Introduction to a Storied Seaway

Introduction to a Storied Seaway

For a long time no one but the origina l Indi an inhabitants of the region seemed to know it was there.

Giovanni da Yerrazzano dropped anchor in New York Harbor on his way along the North American coas.t in 1524; dri ven to sea in a summer squall,

he then sail ed east along the Long Island shore.

Sailing by Montauk , at the end of Long Island, he saw a body of water opening out to the northwest,

but kept on east for Block Island. Nearl y a hundred years later Henry Hudson made his famo us voyage up the Hudson Ri ver. Like Yerrazzano and others before him,

Hudson was interested onl y in pushing through the obstructi ve land mass of the Americas to get to the fa bled wealth of the Orient beyond,

and had no inclination to seek out byways along the coast.

He may never even have become aware of the body of water that twice daily sends salt water

pulsing around Manhattan to pour into Hudson’s great river, that enchanted she ltered seaway,

Long Island Sound. It wasn’t until five years after Hudson’s voyage of 1609 had opened European eyes to New York and its environs that a Dutch skipper,

Adri aen Block, who had been sailing several seasons in Hudson’s wake to pursue the fur trade with the Algonkian Indi ans on Manhattan Island,

took a 42-foot sloop up the East Ri ver (whi ch is reall y no ri ver but a tida l passageway) and on th rough the Sound to the eastward.

He set sail in May 1614, just 375 years ago, hav ing been forced to winter over in Manhattan after his ship,

Tyjgre (or ” ti ger”) had burnt past salvage the preceding autumn . Block was a resolute intruder on the native American scene.

During the winter he built his new sloop to repl ace Tyjgre -a vesse l42.5ft long in hull,

with a beam of l 1.5ft. He named his little ship On rust , meaning ” restless.”

(Onrust is also, it turns out, the name of a Dutch province; but looking at other names,

for example Block’s consort ship Fortuyn or “fortune,” one comes to be lieve that the name meant just what it says.)

In this vesse l he threaded his way through the narrow passage between Long Island and the Bronx, a passage he named He ll Gate.

He made his way past landmarks familiar to those who sa il the Sound today; past Execution Rocks,

on which the US Government was be latedly to build a lighthouse in 1850- after the rocks had taken,

and too long continued to take, the toll of shipping which earned them the ir name.

(The re is nothing to the griml y fanc iful story that the British used to execute Patriot prisoners

by chaining them down to the rocks in a rising tide. The name long antedates the Revolution.)

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