Saturday, November 17, 2012

You don’t get to choose who you sit with – for 7 hours at a time

[Maryanne]With all the distractions lately, I realized today I'd not told Kyle my most recent travel story. Once I shared it with him, he insisted I share and is still chuckling at my pain.. Hmmm... Enjoy.

Ah, flying alone, and on standby; when the time comes for the gate agent to confirm there is space and actually allocate your seat, you don’t mind there are no choices: Aisle or window?, front or back of the plane? – No, you are simply ecstatic to have a seat. You are finally (reasonably confident that you are) going to get where you want to be heading.

On my recent flight for a weekend break in Manchester England, Friday evening at Newark Airport was spent in this apprehensive mode (not helped by the fact that hurricane Sandy was also headed towards our home and I had no idea what I might be returning back to even if I did make the flight). Finally my name was called, I was handed a ticket with a seat assignment, and was chased down the jet-way to board NOW. I’d been given a middle seat, not surprising since the flight was full. On reaching my row I found a slender middle-aged woman sat in the aisle and the window seat empty. So far, so good.

I took my middle seat and made pleasantries with my new neighbor. She was so jolly and chatty that she hardly needed to explain that she’d had plenty of pills and alcohol before the flight ‘to help her sleep’. She busied herself ‘helping’ me; recommending movies I should watch, etc. I liked her, but was glad to know she was unlikely to maintain that particular level of energy and ‘helpfulness’ for long.

Eventually the occupier of the window seat to my left arrived. She declined to speak, glared until we realized she was in our row and we moved to accommodate her entrance. She promptly sat in her seat, turned her back to us and seemed to sleep. Fine by me!

With the plane up in the air and at a steady altitude the beverage cart was pushed through the aisle to offer drinks. My left hand neighbour was suddenly alert and interested. She picks up her handbag and pulls out her plastic bag of liquids. For some reason this bag includes a toothbrush and the bag seal has opened. She is distraught. This toothbrush had a cover on it – where is it gone? My neighbor to my right attempts to help, suggesting it has fallen out and will be in the bottom of the bag? No, she insists, it was very secure; they’ve probably used it to get DNA samples. Luckily we are rescued with the flight attendant offering her a beverage: Yes, she’d want a coffee (neglecting any please or thank you). When the male flight attendant asked if she wanted it black, all of us were amazed at her response.

‘No, I don’t like blacks, they are awful people and I hate them… I have a cousin that’s dating a black guy, but she’s Catholic, so that explains that, but there is no way I want anything black.’ Politely the flight attendant asked again (pretending perhaps he hadn’t heard her) – black or white madam? Defiantly, she repeated her mini-speech word for word and received her coffee with milk. So shocked was my chatty, friendly neighbour to my right that she stopped talking to anyone, put on her headset and kept her eyes planted on the movie screen. My aloof neighbour to my left now decided she wanted to chat to me. I had no choice in this matter it seemed, she would just keep talking whatever my response. When I raised the courage to say I felt her comments were racist and inappropriate, she proceeded to give me anecdotal stories of how blacks on the street just harass her now she’s divorced. “Don’t you find it too?” she asks, by now knowing I also lived in New Jersey,.. er, no!!. She seemed convinced ‘they’ somehow knew she was single and continued to explain how they grope and pester he everywhere she goes now (supermarket, anywhere). I really found this hard to believe, but I’m also travelling on a non-rev ticket. I can hardly say what I really want to say to this woman, so I’m trying to be tactful without consenting.

Eventually her story of harassment get so fanciful I’m convinced she is just making it up to entertain herself and see what reactions she gets…. I laugh and ask if ‘Candid Camera’ is about to pop up. She seems confused. Oh boy, we are hardly 30 minutes into the flight.

