Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New York, NY - "Best Deal in Manhattan"

Early in the planning phase of our trip, NYC/Manhattan was just a possibility…if there was time left over. While the idea of sailing into New York’s busy harbor was exciting, there were concerns that it could be quite an ordeal with commercial traffic and extremely strong currents in the Hudson-especially through Hell’s Gate.

As our trip was underway, and we were feeling like we could take on the world, NYC became a priority instead of an afterthought. It also had a lot to do with timing. We were departing for New York (destination Long Island Sound) mid-week, while Stephen’s family would be working, taking the kids to activities, etc. and wouldn’t have much time to spend with us. Picking up a mooring in the 79th Street Basin would only cost us $25/night, the best deal on a stay in Manhattan. As we cruised past Atlantic City, we made the call. In Stephen’s words, “We’d be crazy not to.”

It was a little hairy sailing around and under the Verrazano Bridge. The depths became extremely shallow quite suddenly around a couple of lighthouses. There were wind gusts up to 35 knots as we approached the bridge, so we headed up into the wind to drop our sails and motor the rest of the way. The situation only became precarious when a powerboat drifting along in a high traffic area was refusing to honor the rules of the road and start up their engine to clear the way for us. New Yorkers. We had words, well….Stephen had words because he speaks their language.

As we approached Manhattan, the winds died and it warmed up instantly. There was a feeling of euphoria as the Statue of Liberty emerged on our left. Huge oceanliners, ferries, speedboats and classic sailboats amassed on the waterway. The only one who seemed less than enthused by the experience was Ms. Gretchen (our kitty and laziest crew member).

As we motored up the Hudson, we finally spotted a mooring area that seemed longer than two football fields. It was tricky picking up a mooring in the current, but we managed to do so in the first pass. Worse than the current were the mysterious waterbugs that resembled cockroaches clinging to the mooring lines. I shuddered to imagine what lie in the depths beneath our boat. Interestingly, our depth alarm sounded a couple of times while coming into the Harbor, indicating less than 5 feet when our chart told us we were in at least 50. Clearly, we would have run aground, so we surmised there were dead bodies or sea creatures indigeneous to this Harbor passing beneath us.

The view from the cockpit of the city skyline against a setting sun made the trip worth it. We drank about two bottles of red and chowed down on filets. Everything was quite calm when we went below to sleep. We woke up around 1:30 am to 3 foot rollers at our stern (coming from the South). With a strong current flowing from the opposite direction, the boat was being tossed about, rocking against instead of drifting behind the mooring ball. Stephen kept going up on deck to try to fix the situation while I was trying to soothe my nausea with saltines and ginger ale down below. Each time he went above, I had visions of him falling overboard and being swept down the Hudson.
After I hadn’t heard anything for about 10 minutes, I peaked out the companionway just as a wave was heading for the boat. It looked as though it would crash over the cockpit, but lifted it instead, passing underneath. I called Stephen’s name a few times, but no answer. I crawled up on the combings, peering through the dark, but didn’t notice him up at the bow. Now my heart started racing, imagining the worst. After a few seconds of freaking out, I heard something stirring down below. “Steve?” I ducked my head back inside. In a very groggy voice, Stephen replied, “Yeah, Tar.” “Oh, thank God!” I thought he was in New Jersey by now. Somehow he had snuck past me in the dark. I don’t know how he slept in the V-berth.

We thought that we would be able to distract ourselves from these conditions with some episodes of Law and Order (on DVD). Turns out that the screen moving up and down only contributed to our dizziness. Imagine that. Once we finally passed out, we woke up to much calmer conditions.

That afternoon, we made the trek out to see the Yankees play one last game in the old stadium. We splurged a little for great seats behind home plate. It was very nostalgic for Stephen, and he, like many other loyal fans, are in protest of the new stadium. We met a man outside of the stadium who said his family gave up season passes they had held for years when asked to sign a $4 million promissory note on the new ones. There were rumors that the new stadium would serve lobster tail, catering mainly to corporate customers renting out the box seats.

While in NYC, we went for long runs through Central Park, through the famous plaza where we stumbled upon a fashion shoot. Seated on the fountain only 20 feet from the models and numerous photographers, videographers, producers, girl who holds the cel phone, guy who holds the clothing, I actually felt an entire world away from this kind of lifestyle.

We headed to the Village to eat some famous cupcakes from Magnolia’s Bakery, that Cotterman has been insisting we try. I was not displeased, but I was expecting some monstrosity of a cupcake weighed down in assorted candies and creamy, chocolately gew. These were quite small (or quite normal, considering our “supersize me” society) but still very light and yummy. What I loved the most about this place was that they served you milk in a “to go” cup with a straw. We followed the many others who were taking their cupcakes to the park, less than a block away. We caught a show at the Comedy Cellar afterwards, our favorite place to see comedians. Colin Quinn was the headliner and even more hilarious in person than on SNL.

