Thursday, October 8, 2015

Camping in Gateway 3 of 3: The Journey Back

There's a trick to sunrise. Most people experience it in reverse at sunset. Sunrise is not the same as first light, and if you wake up at first light, as MM and I did, you can stare across the scene - the Narrows, in our case, and watch the world come to light. In the summer, even late summer, The sky gradually gets brighter, and you know it's not fully on, but you can see. The world isn't awake but it is visible, no longer hidden in the dark.

If you know what time sunrise is expected, you can count the minutes down. MM wanted to watch for a green flare, a condition that happens in just the right circumstances as the sun rises and catches moisture in the atmosphere to produce a momentary green shimmer. We didn't see that, but we did watch the sun come up, almost literally, only averting our eyes to avoid its glare.

I watched the horizon, checked my watch, drank my coffee, repeat repeat repeat, until there it was, a little orange nub, slowly emerging from the horizon, just like the art on any number of breakfast products. Look away, make breakfast, look back, and there it is in the sky. Eat, talk, look up, and it's higher. It's unreal. It's this giant source of heat and light that is in a different place in the sky every time you look for it.

We needed to get going fairly early to catch the tide. We packed up as best we could, abandoning food we knew we'd never eat. One lesson I learn from each of these trips: it's easy to overpack food. Everything else, I think I've got a pretty good handle on.

EY had left the night before, carting off her boat in her truck. The three of us reversed the previous night's process, carrying boats down to the beach, then gear in shifts, and a final sweep of the camp. I chatted briefly with a fisherman on the shore, casting out line, to let him know where we're aim for as we headed out. I asked him what kind of fish he caught there, on the stretch of beach just south of the Veranzano.

"Fluke," he said. "Sometimes shark."

With that, we were off.

We had some ebb current, with a light breeze blowing against it from the southeast. Rather than retrace our steps coming in, we headed south so as to take in Swinburne and Hoffman islands, two specks of land just off the shore. In decades past, they were considered for private property and also for quarantine or for immigrants - twins of Ellis and Liberty islands further north. They never amounted to much though, and in any case were landfill. Swinburne has the remains of a crematorium, making for a start but ominous landmark.

Back in the Saddle

Apologies and thanks to the estate of Gene Autry. He's my go-to paddle music on the trail.

We enjoyed pleasant waves and conditions on the way out: water splashing over our decks, a little bit of surf here and there, just a bit of effort to stay on course with wind slightly a-quarter. Once at Swinburne, we found it formed a nice windbreak, and we rested before the next phase.

MM in her lovely new Avocet LV.

Unlike our trip over, at this latitude we could paddle out to the last of the markers for the Ambrose Channel, the main shipping lane in to New York City. This way, we'd be more certain of our position relative to the channel, although with wind and current on our sides we got moved laterally a bit. We looked both ways before crossing and paddled with a purpose, and soon enough we were paddling along the coast of Coney Island.

A little further along, we opted for a break, which for one member turned into a "bio-break". We'd already figured out on the way over that in these circumstances, the easiest thing to do was to have one person support the boat while the other hopped out and did what was necessary, and then climbed back in the boat.

As we were doing this though, an FDNY boat came near and slowed down. I gave them the "big OK", an presumably since we didn't look panicked and weren't endangering anyone, they sped along and we finished up.

Fuzzy Picture.

I have to apologize for not having a lot of pictures on the way back. I think what happened was, unlike what I usually do, I left the waterproof housing open overnight and moisture got in, fogging up the insides. At Swinburne I actually removed my camera from the case and gave it a good wipe, nervous the whole time I'd lose either the camera or case. I thought that would settle in, but in subsequent photos it was clear - or rather, not clear - and I didn't have much worth showing.

Still, most of our sites were what we'd seen before. The parachute jump, the Wonder Wheel, various pleasure craft plying along the channel we were in. Shortly, we were passing Sheepshead Bay, then under the bridge, and on into Jamaica Bay.

I looked at my watch, and then at my chart. If we worked it, we'd make it in under four hours start to finish. I paddled hard.

My mates were happy to continue more leisurely. They were having fun. Often, that's my role - fun over performance. But now I had a goal. There it was, the radome, and the old cargo plane behind it. Our original launching ramp would't be much farther.

I landed on the beach with just a minute or two to spare. Victory! I chatted with two passersby on the ramp while MM and DR caught up.

In short order, we were landed and started unloading our boats. It didn't take long to have the clown car line. We parked our cars on the ramp and loaded up, then put on our boats and drove out.

This was a great trip and fulfills most of a dream I've had for more than a couple of years now. After paddling for a decade almost exclusively on the Hudson and East Rivers, it's nice to see the lower harbor and the waters of New York City that are, essentially, right on the ocean. There's not much between we and the sea; those big ships coming up the Ambrose are coming in from all over the world.

This was new territory. I'de never paddled in Jamaica Bay, and hardly ever along Staten Island or Coney Island. Conditions were favorable; I was prepared for worse. And, while I practiced some marker navigation, there were familiar landmarks to use as a handrail in the event I gave up completely on my chart.

I'll go back again, and hopefully with the same bunch of friends. There's nothing like good company on a journey of the sea.

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