Sunday, February 23, 2014


I was able to get out briefly on the water - on actual coastal seawater conditions - Saturday. The whole weekend was beautiful, with air temperatures in the high forties. After the winter we've experienced so far, that felt downright tropical.

I went with my friend and fellow teaching assistant SS. We worked together at NYKC last summer and have kept in touch through the winter season. SS hadn't been out since November, and I'd only been out a couple of times since then, so we took it easy. we did a lap around the Pier 40 embayment before heading south towards Battery.

But first, quelle horreur, we discovered our favorite boats were no longer available. I'd taken to paddling an Impex Montauk near the end of the season, and she'd been in an Impex Mystic, perfectly sized for her petite frame. The Montauk was gone, presumably sold, and the Mystic had a note on it, to the effect that its new owner would be picking it up shortly for its new home in Maine.

Such are the hazards of relying on equipment that is not your own. Instead, I took out a yellow Impex Force Cat 4, and SS took out a Tiderace Xcite-S. Both were more than capable for our needs.

While the air temperature was warm, the water was not: last reported near 35 degrees Fahrenheit at the Battery, drysuits and layers were mandated. I took the opportunity to try out some new neoprene pogies, and I cannot say enough good things about them. They were excellent. They kept the wind off my knuckles and kept my hands warmer than they've even been in the winter. These particular ones had wide, stiff collars, making it easy to slip my hands in and out of. They were perfect.

We left shortly after the flood tide started. It wasn't strong enough to hold us back, but it meant that we would not get very far. To head out much farther past Battery would have been pointless, and a steady wind made us decide not to risk a river crossing. It was only 10-12 knots, but with gusts up to 30 reported, we were seeing some sizable waves, with whitecaps forming shortly after we returned.

We also experienced following seas, which were novel to SS. Following seas are when waves come from behind, moving faster than your boat. They lift the back of the boat, move underneath, and then lift the front of the boat as the wave runs on ahead. Then, the next one arrives, and the next, and the next, and so on. The effect is like stop-and-go traffic: the initial lift pushes the boat forwards, but then hits the breaks as it moves in front. It can also make for an unsteady feeling, as the boat may yaw (pivot sideways) unless a stern rudder is used to correct and hold steady.

We had this almost the entire way back. We took short breaks in South Cove, and later near Pier 26, before dotting out and around the Holland Tunnel blower. Before landing we spotted VB of Wind Against Current getting his boat ready to launch, and later spotted the other half of that blog, JJ, getting her boat ready. I am sure they went quite a bit farther than we did.

All in all it was a good paddle. It was a beautiful day, and we got a hint of spring even though it's still February and cold temperatures are predicted to return shortly.

Friday, February 21, 2014


It's hard not to feel dedicated when you find yourself part of a line of people carrying whitewater boats over should across fifty yards of snow eight inches deep, from their storage spot underneath some stadium bleachers to the indoor pool, and back again later on. Especially after the session, effectively a full workout, the cold night air is refreshing, cooling off all the heat worked up inside.

It's a bit of effort to get out there as well. Bereft of my car-equipped friend, I took the PATH train all the way out to Newark, and then local light rail to New Jersey Institute of Technology's campus. It was about an hour commute, and remarkably cheap if you think about it, but still, an hour each way, plus another forty-five minutes to get home once I'd got back to the city. I was a tired pup the next day, but in a good way.

I've been working on my right-setup roll. I've got my left-setup roll down, both a sweep and a C-to-C (and, more often, what I actually do is like a sweep-to-C). On the opposite side I am developing the fluid body motion. I know what I need to do; my reflexes aren't cooperating.

Step one, getting my hip flick. I realized that I simply wasn't snapping my hip as well, so I practiced that a bit.

Step two, getting the paddle in the right place. I feel like I'm not reaching far enough with my forward (that is, left) arm, and I'm diving the paddle. I'm rotating, but at a cockeyed angle.

I am improving. I've been able to do one or two of these per session. I'll give it two or three shots and then if I'm running out of air, I'll switch and come up on the other side.

One more thing: nose plugs. These make such a huge difference for practicing. True, in a real life situation you won't have them, but for practice, going in repeatedly, they're great. Without them, a couple of rounds of chlorine will force me to take a break. With them, I can go, and keep going, and really take the time underwater to figure out what's going wrong.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pool Jam

I've been to two different pool programs lately, one operated by some acquaintances from the Yonker and DTBH programs, another through a friend who does whitewater with the AMC. With as much as ice as there has been cluttering the shores of the Hudson lately, I've welcomed the opportunity to really work out - and practice instruction - in a more hospitable venue.

There's a pretty common dynamic to pool programs. The first hour or so is pretty empty, as only the hardcore regulars are there on time, and help set up, and get in the water. Then the students and other neophytes come in, and the lead instructors peel off and give them all the time they need, standing in the pool, supervising wet exits, and so on. Then, as more students get to where they can noodle around on their own, the pool fills up, till it's a shifting seascape of boats and paddles.

Then, theres rolling. Everyone is rolling except the newbies. Pools are great for rolling practice, as the water is clean and clear, and you and your mates can really see what you're doing. Did the paddle dive, was it not in the right position? Was there no hip flick? And so on. I worked a bit on my "offside" - remember, there is no such thing as an offside - but also got in three in under a minute, which is practice for a particular long-term goal I have.

Pool programs tend to be less structured, ironically given how much goes into organizing them. I think this is because the ratio of instructors to students can vary widely and change on short notice. I'm of the opinion that most instruction, especially for newbies, really needs to occur in stages: one or two things and then practice, and next time, review, add one or two things, practice. Color me skeptical of being able to teach a someone everything in an hour and have them remember even half of it the next week.

I spent a fair amount of time practicing my hanging draw and some bracing turns, which are kinda ridiculous in whitewater boats. The extreme stability of the boat I was in allowed me to push my own mental limits. With one of the instructors, I really got low on my sculling brace, and that felt good. Now for warmer climes, when I can take my own boat out on the river and attempt the same.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Old Home Movies of Tubby Hook

I had a opportunity to see a compilation of home movies made in the Inwood area of Manhattan, shot in the 1930s. It was at a party held by the Inwood Canoe Club. There was plenty of footage of the club's waterways, an area known as Tubby Hook.

It was fascinating. We've all heard that the area was a busy, thriving waterfront, but here we saw motion pictures of a long row of boathouses, docks, and even the old ferry terminal at the end of Dyckman. For that matter, there was footage of the George Washington Bridge being built - at some points just a long cable, with the roadway not yet complete. As bucolic as the area is today, it's hard to imagine it was once as busy as the waters further downtown.

The array of vessels is astonishing as well. Not only was there a decent-sized ferry, but there were sailing canoes, speedboats, naval warships, seaplanes taking off and landing, along with tugs and barges as there are today. The mighty Graf Zeppelin, Germany's grandest dirigible, floated over the Palisades.

There was footage of ice that could just as easily have been taken yesterday, or last month. A couple of guys went out in a canoe in a slurry; one even climbed out on a slab of ice, and another fell in the river wearing street clothes and a wool coat. In a way it sort of puts to shame my trepidation about paddling in the ice floe, but also kinda validates everything I've ever taught and been taught about the cold water safety.

The funniest part was the narrator, with an old-fashioned New York City accent and vocabulary ("New Joysee", "schlub") and blunt commentary (" I don't know what this is, it's boring, my father liked boring things, I dunno").

The film is well worth a watch, and will be playing this Tuesday at Indian Road Cafe around 730 PM.  For details view the following link.