An experience like this happens once in a Blue Moon

Walter Hope III, poses on the swim platform of Blue Moon at Liberty Landing Marina, N.J., after applying the new homeport decal. Photo courtesy Walter Hope Jr.

January/February 2022

By Walter Hope, Jr.

For Points East

Last summer was notable for multiple reasons: It was the second summer of COVID, and, for our family, it was the summer our son, Walter Hope III, after a lengthy and convoluted process, complicated by the virus and ever-changing insurance-underwriting rules, was finally able to get his new boat.

My son and I, and his friend Dave, delivered Blue Moon, a Grand Banks 42 – named after that nocturnal orb – from Lake Champlain to his marina in Boston. It was a memorable getaway.

Walter has lived on a boat full-time in Boston Harbor for 18 years and was selling his 63-foot Hatteras, Aquadesiac (four staterooms, four heads, and twin Detroit 12V71 engines) because he was down-sizing to another “new-to-him” floating home. When the completion of the sale of Aquadesiac seemed imminent, he was able to put a down payment on Blue Moon, located in Vermont.

There were many delays, during which he made plans to bring the new boat back to Boston Harbor, from Lake Champlain, with his friend, and me, his dad. During this period, Walter monitored the New York State Canal Corporation web page (canals.ny.gov). He found frequent closures due to high water (low air draft), low water (low draft due to emptying the canals from heavy rains), and closed locks due to repairs and maintenance.

How do you get a boat from south of Burlington, Vermont, to Boston? The shortest distance would be to move it by land at a high cost. We chose the route south from Lake Champlain, through the Champlain Canal, into the Hudson River, down to New York City, the East River, Long Island Sound, and then home.

Early on August 19th, we departed Boston in a rented minivan and proceeded toward Charlotte, Vermont, and the Crown Point Marina, joined by Walter’s good friend, Dave, a fellow liveaboard at Walter’s marina. Four hours and 225 miles later found us admiring Blue Moon, then unloading the minivan one-wheeled cart at a time.

Blue Moon’s previous owner, Peter, had agreed to meet with Walter to answer any last questions before casting off. Walter donated the captain’s cabin to me (a perk of the old guy), and he and Dave split the forward and main cabins. After a night at dock in Charlotte, we were ready to begin our delivery.

Total boat engine hours as purchased: 7,480.

Day 1

Early the following morning, we motored over to the fuel dock to fill up with diesel, water and pump out our holding tank. Walter was already excited to track the fuel burn as the Hatteras had burned close to 30 gallons per hour. We were on our way by 9:54 a.m. Throughout the journey, I would briefly take over the helm so Dave or Walter could check the engines, other systems or get on the internet (if a signal was available). Generally, I was on lookout duty for floating logs or any other debris that might damage our hull.

At this point, we were in the lower reaches of Lake Champlain, traveling due south toward Whitehall, N.Y. One or two miles before reaching Whitehall, the cooling-water alarm went off, probably due to an ingested leaf or leaves. Once the thru-hull strainer was cleared, we continued with no further alarms. We arrived at Whitehall Marina at 3:45 p.m., and a strong current running northward made docking dicey, since Blue Moon doesn’t have bow or stern thrusters, but we got it all tied up A-OK.

Because of COVID, boating traffic was way down. Particularly since Canadians, who typically came through here on their way south, were prevented from entering the U.S. At any rate, the severe drop in boating traffic meant that the marina’s restaurant didn’t have enough business to stay open. Fortunately, Casey, the marina manager, offered to drive us a mile or so down the road to a restaurant that was open (and offered to retrieve us) but we decided to walk. When we got back, Walter and Dave took down the mast so we could get under the Champlain Canal’s low bridges.

There are 12 locks between Whitehall and Troy, N.Y. Whitehall is situated just before the first southbound lock. We were going southbound, so we’d be motoring through lock 12 until one (there is no lock number 10) and then the Troy lock. The first three locks lift boats 43.5 feet in this direction, and the next nine locks lower boats 138.8 feet.

