Sunday, July 29, 2012


This cowgirl had to lasso one of her charges today. I had to actually rescue someone in current after they fell out of their boat.

In the clubs I'm in, we practice this. We practice assisted rescue and self rescue. We practice being the rescuer, and being rescued. We practice with sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks and deck boats - what most people picture as kayaking, where you sit inside the boat, usually with a spray skirt. Rolling is a kind of self-rescue.

What happened was: at 72nd street, the current was relativel strong. We communicated the boundaries of where we wanted people to paddle, and explicitly said "stay away from ships". One of the public had paddled out past the outer boundary and was headed - quickly, aided by current - to a catamaran moored at the southwest corner of the boundary.

As soon as I was about to tell him to come back closer, he hit one of the mooring lines, and went in the water, his boat upside down.

Now, two things: first, this is not in itself life-threatening, or leading to injury. He was wearing a PFD, and he was holding on to the boat and his paddle. The current was relatively strong, but this is the Hudson River, not some wild rapids. He was floating on an escalator, and we needed to get him out.

That said, once someone is in the water, it's kinda serious. You have to get them out, and get them under their own power. Until they are safe, you never know what their status is. They might have had an aneurysm, or something similarly sudden and debilitating. 

"Oh shit, " I muttered to myself, and hopped in our safety boat - a long, narrow scupper perfect for rushing to the rescue, tow bag in my lap.

When I got out there, I remembered all our practice. "Are you OK," I asked, and he said yes. I pulled alongside and told him to hold on to the boat, and then to hand me his paddle. Then I righted his boat. Then I held his boat and told him to kick his legs straight out and reach across to my boat. He did all that, and was able to pull himself on to his. I got him to turn so he was seated properly, and then got him back to the dock.

In all that - from the moment he went in, to the moment we were heading back - he had floated about 35 yards. That put him halfway to a pedestrian pier that he would have either passed under (safely) or passed by.

After that, I kept a closer eye on our charges, and hollered at them if they got anywhere near the edge, or near a boat. A couple of girls who were kind of larking, I pulled in for a warning and used him as an example.

It's an odd situation to be in - promoting the use of the waterfront for recreation, yet also teaching people to be respectful of it. It all worked out well, and it was nice to know I could pass when my skills were put to the test. It was not an emergency, but it could have become one.

I'm happy I was able to help.

72nd Street

Today I volunteered at 72nd street, opening the facility and putting people in boats. It's where I started volunteering, and while I've moved to other sites as I've moved around the city, I spent so much time learning there that I still feel a connection there.

The kayaking spot at 72nd is part of the Downtown Boathouse, (DTBH). It was an accidental spot, I'm told; after another site fell through, it ended up being the next best option. It's typically the busiest in any given summer, and has many more families due to its proximity to the residential buildings of the Upper West Side.

It's a labor of love, and the volunteers who keep it running every summer are a dedicated lot. First of all, all of the storage is in shipping containers about 200 feet away, underneath a highway and behind some basketball courts. To open up or put things away, you have to maneuver past ball players, cyclists, rollerbladers, and runners.

What gets moved is much easier this year. Volunteers still have to move out clothing racks holding life vests, two sets of metal lockers on narrow wheels, but they no longer have to cart boats along the path. Boats are now stored on the floating dock, secured with thick cables and locks. Those carts are heavy though, and must be pulled up one side of a hill, and then prevented from running away down the other side.

The water is not quite as protected as Pier 96. The water flows pretty strongly at times, and the public has to be watched a little more carefully to make sure they don't drift away. Furthermore, the outer edges are mooring spots for pleasure boats: catamarans, sailboats, and motor boats.

Where other sites have mostly young adults looking for something new, 72nd has a lot of families, and a lot of drop-ins from runners and bicyclists.

To get to to 72nd, go all th west end of 72nd, before it comes off the highway. Enter the park (by Eleanor Roosevelt) and keep walking west - down the stairs, past the little league ballfields. Open Saturdays and Sundays about 10-5, and also holiday Mondays.

Friday, July 27, 2012


This cowgirl was finally able to roll her boat, at least once.

I won't go into the different kinds of rolls, or rolling techniques. I will say I rolled using a technique I had not previously had success with, where basically my hands are in the position they are when I paddle. The idea is, if I go in when under way, I'm not going to be taking time to set everything up just so.

I tried a second time, and flubbed it. Actually, what happened was, the paddle seemed to get tangled on something behind me on the back deck of my boat, likely the paddle float. So, I'll be looking for a different way to dress my boat.

What's important is, I did it. My boat is a bit large for me. I tend to pry myself out of the boat rather than righting it. So, I know it can be done. All it takes now is practice, practice, practice, and pretty soon, I'll be kayaking in Carnegie Hall.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sculling for Support

This evening I tried something called "sculling for support". It isn't new to me, but it's the skill I seem to be focused on improving lately.

Sculling for support is basically moving the paddle back and forth laterally on one side of the boat, and then leaning over the side of the boat, relying on the moving paddle to support you. It's not a move you make in motion, in the field, so to speak. It develops a skill that is useful in bracing and rolling. I'd like to get to where I can scull myself up from an inverted position.

People who are really good at this can lay the boat on its side and rest part of their weight on the PFDs (life jackets). The look frantic, but they're actually in a stable position as long as the paddle is moving, with the boat perpendicular to the water. If they go under, they scull themselves back up.

I can almost do what this guy is doing in the first clip:

This guy . . .I'm not there yet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


One of my goals has been to paddle north past Manhattan. Typical destinations include Yonkers, or Alpine, which is essentially a state park on the Jersey side, across the river from Yonkers. I planned a trip and invited some friends, and up the river we went on Saturday July 21.

This was a two-stage trip. I departed Pier 96 with two people, and we paddled north to Inwood, where we meet two other paddlers, one of whom was in a canoe. Fromm Pier 96 came MD, and VS, the latter having joined me on the trip to Staten Island last month, and in Inwood we were joined by AW and MH, the latter in his canoe.

The first thing to realize is that simply getting to Inwood alone is at least ten miles from Pier 96. With current, and taking time for conversation, we got there in about two hours. VS gets extra credit for paddling up from Pier 66 earlier.

We kept on the Manhattan side since we were going to Inwood. We wet out around the sanitation pier, past 72nd, past the marina and its mooring field, and plowed through some fun little waves. The wind was coming directly against the current, so it was just bumpy enough to be fun.

We stopped at Fairway on the way up - not getting out, just taking a break for water. A water main was spewing water into the river, but then went off. We weren't sure what that was about. 

MD tried out his Greenland-style paddle. These are long sticks, usually made of wood, very narrow but supposedly providing the same surface area as modern paddles. I'd love to have one someday; MD has let me try his in the past, and it's a different paddling style. He wanted to see if he could use it as his primary paddle (it worked very well, I should say).

In Inwood, we were passed by a barge; the photo is a bit blurry but you can still see it. Barges are majestic, large, steadily-moving big beasts of burden on the river. They're easy to avoid - and you should - but beautiful to watch.

After picking up AW and MH, we set out, and in short order we were in territory I have not visited: we had passed the Harlem River and were paddling across the Bronx, where we allied up and crossed the river. 

