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.