Approximate miles, 60; Engine hours: seven

Day 2

We left Whitehall about 7 a.m., hoping to make it through all the Champlain locks in one day, a feat seldom achieved but one that, with reduced traffic, we thought was doable. By 7:15 a.m., we were through the first lock, No. 12.

Then, in quick order, we transited Locks No. 11 (9 a.m.), No. 9 (10 a.m.), No. 8 (10:45 a.m.), No. 7 (11:30 a.m.) – (the Hudson River came in just after passing through No. 7), No. 6 (12:45 p.m.), where we had to wait for a rare northbound boat to clear its passage), No. 5 (1:20 p.m.), No. 4 (2:40 p.m.), No. 3 (3 p.m.), No. 2 (3:30 p.m.), No. 1 (4:15 p.m.), the Erie Canal branches off just south of Lock No. 1, and the Troy Lock (5 p.m.).

We’d just made it before the lockmasters closed things down for the night. We had succeeded – all 12 in one day. We highly recommend respect for the lockmasters who keep things moving. A token gift for each is appropriate and may facilitate your schedule, as it did ours. We only had to wait a few times for the locks to open for us; most of the time, they were waiting for our arrival.

By 5:15 p.m., we were tied up at the Troy, N.Y., marina. And here again, the nearest of three restaurants was closed. Luckily, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was just a short walk away, where we had great ribs.

Approximate miles: 60; Engine hours: nine.

Day 3

August 28th: Hurricane Henri was forecast to come up the Hudson Valley, and the current was already strong, so we elected to stay the day. Troy, particularly its riverfront, has been rehabbed after hurricanes Irene and Sandy. As far as Troy is from the ocean, it is still affected by tides, so the docks here needed to rise and fall.

At 12:30 p.m., it started to rain. Walter put us to work cleaning the boat and checking safety equipment while he was interviewed by the local TV station about storm preparations. Henri took a different route, and we were unscathed by rains and winds.

Approximate miles; 0; Engine hours: 0.

Day 4

We left Troy at about 7:30 a.m. It was raining, and the southbound current was still strong, but that would boost our speed. Frequent trees, logs and other debris were in the river, so we needed to keep a sharp eye out. Dave, an IT techy, had a chart plotter app on his tablet that showed where our boat was in live time. This was useful in the Hudson, where our position is not always clear on a paper chart, which we used as a backup.

We saw the camouflaged World War II destroyer escort, USS Slater, passing Albany. We also began to see small tankers and barges on the river. At 1:25 p.m., we passed under the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, after which Dave cooked up some burgers on the propane grill before we passed under the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie. By 4:45 p.m., we were under the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge (route I-84); and at 5 p.m., we docked at the River Front Marina in Newburgh, N.Y.

The marina and a few restaurants were nestled between busy mainline freight train tracks and the river’s western edge. On the opposite eastern side, tracks appeared to be devoted to passenger/commuter trains. Half of the restaurants were closed, but we found a Japanese restaurant named Akasaka to grab supper. A mega yacht, the Bella Vita, was docked on the outer edge of the marina, having come up the Hudson to avoid Henri.

Approximate miles, 100; Engine hours: nine.

Day 5

The following day, we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise before heading out around 7:45 a.m. after Dave and Walter re-stepped the mast so our radar would be back in operation. Once we left Newburg, heading south down the winding valley of the Hudson River, we were passing West Point by 9 a.m. and the Bear Mountain Bridge by 11 a.m. We passed under the new Tappan Zee Bridge, known as the Mario Cuomo Bridge (I-87), and, at 1 p.m, finally reached New York City, passing under the George Washington Bridge (I-95).