Next I had to hear about her divorce. Allegedly her and her husband had a business together and the divorce and the business separation had been very entangled. He’d fought her all the way despite the fact she gave him everything. He kept her mother’s best china, everything. I was sympathetic and decided to nod and ooh, and ahh in the appropriate places as one must do with a divorcee telling their tale of woe. The story again became fanciful, apparently her business had been broken into several times – her office being right opposite the NY Stock exchange and ‘nobody noticed anything’. This, to her, had two logical leaps – firstly they were all in on it (yes, NY Stock market security were buddies with her husband), and then in a completely opposite tangent – they are useless at security “it’s no wonder ‘they’ flew planes into the twin towers with security like that”. Help! How does one even respond to such loony statements? Throughout our conversation I keep changing my tactics to indicate I’m done chatting. I try pretending to sleep. I try headsets and a movie, none work – she continues to pester until I respond. I don’t know how to respond and remain sane. This must be a big joke?

I can’t recall how the next level of craziness began, maybe a movie scene, who knows. But midgets were the next topic. Apparently they are ‘everywhere you look now-a-days’. ‘It’s as if the circus is in town’ she tells me. Really? I hadn’t noticed, I tell her. (pointless, but I tried). She keeps telling me how she doesn’t mind midgets, she even used to employ one, but of course she had to stand on a box. Please help, I’m thinking; so unaccustomed to the topic I’m not sure what the politically correct term even is? Little People? Dwarfs? Midgets? The point is probably moot.

She changes topic and talks about the local pharmaceutical companies and how you can’t trust them. I wasn’t even aware of any locally, but can’t say there aren’t any. Then, in an amazing leap, she links the pharmaceuticals and the apparent influx of midgets. You know they don’t get cancer, don’t you? She pleads… (No, I don’t know that and it certainly doesn’t seem likely I tell her). Oh, yes, that is probably why they are all here, the pharmaceuticals are using them to experiment on; like the Nazis. ‘I think that is so cruel don’t you?’ she pleads.. Seriously? How does one respond? She really now has convinced herself that the pharmaceuticals have captured and are holding against their will 100’s of little people, and yet also allow them out to be seen by her on a daily basis, and experiment on them without their permission, most likely at night while they sleep. Seriously!

Every time the flight attendants pass I plead with my eyes for them to notice me and rescue me. Nothing.

Eventually I begin convinced again that my neighbour is deliberately escalating the craziness for her own entertainment, but I can’t get her to leave the story. She seems insulted I don’t believe her.

Again I attempt to change the subject and ask her why she is going to the UK? Apparently, she is trying to reconnect with old friends that she lost contact with while she was married. She can’t trust Facebook as she suspects her husband is pretending to be her friends to lure her into conversations and sharing information, so she is just going to arrive at their doorstep and knock on the doors of her friends. I’m sure they’ll be so pleased to see her.

Conversations continue to rapidly move into crazy and insulting. There seems no topic or group beyond her scorn. Eventually I decide that despite my status on the plane as a non-revenue passenger, I’m going to have to be rude to stop this woman. I explain that she is very negative, and her prejudices are ugly and unnecessary. Perhaps this explains why she currently struggles to find/keep friends, and if she doesn't mind, I'd like to sleep now. This seems to succeed although I feel terrible for saying it (believe me she drove me to such rudeness). It only worked for 2 minutes though, as she eventually responded by telling me that I too had no friends (apparently I can’t trust the friends I have to be telling the truth, nor to be there if I really need them), and my husband was probably plain and boring and disliked me. I should be planning for the inevitable divorce (she even offered legal advice), and a whole host of retaliatory statements. My plan did not work. She keeps talking and now I’m the subject of her rage. I decide to just not respond to anything. She keeps talking and I have no choice but to listen.

It was a long flight. Eventually we exit the plane; both seeming relieved that we can finally put distance between us, we go our separate ways. I’ve not slept, I’m exhausted, but now excited to meet with my friend Annie. My flight lands in the early morning and customs and immigration are a breeze. I’m ready 30 minutes before I’ve suggested Annie meet with me, so I hang out at the airport and think to buy her morning paper. As I enter the newsagent, I see her, that woman I’ve sat next to all night. She is finishing up her transaction, sees me, and despite my nod, pretends not to and exits quickly. Whew. When I go to pay for the newspaper there is just me and the cashier in the store. I express my relief at not having to chat – ‘I’ve just spent over 7 hours sat next to that woman’ I tell her. The cashier responds that she’d just received a homophobic lecture from the woman herself. Really – is there any group she feels the need to tell the whole world are so awful to her? Wow.

