Some of the best views of New York City are from the water. The Staten Island Ferry is the time-honored cheap method of getting out on the waves, and it’s worth the ride at least once—but you’re on a big, loud boat that, um, ends up at Staten Island. A more sublime experience is had onboard a sailboat, using nothing but the harbor wind for power. If you don’t happen to have your own schooner, that’s where the Shearwater comes in.
The Shearwater, an 82-foot yacht built in the 1920’s, is currently docked in the North Cove Marina of the World Financial Center, in lower Manhattan. It takes passengers out on the harbor several times a day, but for my money (and, of course, you have to shell out for this ride; tickets start at $45), the sunset cruise is the one to choose.
As part of a small birthday gathering, I stepped onto the Shearwater on a recent evening shortly before 7. The teak deck offers a variety of spots for sitting and lounging (the bow’s prow presents a nice “I’m the king of the world!” opportunity). Guests are invited to bring provisions, and we packed ample sushi from Takahachi and wine.
After all were aboard—we were joined by another group celebrating a birthday—the vessel motored into the Hudson, with the World Financial Center receding quickly in the background, then turned toward the Statue of Liberty. Soon the captain had cut the engine and we were gliding along in blissful quiet, as if the city’s bustling soundtrack had been abruptly shut off. The towers of Jersey City began to light up as we maneuvered quite close to the statue, with the sun’s final rays casting a golden hue on the entire scene. Postcard perfect.
We swung around and sailed toward the center of the harbor. I thought of Henry Hudson, first European to explore the river named after him, and how his eyes would have popped out if he had been shown what sprouted up where there had been nothing but verdant landscape. (New York City is in the midst of a yearlong celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the voyage of the Half-Moon, including NY400 Week, September 8-13; go to ny400.org for details.)
We skirted the south side of Governor’s Island—a vista most New Yorkers never see—and made our way up the Buttermilk Channel, with Red Hook to starboard. Sailing on the East River now, we passed touristy South Street Seaport and approached the Brooklyn Bridge, which appeared newly spectacular to my eyes, looking at it from directly below.
On the last leg of the voyage the towers of southern Manhattan loomed before us, all aglow now in the fading dusk. I had a remarkable feeling that I had gotten out of town for a little break—though the town was still right there, glittering like Emerald City.
The Shearwater’s New York sailing season ends October 15. I might try to get out there one more time.
Soren Larson is a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.