Sailing with St. Bart's

You Can't Beat the Experience

Bright Star's Log

Sail for America

September 14 and 15, 2002

On Saturday, September 14, 2002, one year after the tragic events of September 11, New York Harbor was filled with the greatest gathering of sailboats in the history of the harbor. The organizers of this event had three goals:

  • To memorialize the people who died.
  • To celebrate the rebirth of the City of New York.
  • To pay tribute to the soaring spirit of America - out of great tragedy and destruction, we Americans create a symbol of hope and beauty.

St. Bart’s Sailing members were proud to be there aboard Bright Star. This is our log.

Bright Star

5:55 a.m.

We gathered before dawn on Saturday, September 14 to get underway for the trip through Hell Gate and into New York Harbor. The crew of eight included two skippers and four first mates, so we had plenty of skilled hands and watchful eyes for the hazards of the East River and potentially chaotic waters of the harbor.

6:13 a.m.

We watched the sun rise over Hart Island as we passed between it and City Island. At first we felt alone in the world, but then we started to see them: our fellow sailors underway toward the Throg’s Neck bridge. Anna and Paul attached a three foot stuffed Uncle Sam to the bow pulpit – our patriotic, if a bit weird, bowsprit.

7:00 a.m.

"Where are all the boats?" someone asked. We had reached the rendezvous area off Eastchester Bay right on schedule, but there was no crowd of sailboats ready to depart. The Kings Pointer got underway as we approached the Throg’s Neck bridge. We followed her in company with handful of other sailboats coming from further out.

8:00 a.m.

Our departure calculations had been based on our typical motoring speed along with the Sail for America schedule. So although we were motoring at a comfortable speed, we found ourselves passing through Hell Gate an hour earlier than we’d planned. Fortunatley, our planned time was at the end of the tide window, so an hour earlier was actually better.

8:15 a.m.

Just past the Queensborough Bridge a sleek, grey Coast Guard boat roared up along side and one of the coasties ordered us to hold our course. We were passing the United Nations. "Do you like our bowsprit?" Anna asked them. "Yeah," the severe young coastie replied, "But it scared me at first, I thought it was a kid." The Coast Guard boat stood between us and Manhattan, keeping us close to the Roosevelt Island shore, until we were nearly at the daymark a the south end of the island. Only then did they peel off and allow us to edge in toward Manhattan to avoid the riprap around the daymark.

John, Wil, and Anna find photo ops. in the Harbor.

After a fast passage on down the river we motored through Buttermilk channel and out into the upper harbor. "Where are all the boats?" someone wondered. We could see masts scattered over the harbor, with a concentration up off the battery, but hardly the hoards we’d anticipated. We stood ready to raise sail, watching for the fireboat signal off the battery.

9:00 a.m.

The spray from a fireboat erupted off the battery and Wil and I raised our mainsail. We came about to run downwind toward the battery and ground zero, where we now could see quite a few sails. We unrolled the jib and killed the motor. The light breeze was not enough to push us against the current, so we hovered around Governors’ Island. Gradually, magically the harbor started to fill with sails.

Paul and Fish
(who never misses a sail)

9:15 a.m.

"Head Overboard!" the jib had knocked off Uncle Sam’s head. As we started to execute a recovery a Sail for America safety boat approached us. They handed us a memorial flag to add to our string, then offered to recover the head. This was fortunate since a Staten Island Ferry was heading our way. While we added the flag to our rigging, they picked up Sam’s head and returned it to us. It was soon reattached with extra bungee cords.

10:00 a.m.

Far to the south a forest of masts grew into a fleet of sailboats charging up from the Narrows. Multi-masted ships hove into view, and workboats of all descriptions were maneuvering around us. We returned to motor power as the parade approached us. I had warned the crew that it would be like the start of a race all day long. This turned out to be not entirely correct – while there were more boats than at any race start we’ve ever been in, they were handled courteously with friendly greetings regularly exchanged.

We suffered some flag envy when we saw boats sporting long strings of memorial flags; among us we had sponsored about a dozen, but had not been able to pick them all up. We were awestruck when we spotted first one, then another boats flying American flags almost as long as their hulls in lieu of mainsails. It was an impressive sight.

Hobicat sailor from Florida.

Sails off the Wintergarden.

11:00 a.m.

We completed a "lap" of the parade, turning down stream near the Chelsea Piers. We were surprised that in a fleet of a thousand boats we kept seeing the same one nearby – there was one that we’d entered the East river with, another that we’d meet when we got to the harbor, a couple that we knew from our local waters, and the guy on the little catamaran who claimed to have spent the summer sailing up from Florida. He certainly looked like he’d been sailing for five months.

A safety boat came along side and handed us two Sail for America caps. I claimed one. John donned the other, but others wanted it (we eventually auctioned it off as a benefit for the Club).

12:30 p.m.

As we commenced our second lap the crowd had really arrived. We maneuvered close to the tall ships for a better look. Unbeknownst to us, a photographer in Battery Park snapped our picture as we cruised beside Kalmar Nyckel. We were in the Sunday New York Times Metro Section!

"There's Impromptu!"

1:30 p.m.

We followed a parade of boats into the cruise ship slip north of the Intrepid to view the Around Alone fleet basking under the attention of fellow sailors and the press, then crossed river and rolled out the jib to sail back downstream – we needed a break from the motor. This lasted about thirty minutes during which we made little progress against the incoming tide. We returned to motor power to get back down to ground zero to conduct our official moment of silence. Off of Newport Marina I looked across at a neighboring boat and realized that I would recognized those shorts with suspenders anywhere. Just as I recognized Mark, a shipmate from another recent trip with The Sailing Club, he recognized me. We shouted greetings, equally amazed at running into one another among all these boats.

