Friday, May 31, 2013

Piermont May 2013

On Memorial Day, I paddled with a friend from Inwood to the marshes at Piermont. It was a beautiful day, with near-perfect conditions, surrounded by otherwise inhospitable days.

We left at 1020, about an hour before max flood. MD and I are strong paddlers, and ultimately it took use just a little over two hours to get to our destination, arriving with plenty of current and time to spare.

Along the way, we stopped by the rockslide. On the New Jersey side, a little north of Alpine, you can see where the cliff face marked by the white vertical stripe collapsed onto the shore below.

The rockslide across and north of Alpine.

MD poses for scale.

Time to move on.

We pressed on. This was just over a third of our way to the destination. Along the way, we saw birds of prey circling along the cliffs, presumably catching thermal updrafts, and looking for food. Presumably, the rockslide, with no foliage, was an open kill zone for these feathered fiends.

MD flexes his muscles.

Once we arrived, we paddled a little but in the marsh, but decided to land on a bumpy shore north of it for lunch. we saw some men fishing, alongside boys setting up old beer cans in order to knock them down with a thrown stick.

Cowgirl in bloom !

We brought a lot. While it's only two of us, due to the distance we brought along a spare paddle, repair kit, first aid kits, radios, plenty of food, spare clothes in case of hypothermia, and so on. Many things are rarely used, but when they're missed, they're missed badly.

Detail on the marsh.

A red-winged blackbird in the marsh.

There were lots of little birds, as well as tiny crabs, and we could hear frogs. The marsh is not just an ecosystem; it's also protection against storm surge.

Two Boats.

I paddled the Argonaut, my own boat, and a real hauler. MD paddled a skin-on-frame boat that belongs to the club. It's a bit more fragile, but quite a bit more responsive.

The waterfall, behind an arch of trees.

On the way back, we stopped at a waterfall not far south. We know this spot as the "Italian Wine Garden".

The waterfall.
Up close, it's quite impressive.

Kayak Dov.

Kayak Dov had finished teaching a lesson, paddled after us, and finally caught up with us to urge us to stop at the waterfall.

The skin boat rests, as a barge passes in the distance.

Eventually we made it home, back to Inwood Canoe Club.

Sunset at Inwood.

Back in Inwood, we washed the boats and watched the sun set over the Palisades.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Assessment in Detail

So last Thursday, I took a day off from work to take an ACA coastal kayaking assessment. I won't say what I rated, but I will say I got what I was going for. I need to work on my roll, and there is always room for improvement, but I was able to maneuver the boat, rescue myself, and rescue others.

This all took place on an otherwise gloomy day. It was mostly overcast, but had patches of sun. Basically a series of showers moved north, so we'd have a few minutes of rain, a few minutes clear, and periodically actual sunshine.

This made dressing for the weather a little challenging. The water is still a bit cool, at 60 F, and when the wind kicked up, a wet paddler could get quite cold. Passed on practice earlier in the week, I wore my wetsuit with a light paddling jacket over it.

I forget the exact order, but I know we did rescues earlier on - presumably to get everyone comfortable in the water, and prepared to rescue later, just in case. What was funny was that there was police activity on the water right about that time. An NYPD boat sped past, then slowed down until we indicated we were OK, and a little later, an NYPD helicopter hovered over us while we rescued ourselves. We did bow rescues, X-rescues, scoops, and Hand of God, then lined up for drills.

We ran through propulsion and turning: forward stroke, sweep stroke, bow and stern rudders, as well as stern pry, which was new to me. After that, we took a break for lunch, and talked about navigation and making knots.

After lunch, we did figure-eight, forwards and backwards around some pilings in the old marina yard. That was fun, and something I'd been practicing in the run-up to this assessment.

After that, we set out across the river - two or three times. By this point, we were getting scattered showers, all driven by a manageable but steady wind from the south, with periodic lightning. So, we'd start, paddle a few minutes, then turn back due to lightning. Eventually we made it across, experiencing 1-2 foot swells broadside, and that was a lot of fun.

We paddled up a bit, and practicing what was left on the checklist. Due to the shifting conditions, not everyone had done everything. We had some more bow dips, rescues, and  stern draws. I tried my roll a couple of times - and flubbed it. No excuses here - I'm out of practice, and while I have rolled my boat, I have not rolled it or any other boat recently. I need to practice.

Following all of that, we went back across the river. By then, the sky was more permanently gray an cloudy. Our instructor landed, and had everyone do a wet exit, just to be sure we could. We recovered landed, and started putting gear away, and got our assessments.

