Storm Sail (Part 3 of 3)

The answer my friend, is... Blowing in the Wind

Torrential rain and hail blurred. Despite the obstructed view, it was clear, the mainsail had to be secured. Loosely tied, it pulled free, raising itself during the first gust. One tie held, creating an improvised storm sail, but even that proved enough to bury our rail. It was beyond heeling. The wind won every attempt to come about – and worse, the precariously close bridge, was getting closer. 

Crawling on deck, drenched to the bone, I centered the traveler, secured the boom, and held on for dear life – all while wrestling canvas. The wind resistance would not allow the sail to come down. As well, Joey had unknowingly cleated the mainsheet partially raised. He clung to the mast, quickly un-cleating, releasing the line… letting the end out of his grip. Another slow motion movie – that of watching the line blow off the boat. Frank yelled, “Noooo!” But it was too late. 

Seventy feet of rope, was now blowing parallel to the water, from the tip of the mast, no matter what angle. I had to consciously ignore it. “Pull down here… hold that… don’t let go of the boom…. tie this, remember how to secure the strap!” Joining forces, Joey and I struggled, as Frank made another attempt to come about. Strong gusts continued to fill untied portions, making it impossible for Avalon to turn. We were running out of runway. Determined, Joey leaped on the boom, hugging the sail down with his body, while I secured straps. Success!

He hurried below. I remained holding onto the boom, turning my attention to the next potential problem. Between the 53 foot mast, and the 70 foot expanse, the risk of snagging approaching pylons was real. Now that the sail is secured, I thought, ‘we should be able to turn… but the line. Was the line going to get caught?’

Not willing to risk it, I clung to stanchions and lifelines, making my way to the tippy-tip bow. Hugging the jib – while Frank screamed at me to, “Get below!” – I watched the pattern of the wind upon the rope. Don’t ask me how, but when the wind hiccuped, the line dropped. I jumped, and grabbed it. Rapid fire lightning struck the water. Frank ordered me off the deck. I quickly cleated the line, gladly heeding his words. His second order, however, to close the galley, was denied. No way in hell, was anyone putting the door slats in! Especially after he just told me, “If I can’t make this turn, I’m gonna try to hit the bridge on the starboard side, maybe we can heel sideways under the bridge. We’ll lose the mast, but should come out the other side okay. Be ready to get off the boat!” I understood the logic – the boat will naturally tilt, as sailboats do, and drag the mast along… But, “be ready to get off the boat?” Are you freaking kidding me?! Then order the door sealed? I’m opting not to write my reply... Electronics getting wet, and heaven forbid, malfunctioning, was a valid concern. It was also met by Grandma – my claustrophobic, not about to be closed in, mother – now armed with rolls of paper towels. She kept that electronic board bone dry. 

With a facial expression far from carefree norm, in a now or never spirit, Frank yelled his last order, “Everybody, hold on!” Heaving the steering wheel, we heeled, and – FINALLY – rounded into the wind! 

The change of direction, gave Avalon all she needed to keep us safe. No longer thrashing, we were steady. The bow cut through gusts. We now had the power and control to steer. Given circumstances, the ocean was a much safer option, Frank plotted a mental course. I peeked up from the entrance to see a more typical demeanor, though I can’t say anyone was thrilled about heading out into the ocean. “We have a much better chance. We can’t stay in here.” No one disagreed. 

A few, sans chaos, moments passed. We gathered our wits, readying, both them and the boat, for the next possible need. Through the engine and wind, I heard a whistle. Frank was so focused on getting out in the ocean, he did not hear. A second whistle sounded – that of one of the other sailboat Captains. The horns of the drawbridge quickly followed, announcing the bridge could finally be opened. 

Avalon filled with audible sighs of relief. More than a bridge opening… this signaled that the storm had passed. Without issue, Frank brought us about. Cheers greeted us as we passed under, along with the waves of a very relieved drawbridge operator, who helplessly watched Mother Nature toss us around like a tub toy. Once safely on the other side, Frank began to hoot-n-holler. “That was GREAT! Let’s do it again.”

From the cabin, a second holler, “Are you kidding me!” My mother threatened, “FRANK!! I’m going to CASTRATE you!”

