Cruising the Big Apple - SailNet Community
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Cruising the Big Apple

A Letter from Sue and Larry

Sailors all over the country have shown their solidarity by proudly flying the Stars and Stripes.

On September 2nd, Serengeti sailed out of New York Harbor and continued cruising south. The morning of the 11th, we had just finished writing the following article about cruising to New York City.

We were actually climbing into our dinghy to go ashore in Annapolis and send the article to SailNet when we heard the unbelievable news of the terrorist attacks. Naturally, we abandoned our trip ashore and simply sat in the cockpit, stunned, horrified, and glued to the radio. Word spread quickly among the cruising boats gathered here and for the next few days, we, along with the rest of the world, grieved together and tried to make sense of it all.

Initially, we decided to shelve the New York article and wait for everything to get back to normal, if that’s ever possible. But our cruising friends here discouraged us from that and the more we thought about it, we agreed. We watched around us as the whole boating community quickly came together. Kayaks and daysailors, race boats and motor yachts all brought out their flags in full force and showed their support for their country and especially for all of the people and places so tragically marked by the horrific events. We decided that not sharing with you the wonderful and fascinating time that New York City so recently showed us while visiting on our boat would be very wrong.

New York has much work ahead in order to heal, overcome, and rebuild, but life goes on and so must we. Although the waterways around New York were closed to boat traffic initially and then re-opened later with restricted travel times, things will eventually return to normal. Lower Manhattan will rebuild and emerge stronger than ever, as will the entire US.

We certainly plan to return to New York the next time we’re up that way and we hope you will too.     — Sue and Larry

While not exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think of cruising destinations, the Big Apple surprised the authors as a vibrant and accessible port of call.
New York City, a destination for cruisers? You’ve got to be kidding!

That’s what we used to think. Over the years, we’ve always blown past this metropolis as quickly as possible, heading for "proper" cruising grounds. You know, quiet, secluded, out-of-the-way places where you can snorkel, swim, and enjoy nature. Places where you can find access to shore that doesn’t cost you a small fortune. Then we heard about a way that we could moor our boat in New York and be close to all the great attractions for just $15 per night. Knowing that we could never experience the city any more economically, we decided to slow down this time and try out the Big Apple.

Regardless of the direction from which you approach New York, currents are a major consideration for the navigator. We sailed in from Long Island Sound and our primary concern was timing our passage through the East River to coordinate the current at the notorious Hell’s Gate. Hell’s Gate refers to a part of the East River that’s particularly narrow, causing the waters to accelerate to five knots or more, and swirl and boil like a witches’ cauldron. Any sailors transiting this area need to carefully plan their departure to coincide with a favorable current which will help carry you through. To try and go against the current, especially with the small size of many sailboat engines, can be impossible.

After checking our current tables for the next day, we decided to drop the hook just outside of the East River near City Island. This would facilitate an early morning arrival into the river with the current carrying us along. Entering the East River, we were provided a tantalizing view of Manhattan through the glorious morning light. Farther down, Hell’s Gate proved true to form as we hit 11 knots in speed and were greeted with a series of small standing waves. It was actually kind of fun, but we were aware that we needed to steer judiciously. There is quite a lot of commercial traffic, such as tugs with barges that ply these waters, and you must keep a keen eye out for them.

It's not every day you can navigate by way of a bearing on the Empire State Building.

Soon the glistening silhouette of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building appeared off our starboard bow. We could almost reach out and touch the yellow taxicabs that dominated the busy side streets along the river. Wow! What a contrast from our usual cruising environment.

The Statue of Liberty nodded her head in welcome dead ahead as we rounded the southern tip of Manhattan and turned up into the Hudson River in search of our destination, the 79th Street Boat Basin. Passing the twin towers of the World Trade Center just a half mile off our beam, our speed slowed to 4.5 knots as we motored into the adverse current of the Hudson. Six miles upstream, we approached the marina and mooring field and were pleased to see there were several empty mooring balls awaiting our arrival.

The mooring balls are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. We hadn’t been too concerned about one not being available, as our guidebook said you could anchor just north of the mooring field. After spending a few nights on the mooring though, we would certainly not recommend anchoring here. The currents are swift and the seas kick up sometimes from the steady stream of commercial traffic and often from the wind blowing against the current. Even though we anchor 99 percent of the time while cruising, we would not have felt comfortable leaving our boat unattended in this location and were glad for the mooring.

Despite New York's high-priced reputation, the 79th Street Boat Basin was an economical haven.

