2014 Captain’s Log, Part 4

When the canal schooner Lois McClure, towed by the C. L. Churchill, assisted by the inflatable boat Oocher, did head back out of North Cove into the maelstrom of New York City’s busy harbor on August 26th, she waited until 10:00 o’clock, in order to avoid the intensity of rush hour. The water was still rough with water-taxi wakes, but the seas, running in all directions, were not as high and frequent as they had been on our run down to the Cove from Pier 25. We did notice, however, that a small leak developed halfway down the schooner’s starboard side just above the chine, and about a foot underwater, probably due to the unusual motion to which the vessel had been subjected.

With a strong flood tide in the Hudson River, we made short miles of it back up to Yonkers and were moored to the big-steel-float-with-the-ready-bow-and-stern-lines by early afternoon. Volunteer Don Dewees, who has been involved with the Lois McClure project from its inception, “paid off,” and volunteers Jeff Gorss, our enthusiastic rigger, and Rosemary Zamore joined ship. Kathleen Carney, who keeps the crew fed, had jumped ship in New York, seeking inspiration in the desert (of New Mexico), and Rosemary had gallantly agreed to assume Kathleen’s role.

Tug traffic on the Hudson (photo: Tom Larsen)
Tug traffic on the Hudson (photo: Tom Larsen)

Next day, we continued upstream, making the most of the flood. We met the tug Amberjack, pushing her barge, the Pacific (appropriate name for a towed barge when you think about it), and since she apparently has a milk run up and down the river, we would meet her again and exchange “intentions” with her “Cap.” On another day, the Amerjack would overtake us, and Channel 13 on the VHF radio would crackle with “What are your intentions, Cap?” He wanted to be sure that as the overtaken vessel with the right of way, we would hold our course and speed, and agree to let him pass us on the side he proposed. “I’m staying well over on the east side of the channel,” I assured him. We also met the tug, Buchanan 12, pushing no fewer than nine barges, in a 3 x 3 formation, all loaded deeply with gravel.

When we arrived at our destination, West Point, the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, Pete Seeger’s inspiration that is still patrolling the river she helped clean up, was on the dock, so we landed across the river at Constitution Island to await her departure.

And when we went back over to West Point, we could see her, having picked up the first of the ebb to help her to windward, tacking back and forth from bank to bank, heading slowly downstream. We were jealous of her less-distance-oriented goals than ours and, as always, admiring of the great work she has accomplished and is still accomplishing after half a century.

I always breathe an involuntary sigh of relief when we leave West Point after another successful visit of sharing maritime history with the Army. As a former destroyer and submarine person, I feel as if I’ve been dropped behind enemy lines when visiting the great citadel; everyone is perfectly friendly, but there are all those big “Beat Navy!” signs. (Somehow, we acquired a couple of folding chairs on the McClure that are marked “Army.” In mild retaliation, I took a marker and wrote “Beat” just ahead of the brand. These chairs, always stowed away, of course, when we convert the schooner into a museum of 1862, remained especially well hidden at West Point.)

August 29th was a lay day for the Lois McClure, and we had the great privilege of spending it back at Constitution Island. That evening, its longtime caretakers, Rod and Deb MacLeod, came on board for supper, and regaled us with the history of the place. The 250-acre island, beautifully wooded, with high, rock outcroppings, was donated to the United States government in 1908 by Mrs. Russell Sage and Miss Anna Bartlett Warner “for the use forever of the United States Military Academy at West Point.” During the American Revolution, Continental Army soldiers built fortifications on the island, as part of their fighting for their rights under the British Constitution. After the war, Constitution Island became a family residence. By 1850, the residents were Anna Warner and her sister, Susan, poverty stricken by the Panic of 1837. They turned to writing novels and before long were known as the Bronte sisters of America. Susan’s The Wide, Wide World sold more than a million copies. Together, they published more than 100 books, but copyright meant little in those days, and most of their readers held pirated editions of their work, so the best-selling authors never got rich. Well, not rich in money, but rich in friendships. Cadets used to row across the river to have tea with the Warner sisters, and some of them were still corresponding with their hostesses as generals. Next day, we had plenty to think about as we explored the island, walking trails through sun-dappled woods, climbing a high rock here and there at a ruined redoubt for a fine view of West Point across the Hudson.

