Sailing into New York harbor might be a dream of very sailor I know. Somehow this idea of entering the Lower Bay coming from the Atlantic Ocean, passing the Verrazzano Narrows and finally sailing past the Statue of Liberty, facing the grand Manhattan skyline is burnt into the minds of almost everyone I know who is sailing. Including myself. The American marketing machine, running for over 200 years now, managed to have this image seared into our collective minds. Well, being here now, I took the chance to finally experience this.
A company called Harbor Classic Line runs a variety of ships offering a number of cruising events: From the classic Miss Liberty sailing trip (which I took) to sunset cruises, Champaign tastings and private events. I booked the classic trip to the Statue of Liberty in the afternoon (hoping to avoid a ship full of passengers) aboard the classic schooner AMERICA 2.0 – and I was about to embark on a very, very worthwhile trip.
Boarding the AMERICA 2.0 at Chelsea Piers
The AMERICA 2.0 is not a “classic” ship in the true sense of the word. She was built in 2011 sporting a classy line, yet, many of her features are indeed very modern. Her frame is made of laminated Cedar whereas the passenger´s cabin structure is made of aluminium. The double frame has a Balsa end grain core and the bulkheads as well as other structural elements are made of a very modern aluminium honey comb material. Nevertheless, this boat could have been used as a blockade runner: She wheeped gently in the harbor swell as we boarded.
During the New York season, which lasts until October, her crew consists of four persons running the ship. Our Captain, a sporty, fun and very competent young woman and her three deck hands. After a short safety instruction and the introduction of her fellow crew members, we casted off. Cassic Harbor line is operating out of Chelsea Piers 62 where effortless berthing is possible, so we just went aft – by the way, without any Diesel fumes or annoying engine sounds as AMERICA 2.0 is driven by electric propulsion.
As our Captain brought the ship onto her due course, I used the chance to discover AMERICA 2.0 from below. Unfortunately just the aft part of the ship was allowed to see. A nicely done classic saloon with two adjoining heads, a large dinner table and navigation station. It smelled still brand new, Mahogany and saltwater, the magic potion. Our boat steamed gently down the Hudson river, as on deck I heard the guys getting ready to set sails.
A special sailing Adventure
Together with us some 20 other tourists from all over the world had booked a ticket aboard AMERICA 2.0 – I heard French, Italian, English of course and, inevitable, German. Slowly the ship steamed along the Manhattan skyline. No wind in sight so far, but the crew took off the sail covers and got their lines ready. I guess these guys know their waters and local winds pretty well. Just five minutes later a fresh wind from the North began to blow off some of our sweat whereas other just started to become sweaty.
The crew advised us passengers to sit down as two guys grabbed the halyards of the main sails. The schooner is gaff-rigged and both spars as well as the cloth appeared to be heavy weight. Well, not so fast: The sails went up in a matter of 2 minutes max, thanks to modern self tailing winches, ropes and lightweight sails.
After both main sails had been set, the crew hauled in the booms. There wasn´t enough wind yet and our Captain kept the boat sailing close to the shore line. In this, we were able to enjoy a breathtaking view onto the skyline of downtown Manhattan whilst the crew served ice cold drinks. What I liked most was the fact the beer, for example, served aboard was a local brew IPA – as with virtually everything in New York experienced on this trip, everybody tries to act with an environmental and local conscience.
Saling the Downtown Manhattan Skyline
It indeed is very special to sail on the Hudson river! I mean, it must be even a notch up when you do it with your own boat and maybe even better after you´ve completed a transatlantic voyage, but still, switching off the engine and slowly gliding past those huge skyscrapers has its own magic.
After a perfectly executed gybe AMERICA 2.0 had her headsails raised and our Captain started to head for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Sailing downwind our boat wasn´t faster than 4 knots I´d imagine, but speed wasn´t the one thing we all came aboard in the first place. Harbor Ferries, two big-ass cruise ships, a carrier hulk and a dozen Skee-Doos were buzzing all around us, a sign of the lively activity in front of Manhattan.
We met and greeted the other classic sailing ships you could book a trip aboard, like the SHEARWATER, waved at each other and maybe ordered another locally brewed IPA. The view onto Manhattan grew even more fascinating my the minute: Free sight onto Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges with even a glimpse onto Williamsburg Bridge. The fantastic new skyline of Brooklyn which 10 years ago when I came here the last time wasn´t there at all: A reminder that this city indeed never sleeps and keeps on changing.
Paying a visit to Lady Liberty
Finally, after roughly one hour or lush sailing, the highlight of our cruise was about to happen: The Statue of Liberty! I´ve been here multiple times, even yesterday when we walked all the way up to Ellis Island by feet from Hoboken, but this place indeed has its own magic that words can hardly describe.
Seeing this statue not a few of my fellow passengers had tears in their eyes. As I mentioned it, the “American Marketing” machine kind of achieved to stamp this image into our collective brains. We gybed two times in front of Miss Liberty, everybody took their pictures, countless selfies and streams started. Bearing off, finally, we went onto an upwind point of sail and things started to become a bit more interesting, sailing-wise.
AMERICA 2.0 picked up speed, we indeed also heeled a little tiny bit. Feeling the refreshing headwind, our mighty bowsprit pointed towards the southern tip of Manhattan: A view I imagined so often in my dreams, a view anticipated by so many sailors and surely so welcomed by countless immigrants who arrived to the U.S. over the past decades. I am European by heart and I will stay European, but I must admit this is something that indeed sends shivers down my spine!
Is it worth it?
If you are in New York or planning your next holiday, is this worth it? I booked my AMERICA 2.0 sailing trip via GetYourGuide.com and the budget spent was around 90 Dollars. For more than two hours of lush sailing, a great time chatting with the crew, the first drink included and almost 100 great pictures taken with my camera, I´d say this is indeed worth it! I can imagine this sailing tour being much more adventurous with more wind and also maybe more beautiful during the sunset-hours, but I enjoyed this afternoon trip very, very much.
So, if you happen to be in New York, pay a tribute to Miss Liberty, book your sailing trip aboard one of the two very beautiful classic schooners operated by Classic Harbor Line of New York and dive into the history and magic of the Big Apple from a whole new perspective. By the way, AMERICA 2.0 will proceed to sail around Manhattan up until late October, after which she will be sailing down south to Florida where you can enjoy this boat on unforgettable trips until she returns in spring again.
Other articles you might find interesting:
Visiting the Brooklyn Navy Yard
A true American sailing hero: Joshua Slocum
Duran Duran´s Simon LeBon aboard DRUM