It's hard to describe how beautiful the Palisades are. They're majestic - tall cliffs rising out of and looming over the river. They're green, covered in trees, with footpaths along the base; we could sometimes see hikers along the trail. It was hard to believe we were just a two or three hour paddle away from the city, easy distance from the largest and fourth-largest cities in New York State.

As we approached Alpine, we began to run out of current, and the last few miles were hot, tiring, and we were hungry. When we finally landed at a beach on the north end of the marina there, we quickly hopped out, pulled up our boats, and unpacked our picnic.

We also ran into CL and R, who ha set out for the same destination independently. In this photo are AW, MH, VS, MD, myself, and R. CL took the photo.

What a spread it was! I brought bratwurst, rolls, and mustard, as well as chips and soda and pie; MD brought hummus and tabuli; MH and AW both brought pasta and cookies. We ate our fill. We had more than enough food because some folks had backed out at the last minute.  It was grand.

We waited for the tide to change; some folks paddled north to see what was around the bend. We were running late, so we couldn't stay quite as long as we had hoped - while the tides favored us going back, for those going back to 96, to stay too long would have put us at a disadvantage at the end. So, we lest around 430, with almost no traffic, and a glassy river glistening in the sun.

On our way back, we passed the Harlem River again, with the Henry Hudson Bridge arcing high over it, a little railroad bridge below it.

From a distance, we could see Manhattan, the Georage Washington Bridge hanging in front of it, clouds passing by, so disparate we could see different weather patterns over different parts of the city.

I have to say this is what I love about kayaking, and the city as well -to have such great distance, and such enormous scale and scope of human activity, contrasted with natural beauty and an intimacy with nature that rivals the state parks of the west. We went somewhere under out own power, enjoyed good company and food, and returned. On the way back, windows once again prevailed against the currents, kicking up sizable waves that were fun to surf. For about 45 minutes we were paddling in 2-foot or 3-foot troughs, rising up, punching through them, steadying with a brace, carried by the current.

Monday, July 23, 2012


On a recent trip (to Alpine, which I'll detail later), I noticed something weird in my rash guard when we got out.

First, I noticed some weird stiffness, or pellets, in my elbows. Working my way around the area I found lumps in the fabric. They were embedded - not on top of, but practically of the fabric.

I was able to extract some. It was white and powdery, so I figured it must be salt.

That makes sense, given that we had paddled for 2.5 hours in the salty Hudson River, and had gotten some waves due to contra-current winds.

Some of it I couldn't get out. I'll see how it looks after a wash.

Guess I'm an "old salt" now with my long-distance paddling.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Leading the Public

Sunday morning, I co-led a public trip with MD. Helping us were S, E, and Sa (two guys with the same name starting with S). It was E's first public trip.

Public trips are one of the free programs the Downtown Boathouse (DTBH) operates. Basically, Saturday and Sunday mornings in the summer we will take a group of the "public" - walk-up participants - on a trip up or down the river. The usual requirements of an ability to swim and signing a waiver are in place, and it is strongly recommended people paddle in the embayment a few times to get used to the boat. We take half a dozen single-seat boats and four double-seat boats and come back in three hours or so.

On this trip we opted for Mitsuwa, the Japanese supermarket in Fort Lee. We would run out of current by the time we got there, wait a bit, then come back with current.

The day was incredibly muggy. Hot, sticky, and overcast to boot. There were predictions of scattered showers, up to 50% chance of rain. Rain isn't an issue, but lightning is.

We got the public situated - a series of steps that are long and boring to describe. Basically, we usually can't take everyone. We give them a brief primer on the trip, test their abilities in the embayment, and kick out anyone who might be problematic. We didn't kick anyone out.

In this case, we gave the benefit of doubt to a mother-daughter pairing in a double. The mom was OK, but the daughter was kind of useless. We guessed she was being dragged along on a Bonding Experience. To be fair, once we got underway, after quite a bit of at-sea coaching, they were able to make headway, but it took them a while, and we had to keep an eye on them.

Public trips are where I most feel like a kayak cowgirl. We shepherd the public along, making sure they stay where it's safe, herding them from one point to another. They're slower than the typical pace of an experienced group - lots of time figuratively gripping the pommel, reins in hand - move along, little doggies, move along.

We made our way north past now-familiar landmarks - Pier I, the Boat Basin, the mooring field. We stopped for a water twice before even crossing the weather - the heat and humidity were just draining us in our exertions. We lined up around 96th street, and then crossed the river, where we took water again and then headed north.

We stopped again to let people catch up. By then, the current was starting to turn, and the weaker paddlers were getting strung out. As we got underway, after some effort, the mother-daughter team had tone towed by two volunteers. They had done well, but against the current was too much for them.

We landed at Mitsuwa. The first thing I noticed was that with the current running out, it was turning into a mud flat, a characteristic I'm already familiar with at that landing. We got everyone out but were keenly aware our time was limited.

We took a relatively short break. Often, we take an hour or more, but in this case, it took us so long to get there that we couldn't stay long. I picked up some of my favorite Japanese groceries - including this sort of milk-juice drink, snacked and chatted a bit, and then got ready to go.

After I applied my sunscreen, several folks asked for it. I expect this to happen so I gave up my near-empty bottle, keeping the full stuff in my locker back at the boathouse.

Sure enough, when we launched, the mud beneath the waves was a quagmire. People lost shoes (and recovered them). We had to push the boats out pretty far in some cases because otherwise they were stuck in the mud. Once we got clear, we were OK, but it took some effort - and this is not a beach you want to be sliding around barefoot on. It's got glass and other sharp objects; it's not a pleasant place at low tide.

Paddling back was easy-peasy. We had good current, and therefore kept on the Jersey side. Before we crossed, we pulled into an embayment and encouraged people to "accidentally" fall in one at a time to cool off. Only a couple of people took advantage of our offer - possibly because the first person to do so cannonballed in and stood up in less than four feet of water. I hung of someone's bow and dipped myself in to cool off.

Coming back was . . .weird. First, there was traffic, which is OK and even typical; if anything, it was unusual that there had been almost no traffic when we crossed the first time. However,  while waiting for a motorboat to pass, we noticed a ton of flashing lights on the traffic circle above the boat basin - all FDNY vehicles. Then we saw an FDNY boat zoom up the river and past the boat basin. We paddled a bit, then saw an NYPD boat, followed by an NYPD helicopter that ended up hovering over the boat basin. Then, we crossed a bit, and stopped as two more NYPD boats raced up the river. We also saw some crew boats hovering in the 72nd street embayment - my guess was they had radios and were waiting for traffic to clear. We finally crossed and went downtown, and saw a USCG helicopter flying north.

Now, these may have been unrelated events, but it sure seemed like they were related.

Overall it was a good trip. Mom and daughter did well on the way back - especially crossing. Everyone who left came back, and seemed satisfied. The only thing that marred the day was less about the trip - I noticed some cracks in my boat's gel coat, and I'll have to get them fixed, which is something of a hassle. I'm not sure where they came from but it doesn't matter - I can paddle a bit, but will need to get them fixed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Kayak Cowgirl got herself in a starter pony this evening - a Kirton Tercel, which is an entry-level (near as I can figure) racing kayak.

