Sailing Around the Bay For More Than A Day
This Northern native set sail in search of a new horizon.
by Casey Ryan Vock
One day this summer, 45-year-old Miller decided that the lake was becoming too small for his navigational interests; it had become too boring. He made a promise to himself that he would take a solo venture from Lake Champlain to the Atlantic Ocean – in nothing more than a 16-foot aluminum fishing boat.
“I just had the notion to go,” Miller explained, who is originally from Miami, Florida. “I needed some room to stretch my legs, and this seemed like the thing to do.” He spent a week preparing–gathering spark plugs, filters and other small-repair items. On the evening of August 31, Miller set sail for the Atlantic.
Miller brought with him only the essential items: maps, emergency equipment, a cellular phone, and a VHF handheld radio. His meals consisted mostly of fruits, tea, candy, condiment-free sandwiches and anything else portable and small enough for the voyage.
Intentionally leaving his FM radio behind, Miller wanted to be left alone with his thoughts–away from the noises of the electrical saws and machines in his business’ shop. He kept a log book of what he saw, and the experiences he had. “That’s not something I usually do,” he explains. From reading his journal, it is clear that he found the thought provoking experience he was seeking.
On the first night of his trek, he anchored at Fort Ticonderoga. Getting snug for the evening in his trustee vessel, only protected from rain by its thin umbrellaed cover, he wrote of a “huge amber moon hanging low on the horizon and glistening on the water across the channel.”
On day two, he made his way through the lock system to find himself baking in the sun and floating down the Hudson by noon. Several of the operators at the locks complimented Miller on his boat and rigging. However, he wrote that they also questioned his preparation and his vessel's seaworthiness.
Not long after reaching the river, he saw the first of several tug boats. He noted that the rebounding wake swells trailed a mile behind some of these massive ships. Apparently someone thought this idea—to navigate a small skiff like this amongst gigantic vessels—was indeed a dangerous one. When he stopped to refuel at the Schuyler Yatch Basin, a fellow mariner insisted that Miller take an S.O.S. flag with him for emergency use in New York Harbor.
Miller had passed through lock twelve early in the morning, and was through number one at Waterford by late afternoon. He made note of a slight spray coming over the bow as the wind and waves built.
After finally passing through the federal lock at Troy, and then the port of Albany, he encountered his first massive tug boat. His charts and radio were all soaked from the sea spray flying over the sides of the craft. Having covered 150 nautical miles, he decided to drop anchor at Catskill.
Miller woke early on day three to find that his boat had taken in water slowly overnight. Luckily, his boat has two pumps attached which can syphon out water at a decent pace. Thus, he was southbound to New York Harbor just after sunrise. Later that afternoon, he properly adjusted his 30 horsepower outboard motor to reach a smooth 20 knots.
Miller noticed that indeed there was some sort of small hole in the vessel. Just as he realized this, the boat nailed a log protruding from the water while traveling at almost 20 mph. The whole boat jumped in a split-second and Miller had officially found the excitement he was looking for. Luckily, there was no permanent damage. He had just taken on some water which was nothing unusual at this point.
This brought Miller to full attention, which was quite helpful as the oncoming vessels would increase in size. Some, with five to six foot propellors, were producing four foot wakes. Sometime after noon, he was pumping an average of 10 gallons an hour from the bilge of the boat. He suspected some seriously loose seams in his old boat, that he aptly named “Aloof.”
The real fun began for Miller when he hit Manhattan—luckily just before rush hour. The Republican National Convention was taking place, and the Harbor was packed with every security force in the area. There were state police, U.S. Coast Guard, and harbor police patrolling the water and the sky. He even had to don his life vest when he heard the small craft advisory sent out over the radio.
Miller passed by the Statue of Liberty early that evening. The chop was up to five feet in Liberty Harbor and he made the decision to avoid the Verrazano Narrows by going all the way around Staten Island. Tired, but too excited to rest, he made his way from South Staten Island through an obstacle course of ferries and tugboats. The Lower Bay was rough, but his engine ran strong the entire way.
When he set anchor on the third night, he was exhausted and in no way ready for what was about to happen next. While resting there, not too far from Newburgh, a twenty-foot party boat was quickly heading directly at him. He began yelling and waving to get their attention. He already had his fog light on, but he also urgently turned on his anchor light. There was still no response. Finally, he blasted the horn in panic, and the vessel made an immediate turn away from him.
“Oh my god!” Miller exclaimed as he told me of the event. “I don’t know what they were thinking but it scared me to death.” Despite the near collision, Miller slept great that night.
He was heading to the Atlantic by dawn the next morning. His specific destination was off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Through more choppy waters, he emerged on the Atlantic a short time later. With the mass of smog from New York City directly behind him, he looked across the waters of the Atlantic, and relaxed for a moment. The journey, he found, had been safe and rewarding.
Miller, who said the return home was bittersweet, acknowledges that other people have made this 260 nautical mile trip. Many individuals have surely sailed a similar path, but not for the same reasons as Miller.
To this day, Miller cannot come to grips with the fact that he made the trip – but he did. “I look back and I cannot believe that I actually did that. I am now planning a trip all the way to Key West – with a slightly larger boat, obviously,” he laughs. Until then, Miller will still cherish the memories of the experiences he had on this special trip, as it reinforced his love of nature and the water itself.
“I definitely will be getting my captain’s license now. I want to be able to take people with me. I just think it’s such a great experience. To be able to do it with a small group of people and go somewhere really nice, that would be awesome.”
Aloof: Keep at a distance.
Glossary, courtesy of BoatSafe.com
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