Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Walk Around the Block

I was ready to cancel it the night before. I drafted one email, then another, then another.

Let's go. We shouldn't go, sorry to say. Let's meet in the morning and decide.

The weather had been off and on all week. Saturday was meant to be beautiful all day but turned spooky in the afternoon, while some other friends were on a circumnavigation. Sunday was meant to be terrible, but the morning was nice enough that at the shop we took four clients out to the Stature of Liberty and back. Leading into Monday, there was a keyhole of good weather that moved forward, then back, then not.

Thunderstorms. Chance of rain, High humidity, hugh dew point, high temperatures. I crash-coursed synoptic weather reading just to get a glimmer of hope.

The morning of, the skies looked to be clearing. The predicted weather improved. We met at the boathouse and agreed it was on: a Labor Day circumnavigation.

Paddling Past Midtown.

There were four of us: IL, BP, ST, and myself. BP and ST are strong paddlers but new to sea kayaking, and had not circumnavigated before. To me, these are always more fun with people who have not done it already.

Approaching Lower Manhattan.

We sped down pretty quickly, leaving Inwood at about an hour to an a hour and a half after low tide at Battery. We made the distance in about two hours, with minimal water breaks along the way.

Jersey City in the Distance.

One skillset I bring to the Inwood crowd is familiarity with the traffic at midtown and below. Near Inwood, there are no ferries to speak of, and only the occasional barge or ship, and sometimes a Circle Line or similar vessel. Midtown and below, there are plenty of water taxis, ferries, and recreational boats, not to mention tugs and ships, especially in the harbor itself.

The bigger the vessel the easier it is to avoid a problem. Just stay out of their way. They won't change their course much.

Miss Liberty Departs Battery.

As we came around Battery, we went a little wide so that it wasn't a blind corner. This kept us away from the seawalls as well. We were remarkably blessed with little traffic, and a nearly windless day of smooth water. We waited for a couple of water taxis to pass, and then asked Miss Liberty when she was leaving.

"Now," she said. We waited by Pier A while she took off for Liberty Island.

Governors Island.

On a different trip, we might have ventured around Governors Island, but not today.

Paddling Past the Tourists at Battery.

Rounding Battery, we passed the Statue Cruises, but little else, until we saw the Staten Island ferry. People were still disembarking, so we radioed that we were passing astern. We made a ferry crossing to Brooklyn and got out at Pier 5 to take a pee break, enjoy the sights, have a snack, and talk to some folks we know. Pretty soon though, we got on our way.

Eastward . . .er Northward Ho!

I'd expected our most interesting water to be at Battery. Instead, as we passed under the Manhattan Bridge, a passing water taxi kicked up a bunch of wake that got reflected off a seawall, and suddenly we were in the chop! It was beautiful, shaking us about, up and down, as we paddled forward past Wallabout Bay and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Lower Manhattan from the East.

Miss Piggy!

As we passed the Navy Yard, this Army Corps of Engineers ship came out. A friend of mine says she is called the Miss Piggy and lays docking barges for the NY Waterway taxis.

Whatever You Do, Don't Look Back.

We went onwards. It's a shame that the East River is the shortest leg of the tour. It's kind of interesting, and not a part of the waters around Manhattan I get to paddle in often.

Paddling Along Queens.

The East River gets short shrift sometimes compared to the Hudson. It's not as wide, it doesn't go as far, and the industrial history of Queens and Brooklyn mean that for a long time, it was a dirty, fast-moving mess. Now, it still is, but less so, and pockets of revitalization dot the shores opposite Manhattan and the FDR Drive.

Lower East Side.

Queens, Plissken-style.

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad.

Eventually, the United Nations building looms, marking 42nd street, and the start of Roosevelt Island - a narrow two mile needle of land in the middle of the river. The western channel is faster, but we wanted to stop in Astoria before proceeding further.

Skerrey Times at the United Nations.

What's That? Empire State Building? Let's Have a Cookie.

Around here the humidity really started to get to me. It was 86 F with a dew point in the low 70s. I drank more water, wet my hat, and managed as best I could, but it was going to get worse after lunch.

World Trade Center.

Weather Rolling In.

Gantry Plaza.

The downside of urban renewal is that some things go away. This PepsiCo sign, for example, is scheduled for demolition. It's a great landmark from the Manhattan side. Apparently it's an eyesore for the new development behind it in Queens.

Pepsi Cola Hits the Spot. Just a Nickel, Not a Lot.

At last we pulled in to Hallets Cove - a broad nook under the corner of Hell Gate in Astoria. There are several ways to run this trip, and this stop is a common one because of the problem everyone faces: the Harlem and East Rivers run in opposite directions, and after riding the flood up the East River, your choices are: cross and paddle against the Harlem, or wait until the Harlem starts to change directions and then cross. Most people do the latter.

The Barn at Hallets Cove.

What we paddled: a Valley Skerrey, a Valley Argonaut, a WS Tempest 170, and a Necky Chatham 16.

Photo 1.

Apparently I am the only one who brings a camera on these trips!

Photo 2.

