Monday, January 16, 2017

Winter Bluebird Day

Mr. Cowgirl's new drysuit came in, and we were itching to try it out on the water. Fortunately, yours truly had been organizing a day trip for that very weekend, and so we set out early in the morning for the Inwood Canoe Club.

Our plan was to head out to North Brother Island, or Randalls Island if we were running late.
No one else could make it, so it was just the two of us, and after kitting and fitting, we set out: up the Hudson to Spuyten Duyvil, down the Harlem, through the Bronx Kill, then out around the Brothers.

Passing Fort Washington.

A cooler hat near Swindlers Cove.

A curious structure atop a barge.

There were several signs of new construction along the Harlem, in particular the waterfront of Roberto Clemente Park and, in the South Bronx, new buildings and the refurbishing of old buildings.

In just under two hours, we arrived at the Bronx Kill, turning left to head down it, and saw a newly-built, not-occupied building on the Bronx side, and a fancy pile driver on Randals Island.

Pilin' for what?

The eastern end of the Bronx Kill is one of my favorite waterborne views in the city. I've been here at sunrise, watching pink clouds turn to orange and then yellow, and on overcast days when the entire world might as well be the sea between Queens and the Bronx. Even on a day like today, however, sunny and bright, the breadth of the view was amazing.

Mr. Cowgirl takes in the view.

What lies beyond?

We had a quick snack of cashews and raisins, as we took in the traffic.

First, there was a large barge being pushed southbound to the gate (Hell Gate, that it - we were just north of it). Then we saw a small barge emerge from the gate and head, curiously, between the Brothers - an unusual route because it's narrow and about a third as deep as the main channel around North Brother Island.

But then, we saw an even more interesting sight, and overheard a securite on the radio: a Rheinauer tug pushing a barge up from the gate, with another tug right by it. About half a mile behind it was another barge.

We decided to head north along the Bronx shore, wait for these two vessels to pass, and then look to make our crossing where we wouldn't be in a blind corner.

Ships go in.

Ships come out.

But then, we saw what the first two tugs were up to. The captain announced he'd make a "left wheel" about 400 yards, and what he meant was that we was making a U-turn between North Brother and the Bronx, and his fellow tug acted to push the vessel sideways.

This kinda made sense because, while we were close to slack tide, there was still some current, and for a barge to be pushed from one end would have made a very difficult turn-in-place. So, the second barge pushed from the side, helping her pivot to face south, and then get pushed into place in order to dock along the Bronx shore.

As this was starting to happen, I radioed the skipper, paraphrased as follows:

KC: Rheinauer, Rheinauer, this is Kayak Two just south of you, across from the Brothers. Capain, do you need us to move?
Tug: Who is this, Kayak Two?
KC: Yep Kakak Two. Near the Bronx Kill.
Tug: I don't see you.
KC: [waves paddle]
Tug: Oh, there you are. No you're not in my way, but that one coming from your right is headed there.
KC: OK, thanks. Over and out.

"We're crossing now," I said. I put out a short securite just to let everyone know our intentions, and we headed towards North Brother, the first tugs making their little turn maneuver, and the other one I'd spotted adjusting course clearly to its port - that is, towards where we had just left and not where we were.

I don't mean to belabor radio communications, but when they work they can save a lot of grief and uncertainty. I'd rather ask someone what they're up to than guess. I also have to say, tug skippers are among the most professional and straightforward I've dealt with on the radio.

After we crossed, I announced we were done and would be out of the channels, and said thanks to the captains, and got a "thank you" in return. Fuzzies on the Radio!

Our Rheinauer friend completing her maneuver.

A short break. Manhattan in the far background.

At this point we started around North Brother Island. I've been out this way a couple of times before, in 2012 and 2015. (OMG, have I really been blogging about kayaking that long?) So I'll recap succinctly by saying it's one of the most tragically-storied islands in NYC, Typhoid Mary and General Slocum, abandoned ruins, not allowed to land.


The old plant.

"Ruins" on the chart.

The old ferry dock.

The caretaker's house.