Oh – and it turns out there is indeed a recent report of an Ecuadorian community of Laron dwarfs who seem to have extremely low incidences of cancer! Go figure.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

After Hurricane Sandy..


Tuesday, Oct. 30th

Knowing that the morning high tide was supposed to be seven feet lower as the surge continued to decrease and that the wind was slowly dying down, I slept well for the first time in days. I didn’t stir until almost noon. Even then, I took my time with coffee and cooking. It was almost dark by the time I finally stepped off of the boat.

Marina Damage - after Hurricane Sandy

Following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to Maryanne:


I walked over to Hoboken tonight. It's pretty weird. None of that part of town or this part of Weehawken has power. A few buildings have generators running. The one across from the deli has every single light on above the first floor. It seems kind of obscene to me. Most of the others only seem to have power in the lobby, so people are clustered around in ad hoc communities looking like refugees. Every outlet has a cell phone charger. Some apartments have candles going or lanterns. Without TV, a lot of people seem to be walking around for entertainment.

I walked to the Hoboken Yacht Club. They did not fare too well. All of their docks are ruined. One is still draped over the tops of its pilings. All of the boats are surprisingly intact. Both of the derelict piers on this side of Taco Truck Pier and the waterway pier completely collapsed and went from being 8 feet above sea level to 1/2 submerged. At the mooring field in Weehawken Bay, only one boat was lost. It ended up on the path after taking out a lamppost. It's still attached to its mooring. I am so surprised the others made it, although there is some shredding of sails and covers.

The damage here at the marina is much worse than I thought. We were really lucky. Most of A dock came off of the pilings. It's still in place, but most of its rollers have been ripped off. The boat on the end sank. B, C, and D docks seem to be okay. F dock took a lot of damage on the end toward the entrance. The last three floats broke through the end plates on their end pilings and broke free. The boat on the end drifted into the next float. It pulled free and hit the next boat, etc. the boats on the end are big and steel. They seem fine. The fixed dock just outside it is basically gone.

E dock was basically okay. Every single one of the wooden pilings between docks (which we don't have) is bent 20 degrees to the south. The eastern half of the hammerhead by the fuel barge, where they tied up the River Princess, sank. I think it must have jammed on the top of the pilings and filled with water.

Missing you,

(And love)


Sent from my iPhone”

Post Sandy scenes from a walk south to Hoboken water front

It was strange. Most of the city south of midtown was black. There was destruction everywhere, yet Begonia and almost all of the other boats in the marina were fine. Our boats were all independent little islands. We had heat, food, power and water. We were very lucky to have made it through.

Wednesday, Oct 31st

I spent the whole day taking the bike completely apart, drying it, cleaning it, greasing it and then putting it back together again.

Maryanne had somehow managed to get the next to last seat on the first flight coming to Newark after the airport was reopened. All public transport, except the ferries was still suspended until further notice due to flooding and damage. She took a cab home. The guy was surprised she wanted him to leave her by a dark pier far from any houses or apartments. It was really good to have her home and be back together again.

Thursday, Nov 1st

The buses were running again between midtown and us. Maryanne went back to work. I took the bike out to see how everybody was fairing. It was amazing. Although it had only been three days and the power was still out in most places, workmen had already begun fixing paving stones and propping trees back up. Streets and paths had already been cleared of most of their rubble. People were airing out or throwing away ruined stuff from their lower floors.

Further to the north at the grocery store where we usually shop, the power had just come back on and they were doing a brisk business in everything that wasn’t refrigerated. They were lucky enough to be just above the high-water mark.

At the marina, part of C dock that was resting on top of its piling was fixed. The River Princess’ broken pilings were removed and the office was being cleared out.

