Wednesday, October 24, 2012





Dedicated to the memory of


Scholar - Gentleman – Sailor

     Too soon called to Fiddler’s Green even as the Blue Peter was hoist aloft on his latest voyage. Leaving behind family, friends and a saddened crew. Fair winds, old friend.  *


     Stephen here.  Oceans of salt water have coursed under Bentaña’s hull and too many weeks on the hard have passed since we last made an entry here. Suffice it to say for the moment that our thoughts were elsewhere. We hope in time to recover that piece of time in our blog, but we will endeavor to post our blog in real time so you can follow us in a more timely manner.  When we recount those missing months they will appear under the rubric, “Life Outside the Comfort Zone.”

    Countdown to Departure Day– After weeks of preparation for our third voyage south, friendly queries of “When are you leaving? “ have turned to astonished “Are you STILL here?” Sunny, pleasant autumn days enjoyed with friends at the Nyack Boat Club have turned into chi=chi=chilly nights and the call south grows louder each day. Our projected date for casting off was a non-committal, “End of September,” but more realistically, “When we’re ready.”  Cousins Ellen and Jessica were heading east with their significant others from the West Coast on October fourth allowing a short delay. Unresolved Auto-Pilot issues frustrated us for a third year and I needed the help of an electronic shipmate. For finding and fixing the long standing problem we are deeply indebted to our mechanic Daryl of 41 NORTH for locating and resolving the issue.

    D-Day minus one—We are at the east side of the easternmost finger dock at the club. Our water tanks are topped off. Good buddy Lou Spitz comes by to help change our ground tackle from summer mode to winter mode. We take one of the clubs yellow “Tin Boats” out to our grid location, Delta-Four. Into the tin boat comes the Tall Buoy and it’s fifteen feet of line followed by our pendants covered with prime Hudson River bottom silt. The pendants,(pronounced pennants) are shackled to our upper chain by a forged iron ring. I cut the stainless safety wire from the shackle, undo the clevis and secure the winter stick and line in place of the pendants. The winter stick is a three foot cylindrical white plastic float to which I have added three day-glo orange duck tape stripes. Its primary function is to mark the place of our 600 pound mushroom and 40 feet of chain for retrieval on our return. It is designed to escape the grasp of ice which forms on the Hudson some winters, and be easy to spot by any frostbiting mariners. Thanks Lou.

     I won’t bore you with the usual frustration of wasting an hour trying to get our pressure washer working, suffice it to say I hosed down the muddy pendants and put them away for the winter. Next task was to hoist the outboard motor on deck for the passage and hoist the dinghy up into the davits. This is kind of like locking all the windows and doors at home before a trip.  After all the false starts, this was a more palpable commitment.

     What remained to do was to secure our car for the winter, and a few small last minute errands. I had a last minute doctor’s appointment and we needed multiple copies of our documents for Coast Guard, Immigration, Insurance, our ditch-bag and what have you. Off to Fed-Ex (although I much prefer still calling it Kinko’s) and then to find a bed for our newest crew member, Hobart William Smith, or “Hobie Cat,” or Hobie for short.  These errands were on the way to friend Lisa’s house in Jersey for the next umbilical cut, putting the Saturn to bed for the winter. 

     Lou Spitz was going to drive us back to Nyack for our departure on a fair tide in the morning. In the last minute confusion, I locked my keys in the car in front of Petsmart.  I called Lou and told him to bring a coat hanger. I called the sheriff and the local police, both agencies no longer in the business, so I called a locksmith who could get the job done in less than an hour for way less than a boat unit (BOAT UNIT = Break Out Another Thousand.) Lou arrived with a wire coat hanger and observed, “I’ve never seen two people deal with challenge and adversity with such calm.” I gave that a lot of thought in the next few days. I did tell him that having a boat made car expenses seem paltry.

     The locksmith tells me that despite what the dispatcher said, he only takes cash. ATMs are everywhere so by the time I return from Pathmark, the car is open and we are back on track for leaving town.  After a pizza dinner promised to Lou at Posa Posa, we head for Lisa’s and put our golden chariot to bed. After hugs all around at Lisa’s, we return to Nyack in Lou’s car with the “ARRGH” license plates. Lou suggests a parting glass at O’D’s pub and Captain Morgan Lime infusions are on the blackboard. Craisins and cherries soaked in rum, the spirit decanted into shot glasses, snifters or cocktails. And so the parting shot was across the bow. The sun was well over the yardarm and we three spliced the mainbrace and turned in.  Thanks, Lou.

    The forecast for the next day, Friday, October 19th was crappy--crappy all around, 99% chance of rain; contrary current in the morning; and south wind all day. On the other hand we had been in Nyack a wee bit too long, so prepare to leave on the next out bound tide we did. We awoke next morning pinned to the dock by the wind.  Everything was wet and it was gray, cold and dreary. After a hot pot of oatmeal we surveyed our dock situation and planned for slipping our lines. We would back out with our port stern line around an aft piling and run back to the boat. This would have us facing east to the fairway towards the middle of the river. Then slip the line and gun the engine and clear the touch-and-go dock and be away. Huzzah ! !

     Unfortunately… the south wind carried the stern davits against the piling and the dinghy ripped out of its forward shackle and dangled into the water. The strain on the port davit wrenched the solar panel axel out of its starboard davit mount and the solar panel dropped, held up by two securing straps tied to the mizzen boom. I yelled to Judy, “Head for the dock.” and she replied, “No problem, we are being shoved against it.”  I hopped off and secured the breast line and we steadied, facing east on the south side of the touch-and-go. A quick look around and we saw no great harm done…just another delay. The wind was beginning to howl.

     Lou’s observation about our calm in adversity came back to me.  If you’ve followed our adventure right along, you know that we are no stranger to Murphy’s Law. Things going wrong are no longer a surprise to us; they are more a matter of course. The glowing stories in the sailing magazines aside, cruisers will all tell you their share of difficult moments. A popular adage tells that any sailor who has never gone aground is either a liar or never left the dock. The alternatives clearly stated in an old sea chantey may come down to “pump or drown.” Or as Lord Buckley declaimed, “If you get to it, and you cannot do it, there you jolly well are, aren’t you!”

    So assessing the situation with a clear head and no tinge of panic, we delayed. We lowered the dinghy so I could reach the stretched out shackle. The bilge plug was out at the far end of the dinghy and I had to hop on to reach it and plug it. The wind was coming up and it rained. Judy found a small halyard shackle in our parts department and I replaced the damaged one. On deck, we tied a bowline around the starboard davit and levered it out far enough to rethread the panel axel. It rained harder.  Concerned about a repeat separation of the two davits, we ran a line from one to the other and back again. With a paint stirring stick, I wound and twisted the two ropes, taking out the slack and creating tension between them. This is referred to as a “Spanish Windlass.”  Back in the dinghy, I released the forward shackle and pulled the inflatable around and forward to our baby stay halyard on the starboard side. We would haul the dinghy on board and lash it down on the foredeck as we do for rough passages. We were now soaked to the skin inside our red foul weather gear. We went below to dry off, have a hot beverage, reassess and take a nap.

     The delay till 1540 allowed us to more easily get off the dock, as the southbound current was building. We were finally under way, the sky was clearing and the mighty Hudson bore Bentaña down to Liberty State Park four hours later, rafting up to Dick Dowall’s “Endeavor.” But that’s a story for another day…

*Donald's obit here