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!}

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