Wednesday night, May 8, we left the shallow lake (at high tide) and anchored right by the ICW. “Marsea” waved madly from their stern to say “good-bye.” They were still in sight across the lake, but I felt lonely. We had plans to sail to New York, but you never know for sure if you are going to see anyone again. Every boat has a unique pace, schedule, and priority. Plus, things happen.
Despite gloomy skies and showers, we left as soon as we could see on Thursday morning. Soon we were out the inlet, breathing a sigh of relief because the NE swell that had been blasting the shore for over a week had, indeed, died down. It was rolly, but not terribly uncomfortable. We have a tried-and-true routine that we follow religiously, and it worked well. Seasick medications ingested, food prepared, nothing loose in the cabin, GPS waypoints plugged in, mugs wrapped….the girls stayed in bed for a long time, most of the day in fact, nibbling from their food bags. The only thing we couldn’t plan was sleep—Mark and I hadn’t had much. Too jumpy, anxious, ready to go.
By noon there was enough wind to sail, and we turned off the motor. Ahhh….. we felt lucky, as there was more wind than was predicted. We sailed until after dark. “Marsea” caught up to us at dark; we could see their running lights behind us all night as we slowed to the pace that would bring us into NY harbor at dawn.
Our final night on the Atlantic! I’d hoped for the perfect sail, of course. It wasn’t that, but we were glad to be getting in. The girls didn’t sleep well, having lain around all day. Once we were well in the channel, Brooklyn dead ahead, I found I could hardly hold up my head. I crashed in the cockpit and slept while Mark took pictures of the rising sun and got us up to the Brooklyn Bridge, with its notorious current, close to slack tide. Then, the Statue of Liberty! The girls jumped around and took pictures and missed Emma and Will. “Mom, when we were here before we said ‘we’ll be coming home when we see this again,’ and here we are, coming home!” Cedar was so excited. We watched the Boat Basin, where we’d spent many rocking days in Manhattan, slide by. Everyone except Lamar was just as happy to go right by New York. “I want to go back to the Museum of Natural History,” she said.
We still had the tide with us, so went 30 miles north of the City and then anchored. We considered going even farther, but we were exhausted and “Marsea” was stopping here. So we decided to stop too. Mark and I spent the afternoon napping. We were both headachy—not sure why this particular passage was so exhausting. The girls were up, and alerted us to a local sheriff’s skiff passing by us and stopping alongside “Marsea.” Christian and Martine had gone to visit friends, and the dinghy was obviously gone, but the sheriff seemed unaware of this, or else uncommonly suspicious, for after ten minutes of horn-blowing and siren-whistling beside them, they actually put up their bumpers and boarded the boat! And, opened their doors and went inside! By now Mark and I were watching. What could they possibly be doing that for? Eventually they decided there was no one there and left, passing by us in the meantime. “We know those guys,” Mark offered. “They’re off in their dinghy.”
“Oh,” the guy said. “Do you know when they will be back? We want to check on their customs status.” (????) (Canadian flag).
“They won’t be back until late,” Mark said. “They came back from the Bahamas about a month ago, like us.”
“Okay, we’ll check back later,” they said, and zipped away. (The end of this story comes later. When Mark told Christian what we’d seen, Christian was greatly relieved, and said that explained the mystery because when they returned late that night they’d found their door wide open! But nothing stolen. Mark had heard the door “click” shut when we were watching so we concluded that they must have come back after we’d gone to bed, and left the door open. Needless to say, Martine and Christian were mildly incensed that they had been boarded with no “probable cause” whatsoever, not to mention have their door left open with rain coming. They talked to a lawyer-friend, but were reluctant to pursue it (i.e. write a letter to the sheriff’s department stating what had happened and asking for an explanation) for fear of “flunking the attitude test,” as Mark puts it, or getting on some homeland security “list” which would then make it harder for them to travel in the US in the future. Another black mark for US foreign relations! My guess is that it was a young or inexperienced sheriff’s deputy who was unclear on what the rules are and needed for some reason to show his power. He certainly didn’t seem to know what he was doing.)
Anyway, we were off pre-dawn again the next morning, once again in cold winds and spitting rain. We left just as the tide was lessening against us, which kept the going slow for an hour, but once the tide started to peak in our favor, we managed to keep up with it and rode the tide all afternoon! It was a beautiful day, despite the stormy weather. There was a distinct sense of “North” in the air, in the trees, in the bedrock, the topography, the very air breathed “north” and we all sucked it in like a long-lost friend. We saw our first bald eagle in 6 months and I nearly wept, it was so beautiful. Yes, we are definitely northerners at heart.
