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Boat Times II. Winter

serene | 2015-10-25

(Restoring this old blogpost - part of a series of silly nautical essays from when I lived on a sailboat - for your amusement.)

It is advisable to avoid falling into the drink.

On a wonderfully wintry February diem, weariness descended upon me after a full day of day-having.

So, I packed and bundled up. With salty boots I slodged through grey slush. A delightful 10-minute stroll from the Google office to Chelsea Piers during the summer, it has now converted into a slightly more treacherous expedition.

In the winter season, the main gate of Pier 59 is shut and chained, extending the odyssey another few hundred metres around the marina through a parking lot. The garage enables a temporary respite from the biting cold, which immediately gets interrupted by yet more biting cold. Then, one encounters the slippery waltz down the main marina ramp, which may or may not be inclined most perilously by the tide.

Finally, there is the last leg of the excursion upon the groaning, corroding, thermally expanded and contracted planks. One rejoices upon arriving at the desired vessel - having survived the wildly undulating docks, which may or may not undulate harder when lacking sobriety.

Chelsea Piers lacks a water barrier, so typically, boats are seen keeling wildly, docklines snapping, bumpers blowing, masts colliding. This is especially magnified with active commercial traffic in the Hudson. This also increases the excitement of the last leap from dockfinger to boat, which is not only highly motile, but sometimes covered in ice.

In any case, this February day was one of the chilliest ones so far: somewhere around -19 Celcius. But in a fit of hubris, I decided I would try to stay aboard this evening, to see how it would go. Probably just fine, right?

After all, my boat by now was lined with a significant amount of insulation. And I could just curl up under thick blankets, and point two space heaters at my face. (By the way, those space heaters required installing a separate 20A circuit on the boat, which is another fairly amusing story I won't go into.)

Well, I shut the hatch, became horizontal in my V-berth, and turned off all the LEDs. As usual, the lovely nocturnal oscillations of the boat upon the Hudson waves put me to sleep instantly. Sweet dreams occurred, and I looked forward to waking in the morning carefree and exceptionally refreshed.

But interestingly, I jolted awake around 0400 to much higher-frequency oscillations of my own body, shivering, while the boat itself lacked any oscillations. Yes, the boat was no longer rocking - it was perfectly still and the space heaters were silent, and I was freezing to death. Very exciting!

So I drag myself out of the covers, limbs not quite functioning normally, stumbling around this arctic cabin to turn on lights and examine the electrics. Indeed, shore power was out.

Peering outside, the Hudson was frozen solid.

Did you know that getting dressed in subzero temperatures is not as fun as it sounds?

Well after about 20 minutes haphazardly layering on any apparel with favorable thermal properties. I leapt from the boat to the docks, which was now easier despite my icicle legs since everything was still, though still I had no desire to check the structural soundness of the Hudson's newly installed icy floor.

Then I caught a cab to a friend's, and continued shivering for an eternity afterwards.

snow on boat

Anyways, did you know the experience of the Manhattan winter is greatly enhanced if you live in the river? Specifically, living on a derelict sailboat with imperfect insulation results in a very enhanced experience. (As long as your hull doesn't leak. )

Okay, by enhancement, I'm actually referring to when the ice melts, in which the arrival of the first beautiful spring day becomes that much more glorious.

Almost freezing to death really makes the other times of the janky boat life that much more fun and lovely. Sustainable? Probably not for me (the next winter I spent in the tropics...) But otherwise, I do think back on this adventure now and then with fondness. Physical reality is a cool place.

Oct 2015

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