Thursday, May 29, 2014


I spent all of Memorial Day weekend in Maine, living in a tent and paddling all day. I'd go to sleep shortly after sundown, and rise shortly after the sun came up.

I caught a ride up with VB and JJ, of Wind Against Current fame. JJ and I participated in a skills seminar while VB would take off early in his Feathercraft and come back to be quizzed about where he went. Lots of islands, generally, and in some cases astonishing distances.

We got a late start on Friday, hitting lots of holiday weekend traffic out of the city and all the way up to Boson, nearly. After that, things thinned out, and we plowed through New Hampshire and on up to Maine, driving down a series of country roads to the AMC's Knubble Bay camp, arriving at midnight. While there was a cabin to stay in, we opted to set up our tents in order not to disturb anyone - only to realize the next morning that nearly everyone was staying in their tents.

What followed were three days of paddling experiences I'd never gotten before, under John Carmody, a highly rated coach based in Booth Bay, and his assistants, including Carl Ladd, John Ozard, and Caroline Zeiss. I'll post about each day shortly. It was a great experience.

Curiously, it was all women as well, except for some of the coaches. We also had a broad range of skill and experience levels, a few 3 Stars in their, but also people who primarily paddle flat water.

When it was all done, I threw all my stuff into a fellow paddler's automobile and caught a ride to the airport, where I rented a car, bumped to an SUV gratis, and drove to NYC, arriving around 1 AM. I am convinced I would have made it by midnight if I hadn't gone on a quest for a lobster roll. It was worth it. I showered, slept, and got up early the next morning to trade out the car for another to drive to my New Jersey office.

Anyway, good times. The season is most definitely upon us.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Double Day

I did two fun things today - paddled in some chop, and then did some messing about in boats with a friend.

For a few days now, I've been able to see some large white tents across the river at Ross Dock. Rosk Dock is more or less directly across the river from where I live, and as I've gone about my regular commute, it was clear that something was going on over there.

Now, a sensible person might look it up on the internet. I decided to paddle over there.

This seemed like a better idea than it probably was. In fact it was a great idea. I got a later start than I wanted so there was some flood tide to contend with, but a steady southerly wind made for some chop! I took it abeam about halfway across the river, at which point I turned to do a bit of ferrying as the chop got rougher. Eventually, I landed on the little beach at Ross Dock, even littler than usual considering it was coming up on high tide.

I popped out, said high to some tourists from central New Jersey, made sure my boat was as high above the tide as I could get it, and walked over to the tents. Turns out there was a bicycle race (wheeling, as they called it in the old days), from the George Washington Bridge to Bear Mountain and back - a considerable distance.

With that, I paddled back, this time with the current - and into the waves! It was so much fun, though I did have to wait for a slow-moving southbound barge to pass. I wonder about these contra-current barges - someone is paying a lot of money to move things slowly.

I had lunch, then met with KM, one of the Inwood Canoe Club senior members (and officers). We paddled up to my "classroom" area by Spuyten Duyvil, and did a little messing about. It's how I try out ideas.

We did some balance exercises - sitting out on the back deck, paddling about. Also some rescues. I find that while most people get taught the basic X rescues, they don't know what to do if a victim can't pull themselves over the back deck, or is unresponsive. The heel-hook, scoop, and Hand of God rescues are a nice progression, and give a paddler more options.

I also demonstrated contact tows, which are useful in our club because of a dearth of tow ropes. Contact tows, and "human contact" tows, holding on to deck lines, are very useful.

When we finished up, we paddled under the Spuyten Duyvil railroad bridge. When I turned around to check KM had gotten through, I saw a fleet of kayaks! Turns out there was a group of about a dozen who had paddled up from Red Hook and were circumnavigating Manhattan together, led by Phil Geller from the Yonkers club. I saw some other people I know, and we chatted as we paddled back.

A Bridge Too Far

I had an idea to go north. I am trying to get myself into the habit of open-ended trips, loading up my boat to support all contingencies and adapting my plan to suit conditions. That said, I wanted a long paddle, to see just how far I could go. I figured I would head for the Tappan Zee Bridge, and stop short if I needed.

