Sunday, December 16, 2012

December Paddling

It's a sign of my non-kayaking life that I haven't blogged about last week's paddle, and so I'll describe it briefly before diving into yesterday's. In both cases, these have been my first drysuit paddles. While the air temperature hasn't been too terrible, the water temperature has officially fallen below 50 degrees fahrenheit, making the protection of a drysuit a necessity.

Last weekend - the 8th - I went to the Inwood Canoe Club intending to work on a boat I've been repairing, and then to go for a paddle. As it happened, I ran in to one of the club officers, KM, who was heading out for a paddle. I reversed my plans, paddling with him before coming back to work on the boat.

The current was near max ebb as we headed north, making for a hard paddle up the river. Wind was coming from the west, so as we made the turn to go into Spuyten Duyvil, there were some squirrelly currents to deal with. Once we were in the Harlem River, however, both the wind and current died down a bit, and we had an easier time. We made it as far as the Broadway Bridge before turning around and heading back - much easier as drifted back with the current.

Yesterday, I went out with AA, another friend from the club. We timed our trip with the current, riding up the Hudson quickly and into the Harlem.

As we came up by Peter Sharp, we too in the coastline. Accustomed to spring and summer, the most noticeable difference is that with a lack of foliage, much more is visible.

Paddling Past the Park.

We decided to keep on, heading for the three bridges of Hamilton, Washington, and High Bridge. As we approached, the current abruptly changed, and we only made it to the first of these bridges before deciding to turn back.
The Hamilton, Washington, and High bridges.

Earlier, we realized we had not seen anyone else on the water - including motorized vessels. That changed as one of the Classic Harbor Line vessels (the Manhattan) approached and passed us by.

The commercial touring yacht Manhattan.

We paddled back and landed at the near near Peter Sharp, aka Swindler's Cove. We took an extended break, used the local facilities, took pictures, talked about things going on in the club. We watched the tide drain out, leaving our boats high and dry. We hoped in and paddled around, stopping in a nearby marsh area first.

I like to chase wildlife. Geese are pretty patient; Mallards will take flight at a greater distance. Whatever these birds were, they allowed me to tail them, riding in their wake.

Birds on the Water, Harlem River, New York.

Generally, conditions in both the Harlem and the Hudson were very calm. With slow current, the water became glass-like, lending itself to plenty of reflective images such as this.

Bronx Buildings Reflected

As we went back, I snapped this shot of the Spuyten Duyvil railroad bridge. We watched it move from closed to open, to closed again, locking into place with a distinctive sound.

And that was our trip. The current had tuned while we were out, making for a much easier trip on the way back.

I'll write in more detail about the drysuit separately, but generally, it works really well - though I haven't put it through trials yet. I do tend to retain a lot of heat, and need to adjust my layering underneath, and I'm still perfecting my acrobatic routine for donning and exiting the suit. However, it isn't hard to paddle in, and I'm looking forward to more paddling further into the winter season.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Paddle

I went paddling with a friend on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The air temperature was predicted to be relatively warm, in the low fifties, and the rest of the forecast was otherwise acceptable. AW and I met at the Inwood Canoe Club, and went out for a couple of hours, heading south against the current and crossing the river, before heading back with the flood tide.

Looking South at the GWB

Details for the more technically inclined: because the water temperature is dropping, AW wore her drysuit over layers. I wore a wetsuit with a Kokotat Tropos jacket and waterproof pants, along with some new Kokotat water boots. Unlike scuba diving shoes, the sole is hard, making them better for bracing against foot pegs.

Since the Argonaut (my boat) is rapped at the still-closed Pier 96, I paddled a club Looksha IV. I have most of my gear, including my sprayskirt, so it wasn't too different from how I usually paddle. The main difference is that the Looksha has a rudder system rather than a skeg, as my boat does. I would be missing that skeg later in the trip. AW paddled her Tiderace Xplore-S.

While we got ready, we saw another paddler in a short boat making his way down and across the river. We caught up with him later. His name was Dan Barron, paddling a surf kayak. He had launched at the beach at Dyckman, just north of us, and was on his way back when we caught up with him just north of Riverbank State Park.

AW headed down on the Manhattan side, with no particular destination in mind. The current was already flooding in, and would hit max flood about two hours after we left, so the current was increasingly against us as we went. We figured we would get as far as 125th street, and maybe cross the river earlier. Since we felt like we were doing well, we crossed below the George Washington Bridge, and then made our way south. We made it as far as the Ferryboat Binghamton, but not to our reach destination of Mitsuwa. While not much further, if we had gone there, we would have have simply turned right around in order to cross the river before it got too dark to be safe. We only had one light between us and didn't want to risk crossing without more lights.

The Ferryboat Binghamton, November 2012

Traffic was on the light side. We only saw a couple of motor boats, and only one barge, much farther down the river than we were going. There was a DEP boat at Riverbank, which slipped its mooring and headed south while we were resting across the river. There was a NY Waterways ferry coming and going from Edgewater; we saw it a couple of times. Otherwise, however, traffic was very quiet, and we were able to enjoy the scenery.

The foliage along the river really was hitting its autumnal bloom. There were gorgeous red anr orange leaves, many falling into the river. We took in some of the new construction along the bike path being created south of the boathouse, and spotted some new ramshackle fishing holes - bespoke wooden shanties along the river that locals fish from. We saw some guys fishing, and we also saw what looked like a volunteer trash cleanup on the rocks just north of the Manhattan tower on the GWB. We also saw some new decorative detritus - a guitar panel hanging from a tree, and a speed limit sign resting on a rock, facing out on the river. This was a land-based sign, mind you, advising speeds no faster than forty miles per hour.

Not too long after we left, I spotted a bottle floating in the water. I paddled close to look at it, becase it looked unusual. I was a wine bottle than someone had turned into a 'message in a bottle', complete with phone number to call. I kept it with me to look at when we got back.

As we paddled, the wind picked up, and after crossing the river, it tended to cock my boat to the left. I did a lot of sweep strokes to the left as we made our way down. On the way back, after crossing the river, the wind changed direction, and tended to cock my boat towards the right, towards Manhattan, when I wanted to go north. The wind didn't feel strong, but the apparent motion of the river was east too west, rather than north, as the current was flowing. It was frustrating, but by taking a couple of breaks, I managed to keep the boat headed in the right direction despite the wind.

When we got back, we tried opening the bottle, but it the message was wet inside. I took it home and, after washing the bottle, let it dry with my other gear, eventually using a hair dryer to dry the message out. It came out in two pieces, which, once put back together, spelled out a message of: Thanksgiving 2K12.

