Thursday, 17 November 2011


Fair winds are a blessing when making a night passage. The boat moves slowly, but purposefully ahead with a gentle rocking motion that gives the sleeping crew member a real chance to get rest. Calm seas are also easier to handle, so the person on watch doesn't get exhausted at the helm. This really works for me, because I'm still not completely comfortable handling the boat on my own. Smooth sailing conditions come at a price however, and this became apparent to us just as dawn broke last Wednesday morning and we got engulfed in a fog as thick as New England clam chowder. The still, windless air was saturated with moisture that absorbed the world around us. We could barely see 50 feet ahead. When out in open waters this may not be a huge issue, but we were nearly through the Long Island Sound and closing in on the narrows of Throgs Neck near New York. This is a major commercial route and the traffic was beginning to pick up, only we couldn't see it. While Gabe steered the boat, carefully monitoring the radar and GPS, I stayed at the bow with a fog horn in hand. All around us, across immeasurable distances, we heard signs of boats that were not showing up on the radar. One came so close we could hear the crew on board before we saw the faint outline of the boat headed in our direction. We were petrified. Navigating into Throgs Neck in these conditions was going to be impossible, so we decided to anchor by a small island nearby. This plan proved to be just as tasking as maneuvering in a busy bay. We couldn't see the shore and had to trust our instruments to guide us in the shallow waters. All the while I was at the bow, projecting short signals with the foghorn, when suddenly we heard a rapid fire of signals coming in our direction from somewhere very, very close ahead. We still couldn't see anything, so I signaled another 2 short beeps and one long one. Before I even got through the pattern, the response came back, blaring 2 short and one long beep directly at us. We didn't know what to make of it, until we saw a ghostly outline of a building materialize from the foggy air. The large compound before us was an old prison and the signal we heard was an echo of our own foghorn bouncing off its tall brick walls. What we could make out of the scene in front of us wasn't inviting. The building was derelict and it bore a large "keep off" sign on the waterfront wall. A tall smoke stack towered above it. Enveloped in fog, the whole island looked eerie and intimidating, but at least we could see something and we took comfort in knowing that we were in a sheltered cove, away from the busy bay and its shipping lanes. We anchored for a few hours, had breakfast and rested, waiting for the fog to lift. The coast didn't clear till mid afternoon, by which time it was too late to follow the current into Hell Gate on the East River. We had to find a place to stay overnight and try again tomorrow. New York would have to wait another day. 

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