Sailing Islands aboard Rovinkind II

If we can make it there, we can make it anywhere: New York, New York

Fred recounts his experience sailing down the East River.

UnderBrooklynBridgeSailing down the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge
Photo credit: Paul McEvoy

We decided that October 1st would be the day we’d make the famous trek down the East River, through Hell Gate to New York City.

Hell Gate is a narrow part of East River between Long Island & Manhattan Island. It has a reputation – and a history –  of being a treacherous area for sailors who do not approach it at exactly the right time due to its strong tides and current.

I had been asking lots of people throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island about how to go through Hell Gate, and while everyone had an opinion, no one could tell me exactly how this tidal trek works. I have to admit that I was becoming more than a little apprehensive as I read everything I could find on the internet.

Abbie, the Marina Manager, at Saypoint Marina in Connecticut, offered to show me a book which everyone seems to know here called “Eldridge”  This seems to be the go-to book for navigating the river.  At this point, I still hadn’t had a single person tell me how the journey should work. From what I could make of the whole thing, we had to be at the entrance to the East River, Throgs Bridge, at the same time as the high tide at Battery Park on Manhattan Island. The Eldridge tidal book also had a page on Hell Gate and when it would be slack tide (this is when the tide is not going in or out). Ok (I thought),  I think I understand the process. The only problem is that if I was wrong (which no one could confirm), the tide would be almost as fast as our boat motor. I have heard all the stories of what happens at Hell Gate and I had a good idea the name Hell Gate didn’t have to do with flowers and sunshine if I screwed up.

We set out in the morning from the quiet Connecticut River in a marina called Pequot Yacht Club. The staff were young (ok they just graduated from university) and professional. They helped us find propane for our new tank, which because it is a marine tank cost 7 times the regular BBQ tank…and, it is also half the size. When I arrived at the gas station, the first comment from the person working there was “So you want propane…what a cute tank”. OK….I can tell when I am getting ribbed.  I just responded “thanks” with a smile.

We left about an hour of extra time for the 26 mile journey to Throgs Bridge. We arrived 30 minutes early and one sail boat went in 40 minutes ahead of us. I was hoping to get a little more definitive message that my calculations were correct. One boat is a good confirmation but 5 boats would have made me feel better. I guess one boat in a city of 20 million plus people would have to do. Suddenly a 28 foot boat came out of the marina on City Island and headed for the bridge. Two boats made me feel twice as good; it wasn’t 5 boats but two would have to do.


Excited that we are about to see New York City; Throgs Bridge in the background

We started in (according to my calculations and boat speed) 30 minutes after the high tide at Battery Point (13:57 local time) and in time for the slack tide at Hell Gate (16:00 hrs). There was traffic and what no one told me was the fun that was to come had nothing to do with tides and current.

As the small boat ahead of us and I started down the East River on our way towards the towering skyline in the distance, we were having to deal with tug boats pushing barges. I knew that these barges had limited maneuverability and weren’t going to be able to avoid us if we accidentally moved into their way due to a tidal whirlpool. I hugged the shore as we proceeded, and just before the approach for Hell Gate (the point I had been most apprehensive about), two tugs pushing barges were trying to pass each other. Oh God, this wasn’t in Eldridge! We pulled off as far as I dared with the current obviously under us pushing us left and right without any turn of the wheel I heard the following come over the radio of Channel 16 (the channel reserved for emergency radio communications which every sailor must monitor by law) “Sailboat approaching Hell Gate. This is the Curtis Reinauer”. Now I was nervous enough, but now I think he is talking to me. Am I in trouble for not getting out of the way enough? We are as far over as we can go…surly he can see that! Crap. I couldn’t understand the second name so I simply responded. “Yes, this is Rovinkind”. The tug/barge captain to my surprise said, “Thank you very much for letting us by”. Now you could have hit me with a hammer and I wouldn’t have been any more stunned! All I could get out was “no problem”. I suppose I could have been more gracious – or eloquent – but I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be rude?! If for some odd reason the captain of the Curtis Reinauer ever gets to read this ….he made me forget about Hell Gate and even gave me a head’s up about another barge proceeding up the river and we may want to keep to the right out of his way. Not only was he polite, he was even looking out for us. Thanks Captain!


 Making room for the Curtis Reinauer

In the end, Hell Gate was a non-event – an easy passage as we arrived exactly on time for slack tide. The rest of the ride down the East River was a bit faster as the current picked up slightly, but all was under control –  until we arrived at Battery Point. That was also not in the Eldridge book. Patricia was driving as the smaller boat which entered just before us was now alongside taking our picture. I quickly figured out that he was recording the event and I should do the same for him. I grabbed the camera and took some pictures of him.


