So, we made it through the New Jersey ICW without too much ballyhoo. It was shallow but not too terrible. That got us only to Manasquan. To get to New York City and beyond we had to head out onto the ocean and motor up the coast a couple of dozen miles or so around Sandy Hook and up the Lower New York Bay.
It was a Sunday morning, and there were only a few freighters transiting the Lower Bay. The overall traffic was lighter than it would have been on a weekday, and all we had to contend with in the Narrows were a couple of sailboats and water taxis.
The last time we went through this body of water was in 2012. It was a Saturday morning and we were heading up to the Hudson River, so we had to go up the gut of the harbor. We got rocked pretty hard, but that was not entirely unexpected. We had warnings about the traffic-made heavy chop. This time, since we were heading out into Long Island Sound, we had to head up the East River. My strategy was to motor up Buttermilk Channel past Governor's Island to avoid the densest part of the harbor. We would then go up under the Brooklynn Bridge, up the river past Hell Gate and out into the sound. It sounded simple enough to me.
It was choppy but not too rough. We bounced around some, but it was not uncomfortable. That was until we reached Roosevelt Island. We took the recommended northern/western branch of the East River past the United Nations. That was where all hell broke loose.
I have to admit, I played it wrong. I completely underestimated the ferocity of that stretch of water. It was as rough conditions in a short length of water we had ever experienced. We were thrown in every direction possible. It was a big-time mess. However, we still had steerage and some power in reserve. Besides, it was a short distance; I knew I could manage it.
Like some great cosmic convergence, from the north there were four sailboats heading south spread out across the river and a poor runabout getting thrashed. And on the foredeck of the runabout were two young ladies in bikinis screaming at the top of their lungs while they clutched at the rails. I briefly caught a vision of them bouncing on the deck. From the south, the same direction as us, were two more sailboats, a high-speed water taxi and a freighter. We all met at the same place on the river at the same time. Then, to top all that off, two goddamn sport fishers plowed through on-plane heading north right through all of it. (“Gee, Skipper Darrell; don't you have any video or pics of that?” NO. Lisa was holding on and I was driving the boat. We were kinda busy.)
In a quick video I published on Facebook (and in the linked picture album) I said the experience was “Brutal. Just brutal.” I caught some flak from one guy on Facebook that said I shouldn't have been so alarmist about the experience. I stand with my description: It was brutal.
Here's my understanding of what happened, and I'm sure some of you readers will correct me and/or embellish this. The first condition had to do with the constricted nature of the channel itself, and I have a small-scale analog from back in New Jersey.
When were were back in Manasquan, we anchored in a very nice cove on the Metedaconk River, actually located in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. From there you have to transit the 1.9 mile long Point Pleasant Canal to get to the Manasquan River Inlet and the ocean. It just so happened that we had to transit the canal three times in a fourteen hour period, each time with slightly different conditions. The two times we transited the canal in the late afternoon there had been and continued to be a great deal of traffic in the canal. The combined wakes of the boats bounced off the seawalls of the canals and built up to a rough, random, multi-directional chop. I believe that was part of what we experienced next to Roosevelt Island.
The other aspect of the East River that I, and I say this with humility, completely didn't have a good grip on, was the nature of the river itself. It is not a river; it's a tidal straight connecting two tidal bodies of water. The tides and currents from the north and the south conflict, and with Hell Gate at the head with the Harlem River (another tidal straight), it's ripe for trouble. If it were a devious trap, we walked right into it. It was tough slogging.
Hell Gate wasn't as big a deal as I thought it would be. Sure, we got twisted a little bit, but Why Knot's bow generally pointed in the right direction. And on through the river we cruised until we made that big left turn after passing under the Throgs Neck Bridge. That as when we could officially say we had made it to Long Island Sound.
And that's another story.