I've been considering a drysuit lately, and this paddle certainly makes me want to continue paddling through the winter - for self-maintenance if nothing else. I was surprised at how out of shape I felt after just a month of not paddling. I want to continue paddling in order to keep my skills up, as well as to stay in good physical shape. I have a lot of paddling planned for next summer, and I can't be starting over physically in May.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


A hurricane - wait, it wasn't, it was a large storm - whatever it was, Sandy hit New York City last week. More accurately, it made landfall on the eastern seaboard, devastating beach communities in New Jersey, Staten Island, and Long Island. Power was knocked out for millions in the region, and massive flooding drowned lower Manhattan to a level where some buildings won't be usable for weeks.

Relevant to this blog, the flooding came up very high at both of the boathouses I paddle out of. At Pier 96, the water came into the boathouse to about four feet high, depositing a thin layer of mud on the concrete floor. At Inwood Canoe Club, the water came up higher because the boathouse sits lower. The flooding lifted the launch dock higher than the main dock, and swept away portions of the retaining wall that holds dirt onto the island.

In both cases, the clubs had taken measures to lift everything up high that had to be and could be. Paddles, floats, papers, electronics - everything went up or went away. fiberglass boats were lifted to at least four feet off the ground. I'm happy to say the Argonaut, ten feet up and as high as could be, survived without incident. the only damage, such as it was, was mostly cosmetic to the boathouses. In the case of Pier 96, the Hudson River Park Trust is tackling the major repairs, and at Inwood, the club is putting together a plan to replace lost soil, repair the walls, and clean the place up.

In both cases, work days after the storm cleared away the detritus that washed in, and through out the wreckage of what was left. The boathouses are in good shape, though there is still work to be done at each.

This is all a long way of saying I haven't been out on the water recently. There is a possibility of getting out this weekend, but following the storm, there was a sudden drop in temperature, and as the weeks roll by, we'll soon be in drysuit-only season.

But fear not! The cowgirl has prepared for this contingency, and if she's not out paddling, she'll be blogging, and writing down kayak-related thoughts that she hasn't had time for in the regular paddling season.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Peter Sharp Group Paddle

I had an idea to paddle to Peter Sharp again, or at least to points north. We're also at the end of the season, not long before the combination of water and air temperature drops below the threshold for more specialized protective gear. I've already been paddling with my paddling jacket lately, and planned to start using my wetsuit soon. So, I thought it might be a good idea to invite some other people along, just to make sure I'm not out all by my lonesome, just in case something bad happens.

After sending out a group invite, I had two takers: MA and DS, both experienced paddlers. These ladies are getting up in their years but they are strong, and can paddle long. They'd be great companions.

I ought to mention that this was just a couple of days before a tropical storm was to hit New York City, or at least the eastern seaboard. TS Sandy, aka the "frankenstorm" was floating somewhere off the coast of Georgia, so we figured this would be the last day we could safely paddle before the storm hit.

We set off early, around 820, to catch as much tide as we could. The skies were gray and cloudy, but temperatures were not bad - about 60 F for both air and water. We passed some barges parked in the river - as well as one moving south, unusually, on the Manhattan side. There is a large charted shipping channel on the New Jersey side of the river. I don't really ever seeing a barge that big, that far north, on the east side of the river. We paddled further out into the middle of the river to pass it on our left.

By now, this route is familiar, old hat, dare I say routine, keeping in mind that no day on the water is ever routine (see above paragraph about the barge). However, the paddle north was pretty straightforward: we passed Fairway, Riverbank State Park, Inwood Canoe Club, and passed under the railroad bridge to take a short break in a cove at Spuyten Duyvil.

I tried getting close to a flock of geese in the water.

At this point, the current picked up against us. Water was flowing out of the Harlem and into the Hudson. While it wasn't bad at first, it did become progressively harder, and as we slowed down, we tucked in to the shore, where the current is less strong. 

We passed some crew boats, presumably from Columbia University. Later, near Peter Sharp, we spotte some people on the Bronx side of the river dismantling their dock. It was the Harlem River Rowing Club, a non-profit focused on rowing, based out of (I believe) Roberto Clemente Park. They were dismantling their dock in anticipation of TS Sandy.

We landed at Swindler's Cove - a small beach that is part of the park near Peter Sharp. Peter Sharp was in use, and in any case, the bathrooms are in the park - although this day we would learn that they were out of order, leading us to use some more dismal portable facilities about a five minute walk away.

Some volunteers were weeding and rep-planting. We sat at a picnic table and ate our lunch. I had one of my civilian MREs - Creamy Chicken Tetrazini, which was actually quite good.

Because we'd run into current coming in, our stay was foreshortened, and we left about an hour after we landed. Now, we had the current with us, not only in the Harlem but on the way back. We were passing under the George Washington Bridge just before maximum ebb. To give you an idea of the difference this made, it took us three hours and fifteen minutes to get to Peter Sharp, but only about two hours to get back.

One the way back, we stopped to take pictures in front of the autumnal foliage. Between the Palisades on one side, and Washington Park on the other, there were ample instances of yellow, red, and even green leaves, against a somber gray sky, with just enough sunlight to bring out the colors.

We also stopped briefly at Inwood to say hi to some of my friends there, who were working on the dock, upgrading the flotation. They warned me not to linger, lest I get pressed into service.

As we rocketed back, I realized we were going to want o get in close to the shore well before we got to Pier 96, or else the current would carry us past it. As it was, we ended up making a sort of ferry crossing in - paddling straight at the shore while the current carried us down. Along the way, we saw a fish jump out of the water - a big one two, about 15 inches long as far as we could tell. He made it a good foot or so out of the water, and I scared one of my co-workers, because I yelped "fish!" right as I was turning to check on our other paddle-mate. I wish I'd gotten a picture, but fish are pretty unpredictable.

This was a good trip - a nice distance, a bit of a challenge on the current, and for some, possibly the last paddle of the season. While it's a familiar trip by now, it is by no means routine. It's definitely one I'll keep in my back pocket as a sort of extended trip to invite others on.


I'm falling behind in my paddle blogging. I actually have two trips to tell ya'll about. My trip two weeks ago to Piermont is where I'll start.

Piermont is a small township in New York, just south of Nyack. Below it, on the south side of a lengthy pier, is a salt marsh, full of reeds, critters, and tall reeds. Some of my Inwood friends have been up there a few times, and suggested it as a trip. Along with me were IL, AW, AA, BG, and LL. MH met us later in the day in his canoe.