Channel marker 9.

Bird Sanctuary

"It's one of the spookiest islands," said Mr. Cowgirl - right as a bird of prey's piercing shriek let loose across the cold, hollow water.

The bird screamed again, and again, and we spotted it: a hawk, maybe a falcon, perched in the empty branches of the island's trees. Top left-ish of the following picture.

Where's the bird?

At this point we joked that if we were in a horror movie, the audience would be screaming at us to paddle faster. But, you know, in horror movies people can't know what to do. What if paddling faster just meant a jump-cut to use paddling into a shark's mouth?

Also, zombies may not swim, but they can wade.

We continued on our way, clockwise, coming around the southern side. Here we could take in the view of the famous Hell Gate bridge, as well as Manhattan, in the distance.

 New York City: a nice place to live.

I was also please to see something still standing, which I spotted back in 2014 on a trip out to Flushing: A tv and chair. "An Eames Chair," speculated the Mr.

What I like about the following photo is the doubt-reflection of the kayak's tail end.

Hmmmmmm........

In short order,  we set out our return, observing our tug friends were where we left them. The wind had picked up just a little bit, and veered a but to a more westerly direction. Where we'd been a tad too warm on the outbound leg, we were now just right - and when we stopped for a quick bio-break in the Kill, we got shilled right quick.

Farewell North Brother. Our Rheinauer friend heads home.

We were in the Bronx Kill at a time I've rarely been at, early enough in the tidal cycle that there was still some depth, but late enough that there was a strong eddy at the spot where it becomes a rapid. We played a bit with some peelouts and eddy turns.

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At one point, a sizable wave train stood up. It was starting to disappear by the time I snapped this photo, but was quite fun - especially since it popped up while we were trying reverse peelouts !

Love Train. . .Freight Train . . .Wave Train.

The paddle back up the Harlem was uneventful. At Spuyten Duyvil, we tried playing with the eddy currents there as well, but they weren't quite as well-defined as in the Kill. After five hours out, with only a short shore break, we were ready to head in, where we cleaned up and put away - but not before encountering Inwood's resident paddleboarder on the water, and another club member who'd just come back from paddling to Yonkers.

Nuclear Kayaking.

I do like this last image though. The entire day was very sunny, so many of my photos had intense lense flare. Add onto that a wet outer lens cover, and I can assure you that there are many more surreal photos in the Cowgirl's library than you'll see online.

We stopped by for a pint at the local pub where our fellow club member was having a get-together with friends (birthday and welcome-to-the 'hood). When we got home, we both were ready to crash out - suddenly our all-day paddle caught up to us physically.

North Brother Island is one of my favorite places to paddle to, even without getting out there. I hope I'll get out there more often.

Radius Drysut

Kayak Cowgirl and her trusty ol' Expedition drysuit, and Mr. Cowgirl in his fancy new Radius - Kokatat's top-of-the-line model that uses what they called SwitchZip, to zip together the top half and bottom half.

The zipper has to be fully seated before starting the zip. That can prove a bit tricky. Once started, though, it goes around and seals very well.

It takes a steady hand.

Once the zipper has come all the way around, the round knob clasps over the nut, then screws down tight to seal the zipper.

Sealing the zipper.

Compared to the more typical front-entry suits, this arrangement gives a smoother chest, and certainly makes "relief" much easier !

The suit has some other well-though-out touches. The hood is removable, secured with three velcro straps that weave under cord around the neck. The hood also has a side-mounted flap that snaps shut to cover the face, or snaps back to open it up. The neck area can open up for venting - not open to the interior of the suit, but essentially a fold of Gore-Tex over Gore-Tex in case of ice buildup. The suit's top and bottom have an extra flap of GoreTex to fold over the zipper, secured with velcro, so that when they are worn separated, the zipper is protected. Self-draining pockets on both arms and one leg complete the cargo layup, although oddly there is no chest pocket, as I've seen on the Expedition and Meridian.

