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  • kokachinjr

New York! New York!

Our last anchorage in Canada was a small desolate island (Cape Negro Island) at the very Southern tip of Nova Scotia, the big lighthouse offshore was shining its light on us. Not a soul in sight, just some scattered remnants of a dilapidated cottage buried under thorny bushes, traces of past life. With a deep sense of remoteness, we wandered in utter isolation along a stony beach examining flotsam and jetsam, wondering where it might have come from.

Since arrival in the USA (Bar Harbour, Maine on 1 Oct) there has not been much occasion for such solitude. Except for dedicated town docks, it is nearly impossible to get ashore as most of the land is privately owned. The ceaseless string of houses along the coast left little room for abandonment. 

The towns we went through brought a different type of wonderment, enjoyment and some terror!  Sailing from Maine, via Boston, Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay, to Long Island Sound while interesting and enjoyable it all merged into one, we just steadily plodded along until we hit New York.

Although we have both been to NY before this experience was different for us both mainly because we met Andrew and stayed in his spacious ‘retro’ loft in the Lower East Side, Manhattan. Our friendship goes way back to my rock climbing years in the 80s when Andrew, then an American architect intern in London, came with me to Korcula to make the first ascents in Pupnatska Luka and scaled its impressive virgin rocks, since then still unclimbed. It was fun to give him a new thrill by taking him through NY on Kokachin. 

We spent a few days in lovely Port Washington Harbour waiting for better conditions and then set off with enchanted Andrew and Laura on board. We sailed under our first bridge and then switched on the engine before going through the “Hell Gate” notorious for its strong swirling currents. Just then Neptune announced he needed a pee, which usually takes a long time with all the sailing gear on, and left me on the helm.  Could have he not found a better moment for it!?

The current ahead looked worryingly strong, a bridge above “Hell Gate” low and the pass through it narrow. I panicked. Kokachin is hard to steer under an engine, let alone in a strong current and I also was unsure where I was supposed to go in the branching narrow channels. Tightly packed sky-high buildings blocked the view ahead.  As I took two sharp turns finding my way, it did not get any better, not even when the channel widened. The constant strong swirling current was taking us fast along through the East River abuzz with traffic.  

Ferries were streaming past or towards us, coming in or going out of their docks.  Commercial and tourist boats were speeding in every direction, and fishermen in little boats were bobbing around with their fishing rods. Then tugs, jet skiers, and canoes joined the fun with odd cranes sticking up their necks. The only craft I missed spotting was a submarine! There was no end to surprises and confusion. Kokachin was hit from all sides by a big wash and dived in and out, occasionally rocked,  while I tried to navigate through the traffic maze in which it seemed “Rules of the Road” had no meaning any more as there were no shipping ‘lanes’, everyone was going in every direction.  

This watery nightmare was not helped when I looked up. Helicopters landing on some nearby spot rattled their noisy rotors. Ambulances, fire engines and police cars screamed their sirens flashing multiple lights. An interminable stream of cars zoomed along the river banks. Trains shook the world thundering in haste above our heads via sturdy bridges.  Tightly packed, like gasping for air, numerous glassy monstruosities of skyscrapers reflected in the sun, tearing what was left of the sky above, helped by stream of aeroplanes further slicing it up.  It was a mayhem of colossal proportions in which vision and motion created a massive Shonberg’s cacophony. Holding hard to the helm and my nerves I merged with this ‘tripping craze’ for hours, safely making it to the ‘peace’ off Staten Island.  From afar, the Statue of Liberty waved at us.  Our NY on the water experience was intensely extraordinary.

In beautiful Maine, the autumn leaves were just starting to turn and by the time we reached North Carolina (NC)  the trees were ablaze with reds and yellows. The sun was shining while we were wafting on the calm waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Sailing to Marley Creek was interesting and exciting. After a very high freeway bridge, the busy commercial port of Baltimore opened up. Kokachin seemed small and insignificant surrounded by big ships, numerous cranes and huge industrial buildings. The steely harsh world around us looked otherworldly, bearing no relevance to our existence.  It felt archaic and out of place to sail in tune with the wind along these ugly monsters. 

As we turned the corner, the transformation could not have been more stark. We were sailing in quiet Marley Creek. Surrounded by flaming autumnal trees, Kokachin glided silently on still waters, bathing in golden sunset light. Shimmering ripples created by her gentle progress woke up sleepy birds floating around us. Not another soul in sight, only a line of secluded houses with leafy gardens, sloping to the river banks. This was the world we felt we belonged to and could understand. 

I was grateful for the rain and fog that hid Norfolk, and the huge Navy base, as we sailed through it.  The menacingly mighty and far too numerous military ships lay in shipyards for miles on end.  Entering Inter Coastal Waterways (ICW)  late in the season, to bypass Cape Hatteras, notorious for its bad weather,  was a relief.  It was always enerving to go under bridges, no matter how high. Even more so under one seemingly low power line. It looked as if our mast was going to touch it and I was terrified of Kokachin being set on fire! For good measure, I kissed Neptune and assured him I loved him just in case we perished.  Luckily we safely made it to Beaufort NC, via ICW. 

