Thursday, November 21, 2013


Last Sunday I took a couple of newer paddlers in my club on a trip to Peter Sharp Boathouse. It's a nearby destination, but as we are truly in Autumn now, no less interesting. 

We got a bit of a late start, off through Spuyten Duyvil and past the Columbia C, their boathouse, and under the Broadway Bridge. By then the current was against us, but nothing terrible. We paddle on, passing another kayaker heading the opposite direction, having put in at Liberty State Park to do his circumnavigation. We waved, chatted briefly, then went on our way.

There was very little wind, so the water was flat. It was a great opportunity to teach how to read current, pointing out places where it hit objects and flowed around, forming small eddies. By staying close to the shore we were able to make good progress, until we landed at the beach of Swindler's Cove, had lunch, and got some passers-by to take our photos.

Turns out they were neighborhood lads, retired guys who had grown up in the area and then moved out, surprised to find the park and the people (us) so much more hospitable than either had been in the seventies and eighties.

The way back was easy - the current was with us, and growing stronger. Meanwhile, a fog had rolled down the Hudson River Valley, and we looked forward to a sublime journey.

Sure enough, the still waters and thickening fog made New Jersey nearly invisible. I'm very happy with the above photo, of TS, perfectly reflected in water.

Coming around the corner from Spuyten Duyvil, KH's boat was a sharp contrast, clearly meant for summer climes.

Anytime we looked west, or north, it was clear there wasn't much out there, perhaps the Hounds of the Baskervilles.

We did make it home, but it wasn't easily visible. The tower of the Cloisters looms over the trees, and closer, the boom of a barge laying new pilings near our club can barely be seen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Swinburne Island

I had already planned a short paddling trip for Sunday and figured Saturday would be a good day off - catch up on housework, do a little shopping, sleep in perhaps and have a nice warmed muffin from Frank's Market, the neighborhood gourmet store. But then, while corresponding with some friends about a get-together we're planning, my friend V mentioned that VS and his brother were planning a trip out to Swinburne Island.

You know, where the seals are.

Swinburne Island, and its larger sibling Hoffman Island, are located off the shore of Staten Island, a mile or two below the Verranzano Bridge -for the more exacting among you, Hoffman's north edge is about a mile south of the bridge, while the south edge of Swinburne is a two miles below the bridge. Altogether, about twenty miles round-trip, and with the tides as they were, we'd be coming back across the harbor at night. Two firsts for me! I'd only been just past the bridge once, and I'd never been in he harbor proper at night. Well, once, but it was dusk when we stared back.

I was a little wary.

First, I wasn't mentally prepared for a longer trip. Ideations of a cool Saturday morning, the apartment filled with aromas of cinnamon and vanilla, and coffee, dark roasted and French-pressed, dissipated from my mind. Second, Night, plus colder water (temperature just above 50 F), plus multiple major shipping channels = medium consequences.

V mentioned it would be the maiden voyage of her new boat, and Tiderace Xplore-M in a white carbon kevlar layup with black trim. "Your boat looks like the space program," I said when I saw it, recalling film footage from my childhood.

I decided to go.


We launched from Pier 40, and with a strong ebb tide made amazing time. We were past Liberty Island in half an hour, which I work out to at least eight miles an hour. We continued our brisk pace through the harbor, crossing the flight path of the Staten Island Ferry as soon as it was clear, and following a heading directly at the west tower of the Verranzano Bridge.

On the way out, VS kept the radio on. We were surprised at how much chatter was on the official channels. Two guys got in a "You shut up" contest, only with saltier language than this here family-friendly blog allows. Someone else sang the William tell Overture. It was weird.

It was a clear afternoon. We had light headwinds on the way out, but they died down as the day went on. Similarly, the current died down a bit, and after stopping a couple of times for water, and pictures, we were just past the bridge at about two hours trip time - or about four miles an hour.

V and her beautiful new boat.

Some of that time was also spent figuring out traffic. We listened to the radio and watched the Kill Van Kull for outbound traffic. We saw three large container ships moored and weren't sure if one of them was moving. It wasn't, but we were moving fast enough, and at an angle, that it looked like it was being brought about by a tug.

We also tried to figure out what was going on with the NYK Laura, an enormous ship that was moored right in the Ambrose Channel, jus above the bridge. At a low tide she ought to have been able to move freely under the bridge. A large crane barge was at her port doing something, we weren't sure what.

IS posing before the NYK Laura and the Verranzano Bridge.

We saw some other ships, I didn't get decent pictures of them though, so I'll cheat and link to fleetmon:

NYK Laura, and all her stats.

The Nord Imagination.

The Singapore Express, which we later saw departing.

By the time the islands were in sight, we were running out of current. We were also slowing down because V had some inflammation in her hand. She broke a finger last spring playing kayak polo, and missed a lot of water time waiting for it to heal. While she can paddle, it's still tender in different ways - she can tell when a storm's brewing, and in this case on the way out she'd got some swelling. So, she was paddling easy.

Our trip leader gave the go-ahead for IS and I to paddle to paddle ahead. I figured i was only a mile, and I could spring for twenty minutes. I was wrong on both counts.