All in all Mr. Cowgirl is happy with the drysuit, in particular the flexibility of SwitchZip - Kokatat already makes a compatible Anorak that zips on to the pants, so for low-risk touring, that might be preferable, in order to let out some heat. The removable hood was a key selling point, as his primary paddlesport is whitewater, where he doesn't want a hood.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

First Paddle of the Year

I paddled today with my good friend Kayak Dov, first time on the water for each of us since the odometer rolled over on the anno domini. The area got a pretty decent snow earlier on the weekend, and temperatures were still in the twenties F when we set out, but the day warmed, and we had a pleasant "paddle to nowhere" kind of day.

An Icy Dock.


I set out from the Inwood Canoe Club, crossing the Hudson river to meet at Englewood Boat Basin, but was almost immediately hailed by Dov on the radio that the road was closed, so he was putting in further south. That worked out well - the current was already ebbing, and would be most of the day, so I changed course and more or less floated down to where we met up.

Washington Heights.

At a lower tide, Dov was forced to wade his boat out across a mud flat about twenty-five yards, to get to water deep enough to paddle in. That mud'll come off!

Jersey "flats".

We set out north, figuring we'd attain against the current until we were tired, or cold, or both. This part of the NYC waterways is right along the majestic Palisades cliffs - beautiful, steep parkland full of woods and paths and little structures.

On our way!

As we went along, we (actually, Dov) spotted some deer running through the woods. With the winter foliage, there wasn't much to hide them. We came across them twice, and it seemed like they were scurrying away from us - as if some waterborne predator could somehow catch them.

Housing with a view.

Englewood Boat Basin.

The day brightened up, an the wind picked up a bit from the south, giving us some fun little wind-against-current waves to play with. Further north are several "fingerling" piles of rocks forming little headlands to pass, and we found some pretty strong eddy currents behind them.

Henry Hudson and Spuyten Duyvil bridges in background.

I stopped to nosh. Here we have some disagreement. Dov prefers to eat a hearty meal and paddle with few stops. I'm partial to that idea, but I like breaks, too. I snacked on some sausage and banana bread, along with some hot tea.

While I did, the wind picked up from the south against the current,  and we got some little footers (waves). I hastily packed and we surfed up river a bit.

Heading up the river.

One fun thing we noticed was how uniformly the snowline and icicles ended at the high tide mark. It was like someone cut along with a laser in a precise, straight line.

An even shoreline.

Our best find, however, was a frozen waterfall! We could hear water rushing behind it, and up close could makes out little streams behind and through the ice.

Frozen Waterfall.

Frozen Dov !

The complete waterfall.

And . . . thaaaaat's all, folks. We turned around about a mile and a half short of Alpine, rocketing back with the current, and I peeled off at Englewood to ferry across to Inwood. It was a grand day out, and a great start to a new year.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Come in from the Cold

I've been watching a little slurry of ice form on my spraydeck, little fragments sliding around, like the last bits of a cool drink at the fairgrounds in summer, or the final repositories of alcohol in a margarita. They're not, of course - instead they're the Hudson River, splashed on and frozen in place, broken up by the steady undulations of my torso rotation.

It's about 30 F air temp, 42 in the water, and I'm working my way around Spuyten Duyvil into the Harlem River. My original ambition was to go to the Brothers (islands), or at least Randalls Island, but schedule constraints mean I won't go half that far, and will in fact fight some current on the way back. I don't care, though. I haven't paddled in about three weeks, and it's a sunny to partly cloudy day, and it's just nice to be out.

An icicle is forming on the carabiner of my camera, getting longer, I swear, every time I look at it. There's a thin layer forming around the clip of my water bottle, and even my contact tow is developing a 'break in case of emergency' layer of ice around the rope.

I'm layered up like a Russian nesting doll: InnerCore base layers, a PolarTec onesie, Outercore pants and a long-sleeved winter running top, and then a Navy surplus USMC "Wooly Bully" sweater. All of this is underneath my Gore-Tex drysuit of course, and since the wind is a bit stiffer than I anticipated, I've got my balaclava on, and neoprene pogies over my gloved hands.

Yep, it's winter alright. You wouldn't know it from the photographs though !