The most notable thing about paddling up there, and later back down, was the wind. It was steady and mostly from the south, occasionally coming from the east. From the south was OK, but from the east, it would cock our boats when it picked up. While not dangerous, it meat that paddling up was some work, and for one of our less experienced paddlers, a hard introduction to the value of a sweep stroke.

Once we arrived at the marsh, however, things were much calmer. The wind died down, for one thing, and once we were in the marsh, we were sheltered enough that there was pretty much no wind. There are a couple of canals that wind their way through the marsh, allowing us to penetrate pretty deeply, until the weeds narrowed or the water got too shallow - or in one case, a large treefall blocked out path. We maneuvered under branches, around logs, and pushed over mud flats for an hour or so, before heading south for lunch.

We stopped at a place called "Italian Garden". It's a little beach a couple of miles south of the marsh, part of a hiking trail near Alpine. Wed been there before, on a hiking trip in winter. Now we were landing there in our boats. We had lunch, rested, and waited for the tide to pick up. MH paddled up in his canoe, and by pure coincidence we met someone involved in the community-based testing of water quality, who knew some of the Inwood people from their participation in the program.

Eventually, it was time to leave and we set out, with the current but with the wind in our face, giving us some fun waves to play in.

I ought to mention that we also saw the results of a recent rockslide, north of Alpine but below Italian Garden. It occurred last spring, and it's clear from the color of the rock where it happened.

As we passed the marina at Alpine, we spotted the sloop Clearwater, the flagship of Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization devoted to environmental concerns on New York waterways. I actually paddled out to say hello - and get an indication of their intentions, because for a while it looked like they were going to make a U-turn and arc into our path. They weren't - they were heading to Alpine - which made it odd that the next day, we read that they'd run aground in the low tide.

As we came back, we saw familiar landmarks - the Henry Hudson bridge, the George Washington bridge, the New York City skyline in the distance. This was a great trip, one that, like our Bronx Kill trip, took me to an environment totally unlike the big-river paddling I normally do. If you' in the area, the Piermont marsh is a great stop on any itinerary.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I had a short list of repairs to make to the Argonaut recently. One of them was the skeg.

The skeg is a retractable fin that helps steady the boat in wind. People debate the merits of skegs,and rudders, but I for one have found the skeg useful - when it works.

Familiar readers will realize this is the second time I've made this repair. What happened was, one day I put the boat in aft-first. When I pulled it out the next week, I inadvertently pulled the control knob against one of the shelf columns, fully extending the skeg before I dragged it on the floor. The result was exactly the same problem I had before: the cable was bent.

The good news is, since I'd done this before, with the help of a friend, I knew exactly what I needed to do: I had to remove the cable, cut a new cable to fit, and then put the new cable in.

I started by removing the cable.

To do this, I started by loosening the control knob up front. On Valley and Impex make boats, there's a small allen screw inside the knob. Once loose, the knob no longer moves the cable - and the cable can be pulled free.

Once the knob is loose, you can see how the mechanism works. The knob does not slide along the tube. The screw goes through a little hole in the tub and presses directly on the cable. The tube actually moves with the cable - which means you need to know where it needs to be when the skeg is fully up or down. Hence, the Sharpie marks on the rub outlining where the knob goes.

At this point I could pull the skeg all the way down, and disconnect the cable from the skeg itself.

There's your trouble !
Here the skeg is ready to be detached. What I don't capture in photos is that the front corner actually hooks on to a round bar in the hull, and that is what it swings on. the steel braid cable just pushes and pulls.

The cable threads through the top edge of the skeg, and is then secured by a screw coming in the back edge. At this point I just had to loosen the screw and pull the cable free.

Not pictured: cutting the replacement cable to fit. While I ordered a cable specific for Valley boats, I think it's a generic cable that has to be cut to fit. I compared it against the old, but given the kink, I made my best guess, and ended up having to cut another inch off later, after I'd threaded it through and attached it to the knob and skeg.

the first time I did this I had a grinder, or some kind of power saw that just went right through the braided cable. Someone seems to have borrowed that tool, so I used a hacksaw, sawing away at the cable as it was held in a vise. then, I used a a grindstone to bevel it out. You don't want any loose threads going in.

Attaching isn' too tricky, but it does require some patience. I had to twist the cable a bit to coax it through. Also, as you can see above, the collar came loose, and I had to line it up as well.

Once lined up, the cable is attached to the skeg and fully extended. The cable goes through the collar (the tube) and the knob locks down on the cable again. then, move the knob forward, and the skeg should come up. If the cable is too far forward, it won't come all the way up, and you'll need to adjust - like I said, I ended up have to cut cable twice.

Shazam. Working skeg. Now it's too bad I didn't have my boat out for the adventure the folowing day - but that's a different story.

BONUS ROUND - Bungie replacement.

Somehow I only managed to take pictures of the bad bungie. The bungie lins on my boat - used to secure equipment - were old and loose. I replaced them with new. This requires threading bungie through removable  things (hawsers? hooks? I don't know what they're called).

A friend had given me 1/4" bungie that worked OK, but it was a bit tight, so I orded 3/16" bungie, and that worked much better.


Last Thursday, I picked up the Argonaut from the shop. The body work is good - solid, if not pretty. They left that part to me. I'll post about that later, with pictures.

I left work around 1600 and got down to the shop a little after 1630. After settling up and chatting a bit, we pulled the boat out. A little more chat, and I got kitted out to get on the water. The tide was flooding in from the harbor, so I was expecting a quick ride north.

There was also a steady breeze from the southwest, which caused some interesting surface effect in some places. More importantly - and what I had been thinking about all day - was the amount of ferry traffic. At the end of the work day, plenty of Water Taxis and NY Waterway boats would be shooting across the river, back and forth, picking up and dropping passengers. All in I'd pass four terminals on the way up.

I was surprised at how uneventful the trip was. I paddled 56 blocks. the water was pretty calm. The only annoying thing I ran into was when a combination of ferry wake and barge wake created some tall waves coming at me at a low angle from behind. I surfed them into a cove at Chelsea Piers - but as the water got shallower, the wavers got stronger, and I had to wait for them to chill out before I turned around and headed back out

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Today I paddled from Pier 96 down to Pier 40 - that's about 56th street to Houston street on the Hudson river. I got a line on a guy at New York Kayak Company who might be able to mend a bonk on the nose that the Argonaut suffered a few months ago, and today I was finally able to connect my schedule to his.