First, in my enthusiasm I'd only glanced at the chart. We were a mile from Hoffman, but the south end of Swinburne was yet another mile. Second, I can't sprint for twenty minutes. I'd been paddling enthusiastically already, and got about ten minutes before dropping to my non-tuckered pace. So, altogether, it was another forty minutes or so before we got there.

However, we saw some sights that are unusual on the Hudson. We saw some standing waves, the water baring its teeth, as the tide turned and came in, hitting a change in the seafloor below us. In fact you can see it on a chart, a little ledge of about ten feet depth next to a channel of twenty-six feet. We caught some nice, gentle swells, lifting our boats up like leaves on a pond, then setting us down, over and over, it might have rocked us to sleep.

As we came around Swinburne, the current had clearly changed, and we were carried rapidly around the south edge of the island, paddling backwards to try and keep position. Enormous swarms of birds flocked over the land and the sea, and we saw the remains of human habitation on the island. Both islands were used for quarantine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and later as training bases during World War II. We saw a small cove, and watched, and waited.

Nothing. I was picturing huge mounds of seas, mammals falling all over each other, sunning themselves on such a gorgeous day, seals like I've seen in California, in Monterey and San Francisco. I saw rocks, rocks and birds.

Then, something moving, a long, but a limber log, slipping into the water in a way that the currents couldn't.

"I see one!" IS pointed in front, which was to my left. I watching my own, and saw the log dive underwater.

I scanned the horizon, along with V. We saw something else, bobbing, yes! A little jump up in the water, and then he disappeared beneath the waves.

I'm certain we saw them. I was hoping for photos, but got none. We were running out of daylight, and current besides, and so we headed back, to our dinner stop, Alice Austen House, just a mile or so northwest of the bridge, stopping only to watch the Singapore Express slip under the bridge on her way out to sea.

On the way back, we overheard a distress call, answered by the Coast Guard, but not in visual range. A vessel had a three foot hole and was taking on water. Bad things do happen at sea, even on a peaceful day.


I can't recall ever having a sugar crash. I wasn't even thinking I was having one until later. As we paddled back, I was tired, but not exhausted. I straightened up my form, kept my paddling discipline, but I felt faded. I wasn't sleepy, I wasn't physically exhausted, I was just focused. The thousand-yard stare. Where's my next waypoint? I could keep going.

VS asked me closer to the group. I was trying to catch current. He later said I looked pale, and that worried me. We made it back OK, and for the first time I could recall, the thing I craved most was sugar over carbs or even protein. After a sip of tea I tore into an oatmeal cookie and immediately felt ten times better.

We moved our boats up above the incoming tide line, and relocated lunch to a bench overlooking the harbor. The one miscalculation made in the trip was that the House, a historic museum, was closed, so no running water for washing hands or bathrooms. We did find a chemical toilet though.

On the way back, I'd seen the moon, low over the horizon in the late afternoon, climb steadily, until now, in the night, it was high in the sky, a Full Moon, bright and white, with clear skies, illuminating the harbor. My camera doesn't do it justice, but this was the scene:

The Moon, the Ship, and the Bridge.

I took group photos, first of VS, V, and IS.

Then, me, V, and IS.

What is it with Russians? They never smile!

After resting and eating and admiring the view, we packed up and prepared to head back. VS suggested crossing the harbor to head up on eastern side of it, where the currents were stronger. Again, I was dubious - crossing the harbor at night? I could already see a fast-moving tug and its barge. While citing speed as an issue, I think VS also didn't want to pass n from of the Kill Van Kull, which alone has a lot of traffic, and also, putting off the Staten Island Ferry until Battery. I agreed, and off we went, crossing the upper harbor by the light of the moon, as the flood tie ferried us north a bit.

Once over, we turned north, and made out some parked barges and Governors Island. It's hard to judge distance at night. Two lumpy objects next to each other might be hundreds of yards apart. We ended up aiming towards a large barge with stadium lights, orienting between that and the Freedom Tower and Governors Island. Once the Staten Island Ferry passed, we headed towards some blue lights hanging above South Cove, and thence onwards to Pier 40.

On the way back, we overheard some interesting chatter, the most notable was a restaurant vessel behind a harbor cruise vessel asking if she was going to maintain her speed, because the first vessel was overtaking her. The tone was exactly New York, "could you hurry it up please."

Back home, we carried up, washed up, and packed up, before heading out, another great trip done, nearly on a lark.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Randalls Island

Last weekend I led a group out of Inwood to Randalls Island. It was a sunny day, well into Autumn, but the weather and tides worked out for a pleasant little jaunt of nearly nineteen miles round-trip.

First, we paddled past Spuyten Duyvil, in batches of two or three at a time, collecting in the nook on the other side, before heading under the Henry Hudson.

The foliage in Inwood Hill Park is still lovely to behold.

Then we paddled on around, past the Broadway Bridge, past the MTA railyard, past Peter Sharp Boathouse and the trio of High, Hamilton, and Washington bridges.

