October 11, 2009. Manhasset Bay.
It was our first year as boat owners, and there was dissension in the ranks. My 7 year old son Jake had thoroughly enjoyed it, throwing himself at the boat (1971 S&S 34) and its nooks and crannies. My 4 year old son wanted nothing to do with sailing (Iím hoping this has worn off by spring) Ė but everything to do with sleeping aboard. My 2 year old daughter loved it and wanted to steer Ė always.
As a NYC suburban father commuting to work via train everyday, I always enjoy the two 20 second vistas on my commute as we cross high above Manhasset Bay on the train trestle and then, shortly after stopping at Great Neck, we cross Little Neck Bay, this time low down amongst the grass. Six weeks earlier, Iíd been wistfully staring out the window as we crossed Little Neck Bay only to see a small fiberglass dinghy high and dry in the estuary. It was far above the typical high tide line and had clearly been run ashore in a recent storm. Here is my reconnaissance photo from my blackberry.
It became part of my commute to wait and see if it was still there. Three weeks after it first appeared, I took Jake to Citi Field for his first ever baseball game, and as we passed through Little Neck Bay I pointed the dinghy out to him. A few weeks later, it was still there. I confessed to the Admiral my thoughts of salvage.
After a morning of pumpkin picking (an all-time favorite activity for me), it was time. I had told Jake a couple of days earlier that I wanted to make an attempt to salvage the dinghy. My wife thought (knew?) I was nuts, but in my heart this was always more about the adventure than the ending. It was a beautiful day and the forecast was for 12 Ė 15 knots of breeze out of the North. By the time we dropped off the mooring, it was almost 1:30. I had put up the main before setting out and, being foolish, had laid out the 143% genoa on the foredeck (yes, I have hanked on headsails) instead of the 95% blade. Almost immediately after dropping off, the wind picked up. It was blowing a good 15 at this point, with higher gusts, so I chose to motor sail out of Manhasset Bay under main only. It was like a mid-summer Sunday, there were so many boats out, and with just the two of us on board, I didnít want to deal with the traffic and the big genoa, at least not yet.
After rounding Hewlett Point, I decided to raise the genoa. Almost immediately, we cleared the lee of City Island and the wind picked up. It was blowing a good 18 with gusts over 20, and all I could think about was how difficult this could get if Jake started freaking out and anything went wrong. Instead of being scared, though, he kept asking if we were burying the rail(!), something I had mentioned a couple of months before in passing. Isnít it amazing the things they store in their brains when you think they arenít listening? Iím beginning to wonder what it takes to do this in my boat (we have a lot of tumblehome), as I had to disappoint him with a ďnoĒ throughout the trip. By the time we dropped anchor in Little Neck Bay (first time ever anchoring the boat) Jake had already had a trip to remember. It was time for the salvage operation.
We inflated and launched our little tender. Jake was excited as we headed out for the eel grass.
Picking our way along the shore, we found a little rivulet to run up towards the abandoned dinghy, eventually beaching? our inflatable on a mud bank. A 50 yard tromp through the mud and my secret suspicions were confirmed. She had a huge hole in her Ė beyond my limited capabilities.
Ah well, it had always been more of an excuse than anything else. We returned to the boat and weighed anchor. By now, I knew that our day of firsts was not over. It was obvious that the sun was going to be down long before I picked up the mooring. Even as the temperature dropped, Jake had a ball. He wrapped a blanket around himself and never once complained that his impetuous father had forgotten to bring any food along in case things took longer than expected. There was no moon that night, and it was overcast. Iím not sure Iíve ever seen such darkness that close to NYC, and I was glad to know that there are so few hazards coming into Manhasset Bay at night. I had known from the start that it was trip Jake would never forget, and it didn't disappoint.