Owner’s View: Smell of 9-11 most lasting memory

Sep 28, 2020 by Melvin Miller

Owner’s View: by Melvyn Miller

I had scheduled a meeting in Manhattan for Sept.11, 2001, and assumed I would find a berth at Liberty Landing or North Cove. But the Vineyard was especially pleasant that season, so I postponed the meeting in New York.

Enjoying a coffee on the aft deck that morning, I received a phone call, first asking (somewhat urgently) about our wellbeing, then for my close-up observations of lower Manhattan. My colleague asked my estimation of the source and consequences of that mornings’ happenings. 

I replied that I was not in Manhattan and had no idea what we were discussing. I was urged to turn on our television, which is how I learned of the attacks in New York, Washington and of Flight 93.

We were soon advised that transit of the East River and most of the rest of New York harbor was prohibited, but we began slowly working our way west on Long Island Sound, hoping to be able to eventually be allowed to reach the city. We did manage to be in the first limited flotilla of private vessels allowed to transit the East River, controlled by a number of USCG and other escort vessels that made certain that we maintained speed and did not divert from the approved route. We were escorted out of the harbor so we did not stop near the city on that passage.

From the Gate until past Ellis, the color and smell of the air indicated a military-level event, with multiple explosions, destroyed structures and decomposing bodies. I can still recall that smell, which added personal motivation on that day to the professional responsibilities that caused me to work much more — and cruise less — over the next few years.

Given the absence and truncated nature of subsequent cruises, I would normally be able to recall all of the details of the 2001 cruise, but all I can recall clearly is that trip down the East River. I suppose that is not unusual, since my most vivid memories from many decades on vessels are always of the troubled passages.

The best way to spend any day is on a boat. I recommend that to almost everyone, because I want them to experience the many wonderful days that I have enjoyed afloat. But the recollection of the hurricanes, nor’easters, groundings, collisions and that damn 9/11 East River smell flow most easily from this old salt’s memory.

Melvyn Miller is an American yacht owner from the U.S. East Coast. He has owned and operated yachts for six decades and employed crew for more than 30 years. Comments on this column are welcome below.