One of the redoubts on Constitution Island, with Jeff Gorss ion the right (photo: Rosemary Zamore)
One of the redoubts on Constitution Island, with Jeff Gorss ion the right (photo: Rosemary Zamore)

Before we got underway on August 30th to continue up the great river, we sent the Oocher round to Cold Spring to pick up First Mate Tom Larsen, who had been ashore for a couple of days on urgent land business. This was a day of a moderate southerly breeze, fair for us, and the whitecaps had Tom and me looking at each other with one thought in mind: we should be sailing! Alas, we had a good many miles to go to Poughkeepsie. If we rounded up into the wind to make sail, we’d lose time. If the breeze went fitful on us, we’d lose more time, recalling the Churchill alongside and taking in sail. With reluctance, Tom and I reminded each other that our mission is to get our floating museum efficiently from venue to venue, not to maximize our fun on the water. Anyway, we were lucky: the breeze did go fitful on us.

Docked in Poughkeepsie (photo: Tom Larsen)
Docked in Poughkeepsie (photo: Tom Larsen)

It was another long run from Poughkeepsie up to Catskill, so we got an early start. I had just taken over the wheel from Tom at 9:00, when the first wafts came up from the galley. Yes, it was true: Len Ruth, world’s champion bacon fryer was at work, and Rosemary was scrambling the eggs for a second breakfast! It used to be said of certain naval vessels: “She may not be much of a steamer, but she sure is a feeder.” The Lois McClure is both: we cover the miles and we eat well.

Why, on the run from Catskill to Troy that also required getting underway early, the second breakfast was pancakes! Sights along the river on this day included: a distant view of that Thames barge we had seen coming upstream, now moored in Athens; a most handsome, narrow-straked dory on a mooring; an ancient launch towing five kayaks, escorted by two canoes; and boys swinging out into the river on a long rope suspended from the raised ladder of a fire engine. Mercy.

Launch towing kayaks down the river (photo: Tom Larsen)
Launch towing kayaks down the river (photo: Tom Larsen)

After we moored to the long wall in Troy, Art Cohn went into the water with his Scuba gear and made an underwater inspection of both the schooner and the tug. We were particularly interested to see if there was any apparent cause of the leak on the starboard side. Nothing obvious, but evidence in one long, horizontal, planking seam and its adjacent, short, vertical seams where the ends of planks butted together that the watertight compound that had covered the caulking was missing, perhaps pulled out by Burlington Harbor ice over the winter. Just for due diligence (Art has “lawyer” on his extensive resume), he put some underwater compound in the butt seam nearest the position of the leak inside the boat. It’s early days, but as I write this, two days later, the leak has stopped! Every boat should have the luxury of a diver in the crew.

Art Cohn diving in Troy (photo: Tom Larsen)
Art Cohn diving in Troy (photo: Tom Larsen)

On September 2nd, the Canal Corps’ wonderful, old, ex-Army truck-crane arrived early, up on the high wall opposite the McClure. We were to head up into canal country, with its low bridges. The combined crews of schooner and crane made smooth work of lifting sails and spars ashore, setting up the T-braces, and carefully laying the various parts of the rig back on board, the masts now horizontal atop the braces. The exact athwartships position of each of the four crane picks (mainmast, foremast, mainsail with its boom and gaff, and foresail with its boom and gaff), is crucial. We wouldn’t want the vessel to end up with a list.

