A rough log of travels in Orbit II, beginning in the spring of 2000.

Part 1, New York City to Toronto

I quit my job in March, 2000, intending to finish the refit of Orbit II in the following two months, then move aboard and go cruising. I managed to seriously underestimate the time the work would take, and, despite employing two people pretty much fulltime, I didn't leave the dock in Jersey City, NJ, until mid-May.

Leaving in mid-May had more to do with being frustrated with the seemingly endless work involved in the refit, than it did with being finished. I headed up the Hudson River, intending to go through the New York State Barge Canal system to Lake Ontario, then Toronto, but, being later in the year than I had planned, and having been invited to the Tall Ships 2000 parade in NYC Harbor for July 4, I changed plans, and stopped in Tarrytown, NY (by the Tappan Zee Bridge).

The marina in Tarrytown didn't have showers, so didn't seem like a place to stay long. The next day I went across the river to Julius Petersen's Boatyard, where I got a mooring in the Hudson River (unsheltered, but they had showers and a good store). After three weeks there, wanting a dock with electricity which would make running power tools easier, I went to City Island, in the Bronx, to stay at North Minneford Yacht Club.

A month of working on the boat during the week and going sailing on the weekends was enjoyable and fairly productive. Orbit's refit is still not finished, but at least the toilet and the electrical system are now working. Some progress is being made in reducing the piles of stuff down below (tools & materials), though that task will not really be finished until the refit is complete.

All the weekend day-sails have been a lot of fun, with many friends coming aboard. One day we were unable to leave the dock due to the position of the dock and the strength of the wind. Basically, to leave we needed to do a 90 degree upwind & upcurrent turn in one boatlength or less. With the Windpilot auxiliary rudder/windvane on the transom, now, turning is much more difficult, and the Windpilot gets damaged if it contacts the dock...like it would when springing off. That windy day (it was the direction of the wind, right thru the opening in the breakwater that was the problem, not the speed), most boats had trouble getting in and out of the marina.

At one point, the NYC police had pulled over a powerboat and ticketed him at a dock inside the marina. Since we had given up trying to get off the dock several hours ago, we were just partying on the boat and on the dock. Suddenly, I heard and felt a collision, as the NYC police boat, despite being a small boat with a big outboard and lots of room, had hit Orbit's bowsprit at the dock! After pushing them off, we continued with the party. No one else collided with us.


At this point, despite a history of underestimating the time that this refit is going to take, I am expecting at least another month of work will be required. Before that happens, I plan to cruise a bit.


July 19, 2000:

To take part in Operation Sail 2000, Orbit II needed to go to New York Harbor. Our first attempt was not successful.

Motoring towards Hells Gate, an area of rapids and standing waves on the East River, in calm conditions, we were fine until we came abeam Riker's Island, the famous prison. There our forward speed suddenly slowed to less than half a knot. We were attempting to get through Hells Gate during slack water, which is the only reasonable time for an underpowered boat like Orbit to get through. Slack water is also the time when most tugs with barges and all other traffic also choose to go through.

Without adequate power, we would not be able to safely pass through Hells Gate. While we found that we still had reverse power, forward power was severely limited. Going thru Hells Gate in reverse seemed like a bad idea...we also had no idea how long we would have any power at all. Assuming we had snagged something, we turned around and started heading back towards the Bronx River, where we hoped to anchor and dive to fix the problem. I was quite concerned about getting arrested for being driven too close to Riker's Island Prison, but could not figure out who to notify that we were nearby with engine problems. Put a securite call out on channel 13 (commercial channel) notifying all that we had engine problems and were attempting to turn around in heavy traffic and motor back outside of the channel. A friendly tug captain suggested we get to the Bronx River to get out of the current.

We eventually were able to anchor near the Bronx River, and I dived on the boat to find a heavy-duty green plastic garbage bag wrapped around the prop.

After removing the garbage bag from the prop, we had missed our "window" with slack water at Hells Gate, so we returned to the dock. The following day we motored through Hells Gate and into NY Harbor with no problems.







