Thursday, November 19, 2015

Fishers Island Sound 2015

I know I'll go again. I wish I could have spent more time.

Fishers Island is a long, narrow island about two miles off the Connecticut coast, northeast from the north fork of Long Island and part of NewYork State, even though it's technically farther away from it.

There's a lot of lore about Fishers Island, but we weren't there for the island. We were there for the sound!

At the eastern edge of Fishers Island sound, the underwater hydrography is such that water coming in (westward) with the tide ramps up rather quickly, about forty to sixty feet in less than an eighth of a mile. Additionally on the days we were there, there was a steady Western wind blowing, making for great wind-against-current conditions.

D, K, and CC taking a wee break.

Several folks had gone out on Friday. I had to work, and so drove up Friday night for the Saturday play. This turned out to be the most challenging day we faced.

The challenge was the wind. Not only was in in the Force 6 vicinity (25-30 mph with gusts to 35), it changed direction. As we tried to surf down wind, our boats would get cocked and the direction of the waves would change. I felt comfortable in the conditions - big, lumpy water, waves three or four feet high, sometimes taller - but trying to surf was pretty tough. We took a break on Ram Island for lunch and to figure out what to do next.

The Break on Ram Island.

We decided to split into two groups. There were over a dozen people all in, so each group had more than enough for safety's sake. One group would continue surfing downwind and work out a shuttle to get back to cars. The rest of us would paddle into Mystic harbor, then up the river. We were expecting to meet a couple of friends of mine who were driving up Saturday and putting their boats in far up the river.

Among our Fleet, a Rockpool Taran.

We expected the latter trip would be the easy one, since no one was paddling against the wind. However, the wind shifted to come from the north (making this a veering wind rather than a backing wind, weather nerds), and so we slogged against a northerly headwind for about three quarters of a mile.

The Slog.

Over the radio we heard the other group announce they were quitting their plan and would sort an alternative. Our leader directed us to head up the river, and he'd go back for a car to shuttle us back.

An HV paddler struggles against the wind.

That's the kind of weekend this was. We were in a dynamic environment and had to work out alternatives to our various plans.

We rounded a corner and started to find shelter from the wind. Our contingent had spread out with varying strategies for the wind. One paddler in particular struggled, in a new boat and a bit fidgety with kit. Once in the harbor though, the wind was no longer ridiculous but merely a nuisance, now coming at the quarter but greatly reduced by the town's structures. We paddled up and met our friends, who were happy to return and avoid the adventures we'd had coming in. The rest of our journey was a scenic trip through the harbor town of Mystic, Connecticut.

Paddling up the Mystic.

An unusually named boat.

Paddling under a coutner-weight bridge.

On past lovely homes.

When we arrived at our destination, our trip leader presented us with hot chocolate and in short order we loaded our boats onto vehicles. We drove back to the parking lot where we'd put in, and then back to the house we were staying at.

The house is worth mentioning. It's a large house, owned by a family and rented out to groups like us, or graduation parties, or weddings. I arrived very late the night before, after everyone had gone to bed, and the street address proved to be around the corner from parking. The afternoon was my first chance to really assay the place.

We all pitched together for dinner, pooling money for some fine salmon and steak cuts, and salad, and baked potatoes. I chopped garlic for garlic bread. Despite our shortened day, we were all hungry - these calories were all burned easily, replacing the old and ready to fuel the next day.

Sunday was more enjoyable. Winds were still in the Force 4 range, gusting to Force 5, but the direction remained consistent. We started in Stonington - a historic town with a speed limit of twenty miles per hour - and this time paddled out farther lunching on the northeastern tip of Fishers Island itself.

But first, we were in the chop. This was tremendous. It took some doing, but I did manage to catch some waves and ride them for a bit. I practiced starting my sprint before being fully in the trough - some advice I got was that with a shorter boat I needed to start sooner.

I did take a dive though - while looking where I wanted to go, according to one observer I was on top of a wave, went for support, and found none, so I capsized. I managed to roll up though, and felt rather chuffed about that.

Latimer Light - Halfway There!

A brief respite in a windbreak.

We had rougher, bigger water between the lighthouse and Fishers Island. It was still great fun, but the waves had a shorter period and after a while I felt like I was just managing big following seas - the waves riding up under me and passing me before I could gain much momentum.

