Saturday, September 26, 2009


Well, Labor Day (a national holiday here in the United States) was approaching and I decided perhaps a little cruise might be in order. Especially since I am not currently employed in any work that involves a schedule and a place to be. I was a little apprehensive about traveling too far with BIANKA because the XANTREX XBM Battery meter had failed a little over a month after the one year warranty ran out in June. Several phone calls and two emails to Xantrex produced no results as to what I could do about this issue. On an boat with an electric propulsion system the battery monitor is the equivalent to a fuel gauge on a boat with an internal combustion engine. You don't need it but, it sure helps to know how much fuel or amps you are using. Especially to make sure you don't run out when you need the auxilary propusion most. Below is what the Xantrex display looked like:

There is a happy ending to this story. Even though Xantrex was most unresponsive to my plight with their defective product. NGC Marine the people from whom I bought the Thoosa 9000 propulsion system from stepped up to the plate and are sending a replacement XBM. Unfortunately, I did not have it in time for the start of this cruise.
So off I go. I decide that I'll head over to Port Jefferson Harbor on Long Island's north shore for the weekend. It's only about 3 nautical miles away has plenty of space to drop anchor and is scenic enough to enjoy the surroundings. So I head out bucking the ebbing current on a windless day using electric propulsion. Since it's only about 3 nautical miles away I am not concerned about not having the functioning battery monitor for this trip. As I entered the harbor entrance I looked behind me:

Looks like a lot of other people had the same idea of where to spend the holiday weekend. I was actually glad I was under power at this time. Because I was able to get to my anchorage location before most of the power boats coming in made things rock and roll in the entrance.

I dropped anchor and enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon and evening on board. Later, listening to the NOAA weather forecast that called for 10 to 15 knot winds out of the East. I started thinking. Hmmm, sounds like great conditions for sailing West.


So that's what I did the next morning. I took advantage of a favoring current and winds and headed toward New York. In three and a half hours I was in Cold Spring Harbor where I stopped for the night. I could have continued further but, one does not cruise in a sailboat because you are in a hurry. At least I don't. I have found that pushing things is when you often get into trouble.


The next morning after consulting the essential Eldridge Tide and Pilot book on board I took the last of the ebbing current down Cold Spring Harbor and arrived at the entrance just as the westward flood was just about to start helping to push BIANKA and me westward on Long Island Sound.

Past the Execution Rocks Lighthouse and onward to my final destination for the day:

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A nice anchorage just east of the Throgs Neck Bridge called Little Bay. This bridge marks the western end of Long Island Sound and the beginning of the tidal strait called the East River which I will head down tomorrow. Even though I arrived in plenty of time to take the favoring ebb current down the strait I anchored for the night to rest and enjoy the beautiful afternoon. With the defective battery monitor I decided to fire up the Honda 2000i generator to help bulk charge the battery bank and then let the wind and solar continue the charging. Besides I get a kick of being anchored next to the bridge and listening to the traffic reports during rush hour to see if they are being honest about the traffic conditions and being glad that I am on a sailboat and not in a car in such traffic on such a gorgeous day. It also brings back memories of going on vacation with my parents in the early 1960's and traveling over the same bridge. I remember looking out and seeing a sailboat anchored where BIANKA is now and wondering as a child what it was doing there. Perhaps I am inspiring that same wonder in someone in one of the cars passing over me on that bridge. I'd like to think so and perhaps they will become sailors in the future.



I lived on board BIANKA for six years on the west side of Manhattan Island starting in the mid 1990's. But, It's been three years since I've made the 70 mile trip. So I am looking forward to the trip but, with a little apprehension since this will be the first time using electric propulsion not having a working battery monitor makes it more so.

After after a leisurely morning on the hook I finally weighed anchor in Little Bay at 11:15 am for BIANKA's "historic" return back to New York this time as the world's first electrically propelled Nonsuch 30. Since BIANKA no longer has a diesel engine and alternator I fire up the 47 lb Honda 2000i generator to help the 12 volt house battery bank deal with the heavy current load of the recently repaired electric windlass as I raise the anchor off of the mud bottom of Little Bay. There was still a nice 8 to 10 knot wind out of the northeast so I was able to sail under the Throgs Neck Bridge and the first 11 miles or so of the East River Transit. I keep the generator running charging the 48 volt battery bank just to make sure the batteries are topped off for the trip though Hells Gate and points further south where sailing will not be an option because of the unpredictable swirling wind patterns caused by the buildings on both sides of the East River.