We were a group of eight, with a range of skill levels and paddling experience. Shepherding a group like that can be a lot of fun because of the variety, but as the trip goes on, there are choices to be made as the more experienced paddlers want to push the envelope, but the less experienced ones are content to have simply gotten as far as they have. Trip management is about people management as much as possessing the technical skills to meet any challenges along the way.

For example, by the time we got to Randalls Island, there were a few who wanted to explore Bronx Kill, while we had also talked up a small marsh on the western edge of the island. Randalls is big - nearly a mile long - and a couple of our paddlers were getting tired by the time we even arrived. We checked out the Kill and then went on the the marsh, the tired paddlers heading out first with me, while the rest caught up later.

They had had fun at a small rapid in the kill, trying to paddling pack up it. As the tide level goes down, it goes quicker and more shallow. I told my whitewater buddy about it. I'll have to check it out myself sometime.

Once in the marsh, we made it as far as we could go, spiraling in to the interior.

We were near Icahn Stadium, which can be seen from the Triborough Bridge, now known by its new name: the RFK Jr Bridge.

To get into the marsh, we had to paddle under this pedestrian overpass.

Once in, the contrast between the urban and natural - well, tended - environments is stark.

I am trying to get in the habit of group photos.

On the way back, we had one tired paddler. Two of us stayed with us while the rest went ahead, not getting too far ahead. We finally stopped and took a long rest, and when it was time to go, everyone, without prompting, seemed to let the tired paddler go ahead, and we went a ways while the current picked up, making the ride back pretty easy.

Once past Spuyten Duyvil, we caught some headwinds against the current, giving us some fun waves, not too big, but just enough for a taste of adventure.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Gelcoat Repair

Over a year later, I finally got on some gelcoat work for my boat.

The background is that last year, my boat took a couple of bonks on the nose, cracking the gelcoat. I had a local shop put some fiberglass bandages on it, and those have held well. I shouldn't have to do anything more, but it's a cosmetic issue that's been bugging me.

Here is what it looked like before.

With a similar, but longer would up front, which I'll get to in a bit.

I started by masking the area off, with masking tape and then blue painter's tape.

After cleaning the area with acetone (formerly classified as a neurotoxin, according to one friend), I started sanding away with 220 grit sandpaper - a tad shy of the 300 someone had recommended.

Eventually I got it mostly smoothed out.

I would end up doing the same for the bow wounds - similar, but a little more awkward given their proximity to the front hatch (which, I should add, has been bone dry this whole time). I also had to unfasten the deck line grommets.

I filed that down as well. then I got to the gel coat part.

Here is where I was very fortunate, and my patience paid off. I had actually contacted the manufacturer of my boat, Valley Sea Kayak, about matching the color. Valle is based in the UK, and there are regulations against shipping gelcoat by mail or in luggage. However, the pigment is OK. As it happened, I had a friend living in Scotland last year, and I was able to get a sample of the gel pigment shipped to her for free - and she brought it back in her luggage!

This is a major win. If you research gel coat repair at all, color matching is the hard part. People will mix different proportions of standard colors to get just the right shade of yellow, or red, or even "off white" as can be had. Here I had the same pigment used by the manufacturer to color my boat. The only concern I would have would be the saturation of the color.

My mixing tools: gel coat, pigment,, utensils.

I won't go into the details of gel repair - there are better videos and articles than I have time to write. Suffice it to say, I had clear gel that I mixed with pigment. Once satisfied with the amount and color, I added hardener and applied using a brush.

If I ever do this again, I will use foam brushes, not hair brushes. I found myself picking hairs out of the applied gel, and then having to smooth that out.

Once applied, I taped plastic warp over it. I ought to have done a better job smoothing it out: the gel hardens in the form it takes.I'll have a lot of sanding to do.

So the next day I came back after the gel had cured. I am mostly pleased with the results. The blue is a bit stronger than the rest of my boat, but at this point I think that may just be because the rest of the boat has over twelve years of weather (and a recent muddy trip to Piermont Marsh).

With the masking removed, the patched areas look pretty good.


I spent an hour or so sanding, now with finer grain paper - 400 and 600. I think it will take quite a bit more work, and I'm considering buying or borrowing an orbital to get it sorted. I'll post more pictures when it's done, but for now, I'm reasonably pleased with the results.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Other Boats

I spent some time working on the Argonaut today, subject for another post, and so to meet my paddling needs I took out another couple of boats: "Baby Blue", a Sawyer canoe, and a fell club member's Boreal Design Ellesmeere.

The canoe was fun, larking about in front of some friends. The paddles I used were alternately too short and too long for proper canoeing, but I managed to get about. At one point I switch to a kayak paddle. I noodled around a bit, eventually tying it to a bolt and climbing out on a rail while our ramp was being refurbished.

The Ellesmere was a dream to paddle. it's a hard-chined boat, and I could totally feel the difference. Putting that boat on an edge, it would stay there. I could park on my side. Turning was so much easier than in the Argonaut, and so much more stable than other "shallow V" or soft-chined boats.

That said, the Ellesmere has an ocean cockpit. While it's something I've been meaning to try, it was harder to get in and out on the dock. I'm not as worried about ejecting if I need to, but still, I tok it easy.