Then I saw it: a flash of white, and cries of "boat over!", just about twenty yards ahead of me.

The waves lifted the boat in and out of sight. Another paddler got to the boat but the casualty was separated from it, floating further back. In hindsight, the current was carrying him towards me but the wind was blowing his boat away from us. I got in and provided support while his boat was emptied.

I tried to get closer to that vessel but we eventually decided it was easier to bring the boat to me. I then supported the rescuer while he supported the casualty's boat, all while bobbing in three to five foot seas. In short order we were on our way.

We continued surfing, working our way south, and then we landed for lunch.

Lunch on Fishers Island.

I have to mention this Rockpool Taran. These are well-regarded boats, but very rare in the US. It's like finding a right-hand drive Triumph.

I learned here that a friend of mine I'd invited was not having such a great day. She was game, but the conditions were strong enough that she'd capsized a couple of times and spent most of the session on shore.

On the way back, we ferried against the wind, no longer with the current against it. If we hadn't ferried we'd easily have been blown out of the sound. We got to the lighthouse, took a break, and then continued on.

There were two more capsizes with subsequent rescues. With one of them, we decided to tow the paddler, and yours truly served as support while two others formed an I-tow. I clamped in my contact two as without it, the larger waves pushed our boats apart, and meantime we were bobbing up and down in these immense seas. We did this about three-quarters of a mile, until near shore, and we landed and everyone got out.


All but one that is. There was one unaccounted for, until we spotted him near the far end of the inner side of the breakwater. We still don't know if that was on purpose or not, but he paddled in, and we were all glad to have everyone in.

These were an exciting two days at sea. They were certainly a challenge, but this was a great bunch of people, and qualified for the conditions as well. I certainly got my first taste of big water, lumpy water, and I want more. I am reminded though of an adage one of my coaches is fond of:

"The sea will often give the test before the lesson."

Circ Circ

[Note: note sure how this never got published - back in July 2015]

A little buckaroo came to visit - my eleven-year-old niece - and out of that, I got some different views of New York City's waterways that help inform some of my trip planning.

First of all, we got real high up in the new World Trade Center and the old Empire State Building, and also took a trip out to Liberty and Ellis islands. These various trips afforded views I don't normally get of the upper harbor, and certainly from high up looking down at the East River. From these vantages I was able to more clearly see how sharp a bend it makes around the Lower East Side, and see very clearly the path from the East River through Hell Gate and on out to Long Island Sound. Sometimes a Mk 1 Eyeball if more informative than a chart or map.

I also took advantage of a Circle Line Cruise circumnavigation of Manhattan. This was informative in some different ways.

First of all, observing first hand the operations of the Circle Line. How the boat backed out and then essentially turned in place while drifting in an ebb current. That was a surprise - we'd moved to the next pier in the time it took to turn the boat in the direction of travel. 

Second though, was the guiding. We had a very informative guide who kept up a good patter through nearly all of the 2h15m trip. I learned a few things to incorporate into my own guiding. Now, to be sure I was giving my niece the lowdown on certain areas I knew about, sometimes pre-empting our guide, sometimes mentioning things he didn't. At the end of the cruise, the ladies in front of us complimented me and said they learned quite a few things the guide hadn't mentioned. That left me feeling chuffed!

We also saw seaplanes taking off from the East River seaplane terminal. I knew it existed but had never seen an actual takeoff or landing. That was cool! We also saw the Hermione, a French vessel that is a replica of the one that brought the Marquis de Lafayette from France during the American Revolution, offering the support of France in our War of Independence. 

Lastly, I saw some effects from the boat that I rarely get to see. There was a major wake wave being created by the boat as we churned up the Harlem River, easily three feet high and breaking at a low angle against the shore. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

For Sale: 2002 Valley Argonaut

For Sale: 2002 Valley Argonaut sea kayak in fibreglass layup.

This is essentially a high-volume Valley Aquanaut. Accoutrements include mounted deck compass, foot-operated pump, and attach points in all hatches and the cockpit.

All hatch covers and deck lines have been replaced within the past two years; the skeg cable has also been replaced and works flawlessly.

I've paddled this all around New York City, tideraces in Maine, surf in Ocean City NJ, and in the placid waters of Barnegat Bay. Couple of patched glass spots but cosmetic damage only - this boat is tight.

