Of Gatsby and Obi-Wan Kenobi

“I will take the boy, and watch over him.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi in one of the Star Wars movies

June 23rd

Yesterday’s northwester is blowing itself out, and this afternoon the forecast is for 8-10 knots of it, an amount that is perfect for Grey Fox and manageable enough for the skipper to take out his nephew for a Sunday afternoon sail. Nephew Greg (16) has done some sailing at summer camp and most recently with the sailing club at high school.  Since his family doesn’t have a boat or any access to the water, I suppose he is lucky to live in a town with lots of sailing (hence the high school club can find boats – nice ones, 420s no less – to sail at that bigger fancier yacht club in Larchmont) and a salty (or is it eccentric?) old uncle with a saltier and more eccentric boat.  His mother, who doubles as my sister, is pleased to have me offer to take him out, and only asks that I refrain from capsizing the boat and him.  I guess she has heard that that is a possibility with a small keel-less boat.

We get underway mid-afternoon to a delightful offshore breeze and take the route of least resistance, heading south on a reach in the direction of the city.  Playing sailing instructor to Greg’s apprentice, I let him do the steering and sail trimming. 

Not long into our sojourn I point out to him that he needs to pay constant attention to sail trim, as the sails are sheeted in way to tight.  “If you want to win those sailing club races you’ll need to pay more attention to your sails.  In a shifty breeze like this, it’s a constant process.  Just because you were trimmed right a minute ago doesn’t mean you will be now” says sage Obi-wan Kenobi.  

Young Luke responds “How do you tell they’re trimmed too tight?” 

“Look at your flag” replies the Sage One.  Greg looks over his shoulder at the flagpole on shore.   “Not that one, young Jedi. The flags at the top of your masts. That’s why they’re there – so you can see the wind direction.  Also look at the streamer trailing off the end of the yard.  It gives you an idea of the direction the wind is leaving off the leech of the sail.”

Flags and streamers

“Oh, so that’s what that streamer thing is for” acknowledges the apprentice. 

“Well, yes, plus it looks cool – how many other boats have one of those?” I reply.  Following this remonstration, young Greg tightens his concentration on getting the most out of the boat.   See the steely-eyed determination in his eyes:

I guess I better pay attention…

Even though the wind is lightening up pretty rapidly, our reach has us off of Hart Island, Bronx in no time.

Passing the gong buoy off Hart Island

From there we head almost dead downwind across the narrows to Great Neck on Long Island, which forms the western side of outer Manhasset Bay.   It’s also the “West Egg” in The Great Gatsby, where Gatsby and the other “new money” folks lived. From there we scoot across the bay towards Manhasset Neck or Sands Point, which would have been “East Egg” in the same book, and is where the old money lived and where Gatsby aspired to be.  I tried to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book once but found it so uninteresting that I never made it through the whole thing.  But I do remember that in the book, the folks in East Egg had a great view of the Manhattan Skyline.  Since we are now pretty much in front where Daisy’s house and dock would have been, I can confirm that the East Eggers had a great view:

Looking southwest from East Egg

The skyline today is certainly way more dramatic than in Gatsby’s/Fitzgerald’s Roaring 20’s.  Partly because today’s golden era is even more roaring than back then for the top 0.01%, and they are the market for the new ultra-high rise apartment buildings that are currently transforming the Midtown skyline.  Somehow I suspect that these sky-high multi-story “apartments” are in addition to, rather than in lieu of, Gold Coast mansions… If you have billions, why not have both?  A hundred-million $-plus pied a terre in the city and a weekend estate in the Hamptons.   Not to mention a yacht, a ski chalet in Aspen, a private island in the Caribbean and of course a jet to get you to and from all of them.   Well, I’ve got my yacht…

Back to the sailing… by the team we get near Daisy’s dock in East Egg, the wind dies completely.   Greg starts to get antsy.  “There’s no wind.  We’re stuck.   We’re going to have to row all the way back to Larchmont”.  Considering that the distance to Larchmont is at least 4 miles, and I just did that cross-sound row last week, I’m not in a hurry to take in sail and get out the spruce breeze.

“Patience, young Jedi. The wind will fill in.  In the meantime, we’re not drifting onto rocks, or running out of daylight, so let’s just sit back and relax,” offers Obi-wan. “Or, if you prefer, I can tie you to the mizzenmast and lash you with a cat-‘o-nine tails as an offering to the wind-god Aeolus, and see if that will rustle us up a breeze”.   Greg looks at me like I have three eyes, which is fair, because he clearly hasn’t read my prior post here, “Puffs and Gusts”.

Sure enough, before long the afternoon Sound southwesterly comes in and we are moving smartly northward towards Larchmont.  We pass by Execution Rocks and I spot a couple of kayaks a half mile off.   Thinking I recognize the color and shape of the boats, we alter course to intercept them.  It’s Jean and Bea, two of the hardest-core kayakers in western Long Island Sound and fellow kayak pals of mine from HHYC.   I take the helm from Greg and head over to rendezvous with them. 

When we get alongside I hand my waterproof camera to Bea and ask her to snap a few photos of us.  I don’t have any pictures of the boat taken from not on the boat.   A kayak isn’t the best platform to shoot photos from, but Bea gives it a try.  We make two or three loops around her in Grey Fox to give her a good angle, and she comes up with some pretty good shots.

Photo session complete, I re-raft with Bea to get the camera back and then offer to race them back to HHYC.  In light air or going upwind, they would fly right by Grey Fox, but by now the breeze is up to maybe 8 knots and on a reach we are doing almost 5 knots, leaving our 4+ knot kayakers slowly slipping away. 

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.

One thought on “Of Gatsby and Obi-Wan Kenobi”

  1. howdy captain Jim,
    really enjoyed this latest episode, documenting some similarities to our last outing on LIS.
    great to have pix of Grey Fox from the water.
    many thanks for sharing your knowledge, experiences and your wonderful writing style.


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