An “E” ticket ride down the East River.

Over the past few years we’ve read other people’s blogs and watched their YouTube videos recounting their trip down the East River.  We would look at each other and say, “Some day that will be us.”  We had even debated whether we really wanted to go non-stop to Cape May because we knew if we did we would miss the East River.  Mother Nature took care of that issue for us by dictating we go inside, so here we were.  The day had finally arrived.  It was time to go down the East River in New York City and head into New Jersey.  

We were both a bit nervous when we woke up.  Before we cut the dock lines I had worried about how Pegu Club would handle such a fast current.  “Fortunately” that concern was resolved when we flew through Plum Gut, hitting nine knots on the day we tried to go to Port Jefferson from Old Saybrook.  

That left me worried mainly about the boat traffic, particularly in lower Manhattan.  Between the commuter ferries, work boats, pleasure boats, tour boats, etc., I knew it had the potential to get hairy, particularly in the middle of the morning on a workday.  Well, no time like the present to give it a go.  We cast off the mooring line and headed out at first light.

What followed was an exhilarating experience.  My dad would have loved it.  He definitely would have called it an “E” ticket ride (referring to the old Disneyland ticket books).  The East River was absolutely an E ticket ride, but in a good way.  We had timed the current so that we would ride with it (which is very important for sailboats on this particular river), and we went increasingly faster, hitting 10.2 knots speed over ground at one point!  We hit some square waves and turbulent water under the Triborough Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, but Pegu Club plowed right through them, slowing temporarily before regaining her speed again.  Compared to the washing machine in Long Island Sound a few weeks previously when we had tried to go to Port Jefferson, it wasn’t bad at all.  

Top: Rikers Island; Bottom Left: United Nations; Bottom Right: a tall building.

One thing that struck us as we went down the river was how noisy everything was.  We had spent the past month in pretty quiet surroundings, and when we went to Oyster Bay we noted how we were starting to hear large commercial airplanes flying overhead more regularly.  Port Washington was a bit noisier than Oyster Bay (both the car traffic and airplane traffic) which made sense as we were getting increasingly close to New York City. 

But the noise in New York!  It’s funny – we’ve been there literally dozens of times, but we had never really noticed it until now.  I guess that’s what happens when you spend a month in relative peace and quiet.  There were helicopters flying everywhere, police and ambulance sirens on land, boats buzzing by, and car traffic on East River Drive and over us every time we went under a bridge.  As we motored under the Manhattan Bridge a subway was going over our heads, and we just looked at each other and laughed saying, “It’s so loud!”.

The boat traffic didn’t end up being as bad as I thought it would be.  It was heavy, but in some ways it felt better than being on Long Island Sound because at least you knew everyone was paying attention.  This wasn’t an area where the operator would put the boat on autopilot and go down below.  We also got lucky because as we approached the Staten Island Ferry terminal it was pulling out.  The same thing happened as we approached on the Staten Island side, so at least we didn’t need to worry about that.  Of course it will probably never work out that way again!

Top left: Brooklyn Bridge and Freedom Tower; Top Right: Chrysler Building; Bottom: lower Manhattan.

We were both surprised at the number of pleasure boats fishing near Liberty Island, and they were all seemingly unconcerned about the container ship bearing down on them, horn blasting.  Don’t want to miss catching that big fish!  Presumably they all moved out of the way in time.  

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

By the time we approached the Verrazano-Narrows bridge everything had quieted down considerably.  The wind was on the nose so we kept motoring, chattering excitedly about how cool the experience was and how glad we had done it.  We’re looking forward to a repeat next year.

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Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island.
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West Bank Lighthouse in Lower Bay, built in 1900.

By 1:00 or so we had dropped the anchor at Atlantic Highlands.  I was looking forward to lunch until I foolishly wrapped the dinghy line around Pegu Club’s propeller when I was backing down on the anchor.  Damn it!

Jeff climbed into the dinghy and tried to unwrap it, but it soon became clear I was going to need to put on my swimsuit and get in the water.  Fortunately the water, while murky, wasn’t too cold and the line was quickly and easily untangled.  I had thrown the engine into neutral as soon as I heard the sound, which helped to keep things from getting too out of hand.  It was certainly easier than the last time we did this.  Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson for good this time.

When we arrived here on Thursday afternoon we knew we need to stay for a few days waiting for a weather window to continue on.  Fortunately Atlantic Highlands has been a nice stop and we wouldn’t hesitate to come here again.  While Hurricane Sandy devastated the harbor, everything has been rebuilt and you’d never know it had happened, save the plaque marking the high water line from the storm.  

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This comes up to Jeff’s waist, and he’s 6’4″.

Atlantic Highlands is a cute town of approximately 4,000 people with a grocery store, hardware store, and laundromat at an easily-walkable distance from the dinghy docks, along with several restaurants and independent shops for browsing along the way.  

Yesterday we toured the Strauss Mansion which is an old Victorian house being restored by the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society.  The house was interesting, but the best part was the library room where we looked through an old Sears Catalogue from 1902.  It was VERY entertaining to look at categories like medicine and read the descriptions of what ailments it would cure.  

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At this point we’ve been here for three days and tomorrow we have a good weather window to move on.  There aren’t too many good inlets along the Jersey Coast, so we debated stopping in Atlantic City (approximately 85 nm) to break up the trip or just go 120 nm non-stop to Cape May.  However, looking at the forecast for later this week it appears that it may get very windy with Tropical Storm (soon to be Hurricane) Michael, so we’ve decided to get into the Chesapeake as soon as we can.  

The current plan is to leave for Cape May tomorrow (Monday), arrive on Tuesday, and then go up the Delaware Bay and through the C&D canal on Wednesday.  It will be a long few days, but we’ll have more hidey-hole options on the Chesapeake if it proves necessary.

Next up: our longest sail ever and our first overnight sail!

14 thoughts on “An “E” ticket ride down the East River.

  1. Hi, I’m enjoying your travels very much. I live in Centerport and have sailed the areas you are in frequently. All good. Look forward to following you on your journey of adventure.
    Good luck. Norman

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  2. What an exciting time you are having. I love your photos. Can I get them on my email? You left today, so I am interested on knowing how it went. Love, N

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  3. I sailed my O’Day 25 down from Mystic to Annapolis in 1983. Ten days. Out around Montauk Point, then in at Shinnecock Inlet. Ran aground going into Atlantic City at night. Then to Cape May and through the canal to Delaware Bay. Up river to C&D canal and anchored in Chesapeake City. Then next day to South River. Now own ’77 Bristol 29.9 and sail out of Little Creek, VA. Enjoy your trip.

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      1. Hey guys…I can see that you have the Club repaired and you’re on the move again!! Hopefully you’ve both repaired your nerves too and have chocked up the last week as a learning experience!! These are the days that make the really nice days extra special and you know that in a year from now, you’ll look back on this and say “remember when….” and laugh about it. You guys are strong as individuals and stronger as a team so push forward and love what you are doing even on the worst days!! Jeff and Denise

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      2. Hi there! The nerves aren’t quite back to normal, but it was good to get out on the water again. That went a long way! Jeff and I were saying that sailing is like golf. You swear you’ll never play again and then you get a birdie and you’re ready to go another round. Thanks for the encouragement! Kimberly and Jeff

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