They're still working - why shouldn't I?

On my way up, an NYPD boat passed me, and later at Spuyten Duyvil, another arrived from the north and they radioed the railroad bridge requesting entry.

I passed under unimpeded, and they caught up a few minutes later once the bridge rotated open.

Ice, ice, baby!

I worried my drinking water would freeze!

There was some construction work on the 207th street bridge - later, I'd see a tugboat do-si-do to hook up to one of the crane barges. Also some work on the super-tall projects on the Bronx side across from Peter Sharp Boathouse.

Looking north.

Looking south.

This time of year, the sun transits at a southern angle, very low in the sky. I need new sunglasses - these are so scratched up, they're practically foggy, nearly worse than my uncorrected vision!

Mercy, mercy, mercy.

I still call this look, "Luchadora the Explorer".

A twinkle in her eye.

There was a steady northerly wind, stronger than predicted when I decided to go out today. It was bone-chilling, though with all my layers on I was fine. In fact, while usually my legs are warmer in the boat and out of the wind, on a day like this they were colder, not as layered as my core, and sitting on the water.

I had lunch in my boat, sheltered in the eddy of High Bridge. I'd brought along hot tea and hot cider. The cider, along with some caramel-filled chocolate, perked me right up for the return journey.

You might have though this was a summer day, except for the icicles I found on the cliff left over from the cleaving of Spuyten Duyvil creek.

Ice.

Icicle, icicle!

See? Below freezing temperatures.

From the top!

It was just as well that I cut my original trip plan short. While I had to fight about a knot of current on the way back, I'm not sure I would have wanted to be out the additional couple of hours. Maybe on a more relaxed day, or with friends, but by myself? And also, I had to be back home to finish packing for my annual family visit.

Henry Hudson Bridge, Palisades.

As I approached the Hudson River, I could make out a lot of wave activity. Not huge waves, mind you, but a pretty steady procession of footers. There was still a bit of flood from the south hitting that wind from the north, and when I got out into it, I found myself doing a little surfing of those following seas, all the way back to the Inwood Canoe Club.

When I got out, I put things away quickly and decided to walk back to my care in my drysuit. I took my gloves off since they were wet, and immediately regretted it: while my hands were cold when in wet gloves, chilled by the wind, they were even colder without that thin layer of insulation. By the time I was finished packing, my hands felt like they were on fire, they were so cold. My gloves are not winter paddling gloves, but they thin layer of protection they offer was better than bone-chilling wind on my hands.

I did take my drysuit off at my car, and contemplated the day. It was cold, no doubt. Unlike my usual December paddles, there was no "hey it's kayaking in the snow". All the powder we got on Saturday melted away in the bizarrely warm Sunday that followed. Also, there was no whale to chase. So why did I go out?

Well, one, it's fun no matter what. Also, I haven't been out in a while, and this might be my last chance before the New Year. I even paddled the Argonaut, my older, bigger boat, and that was a nice change of pace from the Gemini SP.

But does kayaking require a reason? Of course not!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Care and Maintenance

It's winter time, so guess what time it is for kayakers?

What time is it, Cowgirl?

While I'd normally say time for winter paddling, which I have done and will continue to do, it's also time for repairs. Inspecting your boat and taking care of any little things going on with it.

Today I pulled the Gemini SP off the rack to take a closer look at some things that have been bothering me for a few months.

I had three goals: clean the skeg, protect the hatch covers, and inspect the remaining mechanicals and lines on the boat.

First, the skeg.


Tools at the ready.

I've taken apart the Argonaut's skeg before, and while the control box is different on the Gemini, the overall approach is the same. Since then, I've bought tools that are useful for these kinds of repairs, including both metric and imperial folding Allen wrenches, and a small set of vice grips, which I keep in a little tin I got from and international flight on Turkish Airlines.

The problem I've been having is that I couldn't deploy the skeg, yet on land I could pull it free by hand easily, and work it up and down. After some earlier checking, I determined that is was likely sand in the tube. That was my theory, anyway.

Note paper placed below to prevent screws from dropping through cracks.

