The Purchase - a simple click of the button on E-Bay and now we're in a world of trouble!
About two weeks after Titania had been hauled, Chris was browsing through Ebay and said to me check out this interesting boat. It's right over in Baldwinsville. I looked at the listing and said Oh she's cute! But it's in BALDWIN, I wonder where that is. We were really bored that weekend having only firewood to cut, a snow plow to repair and mount, winterizing of windows to do, chimneys to clean and a few dozen other things and heck the fall foliage is pretty lets take a road trip (Baldwin turns out to be on Long Island).
We made our way through Gotham on the Bronx expressway on a Sunday with a fair tide traffic-wise, and found the Sara B, a Nova Scotia built schooner sitting in a canal, behind her owner's house in Freeport. She was 38 foot on deck, 48 overall with her long bowsprit and boom. We were both totally charmed by her. Sara B was built in the 1950s in Yarmouth according to her owner and was done in a completely traditional style. Even though she's only about 15 years older than Titania, she is a boat from another era with her deadeyes, wooden blocks, yellow pine and oak, iron clinch nails and two cylinder Thorneycroft diesel, a model that was in production from 1910 to 1947.
After looking her over we had lunch with the owner and his two friends and then drove home discussing just how smart it was to buy a 12 ton fifty year old woodie without looking at the bottom.
The Ebay auction expired at 1 pm Thursday. We knew from previous experience that items on Ebay that sell, typically get the bids in the last few minutes of the auction. At 11 am Chris put in our bid. At 11:30 still no other bids. At noon, no change. Would some other bidder come out of hiding at the last minute and up our price? We waited and watched and Chris said "this is very nerve wracking!" Two minutes to go. Still no other bids. Then the website announced Congratulations. You have won this item. Click here to pay.
Six days later after many phone calls we had a plan. We would motor Sara B up the Hudson to Kingston and truck her to Fairhaven (the canal having closed Nov 15). Toby went with us as crew and we left his truck at Jeffs Yacht Haven and drove on. Snow lay on the ground, and ice clung to rocks by the roadside. But fall lingered on ocean moderated Long Island where some trees still had leaves.
After taking care of paperwork, the boat's former owner Gene Stauss took us out for a trip to the fuel dock and a short "driving lesson."
Sara B's home was on a narrow man made side canal dating from the 1920's surrounded by houses. It fed into another canal, then into a natural waterway. As we neared the fuel dock, the marshes spread before us to port, an expanse of Spartina grass golden against the blue water in the low mid November sun. We topped up a big seven gallons of diesel and Gene then chugged us up into a narrow inlet to demonstrate tight quarter turns. "She only makes left turns!" he shouted over the engine' s din as he shoved the tiller hard a-starboard. Using prop walk, he then spun her around in her own length. He used the same method to back her into the dock in the narrow canal by his house. We loaded her up and made a quick trip to a nearby autoparts place to get a new alternator belt after Toby observed the threadbare condition of the old one.
The next morning Gene told us to leave early to catch the tide. The forecast of strong southwest wind and 3 to 5 foot waves dead on the nose on the ten mile ocean stretch was not encouraging. Twelve ton Sara B's 16 horse diesel is definitely an auxiliary and gaff riggers aren't noted for their windward ability. Nonetheless we set out the next day. Gene cast off her lines and said "Go on, get! Catch that tide". Then he added "I'll leave the dock lines here if you want to come back."
The marshes there are a maze of narrow twisting turning tidal creeks and islands. Even well marked, they confuse and befuddle. Buoys at intersections where two or three channels converge are a challenge to sort out, and we crawled along with a helmsperson, a lookout and a chart reader. Then we hit the turn dead into the wind- 20 to 25 and bitter cold. Our speed dropped to 3.5 and we looked at each other, thought of the ocean and said let's make a left turn. Somebody made chicken noises. Back she went to the dock. Enroute an angler went speeding by in his big sportfishing boat. He leaned out and shouted at the old schooner 'God bless you! You're beautiful!" When Gene came home that afternoon he just laughed. "I thought you'd be back. That's why I left the docklines out."