This has been a great boat and I'm a little reluctant to let it go, but it's too large for me. This boat deserves a meatier paddler who will take it to sea. Available for showing and paddling by appointment in Inwood, Manhattan, New York City, contact jkmccoy (a) .

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Camping in Gateway 3 of 3: The Journey Back

There's a trick to sunrise. Most people experience it in reverse at sunset. Sunrise is not the same as first light, and if you wake up at first light, as MM and I did, you can stare across the scene - the Narrows, in our case, and watch the world come to light. In the summer, even late summer, The sky gradually gets brighter, and you know it's not fully on, but you can see. The world isn't awake but it is visible, no longer hidden in the dark.

If you know what time sunrise is expected, you can count the minutes down. MM wanted to watch for a green flare, a condition that happens in just the right circumstances as the sun rises and catches moisture in the atmosphere to produce a momentary green shimmer. We didn't see that, but we did watch the sun come up, almost literally, only averting our eyes to avoid its glare.

I watched the horizon, checked my watch, drank my coffee, repeat repeat repeat, until there it was, a little orange nub, slowly emerging from the horizon, just like the art on any number of breakfast products. Look away, make breakfast, look back, and there it is in the sky. Eat, talk, look up, and it's higher. It's unreal. It's this giant source of heat and light that is in a different place in the sky every time you look for it.

We needed to get going fairly early to catch the tide. We packed up as best we could, abandoning food we knew we'd never eat. One lesson I learn from each of these trips: it's easy to overpack food. Everything else, I think I've got a pretty good handle on.

EY had left the night before, carting off her boat in her truck. The three of us reversed the previous night's process, carrying boats down to the beach, then gear in shifts, and a final sweep of the camp. I chatted briefly with a fisherman on the shore, casting out line, to let him know where we're aim for as we headed out. I asked him what kind of fish he caught there, on the stretch of beach just south of the Veranzano.

"Fluke," he said. "Sometimes shark."

With that, we were off.

We had some ebb current, with a light breeze blowing against it from the southeast. Rather than retrace our steps coming in, we headed south so as to take in Swinburne and Hoffman islands, two specks of land just off the shore. In decades past, they were considered for private property and also for quarantine or for immigrants - twins of Ellis and Liberty islands further north. They never amounted to much though, and in any case were landfill. Swinburne has the remains of a crematorium, making for a start but ominous landmark.

Back in the Saddle

Apologies and thanks to the estate of Gene Autry. He's my go-to paddle music on the trail.

We enjoyed pleasant waves and conditions on the way out: water splashing over our decks, a little bit of surf here and there, just a bit of effort to stay on course with wind slightly a-quarter. Once at Swinburne, we found it formed a nice windbreak, and we rested before the next phase.

MM in her lovely new Avocet LV.

Unlike our trip over, at this latitude we could paddle out to the last of the markers for the Ambrose Channel, the main shipping lane in to New York City. This way, we'd be more certain of our position relative to the channel, although with wind and current on our sides we got moved laterally a bit. We looked both ways before crossing and paddled with a purpose, and soon enough we were paddling along the coast of Coney Island.

A little further along, we opted for a break, which for one member turned into a "bio-break". We'd already figured out on the way over that in these circumstances, the easiest thing to do was to have one person support the boat while the other hopped out and did what was necessary, and then climbed back in the boat.

As we were doing this though, an FDNY boat came near and slowed down. I gave them the "big OK", an presumably since we didn't look panicked and weren't endangering anyone, they sped along and we finished up.

Fuzzy Picture.

I have to apologize for not having a lot of pictures on the way back. I think what happened was, unlike what I usually do, I left the waterproof housing open overnight and moisture got in, fogging up the insides. At Swinburne I actually removed my camera from the case and gave it a good wipe, nervous the whole time I'd lose either the camera or case. I thought that would settle in, but in subsequent photos it was clear - or rather, not clear - and I didn't have much worth showing.

Still, most of our sites were what we'd seen before. The parachute jump, the Wonder Wheel, various pleasure craft plying along the channel we were in. Shortly, we were passing Sheepshead Bay, then under the bridge, and on into Jamaica Bay.

I looked at my watch, and then at my chart. If we worked it, we'd make it in under four hours start to finish. I paddled hard.

My mates were happy to continue more leisurely. They were having fun. Often, that's my role - fun over performance. But now I had a goal. There it was, the radome, and the old cargo plane behind it. Our original launching ramp would't be much farther.