That night after Maryanne came home and we had dinner, we went for a walk so she could see the damage for the first time. We took a few of our power strips to the buildings with generators running so they could increase their socket count for chargers. Most people we met seemed to be holding up okay. There’s so much destruction that people seem much better about waiting for their turn to get power or heat than you’d expect. They know it’s bad everywhere and it could be a lot worse for them. It could be for all of us, really.

Hurricane Sandy

[Kyle]I know a lot of people have been concerned about how we fared. Here’s the story starting a few days before:

Friday, Oct 26th

Maryanne left Begonia for work with bags packed for a long weekend trip to Manchester, UK. Her plan was to get a flight after work and then return early on Tuesday. She was off to visit her friend Annie, who works for the schools, and was off for half term. It was also Annie’s Birthday, so that was even more reason to go. Maryanne also had a few things to do over there that were just a lot easier to do in person.

After she left, I was went through my usual Internet rounds over morning coffee. Being a pilot, sailor and general weather nerd, I spend a lot of time with forecasts and observations. I was aware of Hurricane Sandy, but up until then it was considered more likely to either hit the Carolinas as a weak tropical storm or curve northeastward out to sea.

The forecast had now changed dramatically. Sandy was strengthening over the Bahamas, wreaking havoc there, and was now forecast to merge with a Nor’easter and hit New York City directly as a weak Hurricane or strong Tropical Storm. The predictions were sounding pretty bad. All throughout the morning, I went back and forth wondering weather I should call Maryanne and ask her to cancel her trip. In 2003, she had cancelled a long planned trip to the UK so we could ride out Hurricane Isabel and I was still feeling a little guilty about it. {Maryanne: And I was doing the same thing from the office, wondering if it was wise to even go to the UK}

At that point, I wasn’t certain whether the safest course of action would be to evacuate Begonia from the marina as far as we could get up the Hudson, preferably as far as Albany, or hunker down in the marina. In Albany, the predicted storm surge would be less and the storm would also be weakened, meaning less wind. If we did this, we would have to motor upwind all day every day until the storm arrived and I would need her help. My concern with this option was that the river during the storm would be too deep and fast moving to trust being able to safely anchor; all the 'best' places would be long taken, and the storm was huge and headed in that direction anyway! I was also worried about the potential of being struck by floating debris. I wasn’t sure either if there would be any suitably protected docks that were useable at such a high water state.

As the first surge forecasts came in, the prediction for NY was five to ten feet, with Weehawken likely to be in the range of four to six feet. I determined our current state of tide and then went out to measure the piling to which our floating dock was attached. At the highest tide predicted for the storm before adding in a storm surge, we had six feet before the rollers on the dock would reach the bottom of the blue end cap on the piling. Begonia was well secured to the dock so as long as the docks didn’t come off of the top of the pilings, we should be safe. The marina had much better protection inside from wind, waves and floating debris than the open river. All that would be needed was to take down our jib and cockpit awning and remove loose items from outside. I eventually decided that the slightly safer course of the two actions was to stay put in the marina. The marina staff were certainly not concerned and were taking in boats from more exposed moorings for the storm. The most likely risk to the boat might be debris blocking the drains, and the boat sinking from the weight of rain water - at least I could be aboard to address that risk.

I knew Maryanne really wanted to go to the UK. I eventually decided (barely – call it 50.1%) that I would have enough time to batten down myself and there was no point in us both pacing back and forth worrying about the storm afterwards. I told her I thought it would be okay for her to go, if she was okay with the idea that she may get stuck there for a while when flights back are cancelled. She flew off and I stayed back to get ready.

Saturday, Oct. 27th

I spent the day following the forecasts and battening down in deceptively nice weather. The surge forecast for NY harbor was now four to eight feet, with a specific forecast at the Battery to be 3.8 feet above normal at Monday morning’s high tide.