The Inwood Canoe Club has a racing heritage, and as part of that they have a bunch of racing boats around. The Tercel is a light, custom-made English boat. There are a few at the clubhouse. The make, Kirton, is also on some other boats.

Getting in the boat is novel - you cross your feet. Put your far foot in the boat near to you, to push it close to the dock. Put your near foot over that and away from you. Grab the coming and move in, falling towards the dock. Once in, unfold your feet.

Everyone said this boat is tippy, and they weren't kidding. Sitting by the dock, the boat was as tippy as my first glass deck boat, like the first time in a Romany or Chennai.I'd scull out less than a foot, and then reach back as little waves started putting me to and fro.

Sitting in the boat is a bit awkward. Proper racing technique is knees together, like a surf ski. There is no knee bracing. The Tercel can be paddled with a spray skirt, but I did not  mostly on account I couldn't find one that fit the boat.

However, once I got out and got used to it, the boat is a dream to move forwards and back. There is a rudder, controlled by a tiller at the feet, that turns the boat really well. Combined with a sweep stroke, and the Tercel can turn quickly in forward motion.

Turning in place is a bit more cumbersome. I paddled down to the GWB and back, and we stopped in a little cove. Took me a while to get situated.

On the way back, however, the Tercel cut through current really well. The boat catches no wind - I was keenly aware that my body was the biggest windcatch on the boat. That was a novel experience.

I'll paddle this some more, and hopefully work my way up to more challenging race boats.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Contrary Conditions at GWB

Sunday, after my Saturday paddle out to the Narrows, I spent some time with the other club I'm a member of, the Inwood Canoe Club.

I went out with Mark and Steve when the current was just past max ebb. The wind was blowing north, so as you would expect, there were some fun waves as the wind pushed against the current.

Of course, this also meant that coming back was a little more challenging. We hewed to the shore to stay out of the current. However, coming around the rocky point below the Manhattan-side tower of the  bridge, I got caught in a bizarre situation: sizable waves pushing from the west and south, while the current conspired to slurp me back out. I was literally paddling in place despite some very strong forces pushing me in three directions.

I dug in my spurs and powered through. It took more than a little effort, but I got past the eddy line and continued paddling up. I have to say, these conditions were rougher than anything I experienced in the harbor. This belies the reputation of the upper reaches of the Hudson being as smooth as a glass lake.

Where The Buoys Are (Back Paddle)

On Saturday, I paddled out to the Narrows with two other women. It was a mostly gorgeous day, and turned out to be a great trip.

The Narrows is the stretch of water between Brooklyn and Staten Island, crossed by the Verranzano Bridge. It is the boundary between the lower and upper harbors. Past the Narrows, you're practically at sea, with Long Island out to your left, and Sandy Hook far south on your right.

From where we launch at 56th street, even with a strong favoring current, it's a three hour trip each way. It also traverses the harbor of one of the world's busiest cities, so a fair amount of planning was involved. It was a hot day, so we used plenty of protection against the sun (sunscreen, hats, rash guards) and brought along plenty of water.

The trip is best thought of in three stages each way: From Pier 96 (56th street) to Morris Canal; from Morris to Staten Island; along the coast of Staten Island to a long beach known as South Beach just below the Verranzano. Each stage would take about an hour, and we'd follow that route there, with the reverse on the way back.

E and I set out around 11, just short of max ebb. We met up with V at Pier 66 (26th street). With the strong current, it only took us ten or fifteen minutes to get there. V was already on the water, so after greetings and going over the plan, we crossed over to Jersey and made our way towards Morris Canal.

Morris Canal is a relatively wide waterway on the Jersey side of the Hudson. The Colgate Clock - a large mechanical clock on the ground, visible from Manhattan - is near the front. Directly across from the Battery, the canal is between Liberty State Park and some housing developments in New Jersey. It shelters a marina and is a popular destination with our crowd. This is a fairly straightforward paddle, on water we know pretty well.

Below Morris is the NYC harbor. As one might imagine, it has a lot of traffic with no clear lanes. The waters are crisscrossed with water taxis, personal motorboats, sailboats large and small, the Staten Island Ferry, and smaller ferries that transport people to and from Liberty and Ellis islands. Additionally, the underwater topography changes, and when combined with all the traffic, there are a lot of unpredictable currents and wave patterns.

It isn't as scary as it sounds, but it does require awareness - of other boats and their intentions, of wind and water conditions, and of the potential hazard you might present to others. Conditions can be handled with training - keep a good brace ready and be prepared to power through the waves. Traffic is mostly predictable for the big ships - ferries move along the same paths, and water taxis have known destinations. 

It's surprising how quickly one arrives at Liberty and Ellis. If you have only been there as a tourist, or seen them from the shore, it's not clear how close, yet how far they are from the city. They are practically in New Jersey - which means from Morris, they were just a few minutes downstream from us. 

I took pictures. I've been here once before, on a trip to another destination not quite as far south. It's nice to have a picture of such a well-known landmark that I took myself, from the water.

As we continued south, we entered a long stretch of water between Liberty and Staten islands. This was the patch I worried about the most, not because of traffic - this area is mostly a parking lot for barges - but because there are no easy places to pull in and take a break. We could stop and drift, or raft up together and take a water break, but there would be no getting out of the boat, or sheltering in from adverse conditions. If the harbor had "next rest stop five miles" signs up, this is where they would be.

Our next major decision was how to cross the flight path of the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry is a large orange ship that crosses between Manhattan and Staten Island on roughly half hour intervals. It does not stop on the water; for our purposes, it cannot stop. There are typically two in motion, one in each direction. Fortunately, unlike water taxis, they tend to move in the same path over and over. Find that path, cross it safely, and they're not really a problem.

We spotted one ferry on its way out to Staten Island. We had seen its sister pass earlier, so once it was clear, we paddled out into the main channel. From there, we followed channel buoys down to the Narrows, with smoother water and no traffic to speak of. We came across a cargo ship moored in the channel, and wisely went around it before the current could push us into it.

By this point we were in sight of Fort Wadsworth, an old fort on the Staten Island side of the bridge, complementary to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.

We paddled on, coming up under the bridge and around its western tower. We could see the beach, scraggly at first, but then beyond a short spit, stretching towards a proper boardwalk in the distance.

Our next decision was where to land. We wanted bathrooms; "nature" was an option, but real bathrooms couldn't have been far off. There were some buildings nearby that looked abandoned. The boardwalk looked promising, but was farther down than we wanted, and in any case surf landings are prohibited at swimming beaches during the summer. We spotted some people sitting next to a large inflatable canoe, and aimed for a spot near them.

We popped our skirts - the spray decks that keep us dry, charged in, and jumped out. With that, the first half of our journey was complete. We had arrived at South Beach.

E and I walked to the boardwalk to freshen up. It was a longer walk there and back than we expected, but a welcome stretching of the legs after sitting in our boats for so long. When we came back, we found V had made acquaintance with our inflatable-boat neighbors. We had lunch, swam a bit in the surf, and rested. 