In the afternoon, we went up through the Troy Lock and entered Waterford harbor. We would be in Waterford for several days, culminating in the annual Tugboat Roundup. Apparently the rumor that the C. L. Churchill was to be named Tug of the Year at the Roundup was true. At least Art Cohn and Jean Belisle believed it, judging by the way they were cleaning and polishing their beloved, 34-foot towboat.

The Lois McClure’s berth would be up through Lock 2, the beginning of the Erie Canal, and round the sharp corner into the small part of the old Champlain Canal that is still navigable. When we came to the sharp corner, we saw, right in the exact center of the narrow bend, a buoy marked “HAZARD.” Its purpose, I suppose, is to discourage small craft from entering a waterway that soon turns into a dead end. The buoy didn’t quite keep us from getting to our berth. We did have to use the Tug- of-the-Year-elect, well fendered by Jean, as a fulcrum against the wall, with the Oocher on the opposite bow, in order to squeeze around the corner without dislodging the buoy. After that, the only hazard, really just a mental one, was to slip past the upper lip of the spillway that sends excess water down the old canal staircase of locks. The reward is that we get to listen to the pleasant plash through the schooner’s stern windows.

We started our sojourn in Waterford with a couple of lay days. Sal Larsen, Rosemary Zamore, and Jeff Gorss left the crew; volunteers Chris McClain and Doug Riley joined ship. Mike Brazinski, whose backyard faces the old Champlain Canal, let us plug in our power cord on his porch. Random acts of kindness are our common experience.

On the wall above Lock 2, we had the chance to examine a miniature Thames sailing barge, theCeres, the vessel that is operated by Vermont Sail Freight, a fledgling organization trying to renew the concept of delivering produce and goods between Vermont and New York City on the water using the wind for at least part of her power, as did the Lake Champlain sailing canal boats that theLois McClure represents. She has a flat, scow hull (unlike the more shapely Thames barge) about 40 feet long, but the identical rig to the English type, which, at small size, is easy to raise and lower. So, if you have cargo to ship (note the term) between Vermont farm country and the Big Apple, or points in between, you know whom to contact.

The C.L. CHURCHILL, Tugboat of the Year (photo: Tom Larsen)
The C.L. CHURCHILL, Tugboat of the Year (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Tugboat Roundup went into full swing on the afternoon of September 5th, when the twenty participating towboats (a few were merely yachts) assembled at Albany and proceeded up through the Troy lock to parade into Waterford harbor at 5:00 p.m. The tugs were in the order in which they would dock, so since Tug-of-the-Year C. L. Churchill, run by Art Cohn, Jean Belisle, and Kerry Batdorf, would be docked front and center, their tug was in the middle of the fleet. It wasn’t long before all these handsome vessels were tied up, the small ones, like the Churchill, alongside the long, floating dock, and the big workhorses, like the Cornell, who brought up the rear, nosed in to the wall diagonally. There was plenty of horn-blowing and applause.

The big working tugs bringing up the rear of the parade (photo: Tom Larsen)
The big working tugs bringing up the rear of the parade (photo: Tom Larsen)

On the 6th, in a holiday atmosphere, all these vessels were open to the public. A citizen could not only inspect a variety of fascinating tugs, but also buy a wide variety of articles, including items unrelated to towing, a good many of which were edible. She or he could even go for a boat ride. The stern wheeler, Caldwell Belle, had come down from Schuylerville to sell tickets for cruises, and that “ancient launch” that we had seen in a towboat role for kayaks turned out to be a brand new boat built to an old design, the Sol, from Indian Lake, New York, demonstrating to her passengers silent, planet-friendly, solar-electric power. There was a film on the Witte shipyard on Staten Island, the place where old tugs, and many another vessel, go to die. We saw acres of ships that were mostly memories, waiting their turn for the cutting torch. That night, I watched the fireworks from the top of the east gate of Lock 2, a fine vantage point. It was a spectacular show, but I couldn’t help thinking of how people around the world just then were reacting with terror to very different explosions.