I landed on the beach with just a minute or two to spare. Victory! I chatted with two passersby on the ramp while MM and DR caught up.

In short order, we were landed and started unloading our boats. It didn't take long to have the clown car line. We parked our cars on the ramp and loaded up, then put on our boats and drove out.

This was a great trip and fulfills most of a dream I've had for more than a couple of years now. After paddling for a decade almost exclusively on the Hudson and East Rivers, it's nice to see the lower harbor and the waters of New York City that are, essentially, right on the ocean. There's not much between we and the sea; those big ships coming up the Ambrose are coming in from all over the world.

This was new territory. I'de never paddled in Jamaica Bay, and hardly ever along Staten Island or Coney Island. Conditions were favorable; I was prepared for worse. And, while I practiced some marker navigation, there were familiar landmarks to use as a handrail in the event I gave up completely on my chart.

I'll go back again, and hopefully with the same bunch of friends. There's nothing like good company on a journey of the sea.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Camping in Gateway 2 of 3: Camping at Staten Island

Once on the island, we made camp and found things to do.

First of all there was the schlepping of the boats. The portage was at least a couple hundred yards, across the sand to a grassy path, then up a short hill and around a fence into what amounted to a paddock. This meant unloading the boats, making several trips for kit, and then trips moving the boats up. Then we pitched camp.

Once our tents were in place, we could put things away. This seems like a curious habit considering we were only staying for the night, but I have to say that for myself at least, putting things away is comforting, a running of the mental checklist, pitching what's not needed and knowing I've got all I came with.

After that we went for a walk.

Fort Wadsworth is a historic site, the western side of a fort system guarding the Narrows, which is the gap between Staten Island and Brooklyn, the southerly approach from the sea. It dates back to the Revolutionary War, when it was used primarily by the British, but for much of its history was a Federal military base, for infantry, for harbor mines, and presently as a US Coast Guard command.

The historic fort.

We walked up a long road that gained elevation behind the fort, at one point affording us tremendous views of the harbor.

Jersey City (left), New York City (right) 

Behind the fort itself is a steep slope full of weeds and other undergrowth. How does the military keep it clear?


The goats of Staten Island.

The goats are kept enclosed in an electric fence. They much on pretty much everything they can in the space, and had clearly left a swath of destruction moving from one side of the hill to another.

Back in camp, we visited with one of our camp neighbors, who owned an interesting car.

The Model A.

He was a retired sailor, and his family had bought him the model A. We're not clear how much was refurbished, how much to original spec, and so on, but it looked legit to us.

Lucky !
The talisman out the side was an old fox fur, not a giant rabbit foot. It was his good luck charm.

That night, we roared another campfire and had sausages for dinner and s'mores for dessert.

I kept my toes toasty!

Toasty Toes !

While our stay was short, it was pleasant. The facilities were cleaner and closer than at Jamaica Bay, though there were fewer spots to camp in. The firewood was free but limited in quantity - and after our walk some of our camp neighbors pointed out a man that they said had absconded with some of the bark off our logs!

There were some kids - an asian family across from us, and some young people next to them. We were certainly a novelty to these folks who, city dwellers, camped to get away from it all. For them it was enough to simply be living in a tent, in the woods, away from their neighborhoods.

Why did we go camping? Much the same reason. We could have paddled these distances separately, going home each nigh and coming back. But where's the fun in that? In kayak camping, you know you have everything you need, within limits, in your boat. Food, clothing, and shelter are there, along with paddling kit.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Camping in Gateway 1 of 3: Journey to Staten Island

This past Labor Day weekend I fulfilled a dream I've had for quite a while. Well, most of the dream. I kayak-camped with some friends in Gateway Recreation Area, a set of National Parks spread across the lower harbor of New York City.

There are three major pieces, each on Federal property that was, at various points in history, military in nature. On the easternmost point of Staten Island, just below the Verrazano Bridge, is Fort Wadsworth; in Jamaica Bay, at Bennet Field, is a set of runways that played host to the golden age of aviation before becoming a Naval Air Station; at Sandy Hook, a narrow spit pointing up into the harbor, is a former Coast Guard station, used in the distant past to defend the harbor, and during the Cold War as a missile defense station. Each site has campgrounds and facilities, with reasonable portages to the water.