Val got the younger of the two men with the inflatable boat to try out her boat. He was the other man's son, and in less than an hour she had taught him how to do a wet exit and allowed him to paddle her boat up and down the shore for about thirty yards.

At the Narrows, the tide starts to change sooner than at the Battery; the flood tide was noticeable by three. In fact, while we were swimming, we noticed an acceleration of current carrying us towards the bridge. We weren't so far out that it was an issue, but we realized it was time to go in and start packing up.

We were back on the water shortly after four. Now, the next phase of our adventure began.

Conditions were different. For one thing, the sky was cloudy, not with storm clouds, but simply high-flying puffy white clouds that screened the sun for a bit of welcome relief. The tide was higher, and rising, changing the nature of some of our landmarks. We noticed that the moored ships we had passed on the way out were now facing south, against the incoming current. Finally, there was also a steady westerly wind.

With the flooding tide and the steady wind, the net effect was that we were generally being carried north and east at the same time. Heading north was fine - that is after all where we wanted to go - but the wind affected how we approached obstacles such as moored ships and barges.

These things are known as strainers. When current runs against a fixed object such as a moored ship or a pier, it can pin a boat or even pull it under. It's not a pleasant situation to be in, so we wanted to give everyone a wide berth. With the wind as it was, that meant we were paddling out into the channel when we otherwise might have headed back to the west a bit. We had to be a bit more aware of traffic, and had to paddle a bit harder to the west in order to stay on course.

Around this time, cruise ships were starting to depart the city. Altogether we saw three. The first one was approaching the bridge not long after we had left; the last one was rounding the Battery as we were approaching Liberty. The second one was, shall we say, a little more exciting.

We saw this one from a distance. We anticipated its path to be, like the first, well to our right. However, it appeared to be pointed towards our left. As we watched the horizon, we figured it couldn't keep going in that direction within running into some moored barges that we ourselves were planning to avoid. 

Yet, the ship was not turning. We then thought perhaps we were in it path after all, and decided to paddle east, towards Brooklyn. Once we got going, however, then the cruise ship turned.

Cruise ships are big. As big as the Staten Island Ferry is, cruise ships are many times bigger, and like the ferry, they do. not. stop. They can barely turn, constrained as they are by underwater topography and landmarks such as the bridge. So our question was: were we going to pass in front of the ship (unwise) or back-paddle to our earlier spot, hoping that wasn't the path?

We chose the latter option, and I'm glad we did. I'm not great at gauging distances but I'm reasonably certain we were within 100 yards of the vessel by the time she passed, maybe a long city block away. Now, I've been that close to cruise ships before on the water - but from behind, as they're moving away from me. "That stood my hair on end," said one of us.

As we paddled across the harbor, the wind would pick up, and then die down again. We realized we were much further east in the channel than we had been coming out. We spotted some channel buoys and headed towards them. We crossed the Staten Island Ferry lines again, and then followed buoys up to more familiar territory. 

As the wind picked up intermittently, I found my skeg to be useful in the half-down position. Without it, my boat tended to weathercock, which is to say that I'd get turned by the wind, in this case, in the opposite direction I wanted to travel. with the wind coming at me from the side, having the skeg halfway down kept the wind from  turning my boat and allowed me to gradually turn into the wind - a much more favorable position. 

E fared a little worse. Her boat is very light, and while it's short enough to not catch a lot of wind, it takes less wind to weathercock. She dropped her rudder to use as a skeg. That helped a bit, and eventually we passed Liberty, passed some more ferries, and got into the Hudson.

Once there, things were much calmer. For one thing, there was almost no traffic, aside from a motorcycle gang of jet skis that bore down on us like a loud, angry fishing net. The wind died down, leaving us just the current, which carried us like an express train towards our final destinations.

V got out at Pier 66. Adjacent to a popular outdoor restaurant, it was like we dropped her off at a party. We passed a public trip out of Pier 66, a sunset paddle program of the (mostly untrained) public.
E and I continued north, past a couple of ferry terminals, the Intrepid with its now-shrouded space shuttle, and the now-empty cruise ship berths, until we turned in to our embayment at 1906 hours, just a few minutes after our anticipated return time.

Our public program was closed for the day, but some of our friends were there. We talked about the trip, washed our boats, and watched the sun set across the water.

It was an awesome trip. I look forward to many more.

Ferryboat Binghamton

One of the regular sites I pass when I paddle north is the ferryboat Binghamton. It's a retired ferry, former restaurant, national historic place, and now a wreck, just south of Edgewater Marina.

For years, the river folklore was this: It was an old ferry that was retired, used as a restaurant briefly, and then gutted by a fire, laying mortally wounded in the water ever since. That's the basic truth, but the full story is much more interesting.

I culled most of the details from Wikipedia; librarians be forewarned.

The Binghamton was a steam-powered ferry, one of the first roll-on/roll-off style ships to plough New York Waters. Built in 1905, she was one of six such vessels that carried traffic across the water in New York City. She was built for the Hoboken Ferry Company, and spent most of her time ferrying passengers from Hoboken to Barclay Street in lower Manhattan.

As alternate methods of crossing the mighty Hudson were developed - the Holland Tunnel, the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, and train service under the river - ferry service diminished, and the company ceased ferry operations in 1967. The ferries were put up for sale, and a local developer bought the Binghamton to set up as a restaurant near Edgewater, NJ.

Those plans did not come to fruition, due to delays and difficulties dredging the berth and getting the boat in position. Therefore, the Binghamton was sold to another developer seeking to turn her into a restaurant, and after some renovations, she operated as such for more than twenty years. In 1982, she was added to the National Resister of Historic Places.

Here is where another interesting story intersects: Nelson G. Gross: state assemblyman, US Attorney, Nixon crony, convicted felon and, eventually, manager of the Binghamton.

By his late twenties, Gross had obtained a divorce from his first wife, maried a Guggenheim heiress, joined the local Republican Party, and been elected to NJ General Assembly. He supported Nixon in the Republican primary, and following his victory, Gross worked in various government and Party positions until, after losing a run for the Senate and working as an appointee in the State Department, he returned to private practice.

Shortly after Nixon resigned, however, Gross' role in the election of NJ Governor Cahill was investigated, and he was sentenced to two years of prison for, basically, campaign finance fraud, and after serving six months, he was released in 1977, whereupon he managed a real estate business and the Binghamton restaurant.

In 1997, Gross was kidnapped, taken to the bank to forcibly withdraw money, and then murdered and dumped. Three young men from Washington Heights were convicted of the crime, one of whom had been a busboy at the Binghamton. Two were sentenced to thirty years, while the third got 17 as part of a plea agreement.

Despite his retirement from politics, Gross' wife continued to be active in the Party, and she served as a member of the US delegation to the United Nations. His daughter published a memoir about his murder in 2007.

So - yeah. A lot more history than some crappy little ferry falling apart on the river. The Binghamton is over a hundred years old. She was an innovative vessel for the time. She served well as a restaurant, and was touched by a locally notorious political player and, sadly, crime victim. Her colors - the red white and blue - betray a more festive spirit than what is belied by her current condition. If anyone can pony up the money to save her and fix her up, I hope they do. Till she succumbs to the elements, she'll always be a pleasant sight on the water.

Update: according to recent news stories, the Binghamton's current owner is proceeding with plans to remove and demolish her.

Windy Jaunt (Back Paddle)

Saturday I took a short trip with M, another volunteer. He has a folding boat (that, admittedly, he does not fold much). We decided to meet up earlier rather than later to try and catch some current north before it petered out and turned south.

We left shortly after the public trip. Our original plan was to go over to Jersey, and pass them, and basically chart our own course in parallel to them, but a steady breeze from the north made paddling up real work. We also wondered if the current changed early, or that we were in slack at least. By the time we reached the marina, just 20 blocks from where we started, we found we would drift backwards if we stopped paddling.

At the marina, we admired this pretty ship, the Avalon.

And M took my picture. We'd traded cameras - me with his, him with mine - so we'd have pictures of ourselves on our own cameras. So narcissistic!

Up in the mooring fields north of the marina, we stopped and said hello to a couple of families who had sailed to NYC. The first (not pictured) was a French family taking two years off to sail. They had come here from France in their ship. At least, that's what they told us.

We caught up with the public trip, and paddled with them for a while. We couldn't resist helping out, or giving pointers. We caught up with a mutual friend who was with the trip. At one point, the assistant who was in the lead asked me to check on an orange boat coming up in our rear view. Turns out it was a paddler named Fiona, furiously flying up the river in an orange boat with a white strip drawn at an angle. She passed us and disappeared into the distance up ahead. "Definitely not one of ours," we concluded.

The second vessel, pictured here, was a catamaran flying the German flag. This man said he and his family had taken four years off in order to sail around the world. I asked about the Euro 2012 (football, not the currency) and he said he didn't really follow it. A German man who does not follow Foosball? Shocking!

In both cases, M congratulated them on not having to go into an office job every day.

By this point, we were ready to go back. We knew the tide would turn soon, and we weren't going to get anywhere interesting before we'd have to turn around with the current anyway.

Going back was MUCH easier. With the current, we practically did not have to paddle at all. We could have stern-ruddered the whole way back. Instead, we stopped in at 72nd street, and then paddled under Pier I and past the old rail-transfer terminal. I took M's picture here.

Back at the boathouse, I took some time to go over the Argonaut again. Mostly I was re-packing some new gear I bought, stringing lights and tying things down with some line. In any case, before we went in, M got some nice shots of the Argonaut in profile.

Squall (Back Paddle)

Back Paddle posts are re-posts of my kayaking adventures from previous blogs. This is from about Memorial Day 2012.

Today was an exciting day on the water. Once again, I learned a valuable lesson about wind.

I paddled up to 72nd street with an experienced paddler I'll call Jermaine. With the current it's about ten or fifteen minutes; against, more like half an hour, and a bit of a slog. 

We were against, which is something I did yesterday as well, coming out around the sanitation pier into a truckload of current. Thing is, once past the pier, you can move in towards shore and catch a break, even an eddy if you're lucky; we got clear and then got on to our final destination. 

Jermaine wanted to fix up some equipment we had up there. He'd brought along a box of screws and a hammer drill. So, I helped add an additional beam to a storage rack for vests. As we finished up, we saw dark clouds rapidly approaching from New Jersey. The wind was picking up and we decided to be on our way. We launched, paddled away, and got out to the current. Now, we would be going with it to head south. We'd be home in no time and miss the worst of the storm.

We saw lightning strike far down in the harbor, somewhere near Jersey City. Jermaine suggested turning around to tell the shop to close up; we went back to tell them about the lightning strike. "We know!" So we turned around and headed back out. I think our friends were surprised we were heading back out.

By now there were light but steady droplets of rain. That wasn't a problem. The problem was the wind. It was fierce and blowing from the west across the water. The result was that in the channel there were two conveyor belts: one moving south and another moving west. 

The wind was much stronger than the current, and I fought against it. Jermaine did alright; he actually passed under the pier and turned to face into the wind. I was afraid to do that, because as hard as the wind was blowing, I was worried I'd get pushed up against the support pillars. A few years ago, someone tried that move in better weather and got knocked into the water. I figured if I could make it farther out into the channel, I could keep steady against the wind while the current carried me south.

That was not meant to be. What ended up happening was, I got to a standstill against the wind. Even facing into it, I was getting blown back towards the shore. Only, the shore was much farther out in the form of a pier. The current was carrying me south. I was going to get caught in the supports of the pier and my boat was going to get broken into pieces.

That was my thinking at the time, at least. I managed to turn around and head back to the dock. At least the wind helped me with that, and as I got out of the channel, the current wasn't a concern.

I got out and helped them put things away. By now, the squall was in full effect. The tide was at max ebb; we could see a bit of sandy beach along the sea wall, and the wind kicked up waves that bobbed us up and down while we wrangled boats in a way that we could secure them with cable locks.

A bit later, Jermaine showed up, gave me a hard time for giving up so easily, then got out to help.

In the time it took us to get everything put away - about fifteen or twenty minutes - conditions changed considerably. For one, the wind died down to a breeze. For another, the rain stopped. By then, I was chilly, having got wet and then being pressed by a steady breeze. Jermaine asked if I was ready to give it another go. "Let me put on my jacket," I said, pulling out what is again my best kayaking investment this year short of the boat: a paddling windbreaker.

At some point, I did lose my sunglasses, probably while we were putting things away. I have to shrug about that - though I did buy them just last week. Ironically, they float, but there was no way I was going to find them by the time I noticed they were missing. They are my generous contribution to the Hudson river.

We launched, and got out into the channel. As predicted, it was a quick ride back to 56th street. Without the weather cocking us about, we were able to enjoy some long swells of about 18-24 inches, a gentle roller coaster of waves.

We got back safe and sound. By then, clear skies were appearing on the horizon. We pulled out our boats, cleaned them and put them away. I checked my phone: texts from the mister advising me to get off the water. I texted him back.

After that, the day was nice if breezy, at least till I got home an hour or so later. After that, two more cloudbursts ran through, followed by spots of sun. It's an interesting day weather-wise, that's for sure.

Solo (Back Paddle)

Moving some posts from one blog to this one - from May 2012.

I went kayaking the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. I had an ambitious agenda, in hindsight a bit too ambitious. I also went alone, which probably wasn't wise, but I feel confident in my abilities, and I wanted to get some more experience north of the George Washington Bridge. I set that as my destination, and figured if that went well, I might go up to the Inwood Canoe Club, and possibly into the Harlem River.

I've misplaced my camera's waterproof housing, so unfortunately no photos - I've posted Google Maps satellite images of select areas instead.

I studied the tides ahead of time. The Hudson River is, essentially, a long tidal estuary. Going with the tide is twice as fast as paddling at slack (that is, no tide). Paddling against the current is tiring and almost pointless at the high ends. I have had days where paddling against the current resulted in  basically staying in place; if I stopped, I went backwards.

Low tide was 6:45 in the morning. From West 56th street, where I launch, the tide starts to turn about four hours later, with some light current north that strengthens until about six hours after low. So, my plan was to leave around 1030 or 1100, catch the current up past the George Washington Bridge making stops along the way, and then noodle around until the tide turned south again at 1630 to come back. It would be a long day, but one of my goals this year is to increase my endurance - not just distance, but time-in-boat. 

I set out while the sun was shining in hazy skies. It wasn't overcast; the air was very humid. Colors everywhere seemed more vibrant than usual. I proceeded north, past a sanitation pier, past an embayment that used to be home to railroad loading docks, past a long pedestrian pier the city built a few years ago as part of a beautification project. I stopped at 72nd street, a little floating platform my club uses to run a program out of. I said hi to one of my friends there, then kept going north, past the 79th street boat basin and the mooring field just beyond it that stretches for about 25 blocks.

In the image below, I started in the bottom left corner and headed north. The boat basin is near the top right.


Here was my first decision: to cross the river or not. On the Jersey side was Mitsuwa, a Japanese supermarket (owned by Koreans, I'm told) with a food court. On the Manhattan side was a floating platform across the street from Fairway, a local grocery chain in New York City. I decided on Mitsuwa because I was craving sushi, and because Fairway's lines are notoriously long.

Crossing the river isn't hard; it just requires paying attention. It's like crossing a very wide street: you look both ways, make sure you know where all the other boats are, as well as their intentions, and then go. Where it's different from crossing a street is with the current. In that regard, it's like crossing a very wide, flat escalator that slowly moves you in one direction.

So, I looked. Traffic was light: sailboat, sailboat, motorboat, motorboat, sailboat, all far enough away that I was in no danger of getting hit, and they would have plenty of time to see me. I picked a set of buildings to aim for and started paddling. Five minutes later, I was on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.

I took a drink of water and continued north. From there, I had a better view of New York City landmarks. The George Washington Bridge was much closer now. I could make out the Church of St. John the Divine (that, or Riverside Church - I always get them mixed up). I could make out the rotunda of Grant's Tomb. Grant's Tomb! Does anyone ever go there? I think I'll have to. It's so weird, having such an opulent mausoleum for a US President.

The Jersey side is a bit more hit-and-miss in terms of landmarks. There is a lot of residential development, long apartment buildings sticking out on piers, interspersed with far more industrial components - more than a couple of gas storage facilities, for example. So, yeah, if living on top of a tidal estuary where the water level changes by up to twelve feet twice a day, and next to office building-size containers of combustible petrochemicals is your thing, then New Jersey is the place to do it.

Mitsuwa is a bit above all that - still next to some kind of fuel transfer facility, but with the added bonus of a parking lot. There is a small beach next to a sidewalk that looks over the river. Many times, I've come here with friends, or with the public. Launching can be difficult at low tide because it stretches out into a mud flat, but that wouldn't be a problem today.

In the image below, "A" marks Mitsuwa.

One very nice discovery was that a giant log, apparently an old tree that washed up and is used as a bench when we visit, had a donut shaped knot protruding out of it. I had brought my cable lock, and this turned out to be a perfect, easy way to secure my boat while I went in to buy food (eel and avocado roll, a red bean curd dessert bun, and some sort of peach-milk drink, mmm mmm good). I knew I'd need food to fuel the rest of my journey.

Once I was done, I re-packed my boat, pulled it out in the water, climbed in and got away from the shore. I sealed myself back in with the spray skirt - the tupperware-like cover that keeps water out of the cockpit - and waved goodbye to a couple of families who had watched. I went back out into the current and kept going north, sunny skies with puffs of white cumulous.

A couple of things to know about the George Washington Bridge (GWB): It's very large, especially when you're sitting just a foot or so above the water, and conditions get strange near it.

The GWB is cathedral-like in stature. It's immense; it's tall, it's long. Paddling under one end and looking across to the other, the repeated arches and tresses call to mind nothing short of the flying buttresses and internal arches of Renaissance cathedrals. Imagining how it was built, even how it is maintained, is boggling. It's a big thing that people made, a sharp contrast to the more nature-focused sights that would follow.

The first thing you notice in terms of conditions is the noise. The GWB is a highway, and there is a steady buzz that fills the air. It's not bad in itself, but as one tries to pay attention to everything else, it's a distraction.

I took a look at something I've only seen from above: a landing bay just south of the bridge. It's basically two driveways going into the water, for people who carry their boats on trailers. There is also a platform there. A boat was coming out. I thought about landing, but a large wake came by, bouncing both me and the dock up and down a few feet. I thought better of it, backed out, and kept going north.

Oh yeah, wake. Wake per se isn't bad. It's said you never see the boat that produces the wake that you feel. I've noticed the further north on the river, you can watch a boat pass by and generate wake. You can see the waves emanating from the boat. Yet, those waves won't get to me until five or ten minutes later. Depending on the displacement of the vessel, and the depth of the water, I can get waves up to three or four feet in height, foot to trough. Normally they're smaller, but occasionally they can bounce me up and down like a roller coaster. This was one of those times.

There are some odd shallows on approaching the bridge, on both sides of the river, and from either direction. At low tide it starts to look like a creek in some areas, with little ripples forming that act like Magic Fingers on the boat. They weren't too bad for me since I was on flood tide; water was coming in. I went under the bridge pretty smoothly, and came into view of the Palisades.

"Hazard's Dock" is apparently the name of the loading ramp. It figures!

After the drama of the bridge, the Palisades were remarkably peaceful. There is a state park built out on the water, basically a large parking lot with facilities, and large rocks to protect against the tides. I knew from past experience that there was a small beach on the north side of the park, so I paddled past, rounded the corner, and landed on the beach. I just wanted to rest a bit.

From Ross Dock:

Upstate Manhattan
From there I could make out the boathouse of another club I belong to, the Inwood Canoe Club. It's a red building just south of the end of Dykman street. The sun was in full effect by now, with just a few scattered clouds. There was a large barge parked in the river. Moored boats always point into the current. To avoid getting pressed against it, I would go behind it, and on across the Hudson to the Manhattan side.

There was practically no one at Inwood; just someone sunning herself and talking on the phone. I said hi, and paddled on. The whole area north was all park, Inwood Hill Park, to be exact, with plenty of greenery, including the oldest native trees in Manhattan. I call it upstate Manhattan because it is a part of the city no one ever thinks about, so far north that it may as well be upstate. While there's a large Dominican population, the part I live in is very suburban, if you swap out houses for apartment buildings. People drive eco-friendly cars, we compost at the local farmer's market, and upscale grocers sell artisanal cheeses and jams. The pubs serve exotic microbrews, and Shakespeare is performed in the park.

Paddling into the Harlem River requires travelling under a rotating railroad bridge. If the bridge it open, no trains are crossing, as the middle section is swiveled so as not to connect the ends. If it's closed, you have to duck under it. If the tide is high, this can be a bit difficult, and dangerous. I was lucky. The bridge was open.

Another tricky part about entering (and exiting) the Harlem is that the Hudson current is moving you while you try to go in. It's like trying to park in your driveway when the street carries you sideways. So, you have to turn sharply and move quickly to get out of the Hudson before it slams you into one of the walls supporting the bridge.

Once in, however, it' very rewarding. I love paddling in the Harlem River. The initial parts are very high, and lush with trees, high rock walls, and little nooks you can't see from the shore. Columbia has a sports complex next to the park, and a giant C painted on a cliff on the Bronx side of the river. I haven't seen the film, but apparently this is where the boys in "Basketball Diaries" do their cliff jumping.

Onward, I passed two Metro North Stations (Spuyten Duyvil and Marble Hill) and under the Broadway Bridge, waving to fishermen along the way. Motorboats came by. While there are signs that basically say "No Wake" the entire way, like poorly tended highway signs, they are partially obscured by brush. Most people slowed down when they saw me, but one guy in a boat painted with Looney Tunes characters went full throttle on his four Honda outboard motors, and I caught a little surf.

Inwood Canoe Club is located just below the little pier on the bottom left. The Hudson is on the left, the Harlem is on the right of this image - mostly obscured by the Google command menu overlay.

I had in mind stopping at the Peter Sharp Boathouse - a little building near High Bridge that's about halfway around Manhattan. That was not to be, however. I came within sight, but did not land.

As I crept further into the Harlem River, I could see the weather get progressively worse. What had been a sunshiny day just an hour earlier was quickly becoming cloudy in all directions, with little holes of clear sky here and there. There were black clouds to the north, and what I swear were purple clouds to the west. Yet, there was sunshine in the Bronx to the east. There was no wind to speak of, so I wasn't sure what was going to happen.

I was near the MTA's 207th street shop - the end of the line for the A and C trains. The Peter Sharp boathouse was in sight, just past a bridge. I was tempted to go there, rest, and then come back around. However, I was concerned about the weather. If it had gotten this bad this quickly, what might happen on the way back?

I had to contend with the current. It was 1500 (3 PM). The tide was not due to change for another hour and a half. I figured it would take half an hour just to work back out to the Hudson (it actually took only 20 minutes). I would be paddling against the current for an hour. I decided that as hard as that would be, better to get moving now than to wait and possibly watch the weather get worse. So, just short of my reach goal, I turned around - back past the fisherman, past the Broadway Bridge, past the giant C, and under the railroad bridge. The current was less strong than when I'd come in, but still noticeable.

In the middle of this image is the train yard. I stopped just north of the bridge here, about 207th street. Peter Sharp Boathouse is the tiny little structure jutting out into the river from the left bottom edge of the image. That's Manhattan on the left, the Bronx on the right.

What I ought to mention now is that in many ways, this was becoming a repeat of a trip I took last year that ended badly. I had gone out a similar distance with a couple of friends, only with not enough food, and inadequate protection against wind and rain. This is why I made sure to eat when I could, and brought along granola bars, just in case, along with plenty of water. It's also why the best piece of equipment I had with me was a light paddling jacket I bought earlier this spring. With gaskets on the sleeves and collar, I could get nice and sealed up against the elements. I stopped at Columbia's dock in Inwood Hill Park and put on the jacket, not wanting to risk hitting rain while out on the water and unable to don it when I needed it.

The first thing I noticed was how much warmth it let me retain. My arms were already wet; I'd only been wearing a long-sleeve rashguard to that point. As I paddled, the heat generated by my body stayed in the jacket. I knew I'd need that if things got bad.

When I say the current was noticeable in the Hudson, I mean that I felt every pull. I could get some momentum, and stop paddling for a minute before coming to a complete stop. However, after a minute, I would start to drift north. If I looked at the shore, I would appear to be moving very, very slowly as I paddled. Looking towards my destination was better: things got bigger, albeit slowly. I adopted a thousand-yard-stare and pressed on. I left the railroad bridge at 1550; it would take me half an hour to go twenty blocks, and nearly an hour to go another 60 blocks after that. All in, an hour and a half from the tip of Manhattan to Fairway.

On the way south, I stopped at the Inwood Canoe Club after I recognized a couple of friends on the dock. We talked a bit, partly about my boat, and partly about the weather. My friend  offered to let me store my boat overnight there, an offer I was sorely tempted to take. Thinking about it, I realized I didn't want to have to come back for my boat, and also, people would be expecting me back where I started. Thunder was to the north, and the wind was blowing north, so I figured the worst of the weather was behind me. I decided to head south, into the current, into the wind. I would dwell on that decision for the next hour or so.

My next planned stop was the platform at 125th street. It was about halfway to my destination, and a safe place to get out, rest, and get some food if I needed it. This was the hardest part of the trip. 

For one thing, it was only on this trip that I obtained a clear sense of just how far it is from the GWB to the upper tip of Manhattan. In a car, or a train, or even a bike, it's nothing, a blur on the way to a destination. In a kayak, even with the tide it's a good 15 minutes or more. Against the tide, it's much longer. I paddled and paddled, then rested for a minute; paddled some more, rested, watched the Little Red Lighthouse inch ever closer; watched the water for bizarre conditions; thought about what I would have for dinner when I got back - everything from a juicy cheeseburger to broiled chicken to Pad Thai. I ended up inhaling chicken pad thai that night. 

I thought about that platform at 125th street a lot. I just wanted to get out of the boat. By the time I got there, I'd been in the boat for nearly 90 minutes. The bobbing up and down was uneven and relentless. Waves, both natural and from the wakes of passing ships, would cock my boat this way and that. At one point  a solid three-footer washed over the deck. This was the other thing - not only was I working against the current, but the conditions were rough enough that half my energy was spent just keeping the boat right and on track.

Eventually, I crawled into 125th street. Just below a major water treatment facility, the embayment there is protected well against the current and I had no problem getting myself and the boat out. Once I lifted the boat out, I lay on the dock, trying to find a place amidst the goose droppings to not get myself too dirty (this may seem moot after hopping in and out of Hudson River surf, dropping pebbles in my boat, and baked in layers of sunscreen and sweat). I could see the current still flowing north. I devoured my granola bar and half my last bottle of water. Still hungry, I saw that a park ranger was watching the river. I asked her to keep an eye on my boat while I ran into Fairway and bought another granola bar. Soaked in water, without my jacket, inside the store was c-c-c-cold. I got back out as soon as I could, ate, and then waited for the current to change.

The Road Home
The current took a little longer to change than I expected, so I got plenty of rest. By the time the water was flowing in the right direction, I was more than ready to go home. I piled everything into my boat, launched, and set out.

A long pedestrian pier extends out from the shore at 125th street, and as I paddled past it, a large man bellowed out, "Keep Kayaking! Don't let God catch you! He's behind you, don't let God catch you!" I'm not sure what he meant, or even if that's what he said. I decided at best he meant well, and at worst, he was deranged. Maybe he was talking about the weather. The weather behind me was indeed pretty scary.

Here is where the paddling got interesting. So far on this trip, I had paddled north, crossed the Hudson, surfed some boat wake, skirted the shoals near the George Washington Bridge, landed on two beaches, and fought my way against about a 1 knot current. Now, the wind shifted direction, and I had the wind and the current taking me south, where I wanted to go. This was not a bad thing, but it was not entirely a good thing. It was a weird thing. 