The original float plan was a little aggressive. High tide at Battery was 1300 on the dot, which meant I couldn't really get going before 1100 without fighting more than a little current. It also meant that I'd be arriving back at sundown, or later.

High Tide 1300
Low Tide 1900
Wind predicted to be 9 mph from the east.
1100 Depart
1200 Yonkers Water Treatment Plant
1300 Private Buoy
1400 Tappan Zee Bridge
1530 Return
1700 Piermont Pier
1800 Private Buoy
1900 Spuyten Duyvil
1930+ Inwood

I was looking forward to this trip all week, and packed and ready early, so I was on the water by 1025. A friend of mine had left earlier on a shorter trip north and I hoped to catch up with him, eddy-paddling as much as I could up the eastern side of the Hudson River. I never saw him - turns out, he crossed and went back down on the other side.

I made good time, hitting my first two waypoints at the same relative time (+1 hour, +2 hours) as my original plan. The day was beautiful, near-clear blue skies, a warm sun, and playful breeze. I passed some barges parked above Englewood Marina. There was hardly any other traffic on the way up.

In short order I was in Yonkers, then Dobbs Ferry, and then territory unknown to me. Most of the trips I've made up this far have been on the western side of the river. Here, I learned a lot of little township names, marking my way by train stations where I could see them: Greystone, Ardsley-on-Hudson, and so on.

I practiced landmark navigation, comparing what I saw with my chart. I found this to be really useful. I could see where I was by identifying landmarks on the chart. I could figure my aggregate speed by finding another landmark about a mile away and timing how long it took to paddle it, and also estimate how long it would take to get to a point by applying what I thought was my speed, +/- what I thought the tides were.

Onward I went, gradually realizing just how far I was headed. This was an open paddle, right? I wasn't dedicated to the Tappan Zee. I was just heading "north". But the bridge was right there. I was almost there.

Have I ever mentioned I am terrible at estimating distances? This was another thing I worked on. I could locate myself on the chart, and see how far I actually was from a landmark, telling myself, "that's how far a mile is".

Onwards I went. There are a a lot of neat little towns on the east side of the river - I don't know why my friends prefer the western side. But now I was opposite Piermont Marsh, a regular day trip for us, and soon north of Piermont Pier - into the "Tappan Zee", a sea, as the Dutch called it.

Passing under the bridge, I surveyed the various barges working to build the "new " Tappan Zee Bridge. I imagine that when it's finished it will be interesting to pass through, given a wider path over the river. As it turned out, President Obama made a speech with this bridge as a backdrop, a speech about infrastructure investment. No one asked why anyone ever though building a multi-lane highway bridge at the widest point in the river was a good idea. NYS lore has it that the governor at the time did it so that he had a key piece of infrastructure, just outside the jurisdiction of the multistate Port Authority, through which he could hand out patronage jobs.


Now I could see Tarrytown Light - just another mile or so. I could write about it, but someone else has done a better job. Around the corner was a beach, where I landed for lunch.

While there, I rested, and several passersby came along from a nearby park. A man with a camera walked past. Two fisherman went by; I would see them later having climbed out on the rocks of the lighthouse, catching a small fish after much effort. Some children came by and dipped their toes in the water, daring each other to drink it. None of them did.

The most interesting visitor was a Russian man, a big middle-aged bear of a man, who sat on a stump contemplating the water. He took off his shoes. He took off his socks. He took off his shirt, and then his pants! Now comfortably clad in only his skivvies, he waded into the water. He sat, soaking in the 44 degree water quite a while, before emerging and donning his clothes again.

I had marked the tide when I came in, and eventually noted its slow decline. Time to leave. I packed everything up, and set on my way.  Heading out was pretty straightforward, but below the Tappan Zee I ran into a steady headwind. It would keep up for nearly two hours straight.

