I've been sailing all my life, practically since I was born. At 15 I was already dreaming of crossing the Atlantic and at 20, my biggest aspiration was to enter, full sail, into the New York City Harbor. This powerful image had been on my mind for years, imagining the scene from every possible angle. Since then, I've actually crossed the ocean seven times already, and each time I arrived to New York, I always felt as the hero of my dreams.
The one scene I could have never imagined, though, was to find myself in New York in the middle of a deadly hurricane.
When I first started working on my five-year mission with Kamana Sailing Expeditions in 2011, I spent months equipping the boat to withstand the extreme conditions of the unfamiliar destinations I had on my itinerary, ranging from the icy Artic to the blazing heat of the Equator.
Of all the places, New York was the least expected where I would have to brave a natural disaster.
Having stopped there on our way to Greenland, it was simply spectacular to navigate the Hudson, only a few steps from the Empire. For this reason, we made it a priority to relive it again on our way back.
At the crack of dawn on Thursday, October 25, we take off with a high tide from Pilot Point Westbrook, Conn., directed toward New York. Being 90 miles away, we were expected to arrive in just a couple of stops -- which would have been a piece of cake, if it weren't for the hugely worsened forecast, with Hurricane Sandy dangerously heading over the East Coast and the locals being worried that something dangerous was about to come. Everybody was getting ready to face the worst, as per authority suggestion, and barricading themselves inside their homes.
For us on board, things were different. Our home is kind of peculiar. Is not solidly anchored into the ground, but is floating... on water. And in the middle of it grows a tree, 30 meters high and very sensitive to air drafts.
Without many options on where to take cover and mainly not wanting to leave our Plum, the only option we had was to prepare for the worst and quickly reach a safe harbor.
Our most important possessions, our lives and all our things were on board.
At this point, the best option seems to be to go to the Liberty Landing Marina, in New Jersey, right across from the World Trade Center. Michelle, who runs it, is well prepared and always ready to help passing boats and their crews.
I take advantage of the journey for a last briefing to the crew. Everyone needs to know exactly what to do, tomorrow, in case they confirm the hurricane. Everything must be quickly removed from the deck and the sails tied in a way that the strong wind cannot shake. Keep in mind we are coming back from Greenland, so we know what to do.
Most important, we'll need to use all the available docking ropes, to secure the boat to the dock.
It's an incredibly quiet evening when we glide rapidly and "lonely" by Rikers Island -- "the calm before the storm." In spite of the tension, we can't help but admire the skyline of Manhattan, that, from far away, looks like an enormous and sparkling Luna Park. We start to relax, when we see the familiar outline of the Brooklyn Bridge. It's 9 p.m., by the time we reach the fuel dock, only to find out that the station is closed and we'll have to save the gas we have in the tank, until they will reopen... not sure when. At this point, we also find out that Sandy will invest New York, full blast, on Sunday night.
We are exhausted and puzzled by all the news and decide to go to sleep to gather energy for the days ahead. The morning after, we are still asleep when Michelle's knocking wake us up. She seems quite worried; the mayor is enforcing the evacuation of the coast, including the marina, and no one is allowed to stay on the boats. This time, we definitely underestimated the situation!
Nevertheless, Michelle knows us and knows that we would never leave our boat behind. She is also aware that with the crew on board, ready to step in, the boat has a better chance to overcome the hurricane. Without much talking, we understand that we have her ok to stay on, but she encourages us to move into a safer, more protected area.
As soon as she leaves, we realize that the Marina would have been completely deserted and dark and we would have been completely at the mercy of the events. Without even the possibility of setting foot on the ground, as the floating docks would have been detached from the docks.
Our Plum, Sandy and us... all together in the Big Apple! My desire for adventure had been satisfied.
That Friday night, aware that for the next few days we would have been stuck in New Jersey, we decided to go out with Italian friends who live in Manhattan. We get out of the subway in Greenwich Village, relieved to notice the completely different atmosphere, as if Sandy wasn't really a concern. Groups of young people dressed up as ghosts and witches, in view of the Halloween party, small bars playing live music, crowded restaurants and clothing stores, pastry shops and barbers still open!
Our minds are finally able to unwind, concern gives way to the desire to enjoy the night in one of the most exciting cities in the world and the thought of Sandy gets lost in the midst of all the people in the party!
Our friends and people we talk to throughout the evening, in fact, give not much credit to the forecasts and believe that precautions taken by the mayor are excessive.