The rains came and went—once we lost visibility and the girls and Mark stood out on the bow in the pouring rain, peering ahead, getting drenched, while I steered blindly at the helm. We didn’t want to stop (not that one can just stop in the middle of the channel) because we were dead determined to get as close to Castleton as we could while we had a favorable tide. (Our new i-phone, with its tidal/current info., was tremendously helpful—once we learned how to use it. Mark and I spent an hour in the cockpit studying what was happening around us and tapping the i-phone and feeling old-fashioned, until we finally figured it out. What we thought was a tidal chart was just a rate-of-change-of-current chart. Anyway.)
Sometime in the afternoon we realized that we were going to stick with the peak current almost the whole day. We flew along at 7-8 knots until suppertime, when we finally started to get behind. But by then we were within striking distance of Castleton, which we reached with ½ hour to spare before dusk. Mark grabbed a mooring ball, handed the boat hook to Lamar waiting beside, and furiously got two lines through the ball before the boat swirled too far away, the current being against us now. He whipped the lines under the toe rail and cleated them and, boom. We were done. Catching a mooring line is always so intense and quick that it takes a few minutes to realize that we are done, we are off watch, the boat is safe, we can let our guard down. We sat down in the cockpit, turned off the motor, breathed awhile. “I can’t believe we are here,” was the best I could say. Mark nodded, and smiled.
We went downstairs where the girls were STARVING and ate polenta lasagna, cooked all afternoon. Somehow it had turned to soup, but no one cared. In fact, we could barely stay awake. “The only thing that would make this better is if Marsea came in beside us,” Mark mentioned. We had little hope of that because they had planned to stop sooner and take down their mast somewhere else, with the help of a boatyard. So I was astonished when, after supper, Mark was out in the cockpit after dark and called down, “Guess who’s coming?” Sure enough! We just couldn’t stay away from each other! Turns out they had stopped at two marinas, but with long waiting lines and/or broken cranes, they decided to push on. “We’ll have a mast-taking-down party tomorrow,” Mark assured them.
And we did! This time we waited until 6 or 7 a.m. before starting another huge day. It was calm, which was very encouraging. We started the day in t-shirts but by mid-morning, just when we had all the stays loosened and the boom off and the girls had moved kayaks, dinghy, and all miscellaneous items including coconuts and conch shells onto the dock—yes, then it started to blow. Soon we were in jackets, then fleece and jackets. I cranked Mark up the mast with Lamar tailing the line behind me, and he attached the crane loop to the mast. At that point we were committed, with the top of the crane perilously close to the top of the mast with its delicate wind instruments. Christian and Martine came over to help. The wind whipped in big gusts and Martine asked anxiously in her French accent, “Shall we wait?” Mark and Christian both looked at the sky. Another complication was that big barges went by frequently. If they didn’t slow down, they left wakes that could rock us against the dock, and most certainly would rock the top of the mast into the crane. There were no barges in sight. “Let’s go,” we decided. Martine turned to Cedar and Lamar. “We’re going to ask the wind to drop,” she said. All three of them started chanting. And it seemed to work! None of the gusts that came after were as big.
Martine worked the crane (remember that job, Emma?), Mark and I held the mast, and Christian hopped around helping. Once we let all the stays go and undid the bolt, it was just a matter of cranking the mast up enough to let it start swinging. It swung exactly right—mostly bottom-heavy. Mark had placed the ropes in exactly the right spot on the mast. He certainly has a feel for this stuff! In seconds he guided it away from the crane and the crisis was over. It just remained for Martine to slowly lower it while we guided it onto the cradle.
Only one hitch occurred—somehow the headstay, with its heavy roller furling gear, got loose from the mast. In seconds one end had swung into the water. Oops! Christian had it in seconds and pulled it up. Crisis averted. Faces relaxed. Smiles were cracked. Soon the mast was on the cradle and we moved Amicus II down the dock so “Marsea” could move in.
The dock was made of movable parts that are constantly shifting. So it was easy to lose one’s balance on the dock. Christian had already, while craning his head back to look at our mast. Now it was Mark’s turn. Somehow he lost his balance and, as he put it, started falling into the water. He had a split second to decide—swim or fall? Not surprisingly, knowing Mark, he opted for a heroic, almost comic attempt to save himself. I turned around just in time to see him with his foot on a dockline over the water, which gave him just enough push to throw himself back on the dock, where he landed heavily.
