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Madcap Sailing
New York, New York
12/07/2008/3:11 pm, New Y ork City

What is it about this city that makes it different from others? I felt filled up with life last time I was here and I wondered if it was just because it was my first visit, but the feeling was the same again this time.

What a city! So over the top with stores and neon signs and incredible digital images towering above us - so many huge and magnificent towers where the people in suits do their money managing - how many Trump Towers are there?? - so many elegant old buildings with ornamental railings and carvings and steeples - so many parks with children and nannies and strollers - so many people from all over the world strolling and wandering and eating and playing and taking pictures.

There is so much entertainment - formal and casual - in the theatres and concert halls, and on the streets and in the parks. There are the giant office buildings into which people disappear to do their sophisticated work, and the Mom and Pop shops, and the street corner vendors, and construction sites and a gazillion restaurants and cafes.

Our little neighbourhood - Riverside Park - Broadway and 79th St - appeared to be home to many families with children judging by the number of strollers and nannies we saw on the sidewalks and in the parks. Because it was summer time, there were crowds of children in look alike T-shirts at summer programs in the park too.

The grocery stores in the area, the West End Market and Zabars, both had huge arrays of ready to eat food on their shelves. At Zabars, the servers stood behind the counters ready to dish out salads and main dishes and seafood and breads. At the Market, those same salads and entrees were already packaged into hundreds of small plastic containers lined up in colourful rows on the shelves. I wish I had asked what happens to all the containers once past their "eat before" dates. Or maybe I don't wish I'd asked. Plastic and throw-away containers have become pet peeves of ours on this trip. The amount of garbage produced is staggering and totally unnecessary. But that's a rant for another time.

It was great fun to introduce Alex to the city - it was his first visit too. We splurged on several shows starting with The Blue Man Group on Monday night. Jim knew of them; I didn't - and neither of us had given much thought to attending a show, but Alex was very keen to go so we did. Our seats were in the last row of the mezzanine in the small theatre on Lafayette St, but we still felt part of the show, and we all loved it. It was the most creative, entertaining performance art we've seen in a long while - part music, part comedy, part action - all riveting and extremely well done. We would all highly recommend it (even at $75.00 per ticket. We ordered on the phone before we got to the city - I can't remember if these tickets show up at the half price booth or not.)

On the drama side, we were fortunate to get tickets to A Country Girl, starring Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand and Peter Gallagher. I don't know why it wasn't sold out; it was such a strong performance by all the actors, and a good story too. Our seats (purchased at the half price ticket booth in Times Square for $55.00 each) were in the third row - close enough that we could see all the expression on their faces. What talent those people have!

On the third night, we went off Broadway again to see the Damn Yankees - a musical starring Sean Hayes (of Will and Grace) and Jane Krankowski (Ally Mc Beal). It was entertaining too, although not one of the big production musicals that Broadway is famous for. (At $25.00 per ticket, we felt we got our money's worth.) We tried a couple of times to get tickets to the new musical, In the Heights, or the long running Jersey Boys but the tickets (always available) were over $100.00 apiece and that just didn't fit the budget.

We visited the UN buildings and had a tour. This was really worthwhile too because, as Alex said, we all came away with more respect for that institution. It is sometimes easy to think that it just doesn't accomplish enough and doesn't have the teeth required to make things happen. After the tour though, we have a renewed belief that a place where nations come together voluntarily to talk, to make compromises, to reach shared objectives is valuable even without teeth. It started with 52 member countries after WWII and now has 191 member countries. It was good to hear about Canada's vital role - with Lester B Pearson's Peace Initiatives, and Lloyd Axworthy's work on landmines, and to know that we are (I think) the 7th largest dues payers. (Also interesting to learn that the US - the largest dues payers are chronically late with payment.) A couple of things really grabbed our attention - the visual display of the amount of money spent on weapons compared to all the other issues that affect us all - housing, medical care, food and literacy. It was an appalling imbalance. The other display was of landmines - many of them innocuous looking things - children's toys that can maim and destroy. Because of the work done in recent years, the deaths and injuries suffered have gone down markedly, but countries are still producing and selling them by the thousands. Why is it ever, ever, ever OK to make a weapon look like a yoyo or other toy that would attract a child???

We walked all around Ground Zero, looking at the site of so much destruction and dismay, and the pictures of the new facilities that will be there in the future. It continues to draw hundreds of solemn tourists - and there was a different feeling as we walked among them - thoughtfulness, contemplation - that wasn't in the air in other gathering places. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, there is still an awareness of tragedy.

