The wind was light from the east that lovely Sunday morning in September, sailing from Little Peconic Bay to deliver the newest member of our fleet, the 29-foot sloop Caprice back to the other end of Long Island in Brooklyn. This vessel would begin its new life as a platform for teaching a new generation of safe boaters and marine caretakers as part of The Foundation for Safe Boating’s Teach and Take a Kid Summer 2021 Sailing Program.
With my First Mate Joe, a long-time participant in the Foundation’s sailing program, we were traveling late in the season. The canopy of the trees lining the creek where the Caprice had been kept was changing into hues of yellow and auburn as the smell of wood stoves heating the stately homes drifted across the bow. We slowly made our way away from the donor’s dock down the shallow creek and out into the saltwater bay.
Caprice gingerly exited the narrow bar under power south into Little Peconic Bay as we watched the high sand cliffs rise up to mark the edges of the water surrounding us. Soon, a break between two cliffs appeared to our north-east, revealing the channel to Shelter Island beyond. We had begun our delivery a little late, but we made the tide at Plum Gut and let the flooding current carry us past Orient Point and again West to enter Long Island Sound by noon.
We set the mainsail and let the engine carry the bulk of the effort as we motor-sailed on a westward reach. The warm weather and a steady southerly 10-knot breeze made the motion regular and a steady hum assured us of a healthy and well-maintained diesel auxiliary engine. I took this time to examine the charts and consider the schedule along with the weather reports. The next three days’ forecast was favorable, but weather was on its way. I considered motor-sailing through the night, bypassing planned stops.
Caprice had other plans! Just before sunset, as we passed the Port Jeff outer buoy, the engine started to ebb. Then it gurgled slowly to a stop. I restarted, and it came back but with low power — opening the throttle only seemed to help for a moment, and then there was silence.
At that moment, we were under sail alone. The delivery had developed its first complication. The attempt to sail into the south breeze toward the Port Jeff inlet lasted from dusk into the starlit night without getting any closer under mainsail alone. I had to go through my list of options. It was my first day with this engine. What went wrong? Did I just incur the cost of a repower for the program vessel?
In any case, it would be foolish to trust that we had enough battery power to make the 12 hours overnight toward our next stop. I called for a tow service on the VHF radio. No answer came. The next part happened rather slowly, but urgently, at a steady speed of 2 knots.
After trying to contact the tow service proved unsuccessful, I hailed Coast Guard Long Island Sound to report that I had a situation. The CG Long Island radio watchstander took my cell phone number and took details like the number of souls on board (two of us), and the nature of the distress. When their cell phone call came, I explained that the vessel was underway but had lost power and engine, I had no idea how long the nav lights would hold, and we were within sight of the Port Jeff entrance buoy. The very nice officer said to call 911 to have Suffolk County take over the case.
About two hours later, Caprice was tied up at the Brookhaven Town Dock. Many thanks to the Marine Unit #4 for the assist and the fine crew at The Tower for giving us a gracious and understanding welcome to Port Jefferson!
The next morning, Joe and I took the opportunity to get some hot coffee and try to locate an engine expert to see how badly I ruined the new (to me) boat. Thankfully, the staff at the nearby Caraftis Fishing Station recommended that we call Port Jefferson Marine, who said that he could come to the dock later that day. With a smile, Josh very professionally checked out everything and explained that the Yanmar was in great shape – I had simply run the engine out of diesel.
Embarrassed, I gave the story that I was told I could sail to South Carolina on one tank (emphasis on SAIL). I was told I could not have expected to run much more than 12 hours on a 12 gallon tank – a rookie mistake. I was grateful to Josh for taking the time to show me how to bleed the fuel line, prime the pump, and check the filters, on the Labor Day holiday, in dress clothes, with a lady – he really came through! The diesel was back in service, and Caprice was ready for another day!
The next morning we took aboard another 5 gallon jerry can of diesel (for assurance) and made for Port Washington. The journey was equally lovely this day, and Caprice seemed to enjoy the long run west. Hours passed, and as we got closer to Execution Rocks Light, the unmistakable skyline of New York City became visible in silhouette as the sun dipped behind the tall buildings in the distance.
Caprice came to rest that afternoon in Manhasset Bay, where LaMotta’s on the Bay was closing down for the year; a sign of the season was that so many visitors were disappointed to find the restaurant was not alive with music and the smell of fresh seafood. The only thing left was to enjoy the sunset at the dock, thanks to an old friend of the Foundation, Guy LaMotta Jr., and the crew at the marina. The next day, Port Washington Water Taxi provided launch service from a mooring nearby. I was happy to find out that the yellow public moorings are free for the first night, and $25 per day following, with free launch service included!
The weather was the next complication. The delivery was to be a three-day affair, but our forecast predicted high winds and storms for the next day. Reluctantly, Joe and I took the LIRR train back to Penn Station and then home, a real contrast between the busy life of ‘The City’ and the quiet rolling motion of the sea I was still feeling in my legs. After a shower and a hot meal, we returned to Port Washington for the last leg of the delivery through Hell Gate and New York Harbor!
Finding Caprice happy at her mooring after the weather, it was a beautiful evening to review the entry into the East River with the early morning slack current at high tide. I was joined by a new first mate, John Z. from High Tide Sailing School, with whom I had worked as a sailing instructor in previous years. It had been a while since we caught up, and I was glad to hear that his program, Veterans to Sailors, was a raging success — giving veterans special access to the therapy that only working a small sailboat can provide! Along with John, we were joined by Byron, a volunteer who drove from New Jersey to participate in the most exciting part of the trip.
At dawn, we slipped away from Manhasset Bay passing Stepping Stones Lighthouse, City Island and under the bridges that cross the East River; Throgs Neck, Whitestone, Hell Gate, Triborough, and then we prepared for the ‘toboggan run’ as the ebbing tide carried us South past Manhattan Island. The additional 4 knots of push made steering rather tricky, and I was glad to have John’s experienced hand at the wheel while we flew past the landmarks; Roosevelt Island, the Queensboro (Ed Koch) Bridge, the Battery, Governor’s Island, and into Upper New York Bay.
The harbor was busy but not crowded as Caprice headed for the Verrazano Narrows. Everyone aboard was all smiles as we enjoyed pastrami sandwiches from the Lower East Side and the city skyline framed the scene. A real appreciation for the history of this place took hold in my mind as we made the Narrows with the slack current at low tide near midday. Once into Lower NY Bay, we could see our destination: Gateway National Recreation Area to our east, inside the protected waters of Rockaway Inlet, and the Atlantic Ocean to our south, calling Caprice out into the blue horizon. “Another day soon,” I said to myself as I patted the deckhouse and felt the surging rolling ocean waves under us. Spray from the fresh southerly breeze kissed me on the cheek as we came about, passing Horton Point and Coney Island on our port side.
With what seemed like only minutes passing, Caprice found her way to the slip at the marina easily. We had successfully made the delivery by early afternoon, and the boat was washed and gently put to bed – ready for her new life as a classroom in the 2021 Free Sailing Program next year!
The Foundation for Safe Boating and Marine Information’s mission since 1984 has been to promote being ‘Good Samaritans and Caretakers of the Marine Environment.’ I reflected that this trip would not have been possible without the volunteer crew and the many amazing folks we met along the way. Special gratitude goes out to the donors and volunteer participants who make these programs possible; people just like you and me, doing our part to give everyone a chance to experience the therapeutic and healing nature of the sea.