Sunday, March 23, 2014


I've had this jar of Hungarian-style goulash in my freezer for months. I made it back in November, jarred it, and had it in doses in the early winter. Once, I took some on a paddling trip, and it was great. Ever since then, this jar has been staring at me, insisting, take me with you. I'll be a warm meal on a chilly day's paddle.

I finally did.

Yesterday I paddled to Randalls Island. I made the decision late, having had several options and new constraints. What I really wanted to do was paddle north on the Hudson, perhaps as far as Piermont Pier. However, the tides this weekend made that impractical without a later return than I wanted, and additionally strong winds, withs gusts up to 30 mph, were predicted. I didn't want to go south.

I headed north our of Inwood, with some wind at my back but nothing terrible. I popped under Spuyten Duyvil and literally went back and forth, thinking of where I wanted to go. I decided Randalls because if the winds did kick up, there wouldn't be as much fetch.

Heading down the Harlem was very straightforward. I knew it would be flowing my way by then, and the markers went by quickly: Peter Sharp, the High Bridge, Yankee Stadium, and so on. Since I don't know the lower half very well, I took notes of possible emergency egress points: there are some rocky shores where an ambulatory but sick paddler could get out below High Bridge, and Macombs Dam Bridge has wide steps leading up out of the water. The Manhattan-side greenway between 125th and 145 has some new caged riprap, but also "eco steps" separated only by a fence from the sidewalk. These are good things to know when running a trip along these waters.

I took a peek at Bronx Kill. I arrived at just over an hour before Battery high water, and the water here was very, very low. A small island had appeared at the mouth of the Kill, and not too much further in was a wider island with birds walking on it. The water was shallow enough that my paddle tapped mud easily. I considered going through the Kill, but backed out because I was more interested in seeing the south shore of Randalls.

Below the RFK bridge, no far from a small barge sticking out from Randalls, I saw an unusual sigh:  dinghy with two women. I didn't get their names, but one of them had built the boat! They'd put in at Randalls, and while there weren't affiliated with a club they mentioned some work with the North Brooklyn Boathouse. In a refreshing sight, both were wearing properly fitted PFDs. So many people I've met on the water don't have basic safety in mind.

I continued on, planning to peek at Hell Gate. In short order I spotted Mill Rock, and hugging the Randalls coast, I came around the southern edge. The water was flat though certainly moving. I watched a ship chug in against the current. I decided to stay closer to shore since I didn't want to g into a fast moving shipping channel that I didn't know very well. Turns out, that was a mistake.

There is a triangular area that sticks out from Randalls where the water is very shallow - 2 feet MHW. Conveniently, there is a pile of rocks at the point of this triangle, marking the channel for ships. I thought I could pass over his area, being in a kayak. However, as I got closer, I saw a line of breaking waves.  Not Good, I thought. Can I handle breaking waves? Sure, but why were they breaking. Were they rocks? I wasn't sure. I paddled backwards to give myself time to think, then decided to turn to and ferry glide to Randalls.

I paddled back, against the current, and landed at a small tidal beach for lunch. I pulled out my lunch, put my PFD and paddle up on the seawall, and then spotted a Circle Line ship passing Mill Rock.

That ship was kicking up some beautiful bow wake. A lot of bow wake.

Bow wake coming towards me, and the water was shallow.

I grabbed the front toggle of my boat and one deck line, dug my feet into the beach and kept clear of where my boat would get carried. Sure enough, a series of waves arrives and wrapped around my ankles and lower calves, and cocked my boat up the beach while I held onto it.

Now, these weren't violent waves. They weren't dangerous. However, I didn't want to have to swim after my boat. When it was all done, I looked for a patch that was still dry, and carried my boat over there, nestling it between some rocks to keep it safe while I sat on the wall eating lunch.

The Argonaut nestled on Randalls Island.

No other vessels came by. I enjoyed a nice view of Manhattan, on a sunny day, thinking about my approach to Hell Gate. I'll do it one day, but with friends and warmer water. I had about an hour to kill, so I rested and digested, rather pleased with myself. Oh and the goulash? It was very good, along with some crackers and peanut butter, and of course hot tea.

I saw that the tide was gently creeping in, and decided to leave earlier than planned. I've be against some current, but things would get easier, and I'd get back to the boathouse in time for a phone call I needed. The paddle back was uneventful, and sang plenty of trail tunes to keep myself entertained (and, to practice). Singing while paddling isn't the easiest thing to do, what with the physical exertion and all.

Left my pogies on the paddle.

Oddly enough, the most challenging part of the trip was the last leg. As I came under Broadway Bridge, it was clear there was a strong wind coming off the Hudson. As I paddled further, it became a massive headwind. I knew I was moving forward, with the current and by looking at the shore, but it felt like I was paddling into a wall. I crept forward, keeping an eye on Spuyten Duyvil. What was this wind doing to the water past the railroad bridge?