Paul on S/V Chloe

As I was happily taking pictures, I didn’t notice the 6 ferries that Patricia was now trying to avoid, as she was pinned between the ferry docks to the right and our new friend to the left. I could feel the panic in her voice as she tried to get my attention. I looked around and realized we were in rush hour and there were more ferries than I had ever seen in one place descending upon us. Now you have to understand as a person from Halifax, Nova Scotia, we have one ferry going from one side of the harbour to the other. At rush hour there were two and they travel at about 10 knots. Every ferry around us was 3 to 10 times the size of our little ferry – and they were traveling at 30 to 40 knots (that’s about 46 miles per hour). Picture a building traveling as fast as a car…ok have the picture? I thought Hell Gate was the crazy event…Eldridge should have said stay away from Battery Point and stop sightseeing once you reach the Brooklyn Bridge! The real danger is the building-sized ferries trying to run your over as they transport all the happy commuters home for the day.


 The United Nations Headquarters with the Chrysler Building in the background. Patricia took lots of pictures of the Chrysler Building…sadly, we thought it was the Empire State Building



 Cable car to Roosevelt Island


 Helipad on waterfront




 Check out the look of concentration! We thought we’d left rush hour at home.

We survived the East River, and as we were passing Lady Liberty, our friend Julie sent an e-mail with the subject title “We see you!”. She had sent pictures from the webcam at Brooklyn Bridge. Cool we thought. Julie is like family and been part of our extended family for 30 years. I was just hoping she didn’t see us almost become “ferry road kill”. The boat beside us sent us an e-mail later that evening, as we communicated by hand signals and finally by radio just before the ferries. the email simply said he was scared to death. Paul,  us too!

Brooklyn BridgeWe’re the bigger boat on the left  in the top image!



 Lady Liberty

CheckingoutLadyLib Lady Patricia viewing Lady Liberty

  1. Glad you made it thru East River and Hell Gate
    We are at Annapolis now for the boat show
    Safe journey
    sv Modaki

    • Will you be in Annapolis for a while? We are still hoping to make part of the boat show. In Atlantic City tonight. Hope we can connect as we’ll be in Chesapeake until the beginning of November.

  2. Simply awesome!
    Thanks for the update.


  3. I am so impressed with your sailing skills and your adventures! I’ve saved a good number of the photos to put in my family album.
    I see by a post above that you expect to be in the Chesapeake Bay until November, so guess I won’t see you in Myrtle Beach until a couple of weeks or more after that? Richard isn’t up to traveling, but Jennifer and I will be driving over to see you, a trip of about 4 hours. Love you both!
    Your aunt,

    • Can’t wait to see you both!! Our trip has been so fantastic so far. We are in Baltimore now and will rent a car to go to the Annapolis Boat Show tomorrow and Monday. Remember, you are also welcome to join us when we are in the Caribbean if you like. All my love to you and Richard.

      • Awww, thanks for your reply and the invite! Will make it to Myrtle Beach (or another nearby port), but won’t make it to the Caribbean. Richard’s traveling days are over and I can’t afford it. Will be paying for my European trip for the next 2 or 3 years. Wishing you fair weather!
        Love, Kelly

  4. Good god Patricia Pegley, you look burnt to a crisp. A direct quote from you know who.

    • LOL – just the picture “Sally” – I’m taking good care of my skin – SPF 60 :)

  5. Hi, you two!
    You’ll see I have a new email address. Also I have an invitation for you: we have a friend, the editor and owner of the newspaper I write for, and he would be delighted to show you around the Cayman Islands if you get there. He’s a very personable, delightful Englishman who has lived there with his wife for 30 or more years. Meanwhile, Happy Sailing & Fair Weather,

    • Thanks Kelly – that’s so nice. But I don’t think we’ll be making it to the Cayman Islands on this trip. We’re at Mile Marker 0 now. Will be in SC within the month.

      • Hi, Patricia!
        I’m flying to Connecticut for 10 days on Nov. 14 to help your Aunt Eva with a number of tasks. Sure hope I don’t miss you and Fred when you dock in Myrtle Beach! I return on Nov. 23.

  6. Hey Guys.
    Hadn’t realized you’d been gone for 5 weeks. Sounds like you are having the time of your life. Really enjoy the blogs and pic’s. Looking forward to hearing more of your adventure.
    Safe sailing.
    Steve & Jill
    SV Pendle Mist

    • Hi Steve & Jill – so nice to hear from you. We are truly enjoying ourselves! More blog posts to come soon… hard to get reliable internet when at anchorages…sometimes even at marinas.

    • Hi Steve and Jill,
      They say letting go of the lines is the toughest part and they are right. We have been having a great time and meeting many people. Our Whitby friends have made sure we are looked after and a better group of boat owners I can’t imagine. We even traveled with a trawler and new friends Judy and Warren. Former sailors that are wonderful travelling companions. I know you will love the new lifestyle…we now considered this our home…not just our boat (as we do in Nova Scotia when the season is so short). Keep the dream in your sights…pick a date and we will be there to help with the lines. Take Care, Fred

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