Fireworks at the Tugboat Roundup (photo: Tom Larsen
Fireworks at the Tugboat Roundup (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Roundup continued on the 7th. The Churchill and McClure had to close up shop a bit early in order to keep on schedule, but, even so, the total visitor attendance for the two vessels was more than 2,000. In the early afternoon, the Churchill came up through Lock 2 and made up on the starboard quarter of the schooner, as usual. But our passage out of the narrow, old canal, past the spillway and avoiding damaging the “HAZARD” buoy, was not normal. There is not quite room in there to turn her around, so you just have to back out. We had managed the maneuver on an earlier cruise, and I wanted to try a repeat. So, we put the Oocher to pulling on the stern of the tug, the better to control (was the theory) the direction in which the schooner moved astern. The trick was to avoid the spillway and buoy on one side and the overhanging trees on the other. The method worked again (we intentionally brushed the side of the tug against the buoy to avoid the trees), with one correction of the movement by going ahead a little with the tug’s propeller. Whew! Besides Kerry Batdorf at the Oocher’s controls, we had two good people responding to helm orders, Art Cohn at the Churchill’s wheel, and who else but one Scudder Kelvey, sometime mate on the McClure, who had returned, along with Beth Fuehrer, for a short, nostalgic boat ride, at the schooner’s wheel.

Then, with the Oocher back in her normal place on the schooner’s bow ahead of the tug, we eased down through Lock 2 and went alongside the Canal Corps’ multi-purpose, self-propelled barge, theGrand Erie, to tie up for the closing ceremonies of the Roundup. It was important, of course, that our entire crew be present to see Art Cohn receive a large and heavy golden cup to go in the wheelhouse of the 2014 Tug of the Year, the C. L. Churchill. It never ceases to amaze me how Art, no matter the situation, always knows exactly what to say and how much to say. This occasion was another example: after threatening to speak for an hour and a half, he delivered brief, listener-friendly comments of appreciation for the award and pride in his favorite boat that were, as usual, perfectly matched to his audience.

With the great, gold cup safely on board the Churchill, we were ready to start north on the Champlain Canal, heading back toward our home waters.

Roger Taylor
Captain, Lois McClure

Freeze the Balls off a Brass Monkey (& Other Supposedly Nautical Sayings)

It’s Cold Enough to Freeze the Balls off a Brass Monkey!

Monkey-Velocipede-and-Chimes-from-1893-Carl-P-Stirn-Catalog

Perhaps you’ve heard that phrase and thought, “brrrrrr, that sounds cold.”

Or perhaps, if you’re like me, you wonderedwhat in heck is a brass monkey?  And why would its anatomy be going anywhere?!

Etymologists disagree about this phrase’s origin.

(My mind immediately envisions the office of the Oxford English Dictionary erupting into podium-pounding, chair-throwing chaos. Bloody noses and egos are nursed over ciders at the corner pub.)

The theory I like best is the least accepted (typical) and has its origins in life at sea.  It goes like this:

In the Great Age of Sail, military vessels were equipped with numerous cannon, and the ammunition to arm them. Cannons could fire a variety of projectiles: grape shot, bar shot, chain shot, and of course, cannon balls. Since space was at a premium aboard ship, cannon were stored in a pyramid stack on indented brass trays called “monkeys.” Since brass contracts more than iron (more nerdy-ness on the coefficient of cubical expansion below), during especially cold periods, the “balls” would be knocked off the brass “monkey.”

Isn’t that awesome?! Turns out not everyone agrees with this origin as a nautical saying. In fact,Michael Quinion says, “It’s rubbish” citing things like logic (balls stored that way would be disrupted in the first rough seas), common sense (why leave your iron shot outside to rust in the rain?) and physics (despite my math wizardry, the difference does seem negligible). Party-poopers.  Apparently the term has been used to refer to extremes of many kinds:

  • Weather: as in Abbey’s 1857 Before the Mast, “It would freeze the tail off a brass monkey.”
  • Being talkative: as in Kate Douglas Wiggin’s 1913 The Story of Waitstill Baxter, “The little feller, now, is smart’s a whip, an’ could talk the tail off a brass monkey.”
  • And being bold: Talbot Mundy’s 1919 The Ivory Trail, “He has the gall of a brass monkey.”