Weather was alright - in fact Saturday turned out to be a pretty amazing day, considering it's October, and the weather earlier and later in the week has not nor is it predicted to be terribly charming. Water temperature is still in the high sixties, as is the air. I let early in order to get good current south, though a steady breeze encouraged me to put on my paddling jacket.

Normally, paddling south out of the embayment at Pier 96 requires heading out a bit into the channel, due to a 100 yard security zone behind the cruise ship terminals just below 96. While I was heading out there anyway, I saw an NYPD boat and what I thought was and FDNY boat. Now, I knew there were some events in the harbor this week, but I had only vague ideas of what they were. I wasn't surprised to see these guys, but I wasn't sure what exactly they were there for.

well, one of the boats came closer, and turned out to be a USCG boat. I Sometimes they just buzz by, but these guys were coming to me, so I signalled I was stopping, and then maneuvered to stay steady in the water.

"Where are you heading," asked the nice, young, well-armed man.

"Pier 40," I said.

He explained there was a 500 yard security zone at Pier 80, due to a Navy vessel berthed there. Now I remembered something about some US Navy ship coming to NYC, but I guess I'd thought it was going to stay in the harbor.

Now, the cowgirl has some acquaintances who bristle at authority, even well-armed authority, telling them what to do, and the cowgirl has some other acquaintances to whom large calibre automatic firearms are moderately intimidating. However, having grown up military, the cowgirl knows these guys are just doing their job, and bears no grudge. She learned a long time ago how to talk to soldiers on guard duty.

After figuring our where Pier 40 was ("Houston Street!" I hollered), they said they'd let me through but would shadow me. Fine. I figure they were a little bored, early in the morning, no one on the water except some chick in an eighteen foot kayak. Once we were at the end of the security zone, they signalled and I paddled on my way.

Shortly after that, I approached a ferry terminal near 38th street (I think). There was a ferry backing out. I came to a stop and raised my paddle. He did a weird three point turn, saw me, and headed out. I caught some pretty amazing surf off his wake, but just a couple of decent waves.

Making my way down, I passed Pier 66, home of Manhattan Kayak Company, New York Kayak Polo, and New York Outrigger. It's next door to the Frying Pan restaurant, a great place for a burger along with a nice view of the river.

By then, the blowers for the Holland tunnel were in sight, just below Pier 40. Pier 40 itself is a large building, so large that it tends to blend in as part of the shoreline - until you realize how far out from the waterfront it sticks.

It took about forty-five minutes to travel 56 blocks - not accounting for the extra time spent talking to the Coast Guard. I was early, but I saw the Downtown Boathouse's Houston Street program getting started. I pulled in and talked to the guys. A gust of weird blew a sun umbrella clean off its post, landing in the water upside down. Took some doing, but one of the guys managed to wrangle it back in using a sit-on-top kayak and some interesting paddling techniques.

A little while later I met up with the guy at NYKC. Good news is, he said it didn't look nearly as bad as my photos made it look, and he gave me several options, including one quite a bit cheap than what I'd been expecting. That repair will be a whole 'nother story. Once we settled on a deal, I looked around the shop and tried on some drysuits - also a different story - and went on my merry way.

Part two will come later this week after I pick up my boat. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Kayak Cowgirl's Manhattan Trail Guide

After paddling so much this season, I thought it might be nice to document some of the trails with the help of Google Maps. First, you ought to start where I usually start: Pier 96, currently the home of the Downtown Boathouse.

View Downtown Boathouse - Pier 96 in a larger map

A nice paddle from there to Hoboken will take you about five miles roundtrip, including a jaunt across the river. Hoboken's Maxwell Cove has a nice sandy beach to land at, and a park with nice views of the city. There's even a Starbucks in walking distance.

View Pier 96 to Hoboken Trail in a larger map

Another fun trip is to Mitsuwa - a Japanese supermarket in Fort Lee. There's a little beach you can land at, and then climb over a fence to get sushi, buns, tea, or what have you.

View Pier 96 to Mitsuwa Trail in a larger map

Because I also belong to the Inwood Canoe Club, I got a fair amount of experience paddling my boat up there as well - sometimes as a destination, and sometimes as a waypoint for trips further afield. It's almost eight miles as the crow flies - not huge, but not nothin' neither.

View Pier 96 - Inwood Canoe Club Trail in a larger map

Another fun trip further south takes you just shy of the harbor proper and the Statue of Liberty. It's a good destination if you want to go south but not deal with the ferry traffic between Manhattan and Liberty Island. Morris Canal, in Jersey City. You can even land on the north edge of Liberty State Park to take a break and catch some views.

View Pier 96 to Morris Canal Trail in a larger map

Now, for the truly adventurous, here are some of my longer trips, starting with my trip to Peter Sharp

View Peter Sharp Paddle 2012 in a larger map

And here is a trip to Liberty State Park - the south edge of the park, well into the harbor.

View Liberty State Park Paddle 2012 in a larger map

Our trip to the East River, by way of bronx Kill.

View Bronx Kill Paddle 2012 in a larger map

And, finally, some general interest points of interest. The city becomes a completely ifferent world from the vantage point of two feet above the waterline. Red markers with dots are places you can stop and get out of the boat. Light blue are points of interest that you can't exit at. Yellow are places you can probably get out - but I haven't done so yet.

View Hudson-Manhattan Points of Interest Trail in a larger map

Prepping at Inwood

Just for fun, here are some photos of us kitting out our boats for the Bronx Kill trip.

And from that same weekend, the day before - the base camp for the Little Red Lighthouse swim event, neat the 79th Street Boat Basin.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Not much to report paddle-wise lately. The Inwood Canoe Club held its annual end-of-season dinner and announced a newly-elected board. Cowgirl is pleased to report new Commodore, Treasurer, and Vice Commodore of the club, Janet Handy, Alexandria Woods, and Steve Harris respectively.

I paddled the Argonaut down to its regular home at Pier 96 - recall that I paddled up for swim support last weekend, then kept it up there for that Bronx Kill trip. Weather today was predicted to be cloudy and rainy, but it turned out to be a nice day. A stiff wind prompted me to pull out my paddling jacket, and I'm glad I did; I might have made it without the jacket, but I would have been cold and probably a little miserable without it. Steady wind blowing against the current made the trip feel more difficult than it was, but also granted the cowgirl a few nice waves to womp over. Altogether, leaving near the end of slack put me at Pier 96 in abou an hour and a half.

