The classic late August weather was perfect for the leisurely evening cruise. Light winds allowed for smooth sailing and warm, mild sunset put skipper Paul and his crew Carolee, Lena and Stas into jovial mood.
Upon leaving the marina we raised the main and after a short while the genoa. It was Lena’s first time on the sailboat. Her initial reservation was quickly replaced with excitement from being propelled by the wind alone – something I feel anew every time. We tacked in the direction of Verrazano Bridge and then sailed on the broad reach to the statue of Liberty.
The J104 race was in progress with the bulk of their fleet raising spinnakers, starting their downwind leg about a mile away from us. The other attraction was a lone fancy cruise ship that steamed towards Verrazano Bridge. We sailed as close as we could by the Statue, right at the moment when the sun set directly above her torch. Is the torch made of gold someone wondered? “No” said Paul confidently. “Not anymore anyway”.
We headed back to marina, helped by the current, on the dead downwind course and so the wing n wing rigging worked out very nicely. A few hundred feet abeam the spinnaker rigged boat from J104 race was gaining fast on us. The fellow J104, on the port tack, was sailing right at it. She passed astern missing contact by just a few inches, inviting some yelling from both crews.
The flags on Ellis Island were flying half mast marking the passing of Senator Kennedy who himself sailed in his last years as much as his condition allowed. Soon after we turned on the running lights and started to take down sails jib first then main. How was it? I asked Lena after we docked. “Hudson River trumps Central Park by far” she said.
As for me, tonight's cruising was one of my most memorable birthdays so far. The most memorable of them all was my bar mitzvah a quarter century ago in prohibition crazed Ukraine. Back then my mother, with her eyes sparking with joy, proudly poured me a glass of Moldovan semi-sweet right in front of the stunned guests and passerby’s.
Helmsman Paul and his crew Alex (foredeck), Julie (sheets), and Stan (all about the boat) embarked on the Tuesday race. Suddenly Julie, the sole native English speaker of the crew, hurried to the library (to get a Russian dictionary the rest of us figured).
Once on board Alex tied a piece of red cloth to the backstay. Were we the Battleship Potemkin on the Hudson now? Not so fast. The red flag on stern was just a mark of our fleet. With a mild breeze coming from the west, we had downwind start. The starting mark was not far from the Willy Wall, the mark to round lay north-east toward Manhattan. The wind was blowing astern and flying the genoa jib on windward side became our downwind strategy. Holding the genoa sheet in his long arms Alex, our human pole, caught every puff of the wind. The race, on the contrary, had two short legs. In no time we tacked our way back to the orange mark, behind the Willy Wall. The starboard rounding did not go smooth at first because current pushed us and the rest of the fleet northwards. The race progressed and so did smiles on Paul’s face. “Meat on the rail” he roared after every tack. Sitting on the rail, the sea felt warm under my bare feet. Before I knew it, we'd finished the race somewhere in the middle of the pack. On the downwind way back we practiced spinnaker’s hoisting and jibing. At the dock we stowed away sails under the receding twilight of the mid-September evening – mild, short and soon forgotten.