I rarely curse the weather. Sometimes I beseech it, like asking the water to talk to the wind and tell him to stop being a jerk. In my cosmology, they are siblings, sister and brother. But this wind would not stop. I muttered under my breath. I argued with the wind. The wind would stop when I stopped paddling and pick up again when I did. Finally, I yelled at the wind before hunkering down and jus slogging through, muddling along until the current picked up and I got some nice little waves to play in on the way home.

I got back at 2000 or so - just a little later than planned, and not bad considering that after my head start, I fought headwind for two hours on the return. MH was waiting for me. He paddles evenings and had already come and gone, but stayed bc he noticed I was out "north" a bit early and hadn't come back yet.

I was tired, but not exhausted, not hypothermic or hypoglycemic or any of that So we caught up, and I washed up. We saw two kayaks go by and only learned later who they were. My inspiration, on a trip I aspire to!

All in all it was a good trip. I took a chance, paddling along so far so early in the year, but the worst I expected, and encountered, was wind, and even that was more annoying that terrible. It was a bonnie day, and I proved to myself how far I could go. I do need to improve my long-term paddling posture, but I ate well and planned well. Which, life doesn't always cooperate this handily but it's nice when it does.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Circuit Ridin'

My good friend AW dropped her boat off earlier this year at New York Kayak Company for some much needed repairs. As the combination of weather and schedules cleared up, we made plans for some of us to paddle down there from Inwood, meet her, and paddle back. It's a long, lonesome paddle, and now that spring is here most of us don't need much of an excuse to go on a trip.

Trouble was, with the weather we had Saturday, we had to put off that trip, and AW was busy Sunday, so she couldn't make it. However, the Cowgirl has a bevy of paddling friends, one of whom was hankerin' to get out on the water Sunday, what with the beautiful predicted weather. My good friend and fellow NYKC ranch hand SS agreed to meet us at Pier 40 and paddle AW's boat back.

IB and I met at Inwood, running a little late, departing at 1400, about 1h15m past Battery Low. We might have left sooner, but would have had to wait longer to turn around for the return. As it was, we made excellent time, about 1h50 minutes, and all in spent about an hour killing time before we left.

On the way down, we saw a curious sight - a Circle Line boat that passed us kept unusually close to the Manhattan shore below Riverbank State Park. We also spotted a beautiful Spanish training ship, the white-hulled, four-master Juan Sebastian de Elcano, moored in a berth near the Intrepid.

More importantly, I used my radio a bit, in part to allay IB's concerns about ferry traffic. Between Pier 96 and Pier 66 I made a couple of announcements, along the lines of, "Securite, Securite, this is kayak two, southbound on the North River, Pier 84" (or wherever we were). The North River is the old mariner term for the Hudson River, and it's how you'll hear other vessels refer to it.

While at the shop, I picked up a new neoprene sprayskirt, a knife (to replace one that decided to plunge into the Harlem), and some lines to secure hats and glasses. I talked shop with the desk help, caught up on gossip with SS, and got plenty hydrated - I was well into the middle stages of a head cold and needed to keep up my fluids.

SS took AW's boat about in the Pier 40 embayment. It's a different model than other boats she has paddled, but she's paddled plenty of the same make (Tiderace). We set out north, with less current than our trip down, and practiced the same radio protocol. At one point, we did directly contact a Circle Line vessel that we thought was pulling in to a slip we were paddling before, but the captain assured us he was parking a few piers up. Circle Line's got several places to park.

It was a beautiful day, and that was reward enough. Clear, sunny skies, and air temps that belied the mid-50s F of the water. We crested over ferry wake, and paused when a tender swerved in front of us while rounding 'bout to a parked crane barge. Once clear of midtown, we began the long trip alongside nearly endless Manhattan parkland.

One unusual sight was the KT Albatross, a large ocean-going bulk carrier. We spotted her from the Upper West Side as she passed, southbound, under the George Washington Bride, and like our earlier Circle Line friend, curiously close to the Manhattan shore. While normally I would have gone out in the channel for more current, I wasn't sure how long she'd stay so close to shore, so we kept near the outer line of the mooring field above 79th Street Boat Basin.