There, I caught up with friends at the Downtown Boathouse. What struck me was how quickly my sense of location changed. Having kept my boat in Inwood for a week. My mind was firmly planted in terms of where I might paddle from there. Port Liberte seemed far, for example. Yet, down at Pier 96, suddenly everything farther south seems do-able - Hoboken, Morris Canal, Pier 40, and so on. While I've got familiar with that stretch of trail, it's still amazing to me how much variety there is in conditions and destinations all along the waterfront.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Bronx Kill Tale

I had a really great paddle this past weekend, out of Inwood Canoe Club to to East River, east of Hell Gate. Led by the capable MH, our group also included AA, MD, IB, and LL, paddling a Tempest 170, a skin-on-frame boat, a Tercel, and Looksha IV respectively. MH paddled his canoe and I was in the Argonaut.

Our route took us down the Harlem River to Randall's Island, where we cut across along the Bronx Kill. A "kill" is a Dutch word meaning creek, and the NYC area is dotted with them" Arthur Kill, Kill Van Kull, and many more. The Bronx Kill is a narrow creek separating Randall's Island from the Bronx. After passing through it, we paddled around the Brother Islands, and then returned the way that we came. 

While we didn't pass through Hell Gate, this was a bit more of an adventure than I had anticipated.

View Bronx Kill Paddle 2012 in a larger map

The biggest challenge in this trip was to work out the tides. While I did plenty of research, I relied on MH to figure out where we needed to be and when. The tricky part is the relationship of tides flowing from the East River into the Harlem, and how they flow along the Bronx Kill. As tide surges in (flowing west) from Long Island Sound, it ramps up quickly through Hell Gate, flowing around Randall's Island and splitting into the rest of the East River and the Harlem River. We wanted to make sure we had current with us flowing south on the Harlem and east on the East River heading out, and the reverse on the way back. Based on all of this, we left around 1300 and returned by 2000 - a later departure and arrival than we had hoped for, but acceptable.

We started from Inwood Canoe Club and paddled north, into now-familiar territory - past the railroad bridge at Spuyten Duyvil, around the corner past Peter Sharp Boathouse, and on down to High Bridge. We spread out, each paddling at our own pace, and collected at High Bridge.

Washington, Hamilton, and High bridges.

High Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in NYC. Originally part of the Croton Aqueduct, it was completed before the Civil War. It was originally a masonry bridge but later replaced with steel. It was a pedestrian bridge until the 1970s, closed after someone supposedly hurled a rock at a tour boat from it. It is recheduled to re-open to pedestrian traffic in 2013.

Just north of High Bridge are a pair of confusing Bridges: the Alexander Hamilton Bridge and the Washington Bridge. The Hamilton Bridge is part of the interstate highway system and feeds directly onto the George Washington Bridge; the Washington Bridge does not connect to the GWB at all; it simply connects streets in Manhattan and the Bronx. This causes no amount of confusion to drivers new to the area.

Meeting at High Bridge.

As we paddled down the Harlem, we were passed by motorboats generally moving in the opposite direction. We paddled past Roberto Clemente Park, past a a set of stairs leading up from the water, and along a set of rails that ran right along the waterfront. We could see a mall that we knew was near Yankee Stadium. Near 145th street, we could make out smoke billowing out from Harlem; something was on fire, but it dissipated quickly.

One interesting building in the Bronx had a faux lighthouse built on top of that; thanks to the internet, I came across the story behind it: it's the logo for a the H. W. Wilson Company, a firm that publishes the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.

The river widened as we approached Randall's Island. A small tug was parked on the Manhattan side, and we could see some sort of NYPD boat depot on the Randall's Island side, south of the kill. We gatherer together, and IB paddled ahead to see if it was passable. He reported back that geese were standing in the water.

We all went to check. The water was no deeper than the length of my hand - straight down, with my fingers touching the sandy bottom, my wrist was at the waterline. Furthermore, the current flowed over some rocks. Would we make it over without damaging our boats?

AA went over first. In a plastic boat, he had much less to worry about as far as scratches to the hull. He was followed in short order by MH in his canoe, and LL in his plastic boat. They reported back, at worst, a couple of taps as the flowed over. "Just like the Titanic," I said. I gave it a shot, and made it over with no scraping at all.

MD and IB were in boats with very thin skins, so they got out of their boats, in shin-deep water, floated them over, and then climbed back in on the other side. 

We continued our journey, looking down to avoid obstacles. There were plenty of big rocks to avoid.

Eventually we came to an obstacle that we had anticipated: the Con Ed (Consolidated Edison, the local power company) conduit. Basically, a highway, with a railway below it and now a pedestrian bridge below that. Additionally, there are some power cables that extend across the kill. Furthermore, there was some scaffolding hanging from those pipes, making for a very narrow space between the lower edge and the water.

None of that was a problem however. The problem was that the water trickled over a rocky ledge. There was no way we were going to make it over. We'd run out of road.

We got out and quickly found a path over to the other side, and decided to portage our boats. Rather than carry the boats up and over, we simply handed them over across the ledge. While we couldn't paddle it, there was space to pass the boats through by lifting them. A few minutes of an old-fashioned GI loading line, and we were off, re-launching at the end of the kill, facing out to the East River.

Now, when I refer to the East River here, I might as well call it the far East River, because we were in the part that extends from Long Island Sound before it gets to Manhattan. This was completely new territory for me. While Randall's Island is administratively part of Manhattan, it's hard to take that seriously when the Bronx is on your left and Queens is to your right. We could see planes taking off from LaGuardia, and later, could make out the fences and buses of Rikers Island, the city's main prison.

Directly before us was South Brother Island. I was surprised at how close it was. We would be there in no time.

We looked both ways for large vessels, knowing we would be crossing a shipping channel or two. We were clear, and started a ferry crossing - so called because you paddle your boat on a given heading with the expectation that the current will carry you in part along a different heading. With the strong ebb current flowing east, we aimed slightly northeast, and passed along the south side of South Brother Island. We saw some beautiful heron flying in and out, and after passing the island were perfectly positioned to paddle north, counter-clockwise around North Brother Island, the larger and (to me, historically) more interesting of the two.

North Brother Island is, in my opinion, the most tragic island in New York City. It has served several purposes and been home to at least one major nautical disaster. Notably, it was where Typhoid Mary was forcibly quarantined by the city on two separate occasions, the second time being for the remainder of her life. In the middle of the 20th century, it was also where the city would send drug addicts for recovery, locking them in rooms until they were clean.

About the only good use was as a manned lighthouse station - but even at that, one of the lighthouse keeper went in to the city one day and disappeared, leaving his brother in charge.