It was not long before I was meet by a flotilla of Dutch barges sent over the Atlantic to participate in NY400. A celebration of Henry Hudson's first foray into New York Harbor some 400 years ago. They were heading to Northport (Long Island)and other ports on Long island Sound. I must say BIANKA with it's wishbone boom got some curious looks from the sailors on the barges. (Special note of thanks to the TUGSTER for providing some help in identifying the barges BIANKA passed)

So far I have only been able to identify the barge below. It is the Lemmeraak. Built over 100 years ago in 1902.

I felt sorry for the crews on board these interesting craft because they must have been bucking the current up the East River especially through Hell Gate and that is never fun even if they did have their engines going. I on the other hand was going with the flow which is good advice when making the East River transit.

As the Hell Gate Railroad bridge came into sight it was time to drop sail and start the electric motor to continue the journey down the East River.

I had just passed North Brother Island when I heard something behind me. Holy Ernest Borgnine! It's PT Boat 728 coming up fast on BIANKA's stern. This is an actual restored WWII PT Boat based in Kingston New York. At some point it was used in the filming of the TV show McCales Navy back in the sixties.

And looking pretty menacing I should say.

I was thinking that the U.S. Coast Guard should be using this type of vintage craft for patrols instead of the small semi rigid inflatables they now use for harbor patrols.
A PT boat with it's two twin barrel deck mounted guns, depth chargers and torpedoes would look a little more serious to those who would want to do some harm in the harbor. As you can see here:

BLOG UPDATE: I was in contact with Capt. Tom Whyte who was at the helm of PT. 728 that day. It was returning from a month long tour that included stops in Milford CT, Fall River MA (Battleship Cove) and Bridgeport CT.
That's what I love about sailing around New York City there is always something interesting to see along the journey. For example I've always thought the Hell Gate bridge was a very beautiful piece of structural art work and to me signifies the gateway to bustling part of the city of New York especially Manhattan.
In the above photo you can see the small Honda 2000i up forward which is running keep the 48 volt battery bank charged up since I will be motoring for the rest of the journey down the East River. Also notice the solar panel. This one is for charging the 12 volt house battery bank. The 48 volt panel that is connected to the electric motor's battery bank is on the starboard side and out of of view.
Once past the Hell Gate bridge things will be getting a little nosier as we get close to Manhattan Island.

Speaking of interesting sights. Just after BIANKA passed though Hell Gate she was followed by this tug and barge:

Apparently someone in Brooklyn actually did have a bridge for sale:

Or at least part of a bridge.

BLOG UPDATE: After contacting Will at the TUGSTER blog who really knows his tugs. I am 99.5% sure that the Tug in the photo above is the John P. Brown. If you click on the photo above you will get to see a bigger picture and compare it to a photo on TUGSTER taken during the Tugboat Races in September of this tug. Hint: The red and yellow stripes along the side seem to confirm it's id.

A little further on I came across one of the stragglers of the NY400 flotilla. They were most certainly going to know what bucking the currents of Hell Gate is all about. I have not been able to identify this barge yet either but, the sail has a 206 VA on it.

BIANKA continued down the tidal strait doing about 4 knots with only occasionally having to provide a little thrust from the electric motor to maintain that speed in the East River current. As I approached the South Street Seaport at around 3 pm and upper New York Harbor opened up before me. I raised sail and decided to head down the Buttermilk Channel on the east side of Governors Island. I did this to avoid the choppy and busy ferry area down by the Battery. But, also to get a close look at the Queen Mary 2 which was berth on the Brooklyn side of the channel:

A beautiful ship and one I had the experience to travel across the Atlantic on in 2006. It was also a beautiful way to end the first transit down the East River by BIANKA using electric propulsion as the QM2 also uses electric propulsion on it's trips. Everything worked well on board BIANKA and because the electric motor was so quiet it was made all the more enjoyable compared to previous trips which had the noisy diesel engine churning away. I think the next time I make the transit I will keep the generator off too. I hardly used much electric propulsion in making the transit and that was a good thing. So the world's first electrically propelled Nonsuch 30 has passed another test with more to follow.