I was still grappling with the stays he’d let go of and couldn’t do much. “Whoa!” was his standard cry. I figured he must be all right. And he was, after checking his shoulder and thigh for injuries. He lay there for a moment and proclaimed himself okay, just bruised to the bone. He has been moving gingerly ever since.
“Marsea’s” mast came down without incident. By early afternoon we were all taking showers—for us, the first in over a month! Which is no big deal when we are swimming every day. But we hadn’t been swimming either. The girls’ necks and ankles were looking beautifully brown, but I had a feeling it wasn’t a tan! Sure enough, we all emerged from the hot steamy showers looking a good deal paler and pinker. I mourned my lost tan—a little.
This day was our 12th anniversary. We decided the showers were our mutual gifts. It was a great day, really, the best for an anniversary because it felt very productive and reminded us how very much we have done in 12 years! “Can’t imagine doing it with anyone else,” Mark said. “Same here,” was my response.
Christian had told us about the BEST fish and chips he’d ever eaten, right in Watertown, at the start of the Erie Canal. We resolved to motor there by dinnertime and have a gala evening in an Irish pub. It all worked like clockwork until we arrived in Watertown—late, after dinner time—and Lamar discovered she’d lost her cardboard camera, which she had lent to Cedar at some indiscriminate time. She dissolved in tears, Cedar threw herself around the cabin in a rampage. This time it was Lamar near collapse. Could we pull this off? Martine and Christian appeared on the dock at the right moment, and Lamar pulled herself together and decided to come without the camera. Bleary-eyed, we set off.
It was a short walk, but it was Mother’s Day which means that all the restaurants do up a big brunch and then close early! And it was already 7:30 in a small town. Boo hoo. The only open restaurant was a pizza place. What it lacked in ambiance we hoped it would make up for with pizza. Well…..what we lacked in good food we made up for with the company. It was our final farewell to “Marsea,” this time for real because they were heading up to Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence river. So we stayed late and talked into the evening, with the family owners—Greek immigrants—hanging out around us. We were the only ones in the restaurant, and Cedar had asked if they could turn off the TV that was blaring in our faces. So I guess this family had nothing to do but chat with us.
Finally we left and somehow got home. Frost warnings were out, but at least the wind had died down. How many nights in a row were we going to crash like this?
We had not committed ourselves to being up at dawn again, but with the early daylight, Mark and I were having a hard time staying asleep past 6:00. The locks opened at 7:00, and we needed cash to get started. So I walked to a grocery store, did a lightning-quick shop and got cash, and we were headed into the lock with about five other boats at 7:00 a.m. We did five big locks right away in cold, blustery wind. Brrrrrr!!!!! The girls were cozy inside. But it brought us right up into the mountains, truly leaving all sea level land behind.
Then, finally, our story slows down. We climbed hundreds of feet into the Allegheny mountains in a dozen locks. We had a regular school schedule, and the girls each helped with one lock and 10 minutes of steering a day. This came about because they liked the cabin cold while mom and dad, frozen from sitting out in the cold rain, needed some heat! If they were that comfy and we were that tired, something needed to change. Now, of course, we wished we’d done this earlier. Usually they do more than the allotted ten minutes, once they recover from the annoyance of requirements.
After a day and a half we stopped early so that the kids could play with Anna and Fin, sailing kids who were staying with Grandma in NY while their parents prepared the boat to sail across the Atlantic! We will be following their blog.
The next day, we realized that we weren’t going to be able to cross Oneida Lake (20 miles long) for 48 hours due to strong westerly winds, so we could stop hurrying. Other boats do it, but we have no interest in seeing our mast slide around and potentially come loose as we rock in the chop. Instead, we spent a night in Rome and visited Ft. Stanwix National Monument. I enjoyed it, especially learning about the Iroquois League, a democratic constitution which held together the five tribes of this area, “the People of the Longhouse,” from the coast to Lake Ontario, for hundreds of years—until the skirmishes of the Revolution divided their loyalties. The girls liked dressing in colonial clothing but left the movie theater when the movies got too intense and graphic. I think they took “living history” a little too far…even in museums! The staff were surprised, almost offended, that their historical videos weren’t adored by the children—Lamar looked shellshocked when she came running out of there. So instead we read Tomie DePadua’s story of King George III—highly recommended, by the way.
Now we are at Lake Oneida waiting for the wind to die down.