3:00 p.m.

As we neared the Colgate sign on the New Jersey side of the river we realized that we had timed it perfectly to see the parade of rescue boats. Fireboats, ferries, tugs, and government vessels all flying myriad memorial flags were parading past ground zero. We crossed the river to tag along at the end.

3:30 p.m.

Our crew lined up along the rail facing ground zero and we sounded a bell to commence our tribute to those who were lost. Behind the masts and hulls in North Cove the rebuilt Wintergarden glistened, drawing our eyes up to the empty sky behind it. Even after our moment ended we remained quiet for a time. Wil turned us south to sail to Liberty Island. The breeze had built, so we made good headway under sail against the current and soon paid our respects to the statue. The fleet was dispersing, many boats anchoring near the statue, others disappearing into the distance toward the narrows. We set sail for the run to Weehawkin where we had reserved a slip for the night.

5:00 p.m.

We tied Bright Star in her assigned slip in Lincoln Harbor marina and fired up the blender. Guests weren’t long in arriving and we were soon the life of the marina. Even after our gang settled down that night, the docks did not. The floating docks clanked and thumped with the passing wakes, which were not affected at all by the perforated seawall that was supposed to protect the place. We kept assuring ourselves that the ferries and barges don’t run all night. And sure enough, some time in the wee hours things settled down and we all got some sleep.

Anna and Shari share the bow with Uncle Sam.

Chance encounter with StewardShip.

8:15 a.m.

While waiting for the last of our crew to arrive for the day, we learn that our slip will soon be too shallow for our boat. The marina staff never asked what we draw. We moved to a deeper slip and put out a watch for our crew, who would be looking for us in the old spot.

9:00 a.m.

We entered the Hudson under a gloomy sky. Across the river the top of the Empire State Building was hidden in the clouds. But it wasn’t raining, so everything was good. We motored down to the battery looking for the Around Alone fleet. Once we were near the starting area we raised the sails to sail and wait. Very shortly a Harbor Police boat came along side and pleasantly instructed us to go wait south of Governor’s Island. Okay, to the island we went.

10:30 a.m.

The crowd around the island started to thicken. Although there was a pleasant breeze, we decided to switch to motor for better control. The Coast Guard kept repeating the security zone information over the radio. The East River was closed until 2 p.m. to safeguard the United Nations, and the western channel was closed until 5 p.m. We would have to go up the eastern side of Roosevelt Island. There was also a safety zone around the Around Alone racing fleet. We would have to follow 1500 yards behind them, once they passed us on their run toward the Narrows. But the race hadn’t started yet, and the racers were warming up all around us in the upper harbor. We had tremendous views of their cockpits and rigging, as well as an opportunity to wish many of them luck as we passed by.

12:00 noon

Boredom was becoming evident among the spectator fleet. We were inching north along the shore of Roosevelt Island trying to get a look at the racing fleet when a Harbor Police boat hove into view herding us back toward the south. Seeing that the race seemed to have started way up near the Colgate sign, we complied. Shortly the huge sails of the competing boats were charging toward us. Security zone be damned, the entire spectator fleet turned south and ran with the fleet, and so long as we didn’t interfere the patrol boats let us alone. We were amused to see the Polish Sailing Club boat (which we’d met on Saturday) blundering through the middle of the fleet. They were ushered to the side by the authorities.

We followed the racers about half way to the Narrows before the weather moved in. When the first squall bore down on us, most of the crew dove blow and the rest of us, in foulie jackets, stayed up on deck and got our legs wet. We turned north for home and to outrun the rain.

1:00 p.m.

The Roosevelt Island bridge clearance was 40 feet. Bright Star’s mast (and you should know this, members) is 48 feet tall. We did not know what signal to use to request the bridge to open. We did see two other sailboats in the river with us, so we decided to stick with them in the hope that they knew. When we got to the bridge, one of the other boats told us it would open in five minutes. We never did figure out how he knew, but he turned out to be correct.

4:00 p.m.

On up the East River we puttered, enjoying brief patches of sunshine that broke through the clouds. Back in familiar waters we drove up between Hart and City Islands, retracing our path of just under 36 hours before. Clouds were churning over New Rochelle, and as we approached the back channel they opened up again, drenching Bright Star one last time, but stopping in time for the crew to come up on deck and handle the docklines.

Anna and Wil display our event flag.

Lisa takes a turn at the helm.

The spectator fleet runs with the race.

In many ways Sail for America was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The cooperation among sailing groups, government agencies, sponsors, and countless individuals not only serves as a fitting memorial to both the victims of September 11th but echoes the unparalleled cooperation and unity that our city experienced in those dismal days after the event one year ago.

But we hope that Sail for America will not be once-in-a-lifetime experience. We hope that it will become an annual event. If it does, Bright Star will certainly be at the head of the list of participating boats.

We offer our thanks to the families of the victims on our memorial flags. We were honored to have them in our company:

  • Ariel Jacobs
  • Yelena Belilovsky
  • Laurence Nedell

They are in our prayers.

The Crew of Bright Star,
Saturday, September 14, 2002:

(front) Sam, Anna Shallenberger, Lisa Smith,
Shari Melto

(rear) Seren Page-Bailey, John Randall, Mia McCroskey, Wil Blok, Paul Gaykowski