Alex wanted to buy a laptop while he was here, so we spent some time comparison-shopping and he eventually bought one. He figured that even with paying the Canadian tax on the portion that exceeded his allowable amount, he paid less for more. (No duty on computers being taken across the border even if they are not make in the USA or Canada - that was news to us.)

We journeyed back on the subway and bus to La Guardia Airport on Thursday to see Alex off, and returned all the way on the bus - giving us a look at more of New York. That evening was spent on the boat - not too bouncy for once. It was the first slow evening for us in New York - we have always been in "gotta see and do as much as we can" mode. In fact, we slowed down so much that we spent another day there - an early morning walk, haircuts, afternoon strolls through Washington Square and New York University area - so full of interesting stops - and a leisurely evening there too. We ate delicious gazpacho and iced granites at a perfect café with fabulous old paintings on the wall and an original espresso machine on display, and later on dined on well-prepared seafood (slapped on the table by a grumpy waiter) in an Italian place while the two older Italian gentlemen at the next table carried on their conversation at top decibels. It was entertaining!

With regret, but also with an interest in making tracks - or should I say wake? - for Boston, we departed down the Hudson on the tide about 11 am on Saturday.

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The Hook and the Highlands
06/07/2008/3:07 pm, Atlantic Highlands, NJ

It was a day of motoring, napping, playing scrabble, plaiting with some of my Bahamian palm fronds, reading and munching.

We pulled out of Atlantic City on July 4th after Jim took a run in to the marina for diesel, using every ounce of his strength in holding the dinghy steady while I dropped the motor. That maneuver is a real trick when the waves are high. After a very long day, we turned the corner into the Sandy Hook anchorage off the Coast Guard Station about 10pm. During the last hour or so, the fireworks all up and down the shoreline entertained us, and the drizzling rain didn't appear to have caused much trouble. Part of the entertainment for us was listening to the VHF radio too. We found out later that boats flock to the East River to watch the New York City fireworks and that they aren't allowed to anchor - they just mill around. That went a long way to explaining what we were hearing on the radio.

There were numerous reports of boats aground and of fast boats swamping others. A few of the conversations went like this: "You (...expletive deleted but it contains the word mother...) just swamped me and a couple of other boats. SLOW DOWN!" A query about whether "mother...." was a nautical term came back! Someone else reported a boat on the rocks and the Coast Guard asked, "What is the water depth?" The man slowly replied, "They..." whereupon she asked about the depth where he was. Another fellow was reporting boats going aground and colliding, and then with great consternation in his voice, he said, "Something bad is happening here. There's gunfire breaking out!" Another voice broke in to say, "That's fireworks, hammerhead" and the first guy went curiously silent.

After all this, we quietly dropped our anchor and headed below for some rest and blessed quiet from the noisy engine.

On Saturday, we motored the short distance to Atlantic Highlands because we'd decided to bring Alex here and allow him to experience the thrill of sailing into New York City.

Atlantic Highlands is a curious sort of place. We anchored first before checking out the moorings. We wouldn't bother to anchor next time - the mud we brought up was horribly stinky and black and sticky. Moorings cost $45. - on the expensive side, but besides the mud thing, there is a launch service and the transient dinghy dock is really hard to find. (It's down at the end between the last pier and Pier 1) Moorings are handled by the Yacht Club (Pier 4) or call the Launch on VHF. The showers are in the casino building, and the key must be obtained from the launchmaster, meaning that there are no late night or early morning showers. The place is jammed with sport fishing boats, and there was a carnival on while we were there - only in the evenings. We found that a bit strange since most others we've seen have been running in the daytimes for the kids.

A laundromat is just a couple of blocks up the street from the waterfront, with Charlie in charge. "Cholley" - if I try to find my New Jersey accent, was a terrific source of information for us and I teased him that he had "Info" in neon lights on his baseball cap. While we did several loads of wash and dry, he told us about a great restaurant and where the grocery store was (both very easy walking distance)as well as looking up ways of getting to La Guardia without paying an arm and a leg. The fast ferry didn't run to Atlantic Highlands on Sunday, a limo/taxi that we found would cost $120. each way!! and we couldn't find out bus information on the phone. We also couldn't find bus schedules anywhere, and didn't have wifi from the boat. A clerk at the convenience store told us that the buses ran every two hours from 6:45 am onward, and when we finally lugged the computer to town and logged on, we confirmed that.