Before leaving Manhattan to head for Long Island Sound, we spent a day at the Museum of Natural History, probably our favorite museum ever because of its Rose Center, housing a planetarium and timeline exhibit that details the 13-billion-year history of the universe. It is definitely the perspective we walk away with every time that makes this exhibit stand out. As you walk the path of the timeline, each section, which spans a few feet or more, represents millions of years of history. After walking what seems to be a good half mile, you reach mankind, which is represented by only a hairline crack.
One of Steve’s favorite installations was the 15 ton Williamette Meteorite in Hayden Hall (see photo above). Discovered in Orgeon, it is the largest meteorite found in the United States and the sixth largest in the world. Sitting in our cockpit that night under what stars we could see through the haze of light pollution, we pondered our existence, a series of well-orchestrated cosmic accidents.

The next morning, we woke up sometime around 5 or 6 am to ride the currents through Hell's Gate. I was sleeping soundly in the V-berth until we reached the pass. The bow started rising and dropping a few feet, giving me the feeling of being on a roller coaster. We were in the middle of Hell's Gate and I regret not going on deck to see the "rapids" that Stephen told me about. We were perfectly safe even in the confused waters, since the current was moving us through at record speed (10 knots consistently) as our SOG indicated. This was faster than our boat has ever gone, with hull speed typically averaging between 5 - 6 knots . Steve said that at one point, it actually registered 12 knots. Later, our friend Brian (a firefighter in NYC) told us about the many distress calls their district receives from Hell's Gate. We definitely timed it right.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cape May, NJ - "A New Appreciation for a Quaint Vacation Spot"

The last time I visited Cape May, I was a teenager and barely able to tolerate one night in this little town. We used to spend our family vacations in Wildwood, NJ less than a 30 minute drive away. My Mom longed to spend just one summer vacation here, but my sister and I found it to be quite boring and insisted on staying where all of the action was (arcades, amusement piers). Mom always told me that I would learn to appreciate its quaint character when I got older. I swore she was wrong and over 15 years later, I regret protesting her request. Was she right? Yes and no. After 2 days of oohing and aahhing at its beauty and charm, other realities set in: lack of public transportation, limited internet access and countless rules limiting beach access, times for biking, liquor licenses near the beach...basically everything fun.

Maybe there was something to these rules. The beaches were clean and very pretty, unlike the ones I had remembered in Wildwood where the occasional piece of trash or soiled diaper would wash up on shore. There was certainly going to be none of that in this town. You had to buy a permit to spend a day on the beach and there was always a patrol car in sight. The local Kiwanis Club performed a flag ritual every evening at sundown at the end of the pier. A plaque describing this ritual proclaimed its citizens to be "quite patriotic" and their intentions to pass their patriotism and good character on to their children. Stephen and I may have trouble living up to this reputation should we stay here too long. We would stay only long enough to enjoy some relaxation after a long journey here.

We were dying to have a day after boat maintenance and other projects were finished, where we did nothing but lounge on the sand. The unpredictable post labor day beach weather brought brisk breezes that would make more than an hour on the beach unbearable. I drank my morning coffee to stay warm. Stephen considered immersing himself in the ocean, but quickly retreated to the blanket after dipping his feet in. We ate "hot nuts" and candy from another famous fudge shop and walked around the town taking pictures of all the pretty houses.

Boats visiting the Cape must anchor in the harbor on the other side of town, so we accumulated many miles of walking, over 30 between the two of us. As new crusiers, we expected that internet access would be abundant, so the first day ashore we lugged our laptop a couple of miles into town. Lesson learned: do not bring bags, coolers, computers, etc. ashore until you know that there is a library, grocery store, internet cafe and know exactly where it is. Despite this, we loved all of the walking and have decided to continue to walk everywhere now that we are living back on land.

During our trip from Annapolis to Cape May, we sailed all through the night (24 hours) and were guided by the lighthouse on its southern shore. This beacon signaled our entrance into the ocean at about 3:00 am and also gave us an idea of just how close we were to land. It was important that we stay a couple of miles out as the depths can get very shallow rounding the Cape. This jaunt was slightly unnerving as it was our first time into the ocean in the pitch black of night with 30 knot winds and 6 foot waves dousing us in the cockpit. The lighthouse became both our point of reference and stability as we continued to glance at it for reassurance.

It was only fitting that our first destination ashore was the lighthouse. Using our fingers to gauge the distance we had covered on our little map of the town, we figured "It can't be that much farther." Of course, this is how many of our "walks" on vacation turn into epic journeys. We reached the lighthouse shortly after sunset and then began heading back into town for dinner. We had accurately judged the amount of time it would take us to get to our landmark. Surely, the trek back to town would be of equal distance. Only later did we discover the little notation that indicated "map not to scale."

As we walked and walked down long unlit roads in search of the main street back into town, we stumbled upon a somewhat cute, but slightly creepy scene involving a vegetable stand. In the front yard of a beach cottage was a little table with a red checkered cloth and a basket of the smallest home grown tomatoes and peppers you have ever seen. There was a donation jar next to the basket and a beach umbrella stuck in the ground to protect it from the sun. The teddy bear seated in the tree swing (donned in a dress and hair bow) was the element that gave us the hee-bee gee-bees. Stephen thought it had a pedophila kind of essence. It reminded me of Hansel & Gretel or some other childhood fairytale in which the innocent are lured into some kind of sinister trap. Perhaps our imaginations had just gone wild out on the open sea with no television, and it was simply the darkness that made an otherwise friendly gesture seem evil. But I remain convinced that there is a little Stephen King in this town.