Sunday, June 10, 2012

Essential valve cover knowledge

The departure from New York to Long Island Sound needs research on the tides. The plan is to ride the incoming tide up the East River and arrive at Hell Gate at slack. Hence we were underway shortly before 0600 and in the melee of the rush hour ferries as we went round Manhattan Island. Of course the end result of doing the tide research and arriving at the right answer is that all the captains have the same idea and all vessels converge on Hell Gate at 0736 - we had three barges and two small tankers for company! But I found that driving one's yacht around and through New York is probably much less stressful than driving a car.

The weather had not been particularly good for a couple of days and today was no exception. East wind against the outgoing tide in the Sound meant that we had short six foot seas so we were glad to get to Huntington Harbor. Although well sheltered, 20 knots of wind made for an interesting pick-up of a mooring buoy from the yacht club - we will work on the technique..........the 10' bow means you need different strategies ready and available depending on the length of the pick-up stick; availability of the ring on the buoy; length of the line on the many options but probably only one will work.

We had a wonderful time in Huntington because cruising friends have lived around here all their lives and very kindly took us out for the day and showed us round. This was my first day on Long Island and I learned a great deal from their local knowledge. Not many people know that the Admiral was a keen biker in her youth and so it was also super treat day for her to view a number of Harley Davidson motorcycles.

For me, I was absolutely fascinated by these incredible machines; it opened up a whole world of something of which I know very little (I know, there are plenty of items in that category). The first Harley was made in 1904 and within five years annual
production was 1,149. The Harley Davidson corporation has survived a turbulent century - the Great Depression, World Wars, Japanese competition, and various forms of corporate controversy. The ability of a brand to stay within the top 50 in the world in these changing times has to be marveled at, particularly when you consider that the focus is on an iconic retro style of product, supported by dream, myth and implied freedom.
HD have a museum containing 450 of their models but there are countless enthusiasts and private collectors out there with their own piece of Harley history.
The essence of a Harley is the V-twin engine which enables a high torque engine to occupy a small space. The cylinders fire at uneven intervals producing the throaty growling exhaust with some popping. The distinctive shape of the valve covers is used by Harley experts to refer to successive model designs. Chronologically they run from F-Head (1914-1929), Flathead (1930-1948), Knucklehead (1936-1947), Panhead (1948-1965), Shovelhead (1966-1984) and so on. If you want to collect something you need to stay in a narrow field..........the bikes in the picture are all Knuckleheads. Yes.
Turning again to that distinctive Harley sound, in 1994 the corporation filed a sound trademark application essentially to protect by patent the sound of their motorcycles. This was dropped six years later after howls of protest by competitors at this sheer piece of cheek. An intriguing factlet all the same.
After all I have learned about Harleys today I will always look upon them in a different light, hoping of course that I will immediately name and recognise them by the valve cover (well, I will try).
We slipped our mooring at Huntingdon and wandered on, pressing further East. Perusing the cruising guide it seemed that the Fishtail would be a good area to visit so we set course for Greenport. The Fishtail is the name for the "messy" end of Long Island. To gain access to Gardiner Bay we pass through Plum Gut, a narrow channel full of current. Gut is probably from the Dutch "gat"  - gate - a Dutch ship foundered in the pass in the 1670's, and in those days there were wild plum trees along the shore. We soon arrive at the municipal marina, right in the heart of Greenport, and explore a charming old world town. Greenport refuses to change, and mixes the old and the new, rich and poor.
We were also treated by Jack, father to Rich, to some wonderful Shelter Island hospitality. Invited over to the island for supper, we thoroughly enjoyed a great evening with Jack and friends, the party never stops in Jack's house. And the following day we were delighted to show off Last Mango and make inroads into the gin supplies on board. May we wish all the best to Jack and Francis, Tom and Irene, and not to forget Frank, all the way from Liverpool. We hope to catch up with you all again either here in the North or in the your other home area - Florida, of course.
Finally we cross the sound and head up the Connecticut River on the flood tide to the charming hamlet of Essex. We will leave Last Mango here for a few weeks while we travel to London, visit family and friends, and generally have a good time. Before we depart I am treated by the Admiral to a special supper at the Griswold Inn, founded in 1776 and exuding eighteenth century atmosphere. The IPA slips down well and I can cut the beef short ribs with my fork. This is not bad at all. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lucille and the Big Apple

On the left Last Mango can be seen across the Hudson River at Lincoln Harbor; the view from the pilothouse across to the Empire State Building is on the right. Let's dispel a myth. The cost per night here of mooring one's private yacht is only a little more than the cost of one night in a bed and breakfast in the UK.
Our ferry across to Manhattan takes only six minutes. We spend several days just wandering around soaking up the unique atmosphere in New York, checking out places we stumble into; Susie also hits the museums on her list. Doing a lot of walking and having the occasional foray onto the subway and bus; part of the relatively inpenetrable public transport system. It is always interesting how one soon adopts places as your own as if you have been here for years. I love the delis and bars here, they are great for atmosphere and value. One day we went for brunch at BB King's Blues Club to see the Strawberry Fields show, a Beatles tribute band. They were fab (of course), tremendous fun; afterwards I was talking with "Paul" and sharing memories of seeing the Beatles perform live back in the early sixties - for me it was the Odeon at Weston-Super-Mare. Of course I didn't mention that a few years ago our firm had acted for Heather in the big break up.
I brought the family to New York in the early 90's, we did a number of US-based road trip marathons for our summer holidays. With no particular plan in mind, on one occasion we had landed at Philadelphia and over three weeks drove to New York, Washington DC, New Orleans, Disneyworld Orlando, Savannah and back to Philadelphia. Our New York trip was short; we woke early with the jet lag on the Sunday, were parked Downtown by 9am, up the Twin Towers for the view and a snack and on our way out of town at lunchtime. As usual, Dad didn't hang about. Here now in NY 20 years later the missing Towers and the events of 9/11 are always in one's mind; on the right the Admiral stands by the National Tribute Quilt in the American Folk Art Museum, this is made from thousands of individually named squares, one for each life lost. One can sit quietly here and contemplate such tragic and senseless killing, designed to provoke even more conflict. More people lost their lives than in the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941; another example of how desperate and evil people on this planet can become towards each other, once again with terrible consequences. Pearl Harbor brought about the full scale conflict in the Pacific; by 1945 the casualties exceeded 20 million, including 240,000 from the conclusive bombs "Little Boy" and "Fat Man".
I was keen to visit one or two old haunts from when I used to travel over here on business in the old days. We stayed often then at the Peninsula, so we popped into the Gotham Lounge for a pre-dinner drink. It hadn't changed a bit. But it was empty, and the prices were shocking - these issues are probably connected. On to Palm Too for supper; the food was still very good and the same waiters are still there, although now they actually have a menu. But my instincts tell me that current economic times are taking a vast toll. The streets are absolutely packed, but the busy places are fast food where you can eat virtually anything "and a soda" for only $5, the high end is having difficulty surviving. In a typical diner my iconic pastrami on toasted rye, with fries and a soda, was delicious and a valuesome $9. The pastrami was piled high - all thirty slices of it!
Some four years after the end of the Pacific War, BB King was playing at a dance hall in Arkansas; two men started a fight, and knocked over the kerosene barrel used for heating. He had to run back into the blaze to rescue his guitar. The fight was over a girl called "Lucille" and from then on, BB's guitars bear that name. It is also the name of the bar at the Blues Club, and on a Monday evening Jon Paris plays and hosts a jam session with friends. Jon is an incredible musician, having recorded and played with just about everyone, and he knows just every blues track there is. Well...............yours truly has been playing guitar a lot recently and the fingers are working well so we turned up for the show. It was a high end affair, with some great musicians (Gene Cornish, Joe Berger, Steve Holley), but I am grateful to Jon who introduced me at the beginning of the second set, handed me his Stratocaster and said "You're on!". Seeing a harmonica in his hand - and knowing that one's key selection is essential in these all too  brief opportunities one gets in life - I seized the initiative and hit the E-chord and we were off for a great blues jam. Playing live at BB Kings certainly cures any stage fright you might have.
Andy Warhol said that everyone is famous for fifteen minutes so I had my ration right there. Great fun and something to remember for a long while. Incidentally I was talking to drummer Steve Holley afterwards; he has played with a great many people; in a month's
time he will be playing at the Hop Farm, Paddock Wood, Kent, the week after we will be there. Small world!

Also here is my favorite shot of the evening at Lucille's - the Admiral in full flow, by far the best dancer there that evening Go girl Go!

Soon I turn once again to forward plans...........what next?........