I had a great time, and everyone else seemed to as well. I learned a lot, and practiced a lot. As I told the instructor, it's always good to have another set of eyes on what you're doing, and if I didn't come away with something to work on, the whole things wouldn't have been nearly as valuable.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


More later - I predict shorter entries as I spend more time on the water. I spent all day on the water working on an ACA assessment  We were blessed with strong tides, wind, rain, and other "conditions". Rescues, unplanned and other wise, self-rescue, paddling strokes, crossing the river - we did it all. My roll is out of practice, but otherwise, a great day on the water.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Watchers

Yesterday was beautiful, and as Friday came to a close, I chafed at the bit to get away from work, up to Inwood, to take out my boat. The weather was perfect: little wind, and the tide had only just turned south by the time I got there. The sun was setting in the west, behind the Palisades, and there was very little water traffic.

I was delayed getting on the water because I took the time to mount my new toy: a GoPro Hero 3 wireless camera. I bough it over a month ago on a sale, but not put it on my boat yet. I've got a variety of attach points, but for now I've only set one up on the bow, ahead of the forward hatch. It's still farther back than I would have liked, because there's gentle curve on my deck that is too steep in parts for most of the mount plates.

In any case, I got it set up and took the whole thing out for a spin. The nice thing about Spring finally warming up is that I can carry less gear and dress a little lighter. I was in shorts and rash guard, with my paddling jacket in case in it got breezy.

I paddled north, slaloming around the pilings of La Marina. I've got in the habit of paddling close to the restaurant, waving at folks when they wave at me. As the weather has gotten nicer, more people have come out to the pier at Tubby Hook. Sometimes there are fisherman, and I have to watch out for their lines. Here, one man aimed his camera at me, while my camera took a shot of him.

I turned to cross the river. The Hudson here is wide - about a mile - and I always underestimate it, probably because so much of my paddling career has been farther south. It's not much less wide down there, but there is more development, more piers and other man-made extensions, so it feels less wide. I sometimes call me area the Inwood Sea.

Across the river, I landed, briefly, north of Englewood Cliffs marina, startling ome geese who thought they had a beach all to themselves. I captured some nice shots of Manhattan, looking south past the GWB. I had some water, then relaunched.

Coming south, I got some footage of the the marina. There's still a fair amount of damage, presumably from Sandy, on the outer deck. A little further south, I saw a father fishing, with two little kids. I waved, they waved back, shouting and pointing at the little blue boat in the water.

This is one of the things I love about paddling around the city - the (usually) unspoken transactions between us on the water and those on the shore. We're a colorful, sometimes surprising element of the scenery. In our bright colors like fishing lures, paddlers are bait drawing the public in to use the waterfront. People wave, sometimes uncertain if they should. We wave back, because hey, we're people too.

This is especially true of little kids. They get excited. There is something you don't see every day. What might have just been a playdate in the park becomes an observation. Paddlers are more personable than motor boats; we get in closer to the shore, and are more recognizably human, rather than the impersonal boxes and canopies of recreational motor craft.

On my way back, I paddled under the pier at Tubby Hook. This was a little tricky; by then the tide was definitely flowing south, and there were old pilings barely under the waterline, as well as the pilings supporting the pier. A little girl watched me, running from one side to the other as I passed, and when I emerged on the river side again, she asked if I could give her a ride.

"It's a one-seater," I said, but then I pointed towards the boathouse. "Come by Memorial Day Sunday at ten and we'll give you a ride."

With that, I set off, past La Marina, to land at the boathouse, clean up in the setting sun, and go home.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Trip Leader Training

Today's work at the NYKC ranch involved trip leading practice. There were four of us, including our lead coach. We took turns leading a trip out of Pier 40, to about Battery Park City, then across to Jersey City. In each leg we played different roles, with focus on me and the other new girl.

I was up first. We talked about how to decide where to go. Current was flooding north, and we expected a weather system to move in from the south as well. Generally outbound trips go against the current, so as to have an easier time on the way back, especially if something goes wrong. I announced we would head south, probably not farther than Battery.

Our lead coach agreed and asked me to paddle out a bit so he could confer with his colleagues. The way coach and leader training works in these situations is, other participants role-play certain activities and attitudes intended to challenge the leader's ability to maintain the group. I knew that was what was being planned, and mentally prepared. I'll call my companions Winken Blinken and Nod, with Nod being our lead coach.

We set out. I asked Winken to take lead, and she never did; it wasn't clear at first if she was meant to be another assistant for me and Blinken and Nod were our clients, and I eventually treated her as a third client. She lagged behind, and I checked in on her, and kept Blinken and No from racing off.

Blinken kept racking forward, and I'd have to tell him to hold back. So did Nod, but he was on the opposite side as the other two, intentionally dividing my attention. Then, Winken started keeping up, but drifting out into the main channel of the river. I managed to keep the group together, and we pulled in near Pier 26 for an assessment.