From personal experience, I disagree! I know that being prepared for the worst with respect to a natural disaster can only help to limit the damage, and I actually think that in this kind of situation, Americans are rightly one of the most far-sighted and active.
It's quite late when we get back to the boat and we better rest well tonight, since on Sunday, we'll have to prepare the boat and buy the latest things.
On the morning of the 27th we get up in the middle of a bustling port. There's a great coming and going on the docks. The owners of the boats go to and fro between boats and cars loading anything that could fly away, securing boats, duplicating mooring lines.
Security officers pass by to warn everyone to evacuate by 3 p.m.
Only a few nosey people come by, wishing us, with a worried smile, "good luck" -- probably knowing that we would have been the only ones to remain on board.
It's only 8 a.m. and we are already working at full speed: Luca and I are taking care of the deck. Securing the boat at the docks, reinforcing the mooring ropes, carrying under deck the pillows, the winch handles, dismantling the dodger and securing the life rafts; while Giulia, who is in charge of the caboose, moves toward a supermarket not far away for the last shopping. Knowing that, for a few days, we'll need to be completely self sufficient.
By the time she returns to the boat is almost noon. She tells us the supermarket was stormed by the people -- empty shelves, trolleys overflowing everywhere and endless lines at the cashier... more like on the set of the movie The Day After.
We fix the last few things and we lock ourselves inside the boat. A nice breeze begins to rise and from the portholes of the dinette we see the color of the sky turning into a not too reassuring orangey-grey.
To cheer us up, Giulia starts cooking a great dinner that ends with a wonderful anti-depressant chocolate cake!
At 11 p.m. we're all still awake waiting for our uninvited guest -- Sandy is coming! The wind is blowing at 30 knots. Constant, rapid oscillations shake the boat, due to the movement of the tree.
Out is peach black... no clue of what is going on!
Around 1 a.m. we record the highest peak in the wind speed, 60 knots! The boat is tilted as if we were sailing. It's raining a lot and the tide rises at an alarming rate.
I can't resist any more. Holding on to the rig, I go up to the bow to check out, with a flashlight, what's going on. What I see startles me: 4 more inches and the moorings will get out of the pylons! At that point, the boat would be completely free, smashing in a sea of debris...
Giulia joins me with her camera to record the scene, but gets scared away by the incredible amount of water that surrounds us! Cars completely submerged and docks disappeared. She, yells "Oh my God, we are moored in the middle of the park!"
We return inside the boat very concerned. We can only hope for the tide to begin to fall and the moorings not to slip off the pylons. We wait for two long hours.
Luckily around 3 a.m. the situation seems to be improving. It's not so much the wind to drop as the tide to start going down. Which is enough for us to realize we're safe!
I'm sitting in the cockpit, staring across the river on to Manhattan, completely dark. The skyscrapers' silhouettes look like lurking giants in this spooky night. Not at all like the New York image of my youth's dreams...
We stay awake, no one could sleep, waiting for dawn. Knowing that, like us, all of New York was anxiously waiting for the light to come up. To be able to assess the damage or hopefully say: "It went well!"
For what concerns us, we knew that the worst was over and that we, and our Plum, were lucky.
It's Sunday morning, October 28. Around us the devastation! Rivers of brown water in place of streets, bins of garbage floating all over, and in the yard adjacent to the harbor, several boats piled one above the other -- a chilling scene!
After a sleepless night and a nice coffee, Giulia decides to venture out with her camera for a few shots of the marina. It's a eerie scene, and quite dangerous to move through the piers, completely torn up by the high tide. We were kind of trapped in.
For more than a week we could not get oil, nor food, since the nearest supermarket was flooded.
The marina was patrolled by police, and at 3 p.m. the curfew would force us to stay inside the boat.
We were not allowed to leave, anyway, as the waters of the Hudson, full of debris, were dangerous for navigation.
Late on our schedule and completely isolated in New Jersey (metro and ferries to New York were blocked), we could not help but wait for things to take their course.
Our New York adventure ended on December 10, when we were finally able to set sail after almost two weeks stuck in port Liberty Landing because of Sandy. It was a scary one -- but we made it!
Being fearless doesn't mean not to be afraid. It means not to let fear stop you from living your adventures. Overcome it, learn always something and live your life to the fullest. This is my motto!
Our route continues south to warmer seas, undiscovered perfumes, remote islands and new adventures...
More to come from San Blas!