Laughter offered much relief. 

To think of all that could have gone wrong. Of course, we had plenty to contend with, but in truth we were incredibly lucky. The channel was narrow. Thankfully, Avalon turned within her own length. We didn’t beach ourselves, intentionally or otherwise, nor run into pylons, nor the two other sailboats having their own serious issues. Drawbridges can’t risk opening during extreme wind. Given that, we were thankful it opened at all, and that the other Captain took the time to whistle. (He had his radio on, and hence, spoke to the drawbridge operator.) We didn’t run into the bridge – surely we would have been de-masted, or worse. (Although, had the ‘sideway’ plan materialized, we, in theory, could have sailed the entire channel.) The engine ran great! Not one hitch. We didn’t get hit by lightning, no one fell off the boat, none of the lines got snagged, I was even able to grab the airborne line, we didn’t take on water… (My mother even figured out where the water was coming from… the bucket left in the sink.)

Ronnie, clearly cut from the same mold as Frank, remained ridiculously calm throughout. Joey totally stepped up. This was no easy situation for the most seasoned of sailors, much less a first timer. Once he knew what to do, he did not shy away. Further proof of which showed up the next day. He was bruised on the underside of his arm, as well as, up and down his ribs. The guy took a beating. Mom and Alex stuck together, literally, through thick and thin. My little man did not cry once… and, yes, I think we all deserve credit for the same. Frank, a.k.a. Captain Gallego, stood dead center amongst lightening bolts and thunder claps, enduring a fury of golfball sized hail upon his flesh, yet never left the helm. As for me… Well, I can’t say this experience did anything to help my neurosis issues… that said, my intuitions could not be denied. And yes, Joey hugging me, took back his doubting words.  

Avalon. Avalon, our gallant lady, proved her worth! Amidst pure chaos, she endured the most violent of thrashings… and still kept us safe!

We pulled into our slip. Ever present, Steve was tending to Wind Song, as well as the other boats and dock lines. There was no need to wonder what we went through… he laughed as soon as he saw us… then went back to the needs of the marina.

Turning the engine off, Frank called out, “Who wants a hamburger?” I suppose he earned a meal.

“Hamburger?” Pffft, “I want a drink!” I’m quite sure we earned several!

Ronnie, Joey, Frank and Alex


Side Note: 1955 Wind Song #903, J Aldens, dropped her six ton keel in her slip and was written off as a total lost, either that or a refit costing over $500,000. She was donated to Wounded Warriors sometime in 2011. The vista overlooking the marsh will never be the same. It’s not often you get to see the glory of an authentic 50’ wooden schooner. (   /

Side Note 2: The date was September 7, 1998 (Alex was 2 years, 2 months old)

The storm was Named: The New York State Labor Day Derechos

Two storms – one from the northwest, the other from Ontario – converged, causing a violent collision between a late-summer heat wave and the leading edge of a cold front.

This pattern is called Derechos (Derecho is Spanish for ‘straight,’ whereas Tornado means ‘twisted.’)

Derechos are widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storms, associated with a land-based, fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms.  They cause hurricane-force winds, tornadoes, heavy rains, flash floods. Winds, at least 50 knots, span the entirety of the front. This storm traveled faster than expected, taking even the weatherman by surprise.

We entered the Atlantic Beach channel early afternoon – between 2-4 p.m. News reports confirm how we were greeted – thunderstorm cells, a quickly traveling squall line, rapid fire lightning, as many as 10-20 times per second, balls of hail, wind gusts of 60, 77, 89, 115 mph. (actual documentation)

Four small tornadoes spawned from the storm – an F2 tornado touched down in Lynbrook, 6 miles from us. It caused $1 million in damages and injured six.

Ours was not the only harrowing tale. One man was trapped in the winds while parasailing – he suffered a fracture skull. Another man was adrift in the Atlantic Ocean for 2-1/2 hours, after his 36’ sailboat sank – he was hit with a line squall/60 mph winds.

Three people were killed in Syracuse. Four were killed in New York – 62 were injured.

100 boats overturned. The New York Coast Guard conducted water and air rescues.