My dream is to paddle there from my "home" boathouse in Inwood, Manhattan. However, that is a long trip (at least thirty miles to Jamaica Bay, twenty or so just to Staten Island), and it's difficult to find the right combination of time off, people who are capable, available, and fun to paddle with, not to mention cooperative weather. So we cheated: we cartopped our boats out to Bennet Field Saturday,  camped and paddled, then made the journey to Staten Island, where we camped and returned the next day.

My companions were EY, DR, and MM. EY and DY are mutual friends from the Appalachian Mountain Club, under whose umbrella I've taught out at Fire Island. Their experience is more on the whitewater side - EY is an amazing whitewater canoeist, and recently paddled the Colorado river in an expedition. MM is a new acquaintance, whom I met taking an instructor course this summer, and with whom I went to the Paddle for a Cure event; she's also an avid surfer (with boards) and knows the lower harbor pretty well.

We were really fortunate with the weather. The entire weekend was predicted to be sunny in the 80s F, with just a few clouds Sunday, and winds no more than 8 mph, except Monday when we had winds up to 10 with gusts to 20.

As with most of these trips, we ran a little late getting there, but were able to set up camp and go for a little trip on Jamaica Bay itself. Jamaica Bay is a large, shallow wetland, with a few channels running through it.

Day Marker, Jamaica Bay

Bennet Field is a surreal place. In the distance, we could make out lower Manhattan. After a lengthy drive along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and then down Flatbush Avenue, we entered the grounds past unmanned guard posts, then drove up long streets to the visitor's center, which was the original control center, a squat Art Deco building overlooking a giant parking lot. After checking in, we drove down a long taxiway to the campsites - Wiley Post A and B, which were no more than extended yards of grass and trees a two minute drive from the water.

Over cracked asphalt we could make out the Bay, Queens, Brooklyn, even Manhattan, and Coney Island. On the far side of the bay was JFK airport, its tower an easy landmark.

Paddling in Jamaica Bay

We paddled east from an old seaplane launch, past Ruffle Bar, along a channel until we turned north-ish to the Cross Bay Boulevard bridge, and then westward with the current, around Canarsie Pol and back to our destination. It was dusk when we got back, and two rushed ahead to start dinner. We had some roast chicken, salad, rice, and s'mores. EY and DR turned in early, having been up late for work the night before. MM and I walked out to a wide spot and tried to spot planets, stars, and constellations - all while the NYPD took off and landed their helicopters at their base nearby.

The next morning, we packed up everything: tents, pads, sleeping bags, cooking stoves, food, clothes - into our boats and launched off the beach by the seaplane launch. This would be our first full day at sea!

Heading out of Rockaway Inlet.

First Waypoint: Red Number 6.

I'd charted a course to take advantage of the current. One of the challenges is that the water is coming in to Jamaica Bay at a time when you need to leave to be in the right place for it to help carry in to the harbor. So, the first hour and a half was spent paddling against a small but growing amount of current, as we left the bay and headed out of Rockaway Inlet.

EY paddling past Sheepshead Bay.

Onwards we paddled, on a beautiful early September morning.

Along Coney Island.

 Little Odessa.

We took a short snack break before passing by Coney Island. All along the way we stayed out from the swim beaches, though occasionally we found an intrepid swimmer out near us. Generally we were able to find a lifeguard on a surfboard and go about 40 yards out farther. Private beaches, public beaches - we passed several.

All along the way, the Parachute Jump at Coney Island was our main landmark. This was a little nostalgic for me because when I first moved to NYC eighteen years ago, I lived on Ocean Parkway, much closer to Coney than to Manhattan, and in my first few summers it was easier to head to the beach than into the city. Quite a bit has changed, but the landmarks, for the most part, have not.

Luna Park.

Wonder Wheel.

We stopped for lunch shortly after passing the pier at Coney Island. This is not the pier I remember from when I lived here - this was modern, concrete and steel, not a rickety old wooden contraption. It was still filled with fishermen though.

By this point we were catching a little current carrying us westward - which meant that we were gaining ground while we ate. That was a welcome relief. The idea was, we would head to Norton Point, then turn north with the current, paddle up along Gravesend Bay, and look for a good time to cross the Ambrose Channel - the major shipping channel used by cruise ships, container ships, ferries, and barges.

