As the daylight faded I could see the three flashes of the Ambrose Light Vessel, my finishing mark. I called up London and told John Fairhall that the Ambrose Light was in sight. This was 3,000 miles away and thinking of all the difficulties I had had to keep the transmitter going I had a surge of feeling with the thought, ‘Well that’s finished! Then John took me aback by saying, ‘Please call me again when you have actually crossed the line. After talking to him day after day, very often with an awkward situation at my end, there was something between us, and I reluctantly agreed.
I called up the Ambrose Light Vessel and asked the operator there to time my arrival.
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Two welcoming launches arrived, but the light was too dusky to see who was on board. The time of my finish was 9.07 p.m. Then the fun began.
To reach the Ambrose Light I had been beating into a freshening wind. Immediately I turned the Light, I had to reset my sails, retrim Miranda and start running downwind for New York. It was nearly dark, and I had no idea where I was to go. I had assumed that someone on one of the launches would tell me, and I had not studied the charts. I thought that the bigger launch was Laurie Hamilton’s; who had been so friendly to us at Indian Point in 1960. The launch took up a position astern, just out of hearing range, and resolutely kept position there, as if I had the plague. I was darting about, retrimming, trying to see ahead. In the dark I seemed to be surrounded by launches. I had promised to call up London again. I connected up the aerial and darted below to switch on the set and warm it up. I had a nightmare Alice-in-Wonderland feeling of charging into the unknown dark, surrounded by a circle of baleful red or green eyes, like wolves waiting to pounce on an exhausted prey. Immediately I got London I snapped that I was across the line and must close down, which I immediately did.
I dragged out a chart and tried to study it in the cockpit with a torch. Between whiles, I hurriedly scanned ahead, to see if I was on a collision course with any of the launches, or with the huge buoys lining the steamer lane into New York. I decided on a heading and stuck to it. I could see that I should need to keep a sharp look-out for buoys. I knew that I ought to lower my sails and get information, or reduce sail and speed, but Gipsy Moth was by now going like a bat in Hell, with a great sailing breeze, tearing up New York harbour in the dark. It was exhilarating and exciting. The pilotage was difficult, because of the countless lights all round; shore lights in the background, steamer lights, buoys winking red ahead, and navigation lights of smaller craft near me. One craft near abeam which I could see silhouetted against the shore lights appeared to be a powerful naval or Customs launch. To the north, hundreds of big fireworks were shooting into the air. I assumed that was a normal evening’s performance at Coney Island, not connecting it with Independence Day. On reaching the narrows I kept on for Staten Island, 16 miles from Ambrose Light. As I branched into the Hudson River, still at a grand pace, the pilotage became trickier still. There seemed to be lights not only in every direction, but also up in the air. Suddenly I spotted a small white light away to starboard, small and low-powered among the thousands of lights all round. Then I noticed a red navigation light away to port. Something puzzled me there, I don’t know what. I stared intently. Then, out of the night, took shape the extra blackness of a long string of unlit barges, perhaps a quarter mile long, right across my path. I was headed straight for the middle of them. That’s enough, I said to myself, and rounded up into wind.
And so ended the thousand miles along the eastern seaboard, which may have been the most wonderful sail I shall ever have.