We waited about an hour and a half, having lunch, using the loo and getting coffee at a local diner, resting, talking. We were feeling good though, and the weather was very calm, so we thought, "why not go through Hell Gate?"

Turning to Hell Gate. Pedestrian Bridge to Randalls in Distance.

None of us had ever been. Hell Gate generally refers to the waters we would pass through, but Hell Gate proper is a narrow straight running north to the east of our position. It's a constriction, and as water passes through it based on the tides, it cane get very fast, up to five knots. It is also very uneven, meaning there are boils and vortices on a good day; on a bad day it may as well be the waters off Tierra del Fuego.

A Passing Barge.

On we went, under the RFK Jr (nee' Triborough) bridge and then the Hell Gate Bridge. I was a little odd to realize that just a couple of weeks earlier I'd been on a train crossing via the latter.

Into the Gate!

Hell Gate last just about a mile. With the current and conditions, it was, frankly, more like Heck Gate. There were some boils and vortices and weird eddies, but nothing terrible. After Hell Gate Bridge, we looked ahead and behind us, and once traffic was clear, crossed to Randalls Island to veer into the mouth of the Bronx Kill.

After Hell Gate, We Bronx Kill.

On through the kill we went.

Coming About.

And then on out, to the familiar waters of the Harlem., where we paddled at slack to Macombs Dam Bridge.

Counting Bridges.

The tide eventually turned in our favor near High Bridge.

High, Washington, and Hamilton.

A Short Break.

After a short break, we let Circle Line and Harbor Classic Line (not pictured) vessels pass us.

Circle Line.

Under the Broadway Bridge and into the more scenic part of the Harlem. This stretch was more properly Spuyten Duyvil Creek, until it was blown up, expanded, and made proper for 19th century shipping.

Under Broadway.

Past the Marble Hill station, in a neighborhood that is still technically part of Manhattan even though it is not an island and not part of the island.

The End In Sight.

Eventually we came back out to the Hudson, almost where we started, at the opposite end of the day.


Unlike a certain well-known mass circumnav, we did not have a landing party. However we were met by a man in a mask.

Club member LL, wearing a mask he found floating in the river. Now how'd that get in there?

Welcome, Travelers!

All in all it was another great trip. It was only my fourth circumnav, and just the second time I planned and organized one myself. It was a strong group, and two hadn't done this before. I love seeing new eyes on a familiar route.

After discussion with the group, I tried a couple of things that I had not done before. First, we landed at the still-new Brooklyn Bridge Park, on a small beach near Pier 5 that I only learned about recently. Second, we went through Hell Gate. Now that I know the tides a bit better, I might consider variations on that plan, such as taking a detour out into the Upper East River.

A Day of Everything and Nothing

I needed a day off. On the one hand I love planning grand paddling adventures, and a friend had organized a circumnavigation. However I have one of my own planned later this week, and I wanted a day of no commitments. Saturday was that day.

In the morning I went out with some friends on a trip organized for our club. We didn't go terribly far - about three miles each way - but when one paddler expressed interest in a canoe, I volunteered to go with. We paddled a Penobscot 17 there and back, switching from back to front at the halfway point.

That's right, the Kayak Cowgirl paddled a canoe. I had to learn canoe for my 2 Star, and practice it a bit downtown. A lot of kayak strokes come from canoe. It's like the Middle English of paddlesports.

After that journey, most paddlers left, but a couple wanted to practice rescues to qualify for special privileges in the club. I stayed and shepherded that a bit. The candidate passed, and then she and her beau left.

My friend and I got lunch, and snacks for the circumnavigators who would be coming through later. When we got back, the sun was shiny so we ate lunch in the shade - but by the time we finished our sandwiches, the sky was cloudy with no sun in sight.

Some visitors came by with kids, and after I finished some minor gear tweaking I got in my boat and did some tricks.

After that, my friend - canoeboy - got in a kayak and we practiced edging and leaning, and turning on edge. Then he spotted me on some rescues. Still gotta work on on my right-setup roll, but my re-entry and roll works. I can't wait to try it in a drysuit.

To polish it off I did some scramble rescues, as we tried things we've seen other people attempt and fail at, and some things that should fail but, bizarrely, work. Thoroughly soaked, I landed, got nto dry clothes, and cleaned up before going home.

I love nothing days. They have the most variety.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunrise to Throgs Neck

Four. 4 AM. 0400. Four o'clock in the morning. I set my alarm for this, on a weekend, because I managed to convince a couple of friends that a sunrise paddle to the Throgs Neck bridge would be fun.

It's a trip I've made before. I made sure to apply the lessons learned from that trip. We'd take nearly four hours to paddle out, have a one hour layover, and paddle back.

The thing was, to get there we'd have to leave at 0545. At that, we didn't get going till 0600, making our way in short order up the Hudson, through Spuyten Duyvil, and then down the Harlem.

The morning sky.

The Hamilton, Washington, and High bridges.

High bridge has the scaffolding off!

We took a little jaunt through my favorite new shortcut: the Bronx kill, along the north edge of Randalls Island.

Moving right along.

We don't have caves for NYC paddling, but we do have overpasses.
Under the rail and pedestrian overpasses.

And now the upper East River.