Norton Point and Verazzano in sight.

Norton Point can be a bit bouncy, as the current makes a relatively sharp turn and the depth changes. We surfed through some fun little waves and began looking for markers - Norton Point Light, and some private yellow buoys in the bay.

Towards the north end of the bay we moved towards a yellow buoy and looked both waves. We also listened to channel 13 for announcements of outbound traffic. Nothing was on the horizon. There weren't any good markers to line up a transit, so I decided we would just head straight at Staten Island, knowing the current would carry us north about a quarter-mile.

"Ready, let's go!" We set out, moving steadily, until we were well westward of the nearest channel marker I could make, a green buoy about half a mile south of us. The water was shallow, and the incoming current was forming little baby surf waves.

Most of our group simply surfed right in. I decided to try, "landing in surf", backpaddling on the receding water to get momentum against the next wave coming in. This failed miserably. I was off-angle and got pushed in at a quarter, skidding in to the beach like a bad car racing movie. Better luck next time.

Once landed, one of our group walked to the registration office, which turned out to be over a mile away. Meantime, the rest of us unpacked, scoped out the campgrounds (which were only three hundred feet away), and used the facilities. Once MM came back, we moved our gear up, and later our boats. EY stowed hers on her truck - she had to do some work on Monday, so she'd staged her truck ahead of time.

Camp at Fort Wadsworth.

We were immediately south of the Verazzano Bridge, looking directly out over the Narrows to Brooklyn. This led to the surreal site above - the Norwegian Breakaway, a "cruise to nowhere", music blaring, en route to party at sea. Mind you this ship is three times the size of the Titanic, one of the ten largest cruise ships in service today, and the largest such ship to operate out of the Port of New York.

Right there, near camp. No big deal. Also crossing the waters we'd paddled just two hours earlier.

View of the Harbor.

Once we had the camp set up, we took a little walk to enjoy Fort Wadsworth. I'll give more detail in a separate post on the sights we saw, but suffice it to say, Fort Wadsworth has defended NYC for centuries, and has a lot of amazing history to it.

Also, goats. More about that later.

Tanker Entering.

Lower on the ground, we saw more large vessels entering and exiting the harbor.

Once EY left, the three of us were left to cook and share stories and enjoy the view. One curious outcome was that all three of us were paddling Valley boats. If you're a Valley fan, here's three boats in progressively smaller sizes: the Argonaut, An LV Avocet, and a Gemini SP.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Circumnavigation 2015

"It's on my bucket list," she said.

The client, L, was was born on Coney Island and now works in another city. She'd come back this particular weekend to do this specifically. The other client, P, was a member of our club, someone who'd had a few lessons and trips, but nothing like this.

We were going to circumnavigate Manhattan.

Leading into it, it wasn't clear we'd even run this trip. Only L was signed up until two days before, and there was a large group event run by a coalition of local clubs scheduled for the following weekend.

Well here we were. A full Sunday ahead of us.

I'd gotten in early to check weather and conditions - low wind, would be very hot later, tides - well, they weren't predicted to be any different than we'd already looked up. I worked out a plan with some options for takeouts, diversions, emergencies, depending on how we performed as a group.

When the clients arrived, we did a quick bit of introductions and pulled boats. "We're going to be together all day," I said. "Let's get to know each other." She worked in renewable energy. He was French, but had lived in NYC for fifteen years, and only recently came to sea kayaking.

I put them through a quick bit of paces and coaching before we left, and showed them a low brace, just in case something knocked them off the saddle. With that, we set off on our way.

Leaving Pier 40.

The first part of our journey was to leave Pier 40 and head south, counter-clockwise around the island. We had a little bit of current against us, but the East River was already flowing north. With this timing, we wouldn't have to wait long at Hell Gate to cross past its maw.

Waiting for a Statue Cruise to leave.

The next step was to round Battery, the southernmost tip of Manhattan. I remember on my first couple of circumnavs, this was the most frightening place - there are many large ferry boats of various liveries moving around, as well as commercial traffic rounding one way or the other. But you know what? Most of it is very simple.

The Statute cruises pull in and depart just east of Pier A. They take a while to load and unload. Watch them, and time your move when they've just left and just arrived. Granted we were early in the morning, but these ferries follow a predictable path. Also, on the radio, they're generally friendly and response. You can always ask the captain if he minds you moving past.