Trees were downed. Homes destroyed – people had to seek refuge in temporary shelters. 300,000 lost power for five days. There was one distress call after another.

This storm was no joke. Each one of us was happy to be alive – and alive we were!


New York State Labor Day derechos –

4 Are Killed As Storms Lash The Northeast –

Channel 9 News Labor Day Storm Special –

Several videos of the storm, thanks to ProudAmericanArmyMom:

Part 1 – Tornados, water spouts, a guy trying to dock, canopy ripped off, lightning, golf ball sized hail –

Part 2 – Hail

Weather Report – (start @ :39)

West Indian American Day Parade – Labor Day 1998 – Emergency Weather Report – (Start at 37:13) –

This video is titled ‘Labor Day Storm 2013’ – however I would not be surprised if the year actually 1998. This dark monstrous mass is eerily similar to what we encountered –


Storm Sail:

Part 1 of 3 – First Mate Disorderly

Part 2 of 3 – Caught in a Vortex

Part 3 of 3 – The answer my friend, is... Blowing in the Wind

{I think it’s safe to say, there was a fair amount of Triple L involved!}


Storm Sail (Part 2 of 3)

Caught in a Vortex

Lo and behold, we reached the Atlantic Beach buoy… motoring the entire way. The main and jib remained up during the trip, however, given the absence of wind, they served no purpose. Frank reeled in the luffing jib. Joey lowered the main. Ahead, we could see the first actual company of our trip, two sailboats, also making their way towards the bridge. Each Captain knew, as customary, we’d have to gather before the drawbridge operator would open the bridge. Relieved, I turned to Frank, acknowledging that maybe I was being too nervous… when over his shoulder, I saw charcoal black. The sky sharply divided. Before us and overhead was normal, but behind us, a swirling, monstrous, darkness. As he rotated his body to look, a Skimmer darted by, not one bit interested in fishing. “Frank!,” I tried to get his attention. The second speedboat of the day, appeared out of nowhere, hammering past us, completely ignoring channel speed limits. Frank turned back towards the bow, just as a flock of Skimmers torpedoed by. No words were needed, energy was palpable. That lurking sensation was no longer coming – it was here. 

“Okay,” showing the first signs of concern. “Make sure the hatches are locked.” Reaching towards a seat cushion, “put everything below deck.” But before his sentence finished, an incredible gust sent cushions flapping. Managing to grab the first airborne with one hand, he kept the other on the steering wheel. All of us were scrambling. My mother had Alex awake and below deck. I was stuffing cushions and supplies through the galley doorway to Ronnie. Joey was checking hatches. 

Atmosphere – instantly charged. You could touch it. It was surely touching us! Every single hair follicle. Stilly waters, now angry whitecaps. The squalls leading edge was upon us with a harsh slap. Avalon heeled in submission. That loosely lowered main, was now our main issue. I had to figure out how to navigate the deck… my mother interrupted, “There’s water in the boat!” 

Water in the boat, trumped the sail, Frank ordered, “Go! Find out where the water is coming from!” I ran below, pulling up the floor board. Nothing – the bilge was dry. “Is it from the bathroom? Check the seacocks.” We had to yell over the engine and wind. Joey checked the bathroom seacocks, reporting loudly, “They’re closed.” 

I froze. What to do? This can’t be happening! Like an old time movie, everything slowed. I saw my mother, sitting with Alex, who was wide awake, legs dangling over the edge of the seat, his hands, palm-faced down, placed gently upon his knees. Completely, statuesque, in the midst of chaos. Grandma donning a life jacket, sat by his side. It was the briefest of moments, but a vision, to this day, burnt in my brain. 

My standstill sharply shifted… as a violent gust, slapped Avalon down. Joey was thrown, airborne, from the bathroom. His back hit the opposing wall with a resonating bang, arms and legs trailing straight out, like tails on a windblown kite. It seemed he levitated, immovable, with the exception of his head, which spun towards me. With dagger precision, and saucer-eyes appearing cartoonishly large, he screamed, “This is serious SHIT!” No one disagreed. Ronnie was behind me, holding overhead handrails. My mother and I locked eyes. My sweet son’s life was flashing before me. Joey scrambled off the floor, and headed my direction. Before I could speak, he grabbed my shoulders, shaking me, “Call in a mayday!” Yelling even closer, “Call in a MAYDAY!” Demanding of my attention, while my mind was caught in assessing. Where was the water coming from? What is most urgent?? My son….

