Sunday, August 19, 2012

Yes, Hellgate is Hellish

Bel Sito slurped 80 gallons of diesel fuel at the Liberty Landing Marina before we freed the lines at 8:45 a.m. and headed out of town. She used that much fuel on our run from Atlantic City to New York Harbor, so approximately 1.5 miles to the gallon.

It was nice and quiet at that hour on a Sunday morning so we had the Hudson and East River to ourselves, relatively speaking.  I don’t think I’ve seen NY from the East River vantage point, other than in postcards, so yet another thrill of a lifetime to see those enormous buildings wedged in together as we chugged upstream. There we were in little Bel Sito inching our way past the United Nations and Empire State Building and those grand, old apartment complexes mixed in with  newer towering structures. 

All the while we are anxiously awaiting the place on our route where our good buddy Alix Pelletier Paul says is a favored place to 'dump bodies': Hellgate.

Bel Sito's Route today

Richard had studied the tide tables and conferred with local boaters about the best time to take this stretch of our trip because currents in Hellgate can be - well -  hellish.  Imagine the Raccoon River at springflood-stage, fellow Iowans. Brown, swirling, frothy stuff you do NOT want to find yourself in.

Ada and Jon (fellow boaters we met up with Friday night) said all that stuff you hear about Hellgate is over-hyped.  They regularly take their 1941 40’ wooden Chris Craft Cruiser, originally owned by owners of Kimberly Clark, through Hellgate and don’t even pay attention to the tides.

Skipper G winces when he hears them say that.

Well, I’m not sure Hellgate stories are over-hyped. I shot some video of it going through although it was taken after the worst of the churn had passed so you don’t get the FULL effect  (I was hanging on with both hands).

When we hit the brunt of the current it picked up little BelSito and pushed her forward an extra 7 knots., so we were doing about 17 knots going through there, twice our normal cruising speed.  This is why we wanted it behind us. If we’d tried to plunge into the current her engines would be groaning to  pushagainst the force of the water head-on.

A loyal blog reader and forever sailing buddy, Jim Shaffer, writes:

“Looks like Knapps Narrows on steroids.” [This is a tight spot on the Chesapeake]

“RWG, what's the trick?  "Keep your eye on the middle of the bridge,
keep pushing the bow to that point while countering sideways stern movement
(yaw) so it doesn't come around on you? That's the trained and instinctive
thing to do, but does it work there?"  

“It does not look easy!  Give me another lesson.”

To which Captain Gilbert responds:

“I just put the hammer down, kept it between the rocks, and aimed the pointy end toward Long Island Sound.”

From then on it was easy-peasy to Oyster Bay, off of Long Island Sound. 

This is the kind of spot where folks with the means to build private residences larger than hotel complexes, come to summer.

Oyster Bay

Oyster Bay is also the spot where tragedy beyond imagining hit this past Fourth of July. We remember reading about the 1984 34’ Silverton overloaded with 10 children and 17 adults that tipped and sank drowning three children trapped in the main cabin. The details of the accident remain murky, but anyone who has been in a swarm of boats dispersing after a fireworks display knows there are too many boats, in too small a space, with too many people, many of whom have had too much to drink and all of whom are trying to move at the same time.  An inconsiderate captain in a big power boat can rock a smaller boat that ISN'T top heavy, let alone a 34' with 27 souls aboard.

 My heart goes out to that father/uncle who will have to live with this mistake the rest of his life.  We learn a lot of lessons about boating the hard way. This man sure did.

I sometimes chafe at RWG's life-jacket-at-night obsession but he works very hard at not having to learn too many more lessons the hard way.

Happiness is an outboard that starts!

Bel Sito, Oyster Bay, NY

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