Paddling past a loading Statue Cruise.

As we paddled past the Statue Cruises, we were no longer being pushed up the Hudson, but pulled towards the East River. With no wind, and little traffic, conditions could not have been more ideal for our little band.

On around Battery, Clipper City in the background.

Smiles, everyone!
Not pictured: passing the Staten Island ferry and the Governors Island ferry. The former is large and orange, and very difficult to miss. It also leaves on a pretty regular schedule of five minutes after the top and bottom of the hour (as in, xx:05 and xx:35). So one, you can see it coming and going from far off, and two, if you arrive anywhere near the top or bottom of the hour, just wait. There's a nice little nook. Bide your time.

Governors is a little trickier because when in Whitehall station (Manhattan) it's occluded by the slip walls of the State Island ferry. You can take a peek, and radio if needed. You can also just keep your eye out earlier, and make sure you know where it's at.

In our case we saw its radio mast and bridge slipping out as we crossed the empty Staten Island ferry nest. We waited, she pulled out, and we went on our merry way, past the heliport at Wall Street, and then across to the eastern side of the East River.

Our first water break.

"How's the boat," I asked. I always ask clients that, no matter the trip or lesson. I've put P in a Tiderace Xcape and L in an Impex Force Cat.

"It's so stable," she said. They were both comfortable.

From the East River, Below Manhattan Bridge.

The blurry witch appeared on my camera, but the above shot and others came out OK. Here we're looking at lower Manhattan from the east, with the Brooklyn Bridge arcing in from the left, and One World Trade (aka the Freedom Tower, aka the World Trade Center) in the background.

Passing Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Shortly after, we passed the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, now used fora  variety of commercial purposes. This large vessel was the "Orient Delivery". I can't imagine a more apt name for a ship like that.

Approaching the Williamsburg Bridge.

We took another short break at the Williamsburg Bridge, where the river widens and straightens out a bit, and continued up, with a good amount of current with us.

Around this time a lone paddler came up behind us, paddling at a very fast pace. It was an acquaintance, T, who I know from Lake Sebago ad kayak polo. We exchanged hellos and he explained that he was catching up with some mates, so that was the extend of our conversation.

My radio has a built in GPS and according to it we were clocking 4.7-5.6 knots. To my speedier friends aware that the average paddler moves at 3 knots, let me remind you these were largely untrained beginners. We had a lot of current helping us out, though I kept them paddling.

Up the East River.

We did slow down as we approached Roosevelt Island. Shortly before, in Long Island City, we passed a ferry terminal and had an awkward bit of communication with one of the ferries. He was well out in the channel and not changing his heading as we approached the terminal, and with current, we were about to slide by it. In fact we were north of the terminal when this ferry turned directly at us and blew his horn - he seemed to want to glide in sideways to the terminal.

We moved to the side but really: signaling your intentions helps everyone.

Passing Midtown East - United Nations in background.

Passing Long Island City.

Passing the United Nations.

As we approached Roosevelt Island, we went up the eastern channel, between Roosevelt and Queens. In short order we spotted the Costco that presages Hallets Cove, and pulled in for a little break.

Here is where this circumnav plan varied from others. Crossing in front of Hell Gate is often something that requires waiting an hour or so, simply because trips run out of other locations in Manhattan usually get us here at a different time. The current that flows through Hell Gate is, on paper at least, never slower than two knots, and you have to paddle across that, in an extended ferry crossing.

In this case however, we were only about twenty minutes early, so we cooled off a bit before paddling over to the northern tip of Roosevelt Island, waited for a barge to pass, then paddled up and around Mill Rock.

We were right behind two other kayakers, out for more or less than same thing. We caught up with them a little further up, along the Randalls Island shore. It was T and his mates, having performed a pretty remarkable exit along the shore wall, as if it was a neatly-stacked set of rocks in Maine. We said hello again, but thins time we were taking off. I had something different in mind for these clients.

Little Hell Gate Park, Randalls Island.

There's a small wetland in the center of Randalls Island. It's what remains of a watery passage that used to separate Randalls Island and Wards Island, called Little Hell Gate - a smaller alternative to its larger and better-known cousin. In the twentieth century, a number of projects filled in the passage along the west side of the island, leaving only this little tidal wetland.

