Sunday, March 27, 2016

S.I. Saw the Light(houses)

Last weekend I made it out to the lower harbor again, joined by my good friend MM and some mates she invited along from her New Jersy club. All were experienced sea paddlers. Weather was very gentle, with low winds and only partly cloudy. It was a bit chilly, but warmed quickly.

Our goal was to paddle to at least one lighthouse, and possibly a second one. West Bank Light sits about four miles off Staten Island, two miles south of Swinburne Island, which is where I went to see seals earlier this month. Another two miles further is Romer Shoal Light, which is actually closer to Sandy Hook than to Staten Island. Both mark very shallow waters, warning big ships to stay away and serving as markers for smaller vessels.

As it happens, one of our party has a son who knows the owner of Romer Shoal Light, and through such short degrees of separation we were able to get permission to land there. You know, just in case.

In short order, we rendezvoused at the north end of Roosevelt Boardwalk, portaged and kitted our boats, and set out for our destinations.

Setting out past Hoffman Island.

The Verrazano behind us, Manhattan in the distance.

The water was a bit chilly when we left, but as we paddled we got warmer, and the water seemed nothing against our skin.

We pulled past Swinburne, watched a couple of container ships drive through the Ambrose Channel, and took stock of the lower harbor.

We were definitely on open water.

West Bank Light.

The lower harbor is one of the few places in NYC where a New York paddler gets a sense of the open ocean. The rivers around Manhattan are a tidal estuary, to be sure, but there are plenty of landmarks and the shore is never more than half a mile away. Even in the upper harbor, trafficked as it is, there's still a sense of being in relatively sheltered water. It's just a large bowl, bounded by Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Staten Island.

The lower harbor is still sheltered but immensely broad. The exit to the sea is between Sandy Hook and Breezy Point in the Rockaways - five miles as the crow flies.

Beyond that is the open sea.

Closer to the Light(house).

Far Out.

Looking up.

We marveled at West Bank Light. Unmanned, it's still an impressive presence. There is something appealing about lighthouses, in their remoteness and resilience, something that inspires admiration in all mariners.

This part of the journey had only taken an hour, and we were all feeling nice and warmed up. The flat conditions - Sea State 1, technically but barely - invited us to journey on.

Onward to Romer Shoal.

Take a Break.

Make Adjustments.

Romer Shoal Light has a curious history. Originally the lighthouse was ashore and used for testing new methods of lighting. One of its keepers disappeared at sea when he set out for shore, leaving his assistant in charge until his body was found. At various points the light was operated by the US Navy, the Coast Guard, and eventually automated.

Now it's owned by a Staten Island businessman.

Romer Light, Worse for Wear.

At this point we'd been paddling for about an hour and a half and had at least two hours paddling to get back, not to mention breaking for lunch. One of our number floated the idea of landing, and I took that as a nudge to work on my "manage a group landing on rocks skills", notably, have the person in a plastic boat land first.

That would be me.

I scoped out various places to land. The tide surged about one to two feet in a cycle, not breaking in our protected cove, but adding some vertical challenge. It was also near low tide so we had slimy, slippery rocks, and none that really offered a flat surface.

I found a spot, popped my skirt, then pulled myself out quickly before grabbing my boat and, with a little finesse, lifting it up on the rocks.

I then helped MM, and brought her boat up, and with two ashore we were able to help the rest out quickly.

Shore Landing. Not shipwrecked!

Shore Party - for Lunch!

We took our lunch and watched a dredging tug come in from sea. We'd spotted hear earlier, a vessel with four distinctive stacks on the corners, to make her a platform in shallow-enough water. Done with her work, she was heading in. From our vantage, we could take in the sea, Coney Island, Staten Island, and Sandy Hook with equal east.

Interlopers on the way back.

We launched in reverse order of exit and paddled back towards Staten Island. The tide was slack and therefore not in our favor as had been the case on the way out, so the trip took a little longer.

On the way back we saw a different sort of voyageur.

Another way to view the seas.

I should mention too that we saw seals, but not as many as before because we were not near their winter home. They showed up late - L and R missed them, but MM and I spotted them and lagged behind trying to spot more - so long in fact that eventually L and R stopped and waited for us, took pictures of us, and only later noticed the seal in frame! The photos have been posted on the New York Kayak Company Facebook page.


Once back, we un-kitted and put our boats back on cars, then drove to a German bierhaus and had smoked meats, potatoes, and beer. It was grand.

Always a lovely day at sea to make new friends and enjoy new views. I hope to make it out here more frequently once the weather is warm.

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