In 1904, the General Slocum, a passenger steamboat carrying 1300 people set out for Long Island, carrying mostly German immigrants out for a picnic cruise. As it made its way up the East River, a fire started and quickly spread throughout the ship. Many people died by drowning, owing in part to rotted and useless life-jackets, along with the fact that most people did not know how to swim back then. The ship ran aground at North Brother Island, followed by many bodies of its former passengers. Over a thousand people died, making it the most fatal incident in NYC prior to the attacks on the World Trade Center nearly a century later, and rivaling the Titanic's death toll less than a decade later.

So, North Brother Island: a place or quarantine, disease, addiction, and death. It's now a wildlife sanctuary, and humans are not allowed during nesting season. Yet, the ruins of the old hospital still stand, including the power plant with its still-visible smoke stack, the morgue, the hospital proper, and an old ferry dock on the west edge of the island.

As we paddled around, we aimed for the Bronx, keeping some distance as it's partly a security zone - understandable as there are some large fuel tanks there, which might make tempting targets for maliciously-minded miscreants. By this time, the tide was flooding back in from the sound, and we quickly found ourselves back by the kill. While we had hoped to paddle further south to Hell Gate, we were running later than we had hoped, and so decided to paddle back through the kill instead.

Now we faced a different challenge. The rising water level made our previous portage spot navigable, but the higher water made the clearance lower. Furthermore, while we could move our boats through, the incoming current was moving very fast, and when combined with a number of other obstructions, some strong eddies formed that required some sophisticated technique in order to thread the needle through to the the other side. Altogether, we spent at least half an hour trying to get our boats through, and even at that, half of us portaged the boats again.

While trying to go straight along the pillar, a strong eddy cocks the boats left.

Once through, we enjoyed a nice steady current back to the Harlem. When we came to the site of our earlier rapids, there was more than enough clearance for all the boats, and the current flowed the opposite direction. A couple of people stayed to play in the minor rapids while the rest paddled on.

As we paddled past High Bridge, we decided it was getting dark enough to warrant putting lights on. We tend to favor LED lights. I have one tied to the aft end of my boat, and another on my PFD, with red and green running lights up afore. Others have different arrangements. We were fortunate that the Harlem had almost no traffic that night, giving us a smooth, quiet night paddle back.

We spotted a family fishing in the river and said hello. A couple of guys further up were just sitting on the shore, sharing a couple of beers, and repeatedly commended us on what appeared to be a fun activity. A breeze cooled us down, not quite enough to warrant the trouble of pulling out our jackets, but cool nonetheless. We passed the Broadway Bridge, the Henry Hudson Bridge, and the railroad bridge, all lit up, traffic passing over them, contrasting with the crickets and other nocturnal critter sounds as we passed Inwood Hill Park.

Out we went into the Hudson. At night, the sky glows a brighter shade of black over the Palisades, and the GWB is a gateway of lights, behind which the rest of the city hides. It was quiet, and the water was smooth as we paddled back to the clubhouse.

When we landed, we pulled out our boats and washed them down, talking about the trip. Everyone agreed it was a good trip. There were no major mishaps, and the timing worked out well.

I for one was glad to make it to one of my goal destinations sooner rather than later. I got to see a part of the waterfront that is out of the way, and experience a few things that I haven't gotten to before - portage and back-ferry paddle among them. I enjoyed it a great deal, learned a lot, and had good company. That's about as good as it gets.

For more information about North Brother Island, refer to the following links:

More about the preservation history by the NYC Parks Department.

More about the lighthouse operation:

A more adventurous series of visits:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Little Red Lighthouse Swim

I put in some time on a familiar trail with some new faces - the Little Red Lighthouse Swim, organized by NYC Swim.

The Little Red Lighthouse is a retired lighthouse just below the George Washington Bridge. Someone wrote a children's book about it not long after the bridge was built; the gist is that the lighthouse was despondent over no longer being needed, what with the bridge's arching span and foghorn, until one foggy night only the lighthouse's light could stave over a rocky doom for local vessels.

In real life, the lighthouse was retired from service yet persists as part of Washington Park, which is quite literally down the road from me. If you were to walk downhill about two hundred feet and then south about five blocks, you'd be there. So, I signed up to support the swim in my kayak, along with several friends from the Inwood Canoe Club.

Now, this race was different. For one thing, it was a lot farther than the swim portion of the Triathlon - over six miles at least, longer by my reckoning. It also exposed swimmers to stronger currents, putting them out in the channel for most of the race, and in less sheltered waters. The moderate breeze we had managed to kick up some foot-high waves at certain points - mountains, if you're swimming in the water.

Another different is that current plays a much stronger role. Now, regular readers will recall that I have gone on at length about current and wind on the Hudson. In this case, the race started with some ebdd current left, but quickly turned to flood current, heling the swimmers. Unfortunately, not everyone in the race seemed to realize what that meant (and to be fair, for the swimmers it's hard enough to see anything, let alone the direction you ought to travel). I found myself telling people to make hard rights or hard lefts to avoid boats and other obstacles, because a gentler turn would not take them where they needed to be.

That said, once we got past the initial launch, when everyone is crowded at the front, things went along decently. Those of us in kayaks keep an eye on the swimmers, watching for gaps in coverage, and chasing down wayward swimmers. I might joke it's the slowest paddle I've made with current to Dyckman street - altogether, about four hours in boat.

To get there, I paddled the Argonaut out of Pier 96. Incidentally, against near maximum ebb current (actually, not near - it was max ebb). It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought, using the usual tricks - stay close to shore, make a ferry crossing when moving across the current. I made it up to the staging area at 79th street in about half an hour.

I also saw something I wasn't sure happened. Do not read any further if your are squeamish or easily grossed out.

Very near the end, one of the last swimmers paused and tread water for a bit. I asked if he was OK, and he said yes. He asked if that was the end, and I said yes. We drifted a bit and I asked again if he needed help, and he said no. Then he threw up. A couple of convulsions, still treading water. "Let's get you in," I said, and he started to swim. I let him go. he made it in.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Folks, it's about time I do a little promotional work. I'm not sure where this is going, but I've gone ahead and set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for Kayak Cowgirl, because that's what all the city slickers seem to do.

Now one might think that in her other incarnation as an alleged "IT Professional" that these media would come naturally to the cowgirl. You might expect to find photos and additional links that don't make it to the blog. Cross-platform synergistic crowdsourced customer building, not so much.

Just be sure to keep tuned in in order to keep up with cowgirl's adventures on the trail. There's a few adventures left before the off-season begins.

Marine Traffic - Live !