See-Speak-Hear-No-Evil-Brass-MonkeysThe more commonly accepted rationale is that “brass monkey” refers to little brass figurines of monkeys, which were common tourist souvenirs from China and Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries. Sometimes they came in sets of three, depicting the Three Wise Monkeys like those carved in the 17th century Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Japan. You know, “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil?” Even Uncle Sam got ahold of it during the WWII Manhattan Project. The image was one of something strong, solid, and immune to extremes.

 


Like nautical word-play?

Then you’ve GOT to grab one of my favorite books, When A Loose Cannon Flogs a Dead Horse, There’s the Devil to Pay by Olivia Isil. Why certainly we sell it in our online store.


As an aside, presuming there were brass monkeys, could it really be cold enough to freeze cast iron cannonballs off them?

I’m not a particularly math-y person, but using the coefficient of linear expansion, I figure a 1-meter-long brass object traveling between the equator (32°C) and the Arctic (-40°C) would contract 0.6mm more than a same-shaped cast iron object. Seems like it wouldn’t go rolling across the deck.

But wait, Sarah! You haven’t taken into account a greater volume for the two shapes! How closely-fitted were these objects to begin with, and at what temperature were they made? Got a more precise calculation? Another nautical saying you love? Post it in the comments!!

Video blog: Whitehall

The LOIS MCCLURE and C.L. CHURCHILL have left the Tugboat Roundup, with the CHURCHILL being recognized as Tugboat of the Year, and are on their way up through Lake Champlain. Stopping at Plattsburgh for the commemoration of the Battle for Lake Champlain on the 13th and 14th of September, they will continue up into Quebec to share the heritage of the little interpreted War of 1812.

Video Blog: Waterford

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2014 Captain’s Log, Part 3

The canal schooner Lois McClure needed to get an early start from Troy, New York, on August 4th. We were headed only a few miles down the Hudson River to Albany, but our masts had been stepped in Troy, and we needed to slip under the lift bridge just downstream of our berth at low tide in order to take advantage of an extra five feet of clearance. “Time and tide wait for no man,” as the politically incorrect saying goes. Low tide was 6:40 a.m., so we cast off at 6:15 and by 7:45, we were moored at New York State’s capital city.

Docked in Albany (photo: Jean Belisle)
Docked in Albany (photo: Jean Belisle)

Our visitors in Albany that day included Brian Stratton, Director of the New York Canal Corporation. The “Canal Corp,” as we call it, has been like a father to the McClure ever since she was launched ten years ago. We have received financial help and all sorts of special favors from this wonderful waterway system, and we do our best to express our gratitude by promoting New York’s canals all we can. The best thing we can do is simply tie up in a canal town and attract its citizens to their own waterfront. It’s amazing how many people we have surprised: “I didn’t know we had this great asset in our backyard!” is a typical comment we hear up and down our deck.

On the 5th, we towed 30 miles down the river to Catskill. What little breeze there was came from the south, the direction we were headed, so no sailing today. We were soon past the last 60-foot bridge. Vertical bridge clearances would now be well over 100 feet, so we would be seeing big, ocean-going cargo vessels. Sure enough, right in the Port of Albany, just downstream from the city, we passed the Kong Qiang of Hong Kong, unloading thousands of tons of scrap. We were reminded that canal boats, like ours, sometimes used to transfer their localized loads to ships that would deliver them to ports round the world. In our hold is a box from Lyons, New York, on the Erie Canal, that once contained bottles of peppermint oil that won the First Prize Medal at the Great Paris Exposition of 1867. We also passed, at the Scarano shipyard, the replica of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon, hauled out for maintenance. And were reminded of the exploits of mariners before us who had sailed these waters making their own charts. Mercy.