The ICW is a series of canals connecting rivers and forming a waterway from Chesapeake Bay south to Miami, running parallel to the Atlantic Ocean. In the past, it was used extensively with commercial barges but nowadays, it is much more so by pleasure craft. There is an annual migration from the Northern USA and Canada of boats heading south for the winter and then reversing in the spring. Many of the bridges are fixed with a clearance of 65ft / 20m but also very many need to be opened, usually at half-hourly intervals, on request. There are a lot, I mean a lot, of bridges everywhere. The dredged channels are narrow and most of the time we had to motor. As we were late in the season, we saw hardly any traffic, which was nice. Every night we found a place to anchor outside the channel. If you look at some of the picture location map - there is so much water everywhere!  Although we had to motor, we thoroughly enjoyed the tranquillity of the canals and the proximity of nature. Some of it felt unspoilt and wild, until the houses with their huge sterile lawns, stripped of all life, lined the canal banks.  

We sailed offshore to Saint Simon’s Island in Georgia (waiting for a gale to pass),  and from there offshore again to Ponce de Leon Inlet on Florida’s East Coast (another gale to pass). Then around Cape Canaveral to Fort Pierce. On his night watch off Cape Canaveral Neptune saw a SpaceX rocket launch (he even saw a couple of Space Shuttles launched in the past!), surprised that they launched it in such weather conditions. We later read in the news that not all went that well. 

Most of the USA's East Coast is so shallow that dredged canals are needed to enter their natural harbours. Simple and easy enough? Not always so, only under good conditions. I still remember, I’m sure I will never forget, the ‘Sinkers’ and ‘Tickles’ of Newfoundland. However, the USA East Coast also had its share of thrills for me. 

In one of those channels (Brunswick), we entered with headwinds of F5-6 with sizable waves and strong side currents for about 6 miles. While Neptune steered, I navigated, both hoping we would not need to tack in the narrow channel, with shallows on one side only 0.8m deep. Here the sea was jumping up high in the air like when waves hit a wall, with nowhere else to go. We did not want to get into that spot. I tried not to look at it, but the sheer terror of it was irresistible. My imagination ran wild: “What if….. “.  Then a massive car transporter turned the corner heading straight for us, only to meet us on the bend, towering way above Kokachin’s mast, taking all our wind.  While we slammed and banged in the wash making little progress, waiting for the wind to come back, as the ship passed very close by, Neptune said: “No need for the engine, we have sails”. Uh, uh…

In another one (Ponce de Leon) we had to sail so close to the breakwater, because of the bar stretching wide across the entrance,  it felt as if the waves were going to throw us onto the rocks. Once passed the shallows we were like inside a swimming pool, the transformation of calm waters around us was unbelievable, and so on we went….. 

Our current cruising purpose is to visit family and friends and to meet new ones.  With 13,000 miles in our wake over the past 18 months, 145 individuals visited us on Kokachin. Here are just the a of the latest ones 

We were sailing in thick fog, and as we turned towards a small anchorage a gust of wind swept us towards the shore.  A beautiful gaff schooner (Lewis R. French) just appeared out of the fog, lying at anchor. We rounded up behind them, with not much room to spare, and anchored under sail alongside them. A long applause ensued by 15 members of the crew closely watching us.  We never had such a standing ovation for just anchoring, so wasting no time we rowed to their ship to thank them, and to see who they were.  Before we even stepped aboard they invited us to join them for dinner. Delicious three-course meals were cooked for all on a small wooden stove by the most hearty chef. 

During the Junk Rig boats gathering weekend (Junket) in Marley Creek,  we hopped from one boat to the next inspecting them carefully and in the evening we huddled inside Kokachin for a meal, drinks, and stories. By the end of the weekend, we had 7 new friends. When everyone departed we were saddened. Debbie and Mike were the most wonderful hosts, by the time we left we felt we were part of the family! 

When two friendly paddleboardes stopped by to say “Hello”, then invited us to an impromptu meal at their beach house, we wasted no time and rowed ashore. Drinks and appetisers were waiting for us already, then having made us welcome they left us alone at their beautiful home while they cycled to the town for miles, in rain, to get the scallops for us that evening. A sumptuous meal and the most memorable evening ensued, topped up with us all singing around the piano and lounging around a big log fire. They pleaded with us to stay the night, but unfortunately, we could not leave Kokachin on anchor unattended in boisterous winds and we had to leave early the following morning. We remain deeply grateful to their caring and warm kindness.

Someone we’d just met on an anchorage a day before briefly, knocked on Kokachin’s hull on Christmas Day and brought us a hot from the oven, massive, the most delicious, perfectly cooked Christmas Steak with all the condiments and trimmings on a plate. We could not believe it. It was so big that we decided to tuck in and reschedule preparing our Christmas fare for the following day. 

The human kindness that we come across brings infinite joy to our lives. 

We are now in Stuart - Florida for much-needed rest and some boat maintenance. Then across the Atlantic heading North. Some big changes are afoot. Stay tuned. 

Dear Friends, our simple and detached life afloat gives us a different perspective into the lives of others. The world on land seems, at times,  senselessly confusing. Let’s hope we all make it into the future. 

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

Linda & Neptune

PS: In MOMA we were stunned by a floor-to-ceiling display of the most magnificent colours and shapes in transformation. We sat there fully absorbed and mesmerised for a long time. 

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