I'm not sure I'd be using this on the water, but it couldn't hurt to do a little check ahead of time for trips into the harbor.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Beginning and the End

Today was meant to be an "off" day - a day for chores, rest, and catching up on little things around the house. It was all that, but the cowgirl managed to start and end her day with some paddling.

First came an invite from KM at the Inwood Canoe Club. KM often heads in early on Saturday mornings and invites others to come along, and today I joined him. We paddled north, with a bit of a headwind against incoming current, but once past Spuyten Duyvil and into the Harlem, we had a pleasant, quite paddle over to Peter Sharp Boathouse. Along the way we observed some sort of Crew event being run by Fordham out of Peter Sharp, and on the way back we saw some Columbia Crew boats out practicing. For those who want to know, we were both in plastic boats, KM in a Necky Manitou, and I was in a Necky Looksha IV.

After that, I came home and did chores, watched telly . . .and then my inbox brought an email from RH, a good paddling friend from the Downtown Boathouse. She's leaving for graduate school next week and wanted to squeeze one more paddle in. I said yes and got my gear together to head on down to Pier 96.

Conditions - primarily the wind - were worrisome. It was blowing something fierce as I walked down the hill to the waterfront, and changed direction to come mostly from the north. We almost called it off, but then the wind dropped a bit, and five of us went out - RH, myself, CL, LA, and DW, paddling a variety of boats - I was back in the Argonaut. The wind picked up a bit, and weathercocked us some, but we managed to make it up to about 96th street (about 40 blocks) before deciding to turn around. The tide was coming in, so the farther we went, it would be even more difficult to go back.

Because the wind was blowing against the current, we got what I've come to call "cartoon waves" or "tom and jerry waves", which I've described before. Basically, a wave comes up behind you, and is moving faster than you. It's like in a cartoon where a cat snaps a rug to bounce a fleeing mouse. We kept close to shore, and managed to avoid the effect near things that block current, but did have to deal with it in the channel.

The sunset was beautiful. As we came back, we saw huge plumes of clouds fanning out over the harbor, with clear skies to our right. The sun set and backlit the skyline, while too our left the Manhattan skyline faded to an indigo blue. The Empire State Building lit up in green and white

We landed and brought in our boats, and said our goodbyes to RH. She'll be back, but she's been integral to the functioning of the boathouse this season; she will be missed while she's away.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Paddle for a Cure

The cowgirl's back, back in the saddle in on a new trail. On Sunday September 9, I participated in the Paddle for a Cure event near Peekskill, catching a ride up with friends a renting a boat for the "poker paddle". I was in a Wilderness Systems Tempest 170, rented from the fine folks at Hudson Valley Outfitters.

PFAC is a new event; this was only its second year, and nearly tripled the number of attendees from last year - nearly 80 people all in. Contributions go to the Susan Love Breast Cancer foundation, and underwrite a riverside picnic following the poker paddle.

The poker paddle itself was the highlight of the event for me. Participants put in at Cold Spring, then paddle down to Peekskill, collecting poker cards along the way - one each from four guides stationed along the river, with a fifth card given out at the end. The winning hand gets a prize, and additional prizes are raffled off.

Here's the route:

This was a very different kayaking experience for me. While tidal, the strength of the tides this far up is diminished compared to NYC waters - which meant to actual effort was required to paddle, since the current did not exceed 1 - 1.2 knots. It's also narrow, surrounded by bucolic mountains (well, hills, as our Western brethren might say) and rocks, including Bear Mountain. We passed West Point, some lovely riverside homes (including one with a mysterious airplane in its riverfront yard), and the Bear Mountain Bridge.

Landing at Peekskill was accomplished in a plastic floating dock. One innovation was that grooves were designed into the dock, so arriving kayaks would run straight up onto the dock. As we got out, we carried our boats to a green yard, and then checked in for our final card and lunch.

I got deal a bit of a bum hand - the best I could muster was two 6s - but won a wine tasting for two in one of the raffles. Curiously enough, one of the promoters behind that prize was a woman on a paddle board, gracefully outpacing the lazier kayaks and taking photos of the event from a higher vantage point. 

Also in the flotilla was a rowing gig, and some tandem deck boats.

A real treat was being able to see the showroom for Atlantic Kayak Tours, located at the end of the paddle. They have a good stock of Nigel Dennis and Valley Canoe Product boats, and I finally got my eyes on some boats I'm interested in - the Anas Acuda, the NDK Greenlander, as well as some variations on the Romany and Avocet. One neat boat they had hanging on a wall was an NDK Explorer, apparently chopped up and re-attached with turnbuckles into something I'd only read about - a sectioned deck boat, each piece no more than six feet long.

I had a great time, and saw several friends, as well as made new acquaintances. I'd recommend this event for experienced paddlers and novices alike - it's an easy introduction, and there are plenty of people around in case something goes awry. It raises money and awareness for a great cause, too. I plan to go again next year.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Herding Dudes on the Trail

I've mentioned the public trips run by the Downtown Boathouse before; the Inwood Canoe Club runs a similar program called Open House. In both cases, members of each club escort members of the public, sometimes called guests, up or down the river, according to conditions. While the details of each program - and similar programs run by commercial operators in the area - may vary, they do have a few elements in common.

Having started off as a "dude" on these trail rides, and worked my way up to formally leading these trips, I thought I might share the range of experiences that are going on during these trips. First of all, for the public - your first trip is generally amazing. If you have never been on the water, or only done so for practical purposes, you will see the city in a whole new light. Especially for Manhattanites accustomed to seeing the city from the inside, the sight of this little sliver of rock surrounded by water offers an entirely new perspective of landmarks and geography. From locations in midtown, it's easy to spot familiar landmarks: the Empire State Building, Conde Nast Building, NY Times and Bank of America buildings.

Further up the river, newcomers to the waterfront may be astonished at just how much parkland extended from midtown to Harlem, and after a short break, from Harlem on up to the northern tip of the island. It isn't called the Greenway for nothing. North of the George Washington Bridge, a greenhorn paddler will be surrounded by park. With the Palisades across the river and Inwood Hill park rising on the Manhattan side, it's a green river valley. Landings are possible on Ross Dock and Bloomers Beach in New Jersey, and at Inwood Canoe Club in Manhattan.

Now for the guides - called variously volunteers, assistants, Turtles, hosts - there is a slightly different experience. It's likely not their first time out, so their attention turns to details the public might miss. Things like the wind, and the current, and the overall condition of the group. A good guide is watching out for problems before they occur, directing people where to go to avoid problems. Guides typically offer advice on how to paddle better as well. No one likes to see someone else struggle, and a struggling paddler can hold the whole group behind.