We took turns, starting with me. I talked through what I saw, and what my concerns were, and I got it mostly right. the main criticism I took away was that I came off as a bit bossy - which frankly is criticism I've gotten before, and something I mean to improve on. Winken said that while I came across as confident and firm, I also seemed a little nervous, which was true. I was being assessed !

Next, we went across the river, this time with Winken as the trip leader. Now I was in on the conspiracy. Nod asked me to alternately race ahead and lag behind, while he and Blinken flanked and distracted Winken.

This was a little tricky because she put me on point to lead us across the river, aiming for the Hyatt hotel on the Jersey City waterfront. So, I left, I mean, I paddled as quickly as I could, outpacing the team. Eventually, she pulled me back, asking me to hold up for the group - so I did, even allowing them to pass, and then lingering behind. When she caught me out, I pointed to river tour vessel slowing making U-turns and said Iw as unsure about it. To be fair, Winken is new to these waters, so she might have actually had the same concerns.

As we approached the opposite side of the river, Nod brought our role-play to a close, and we rafted up in an embayment in front of the Hyatt to talk about how the crossing had gone. One thing that was different for her was that she got more involved in conversations than she needed to be, inhibiting her ability to manage the group. It's a touch balance, especially when running a trip with people you don't know - keeping a firm rein on a disparate group of paddlers, while keeping up a friendly patter so everyone is having a good time.

From there, we paddled back pretty easy. By then, the current was turning slack, but was still mildly north. We performed a ferry crossing, aiming for the inward Holland Tunnel blowers from about Pier 26 on the Jersey side. There was some light traffic heading south, but slowly, and we managed to avoid it.

Once back, we said hi to our friends as they finished putting the ramp in, unloaded, and washed up. As a bonus, we'd all been paddling Tiderace boats, which are amazing. I will write about them separately as I get more experience in them.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Another day at the ranch, working with the other coaches and assistants. We practiced paddling canoes, both solo and double.

I have to say, it's remarkable what one forgets when it is not practiced regularly.

My J-stroke was all wrong. I'd paddle out into the embayment at Pier 40, get weathercocked by a steady breeze from the east, and then be unable to turn or paddle against it. My C-stroke was even worse. While I did OK on the right, my brain just wasn't mapping it right to the left. I'd be thumbs-up and backwards.

Fortunately, through some instruction from the lead coach and by practicing with one of the other assistants, it started to come back to me. The wind would still 'cock me, but I was able to adjust. I got a a point where some edging and a C-stroke would get me where I needed to go.

Edging is different in a canoe. Unlike a kayak, you edge the deck into the opposing force, rather than the hull. That is, if I want to turn right, I tilt to the right, lifting the left side out of the water.

I also learned how much a difference trim makes. Even someone as light as the cowgirl puts the fore of the canoe four inches out of water when she sits in the back. Paddling solo, I sit in the middle, or ate least further forward.

By the end of the day, I was able to maneuver a narrow figure-8 course set up by our lead coach, around two pilings, and then backwards past a floating dock and two other pilings. It will take some work, but I think I will get the hand of it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Paddling Home

I moved my boat to its new home, at the Inwood Canoe Club. I'd been planning this for a while, since I moved to a neighborhood much closer to Inwood. While I plan to continue volunteering with the Downtown Boathouse, the access issues within the Hudson River Park Trust, along with the friends I've  made uptown, clinched the deal. Last Sunday, I met one of the few people who has keys to Pier 96, and with his help pulled the Argonaut down to launch.

It was a beautiful day. The tide was going in the right direction, and the skies were sunny. A moderate breeze kept things cool; being late April, the water was still cold, a scotche over 50 F. I wore my drysuit and had my self-rescue gear. MH, my canoe friend, was paddling down to meet me. He was coming against the current, so we figured we'd meet about halfway.

This is a familiar trail to me, one I trod plenty of times last summer. I kept to the Manhattan side, and not too far out in the channel, so as to spot MH, who I knew would keep close to shore. I rounded out from Pier 96, past the pedestrian pier, the Boat Basin, and onwards. Somewhere between the north end of the mooring field and 125th street, I met up with MH, and we paddled up past further landmarks: Riverbank State Park, the Little Red Lighthouse, and in the distance, the Cloisters.

The Argonaut is safely tucked away in its new home. It's a funny feeling, realizing you're home, and not just a guest, and not just stashing your boat for a later trip to a farther destination. I've gotten to know some of the waters uptown well over the winter, paddling club boats. Now, I'll be in my own.

Nothing beats being in your own boat. If nothing else, you don't have to worry about someone else adjusting the foot pegs.