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Madcap Sailing
Long Island Sound - By Sail and By Motor
15/07/2008/3:20 pm, Newport, Rhode Island

Because we made such good time coming into Long Island Sound, and because it felt so very good to be roaring along under sail, we changed our minds about destinations.

We had planned to stop in Port Washington in Manhasset Bay where we stayed last fall, but opted to try a new area instead. We pulled into Hempstead Harbor - the next one along - and anchored just behind the breakwater. There are lots of moorings, but lots of room for anchoring too, and it was just a quick duck in from the Sound for those of us in a hurry.

Jim took the jerry cans to Glen Cove for diesel and paid the most yet - $5.70 per US gallon! Yikes. I made a Thai chicken stirfry in a hot peanut-garlic sauce with rice and salad for dinner and we had a pleasant evening listening to the music drifting out from shore and watching the boats come back from their day of sailing. There are some very fine sailors here and it was a treat to watch them sail among the moorings, turn into the wind and drop their sails just as neat as you please in just the right spot. By coming here we missed out on dominoes with Susan and Mike (Tabbycat) back in Port Washington but it worked better for our course planning. They are making their way to Maine too so I hope we'll have another chance. I never did learn how to play dominoes and want to fill that gap. (I never learned bridge either, but haven't had a hankering to change that one!)

Sunday (July 13) was a gorgeous sailing day and in hindsight I wish we'd made it last longer. We went only as far as Port Jefferson, because we wanted to make the crossing to the other shore the day afterward. As it turned out, Monday was a verrry long motoring day, and we'd have done better to strike out in that direction on Sunday. Oh well, hindsight is hindsight.

We anchored in pretty much the same spot as last year - just ahead of the barge mooring - and to the port as we came in the entrance channel. The wind was blowing at 15 knots till well into the evening, but we had very little bounce. Because it was Sunday, there was a huge amount of peasurecraft traffic in and out as well as the ferries. Lots to observe. In contrast to our encounters of the barge kind last fall, the night was quiet. Barges and tugs moved to and from the mooring in the evening, and some barges that were tied up there when we went to bed were gone in the morning, but we heard no voices and saw no lights. I saw the mute swans go by early in the morning, but they didn't come close to Madcap. Last year, I got some great photos of them.

5 o'clock on Monday morning saw us lifting anchor and motoring out of the harbour. We wanted to make use of the ebb tide at "the Race" to increase our speed on what we expected would be a long day. It was interesting to see that we were not alone - 2 other sailboats and a trawler left at about the same time. Unfortunately the wind we had expected didn't materialize and we had to motor the whole day. The current helped to carry us along at about 7 knots for a good way, but so much for being fuel efficient on that very expensive diesel!

The Race is an intriguing spot. It is a narrow chasm near Fisher's Island that looks like nothing much on the surface, but contains rapidly moving water and can be a tricky spot. We got there just after peak ebb current and went through at 8.5 knots. What little wind there was, was behind us so we had no waves to speak of, just some mild swells coming in from the ocean, but by hand steering, we could sure feel the eddies and swirls of water in the chasm. The book says that coming the other way on a flood tide can be quite an experience as the water rushes in, crashes against the shoal and surges upward. Last fall, we sailed inside Fisher's Island, bypassing the Race so it was nice to experience it this time.

We had wondered if we might make Newport in one day and sure enough we did. The current helped even if the wind didn't, and after motoring the whole way, we pulled into Newport Harbour and dropped anchor off the Ida Lewis Yacht Club at about 7:15. It seemed like a real waste of the beautiful sailing waters of Long Island Sound, and we'll do it more justice next time. Schedules! Schedules! We wanted to be in Boston in time for Jim to fly to Ottawa on Friday.

This is such a great yachting destination. The houses along the shoreline are spectacular; the sail and motor vessels range from ordinary to extraordinary - some of the most beautiful boats I've ever seen. There are marinas galore, and mooring balls and there is still ample room for anchoring within a reasonable dinghy distance to shore. Two good dinghy docks are along the waterfront, and once ashore the opportunities for exploration, dining, drinking and shopping are huge.

These kids in the sailing school had to dog paddle before they could sail!

One of our favourite nautical bookstores is The Armchair Sailor on Thames St and that's where we headed first thing Tuesday morning. Jim had found a log book there last year that became his preferred one, and he couldn't ever find the same kind anywhere else. This time he bought two! We picked up some charts for the crossing to Nova Scotia and browsed among the hundreds of beautiful books. We were able to restock our Barrett's ginger beer supply at the nearby liquor store. I haven't figured out why they have it and not the grocery store since it's non- alcoholic, but since it is one of our most consumed beverages - with and without rum - it was nice to find.

Unfortunately (because of that darned schedule) we had to resist a walk through the rest of the town and head back to the boat in order to head for the Cape Cod Canal. Jim was dragging at my arm by the time we got to the dinghy dock!

Mary (Strathspey) had alerted us that the Banburys (We Be Free) were in the area for a Nonsuch Rendezvous, and several Nonsuches were headed out at the same time as Madcap; we didn't see them though and despite several calls on VHF, didn't hear from them either. We must have missed each other. Too bad - it is always fun to encounter folks from "home".

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New York Harbour, Second Time Around
13/07/2008/3:15 pm, New Y ork City

Hooey! What a thrill! New York is easily navigable, but you do have to have your wits about you.

As we left Atlantic Highlands on July 7, it was hazy with about 1 ˝ miles of visibility, and then to complicate matters a bit, our GPS cut out. Those red and green visual markers are very handy things, as are paper charts, so we made our way under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and along the channel almost to the Statue of Liberty in the old way - pre electronics.

We never did find out why the GPS fix disappeared - military playing games? - but with our charts and three sets of eyes, we had no difficulty - even with the multitude of ships crisscrossing this harbour. It was a thrill for me to be at the helm both coming in and leaving the city this time. Last time, Jim had the wheel while I took pictures and acted as spotter. This time we traded roles - and oh it felt just grand to steer our little vessel through the harbour.

Timing is everything in New York and the tides were with us and we traveled with the flooding current through the Narrows and up the Hudson River to the W 79th St Boat Basin. Once again, they had room for us - perhaps it helped to arrive early on a Monday afternoon, and this time we were lucky enough to snag a mooring very close to the dock. Last time we were far up the river - a very long dinghy ride when the current was against us.

We oohed and ahed at the Lady standing so high on her island, at the skyscrapers lining the Hudson River, at the man-made waterfalls we could see in the Harbour - a current art installation.

When we left on July 12, we timed our departure with the tide again. We hoisted our mainsail, rode the tail end of the ebb tide down the Hudson and, in company with 10 other sailboats, rode the current (making about 9 knots) up the East River, through Hell Gate and out into Long Island Sound - no sweat at all. We laughed when we remembered how much planning and anxiety had gone into the trip down the river in the fall. We met a couple of big boats but there was always room, and this time we could use the east channel by Roosevelt Island, eliminating any need to stop for a bridge.

Once again, it was a thrill to be at the wheel. Thank goodness the other captain on this boat is a believer in sharing the joys! (Did you notice the haircut??)

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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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