Friday, January 25, 2013


The idea of passing through Hell Gate on New York's East River often causes apprehension for first time cruisers through the area. Having made the transit through   Hell Gate numerous times I can say there is really nothing to be afraid of that a secure hand on the tiller or wheel won't solve.  There are current swirls, some up-welling and short choppy waves making it look more threatening than it is.  Here are some are some tips to make the transit:

1) The biggest danger is getting in the way of a tug and barge or one of the New York City sludge barges that also frequently transit the area. There is plenty of deep water in the Gate to avoid them and give them a wide berth. Remember they do not have the same ability to maneuver as smaller boats do.

2) It is best to motor through Hell's Gate. I've only managed to sail through one time on a northwest wind on my previous boat a Bristol 24.  But, as soon as I was through Hells Gate the streets and buildings of Manhattan and the East River currents caused the boat to do boat spins as it traveled down with the current. So now I always motor from the Brother Islands to at least 23rd Street off of Manhattan when heading toward the Battery and visa versa when heading toward Long Island Sound.

3) It is always better to go with the flow of the current. It makes for a much quicker and  pleasant passage.

4) The metal bridges in the Hell Gate area can reek havoc on the magnetic compass of autopilots so put them in standby and keep a firm hand on the tiller or wheel until you are well clear of them.

The following video shows what it like to transit Hell Gate motor sailing with electric propulsion. I had rounded the Battery about three hours after low tide. BIANKA rode the flood current 14 miles all the way into Long Island Sound. Winds were light so it was mostly motoring under electric propulsion  This trip was in late October 2012 and amazingly  boat traffic both recreational and commercial was non existent for this passage. That may not always be the case . Especially during summer and on weekends:

Ironically, the Honda 2000 generator that had been operating since about 9:45 am had finally ran out of gas right in the middle of Hell Gate. It had been running five and a half hours on one gallon of gas motor sailing BIANKA for about twenty five miles. Nice thing about electro sailing in a hybrid mode using a generator like the Honda 2000 is that the batteries automatically take over and keep propelling the boat as shown in this video:

After refueling it was another ten miles of electro-sailing until  I reached my destination after forty nautical miles of motor sailing under electric propulsion.


bowsprite said...

whew!!! you are intrepid! even your 'how-to' post is gripping reading! hope all is well! c!

Capt. Mike said...

Hi Christina:

Yes all is well. Just got my application from the town for this years mooring permit. So the sailing season will soon be here. Of course this upcoming Blizzard is putting a little damper on the thought. Hope you are over that flu too.

William Robin said...

great videos you got here mate, I am just getting into the sailing thing but you've motivated me to make a start and get out on the water. Sail Manhattan

Capt. Mike said...

Thanks William! Looks like I'm not going to make the trip into New York this year. I'll kind of miss that but, something to plan for next year.

Dielle Morin said...

Not as much work hourly that I thought you might have to deal with but you sure do have a great step aboard! Well done. Sailing NYC