Early morning in Catskill (photo: Jean Belisile)
Early morning in Catskill (photo: Jean Belisile)

At Catskill, we tried, unsuccessfully, to hire Pat Austin. It was evident, from the number of Catskillians who came on board, that she had done a superb job of promoting our visit, so we thought maybe she’d like a job. Unfortunately, she has other plans. Late in the day, an unusual vessel came up the river, a Thames barge. This was the nearest boat-type to the Lois McClure in England. In 1862, the year that marks the McClure’s design, there were plenty of Thames barges carrying cargoes, not in England’s narrow canals, but rather along her coasts and up her rivers and creeks. These vessels have a hull shape similar to that of a canal schooner, but with more beam (since squeezing into a canal lock was not a requirement) and sharper ends. Instead of a centerboard they have leeboards, perhaps copied from the Dutch. The rig is single-masted, with a huge spritsail, shaped like a gaff sail, but whose peak is held aloft by a standing spar, the sprit. A big, triangular topsail is set above the spritsail, and she has a long, folding bowsprit and three headsails. There is often a tiny sail on the stern, the mizzen. This complicated rig (compared to that of the canal schooner) nevertheless can be lowered in a short time using gear on board. The mast is counter-weighted below deck and can be pivoted on its tabernacle. This arrangement is a distinct advantage over that of the canal schooner, which depends on a shore crane and must dismantle her rigging whenever she raises or lowers her masts. The Thames barges ran until World War II, although by then their ranks were thin. A few still float, as evidenced by our sighting today.

Thames sailing barge on the Hudson River (photo: Kerry Batdorf)
Thames sailing barge on the Hudson River (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

On August 7th, we towed down to Kingston in a flat calm. And met another reminder of world seaborne trade, the big freighter Lady Serra of Istanbul, coming upstream to pick up a cargo at Albany. Kingston is on Rondout Creek, where the canal that connected the Hudson and Delaware Rivers terminated. The town used to be a major center for the distribution of coal, with plenty of boats like the McClure coming and going. With the D & H Canal shut and mostly filled in since 1898, the marine business in Rondout Creek now centers around pleasure boats. Sure enough, as we approached our berth at the Hudson River Museum in Kingston, out came a pleasure boat all right, the Belle Aventure, the second-most beautiful yacht in the world. She is a ketch of about the same length as the McClure, but with much more draft and sail area for fast sailing, designed and built by William Fife at Fairlie, Scotland, in 1929. The shape of her hull would stand out in any museum of sculpture. She has been kept in impeccable condition, a real gem.

The tug CORNELL and tender on the Rondout Creek (photo: Tom Larsen)
The tug CORNELL and tender on the Rondout Creek (photo: Tom Larsen)

But Kingston harbor is not all fancy yachts: we counted six former working tugboats moored along Rondout’s left bank. And, hauled out at the Museum is the Mathilda, a riveted-iron, steam tug of 1898. Looking into her huge engine room through a viewing window in her hull and sizing up her mammoth propeller, you realize that here is a workboat. Our replica canal schooner from Lake Champlain was an added attraction to the displays at the Museum and along the Creek, and, over our two-day stay, nearly 600 Hudson River valley people experienced maritime history with us.

Docked in front of the Hudson River Maritime Museum (photo: Kerry Batdorf)
Docked in front of the Hudson River Maritime Museum (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

There was a north breeze on August 10th as we headed south on the River toward Poughkeepsie, but it didn’t have the strength to push us against the flood tide, so, once again, our sails stayed furled in deference to the schedule we keep. At Poughkeepsie’s Waryas Park, we moored across a narrow T on the end of a wooden wharf, with bow and stern overlapping the T. To keep the vessel from swinging around in the current and on boat wakes, we ran long lines from bow and stern all the way in to the shore end of the dock. This worked well, because the lines were long enough so that they didn’t need tending as the tide rose and fell.