 Guides are also communicating with the trip leader, or someone else who is in charge. Trip leaders make decisions about the trip, such as the destination, and whether or not to turn around due to conditions, generally in consultation with the guides. Trip leaders are also the de facto rodeo clowns - the center of attention and the voice of authority to the public. Every trip leader has a different style, but broadly, they set direction and are the face of the trip to the public.

 Guides and trip leaders are responsible for the well-being of the public. So what can go wrong? The weather is the leading culprit. Generally, the weather is predictable enough that really bad weather can be avoided. High winds, thunder and lightning, or heavy rain or non-starters. If for some reason these conditions arise while a trip is out, leaders and guides should be able to get the group to a sheltered spot to wait it out. If lightning is spotted, you want to get off the water fast.

Accidents and medical emergencies can happen as well. While rare, it is possible for people to fall off their boats. Every club I paddle with practices rescuing both the public and themselves. In a medical emergency, alerting the authorities is the best first step. I've never seen this needed, but it could happen - a heart attack, a seizure, what have you. Generally, a given trip is never more than a few minutes paddle from land, everyone carries a cel phone, and lately, every trip has at least one marine radio on it. However, most trips are uneventful, and are simply opportunities for guides to practice being prepared. Did we bring enough spare paddles and tow ropes? What's the collective skill level of the public? What are conditions like? Are we going someplace fun, or is this another boring paddle-to-nowhere ? I kid - as I've said before, no trip on the river is ever routine - but for experienced guides, public trips can feel like working on a dude ranch.

But at that point, if all safety and instruction skills have been mastered, entertainment becomes the next step. Rediscovering what makes these trips interesting to the public can rekindle interest on the part of those more experienced. The river is long, and there is always something new to see.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Marking the Trail

I'm getting the hang of using Google Maps markup capabilities to draw approximations of the trips I've been on. It's also useful as a planning tool to communicate more clearly where we want to go, when working with a group. Here's a map of my trip to Peter Sharp Boathouse. I didn't draw the return route because it was pretty much exactly back the way I came.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite

The cowgirl took off Friday from the day job in order to paddle to Liberty State Park with some friends. It was time off well spent.

Altogether we were ten paddlers, mostly women, all experienced in paddling around NYC waterways.

It was a beautiful day, with little wind. The only complaints we could muster would be that it was muggy on the way out, with a light haze draping everything in the distance.

We set out from Pier 96 and began crossing the river. With strong current southbound, we stay in the channel, avoiding ferry paths. I had a bit of a surprise when I paddled closer to shore and came around a blind corner to see a ferry poised to leave, but after some hand waving, worked out with the pilot letting me drift past him before he left. After that, it was a pretty smooth ride down the New Jersey side, past Maxwell Cove, past dry docks in Hoboken, past the Goldman Sachs building and Morris Canal.

At this point I took a picture of E in her Necky Elaho.

Morris canal is a waterway that runs between the northern edge of Liberty State Park and Jersey City, with Liberty Marina tucked in far behind. Once past Morris, you're practically at Ellis Island. Here, C looks out ahead. The building is on Ellis Island, and farther south, you can make out Lady Liberty.

We paddled past Ellis, and on in front of Liberty, where I took several photos like this one., with B, S, D, and R lined up in front of Lady Liberty.

Once past and below Liberty Island, we headed west into a large bay below Liberty State Park. From here, we could make out everything from Jersey City to Lower Manhattan. Here's the cowgirl, with Goldman Sachs in the background on the left, and the Freedom tower poking over her head on the right. Make of that what you will.

On the far end of the bay is a housing development called Port Liberte. While it's private property, it's a pretty site to look at, and a few people decided to take a look. Here, S and D paddle towards the restaurant at the waterway entrance.

From the entrance, looking behind us, we could barely make out the Verranzano Bridge through the haze, in the distance.

After hovering around the entrance, we paddled back to meet our friends who had landed at Liberty already. ALong the way, we came across one dead crab. . .

And then the shell of another - only this second one was a beautiful horseshoe crab shell.

This being the second time I was down in the harbor this summer, I have to say this view of Lower Manhattan is becoming familiar - especially as the Freedom Tower continues to climb.

On the way back, the wind picked up a bit, and conditions were more interesting. That's OK, because the lil' buddy was up on the deck.

We spent about an hour and a half layover at Liberty State Park - following a group of sit-on-top kayaks run as a program by Liberty State Park to a small beach landing. From there, we walked over to a picnic area and had lunch in the shade, making use of the facilities and taking pictures of ourselves and the gorgeous views from this little vantage point. I had most of an Apack MRE, skipping the cookie and candy, since it was a short enough paddled that I didn't need all 1300+ calories.

On the way back, we passed behind Liberty Island - it's less traffic, and a bit more intuitive of a paddle. That being said, it's an area an old coach of mine called "the washing machine" because the collision of currents and topography results in waves coming from all directions. We all managed to get through without any trouble, but in part by keeping ready for a high brace to either side of the boat.

As we came up on Ellis Island, we passed one barge, and could see another one approaching behind us. A small boat motored up to our main element, and then up to the lead elements. We were worried that it was Coast Guard or some other law enforcement, perhaps that someone had violated the security zone around Liberty but no - the small boat was a pilot (or harbinger, perhaps) of the barge, letting us know where the barge was headed. We got out of its way and kept moving up the main channel while the barge - loaded with a crane and two truck-mounted cement mixers - went into Morris Canal.

We paddled up - the current fully with us now, until about 38th street, when we performed a ferry crossing - moving laterally and letting the current carry us up the river. It's an odd side, moving straightforward, but watching the cityscape move sideways. We paddled straight into the embayment at Pier 96. Altogether it was about a six-hour trip, of which only four were paddling. As day trips go, it was just about right.

While I like to do lessons learned, it's hard to pick anything outstanding here. In medium and large groups, trips typically break into smaller groups, with a fast group and a slower group. That is exactly what happened here, and while it's good to keep a group together for the sake of visibility and safety, having smaller subgroups doesn't hurt.

For long expeditions - especially in any kind of conditions - sea kayaks are a must. One paddler was in a sit-on-top, an Ocean model Prowler. This model has a good prow, which helps cut through waves, but is otherwise a very wide boat that gets bounced around in conditions like "the washing machine". This isn't bad in itself, but it did slow the boat down.

Update: took a gander at Google Maps, and re-constructed our voyage approximately as follows: