Monday, January 16, 2017

Winter Bluebird Day

Mr. Cowgirl's new drysuit came in, and we were itching to try it out on the water. Fortunately, yours truly had been organizing a day trip for that very weekend, and so we set out early in the morning for the Inwood Canoe Club.

Our plan was to head out to North Brother Island, or Randalls Island if we were running late.
No one else could make it, so it was just the two of us, and after kitting and fitting, we set out: up the Hudson to Spuyten Duyvil, down the Harlem, through the Bronx Kill, then out around the Brothers.

Passing Fort Washington.

A cooler hat near Swindlers Cove.

A curious structure atop a barge.

There were several signs of new construction along the Harlem, in particular the waterfront of Roberto Clemente Park and, in the South Bronx, new buildings and the refurbishing of old buildings.

In just under two hours, we arrived at the Bronx Kill, turning left to head down it, and saw a newly-built, not-occupied building on the Bronx side, and a fancy pile driver on Randals Island.

Pilin' for what?

The eastern end of the Bronx Kill is one of my favorite waterborne views in the city. I've been here at sunrise, watching pink clouds turn to orange and then yellow, and on overcast days when the entire world might as well be the sea between Queens and the Bronx. Even on a day like today, however, sunny and bright, the breadth of the view was amazing.

Mr. Cowgirl takes in the view.

What lies beyond?

We had a quick snack of cashews and raisins, as we took in the traffic.

First, there was a large barge being pushed southbound to the gate (Hell Gate, that it - we were just north of it). Then we saw a small barge emerge from the gate and head, curiously, between the Brothers - an unusual route because it's narrow and about a third as deep as the main channel around North Brother Island.

But then, we saw an even more interesting sight, and overheard a securite on the radio: a Rheinauer tug pushing a barge up from the gate, with another tug right by it. About half a mile behind it was another barge.

We decided to head north along the Bronx shore, wait for these two vessels to pass, and then look to make our crossing where we wouldn't be in a blind corner.

Ships go in.

Ships come out.

But then, we saw what the first two tugs were up to. The captain announced he'd make a "left wheel" about 400 yards, and what he meant was that we was making a U-turn between North Brother and the Bronx, and his fellow tug acted to push the vessel sideways.

This kinda made sense because, while we were close to slack tide, there was still some current, and for a barge to be pushed from one end would have made a very difficult turn-in-place. So, the second barge pushed from the side, helping her pivot to face south, and then get pushed into place in order to dock along the Bronx shore.

As this was starting to happen, I radioed the skipper, paraphrased as follows:

KC: Rheinauer, Rheinauer, this is Kayak Two just south of you, across from the Brothers. Capain, do you need us to move?
Tug: Who is this, Kayak Two?
KC: Yep Kakak Two. Near the Bronx Kill.
Tug: I don't see you.
KC: [waves paddle]
Tug: Oh, there you are. No you're not in my way, but that one coming from your right is headed there.
KC: OK, thanks. Over and out.

"We're crossing now," I said. I put out a short securite just to let everyone know our intentions, and we headed towards North Brother, the first tugs making their little turn maneuver, and the other one I'd spotted adjusting course clearly to its port - that is, towards where we had just left and not where we were.

I don't mean to belabor radio communications, but when they work they can save a lot of grief and uncertainty. I'd rather ask someone what they're up to than guess. I also have to say, tug skippers are among the most professional and straightforward I've dealt with on the radio.

After we crossed, I announced we were done and would be out of the channels, and said thanks to the captains, and got a "thank you" in return. Fuzzies on the Radio!

Our Rheinauer friend completing her maneuver.

A short break. Manhattan in the far background.

At this point we started around North Brother Island. I've been out this way a couple of times before, in 2012 and 2015. (OMG, have I really been blogging about kayaking that long?) So I'll recap succinctly by saying it's one of the most tragically-storied islands in NYC, Typhoid Mary and General Slocum, abandoned ruins, not allowed to land.

The old plant.

"Ruins" on the chart.

The old ferry dock.

The caretaker's house.

Channel marker 9.

Bird Sanctuary

"It's one of the spookiest islands," said Mr. Cowgirl - right as a bird of prey's piercing shriek let loose across the cold, hollow water.

The bird screamed again, and again, and we spotted it: a hawk, maybe a falcon, perched in the empty branches of the island's trees. Top left-ish of the following picture.

Where's the bird?

At this point we joked that if we were in a horror movie, the audience would be screaming at us to paddle faster. But, you know, in horror movies people can't know what to do. What if paddling faster just meant a jump-cut to use paddling into a shark's mouth?

Also, zombies may not swim, but they can wade.

We continued on our way, clockwise, coming around the southern side. Here we could take in the view of the famous Hell Gate bridge, as well as Manhattan, in the distance.

 New York City: a nice place to live.

I was also please to see something still standing, which I spotted back in 2014 on a trip out to Flushing: A tv and chair. "An Eames Chair," speculated the Mr.

What I like about the following photo is the doubt-reflection of the kayak's tail end.


In short order,  we set out our return, observing our tug friends were where we left them. The wind had picked up just a little bit, and veered a but to a more westerly direction. Where we'd been a tad too warm on the outbound leg, we were now just right - and when we stopped for a quick bio-break in the Kill, we got shilled right quick.

Farewell North Brother. Our Rheinauer friend heads home.

We were in the Bronx Kill at a time I've rarely been at, early enough in the tidal cycle that there was still some depth, but late enough that there was a strong eddy at the spot where it becomes a rapid. We played a bit with some peelouts and eddy turns.

At one point, a sizable wave train stood up. It was starting to disappear by the time I snapped this photo, but was quite fun - especially since it popped up while we were trying reverse peelouts !

Love Train. . .Freight Train . . .Wave Train.

The paddle back up the Harlem was uneventful. At Spuyten Duyvil, we tried playing with the eddy currents there as well, but they weren't quite as well-defined as in the Kill. After five hours out, with only a short shore break, we were ready to head in, where we cleaned up and put away - but not before encountering Inwood's resident paddleboarder on the water, and another club member who'd just come back from paddling to Yonkers.

Nuclear Kayaking.

I do like this last image though. The entire day was very sunny, so many of my photos had intense lense flare. Add onto that a wet outer lens cover, and I can assure you that there are many more surreal photos in the Cowgirl's library than you'll see online.

We stopped by for a pint at the local pub where our fellow club member was having a get-together with friends (birthday and welcome-to-the 'hood). When we got home, we both were ready to crash out - suddenly our all-day paddle caught up to us physically.

North Brother Island is one of my favorite places to paddle to, even without getting out there. I hope I'll get out there more often.


  1. Amen to the radio comment. I was out with a joint NBBC/Sebago paddle on Saturday, we crossed the shipping channel in very limited visibility and radios were pretty crucial to making it work.

  2. And what a good trip report! Love how many paddlers were out there on our local waterways this weekend, I keep seeing new trip report - Jules was out with friends from MKC, some of our Yonkers folks did a road trip to Long Island Sound, and more - very cool.

  3. Thanks! Wondering if your Westchester friends and mine intersect. The 2 Geeks were out with a group that included Kayak Hipster, to Execution Rocks. Apparently KH is rockin' a drone in his repertoire now.