Here you can see the controller. Basically, the steel cable that controls the skeg itself feeds up through plastic conduit inside the boat until it gets to the controller. The slidy-box thing with the five screws is just a housing - a thing for the control rod to to move through.

That rod extends to the right of the housing, and is in fact a hollow tube that the cable feeds through. The handle at the far left in this photo has a small screw inside that tightens down on the end of the cable, through a hole in that rod. Basically, the handle pinches the end of the cable, and everything else just keeps the cable straight as it comes into and out of the conduit.

All the skeg controller screws are Allen head.

Blurry - basically the housing detached, rod still in place.

Rod with the handle removed. See the hole for a screw to pinch the cable? 

Once I had the handle off, I noticed corrosion on the end of the cable. Not a whole lot, but definitely rusty red. I also found, and cleaned out, sand between the hull and the housing.

Satisfied with my dismantling of the slider hosing, I checked the cable on the skeg itself. To my surprise, there was nearly no corrosion here. While you can't see it in the photo below, it looked at first like there was no kink, but I found a slight bend further up when I hyper-extended the skeg.

I spent a lot of time working the cable up and down. I also splashed some water on it, hoping it would work its way down the tube. However, I was becoming convinced that there wasn't so much sand in the conduit itself.

The skeg end of the cable.

My original plan was to pull the cable completely out, and then to flush water through, and wipe down the cable. But, as I worked things along, the cable seemed fine to a point, and I was a little worried I'd have trouble threading the cable through if I got it all the way out. It's not hard, but it requires more time and finesse than I had at hand.

I also noticed a slight kink in the cable near the skeg end. It's not noticeable in the photo above, but when I hyper-extended the skeg, I could make it out. I've seen worse. As I continued working the cable back and forth, I found that it was pretty smooth, except for pulling the skeg up an additional quarter-inch to be flush with the keel of the boat.

That much, I can live with. I'll replace the cable eventually, but for now, I've got it working better than it was. I can pull it flush for storage, and when I go to see, just give it a little pull to get it in position to be deployable when needed.


I removed the controller housing completely and ran water through it, then a twisted-up paper towel, to get any grime and sand out. I did the same with the control rod as well, even though nothing is supposed to be moving internally in it.

I put the entire assembly back together and tested it out, then moved on to some other things.

For one, I rinsed my hatch covers and then dried them off, then applied 303 protectant to them. I'd removed the hatched from the lines I used to tether them as well, so that I could wipe 303 into the rims. The 303 spray shields hatch covers from the sun's ultraviolet rays, which can degrade the material. Even though I store my boat in a boathouse, well-shielded from the sun, it's a wise protective move given how frequently I paddle.

I inspected all my deck lines and bungies. They're all in good shape, though I can see the start of some thread fraying on one stretch of bungie. Surprise, it's the area I use the most, to secure my water bottle, or pump, or camera.

The last thing I checked (other than the seat, which was fine, just fine) was the pair of foot pegs. The right peg was fine. The left, not so much.

I couldn't open the cleat that keeps it secure. I use my vice grips to finally get them open, but even after that, the peg would not slide along the track. I got out a hammer and tapped it forward, but even that didn't budge it much.

Finally, I resorted to removing it from my boat, but removing the two screws that pierce the hull and attached to the rails. Once out, I was able to rinse and remove the peg. I made sure to get all the sand and grime off, and got the foot peg to slide again.

Problem parts, taken apart !

One note about re-assembling the foot peg and track: you need to put the peg on before re-attaching the rail to the boat. Once the screws are in, they block the peg from sliding on (or off) the rail. Minor thing that I had to figure out.

I wiped out some sand left in my boat, and rinsed along the bulkhead seams. The last thing I want is for some sand and water to freeze in a crack and expand later.

I'm sure I'll paddle my boat some more in the winter, but I was happy with this little inspection and repair. I've got one last thing to follow up on later (the skeg cable) but other wise the Gemini SP is in good shape!

Now I'll just have to make time for its bigger and older sibling, the Argonaut. . .