Thursday, November 24, 2016

Jones Beach

A group I've gotten to know recently wanted to get some more ocean-side practice, so we set out for Jones Beach, on Long Island.

Jones Beach Inlet is between Long Beach and Jones Beach, basically two barrier islands on the south side of Long Island. The inlet has gated community on its western side, and a park on the eastern side. We put in at a marina west of the gated community, and paddled out through the inlet.

The wind turbine near the marina.

Paddling out on the bay side.

Past the "gated community" and their raised boats.

The inlet itself was wide, and we were against the back half of the flood, so a bit of work heading out. There was also a channel to traverse, with the occasional pleasureboat. We ended up ferrying a bit more than half a mile against current, before landing briefly so one of our number could adjust his drysuit.

Newly replaced, the overskirt was a bit tight and restricting his breathe. He cut it off.

A brief moment ashore.

At last, we were to sea.

JT taking in the waves.

We had a bit of a tiderace as we left the channel, exacerbated at times by the vessels passing through. We could see waves crashing against the far side of the fisherman's pier, water cresting over it.

We found the swell a but underwhelming, long period but still a bit fast-moving. It was fun to play in but hard to surf. We thought we'd have a go at the beach on the opposite side of the pier, but the waves were very large and very dumpy - coming at an angle from the sea, with a steep beach, giant claws were formed, reaching up and over to claw and the strand and the pier.

We just paddled a ways.

Eventually, AD and JB left early, as planned, for another engagement. JT and I stayed out, and paddled over to Lido Beach, on the south side of Long Beach. I wanted to practice a beach landing and found a decent spot. I meant to hop right back out, but JT had followed me in, and we had a brief snack and bio-break before launching again.

The Gemini SP at rest.

While the day so far had been bright and sunny, we saw tendrils of clouds creeping in from the east. While we played some more in the waves, the slowly filled the sky, until we were heading in, by which point the air was completely overcast.

On the way in.

Blue sky's gone away.

Point Lookout, not so cheery anymore.

We found one more tiderace on the way in, something AD had told us about, forming on the ebb. It was something of an escalator, current over a shallow sand bar. We could addle through it, then ride the current back up.

The tiderace.

We paddled harder than I wanted to on the way in. I'd expected we would head in earlier, but we'd had so much fun, and JT had driven quite a distance, that we stayed out long enough to be fighting at least a knot of current on the way in. At least we were rewarded with seeing this lovely vessel on its way out to sea.

One form of wind power.

And, finally, back to the turbine.

Another form of wind power !

That was our trip! Huzzah. Here us some video to round it out:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Whale of a Tale

If you haven't seen it in the news, let me just tell you up front: humpback whales have been spotted off the shores of Manhattan. This is highly unusual - unprecedented in my years of paddling these waters, and not something in memory of anyone I know.

Sure, whales have previously been spotted in the lower harbor, off the Rockaways and Sandy Hook. However, these places are practically the final gateway to the open ocean. Past them, only the true seafaring ships go. So, to have whales so close, first sighted at the Statue of Liberty and eventually, as far north as the George Washington Bridge, is astounding. It's the kind of thing that most people would have said is unlikely at best. It's the kind of thing one might have said as a joke.

"Hey," says the Cowgirl," let's go looking for whales by Chelsea Piers, har har har.".

Well, it's a reality now.

The first day, Thursday, a week before Thanksgiving, they were spotted near the Statue of Liberty. As it happens, I've been working some daytime hours at New York Kayak Company, located at Pier 40 in Manhattan (Houston Street, basically), about four miles north of the Statue. Me and the boss-man talked about it, amazed. Too bad we weren't out there to see the whales ourselves.

Then, when I got home, I saw footage posted online of a whale surfacing next to the Holland Tunnel blower on the Manhattan side. That's the southwest corner of Pier 40's little embayment. Pier 40 is in the background. The shop where I work is directly behind a whale surfacing in the Hudson River.

Dang it, whale, you're goading me !

I'd already made a playdate that weekend to paddle on the ocean near Jones Beach. You know, the ocean, where whales go. I figured they'd been in a few days and would have left.

But, no. Oh no, no no no. Sunday and Monday, very windy days, they were still being sighted. NY Media Boat has great pictures, and Gotham Whale has been at the NYC whale game for quite a while.

So I continue to look out the window at New York Kayak Company, walking along the waterfront when gale-force winds aren't blowing, looking for that whale. Or whales. Paddling acquaintance Frogma informs me that it's two whales, at one point photographed side by side.