The short answer was, nothing terrible. There was some chop, but nothing I hadn't experienced before. I slipping under the bridge and bounced up and down for about five minutes. Fortunately the wind changed direction so it wasn't coming quite abeam, and not cocking my boat much. It was slack water, so I still had some work cut out, but getting home was no problem.

As I approached, I saw the garage door of the boathouse wide open, and after landing, caught up with some fellow club members who were doing some work. I unpacked, washed the Argonaut, and changed clothes.

It was a good day on the water.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bon March

Low wind, air temp in the high fifties sunny to partly cloudy? Sounded like a perfect day for a paddle to me. I sent out an invite to my regular cold water paddling coterie. I only got one response, and even he later dropped out, so Saturday March 8 ended up being a solo paddle.

I could tell it was going to be great when I looked out my living room window. It was sunny! And, the snow on the ground had been clear for a week. After packing all my gear, I walked up through the Cloisters, looking down from the heights at the Hudson. I saw no big patches of ice.

When I got to the boathouse, I could only make out little "berglets" - not the chunky ice bisque of February, or the great slabs of ice in January. I packed up the Argonaut and set out.

From the Inwood Canoe Club Dock.

I set out south, catching the very last of the ebb tide current as it went slack. I had a couple of destination ideas in mind, inspired in part by Frogma's meander paddling in Jamaica Bay last week. Since I was on my own, I wouldn't have to worry about other people's schedules or stamina. I had lunch - a Beef Stew MRE pack and plenty of water and tea. Where would the day take me?

My first major 'berg.

Still waters, plenty of ice.

I decided to cross the Hudson above the George Washington Bridge. My thinking was that I wanted to get to that side anyway, and it was a nice enough day that there was very little risk. I also wanted to avoid some funny little shoals on the eastern side of the channel. I waited for a barge to pass, and then crossed.

I made for the ferryboat Binghamtom, one of my more sentimental stops on the Hudson. Sadly, I don't expect her to be around much longer, and she looks worse every time I see her.

A loose piling floats alongside the Binghamton.

The interior continues to fade aware from exposure.

I made a stop at Mitsuwa, no getting out but deciding my next course. Mitsuwa is a Japanese supermarket in Fort Lee, New Jersey. There is a small beach kayaks can land on. I didn't need food though, and I wanted to explore further south to see if there were other places to take out. Unfortunately more of that side of the river is shored by big rocky boulder beaches. Yes, I can take out there, but if I were shepherding a group of beginners, I wouldn't rely on it.

I came out of a cove to this view.

Looking south, Manhattan on the left, New Jersey on the right.

I spoke to a woman and her little girl on shore. It being International Women's Day, I was sort of hoping I'd inspire my gender to take up sea kayaking, even though when dolled up in a drysuit, PFD, and and wool cap, I look more like an androgynous egg yolk.

I knew the tide had already changed, and decided I wanted to cross back before it got too strong. I was concerned that a faster current might bring ice towards me while I was trying a ferry crossing. The current was not nearly as strong as I expected. 

I was able to make it pretty easily to the 9th Street Boat Basin. I was hoping for their kayak launch as a takeout point, but I didn't see it where I thought it was meant to be. So, I paddled past their icebreakers, a d took this photo.

Ice along the Upper West Side Seawall.

Onwards I went. By now I was definitely getting hungry. I watches one southbound barge pass another, and afterwards paddled out into the current to expedite my path to Fairway, where there is a small kayak launch jutting out from the park. You know, "like no other market". From there I took this picture of yet another berglet.

Baby 'berg at 125th street.

A friendly passerby pointed out that the gate to the dock was locked. "No problem, mate," I thought to myself, "I've got all I need with me." I found a patch on the dock that wasn't covered in goose poop and pulled out my rations, heating up the beef stew while I nibbled on crackers and peanut butter, followed by an oatmeal cookie, all washing down with hot tea. Once again, I found a milkshake mix in the MRE. I will have to try one of those sometime.

After reseting and digesting,  set out again, with much stronger current. This was a good thing, because I am not in peak condition, owing to less frequent paddling in this icy winter. The wind picked up a bit and I did a lot of sweep-forward sweep-forward, in some cases sweep-forward-forward-forward, till I got up to the Little Red Lighthouse, where a surprising number of people were sunning themselves on the rocks, taking selfies, lovers kissing. I waved at some kids, and then rounded the point, moving on past the red marker boy and on back to Inwood.

Here is a link to my approximate route. I used to embed the HTML directly; I haven't figured out how to do that with the new Google Maps.

All in, it was a great paddle. I ran into fellow club member and SUP'er Mac Levine on the way out. I packed up, cleaned the Argonaut, and went into a paddle come when I got home. Next week is the official start of Spring. I can't wait.