A six-hour vacation

August 28th

I didn’t manage to rope in crew for a camp-cruising trip to Maine, the raison d’etre of Grey Fox. Which is probably just as well, since I’ve needed the summer to work out the kinks of Grey Fox and really learn the boat’s capabilities and limitations. 50-something degree water and a rocky, foggy coast are not the best setting to ensure all of the boat parts hold up, or to learn when to reef or how hard it is to row the boat miles and miles, or to practice capsize self-rescue technique. 

I’ve also been hoping to do a “test run” of camping aboard with a weekend overnight here in western Long Island Sound, but the wind and weather just haven’t cooperated.  My preferred overnight drop-the-hook-and-camp-aboard spot, Great Captain Island in Greenwich, is 7.5 miles to the northeast, and the weather forecast for the last several weekends has implied that even if I made it there, survived the night in the boat, and didn’t get chased away by the Greenwich Police, I would be rowing the entire distance back to Larchmont in a flat calm, or trying to sail directly upwind in 3 or 4 knots of wind and oppressive heat and humidity.  The overnight test will have to wait for better conditions.

But I’m running out of summer, so it’s time to “seize the day” as Robin Williams admonishes his charges in Dead Poets’ Society.  I contacted my good friend and former college roommate Chris and proposed that we both blow off our respective professional responsibilities and spend Tuesday afternoon on the water.  Wall Street can certainly live without me for much longer than that. 

)Chris is the Executive Director of a foundation that uses its endowment money to support research and debate on US health care policy.  (The hired director; it’s not his money…)  It sounds like a great job, having to figure out how to spend other peoples’ money on worthwhile, hopefully society-improving work. He confirmed that health policy will move ahead, or at least not backward, in his one-afternoon absence.

We rendezvous at Grand Central and head out to Larchmont around 1pm. We use the train ride to catch up, as it’s been at least a year since we’ve gotten together, even though we’re both in Manhattan several days each week.  Are we really such busy people that we can’t do better than that, or just lazy and not working hard enough at being friends?

Not an experienced sailor, but not a complete sailor-neophyte either, Chris follows my barked commands as we clear the cove rowing and convert to sail.  And I, not known for subtlety, get to practice my Bligh routine.  Hmm… Bligh ended up in an open boat for 7 weeks in the South Pacific with 17 other castaways, skillfully and almost miraculously sailing his way to East Timor and survival.  Hopefully there’s no movement towards mutiny on this trip, as our boat is also our ship, and our beer supply will only last us a few hours.

The wind is faint but almost from due south, so a slow but direct jaunt across the Sound to Sands Point is our plan.  It’s also 90-plus degrees under a fierce sun, so a swim will be absolutely required and there is a nice swimming beach there.

Once we get about a half mile out from Larchmont, the New York City skyline becomes visible.  Out in our little boat, on a glorious tropical-feeling summer weekday when the pleasure boat traffic is relatively thin, we could imagine we are miles from “the rat race”.  The race track is right there, in all its impressive architectural glory, just 16 miles away, but the miles between it and us are magnified by the water and the quietness of the afternoon.

[Warning: digression]  For many years (before my time) the tallest building in New York was the Empire State Building, and then for over thirty years it was the twin towers of the WorldTrade Center.  Tragically, after 9/11 the Empire State Building was back to #1.  The Freedom Tower was supposed to restore Ground Zero to prominence.  It’s an impressive and architecturally attractive building.  However, from our vantage point, the tallest building in New York is an unimaginative square monolith located in midtown called 432 Park Avenue. At 1,396 feet high, its roof is higher than the top floor of the Freedom Tower, which is 380 feet tall overall only because of its graceful spire (yep, that adds up to 1776). 

Image result for 432 park avenue new york

Forget about freedom:  this building is 96 stories of full-floor condos priced from $20 million up (each).  The identities of the condo owners are mostly hidden behind names of offshore corporations, but it’s a fair guess that at that price, a lot of them are Russian oligarchs and middle-eastern royals, plus no doubt a few old-fashioned self-made billionaires, and some celebrities including J.Lo and A-Rod. 
One of my kayaking friends has dubbed it “The Oligarchs’ Erection”.

I didn’t get any photos from out on the Sound, but it doesn’t look any better from the distance.    

Anyway, back to sailing. The light breeze propels us to Sands Point at a modest but relaxing pace.  We have time to debate Obamacare (about which Chris has probably forgotten more than I’ll ever know), the latest Trump follies and whether the Blue Point Toasted Lager we are drinking counts as craft beer even though it’s brewed by Anheuser-Busch InBev-SAB.  At least we are able to reach consensus on one of those topics before we run into Long Island (the original home, by the way, of Blue Point Brewing Co. before it was bought by the Behemoth). 

I nudge the boat in to within 75 yards of the beach, successfully avoiding a few rocks which I know are lurking somewhere just below the surface.  I sometimes joke that I parallel park my car “by braille”, meaning I know I’m close enough to the curb when the wheels hit it. It’s not great for aluminum wheels, but a car is, in my view, an industrial contrivance subject to abuse.  Grey Fox, however, is almost like a child to whom I served as father, and I don’t fancy myself a child-abuser.  Fortunately, we experience no tactile contact between the daggerboard and the submerged glacial erratics.

Over goes the anchor and down comes the mainsail.  The mizzen can remain unfurled and keeps the boat nicely riding head-to-wind at the anchor.  We are rigged for cocktails.

I rig the swim ladder and jump overboard for some welcome relief from the heat.  With my waterproof camera in hand I snap a few photos of the boat, hoping for a good one.  I don’t really have any yet, since I’m usually aboard the boat and have both hands occupied with tiller and mainsheet.

We’ve anchored in about six feet of water and it’s hard to get a good shot while treading water. I climb back aboard.  The swim ladder, with rungs fashioned from galvanized steel pipe (so that they sink) held together with rope and hung from the gunwale, is extremely handy. It was a good idea of mine conjured up over a bored winter weekend.  Chris takes the plunge. With the camera in hand he does much better at photographing — he just stands up with plenty of breathing room.  He evens gets a good one of the skipper/builder aboard his craft.

We swim ashore for a walk around and shoot a few photos from the land-side.  With the city now well out of view, and an idyllic beach and salt marsh behind us, we feel wonderfully remote.

After a walk and the swim back to Grey Fox, we raise the anchor and head back towards Larchmont. With the wind at our back and the northwest-sinking sun in our face, it’s primo relaxing sailing.  Chris puts on his best salty air for the camera.

Unencumbered by helmsman duty, I get to crawl all over the boat observing and photographing from different angles.  I don’t even have to juggle my beer and the tiller.  Having crew is great!

Before long the sun is near the horizon and we’re back toour home port.  It feels like we’ve been gone for a couple days to someplace far away. We haven’t changed latitudes but we’ve done pretty well at changing attitudes for an afternoon.  A fantastic six-hour vacation!

Author: Larchmont Jim

A 50-something investment banker from Larchmont, New York (about 15 miles from midtown Manhattan). Amateur small boat sailer, boatbuilder, kayaker, musician. I grew up spending summers sailing the New England coast on my grandfather’s beautiful 47’ 1952 Sparkman & Stevens wooden yawl. I’ve lived in Larchmont, a major and historic sailing center on Long Island Sound, for 25 years, but career and family obligations kept me off the water for all of my 30s and 40s, and only about 7 years ago did I get back on the water, first in sea kayaks, and then in small boats.

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