Oy, whales in love. Teenagers. Apparently the younger whales don't have to migrate, and can chase fish all they want - even if it means getting lost near the Holland Tunnel, like so many of the more ape-like mammals.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Liberty Paddle

It's usual, but it happens: a client calls up New York Kayak Company in the off-season and wants to go on a journey.

In this case, it was a pilot, Kiwi by way of a Pacific city-state, who came in to buy a paddling jacket and inquired about trips - in November, when the water temperature drops below 60 F.

"Well," I mused, "depending on which day and for how long . . ." He was recovering from an injury and so we settled on either a short trip south or north, or to the Statue of Liberty. As it turned out, that last is what we went for.

The Statue of Liberty is about four miles away from Pier 40 - shorter as the crow flies, but we cross the river then head south, so roundtrip it's about 8 nautical miles. We went, coincidentally, on Election Day in the US. We had very little wind, sunshine, and a bit of sun, and very little river traffic. On a workday, and in the off-season, there wasn't much besides the occasional water tax and Statue ferry, and maybe one or two barges.

I did use my radio twice for bridge-to-bridge communications. First, as we were crossing, I saw that a tour boat was on track to get to where we would be if we'd kept going. I'd heard her on the radio earlier and hailed her. "This is kayak two, just south of the Holland Tunnel. Captain you mind if we keep going straight across and you cut astern."

He didn't see us. I waved my paddle high in the air. "Oh, there you are. Sure, no problem."

She altered course and we headed straight across. I radioed my thanks.

Later, just south of Morris Canal, we saw a Statue ferry just about loaded up, and waited for her to cast off. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally I hailed her. Rather than a radio response, one of the deck crew waved at us. I got close enough to shout for confirmation and he nodded his head.

We passed astern and continued on our way.

Waiting for a Statue ferry.

Curiously, the client asked for a winged paddle, which we were only able to oblige by digging in to some personal stock. Yet, he wasn't especially athletic. He had just learned on the wing and greatly preferred it. I'm going to have to practice some more on the wing so I can keep up with my clients' knowledge!

Halfway there !

About halfway to Ellis Island, the ferry cast off and passed us. I always get a kick out of waving to people on these boats. If you kayak in New York City, you'll definitely be in other peoples' photo albums!

Other than that, it really was an uneventful day. I did take the opportunity to try out a Tiderace Xtreme, a discontinued model that is the most Greenland-style of Tiderace boats - now supplanted by the Xtra in their product mix. However, we didn't really have the conditions to push the boat in; the best I got was a bit of surf off the ferry wake.

Sandy Hook Launch

MM is a friend of mine who lives in Monmouth County, basically the stretch of land from the I-95 corridor over to Sandy Hook. She's outdoorsy and athletic, into things like winter camping and biking and climbing and hiking. She's also a surfer, in the board sense, so while we met in a kayaking instructional class, she's always talked up how we should try some surf sometime.

So, last Monday, I drove all the way down to Sandy Hook and met her in one of the parking lots on the ocean side, to survey the scene. Sandy Hook is a long spit pointing almost straight up towards the NYC harbor; it receives a lot of swell on the ocean side, and has a protected bay side, albeit with a lot of fetch. It's a short walk from one side of the hook to the other, so paddlers have their choice: ocean side or bay side.

I've launched from the bay side before. I've heard of people launching on the ocean side, but it's challenging. First of all, along most of the short, the water level rises quite sharply; you can even see this standing on the bank, where a gentle slope of dry sand abruptly dives into the water. The waves are therefore a bit dumpy, and hard to get into the water at all, let alone paddle against.

On this particular day, the other challenge was a steady F4 wind lingering from the previous day, pushing with swell, to create some short period waves (5.2, 5.4 seconds) with wave height of three to four feet. Put this together with the dumpy characteristics, and what we saw was constant rollers cascading just past the shoreline, washing up, and then falling out to be recirculated by the next wave.

MM knew a spot near a jetty though. Also, the shore extended out a bit, so the break was farther away, and while we were still watching foamy hills come up to the shore, it wasn't quite as intimidating.

Here, take a look for yourself.

We decided that the surf zone was, at best, going to be more work that it was worth: it was short, and there wasn't a lot of runway to come off a wave before landing, and coming out again would be a lot work, even assuming no out-of-boat experiences. So, we decided to "circumnavigate" the Hook to the bayside, what MM and her local buddies call a "reverse hooker".

