Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sunday's Changed Plans

The Peking

Ever have one of those days where nothing went according to plan – but it all turned out to be fun anyways?

That was exactly how my Sunday was.

If you took the time to read my Saturday post – which honestly was more about procrastinating on the housework than anything else – you know that Sunday’s plans were to sail on the Rosemary Ruth from noon to dusk; another small schooner, the LazyJack, was going to join us & we were going to sail around together taking pictures of each other, then I was going to go to a wonderful Danish-style Christmas party with “glogg” and “abelskeur” and a generally “hyggelig” (respectively: hot mulled wine; small cakes, not too sweet, served with strawberry jam & powdered sugar; and…well, “cozy” is oversimplifying) atmosphere & enjoyable conversation with interesting & adventurous friends of theirs.

The main thing that happened to change plans was that the owner of the LazyJack had decided not to sail after all. Too bad, it was a beautiful afternoon, actually not terribly cold, with a nice little breeze – but winter sailing, like winter kayaking, isn’t something that everybody gets into & I guess in the end she had enough reservations that she changed her mind.

Richard (the owner of the Rosemary Ruth) has been working on a major project for the last couple of weeks (ok, actually the entire boat is a major project, this is just one task thereof) – he’s refurbishing the water tanks. The day of my first outing on the RR, two weeks ago over Thanksgiving weekend, he’d spent the morning sanding them and I’m sure there were many more hours of fun he was able to obtain from this project (in fact I forgot, I’d meant to tell the story of how my traditional Paddle-Off-The-Turkey Paddle came to feature beer and donuts this year – the RR water tank project was involved - but that will have to be another post). Once finished with the sanding, there was rinsing and scrubbing to be done. The final rinse required a hose to get to the bits unreachable by brush.

Problem is that a functioning hose is not necessarily the easiest thing to be found around a marina in the wintertime – they tend to get shut off to keep the pipes from freezing. Richard had already made at least one futile trip to Pier 63 & the later in the winter it gets, the harder finding a functioning hose was likely to be. Maggie, the educator from the schooner Pioneer, got to be Richard’s hero – sometime last week, she found out that the ship restoration barge at the South Street Seaport Maritime Museum (home of the Pioneer) still had running water!

So the order of the day went from “launch, sail, meet other schooner, take pictures, return to marina at dusk” to “launch, motor to South Street Seaport, rinse tanks, sail, return to marina at dusk”.

<We got to the seaport on a rising flood (I’m not going to talk times & high water because this was one of those days when a steady wind meant that what was actually going on wasn’t quite what the predictions said – that happens sometimes). The space where we had to dock was a very narrow slot between the ship restoration barge and the museum’s massive four-masted barque, the Peking. The current was pushing us north. There was another very nice little schooner, the “Flying Fish” (in small picture - they are en route to Spain via Chile, as Maggie found out later), docked at a float just aft of the stern of the Peking. The original plan was to back in, but the current was making this difficult; if things didn't go just right we'd get spun down into the Flying Fish(kayakers – picture having to eddy out, paddling backwards into the eddy, without there actually being enough space for your boat to spin because there is something barely more than a boat-length downstream that is going to hurt if you hit it…OK, and your kayak is 41 feet long and you have to do this all from the very back…there you go).

We made a few passes while Richard tried to plan the best approach, and then things got complicated even more as a Zephyr ferry came into the ferry landing at the end of the pier to our north – cutting off what would have been our best way out should we find ourselves being pushed up into the Flying Fish. Richard looked at the setup a bit more then decided that it would be better to pull in going forward, where he would have more control of the situation. He knew backing out was going to be tough for exactly the same reason as backing in was (only worse because we wouldn’t have as much control at slow speeds), but he thought that we could probably work out a way to turn the boat within the available space using a well-placed line. We reset the lines & fenders to the port side & in we went. No problem.

The only catch was that once inside the slot, it looked even skinnier than it did from outside. Hm. Leaving was going to be interesting...oh well, we were there for a reason. Maggie got the hose & Richard got his tanks all rinsed out & drained & so the day’s main mission was accomplished.

This did take a while though, and as we were doing that, the current was picking up speed. We finished up and walked out to the end of the barge to see what was going on. The river was racing north much faster than it had been before, curling & slapping against the side of the Flying Fish. The eddyline off the stern of the Wavertree (another big sailing ship that took up the entire south side of the barge & projected well beyond it into the river) was so sharp it looked like it was drawn with a ruler. It was pretty fascinating listening to Richard and Maggie as they talked through Richard’s plan, which he was revising to fit the conditions he saw. He literally talked through the whole thing with her while Bruce (the other guest that day and actually an acquaintance from Pier 63, he’s one of the folks that works on the retired fireboat John J. Harvey so I see him there all the time) & I listened – where the line had to go; how the line had to be brought into play; what he was going to do with the boat; what was going to happen to the boat as the stern hit the current if the line was taken in fast enough to hold the bow (a nice controlled spin on her axis right within the limited space available), what his outs were in the event things didn’t work quite that nicely, and where we would end up in a worst case scenario. Problem was that there wasn’t really a good out, and the places we were going to end up were either crashing into the Flying Fish or possibly going under the stern of the Peking, with nasty variations involving bowsprits or booms getting into or under one piece or another of the Flying Fish. Looking at the situation I could picture it all happening exactly the way he described it, either coming out fine or not-so-hot.