I've started using the appellation, "Upper" East River to distinguish between the East River that runs alongside Manhattan and the East River that separates Queens from the Bronx; these are connected by Hell Gate. For most NYC paddlers, the East River is just a little stretch to pass through on a circumnavigation, or perhaps a path to Hell Gate or the upper harbor.

In our case we were heading out past the Brother islands, Rikers Island, Laguardia airport, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, and ending at the SUNY Maritime college next to the Throgs Neck bridge.

The upper East River is a great place to teach chart navigation. For one thing, there's a great deal of variety in charted objects, from landmarks to channel markers, making it easy to triangulate position and practice orientation. For another, the current is generally mild but noticeable, and there is enough enough fetch that it's easy to demonstrate a ferry crossing. I didn't teach a proper class but I did show my paddlemates how to figure out where we were and where we were going.

The weather had been predicted to be cloudy and overcast, improving with the day. We had winds 6-10 mph out of the ENE, giving us a decent headwind and waves to paddle over on the outbound trip.

At one point in our journey I overheard a Coast Guard cutter repeatedly hailing an outbound power vessel, and later something about letting an NYPD boa out of Flushing handle something. I realized we were very close to part of Laguardia Airport and had just skirted the shore of Rikers Island, NYC's main prison facility. I hailed them.

"This is kayak three,  we just want to make sure we're not the cause of any trouble out here."

"No, ah, kayak three, we're not aware of any local law enforcement activity in your area. Just be sure to observe charted security zones and shipping regulations."

Or, something to that effect.

The skies improve.

Along the way, we spotted what seemed to be part of a submarine being towed out towards Long Island Sound. Which prompted the questions: who buys these things? How are they assembled?

Sub Assembly Required.

As we approached the Throgs Neck, we could make out a vessel I didn't see last time - the Empire State, the training vessel for SUNY Maritime College. It was moored next to the college, right next to the bridge. We crossed, and paddled alongside her.

Approaching the Throgs Neck.

The Empire State.

There is a small beach between the bridge and an old art deco building on campus. There we saw the remains of some wildlife - or maybe living wildlife in the case of the turtle.

Horseshoe Crab.


It turns out it was cadet induction day (or something like that). We saw quite a few of them marching up to what amounts to their parade ground, where they would salute the colors and then move on to wherever they were directed next.

This is where we stopped for lunch - well, second breakfast. We took a brief peek in the fort, but mostly sat watching the water, and or boats and the gently receding tide. Fishermen in small recreational craft drifted by.

Cadets on parade.

We only had about an hour. I was very specific about this, since the last time I made this trip, my friend and I got caught out behind some very strong current in the last mile of the Harlem river. I budgeted two hours each for the East River and Harlem river legs of the trip - a little generous for this group, but also allowing for conditions, gabbing, and gear dickering.

As I explained to the group, our departure was driven not by conditions where we were, but by where we would be near the end. We needed to be exiting the Harlem by one hour after low tide at Battery, or the end of our journey would be a bit of a challenge.

The time came to leave, and we set out under the bridge, returning along the north, or Bronx, side of the river. The wind died down pretty quickly, and it even got a bit sunny and warm, so we just had to paddle. We made good time, and took a short detour to peek at the mouth of the Bronx river, the only freshwater river in New York City.

The Way Home.

We went 'round the Brothers, veering to North Brother and then crossing the channel again to the Bronx side. Once back in the kill, the boys took a short break, and then we continued on.

Back in the Bronx Kill.

The Harlem was uneventful, remarkable only in that we were passed by no commercial traffic - just a couple of jetskis, and recreational craft, remarkably polite craft at that - they all cut their engines to produce no wake. We waved a a small crowd of people hanging out from a large housing complex. The shouted "ole!" as we passed by.

Our timing worked out well, we managed to be half an hour ahead of schedule, which is better than being half an hour behind. By the time we passed the Broadway bridge, we were content to drift, paddle a bit, drift, and so on. Once on the Hudson, I took a little roll, mostly to cool off, but also to practice and give myself a little victory move before we went in.

I ought to mention that I tried out a new bit of kit, some paddling clothes I picked up at the shop. I got a short sleeve top and a pair of shorts, and both are basically an inner lining of a warm, quick-dry material, and a waterproof/windproof outer material. I wore it bc I expected the wind to bite a bit more, and wanted something that could block the wind when I was out of my boat.

I'm happy to say this stuff was warm and I was downright toasty on the Harlem legs of the paddle; I appreciated it on the East River legs, when my buddies were pulling out their jackets. There's a dry cag on sale from the same manufacturer, and I think I may get it as an interim step between my paddling jacket and drysuit.

All in all this was a good trip, and an improvement on how I did it last time. It's not a hard trip but the distance make it something for experienced paddlers. I'm working up some variations - going deep into Flushing Bay, or landing at nearer shores. It's nice to know my understanding of tides isn't totally off.

Hours later, after we're off the water and all our boats and gear have been washed and put away, I was walking to the subway station past a bunch of restaurants serving brunch. I scanned the skies, reading the clouds as I had so much earlier in the morning, as if I were still at sea.

I'll look forward to the next!