So I suppose it’s worth writing about how all this ended up. Wouldn’t want to leave anyone hanging. Here goes.
After two weeks on blocks, Fezywig was back in the slings, ready to launch. We packed the kids in the car and drove to NJ to pick up the boat. We got there a little later then planned, but as usual with boats—there was a delay. The starter motor needed to be replaced. It finally rusted out as a result of the flooding. It was 10am. The part was supposed to arrive by 11am. We could wait. We cleaned the boat.
There’s always a certain catharsis in cleaning something. Emily squirted and scrubbed the deck with Soft Scrub and was thrilled to see it revert to it’s brilliant white color. I prepped the dinghy to be raised and secured, and here is where I came across something pretty important to me: the security bar on the dinghy outboard. It’s the piece that came loose that fateful night that led to the dinghy breaking free while at sea. I thought the bar failed because I had not locked the end cap properly. Turns out I was wrong. (There’s always a first time.) The rubber along the edge of the bar had worn away, and that’s how it slipped off. Bottom line: I hadn’t made a dumb mistake. It had simply worn out. My guilt was swept away.
We still snagged our prop line, but I could forgive myself for that. There were all kinds of mitigating circumstances. But enough about me. The important thing was that I saw how the whole accident could repeat itself if I didn’t make a change. I decide the security bar was useless for everything but a visual a deterrent to outboard engine thieves. I cut a length of webbing, triple looped it and ran it around the outboard mounting pins. That would be secure. That was the important part. We continued to clean the boat and put things in order. It was probably good that we had a few hours to mentally acclimate to the boat again. It’d been two weeks on land. At 1pm (two hours later then promised…ah, boats), the mechanic came and installed the starter. The engine started strong and we were ready to go back in the water.
We turned on all the systems and stowed our stuff. We called the kids back from the playground and we got the engines warmed up. The slings lowered into the water, Fezywig’s keel went under and we were floating once again. No water in the engine compartment. That’s good. We reversed down the alley that had been our gauntlet of death (#hyperbole) two weeks prior. It was slack tide. The perfect time to go.
Grey clouds. Wind out of the north. We motored. It was cold. After a few hours, over the horizon, something looked tall. The clouds shifted in and out, low to the water, moving west. The big grey sea extending forever to the east. The kids mostly stayed inside. I mostly stayed at the helm. We had New York City in view.
As the evening wore on, we watched the Jersey shore pass along our port side. In a few more hours we were coming up on Sandy Hook. Then passing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The waters calmed as we entered the Lower Harbor. Tankers passed us in both directions. We actually saw a sailboat coming out in the darkness, headed out to sea. Brave soul. Coney Island. The lights. The comfort of lights. The water flattened further. Around the bend: the Freedom Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Battery. Brooklyn and Queens on the starboard side. It was happening so fast and so slow. With our late start we’d missed the current. We make 4-5 knots. We were hoping to get in at a reasonable hour. Many generous friends wanted to meet us at the dock, welcome Fezywig, help us celebrate. But the tide was against us. I estimated we’d arrive around midnight. I posted updates to Facebook and Instagram. Friends and loved ones cheered us on silently with their comments and ‘likes’ and hearts. We took pictures, but none came out that well. The light was beautiful, but not enough for good pictures. We would have to remember this one in our mind.
The Verrazano Narrws Bridge was so tall. In NJ, our mast had scraped the underside of one bridge. Here we had gobs of space. It was like a cathedral for boats. High lofty spaces conveying the grandeur of where you were. We pushed on against the tide. Radio chatter back and forth. A tug pushing a barge told us to change course. I couldn’t even see him. “I’m right in front of you.” With all the lights, he’d blended into Governor’s Island. I changed course. Then I saw him. A reminder to always stay alert.
The southern tip of Manhattan. The Upper Bay. It now split in two. To the right, the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge. To the west, the Hudson River. We went west, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on our port, the Battery on our starboard. 10pm. We moved slowly, like a child pausing in wonderment at everything around him. Slow, slow, slow. Our engines purred. We all now stood in the cockpit, on deck, looking, taking it in with our eyes. The tall lights, the black water, the slow, steady progress.
