With the wind in her hair, Angela Rice joins friends for some east coast cruising from Rhode Island to New York aboard Swallow, a Catalina 380.

Flying alone, I was due to meet our friends Janet and Richard in Rhode Island for east coast cruising, as our proposed UK crew had cancelled at short notice.

Given the potentially demanding overnight offshore passage to New York, Richard had strong-armed a local couple, Ellen and David, to join us aboard Swallow.

Janet, a former Reluctant Sailing Wife, now fully retired from the sea, doubted Ellen’s enthusiasm. But her husband David raised no alarms, so on they hopped.

A side view of Swallow resting in a marina on a sunny day. Her sail is wrapped up.

The passage would be sailed aboard Swallow, a Catalina 380. Photo: Angela Rice

We cast off from Wickford Harbour on 30 August in bright sunshine to motor-sail for four hours through the huge Narragansett Bay.

There we met the helpful south-running tide under the Jamestown Bridge and continued on towards Point Judith, where the Narragansett meets the Atlantic.

East coast cruising with cockpit sundowners

Now we were in the Atlantic, with a different motion. Ellen fell suspiciously quiet as a light westerly wind took us southwards for several hours to Block Island – a nature reserve and resort, named after the Dutch seafarer, Adriaen Block.

Its a sunny day with a view of the island from the boat. Ellen is sitting on deck, looking out.

Ellen is relieved to reach Block Island. Photo: Angela Rice

We moored there in the Great Salt Pond and swam off the back of the boat in the lovely clear water.

We marked the cocktail hour in the cockpit, admiring the scenery and sunset. The harbour launch then took us to Dead Eyed Dick’s restaurant, where the food is better than the name suggests.

Richard is wearing a jumper, sunglasses and sun hat. His hand is on the wheel and its shaded under the helm's canopy.

Richard at the helm. Photo: Angela Rice

It was the eve of Labour Day weekend and the place was buzzing. It was a fun evening.

Our departure the following day was calculated backwards from our aim of reaching the Ambrose Light around 0700, which allowed us to catch the tide into New York harbour.

The famous Ambrose light is actually no more, having been carelessly demolished by a tanker years ago, but it continues to exist virtually as a navigation point.

We left at midday, initially motor sailing in light easterlies towards Montauk, at the eastern point of Long Island, but able to cut the engine at the southwest shelf, which extends out for 12 miles.

As the promised northerly had failed to appear and the wind and seas had increased, we revised our plan to run parallel with the shore and instead gybed south onto a beam reach, with reduced sail.

A moonless confusion

Once clear of Montauk Point, we bore off southwest onto a broad reach, gybing back towards the island later, then taking a long tack out to sea. The wind increased steadily during the evening and was gusty.

A google maps screenshot showing the journey to New York.

The journey. Photo: Angela Rice

We were averaging 7.5 knots, so Richard further shortened the sail when he came on watch at 2300.

David, on watch from 0400, in the deeply black, moonless night, experienced a huge and disorientating wind shift, which swung Swallow’s bow back towards where we’d come from.

Richard was up in a flash and diagnosed that the autohelm had kicked out. ‘Had Swallow become homesick, maybe?,’ we speculated.

Later a (genuine) wind shift to 250° brought us within sight of the approaches, and a tack to 290° got us to our virtual buoy rather neatly at 0730.

Apart from the one blip, it was a very satisfactory passage. But a different story had unfolded below decks.

The marina with boats moored on calm water. The weather is overcast.

Liberty Landing marina is dominated by Manhattan’s spectacular skyline. Photo: Angela Rice

If you have only ever sailed in the sheltered waters of the Narragansett, the incessant, turbulent, washing-machine movement of the open Atlantic can be a shock.

Ellen, having opted to retire to bed, found herself hurled from one side to the other of the double stern bunk. With enormous difficulty, she hauled herself through to the companionway and hung on it, begging for it all to stop!

Unable to deliver that miracle, I could however wedge her in cosily with pillows against the cabin table, on the port bunk. I considered tucking in the gin bottle too!

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Respite in sight

Continuing our east coast cruising in the calmer waters of the Ambrose Channel, the relief on Ellen’s face suggested the sight of Manhattan on the horizon was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

It is very special, as is passing under the Verrazano Bridge, spotting the Statue of Liberty, playing dodgems with the Staten Island Ferries, entering the Hudson River and hanging a left into the plush Liberty Landing marina on the New Jersey shore.

A photo from the boat, looking out at the Verrazano Bridge in the distance. Its a cloudy day.

Approaching the Verrazano Bridge. Photo: Angela Rice

Not any old high-end marina, but one in the heart of New York and surrounded by soaring skyscrapers, twinkling into a magical backdrop as night falls.

The next day we motored gently down the East River, under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queensboro Bridges, through district after district and past apparently endless, towering, iconic buildings.

We arrived at the potentially treacherous ‘Hell Gate’ narrows, which should be negotiated with a following tide.

The narrows were originally named ‘Hellegat’ by Adriaen Block, which means ‘beautiful gate’, but were corrupted by the British on their charts.

The Statue of Liberty with a relatively calm see in front and cloudy skies.

The crew were greeted by the Statue of Liberty. Photo: Angela Rice

We went on until the river opened out into the Long Island Sound. Manhasset was our base for a New York visit, the starting point for our calmer inshore return passage, and also where our crew left us – one with great relief!

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