Rambling On & Along The Hudson

The Hudson River has a few moments where you’re looking up at some spectacular New York mountains. At other times, you’re passing lovely country homes and cottages. You also pass by icons of America’s two biggest industries. West Point, the military academy is built on a cliffside and larger than most universities, it seems. And Sing Sing, New York’s famous prison is further downstream.* But the majority of time is spent passing by towns of condos and parking garages or power plants or industrial complexes. Oh and trains. There are lots and lots of trains moving along both sides of the river, it seems, blaring their presence as they cross over a limitless number of level road crossings. Overall, it’s mildly interesting, and pleasant enough, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to do it again.

Along the Hudson, there are many marinas and yacht clubs. They appear and disappear like roadside motels. And, as with road trips, picking a good one while in transit is a bit challenging and a bit of a crap shoot. We try clubs first before considering marinas. Clubs generally have better facilities and charge less for them. They also seem to have more people who want to talk about sailing. However, with so many marinas in the neighbourhood, some clubs around here simply don’t take guests or only take guests from other nearby clubs with reciprocal arrangements. So, marinas are something we consider as our “port in a storm” option.

What follows are a few snippets written during our slow trip down the Hudson.

Aug 17, 21:00:
The new Tappan Zee bridge, about 25 miles north of NYC, has about 3200 lights. From where I’m sitting right now, you’d swear they installed all those lights for my personal benefit. We are in a mooring field right now, on the mooring most ideally suited to watching the bridge all night long.

The new Tappan Zee Bridge (fuzzy cuz it’s night and I’m on a boat).

However, there’s another light show going in the opposite direction. To the south, lightning has been sparking for hours now, with at least one flash per minute. I’m ready to close the hatches if need be, but I don’t think it will be needed.

It’s a pleasure to sit here in the quiet darkness and take in these two spectacular light shows. There’s a fresh breeze growing, which is helping to dissipate the day’s incredible heat. And, after many nights sleeping under the glare of overhead dock lights, it’s a pleasure to be enjoying some darkness. Especially now, as the full moon rises half way between the bridge and the lightning.

Aug 18, 23:00:
Today has been a day of comical frustrations. We made the short trip to NYC’s West 79th Street Boat Basin early this morning. Our departure time was a decision I made just after waking up. I was laying in bed, looking at Aqua Maps on my phone (more about the relative advantages/disadvantages of various charting apps to come). It struck me that if we left immediately, we would enjoy an extra knot or two of speed for the 15 mile journey, and, more importantly, we’d arrive during slack tide (the time when tides/currents are basically neutral), which would make getting to shore in our little putt-putt dinghy less challenging. The plan worked flawlessly. Along the way, the currents were favourable, enabling us to set a new record for speed-over-ground of 8.2kts. And, when we arrived, there was no current at all in the river.

Note the speed of 8.2kts. We were going about 5.5kts through the water, the rest was courtesy of currents.

Although the gods had favoured us, the demi-gods of city administrivia were not so inclined. In preparation for arriving in the big apple, we had carefully read the nine zillion page manifesto that governs the 79th street basin. We had also read the dockmaster’s supplemental notes for boat captains. But we still had some fundamental questions such as: Are there moorings available? Can we reserve them? and Where will we find them? So, we supplemented the supplement by calling the basin, and learned that the balls were available on a first come/first serve basis and that we could stay as long as we wanted.

The right mooring ball. Amazing how it can be resting right alongside the boat for so long with the lines to it completely slack.

The one handy little detail that the basin employee may have volunteered during the call is that only 6 of the 18 or so balls in the basin are available for “transients”. The twelve white balls – including the one we were now moored to – were balls rented by full-season renters. We would need to try again. Slack tide was turning to flood. Did we pass any empty yellow balls? We got back in the dinghy and started searching. We saw one 400 yards further away from where we had moored. We also saw a boat approaching the mooring field. Was it also a “transient”? Was it about to take the one remaining guest mooring in the field?

I don’t like to play competitive games with parking spots, grocery checkouts, on-ramps, etc. It harshes my mellow. And my mellow is a rare and delicate thing that flits away at the slightest provocation. Protecting it is well worth giving up most spots in lines, etc. But, in this case, the stakes were high. If we didn’t get the last guest ball, we’d be leaving the city without seeing it, because the alternatives would take us from $30/night to about $300/night. So we beat it back to our boat and made quick work of getting to the yellow ball ahead of the approaching boat. Yeah us! But what I’m particularly proud of is that we never let our urgency put us at risk. Between the dinghy, our mooring lines and the lines of our neighbours, there was lots of potential to wrap a line around the prop. Before putting it in gear, we checked and double checked for lines, despite the pressure. We got the guest ball. Not sure where the other boat went.

After settling in, the day continued to be a series of two-steps forward, one step back moments. We walked all over Manhattan and found none of the things we were hoping to find, but found several other things that were unexpected and nice surprises. Arrived at the boat basin after dark and waited out a small reprise of the earlier thunderstorm before getting in our dinghy and stealthily made our way back to the boat. A good day!

Our Manhattan riverside view. Not bad for $30/night.

Aug 19, 07:00:
Anchoring. You can’t do it in Manhattan, of course, but in most places, experienced coastal sailors like to anchor out when possible. It’s cheaper (free, generally) and quite often quieter. Unlike a mooring ball, the equipment is all yours and you know exactly how much you trust it. But we are not yet experienced enough to have so much trust in our anchoring skills or equipment. So, for us, for now, a mooring ball is comforting. I’m sure that will change over time, but for now, it means we are often scrambling to sort through Active Captain (That’s a sailor’s version of Yelp) to find a place to spend the night.

Today, we will wander around NYC again. But we will also need to spend some time planning out our next destination. We are trying to reach Cape May at some point, but the winds on the Atlantic are blowing the wrong way, and we’d rather not motor there. So, we are looking to kill another day or two in the meantime. Perhaps we’ll give up this mooring ball and try anchoring. Stay tuned.

*(We sailed by Rikers on a previous trip. I’m guessing that after we sail by one more famous American prison, we’ll earn a badge! Guantanamo? )


  1. I love this particular blog…I’m not planning to sail the Hudson, but you have offered so much helpful and interesting information for anyone who is planning to do so! I didn’t realize you were so sneaky…getting to that ball before other boat was a brilliant move. Necessity was certainly the mother of invention in this case. Good on you!. Your next book can be called “NYC on $30./night”,,,I am thinking maybe you spent a little bit during the day!
    Thanks for the great story.


  2. Following your epic trip of a life time, we all wish we could do it.
    My wife and I are friends of your Mom Nora Parker.
    Helen and Gord Fenton.
    We are getting your E-mail postings.


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