all – he knew we would be better on our anchor. I wanted to tie up briefly, and sort out another – better and safer – slip. I got my way – for better or worse. We tied up, and the waves pounded over our stern, swamping the cockpit. I was on the phone and the radio at the same time, trying to deal with South Minneford Yacht Club as well as North Minneford – we could actually see empty safer slips at both. Both denied us. I called Charles a.k.a. Butch at UK Halsey. Meanwhile, as I was speaking to him, another wave swamped our stern, threw the dinghy up on its davits, and we lost everything in it – the gas tank, pump etc. Butch said he would find us a slip and send someone down to help us. Steve rushed to try to get the dinghy off, and in the process, a holding line broke, a D-ring snapped and the dinghy ripped – the pontoon deflating. He could not get it down – a fastener had seized. We were soaking wet. The task of getting safely off the dock, backing up against the storm’s onslaught and getting out of the suicide breakwater triangle was daunting.

Charles (Butch) Ulmer of UK Halsey

Just then Butch himself appeared with one of his employees, Adam. His vast sailing experience and leadership skills came into play. He quickly sussed out the situation and took charge, directing each person. Steve backed up at full speed, while we released the lines and he pushed us off the swamped dock and jumped on. We managed to get out of there, with the dinghy dangling pathetically off the back and bouncing on the waves. Steve drove through the crashing waves while we changed over the mooring lines and fenders for a port tie up. Butch then directed us through a narrow opening around a barge breakwater to the marina next door – Consolidated Boatworks.

Boats on moorings in storm – 25 broke off and were wrecked.

We were all hugely relieved to tie up in a more sheltered slip inside. We were still not totally protected and the storm raged on so we tied up with all the lines and fenders we could muster – even our ‘hurricane’ lines from Texas! Butch and Adam went back to work, dripping wet, taking our main sail with them to be repaired. We now also had a major dinghy repair to deal with.

Around us in the marina people scurried to secure extra lines and retie sails which started to unfurl in the wind. One power boat sank at the dock – the first of many casualties. We saw the Tow Boat go out twice to rescue people or boats. Apparently 25 boats came off their moorings around the island – most on the other side which was even more exposed. Three sank. Some ended up on rocks or the beach. Had we stayed at anchor at the back of the mooring field, even if our anchor held (and we think it would have done so), it is quite likely that we would have been hit by at least one boats coming off its mooring. At 9 pm the wind suddenly dropped, replaced by rain, lightning and thunder.

Tuesday 3 pm – Consolidated breakwater

Same scene – Wednesday 9 am

The next day dawned clear and sunny and the water was calm as a mill-pond. Our spirits recovered. Swans visited Tai Chi, curiously watching us as we worked on the boat. Our friend Mat came over from Brooklyn to help us. As our request, Butch recommended a rigging expert and he came over to assess what we needed.

Jeff’s rigging inspection

There’s another saying about repairs that goes something like ‘at any one time there are at least 5 things that need fixing on a boat…2 of them you will know about’. This was an underestimate of the truth in our case. We wanted Jeff to take a look at:

  1. The main halyard which was chafing and needed to be replaced
  2. The Dutchman system to lower the mainsail which has never worked well since we bought the boat
  3. Possibility of rigging a preventer and whisker pole for offshore sailing
  4. Conduct an overall rigging inspection

Here’s what we did not know about:

  1. The boomvang mounting on the mast was splitting and lifting – a dangerous situation that Jeff felt was do to incorrect geometry of the boomvang itself which should at least be cut down and resized
  2. The T-fittings on the running backstays were the wrong size rendering them useless
  3. We had the reefing lines and Dutchman rigged incorrectly (since we bought the boat)
  4. The staysail was wrongly sized for the furling to work properly and needed to be shortened by a few inches.
  5. A lifeline was kinked and needed to be replaced.
  6. The main halyard block needed to be replaced – that was what caused the chafing which led to the need for a new halyard in the first place.

    A ramshackle marine supplies store on City Island!

Ouch. Double ouch. We spent the next two days on City Island, which is an interesting little, rather worn down part of the Bronx….a mix of quaint neighbourhood places, shabby shops, good and bad restaurants, mafia-types and ordinary people. We did laundry and grocery shopping.

A swan following the progress of our repairs

UK Halsey dealt with our mainsail and staysail – they were amazingly expedient, friendly and helpful. They even delivered them to us and helped put them back on. They told us where to eat on the island, and offered us all kinds of assistance.Mat was another lifesaver. He took us out to dinner at a wonderful restaurant on the island called Artie’s. He took our dinghy back to the city and dropped it off to be repaired. He even took our propane tank to be refilled – there are no placed to fill a tank in New York City as it is prohibited. I am not even sure how far Mat had to drive. He is amazingly kind.

Mat packing up the dinghy

Jeff did some of the repairs and rigging work, and we hatched a plan with him to get the rest done in Annapolis since he will be there too. This meant that we could continue along our way and not delay too long. We put in our waypoints for our next leg, which would take us down the East River, through the aptly named ‘Hell Gate’ where the current flows most swiftly, past the mouth of the Harlem River, through the heart of Manhattan, past the Battery, into New York Harbour and on to Great Kills Harbour on Staten Island. Recovered from the storm, and dinghy-less for a few days, we prepared ourselves for the exciting next leg of our adventure.

We have been in 5 Canadian provinces and 5 states on our trip so far!

View our photo journal for City Island.

Day 100: September 17;
Distance travelled 79 NM;
Current Position: 40° 51.23 N; 73° 46.92 W;
Left mooring in 
North Cove, near Old Saybrook, CT at 7:12
Anchored on NE side of City Island at 18:15;
Weather: Sunny and warm, 24° C; Wind: S <5 kn. Seas calm.


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