The 79th Street Boat Basin, a facility owned and operated by the City Parks and Recreation Department, might best be described as an unpretentious diamond in the rough. When you dinghy ashore, you’ll find an aging facility staffed by friendly, helpful and laid-back folks. The marina offers excellent security, with locking gates and each boater personally greeted by marina staff before re-entering. Limited transient dock space is also available here at a reasonable-for-New-York price.

On our first day ashore we set off on foot to get a feel for the area. We were happy to find the subway station just two blocks from the marina at the corner of 79th and Broadway. We figured this would cover the bulk of our citywide transportation needs.

Being in desperate need of exercise, we decided to pass on the subway that first day and headed off on foot down Broadway. In just minutes, we were engrossed in the unique excitement, sounds and smells that this international city hurls at you from every inch of every street. Before long we had passed Lincoln Center, caught a glimpse of Central Park, and were smack dab in the middle of Time Square. Broadway Theatre billboards were competing for our attention with each turn of the head.

"The subway and everything we needed were all within easy reach of the marina. That’s convenience."
On our walk back to the boat, we discovered several grocery stores just a few blocks from the marina. These carried the most elaborate and tempting selection of international, ethnic and gourmet foods we’ve ever seen. Near the grocery stores we found the ever-essential-to-cruisers hardware store. Everything we needed, plus the subway, and all within easy reach of the marina. Now that’s convenience.

Returning to Serengeti, we looked around and realized that we were just about the only American cruising boat there. The French, Germans, New Zealanders, and Brits were represented in force. They obviously recognized a good deal when they heard about this place.

The following day we again decided to pass on the subway and pulled out our folding bicycles. The city of New York is completing a wonderful new park called the Hudson River Park. Included in this park are miles and miles of dedicated paths for bicycles, roller bladders, and pedestrians along the entire length of Manhattan on the waterfront of the Hudson River. Zipping south along these smooth, newly paved or bricked paths, we soon found ourselves at the bottom of Manhattan, looking again, straight out at the Statue of Liberty, this time from Battery Park.

Sue pauses in China Town, one of the Big Apple's many cultural delights.

Energized by the city’s beat, we cycled into the downtown area. In no time, we found Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Quite a few stares were drawn from the Wall Street traders as we sat on our funny little bikes, wearing shorts and straw hats while the business of finance hummed all around us. I think we were the only two people there not habitually smoking out of nervousness.

From Wall Street, we headed uptown, winding our way back and forth across the main streets. Occasionally we’d lose our nerve cycling in the heavy traffic, so we’d pedal down the sidewalk until it also became too congested. Then we’d walk, pushing our tiny cycles beside us. Every few minutes we found ourselves in a new area, each with a distinctly different flavor—China Town, Greenwich Village, the Korean district, and then the Japanese district—all very exotic to us and a huge change from our usual daily schedule on board Serengeti.

No trip to New York can be complete without taking in a Broadway show, so before cycling back to the boat, we stopped and purchased tickets for a remake of an old favorite that’s back in Broadway, 42nd Street. It’s funny if you think about it—getting into a dinghy to go see a Broadway show. But that’s what we did the next night, only without our straw hats this time. Once ashore, we tied up the dinghy and headed to the subway. This was our first experience on this underground transport system and it sure got us down those 37 blocks quickly. The show was fabulous, with a standing ovation, and when we re-emerged into Time Square we couldn't believe the number of people and the bustling activity on the streets. But, it was late for us usually early to bed cruisers, and time to head home.

"Our misconception that stopping in New York City would be undesirable and inconvenient by boat was torn to shreds."
We had been a little concerned about our safety walking back from the subway station to the marina at night, being in the big city and all, but to absolutely no avail. The neighborhood was well lit and the people we met friendly. Our previous misconception that to stop in New York City would be undesirable and very inconvenient by boat was torn to shreds. Cruising the Big Apple in our own boat provided us with an interesting glimpse at the vibrant life of the big city, without the high cost and hassles often associated with it.

So, what did our four days and three nights in New York cost us? Well, continuing in our normal cruising lifestyle of eating most of our meals onboard, we were able to get the full experience for relatively little money. We spent $45 for the mooring, $12 for an unbeatable lunch in China Town, $10 for lunch in Central Park, $6 for four subway tokens, $3 for a five-pound Sunday edition of The New York Times, and $180 (ouch!) for two Broadway show tickets. That’s $256. Try to get your travel agent to match that!

So, next time you're looking for a unique cruising destination on the Eastern Seaboard, give the Big Apple a try. You won’t be sorry.

BillyOC likes this.
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