The other option was to stay there for a while while things quieted down & in the end, that was the option he took. So there we were, waiting for the tide. Stuck…on the historic ship preservation barge at the South Street Seaport Maritime Museum! Which is a serious work site, full of interesting boats & boat-repair-related stuff, and thus not open to the public! SHUCKY DARN! You can see most of the boats they are working on from the street, but it was fun to take a closer look at some of the vessels.

And to make it even better, in addition to Maggie, the official educator of the South Street Seaport Maritime Museum, we had been met there the director of the museum! Maggie had called him to let him know we were there, and he’d come out to the end of the barge to catch our lines. Honestly, if I hadn’t known I would’ve figured he was a dock worker there - he was bearded, and wearing sturdy, well-worn work clothes, and looked like he’d been working hard on repairing things all day (which is probably exactly how he’d been spending a pleasant Sunday). They – Maggie & Don - invited us to stay & enjoy a little South Street Seaport Maritime Museum hospitality, which turned out to consist of repairing to the captain’s quarters of the Wavertree for hot tea and sea stories. I’d brought some cookies & enough hot cider to share, Richard brought some soup, Maggie had doughnuts and produced some rum to fortify my cider and with all of that we had quite a feast. They are doing a beautiful job on the restoration of the Wavertree, and it was a real treat to get to see it - although I think Maggie said they do some tours, it’s still very much a work in progress so not that easy to see, so to get invited to come aboard & make myself comfortable & listen to Richard & Maggie & Don “talk story” – Richard mostly about the Rosemary Ruth, Maggie & Don about the Wavertree & then also more general maritime history – well, that was pretty special. I mostly listened while they talked. My stories just aren’t in the same league – I may spend a fair amount of time out on the water, but “salty” isn’t adjective I would apply to myself without feeling very silly, and with this group I was feeling extra, extra low-sodium.

Definitely one of those days when I was happy to be living in New York, though.

Finally, after a couple of hours, it looked like time to go – the water wasn’t curling against the Flying Fish’s hull anymore, and the eddy line had softened. We dropped a line off the Wavertree’s stern & made it off in the bow of the Rosemary Ruth; Richard backed her slowly out into the river; the current took her stern; Maggie (who wasn’t coming back with us) & Don took in the slack from the Wavertree and just as Richard had described, the Rosemary Ruth performed a nicely controlled pirouette in just the right spot, we cast off the line & off we went into the sunset.

And we even got in a little sailing on the way back! Sure, it got a little chilly after the sun went down, but it was a nice day and not too cold. Plus, Richard keeps a couple of spare Mustang float coats (basically a parka with a PFD built right in) on board. I’d brought clothes that I think would’ve done the job but I was frankly VERY into the flotation concept. As I’ve mentioned before, the water temperature is now below anything you want to even chance messing around with without some assistance. Great thing is, these float coats also turn out to be completely and marvellously impervious to the wind and I was totally snug all day, so when Richard asked if Bruce & I were still up for at least a bit of a sail, I jumped at the chance. I think I left a camera battery in the pocket, guess I'll have to go again sometime to retrieve it. Bummer!

Anyhow - I was a little worried that adding in even a short sail was going to mean I was going to miss the party completely – but by this time I was already clearly not getting there by the time I’d said I would so I figured why not.

It was a short sail, but a nice one. And to make things even better – when I called Steve & Camilla from the 33rd St. PATH station to find out if I’d missed the party & should just go home – Camilla said “Well, nobody’s here anymore, but we didn’t have a big turnout in the first place so why don’t you come on up?” (really - now how nice is that?)and I did, and that turned out to be a lovely finish to the day.

So there it was. The day that completely refused to go as planned but ended up being maybe just maybe even more fun than the original plan.

Although that would’ve been just fine too!

Here's a picture on the preservation barge which may give you a better picture of how tight a space we were dealing with. The two masts on the right side of the picture belong to the Rosemary Ruth; the massive vessel just beyond the smaller boats is the Peking. The other small schooner pictured above was just a little ways past the Peking's stern. Not much space to play with.

The Wavertree (with the tug Helen McAllister) in the sunset


bonnie said...

2011 note - for those who are coming from my "SOS" post, I just wanted to note that Don, the gentleman who regaled us with tea and sea stories while we waited for the current to ease, is not involved in the current mess; quite tragically, he died of a heart attack, I think it was the summer after our visit.

I didn't know him well - in fact I find that I can't even remember his last name now, I was trying to look him up on my lunch hour but couldn't find him - but I do find myself wondering if the museum's subsequent trajectory might have been different had he survived.

Richard Hudson said...

Thanks for the reminder of an enjoyable and typically unpredictable winter daysail.

The gentleman was Captain Don Taube. I did not know him well, but do know he was much missed by many when he passed away.

bonnie said...

You're welcome, Richard - and thank you again for having me along that day.