Sunday, October 28th

By morning, tides were already a foot and a half above normal. I double checked my piling measurements and came up with the same result as before; we'd still be fine. The latest forecasts were predicting the storm to be even stronger than previous ones had, although it was also speeding up, which might reduce the surge or keep it from falling on the highest tide of all on Tuesday morning. Surge forecasts were getting more detailed. We had a 50% chance of more than three feet, 10%-20% more than six feet and less than 5% of more than seven feet. If the surge got to seven feet, the rollers would be past the bottom of the end cap right at the top of the piling.

I waited impatiently for each new forecast, which was issued every six hours. My stomach was constantly in a knot with dread about what could happen. Each one was worse than the one before, which was a trend I didn’t like. By the afternoon forecast, our chances were now 50% of a surge five to seven feet and 30% more than seven feet, Our chances didn’t decrease to 5% until eleven feet. High tide at the Battery was now predicted to be 4.6 feet above normal. They were now predicting Sandy to be a 100 or 200-year storm. It was already way too late to move the boat.

The water was already noticeably very high. At high tide, it was no longer practical to get off of the docks. The gangplanks, which normally acted as ramps down to the docks, were sloping up, requiring a pretty big jump at the end if going towards the boats or a giant waist-high step to leave.

At low tide, the water was already 2.41 feet above normal. I took advantage of the window of not-so-high water to get out and take a walk to try to burn off some of my nervous energy. Along the way, I noticed something I hadn’t before. The rollers on the docks are mounted on cube shaped boxes with rollers on the top and bottom squares. If the top set of rollers came off, the dock system would be weakened, but there was another foot before the bottom rollers would come off. Also, there was plenty of underwater structure in the dock’s flotation chambers. If all of the rollers came off, it would make a huge mess when the water came back down, but the docks wouldn’t float away, just until they jammed on the pilings. The water would have to be two feet or so deeper still before the docks would completely clear the pilings and we would all be driven aground en masse. I REALLY hated that it was coming down to grasping at these straws for Begonia’s survival.

The subject of whether or not it was safe to leave the boats unattended started to be talked about in the marina. My mother also called me, politely pleading with me to abandon ship. That poor woman, she has seen me go through so many potentially dangerous things. In the end, I decided that even if the docks broke free, Begonia would not likely sink, thus I would not likely drown if I could keep from being blown off of my feet into the water by gusts. The chance of fire or electrocution seemed about the same either way. Well, maybe electrocution was higher, but fire HAD to be less. The thing that pushed me toward staying was knowing that I absolutely wouldn’t be able to stand pacing back and forth in some hotel room not knowing what was happening. I am well aware that there’s not much that can be done at the very height of such a storm: Lines are bar-tight and can’t be adjusted, the boat doesn’t have nearly enough engine power to counter the forces of the storm and leave the dock if necessary, it’s dangerous to even go outside in wind that strong. After watching Footprint destroyed from Enzo’s balcony in Italy, I couldn’t leave Begonia alone. I would rather drift ashore with her than see it happen from a distance.

Monday, Oct. 29th

I slept about five minutes out of every hour overnight. The wind and motion of the boat were increasing. I was too nervous about what was coming. It started to rain. The surge had levelled off briefly at around three feet. The morning high tide was the higher of the two for the day. The fixed dock on the breakwall protecting the marina was being washed over by three-foot waves in the Hudson.

Morning high tide

United Airlines had already cancelled all flights for two more days and New Jersey Transit announced suspension of all public transport until further notice. Across the river, I could see what looked like the whole New York Police Department heading out to begin the evacuation. There were at least two hundred cars with lights and sirens going.

Evening high tide was now predicted to be 12 feet. That’s a 7.22-foot add-on from surge. As a precaution, I moved our folding bicycle from the parking garage to higher ground by the marina office. I went for another walk at a low tide that was higher than the usual high tide. When I got back to the marina, The Captain of a tour boat called the River Princess was evacuating his dock using marina staff as deckhands. Five of the six pilings they were laying against had broken and they were in danger of smashing the break-wall. They managed to get her to the fuel dock even though it was now blowing like crazy.

