Approaching Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, I saw masts behind the breakwater, and hoped I was able to anchor in what looked like a nice, well protected place to park a boat after being at sea for 28 days. I really only chose this anchorage as my first landing point from Antigua because Stefan recommended it, and I didn't have much other information on anywhere else. After the stress of being fog bound since 3am, I finally had some visibility, and so sat on the bow, the tiller lashed with a bungie cord. On arrival, I looped around three boats at anchor, trying to get a lay of the land, and then dropped the hook with 30ft of chain. I thought I'd be relieved, able to relax, but instead, I just started hopping around the boat in a mild frenzy. Already it seemed as if the past month was a distant memory. Birds, dorados, squalls and eddy's had been replaced by trying to find the closest diner to get a Californian Deluxe hamburger and caesar salad with extra chicken. Phillip rowed over to congratulate me with a banana ('I bet that's the first piece of fresh food you've had in a while!') and a cold beer. I ate the banana and drank the beer in alternating mouthfuls, and borrowed Phillip's dinghy to row into shore for the aforementioned feast. The woman at the diner was flattered that she was only the second person I'd spoken to in nearly a month, and was equally impressed by my appetite. The burger was bliss, the salad enormous, and the root beer just as I'd remembered. The tennis was playing on a TV in the back, I flipped through the New York Times, and blended in perfectly with the crowd. For the first time on my entire trip, I felt a little smug, maybe even a little chuffed at how far I'd come. I didn't feel a lot after the Atlantic; I'll admit to being excited, but I didn't have much of a sense of achievement. This felt somewhat different, and I celebrated with another mug of root beer, and three coffees each filled to the brim with those tiny little milks you receive a plate full of.
Buzzing up main street, Atlantic Highlands, I rang the 1-800 number you're instructed to, regarding Customs & Immigration. Quietly I was rather amazed, that after all the hoopla concerning security, that I'd just sailed into US waters, rowed ashore and eaten American beef without a single person batting an eyelid. I was instructed to visit Port Newark to clear in, and walked back to the boat, wondering where and how to get there. There are two things you can't survive without in America: A car and a cell phone. Public transport is not exactly as accessible as in Europe, and the Verizon public phones never work, if of course you can find one. Approaching the marina on the walk back, I decided to break my curiosity, and ask a man with his dog sitting on the bench. He looked at me quizzically, and instead of telling me where Port Newark was, barraged me with a long set of questions. I was a little confused, since I was the one supposed to be asking the questions. He then flat out refused to believe my story. As in, 'I do not believe you sailed across the Atlantic in a 26ft boat, you're lying'. Rather bemused, I sat down and took out my paperwork. Handing over my British registry certificate, he was still skeptical. He then asked for my passport, and showed me his badge: Of all the people on the planet to ask, I had just found an off-duty Special Customs Agent. I handed over my passport, and eventually he warmed to my story, and we introduced. He offered to drive me into Port Newark in the morning, and showed me his house, so I wouldn't get lost the next morning.
Back on Constellation, my brother whom I hadn't seen for over two years, rode a speed-cat over from Manhattan, and on epic row to the ferry dock, the Canadian yacht Mistletoe took pity on my plight, and offered me their motor dinghy. I zoomed over, found my long lost brother, and zoomed back. In the meantime, the lovely crew of Mistletoe put together a bag of beer, pasta, fruit and a huge freshly cooked steak of just-caught stripe bass. Catching up with my brother over beer and bass, I gave the grand tour of Constellation, which really isn't very grand, and can be done by sitting on any of the bunks: As the Norwegians in the Canaries noted, the great thing about such a tiny boat is, you can sit anywhere while cooking, navigating and almost helming without moving from your seat!
The following morning, I rowed my brother back to the ferry for his return-to-work, and I ran up the street for my lift into Port Newark. My new friend in Atlantic Highlands absolutely took me under his wing, and caught me puffing up the street on his way to find me. We stopped at a roadside store for coffee and a Buffalo Donut, which was so incredible and utterly decadent, all I could mutter was 'that was an impressive donut', to which at a later date he could not help but recall in dapper Australian English, my ridiculous comment to his entire family at the dinner table.
Entering the large Customs & Immigration building in Port Newark, it turned out the man behind the desk and my generous host had long standing mutual friends, and so everything ran exceptionally smoothly, the fee waived and my cruising permit extended for a full year. After the quick clear-in procedure, I was dropped off at Newark trainstation to take a quick visit into Manhattan. As I exited the train near the World Trade Centre, I wondered what had just happened. Everything had been so quiet and distant for so long, and I'd just walked into one of the largest and most notorious cities on the planet. Like a stunned mullet, I walked up the streets and finally found a cafe with no one in it, and recuperated in the corner. A few more corners, and I was ready to go home.
I'd vowed to leave the next day for Coney Island, but on my row back, I suddenly remembered I hadn't really slept properly for 28 days. I got back to the boat and passed out for 14 hours. The next day I swapped out a dirty fuel filter, and was invited for dinner by the Agent, resulting in a warm family dinner, which was nice to be part of after all the solo adventuring.
Photo by Tony Leigh
Motoring into Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island, through fog and across Ambrose channel, the ferris wheels and hotdog billboards not far behind me, a sailing instructor sailed past and offered to let me use the showers at the Miramar sailing club. The invitation was heartily accepted, and I finally had my first real shower since the Canary Islands, months ago. At anchor, a long lost friend and my brother visited again, at which we indulged in the small stock Spanish beer stores hidden in the bilge, and bowls of New England Clam Chowder with marinated mussels, from the famous Clam Bar on Emmons Ave.
I could get used to all this.