Another gust buried the starboard rail. Avalon’s Portside windows saw only black sky, her starboard, was under water. Standing on the wall beneath the galley seat, I caught a glimpse out the galley door, Frank was struggling. When Avalon momentarily righted, he kept one hand on the wheel, and forcibly, full body, yanked lines with the other, wrapping as many times as he could about the jib, and as much as he could of the remainder about the winch, “We need to get the sails down.”

Hearing the concern in his voice set my direction. Wherever the water came from, it wasn’t actively coming in the boat. Avalon was doing everything she was supposed to do. Grabbing Joey’s shoulders, I yelled back, “No one can help us. There’s no mayday! Help is not coming!” At arms distance, brandishing each word, “There. Is. No. Mayday!” It was semi-registering, “There’s no mayday! Think about it. No one is gonna get to us in time.” To say I took the wind out of his proverbial sails, was an understatement. “We need to get the sail down. I’m not strong enough! Frank can’t control the boat. The wind gusts are too strong.  I need your muscle!” Our grip released, “I need your strength. It’s us.” Deflated, though his whole body nodded in agreement. A clap of thunder and lightning sparked so close it startled us. Rain turned to giant hail. Avalon was literally caught between the clouds, like that of two giant cymbals crashing about us. Grabbing a life jacket, I heaved them to Ronnie. “Everyone in a life jacket. Now. Get a yellow slicker on your brother. Help him so he doesn’t have to take his hands off the wheel. Get every moveable object, stuff it in the forward berth.” Off went a woman-on-a-mission. Turning to my Mom, who had one makeshift, seatbelt arm locked across Alex’s chest, the other clenched to a handrail, “You have Alex.” Her right leg braced halfway up the bathroom door-jam, the left pushed off the opposing seat. Alex, remained statuesque, his back so straight he appeared proper, had his hands, still, upon his lap. I knew he and Grandma would remain together – I had to believe. Turning to Joey, who now had a life vest on, “We need to address the sail.” Ready to do whatever needed, he followed up the stairs… Avalon was on her side again. Between the stair rails, and doorway jam, we hung on till she righted. I warned the obvious, “Whatever you do. Don’t. Fall. Off!” Every lesson from the day must have been replaying in this poor guy’s head. 


Storm Sail:

Part 1 of 3 – First Mate Disorderly

Part 2 of 3 – Caught in a Vortex

Part 3 of 3 – The answer my friend, is... Blowing in the Wind

{I think it’s safe to say, there was a fair amount of Triple L involved!}


Storm Sail (Part 1 of 3)

First Mate Disorderly

It continues to ring in my ears, “Are you always this neurotic?”

When the question was originally posed, I attempted to respond, as though a legitimate inquiry, but the reality was, it wasn’t intended to be answered. 

The weekend surrounding this question evolved rather quickly. My mother, visiting from Florida, Frank, Alex and I scheduled an overnight sail into Manhattan. An impromptu stop over by Frank’s sister, Ronnie, and her traveling friend, Joey, added two additional bodies to our adventure. We were happy, especially Alex, who was a very active, agile two-year-old, for the extra hands on deck. Agile as he was, we had a non-negotiable rule. Around water, he had to be tethered to a fixable object, along with his life vest. This, after, months prior, he managed to fall off the dock. A big FYI, kids don’t float. They sink – fast… make that immediately. Frank’s knees bled, after skidding along the dock, scrambling to reach the last visible bit… Alex’s ankle. Hoisted like a fish, Frank whooshed him into the air. There dangled our toddler, upside down, dripping wet and mad. The upset wasn’t over the fact that he fell in, nor that he was being hung by one leg, only that his new shoes were wet. Concern over nightmares, unbridled fear of water, or any other traumatic fallout, was thankfully, unnecessary. All we had to contend with, was a momentarily pissed off little kid – – because his new, just-like-Daddy’s ‘choos’ (shoes) got squishy.

