The Great Loopers Chapter six. Smooth

From the log book on Tuesday July 11. Written by the XO.
2:19 PM Anchored behind Cockenoe Island in 12.5′ of water.
8:45 PM Wind shifted to the north then died, and then we were in 3′ of water. Hmm. Not good. Moved out to 11′-12′. Slack tide and wind. Save us Mr. Mantus

Cockenoe Island is a small, uninhabited island just south of Norwalk, Connecticut. It’s a beautiful and quiet anchorage that gets good reviews from all of the cruising guides. The expression goes “every rose has its thorns”, and this tiny island has a big one: The deadly Cockenoe Reef. Longer than the Island itself, it juts out from the easternmost point. Not only is it completely underwater at high tide, it is completely and utterly unmarked. This makes no sense to me. Somebody please put a pole or something on the end of it. Nothing fancy. Just a plain stick would do fine. How ’bout an old float or somethin’? Jeez, the tide was up and we had no idea exactly where it was, and we were looking for it! Really hard! I can’t think of any other major hazard to navigation that is not marked. Sure, it’s right there on the charts. You can get GPS coordinates to it, which I did, but even the best GPS receivers can be off as much as two or three meters.

Long story short: we dropped Mr. Mantus (our anchor), spent the afternoon exploring the Island, swimming, barbequing, and what have you, and at quarter to nine at night, we suddenly realized we were less than five feet from the aforementioned deadly reef. As the XO states in the log: Hmm. Not good. There’s an understatement for ya. The tide emptied quickly and roared loudly over the rocky reef. Our depth sounder read 3′, and it was getting dark. We barely made it out of there in time and re-anchored safely a hundred yards away in 12 feet of water.
The danger was there all along. I should have been more alert, but sometimes I manage to fool myself into thinking everything is all right. This is one of my flaws, I know, but none of us can easily run away from who we are, least of all me. The best I can do is be aware, and stay ready for the consequences of my actions.

Cockenoe Island is one of those rare places that makes me smile inside, like I am one with the universe. I could feel its aura all around. We stayed there two wonderful days and the only other boat that came anywhere near us was an unoccupied catamaran that zoomed past and hit the reef pretty hard. It was a runaway from a nearby marina. I looked up the name written across the sail, called them, and they said they would send someone to collect it.

This unmanned Hobie Cat sailed by us and hit the reef.
We found this makeshift shrine on Cockenoe Island.
It was just her and I where the world can’t find us. We were so alone, we could shower on the transome in the buff.

From the log book on Thursday July 13 2017
8:07 AM Pulled up anchor.
Forecast is SW 5-10 becoming NW late.
Seas I ft or less. Slight chance of afternoon storms.
8:10 The eye splice on the anchor line was weirdly twisted. We put a second line on and pulled it on deck and pushed it into place.*
8:18 Underway to Greenwich.
* May need tighter whipping.
11:11 On guest mooring # 5 at Indian Point Yacht Club Greenwich, Connecticut.

This yacht club is so fancy that the launch drivers wear suits and ties. It’s so fancy that the ice is free and was delivered to our boat with a big red bow tied on the bag. So fancy that all the ladies on the dock wore white dresses and big hats. Needless to say, I was wicked intimidated. I felt like I had to shower and shave just to go in and use their shower. I know. I was probably being ridiculous, those yacht club members are most likely very nice people, but I would look so out-of-place in my cut-offs and flip flops. I actually never left the boat. But the XO did. She took the dinghy to pick up my little sister Elaine, which is why we’re here.

My sister Elaine and her dog Ziggy coming for a visit in Greenwhich, CT.

It was one of those terribly hot and humid afternoons. Even with all the windows open and all the fans going it was impossible to cool off. That soon changed. The next day we woke to the sound of rain drumming on our hatches. It was cold, raw, and the most uncomfortable swell kept hitting Ginger Lee the wrong way like a bad roller coaster. It was nearly impossible to do anything except leave. So leave we did.

From the log book on Friday July 14 2017. Written by the XO.
9:30 AM Dropped mooring. Spattered rain and overcast. Unfavorable but manageable swell.
12:22 PM On a mooring at the Bayside Marina in Queens, New York

We’re not even on the official Great Loop route yet. It doesn’t go through New England. We have spent 10 days just getting there and now we are two hours away from the actual route.
The Bayside Marina in Queens is where Loopers go to stage their trip through the notorious HELL GATE! (Insert oohs, aahs, hisses, and boos, here.) Yeah, it’s as terrible as it sounds, or potentially so. “Why Rick?” you ask. It’s because this is where the East River and the Harlem river meet and constrict. The 7 to 10 knot current would easily overpower a slow boat like Ginger Lee, and just to make things interesting, there’s a huge rock in the middle of it. The trick is to go through Hell Gate at slack tide. We figure (and when I say we, I mean my much smarter wife) that will occur at 9:00 in the morning, and we should leave this marina by 7:30 AM.

This is my review of the Bayside Marina:
It is rustic and bare boned, yet has the only 24/7 launch service I’ve ever seen. There are plenty of moorings available, and the staff is friendly. They have food! Burgers, dogs, chips, sandwiches, ice cream, and darn good french fries. Not exactly gourmet dining, but when you’re hungry, this stuff is impossible to resist.
They have one shower stall with no door, no shelves, no bench and it is right next to the emergency exit that staff members come and go through. I was surprised the XO showered there. She reported in her usual understated tone: “It was clean, the water hot.”

On the way to Queens, we saw our first boat with a Looper Burgee.
Staging for Hell Gate.

From the Log book on Saturday July 15 2017. Written by the XO.
6:35 AM To the Bayside Marina dock for water.
7:31 Off the dock
8:58 Hit the Hell Gate. Smooth.

“Smooth?” That’s it? Just “smooth.” Not even an exclamation point! I was sweatin’ bullets over this thing. Everyone does. It’s all they talk about up here. I be like: “Oh you bad huh? Big bad Hell Gate. Well who’s your daddy now sucka?!”
I was worried, sure, but the XO’s timing was perfect. It’s not an easy thing to pull off. Tides are predictable, but not the wind, current, and other organic factors. She successfully predicted within two minutes that if we left the Bayside Marina at 7:30 AM, and travelled at our usual speed, we would hit the Hell Gate at dead slack tide which was 9:00AM. Damn! That’s good.

Well that’s it. We’re officially on The Great Loop route. 6,000 miles to go until we’re back here at Hell Gate next Summer. They call it “crossing your wake” or “closing the loop.” At this point–the beginning– I remember it just seemed like too much to think of as a whole thing, as one big entity. It’s so much to encompass, to absorb. We’re talking well over 300 ports. Each one with their own memories, good and bad. Each with different foods, people, accents, dangers and unpredictable moments. Toss in the fact that we are married and susceptible to all the stuff that couples face in their personal lives together, and you’ve got quite a trip goin on many different levels. The journey is not just outside, it is inside us as well. Everyone has fears, and like the good Baby Boomer that I am, I try so hard to keep mine contained.

We haven’t slipped into any kind of normal routine yet. It’s like we’re still in vacation mode, still using the same provisions we originally put on the boat and they’re getting low. We need to go food shopping soon, another problem we haven’t been challenged with yet. We’ll figure it all out as we go because we have to.
I know where we are going today, but not so much beyond that. Each day, I am living in the moment. Believe me, it’s a good way to be. Once this trip has ended, will I ever be that way again? You never know, and I am ever the optimist.

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