The client, L, was was born on Coney Island and now works in another city. She'd come back this particular weekend to do this specifically. The other client, P, was a member of our club, someone who'd had a few lessons and trips, but nothing like this.
We were going to circumnavigate Manhattan.
Leading into it, it wasn't clear we'd even run this trip. Only L was signed up until two days before, and there was a large group event run by a coalition of local clubs scheduled for the following weekend.
Well here we were. A full Sunday ahead of us.
I'd gotten in early to check weather and conditions - low wind, would be very hot later, tides - well, they weren't predicted to be any different than we'd already looked up. I worked out a plan with some options for takeouts, diversions, emergencies, depending on how we performed as a group.
When the clients arrived, we did a quick bit of introductions and pulled boats. "We're going to be together all day," I said. "Let's get to know each other." She worked in renewable energy. He was French, but had lived in NYC for fifteen years, and only recently came to sea kayaking.
I put them through a quick bit of paces and coaching before we left, and showed them a low brace, just in case something knocked them off the saddle. With that, we set off on our way.
Leaving Pier 40.
The first part of our journey was to leave Pier 40 and head south, counter-clockwise around the island. We had a little bit of current against us, but the East River was already flowing north. With this timing, we wouldn't have to wait long at Hell Gate to cross past its maw.
Waiting for a Statue Cruise to leave.
The next step was to round Battery, the southernmost tip of Manhattan. I remember on my first couple of circumnavs, this was the most frightening place - there are many large ferry boats of various liveries moving around, as well as commercial traffic rounding one way or the other. But you know what? Most of it is very simple.
The Statute cruises pull in and depart just east of Pier A. They take a while to load and unload. Watch them, and time your move when they've just left and just arrived. Granted we were early in the morning, but these ferries follow a predictable path. Also, on the radio, they're generally friendly and response. You can always ask the captain if he minds you moving past.
Paddling past a loading Statue Cruise.
As we paddled past the Statue Cruises, we were no longer being pushed up the Hudson, but pulled towards the East River. With no wind, and little traffic, conditions could not have been more ideal for our little band.
On around Battery, Clipper City in the background.
Smiles, everyone!Not pictured: passing the Staten Island ferry and the Governors Island ferry. The former is large and orange, and very difficult to miss. It also leaves on a pretty regular schedule of five minutes after the top and bottom of the hour (as in, xx:05 and xx:35). So one, you can see it coming and going from far off, and two, if you arrive anywhere near the top or bottom of the hour, just wait. There's a nice little nook. Bide your time.
Governors is a little trickier because when in Whitehall station (Manhattan) it's occluded by the slip walls of the State Island ferry. You can take a peek, and radio if needed. You can also just keep your eye out earlier, and make sure you know where it's at.
In our case we saw its radio mast and bridge slipping out as we crossed the empty Staten Island ferry nest. We waited, she pulled out, and we went on our merry way, past the heliport at Wall Street, and then across to the eastern side of the East River.
Our first water break.
"How's the boat," I asked. I always ask clients that, no matter the trip or lesson. I've put P in a Tiderace Xcape and L in an Impex Force Cat.
"It's so stable," she said. They were both comfortable.
From the East River, Below Manhattan Bridge.
The blurry witch appeared on my camera, but the above shot and others came out OK. Here we're looking at lower Manhattan from the east, with the Brooklyn Bridge arcing in from the left, and One World Trade (aka the Freedom Tower, aka the World Trade Center) in the background.
Passing Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Shortly after, we passed the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, now used fora variety of commercial purposes. This large vessel was the "Orient Delivery". I can't imagine a more apt name for a ship like that.
Approaching the Williamsburg Bridge.
We took another short break at the Williamsburg Bridge, where the river widens and straightens out a bit, and continued up, with a good amount of current with us.
Around this time a lone paddler came up behind us, paddling at a very fast pace. It was an acquaintance, T, who I know from Lake Sebago ad kayak polo. We exchanged hellos and he explained that he was catching up with some mates, so that was the extend of our conversation.
My radio has a built in GPS and according to it we were clocking 4.7-5.6 knots. To my speedier friends aware that the average paddler moves at 3 knots, let me remind you these were largely untrained beginners. We had a lot of current helping us out, though I kept them paddling.
Up the East River.
We did slow down as we approached Roosevelt Island. Shortly before, in Long Island City, we passed a ferry terminal and had an awkward bit of communication with one of the ferries. He was well out in the channel and not changing his heading as we approached the terminal, and with current, we were about to slide by it. In fact we were north of the terminal when this ferry turned directly at us and blew his horn - he seemed to want to glide in sideways to the terminal.
We moved to the side but really: signaling your intentions helps everyone.
Passing Midtown East - United Nations in background.
Passing Long Island City.
Passing the United Nations.
As we approached Roosevelt Island, we went up the eastern channel, between Roosevelt and Queens. In short order we spotted the Costco that presages Hallets Cove, and pulled in for a little break.
Here is where this circumnav plan varied from others. Crossing in front of Hell Gate is often something that requires waiting an hour or so, simply because trips run out of other locations in Manhattan usually get us here at a different time. The current that flows through Hell Gate is, on paper at least, never slower than two knots, and you have to paddle across that, in an extended ferry crossing.