The next two days were cold. Snow in the next county and a raw northeaster. Offshore forecasts for 16 foot waves with near 20 foot by the Gulf Stream. We cranked up the kerosene heater Toby had wisely brought along and, as winter drew near we worried. Down on Jones Beach Parkway workers were stringing up the annual holiday light display. Withered flowers and icy puddles and rotted Halloween pumpkins spoke of the late season. We worried about the weather, the tide and the unknown untried old boat and engine. Would she be ok in the ocean?
Friday we drove over to the Rockaway Inlet bridge to check its hours. We also intended to check out a marina Gene had told us about in case we had to get the boat hauled overland from Long Island. We were a little glum with weather and worry. Near the bridge we stopped at a West Marine store to get a NY harbor chart. We asked the store employee about harbor anchorages, telling him we'd just bought an old wooden schooner and were trying to get her up the Hudson. What schooner? he asked. When we told him he beamed. "The Sara B? I know her. She's a good boat!" He then gave us priceless advice and counsel on anchorages and on the route to take. Avoid Jones Beach Inlet! Take the back channel to Rockaway ,which was also the route Gene had traced on our chart, and be sure to ask the railroad bridge for full extension. He also told us sternly, get new filters and change them. You might clog a filter out there and you're on your own in the ocean. Then thinking about our modest auxiliary and Sara B's last haulout three years ago he went back into the storeroom and came out with a long piece of plastic. Scrape this over the bottom to see if it's covered with hard stuff. If she's really foul and you're only making three knots you could overheat that old engine.
Back to Freeport we went to seek out fuel filters fortified and heartened by his advice and reassurances. Enroute we blew a brake line on the Chevy. Our spirits plummeted. Now we're screwed. Calls to Triple A on a Friday afternoon yielded Monday at the earliest. Gene arrived home and came out to see how we were doing in the raw cold northeast rain (Sara B has very leaky decks.)When he heard of the brake line he said "Let me make a call." He had a garage he knew that serviced his wife's Jaguar and that he had done some electrical work for. The garage said bring it in. They fixed it for a minimal charge. We owe Gene HUGE for that.
While Chris waited for his truck, Gene took me to get filters and then said I"ll show you where to see the ocean. I left Toby to change filters as I went to the overlook where one makes a judgment about sea conditions. When we got back Toby was just putting the second filter on. We hand cranked with decompression on to bleed the air out and tried the starter and she fired right up. We were very relieved. The filters Toby had changed were very very clogged.
Saturday was cold clear and windy. We sweated it out but Sunday was promising. We'd go then. While we waited those three long days in cold and wet Gene and Bergin treated us with great generosity. We trooped into their house for showers and bathroom privileges, and Bergin cooked us a huge breakfast. Gene drove us around and we ate a last dinner together at the local waterfront eatery whose bar floor is famous for going under on spring tides. Gene even offered to pilot us through the back channels to the Rockaway bridge the next day. "Go look at the ocean! If it's ok, catch the tide early. You'll be at the Inlet in a few hours" he told us.
At dawn we drove past the frosty landscape and frozen puddles to see the ocean. It was calm! Go Sara B, go! At last we were off. Gene cast us off. I'll leave the docklines he said, but I think we all knew she really was leaving this time. Gene and I ran the colors up and the old engine started right up in that 30 degree cold.
Through the marsh we wound on our way with a spring tide filling the creeks to the brim. Past lonely bait houses, vast flocks of brant and miles of tawny prairie like Spartina salt grass. Shore birds in tight flocks wheeled and sparkled white\dark. The distant low horizon shimmered with mirage effect. It was very cold, nearly winter as we thumped along. We reached Rockaway Inlet and the ocean by late morning and then ran along the shore a couple miles out. A brisk north wind offshore and the flat sea prompted us to get sail on for her short ten mile sea passage.