Rise and fall it certainly did, with a range of about four feet, since it was spring tide time. The full moon rose and by 4:00 a.m., when a couple of us happened to be up on deck, it was exactly over the spectacular, curving lights of the Mid-Hudson suspension bridge, just downstream. This was perhaps the best exhibition of “harbor lights” that we’ve seen from the schooner. Poughkeepsie (other than New York City) is perhaps the most diversely populated town that we visit. On August 12th, 402 of its citizens came on board, representing a great many societal groups and levels of nautical experience. It is a pleasure both to swap sea stories with veteran sailors and to show greenhorns their first boat.

Next day, we towed down to Newbergh. Getting underway, we let the ebb current swing the stern out away from the dock, with the bow held by a long spring line led round a cleat so it could be retrieved as we backed away. And which got itself jammed between two dock pilings. So theOocher left the schooner’s bow and went back to free the line. While the current set us down toward the Mid-Hudson Bridge pylon. Which we avoided by backing with the tug, bringing theOocher back to push on the schooner’s bow, and chugging upstream a ways before turning to go down under the bridge with the current. There’s always something.

But if the ebb current was working against us at the Mid-Hudson Bridge, the flood that started as we approached Newbergh worked in our favor. We moored to the south side of a floating dock perpendicular to the river bank, with the schooner’s bow pointing out. This meant a 270-degree turn. With the Oocher on the bow, we pivoted the McClure through 180 degreees and put the bow on the end of the dock. Then the current simply swung the stern in to the dock, completing the 270 degrees. Fun.

The people of Newbergh sure know how to have fun. They do not advertise their harbor as a quiet place. After we shared our cargo of history with a good many Newberghians, we found that we had a front row seat for Newbergh music. It was Wednesday night, karaoke night. ‘Nuff said.

We had another head wind on August 15th for the short trip down to Cold Spring, but at least the ebb tide helped the C. L. Churchill take us along. Our berth at the town park was one of the prettiest we’ve had. This is Hudson Highland country, and we were looking across the river at the Crow’s Nest, just over 1,400 feet high and its near neighbor, Storm King Mountain. With Bull Hill, at 1,425 feet, on our side of the river, we were in one of two fjords on the U. S. East Coast, not that a Norwegian would be impressed. (The other one is, of course in Maine. And, all right, the most beautiful yacht in the world was designed by L. Francis Herreshoff.) What would have impressed just about anyone is that in two days at the small town of Cold Spring, about 1,500 people trod up our gangway to be welcomed aboard.

Rainbow over the LOIS at Cold Springs (photo: Kerry Batdorf)
Rainbow over the LOIS at Cold Springs (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

At Cold Spring, our crew suffered departures and enjoyed arrivals. “Paying off” were Barb Batdorf and Carolyn Kennedy, who had been on since the start of the cruise, as well as volunteers Leo Straight and Ian Montgomery. Joining ship were Len Ruth (our longtime marlinespike seaman was actually re-joining); Barbara Bartley, descendant of our mentor-by-journal, Captain Theodore Bartley; and volunteers Don Dewees and Sal Larsen, mother of First mate Tom, from whom he gets his infallible good cheer.

Getting underway for Yonkers on August 19th, Tom did a good job of backing off the pier and turning the stern up into the ebb that was threatening to take the schooner down toward moored boats at the Cold Spring Boat Club. We were soon sliding downstream past the high, grey ramparts of West Point. The northerly breeze showed enough signs of strength to inviegle us into setting the foresail to help her along. With the tug on the hip, she is well clear of the foresail boom, so we can use the sail to motorsail. Well, it did give us maybe an extra half knot for a little while, but then the breeze petered out and never did make up its mind what to do next. So, the crew lowered the foresail, furled it neatly, and hoisted boom-sail-and-gaff back up enough to form a ridgepole for the forward awning.