As we proceeded north-ish, we took steady wind abeam, along with swells. You can get a good idea of wave height at about the 2:10 mark in the video above. Generally 3-4 feet, with occasional 5. There were moments when we couldn't see each other, so we kept close.

As we came around the hook, we paddled over a large bank known as the False Hook. As the tide was flooding in, there wasn't as much action there as we hoped, but we had some current and small swell as we paddled past the channel marker.

The entire day was sunny and brilliant, and we could see for miles: ships coming in from sea; the skylines of Manhattan and Jersey City; Romer Light, just two miles away, even the bridge connecting the Rockaways to the rest of Queens.

The bayside had much flatter water, though by no means still. We paddle along the now-familiar shore, past Horseshoe Cove, landing at a small beach that was literally across the street from where we parked. We washed up and had lunch, and that was our day.

Sandy Hook is an interesting place to paddle. It's far to get to, and once there, specific features can be a ways off from paddling. All the same, it's proving to be a good place to go to work in conditions that are hard to find in NYC.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Recent Paddling

I've been out a few times since coming back from the Rendezvous symposium in Maine; here are the highlights.

About a week after I came back from the Rendezvous, Mr. Cowgirl and I went out with my good friend Kayak Dov. It was a very windy day - technically "out of remit" for the Four Star, with F5 winds gusting to F7, though otherwise sunny and beautiful. We went down to the GWB zipper, a minor race that forms under the George Washington Bridge as the Hudson begins to flood. It was fun, but a bit washed out with wind coming abeam.

Heading on down.

Approaching the Zone.

Afterwards, we paddled south a bit, and did some downwind surfing in the bay immediately below. It was great fun, with the long fetch of the river taking western winds and pushing up water towards the Manhattan shore.

We crossed the river, and along the way Mr. Cowgirl heard two large "kerplunk" sounds as we paddled under the bridge. He didn't think they were large enough to be people, but could easily have been pieces of bridge, or bottles tossed haphazardly by passers-by. He reported it to a nearby police boat (in person, sidled right up to her), but their only concern was whether it was a body.

About a week after that, I had a jam-packed series of days. We joined my good friends the 2 Geeks, and several of their friends and acquaintances, at the Touring Kayak Club in City Island, NY. J is pursuing her Four Star, as is another acquaintance I met at my 3 Star, AD. They wanted to practice some trip leadership and incident management, so we corralled a group of about eight paddlers to head out around Hart Island and back.

It was great fun. First, J and AD gave the trip briefing and practiced some navigation. Then, en route, everyone wanted to throw surprises at them - in short order we had bellyaches, injuries, and a capsize - all for show, all for practice - and they were handled well.

I got a little taste of it. Leading the group around the southern edge of Hart, I spotted J lagging considerably, a classic attempt at being the lost/lingering paddler.

The Brief.

To Water !
In a change, I paddled the Argonaut while Mr. Cowgirl put the Gemini SP seriously on edge.

Edgin !

We came up around the eastern edge of Hart, and took it easy, enjoying the scenery and company. Then, someone had the bright idea to husky tow a "tired paddler". I was the support while two others clipped in. I'm just going to say: in-line tows over husky tows whenever feasible.

I wrote about Hart Island a little bit the last time we were out here. Suffice it to say it's presently NYC's potter's field, worked by inmates from Rikers Island, and no one is allowed, except those who have business with the dead. Even on a sunny day like the one we had, it's a morbid place.

Paddling past Hart.


J for scale.

Some dedicated Greenlanders were present, and the stick was passed around.

D. Trying the Greenland paddle.

The group at large.

Signs in the distance.

The wind began to pick up. We were still in the lee most of the way, but off in the west we could make out several sailboats heeling over quite a bit in the wind. They were having a race, and it looked like a lot of fun, but it meant we had a bit of work to do getting back.

A frothy rock, just below the surface.

Passing the northern end of Hart.

Mares tails forming in the sky.

We passed Rat Island, which we noticed had gained some structures since our last visit. Most notably, a statue of William Tell.

Swiss Mister.

Flags and Signs.

Yodal-ay-hee-hoo !

Shortly afterwards we landed back at TKC - and found the tide had completely covered out beach! Fortunately this excellently appointed club had a launch ramp, so we got out there and carried our boats up.

After a debrief, we had lunch and talked kayak geekery - boats, kit, etc.

Cowgirl's two boats.

The Pelhams, and Hart in particular, are among my favorite paddling spots. I hope to bring some others out here, and am glad to have made the connection with TKC.