We had the most perfect entrance to New York – early dawn, on a sunny, calm day, before harbour traffic became too frenzied. We reveled in the sights and sounds of New York- helicopters and ferries coming in and out of the Battery, huge barges at anchor, Lady Liberty glinting in the early morning light, Ellis Island reminding us of early immigrants, the space shuttle Enterprise in its “museum” on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid, a Norwegian Cruiseline transatlantic cruise ship at Chelsea Pier. As a child I remember loving a couple of little books we had about the adventures of Ant and Bee – who travelled to Paris about an ocean liner. This felt similar to me – the excitement of being in a small sailboat transiting one of the busiest city harbours in the world.
Unfortunately, New York City is not the most cruiser friendly place. Our favourite layover, Great Kills Harbour (of Refuge) on Staten Island, was decimated by Superstorm Sandy and has not yet reopened due to the level of damage. Not a refuge anymore. Docking anywhere is prohibitively expensive or very inconvenient. The Liberty Boat Basin anchorage is too far from anything to “do” the city. We opted to go to the 79th Street Boat Basin on the Upper East Side. This seemed like a great option and we know other people who had enjoyed staying there on a relatively inexpensive mooring at $30 per night. I called as we approached and was told that the maximum boat size for a mooring was 40 feet – we are 42 feet long. They said we could anchor at the north end of the mooring field, and pay $27 per night for dinghy access at the Boat Basin. Lacking any other reasonable options, we agreed. However, the mooring field stretched just over a mile up the Hudson River which has a ripping ebb current of 3.5 knots. We anchored anyway in 30 feet and let out 200 feet of chain.
It was a pretty location – flanked by a river-side park and trail, well used by joggers, cyclists and dog walkers. Tall brownstones and elegant buildings of the Upper West Side towered over trees. However, I was not too happy about our situation. The weather was great when we arrived i.e. sunny and warm, but the forecast called for another windy, wet system to transit the area. It was a long dinghy ride to the Boat Basin – wet, bumpy and cold when the weather turned nasty. The current was so strong that our prop started turning in the night – our chartplotter recorded that we did 15 miles on anchor over the days we stayed. We thanked and blessed our trusty Spade anchor every day. The Boat Basin itself, despite being New York’s municipal marina, was a mess. The dock masters/attendants were mostly rude and unhelpful. The laundry machines were inoperable. Dock damage from the storm had not been repaired. One unisex toilet and one shower were in rough shape. No wifi. We could not even see our boat from the marina – it was so far away. It was a crying shame to have to pay to anchor there – just for dinghy access. Along our journey we had stayed in small villages with much nicer municipal marina facilities. I guess New York does not need to attract the business of cruisers, as do Elizabeth City, NC, or Phoenix, NY, which have much nicer facilities and welcoming attitudes. We considered moving up the Hudson and taking the train back into the city. But we had plans for the city, and in the end we ‘sucked it up’ and stayed 4 nights before moving on to Half Moon Marina, Croton on Hudson.
The day we arrived was sunny, and despite the overnight journey and lack of sleep, we launched the dinghy and went into the Boat Basin to register. We took turns to have quick showers, and Paul grabbed a taxi and headed to the airport – having arranged his flight back to Ottawa by phone.
The good part: we loved the location on the Upper West Side. The Boat Basin Café, with its stone patio and fairy lights, overlooking the marina, was a lovely place to enjoy a drink and/or dinner on a fine day. A few minutes walk brought us to 79th Street at Broadway – where there was a subway station. We accessed internet each morning at either Starbucks or McDonalds near that intersection. I ogled and drooled in the famous NY deli – Zagars – mesmerized by the array of gourmet/deli foods of every description in the tightly packed aisles. I picked up a few treats – thinking myself pretty restrained considering the amazing selection of fine foods and cheeses. A little further south on Broadway was the Fairway Market – with an equally astounding array of vegetables and fruits stacked high in colourful mounds inside and outside the store.
One block further east, Columbus and Amsterdam Ave were lined with cafes and fine dining establishments with packed patios – one of the first spells of warm sunny weather this spring. Two blocks east, along streets lined with elegant brownstone apartments, was the museum of Natural History and Central Park.
The day after we arrived, on Saturday May 12, we donned our foulies for the dinghy ride, and then took the subway and ferry over to Staten Island. Steve’s sister, Maggie met us with her friend Johnnie. We spent the bulk of the day assisting her with the opening of a special exhibition of her work in a gallery in Snug Harbour called “Studio Mates: Honoring the Spirit of Snug Harbour Sailors”. It was a new body of her work, from a Staten Island Arts Grant she was awarded, on the sailors of Snug Harbour (see my earlier post). We really enjoyed meeting some of Maggie’s friends who attended the show, and greatly admired her work in progress in her studio, as well as the paintings in the exhibition. She is a brilliant artist, but that is not all. Friends and former students at the NY Academy of Fine Art spoke to us glowingly about her “gifted” teaching abilities.
We had been alone in the Hudson anchorage, rocked from time to time by transient barges and boats. But we did have a neighbor one night – the smart-looking historic replica barque, the “Virginia”.
The next day we browsed the craft stalls on Columbus, walked around and through the free exhibits at the Museum of Natural History, and strolled through Central Park to Strawberry Fields. We love Central Park and enjoyed the buzz of people enjoying the weekend in the park.
We met Maggie at the 72nd Street Subway station, and enjoyed an afternoon meal with her at the Boat Basin Café. On Monday it threatened rain in the afternoon, so we got the “full deal” ticket at the Museum of Natural History which gave us admission to their two special exhibits – one on whales and one of food of the world, saw the Imax show on the migration of Monarch butterflies, and the planetarium show called “Journey to the Stars”, and also visited the Conservatory. We enjoyed it all.
Afterwards we met up with friends Chisholm and Dave at a nice French bistro called Nice Matin on 79th and Amsterdam. As Chisholm and Dave had sailed their previous boat across the Atlantic and spent time in the Caribbean as well as the Bahamas , we enjoyed a great evening catching up and swapping sailing yarns.
We hauled anchor the next day, having had enough the swift-flowing muddy current of the Hudson, and motored up the Hudson to Half Moon Marina, Croton on Hudson. The trip took us under the impressive George Washington Bridge. We were well-sheltered from the current here, and the marina owner/manager, Steve bent over backwards to make our stay pleasant. He drove us to the local Laundromat and showed us around town, including a stop at a gourmet market in this nice little town.
We caught the Metro North train to Yankee Stadium. Our friend Mat had organized baseball tickets and we met him there. It is a lovely, impressive stadium, and despite not being a huge baseball fan, I really enjoying the whole experience of a game – the hotdog and fries, beer and popcorn, jumbotron, announcement, organ music, rolling waves and crowd cheering. It was a great evening. Seattle was winning when we left in the 7th inning, but of course the Yankees made a huge comeback as soon as we left the stadium! Thanks again to Mat for arranging this outing and driving us all the way back to Croton afterwards – what a great friend! All in all, New York delivered a great Big Apple experience for us, despite its lack of cruising facilities.
If we never return in our own boat, at least we feel we did it justice this time and soaked up every minute of the memorable experience of sailing the East River, the Hudson River and New York Harbour, around the Battery and through the Narrows on perfect weather days.
View our photo journal for New York.
PS: My wifi connection is so weak here that I have not been able to post captions to photos or the updated map. But I am so far behind that I am posting this anyway. Will update later so check back in a week or two when I have proper wifi!
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