Accordingly, 8:15 on Sunday morning found us at the bus stop. (We took the dinghy in because the launch service didn't start till 8 but the fellow towed it back to the boat for us rather than leaving it on the dock all day - a no-no in these parts.) The bus took us to the Port Authority in a little over an hour, from where we took the subway to Astoria and picked up a bus to LaGuardia. - a long way and lots of changes of rides, but an experience nonetheless. Despite Alex's flight not showing up on the arrivals board he appeared on time and after feeding the starving fellow, we headed for downtown. If we had hurried, we could have caught the 2 o'clock bus back to Atlantic Highlands, but who wants to hurry the first glimpse of the Big Apple? We took bus and subway back to Times Square, boggled his mind with the size and scope of it, checked out what was playing in the theatres and eventually caught the 4 o'clock bus. Once back in Atlantic Highlands, we tossed his bag on the boat and went to check out that restaurant Charlie mentioned. It was a great find - a fine ribs 'n pulled pork kind of a place - with the pig theme very tastefully carried out all over the walls. We'd put Memphis Pig-out on our dining list anytime.

Then it was back to the boat for more catchup conversation with our turning 21 year old son and some sleep before moving along to NYC on Monday morning.

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Beautiful Houses and a Friendly Encounter
03/07/2008/3:04 pm, Cape May, NJ

We spent a couple of days in Cape May - exploring the streets with their gorgeous Victorian Houses - huge ones. We ate at the Lobster House and then got more seafood to take home - clams, shrimps, smoked salmon.

We met Christine and John and little Thomas on Margarita from Montreal - yeah - another Canadian boat! Susan and Mike (Tabby Cat) last seen in Eleuthera came in and we had a quick chat with them.

Cape May is an interesting place - some gorgeous areas - some very touristy areas. Lots of marinas - some sketchy depths at low tide. No good place to tie up a dinghy and go exploring (and spending money) in the town; the nice long dock at the Lobster house goes straight into the restaurant and we felt a little funny about traipsing through; the man at the South Jersey Marina said we could tie up there for an hour to get groceries, but not for all day. The pedestrian Mall downtown is pretty, but very touristy, the coffee shop charged for wifi access even on our own computer, the tourist bureau people didn't have much of an idea about what was where. However, just walking around the old streets and gazing at the magnificent Victorian houses was fascinating. I might take the trolley tour next time just to find out more of the stories about them.

Next morning, we took the dinghy to tiny beach at the Corinthian Yacht Club beside the Coast Guard Station because we wanted to go for one last brisk walk before leaving. We had the walk and came back to find the sailing classes ready to start at the club so we sat ourselves down on the wall to wait for the way to clear before we took the dinghy out. We were worried at first that we were in the way (and we were, but folks were nice about it.) Apparently there is no problem tying dinghies to their docks during the week. It's all occupied on the weekends. I'd still check with them in person, but it makes a good option from the Coast Guard Station anchorage if you want a walk. If the goal is the Wawa convenience store, the South Jersey Marina or the Lobster house are the best options.

On that wall, we got talking to Judy Lord who was there watching her grandchildren, and discovered a really genuine, lovely person. She told us about the club and how her family had been part of it for years and how friendly people were. She didn't just talk about that friendliness - she glowed with it herself. Then her daughter-in-law, Gigi came along and we chatted some more. The connections we shared made me think this was one of those coincidences that aren't really coincidences - it was one of those times when we felt we are on the "right path"!

We moved on out of there about 11 am, and had a good motor sail to Atlantic City. The wind came up and the waves grew as we blew through the breakwater about 5pm to the anchorage in the little area just off the Casinos and before the bridge. Several boats were over in the marsh area, but this duck around the green buoy and just out of the channel worked reasonably well for us - same spot as last fall. I made shrimp&grits for dinner - the recipe from Embarassment of Mangoes. Oooh - they were delicious. Even Jim, not the biggest grits fan, liked the dish. Hey Sue - does this mean we're developing a "southern side"?

There was an amazing fireworks display on Thursday night - a prelude to July 4th I guess - and we had a front row seat. Unfortunately the wind blew hard and the current was really strong so between the boat turning in circles and the wind generator howling,(we've discovered it does howl when the wind really picks up) the night was less than restful. We think perhaps another trip, we'd just do the long haul all the way from Cape May to Sandy Hook and skip Atlantic City.

Next stop - Sandy Hook (July 4) to be ready to greet our son, Alex, when he arrives in New York on Sunday!

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20/07/2008/7:24 am | Sue Campbell
Without a doubt, Beth, if you can cook grits you have a southern side! Eating grits takes you in the right direction, but cooking them, a skill I have not quite mastered, now that's southern. But the true test of a southern leaning is if you can eat those things with just butter, salt and pepper and no other adornments. Now that's how a real southern eats their girts!

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