In this case however, we were only about twenty minutes early, so we cooled off a bit before paddling over to the northern tip of Roosevelt Island, waited for a barge to pass, then paddled up and around Mill Rock.
We were right behind two other kayakers, out for more or less than same thing. We caught up with them a little further up, along the Randalls Island shore. It was T and his mates, having performed a pretty remarkable exit along the shore wall, as if it was a neatly-stacked set of rocks in Maine. We said hello again, but thins time we were taking off. I had something different in mind for these clients.
Little Hell Gate Park, Randalls Island.
There's a small wetland in the center of Randalls Island. It's what remains of a watery passage that used to separate Randalls Island and Wards Island, called Little Hell Gate - a smaller alternative to its larger and better-known cousin. In the twentieth century, a number of projects filled in the passage along the west side of the island, leaving only this little tidal wetland.
I've run trips from Inwood to Little Hell Gate with the club I belong to. On a circumnav, it's a bit out of the way, but with our schedule we were facing about .7 knots of currnet against us, and I thought an extended break was in order. We paddled into the marsh, and I played dumb, "how far back can we go", until we arrived at a little dirt ramp, from where we could get out, walk over to some newly-cleaned public restrooms, and top off our water bottles from a fountain.
Reviewing the Paddler's Box.
About an hour later, we set off again, and made our way up the Harlem at a pretty good pace, until we arrived at Peter Sharp Boathouse - the halfway point, and where we'd stop for lunch.
The best part about this stop? Shade. My biggest concern on this trip was managing heat and hydration. Air temperature was in the nineties, with little wind. I made sure everyone drank up water, and stopped more frequently to let them cool off. An extended lunch break in the shade, at the halfway mark, was perfect.
Ready to go.Here we ran into an acquaintance, H, who was setting out in his folding kayak for the 79th Street Boat Basin. I've run into him a couple of times before - he's someone who keeps his folding kayaking folded, in his apartment, heads out to a spot somewhere in the city, assembles it, and paddles it. We said our hellos and he waded into the water to launch.
Once we were rested up, and had again made use of facilities and refueled our bodies, we set out again, rounding the northern tip of Manhattan, under the 207th Street Bridge and then the Broadway Bridge. Then, something happened, which has never happened on a trip I've run.
One of the clients' mother waved to us from the shore in the park. We paddled over and said hello.
"I just ordered some chocolate chip pancakes," she said. "From the cafe over there." She pointed at Indian Road Cafe, a popular neighborhood joint. Heck I've gone to trivia nights there.
We explained that we'd just eaten, and in any case had to keep moving to stay with the current. We gave her an estimated time of completion and were on our way.
Surveying the Hudson, near Spuyten Duyvil.
We headed on out past Spuyten Duyvil, to gorgeous views of the Palisades, and then turned south, and out into the channel to catch as much current as we could get.
Looking south to the George Washington Bridge.
Another Water Break, Palisades in background.
The George Washington Bridge (and Little Red Lighthouse).
We moved on past the Little Red Lighthouse and the George Washington Bridge, and then on past Morningside Heights and Harlem, watching the skyline to our left change from parkland to apartment-land.
Harlem / Morningside Heights.
New Jersey to the right.
Out in the channel catching as much current as we can.
As we approached the mooring field to the north of the 79th Street Boat Basin, we moved inshore a bit because some tour boats were coming down the river behind us, and a barge was being pushed north - well out of the way, but traffic overall was about to get crowded. We took some pictures, and talked about the next two stages of our journey.
A brave man - taking his phone out of its case on the water!
She kept her phone in its case.
We stopped at the Intrepid. I considered going, but the next mile or so was going to be busy, since the next few piers were all working tour and taxi berths. Also, the Intrepid is kind of a nice place to take pictures. And I was thirsty. I wanted to take a nice gulp of water.
A brief stop at Pier 84 - and the Intrepid.
One thing that was kinda weird - so this pier is the home of another paddle shop, and there were several kayaks and paddleboards out. A small motorboat wandered in. I'm not sure what the rules are but I've never seen that happened, and in short order the dockworkers shooed him away. As far as I can tell they wanted to get close to the Intrepid for photos.
We set out, glided past the Circle Line docks, past the major water taxi dock, and then continued on the final leg of our voyage.
One World Trade in the distance.
I think I may be officially done counting how many circumnavigations I've completed. I think this is number five or six. In some ways, they aren't hard - many New York paddlers joke that it's the easiest thirty miles you'll ever do - but there are several stages, and each stage presents its own challenges.
There are the usual concerns like wind and weather, as well as group shepherding and incident management, but there's also the boat traffic, places to take out in emergency, and the duration - it's a lot of time in the boat. So, it's not a trip I would take for granted, or do "in my sleep." All the trips I've been on went well, with only one requiring that we put someone out, near the end. A lot of things can go wrong, and avoiding those things is paramount.
Home again to Pier 40 !
This was a trip I ran as a guide for New York Kayak Company. Located at Pier 40 in Manhattan, essentially Houston street and the Hudson River. Pier 40 offers very close access to the waters around lower Manhattan, putting Liberty, Staten Island, and even Sandy Hook in reach of the experienced paddler.