The main effect was that for about three miles I had a steady stream of waves - long, wide, never quite cresting waves. I would feel them pick up the back of the boat and push me forward, and I would try to work a stern rudder position with my paddle. But the wave would pass under me, washing partially over the spray deck. Then, the wave would push up the front of the boat, slowing me down. Depending on the angle that the wave hit at, I would also be pushed to the right or left. Thus, while paddling forward was easy, I spent a lot of effort just trying to keep the boat straight. It was like hyrdo-planing on the river.

A friend of mine explained pretty well what was happening - as the wave passed under me, I would slide down the back of the wave. It would push me and then stop me. In a way it was like in a cartoon where someone whips a rug at an escaping mouse. In any case, it was just weird, and made for an interesting ride back.

Another obstacle was a set of mooring buoys just north of the 79th street boat basin. From shore, they look peaceful enough, giant golf balls floating in the water, held in place by lines. When you're moving though - and especially with current - they are to be avoided. Now the easy way to do this is to stay in the channel, but first I had to get there - I'd been paddling close to shore on the way back.  As I rushed towards the mooring balls, I threaded through them, out to the channel, gliding by the boat basin, and on home.

The pier below 72nd street is a psychological point for me. Once I'm there, the boathouse is practically in sight, directly behind a sanitation pier. I'm five minutes out. All I had to do was loop out, and then in. 

To my surprise, the public program was still going - regular folks who walk up, and we put them in a boat, and they paddle around the embayment. It wasn't really a surprise - of course they were still out, since it wasn't 1800 yet. I had made it back before my estimated return time. As I glided in, I remembered that that was how I started - paddling in an embayment, when the boathouse was located at Pier 26. I've come a long way from all that, learning from others as well as from my own mistakes.

I got out, pulled out my boat, and started taking my gear out to hose everything down with fresh water before putting it away. I saw that my boyfriend had texted me, asking if "the rain" had hit us yet. 

I looked up, and saw droplets marching across the river, an approaching sheet of precipitation coming off the water, across the embayment, up the deck, and onto my boat. I waited inside until it abated, and then cleaned up and put everything away.

Lessons Learned
I was nervous about this trip. It's the third time I've gone out alone; since I bought my own boat, I've taken three trips alone in fairly short order, to 72nd street, to about 86th street, and now, about halfway around Manhattan. I'm confident in my abilities, but it's always nice to have someone else along, in case things go really, really wrong. I was also nervous about the distance - I've gone that far before, but not often, and certainly not on my own.

I was adequately prepared, but barely. I plan to start stocking more food, and even water in my boat - both as stock to keep around for sharing, and for long trips like this one. All in, I consumed 72 ounces of water, and another 16 of the juice I got at Mitsuwa. I had a decent sized breakfast and lunch, but still needed extra energy for the trip back. If I add it all up and account for paddling, I think I came up rather short on calories for the day.

I'd also be more definite about my plans. I wanted to go to Peter Sharp, but I didn't look up just how far it was. I was happy enough to get into the Harlem. If there had been a place to land, I would have, and waited out the tides. If the weather had not looked so ominous, I might have done so at Inwood.

This was my first real test for planning a trip and executing it. It was also a test of the skills and local conditions knowledge that I've been developing for the past five years. I knew what to look for, and how to adapt my plans to changing conditions. While I will do things differently in the future, I think I did pretty well.

NYC Triathlon 2012

Today I provided swim support for the NYC Triathlon. This meant I was one of a large number of kayakers on the Hudson, forming a sort of line to prevent swimmers from swimming into the seawall or swimming out into the channel.

This entails paddling one or more boats up the afternoon before to the staging area, and then coming back at about four-thirty in the morning to launch and get positioned. Swimmers start around five-forty-five and swim with the tide. It's a quick 1200 meters, and then they're off to bike and later run in their quest for victory.

I set my alarm, pre-ground my coffee, and staged it in the french press. All I had to do was pour hot water, press, and transfer to a thermos.

I've done this twice before. One year, there were tons of jellyfish, filling the water with hundreds of non-lethal yet still-painful burn points. Another year, two people died, one in the water, and the other after being pulled from the water. The NY Times wrote it up, and later pointed out that Triathlons in general are somewhat lethal sporting events.

Supporting the Triathlon is filled with camaraderie, but not necessarily fun. The job is to keep the swimmers on course while they otherwise subject themselves to disturbing and dangerous conditions as part of the first leg of of a three-part athletic competition. 

I'm happy to say this year's swim stage went relatively well. As far as I know, no one died, or went into cardiac arrest, or suffered similarly  negative outcomes. After a brief thunderstorm at midnight, the weather cleared and was rather nice at the time of the race.

I say relatively because this year, the water quality was disgusting. Any time immediately after a storm, the water is filled with surface runoff. This includes more dirt, light trash, even sizable pieces of flotsam. I spotted small logs, shredded styrofoam, empty soda bottles, and a couple of oil slicks I couldn't associate with a boat.

There were also a lot of dead fish. No one is sure why; some link it to the higher-than-average temperatures, and further to global warming.  A lot of the fish looked broken, but that could happen to any small dead animal floating down the river. When I say, "a lot", I don't mean a stream of dead fish. Just enough that, at worst, two were within sight at a given time.

Some of the lifeguards on duty normally work out at Jones or Moses beaches, ocean-facing state parks that are quite a bit cleaner. I'm a little embarrassed for my city to have such filthy water. Even one of our more veteran kayakers said she could't be paid to go in this water. It was unusually bad.

The swim portion of the Triathlon starts from a barge at about 96th street. Swimmers swim to a landing dock just north of the 79th Street Boat Basin. The area north of the Boat Basin is a mooring area, with several sailboats and mooring balls. Our job is to keep the swimmers from swimming into the seawall, out into the channel, or into an obstacle such as a ship or mooring ball.

With the current moving along at about three knots, things can happen quickly. Furthermore, the swimmers are wearing swimcaps, and are bobbing up and down in the water. From a distance, all we can see are arms: loops of flesh pumping up and down like narrow pistons. As they get closer, the colors of their skin caps become visible.

Situated as I was on the channel side of the swim lane, most of what I do is yell, "SWIMMER ! LEFT !" This usually gets them to realize they need to turn a bit to go straight down the lane.

I don't have a conversation. I don't say hi, or get pleasant. I need to 1) get their attention and 2) give a direction.

Sometimes, they don't hear, or don't realize I'm talking to them. I notice that the pros and semi-pros in the first wave were more responsive than the amateurs. A couple of people kept swimming until they ran right into my boat, which I positioned to keep them from bonking directly into a mooring ball.

I'm also there to provide support for tired swimmers. They can hang off my boat, or take a swim noodle, although any forward motion assisted by me disqualifies them. I had three people hang off my bow for a few minutes; one opted out, and I transferred him to a lifeguard sled towed by a jetski. The other two continued on after a brief respite.

As the event wound to a close, we closed up ranks and followed the last swimmers in to the finishing line. We chatted, enjoyed the now-nice weather (and uniformly talking about how badly we needed to pee, after nearly three hours in the water, with coffee, water, and juice).

If you kayak in the Manhattan area, the Triathlon is a worthwhile event to take part in. You meet other kayakers; you are part of a larger logistical operation that is somewhat amazing in its scale; you see miraculous events, like blind swimmers, paraplegic athletes, even just regular everyday people challenging themselves.