I've run trips from Inwood to Little Hell Gate with the club I belong to. On a circumnav, it's a bit out of the way, but with our schedule we were facing about .7 knots of currnet against us, and I thought an extended break was in order. We paddled into the marsh, and I played dumb, "how far back can we go", until we arrived at a little dirt ramp, from where we could get out, walk over to some newly-cleaned public restrooms, and top off our water bottles from a fountain.

Reviewing the Paddler's Box.

About an hour later,  we set off again, and made our way up the Harlem at a pretty good pace, until we arrived at Peter Sharp Boathouse - the halfway point, and where we'd stop for lunch.

The best part about this stop? Shade. My biggest concern on this trip was managing heat and hydration. Air temperature was in the nineties, with little wind. I made sure everyone drank up water, and stopped more frequently to let them cool off. An extended lunch break in the shade, at the halfway mark, was perfect.

Ready to go.
Here we ran into an acquaintance, H, who was setting out in his folding kayak for the 79th Street Boat Basin. I've run into him a couple of times before - he's someone who keeps his folding kayaking folded, in his apartment, heads out to a spot somewhere in the city, assembles it, and paddles it. We said our hellos and he waded into the water to launch.

Once we were rested up, and had again made use of facilities and refueled our bodies, we set out again, rounding the northern tip of Manhattan, under the 207th Street Bridge and then the Broadway Bridge. Then, something happened, which has never happened on a trip I've run.

One of the clients' mother waved to us from the shore in the park. We paddled over and said hello.

"I just ordered some chocolate chip pancakes," she said. "From the cafe over there." She pointed at Indian Road Cafe, a popular neighborhood joint. Heck I've gone to trivia nights there.

We explained that we'd just eaten, and in any case had to keep moving to stay with the current. We gave her an estimated time of completion and were on our way.

Surveying the Hudson, near Spuyten Duyvil.

We headed on out past Spuyten Duyvil, to gorgeous views of the Palisades, and then turned south, and out into the channel to catch as much current as we could get.

Looking south to the George Washington Bridge.

Another Water Break, Palisades in background.

The George Washington Bridge (and Little Red Lighthouse).

We moved on past the Little Red Lighthouse and the George Washington Bridge, and then on past Morningside Heights and Harlem, watching the skyline to our left change from parkland to apartment-land.

Harlem / Morningside Heights.

New Jersey to the right.

Out in the channel catching as much current as we can.

As we approached the mooring field to the north of the 79th Street Boat Basin, we moved inshore a bit because some tour boats were coming down the river behind us, and a barge was being pushed north - well out of the way, but traffic overall was about to get crowded. We took some pictures, and talked about the next two stages of our journey.

A brave man - taking his phone out of its case on the water!

She kept her phone in its case.

We stopped at the Intrepid. I considered going, but the next mile or so was going to be busy, since the next few piers were all working tour and taxi berths. Also, the Intrepid is kind of a nice place to take pictures. And I was thirsty. I wanted to take a nice gulp of water.

A brief stop at Pier 84 - and the Intrepid.

One thing that was kinda weird - so this pier is the home of another paddle shop, and there were several kayaks and paddleboards out. A small motorboat wandered in. I'm not sure what the rules are but I've never seen that happened, and in short order the dockworkers shooed him away. As far as I can tell they wanted to get close to the Intrepid for photos.

We set out, glided past the Circle Line docks, past the major water taxi dock, and then continued on the final leg of our voyage.

One World Trade in the distance.

I think I may be officially done counting how many circumnavigations I've completed. I think this is number five or six. In some ways, they aren't hard - many New York paddlers joke that it's the easiest thirty miles you'll ever do - but there are several stages, and each stage presents its own challenges.

There are the usual concerns like wind and weather, as well as group shepherding and incident management, but there's also the boat traffic, places to take out in emergency, and the duration - it's a lot of time in the boat. So, it's not a trip I would take for granted, or do "in my sleep." All the trips I've been on went well, with only one requiring that we put someone out, near the end. A lot of things can go wrong, and avoiding those things is paramount.

Home again to Pier 40 !

This was a trip I ran as a guide for New York Kayak Company. Located at Pier 40 in Manhattan, essentially Houston street and the Hudson River. Pier 40 offers very close access to the waters around lower Manhattan, putting Liberty, Staten Island, and even Sandy Hook in reach of the experienced paddler.