This was great fun. We put the foresail up, then the main, then the staysail. The only one we didn't try was the outer jib because NOBODY wanted to go out on that jib boom. (And it was breezy enough that she didn't need that sail though if we reefed the main and put it up she would have balanced nicely.) We each took the helm and savored the steady sure feel of her as a gust of cold wind sang in her rigging and heeled her down. The wind in a schooner rig has a much more mellow sound than the shrill whistle of a modern boat's stays and shrouds. Sara B stepped along between 5 and 6 and almost too soon arrived at her chosen anchorage Sheepshead Bay where we picked up an empty mooring for the night. Surrounded by apartments, sirens, rocked by party boat wakes, Sara B had left her quiet cozy berth in the residential neighborhood and was now on the doorstep of New York harbor.
At dawn we departed to catch the flood tide. We thumped along up the channel and around the corner and now the speed picked up as the big push through the narrows and the busy harbor began. 4.5 to 5, then 5.5 then 6. As we passed anchored container vessels, tankers, a chemical ship, the speed picked up. A big freighter bound for the sea, the Optimistic Sunshine went by- we figured she was Asian registry and her name lost something in translation. Tugs, barges, and ferries bustled by but no one spared us a look as the solitary old yacht made her way up through Gotham, thumping along. Manhatten loomed and we looked in vain for some sign of the missing towers that we had visited during our Titania cruise. It was as if they had never been.
By the time we got to the George Washington Bridge, clogged with morning traffic, we were doing 6.5. The flood tide hurried Sara B along past the Palisades, and Yonkers, on up to Haverstraw Bay. We saw two sailboats out on a sunny still cool morning and one or two motorboats. It got a bit choppy and we lumped along pitching into 2 foot chop and ferry wakes. Then it quieted down and to our delight the wind dropped. By Haverstraw Bay where the river widens we were making 7 or more and the river was empty of all but an occasional tug or barge. Once past New York proper I looked up at the river bank and saw the gray leafless trees while the smell of fallen leaves wafted over us. I told the boat, you'd better keep thumping along. It's getting late... We anchored just below West Point delighted with the day's progress. The tide was just going slack as Chris and Toby set the anchor using a all chain rode, and had their first "windlass experience". The windlass works, but it takes time. Our anchorage under a little "hook" was cozy but out of the current , and the wind dropped so that it was very still.
We caught the tail end of the ebb the next morning, frosty cool but dry and light winds again. What a fantastic two days we had for the river trip, it had been well worth the waiting and sweating in Long Island. Had we not waited, we would probably have not changed those filters. And who knows what would have happened then. We felt incredibly lucky. Maybe that angler who shouted at us the first day had the right idea. In this writer's opinion, one way or another, we were blessed. Above West Point snow sprinkled the north slopes of the hills. Solitary Sara B swam slowly upstream, now 37 feet above sea level, as the tide kept pushing her along. On this gentle November afternoon the hills astern were softened by a silvery haze and once we passed a couple of hikers on shore who waved at us. Otherwise, we were alone upon the wide mirror smooth river. We reached Kingston with its distinctive old lighthouse by 2:30 and were tied up at Jeff's Yacht Haven by 3 pm on a still mild November afternoon.
The next day the fellows went to get the truck and we started unloading. We wanted to get as much off the boat as possible to prepare her for the trucking part of the trip. Thursday morning the marina pulled the spars and we stripped all the rigging off of them. This marina had a resident mechanic, rigger and all around boat craftsman named "Dave" who had done a lot of big wooden traditional sailing vessel work. He assisted in taking the spars down and gave us some more priceless advice on dealing with old boats. He told us to label everything and to put duct tape around the deadeyes, lest the vibration from the trucking cause damage. He also confirmed our suspicion that pulling the bowsprit and removing some or all of the inside ballast might ease the stress of overland trucking. We were pretty busy doing all this stripping and securing, but we had it pretty well done by noon.
We left Sara B downrigged and as ready as we could make her for the overland part of the trip. Come back in a few days to find out if she survived it.