* A little side note: We had the luxury of docking our boat in Island Park. It was one of several sailboats Image may contain: sky, ocean, boat, outdoor, water and naturenosed-up to a lengthy bulkhead, adding to a glorious view overlooking the marsh. Berthed beside us, was Wind Song, a 1955 double masted, wooden schooner. It dwarfed Avalon, our tall rig, 30’ Catalina, in length and height – no small feat against a 53’ mast. Steve, the very capable, very talented Captain of this historical vessel, tended his labor-of-love for 25+ years. As with most days, he was working on her the day Alex fell in the water. No sooner did I yell, “Frank! The baby!,” he appeared from below deck. We never felt alone living by the boat. With the moment of concern behind us, relieved laughter and a spark of memories replaced. As a young boy, Steve, while ‘helping’ his father, landed head first in this very same water. As for Alex’s fall… He was ‘helping’ Daddy work on the dingy, stepped around a tool, when the tether strap/leash snagged his leg.

Avalon, not only offered headroom for my 5’10” frame to stand tall, it had a 10’ 10” beam, giving ample room for everyone, especially Alex, to move about – a.k.a. his own personal romper-room. The tether rule was lifted while in the cabin. To counter the tall rigging, was a 5’7” fin keel, making her particularly stable, sturdy and seaworthy.

We left the dock early, with Frank at the helm, Ronnie and Joey on the bow taking in the sights, and Grandma and Alex coloring at the galley table. I readied to set sail. Once beyond the Long Beach bridge and train trestle, Joey joined me to hoist the main. Frank manually released the bulk of the jib, Joey further winched it into to position. We sailed a pleasant, but relatively uneventful, tack through Reynolds Channel, towards the Atlantic Beach Bridge. Before nightfall, we safely  docked at the Newport Marina, on the Jersey side of the Hudson. Ronnie used her cooking expertise in the galley, and in no time filled our bellies. 

Joey and Ronnie

Ronnie and Joey, heading under the Train Trestle. We always had to request a full opening, to accommodate our tall rig.

Nancy (me), Alex and Frank

Nancy, Alex and Frank

Nancy, Alex and Frank

The remainder of the evening, we sat on the end of the dock, overlooking the most bedazzled Manhattan skyline – The Twin Towers, The Intrepid, The Statue of Liberty, the sunset, witnessed as rhythmic wavelets lapped pylons and salted the air. I took it in, as much as any Mommy of a two-year-old could. Alex (tethered to me) scampered busily, exhausting everyone but himself. Night passed quickly, as fun experiences often do. 

Avalon is the sailboat to the left/center

Dreamland can be blissful, especially when lulled by a rocking boat. Before you know it, morning arrives – even earlier when the up-at-the-crack-of-dawn kid tries to single handedly exit the boat. Dressing him, with promises of food, I hoped the rest of the crew could get back to sleep. Frank, also awake, joined us on our quest. The three of us ate breakfast on a bench overlooking Manhattan. Peaceful as this sounds, there was an uneasy feeling in the air, so much so, I mentioned it to Frank. “What do you think it is?” Unable to place my finger on it… still, something was lurking. We sat a few minutes, but I felt so uneasy, we headed back to the boat. Running from one end of the dock to the other, Alex tested the confines of the tether.  

Rounding the corner, the marina exit was bogged. “Frank, look how many boats are leaving.” 

“People are getting a head-start on the day,” he dispelled my concern.

“Yeah, but look at the others.” Every boater was actively battening down hatches, packing up, and casting off. The slips were half vacant. 

Too obvious to deny, we hurried back to check if there were weather reports or warnings. Sure enough, a late evening storm was due. Frank assured me, “they’re beating the storm home.” Then suggested we do the same. Joining the boating conga line, we exited the marina with no wind. The hum of Avalon’s engine accompanied us. The sails were raised for naught. Alex, wandered about the boat, his tousled moppy head of hair, his big red life vest… safely tethered… he was so cute. Mommy-hood certainly has sweet moments. I wished I could shake the feeling of unrest and just enjoy this. I suppose the repeating weather reports, as boater updates notoriously do, was adding to my angst. Frank insisted I was listening ad nauseam, nothing was changing, “Turn the radio off.” In my mind, a more current update could not post fast enough. My request to put life jackets on deck was deemed as escalating tensions, and assertively overruled. From behind the wheel, he scanned the horizon. “Yeah,” agreeing with my observation, “this is pretty calm.” 