Moving of River Princess and one of the broken dolphins (pilings)

The River Princess formed the corner of the protective box of the marina. The water was already washing over the breakwall and the waves in the Hudson were now three to four feet. If the swell started coming through the gap as the water rose, Begonia would be THE first boat hit with the waves. I was fairly comfortable that I had enough fenders to protect me against the dock, but I was really worried about the additional up and down motion at the dock rollers. There wasn’t much I could do at that point but hope it would turn out okay.

The last of the people who were leaving their boats left. It was hard to tell who remained because I was all hunkered down in the cabin avoiding the weather, but it seemed there were about six or seven boat owners stayed with their boats.

The tide started coming up just as the storm started getting really bad. Begonia’s wind indicator was now reading continuously in the high 30s with gusts to near 50 knots. At 5pm, the surge was already up to 6.7 feet. Water was coming through the gap left by the River Princess. By 7pm, it was at 7.44 feet with two hours left until high tide. There was a big boom and the marina lost power.

My fears about swell coming in through the gap left by the River Princess never materialized. The big eighty-foot fender they left behind jammed in the hole, acting like a boom, which prevented the swell from entering. The water was surprisingly calm inside. Most of Begonia’s motion was from wind gusts.

Pier building floods

By 8pm, the surge was at 8.52’. We were all braving the outside every couple of minutes to check the water depth. At 8:13, I texted Maryanne reporting that the top roller was even with the top of the piling. It came off at 8:30. I had a quick walk around to see how other parts of the marina were fairing. E dock (our dock) was still pretty secure. Half of D dock had floated clear of its pilings. It appeared to be holding in place so it would just recapture them on the way down. The parking garage on the pier housing the marina offices was flooded. The nearest dry land was far on the opposite side of Harbor Blvd, maybe ¼ mile from the docks. We were marooned. There were starting to be lots of big, blue explosions followed by darkness – transformers blowing out. Just before 9:00, there was a huge flash/explosion in downtown Manhattan and most of the financial district went dark, including the Freedom Tower.

At 9:36, the surge was up to 9.23’ feet. We had three inches before the bottom roller came free. The water level at the Battery reached 13.88 feet and then slowly started to come down. Since we’re upriver, our high tide is just a bit later. The water in the marina rose another inch just as it got too gusty to stay outside. I kept peering fruitlessly through the rain-covered window at the piling and waiting for a bang or a strange motion or anything else that would indicate the docks had let go.

The piling the keeps the finger pier of the dock in place, the one that Begonia is tied to

The graph showing normal tide (blue), actual surge (green), and actual water levels (red) for Hurricane Sandy; Our piling only just was long enough (the water rose another 6" after this photo!

At 9:52, there was a lull in the wind and I went out for a piling check. At 9:55, I reported to Maryanne that the water appeared to have gone down three inches, although I couldn’t be 100% sure because of the motion left over from the wind blast.

I had a quick look around. The garage was flooded to about five feet. The marina office, which is higher, was in two feet of water. The bike was up to its hubs. Then a gust came and it fell down, submerging it. Damn! From the docks, it was strange to be looking down into the office. I was even looking down at the big Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club sign at the entrance to the docks.

At 10:10, I texted Maryanne to say that the water was definitely on the way back down again. We had come down six more inches and the top roller was just even with the top our piling. After it had come down another foot, I knew it was time for a big glass of wine and then to go to bed. It had been a really long day. There had been talk before amongst those who stayed about having a big impromptu party should we survive, but in the end, I think we were all just too spent. By the time we all understood the water was really going back down, we all just gave smiles and friendly waves to each other and disappeared into our boats to collapse.

[Maryanne]From the UK, and with the time difference, I didn't get to bed until about 2:30 am, when I was finally sure both Kyle and Begonia were safe. During the build up I was on the internet checking on things and texting back and forth with Kyle. Not a night I wish to repeat, it all seems so precarious until the very last minute. It was very hard to really believe we were finally safe. Thank goodness we were! It already seemed clear that so many others were not so lucky.