OpSail 2000:

Operation Sail 2000 was terrific (at least from our point of view). As a Class C vessel, we were supposed to enter the parade near the Verazzano Bridge, after all the Class A and B vessels had passed. The Class A vessels were widely spaced, and the timing of the event was such that there was not much time to catch the flood into the harbor, before it turned. After most of the Class A vessels and one Class B vessel had passed, we asked to be allowed into the parade, as we did not have the engine power necessary to get to Manhattan on this tide otherwise (there was a very light tailwind). After we entered the parade, all the other boats followed. Since we were the most underpowered vessel there, by the time we reached the Statue of Liberty, we were the last boat in the parade. We knew we had no hope of making it to the George Washington Bridge (the planned destination), so left the parade downtown. Later we found out that no vessels went to the GWB.


On July 9, Orbit tacked away from New York City, up the Hudson River, towards the Erie & Oswego Canals and Toronto.

Sailing up the Hudson River was simple enough, there was a lot of motoring in no wind conditions, and a few pleasant stopovers. Then came the difficult part---dropping Orbit's masts, in Catskill, NY, and becoming a motorboat.

The Erie & Oswego Canal trip involved 31 locks and about 300 miles along rivers and canals. With Orbit's small (10HP) engine, designed only for getting in and out of harbor, motoring upstream was really slow. At times, full throttle would only result in making two knots over the ground.

The locks were well-maintained and generally staffed by helpful personnel.

The first lock, called the "Federal Lock", was the most interesting. Approaching the lock, not being familiar with locks, and fighting a strong current, the tension was already fairly high when the engine suddenly quit. I steered for the approach wall, hoping to get close enough to be able to get a dockline on. With luck, we just made it, and the masthead light, at the tip of the mainmast (now sticking 20 feet out in front of the boat) caught the rubbing strip on the wall, and held us long enough for me to be able to scramble out the mast and climb the wall with a dockline. We were right at the end of the approach wall, and an eddy that had assisted in getting us there now spun us around 180 degrees. That was fine, we were able to tie up to the wall, and spend over an hour bleeding fuel lines and changing fuel filters.

While tied up to the approach wall, a South African boat approaching the lock had trouble with a current, and ended up going straight into the wall. The skipper, a determined woman who had singlehanded the boat across the Atlantic from South Africa, ran out to the end of her mast and protected it from the wall while getting a line ashore. Despite a bloody nose from hitting the wall, there appeared to be no damage, and they were able to get back underway shortly.

After the excitement of the approach, the lock was easy.

Mohawk River With Masts Down

Approaching Lock 13

Approaching Lock 17

Most locks had fewer boats than this one did.



Although I started the canal trip with two crew, the last third was done solo. In preparation for this, I studied Chapman's boat handling chapter intently, and improved my boat handling quite a bit.

Putting the masts back up in Oswego, NY, was four 12-hour days of work. The marina does the actual stepping of the masts, after that, numerous trips up the masts in a bosun's chair are required to straighten out lines and wires. The shrouds are tightened (deadeyes & lanyards), the forestays setup, and the stays between the tops of the masts attached. After that the booms andgaffs are put on, lazy jacks reeved, then sails are laced onto the spars.

Taking an underpowered, traditional schooner up the Erie Canal is not an easy task, and I was glad to be able to sail the boat again. Of course, the trip to Whitby (near Toronto) Ontario was three days of motoring in calms, but I was once able to sail after a thunderstorm passed nearby.

Whitby Ontario was as far towards Toronto (30 miles further west) as I went. There was a recommended boatbuilder in Whitby who I wanted to do some work on Orbit. So Orbit and I stayed in Whitby for a month, doing alterations, visiting relatives, and day-sailing. During the day-sails, we finally got the gollywobbler (a large, four-cornered sail that sets between the two masts, much bigger than the fisherman) up for the first time.


Copyright Richard Hudson, 2000

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