I wanted to scream, “Ya think?!” How this man stays so laid-back all the time, is beyond me. 

We motored into the New York harbor, on approach to the Verrazano Bridge, when Alex reached for me, insisting to be picked up. For a moment I thought he wanted a snuggle, rather he proceeded to throw-up down my shirt. Mommy-hood has these moments too. Sailboats bob when not actively propelled forward. The tall rig was not working in our favor, not without wind, nor in the favor of Alex’s stomach. I suppose having breakfast, then racing to leave, didn’t help. Whatever the case, we used a bucket to wash not only me, but the seat cushions. Not sure who was more happy when Alex fell asleep. The bucket was left in the galley sink, in case there was another issue. 

A calm set in with the adults, though not nearly as calm as the water. The positives – with no wake or ripple to slow the hull, we motored at a good pace. No wind, also meant we didn’t have to tack. A straight course was plotted for home. Once in the ocean, there was a haunting lack of vessels, sans the lone speedboat that zoomed into the horizon. Outside of that, the entire expanse was ours. Frank requested a ‘hove to’ lesson, a technique I learned while living aboard Womanship – a woman only, sailing school. ‘Hove to’ slows forward progress, reduces the need to steer, and can basically ‘park’ your vessel in the midst of a storm. Not only did we hove to, I gave Joey his very own private sailing lessons. It was as much to keep my mind busy, as it was to prepare. For what, I didn’t know… but it felt like I needed to. 

“One hand for you, one hand for the boat. Always. This is the main sheet. This is where the winch handles are, always put them back in the same place. Release this line to… Cleat that here… Clamp that there… Don’t leave unraveled lines…..” 

Somewhere between listing how-to’s, he outwardly spoke the words. “Are you always this neurotic?” Resisting a feisty response, ignoring the thinly veiled snicker, I managed to cover bow to stern. It was too much information for the first time on a sailboat, but he was a captive audience and seemed to enjoy. 

My thoughts went back to the weather report. I went below to flip the radio switch on. The same warnings were repeated. As quick as it did, a threat of mutiny rang out, “Turn the radio off!” Laughing half-heartedly, I told myself to stop thinking about it. We were well on our way. Soon enough, the buoy to the Atlantic Beach inlet would be in sight. 


Storm Sail:

Part 1 of 3 – First Mate Disorderly

Part 2 of 3 – Caught in a Vortex

Part 3 of 3 – The answer my friend, is... Blowing in the Wind

{I think it’s safe to say, there was a fair amount of Triple L involved!}


Sympathy is not on the shopping list!

* Frank passed all the Physical Therapy tests and was released from the hospital.  He is home.  Yay!!  🙂  That said, I had the tree branches trimmed to the hilt AND hid the ladder...  (written 8-24-14) Frank wanted to venture out of


Hospital Update for Frank

This morning, when I first saw Frank, he looked terrible.  Worse than I left him last night for sure.  He had not slept again.  Uncomfortable.  In pain.  And his roommate had a bad night.  Apparently the man did not want anyone


Life almost got REAL short

* I decided to post the saga.  I realize it is a few months old, but given it is an experience I will refer back to, and I’d personally like to save the story…here it is… I have ALL sorts


Bucket List Surprise

Did you ever have an absolutely amazing experience (a check on your bucket list per se) that you didn’t know you had until it happened?  I did.  A magic carpet ride!  Yup.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


Super Moon – Super Night!

Super Moon. Super high tide. Super night at Nickerson!! Watching the moon rise – a simplistic act – yet nothing short of spectacular. How many months go by where we hardly look to the skies?  Too often it feels why


Voyeur in Central Park

Don’t worry, it’s only natural…. A quick walk in Central Park.  Lots of families strewn across the lawns.  Dogs meandering by their human packs.  Artists line the walkway, while Musician’s are heard further down the trail.  Balloons signaling the party