After following instructions to “turn west at the big Colgate clock,” we located the Liberty Island Marina in Jersey City. Walter and Dave took the ferry that left the marina to go to Manhattan, returning a few hours later. Then Walter and I walked over to the 9/11 Memorial, on Liberty Island, directly across the Hudson, from the Freedom Tower where the Twin Towers once stood.

Of course, both restaurants at the marina were closed, but Dave cooked three steaks he’d gotten in Whitehall and grilled asparagus. It was a super meal enjoyed with a fantastic view of Manhattan.

Approximate miles, 70; Engine hours: seven

Day 6

We were up early again, at the fuel dock by 7:30 a.m. This was our first refueling of the trip, and crunching the numbers produced a wondrous 4.5 gallons-per-hour (including the generator) – a massive difference from the Hatteras’s 30 gallons-per-hour average. Then, once again, we were underway, circling the Statue of Liberty, then crossing the harbor south of Battery Park, where the huge Staten Island Ferry crossed our path. Then we headed north up the East River (under Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, Queensboro, and Triborough bridges – and past the U.N.).

After we turned eastward and passed under the Hell’s Gate railroad bridge, we were in Long Island Sound before we knew it. We had a fair tide through Hell’s Gate and transited at 12 knots. From there, it was just a matter of following the online chart to Mattituck, N.Y., on Long Island. After entering Mattituck Creek and passing multiple marinas on the way, we docked at Strong’s Water Club marina. You guessed it – the marina restaurant was closed, but Lucia’s, which served excellent Latin food, was only a half-mile away. The walk back helped work off the calories. It had been another long day.

Approximate miles, 90; engine hours: 10

Day 7

We left the Mattituck dock early and headed out into Long Island Sound. Soon we saw the New London, Conn., to Orient Point, N.Y. ferry cross our course. We were in the race just after noon, which transitions the Long Island Sound to Block Island Sound. (We also saw dolphins and a shark.) By 3:45 p.m., we had reached and docked at Champlin’s Marina in Block Island, R.I.’s New Harbor. For the first time during our trip, we had no problem finding a place to eat supper.

Approximate miles, 100; engine hours:, 8

Day 8

It was Aug. 8, 2021, and our goal was to get through the Cape Cod Canal with the tide. At 5 a.m., we pulled away from Block Island with another beautiful sunrise decorating the sky. By 7:30 a.m., we were south of Newport, and, by 11:50, we had passed the Mass Maritime Academy and were in the canal with a favorable tide.

By 12:45 p.m., we were out of the Cape Cod Canal and in Cape Cod Bay, on the home stretch. As we chugged along, Walter’s friends MacDara and Neil, who had also been following our journey online, came out in their boat to welcome us back to Massachusetts. Over the next couple of hours, we passed Minot’s Ledge Light, and then were in Boston Harbor, and docking at our marina in Charlestown by 6:30 p.m. We’d beat the setting sun by less than an hour. This was truly a long day, but it was also an excellent end to a great trip.

Approximate miles, 110; engine hours: 13

Total miles for the journey: 590 Total hours: 63

Blue Moon is shrink-wrapped now, systems have been winterized, and heating systems are in place for another winter at Constitution Marina. Walter is looking forward to summer 2022 and cruising without diesel-consumption worries with the fuel-miserly Blue Moon. Many thanks to Dave for his time, cooking, advice, skill, and experience during the trip. And much gratitude to my son for signing on the old guy for an experience that falls in the category of “once in a blue moon.”

Walter Jr. worked in the insurance industry most of his life, owned a Sea Snark sailboat in the `70s, and has been married to Walter III’s mom for 60 years. Walter III says, “Dad wrote the article; I added the boaty stuff.” Walter III has owned a 28-foot Carver, a 43-foot Wellcraft, a 49-foot Gulfstar, a 60-foot Hatteras, a 63-foot Hatteras, and now he’s the skipper of Blue Moon. He worked for Boston Harbor Cruises during and after college and today spends his working hours with the Massachusetts Dept of Environmental Protection.