Fortunately, a tugboat made itself available for landlubber sightseeing.
We would view New York Harbor as we had never viewed it before. And believe me, we had viewed it before plenty of times. Once, even, on a tugboat, in fog so dense you could have been sailing in any harbor.
Walking to the South Street Seaport, along Peck Slip, you could almost inhale the atmosphere of past days when the first ferry in the city opened and you had to pay three wampum beads to get on. You got the attention of the ferryman by blowing a shell horn. The cobblestones may not be the originals, but they’re close to it. People steal them so the powers that be are always having to replace them.
The last surviving New York-built wooden tugboat, W. O. Decker, may have charm and historic panache, but something it lacks is an array of handholds to grip when you hit the swells. Before we climbed aboard, we got a briefing from Fern Hoffman, the captain. She got her accreditation from the Coast Guard, which she told me is like the DMV for sailing.
The Deckers have a long history of tugboat building. The W.O. Decker was built in 1930 in Queens. Apparently the family is still in the business. The tug was built for shifting barges and for local towing.
Things got tricky almost immediately. You had to descend a gangway to one ship, then cross one ship’s deck, climb a step and clamber down into the tug. You could see the harbor water down between the two vessels. It would be a good way to crush a leg or two. I balked, but the deckhands gave me a boost and we were good to go.
One of the deckhands, noting that I was a bit rocky, advised that it would be good to stay at the bow of the ship, so as not to feel the waves with as much violence. You can sit on the “bits,” I think she said, pointing to some metal knobs jutting up from the deck.
Yes, but. I would prefer not to, in the words of Bartleby. I’d rather stay glued to the bulkhead.
The Statue obliged as we cruised by. White sails, a tall ship, dozens of jet skis driven by the clinically insane.
So did Lower Manhattan.
This view pretty much defines chockablock.
It was good to take a breather in the saloon, and I wanted to abscond with one of the cups hanging from a beam but refrained.
I would have liked to unroll the nautical charts stashed in the bridge.
A woman at the wheel.
She really pulled that thing, backing into the harbor as we got home.
Nicely done, said Gil.
There’s still time to mess up, she said with a grin.
I knew what she was talking about. But I needn’t have worried. My egress from the boat was 100 times more graceful than the onboard had been. Back on Peck Slip, I ruminated on a lesson I’d learned somewhere along the way: Walking on cobblestones improves your balance.