At the Tappan Zee Bridge, we had a waterside, close-up view of the early stages of the construction of the new New York Bridge, being put in right alongside the old one. Plenty of tugs, floating cranes, and barges in action, with crew boats darting back and forth among them. Our mooring at Yonkers was a big steel floating dock with plenty of maneuvering room. Lovely. And when we tied up, we found a couple of heavy lines all rigged for the bow and stern just where we needed them. Such service!

We entertained nearly 500 Yonkersites on August 21st, explaining that 150 years ago our unique schooner would have been merely one of dozens in sight from their pier, coming and going with diverse cargoes on the Hudson water highway. And were entertained by serious boat people at a cook-out supper, the members of the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club. We had seen plenty of them wielding their paddles on the river as we passed their boathouse just upstream of our berth. Now we got to see into this delightful, old, wooden structure, dwarfed in size by surrounding modernity, but standing out in character. What we saw inside was dozens of kayaks and fast rowing craft, many of them built by their owners. What we smelled was the atmosphere of a home for boats. What we heard was the enthusiastic talk of proud and able boatbuilders and paddlers. What a privilege!

Motor sailing under the George Washington Bridge (photo: Tom Larsen)
Motor sailing under the George Washington Bridge (photo: Tom Larsen)

Next day, we set the foresail again, this time to an easterly breeze that really did help us south down the river to New York City. But again the wind didn’t last long, so we lowered away and furled up. By soon after noon, we were down past the George Washington Bridge, past the aircraft carrier,Intrepid, and mooring in Manhattan’s West Side, on the north side of Pier 25, out near the end beyond the old Coast Guard buoy tender, Lilac, and the big, harbor tug, Pagasus. It didn’t take long to figure out that this berth wouldn’t do for getting people on board the schooner. The wakes of New York harbor’s ubiquitous, fast, passenger ferries were rolling us mercilessly, and, anyway, our gangways wouldn’t reach up to this big-ship pier. So, we huddled and came up with Plan B. Luckily, the North Cove Yacht Harbor, a short distance downstream, where we had berthed in 2009, had an opening and would be glad to have us for the next three nights. Whew!

It was only a twenty-minute run down to North Cove. It was perhaps the roughest trip the schooner has made. By now, it was afternoon rush hour, and the water taxis seemed to be everywhere, slicing by close aboard and churning the harbor into a frenzy of steep cross-seas. Fortunately our tug hook-up on the hip stayed intact and the fenders between schooner and tug were up to their Herculean task. Mercy. We received the relative calm of the friendly confines of North Cove with gratitude.

Docked in North Cover Marina (photo: Tom Larsen)
Docked in North Cover Marina (photo: Tom Larsen)

We were now really in The Big Apple. Surrounded by tall buildings, really tall buildings, including the new Freedom Tower, which is impressive, despite the mere antenna structure that enables it to claim 1,776 feet. And by really tall motor yachts. I mean, we’re talking five storeys here on a little 100-footer! There were also sailing vessels in the Cove. The Arabella of Newport, R. I. a big, three-masted staysail schooner; the Shearwater, a two-masted staysail schooner; and the cutterVentura, built in 1922, and still retaining a few of the design attributes given her by Nathanael G. Herreshoff (father of L. Francis). Best of all, there were two dozen J-24s, nimble sloops perfectly suited for their role as schoolships for New Yorkers. Out they went to sail in those frightful waves and strong currents. The song, New York, New York, could just as well say, “If you can sail here, you can sail anywhere.” Over 600 New Yorkers left the city’s streets to take a walk on our wooden deck and “go below” to inspect our cargo hold and ship’s cabin. And these seen-it-all citizens did give us their full attention. Now we were to head back out into the maelstrom and steer north.

 

Roger C. Taylor
Captain, Lois McClure