The blinding flood lamps of the Chelsea Piers golfing range. They marked the lower west elbow of the island. As we came around it, the river straightened in front of us. The George Washington Bridge came full into view, like an entrance gate, a string of lights that rose, then dipped, then rose again, then dipped. Underneath it the great Hudson River, flowing down from the Canadian headwaters, down through the Alleghany mountains and alongside the Palisade cliffs. Here was where the river met the sea. Where the salt of the ocean mingled with the fresh rain and springs of the mountains. A laugh flowed up and out my mouth. A single moment of aha. It was as if my body had to respond to the amazing fact that, here we were. After all the miles, all the distance, the people, the islands, the storms, the sweat and worry and spilling and spending of treasure and energy, there it was in front of me: our gateway. I never thought we’d make it this far.
It was almost midnight. We moved steadily up the river. I called my friend Mark. He was at work on the 29th Floor in midtown. “Can you see us?” “I think I see you.” “We’re small.” “I’ve got everyone here at the window. I think we see you!” I don’t know if he did. Water taxis, barges and tugs moved past in all directions. “We’ll catch up soon,” he said. And then I hung up. The water traffic thinned as we pushed above Central Park. The 79th Street Boat Basin. Columbia Cathedral. The West Side Highway. Places we knew so well. Comfortable, familiar to us. The bridge was closer. The tide was easing. We now moved at 5-6 knots. Soon it would carry us. But it would be too late. We would have arrived.
Our friends were in bed. It was after midnight. We came up to the bridge. The “great, gray bridge”, as we knew from the children’s book. The Great Gray Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse. One last red beacon marked the bank on our starboard side. The marina came into view. We put out fenders and docking lines on the starboard side. The river went dark. No buildings along the banks. We pulled up alongside the low dock. One of the girls attached the stern line first, then the bow line to one of the cleats. I turned off the engines. That was it. We’d arrived.
I hopped down, tied a spring line, then walked to the marina. The restaurant was open until 1am. At least that’s what their website said. Turns out they were closed. I spoke with the night guard. In broken English he asked me what was wrong with our boat. Why were we arriving so late? We carried on the rest of the conversation in Spanish. I told him nothing was wrong. We’d just finished sailing up from the Caribbean. We lived a few blocks away. We were going to walk home and come back in the morning. He was confused. The marina had just recently opened their docks, and hadn’t really had any boats pull in before. Only the restaurant was truly open for business. I assured him we’d be back in the morning, told him I knew the owner and gave him my card. He agreed, reluctantly. I walked back to the boat. Emily and the kids got their bags. I got mine and we walked down the dock, bid the guard and the cook (who had stayed to keep him company) a good night and walked through the gate.
Dyckman Street. In the silence we walked east toward Broadway. We all wore coats, hats, scarves. Everyone walked, even the little kids. 1am. The night was quiet. We stopped and took a picture under in the street light. We laughed a little amongst ourselves. We were walking home from the boat. How many years had we talked about doing that some day? What a crazy idea. How unlikely. How impossible. We walked some more. Warm beds awaited. There was no one there to greet us, and we were just fine with that. “It’s nice,” Emily said. “It’s a quiet victory.” I agreed and we walked along, holding hands. The kids had their arms around each other, bulky bags and coats adding swishing sounds as we ambled along. We walked behind the church, past the bike shop, through the gas station. We stopped at the cross-walk at Riverside Drive. The light turned and we crossed, quietly. Then we turned down Broadway. Three more blocks.
The night was cold, but home was close. We crossed Broadway and cut into the courtyard. I unlocked the lobby door, up two stairs. Into the lobby, then up two more stairs. Someone pushed the button to call the elevator. It arrived and we opened the outer door. We all pushed inside, fitting tightly with our bags. Up four flights, then pushed open the elevator door again. Down the hall. First the top lock, then the bottom lock. We opened the door, and stepped inside.