Valley Boy

The early morning air was redolent with the tang of low tide on the Hudson River as I steered upriver, bound for Lake Ontario via the Erie and Oswego canals. I’d gotten underway shortly after dawn to ride the flood tide north. The Manhattan skyline towered above me to starboard. Behind me the green-hued Statue of Liberty looked grand in the soft sunlight. The sounds of bustling Manhattan and Jersey City carried over the river and seemed to meet in the middle–—an incessant low-key thrum punctuated with the roar of jets.

I had just begun this solo inland passage aboard my Bristol 24, Elizabeth. It was an adventure I’d dreamed about for a long time. The Big Apple was simply the first bite of this cruise. I savored it, knowing this urban scenery would soon give way to a more bucolic backdrop on a river often referred to as the Rhine of America.

Stretching 315 miles from the Battery to its headwaters at Lake Tear of the Clouds high in the Adirondack Mountains, the Hudson River is an estuary for nearly half its length. The tides reach 153 miles upriver to Troy, New York, traveling up a valley gouged out by Ice Age glaciers that carved the bluffs and mountains along the river’s shores. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the river became a hub of maritime commerce, a vital link between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. The Hudson is still busy. As you sail north or south, oceangoing ships accompany you all the way to Albany or New York Harbor.

In its lower reaches, the Hudson is home to marinas on both shores that offer easy access to the Big Apple’s attractions. Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City is a popular stop, where you can hop a water taxi to Manhattan or take a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The adjacent Liberty State Park, with its science center and picturesque promenade, Liberty Walk, is a fun family destination.

As the morning progressed, a gentle breeze from the south riffled the smooth water, gradually freshening enough for me to unfurl the genny and kill the engine. The Palisades dominated the view on the Jersey side of the river, its furrowed facades rising steeply from the water’s edge. Roughly 25 nautical miles north of the Battery, the river widens into the Tappan Zee, named for the Tappan Indians that once lived there and for the Dutch word “zee,” which means sea.

Passing under the impressive Tappan Zee Bridge, completed in 1955, I entered the widest section of the Hudson. The broad waters spread out, shimmering in a deep shade of blue. Verdant hills lined the shores, and off the bow to starboard the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse, a stubby sparkplug, stood as a reminder of the days when 14 lights guided merchant vessels around the river’s more dangerous shoals. The lighthouses date back to 1826, when the Stony Point Lighthouse went into operation.

Also off the starboard bow was Tarrytown, with a marina just north of the bridge. The town was once known as Millionaire’s Colony, because it attracted some of the wealthiest Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. Approximately 85 estates were built in Tarrytown, which boasted the largest concentration of wealth of any community of similar size in the world. Tarrytown was also the home of author Washington Irving, famous for his short stories, including “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” featuring lanky Ichabod Crane and the infamous Headless Horseman. Irving’s home, Sunnyside, is open for tours, as is the Gothic Revival mansion, Lyndhurst, that once belonged to railroad tycoon Jay Gould.

Sailing north of Tarrytown brought me into scenic Haverstraw Bay. I let the wind carry me along, albeit very slowly, as the ebb tide had begun to run. A tug and barge passed me to port, the tug’s engine clearly audible as the tow came abeam. The scene inspired thoughts of the past when steamboats and broad-beamed Hudson River sloops plied these waters. Rounding Croton Point, I made my way to the bight on the north side, right off the beach at Croton Point Park, where I dropped the hook and enjoyed the sunset.

Haverstraw Bay is home to several excellent marinas and yacht clubs, including the resort-like Haverstraw Marina in West Haverstraw, with 1,000 slips, an upscale restaurant and an Olympic-size pool. Near Croton Point Park is Half Moon Bay Marina, situated within walking distance of shops and restaurants in Croton-on-Hudson.

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