Onward we went, finding odd spots where standing waves belied unusual underwater topography. Eventually, we passed under the George Washington Bridge, past the red buoy, and onwards home.

It was a bonnie day, with good friends, and we did someone a favor. SS got to see the north, and all in, roundtrip it was a scotche over 18 miles. With current, we managed to return in about 2h10m.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

If you don' like the weather . . .

 . . .wait five minutes. It'll change.

That old aphorism has stuck with me in all of my paddling trips and trip planning. In a city known for not being able to see much past the next block, when we're on the water we can see for miles. From certain areas on the Hudson near Battery, once can see the Verranzano, about six miles away, and the George Washington Bridge, about twelve miles away in the opposite direction.

Manhattan is long and narrow enough that sometimes I'll get on the subway at work under sunny skies and get out under rain at home. I'll get conflicting reports from friends about the weather as short bands of precipitation crawl across the happy island like so many commuters.

Yesterday we'd planned to paddle down to Pier 40, to meet up with a friend and escort her paddling back to Inwood. She's dropped her boat off there for some repairs and they were done. It's a trip that can be done solo, but where's the fun in that? Tides worked out well for a midday departure from Inwood, returning in the evening.

Trouble was, weather was predicted to be rainy all weekend, but with sunny days on either side. So, we kept an eye on the weather. Sure enough, the two days before, the afternoon was predicted to be low on rain - how winds up in the teens. We decided to wait and see the morning of.

The next morning, a dense fog hug over the river. While it cleared up by 1100, it was partly a result of a hugely warm day, touching 80F, though the water was still in the low 50sF. The morning was warm, and I paddled a bit just to work on my strokes and my balance. At 1130 I checked again - maybe this beautiful weather was a harbinger of good things?

Thunderstorms at 1500, with winds predicted in the teens and gusts up to 25mph.

I wasn't as worried about the thunderstorms because, based on radar tracking, I expected they would come and go quickly and sporadically. The winds weren't terrible either, but they would be annoying. They'd form a tailwind, which is normally good, but with a growing flood tide they'd form following seas. We'd spend as much time steering as paddling.

On top of all that, one of our number hadn't been in a boat for six months.

We called it. We came up with an alternate plan - we would just do this again Sunday. But, a couple of us still me up for some paddling.

At first, we wondered, did we make the right call? It was so nice out - and then the breeze would stiffen. Sure enough, around 1400, an endless cloud crept up from the south over the western side of the river, and we felt like we'd made the right decision. We wouldn't have left by then. Raindrops pelted us jus north of the GWB.

However, by 1430, that system had moved over, and sun was glaring through a lighter set of clouds . . . .and then by 1515 or so, another set of rainy clouds had moved in. We paddled up close to the shore, waving at fishermen and their families, avoiding their lines. We could see columns of light refracted in precipitation further up the Hudson River valley, straight out of a painting.

After we landed, we washed or boats and changed . . .and by the time we left the boathouse, it was warm and sunny again! We walked over to Broadway, where we parted ways. I made my way home through Fort Tryon Park, and along the way, the sun once again disappeared, and this time the air cooled a bi as well.

Sure enough, about four blocks from my building, it started to rain. Sprinkles, then proper rain, then a downpour. Buckets, I was pretty wet by the time I go home, less than five minutes later.

Did we make the right call? It's a combination of factors. Any sea kayaker worth their salt should be able to manage in these conditions. Certainly, things were not terrible, and if we'd gotten caught out in it, we would have done alright. The wind, when it rained, was barely a factor. We would have been wearing dry gear so that would not have been an issue. And while we would have still been on he water, about four miles out, when the thunderstorm hit, we could have sheltered in, evening finding a place or two to land and wait it out - and then been fine.

So, it would have been an adventure, in this alternate timeline. But that wasn't what we were looking for. Coupled with it being early in the season, and one paddler being out of practice, we're happy with the decision.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Grand Day Out

Had a delightful trip today, with three of my regulars: TS and IB from the Inwood Canoe Club, and special guest SS from NYKC. SS and I worked together quite a bit last year, and I was able to get her to join us for a trip out of Inwood to Randalls Island.

The plan was to leave as soon after ebb current as possible, which amounted to two hours before High Tide at Battery. We'd paddle there in about two hours, hang out for a couple of hours, and then return with the ebb. That's pretty much exactly how it worked out.

There was a chance of rain in the afternoon, but otherwise conditions were predicted perfect foe a spring paddle. Sunny to partly cloudy, temperatures in the mid-sixties Fahrenheit, low, wind, and only a 25% chance of rain late afternoon. Water temperatures are just over fifty, so protective clothing is still a necessity.

After departing Inwood, we quickly rounded Spuyten Duyvil and went around the northern tip on Manhattan, passing Peter Sharp Boathouse. There were some people learning how to row crew. Their boat was tied to the dock for practice. We would pass them again on the way back, only by then they were on open water.

Peter Sharp Boathouse in action.

Paddling down the Harlem was mostly uneventful. We did run past a line of river cruise boats, two from the Classic Harbor Line and one of the larger Circle Line boats immediately behind them. We continued along, past the usual landmarks: The Lighthouse building, Yankee Stadium, Macombs Dam Bridge, and the Willets Bridge.

Eventually we arrived at Bronx Kill. To our surprise the water level was still high enough to make it easily passable but with some visible fast water. We went through, and following on to near the end, looking out at the upper east river, before turning around and heading to the central marsh on Randalls Island.

At Randalls Island, near Ichan Stadium.

We took pictures. Here is the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, across the river.

Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.

A little further south are apartment buildings overlooking the convergence of the Harlem, and East rivers.

Looking southeast at Randalls Island.

The marsh is in an area that used to separate Wards Island from Randalls Island. The modern Randalls is actually the two islands connected by landfill. As it turns out, the marsh we were paddling to, on the western side of Randalls Island, was originally part of the channel that separated the two, a passage called Little Hell Gate.

So, we could say we've been to Hell Gate!

Little Hell Gate Marsh.

The marsh has a passage that swirls in, with another branch that switches back but comes to a dead end. In the center is a small hill leading up to a bridge that runs over the entry channel, connecting "Randalls Island" with "Wards Island". We had lunch, schlepping over to the far side of Icahn Stadium for restrooms when we needed to.

IB, Cowgirl, and SS.

IB, TS, and SS.

IB, TS, Cowgirl.

We headed straight back. Looking over our shoulder for river vessels. There was little traffic, but we did have a nice conversation with one of the cruise vessels. I'll call it Gary for anonymity. It went something like this.

"This is Gary, approaching Willets Point Bridge."
"Gary, Gary, this is kayak four. We'll keep to the right."

I got the group to move to the right side of the river.

"Is that the kayaks?"
"Affirmative, this is kayak four, we'll keep to the right."
"Thanks. And thanks for being on radio, that's pretty awesome."
"No problem Gary, have a good day, over and out."

Later on we were passed by another Circle Line boat, but she wasn't nearly as communicative.

We passed the crew team again.

SS keeps movin' on.
Another Classic Harbor Line boat passed us. We could hear her asking several times for Spuyten Duyvil to open up, until finally the bridge operator said there was a train coming and they wouldn't be able to open for a while. As it happened, the bridge didn't open till we'd caught up and passed under it ahead of her. Kayaks: we're short!

Once out on the Hudson, we hit a stiff headwind, 12-15 mph in my opinion. Breezy at first it built into some decent wavelets, under a foot, but steady. Rain never materialized but that wind made us work for the final mile.

When we landed, several club members were there, having completed a work day. They were firing up the grill. We washed and put away our boats, talked to people, then packed up and left. By then, the sun was peeking out over the Palisades.

This was the first trip that was truly a spring trip. It was truly a grand day out.