Monday, March 20, 2017

An East River Adventure

"Do you want to go paddling?"

This was the regular call of my good friend Kayak Dov, an accomplished sea kayaker and instructor, an all-around adventurer. Truth was, I'd considered it earlier in the week. Sunday was a beautiful day, and I hadn't been on natural water in a while. But, it was predicted to be windy, and the water was cold, and I had a lot of chores to do.

I dithered a bit, and then said yes. In short order we'd worked out a cartop plan to try someplace new: Baretto Point Park, in the Bronx. The New York Times writes about it every couple of years; as the South Bronx crawls forward in its on-again off-again development plan, the fact that there is a rather nice little park on the shores of the upper East River, and "urban oasis", is somewhat astonishing, over and over and over again.

It's even a destination I advertise as a place to take clients, though so far the only takers petered out before we even got to Randalls Island. From Inwood, it's an all day trip, but in this case, we were starting at the park, planning to paddle east before the current turned southwest.

"What is this place," asked Dov. "It's like the kind of neighborhood Batman's villains would hang out it. He's not wrong. After driving out on various highways, we found ourselves on a service road running parallel to an avenue that was running alongside an elevated highway. Then we took some streets that crossed tracks and veered south to a land of warehouses and semi trucks. We were in the armpit of the South Bronx. No one came here unless they had to.

Fortunately that meant parking was easy, though we had a lengthy portage to the little beach itself.

Getting orientated.

Dov took a couple of bearings and we identified some landmarks. The upper East River bends a bit and expands and contracts along its length; it's a much better place for practicing orientation and learning how deceptive the land can be when viewed from sea.

We set out eastward, passing a DEP ship (the Red Hook) tied up at a pier next to the park, and then on past Hunts Point.

Kayak Dov, in his Rebel Ilaga.

The East River is used for shipping, mostly barges, so we kept our eyes out for vessels coming and going. In short time, we were caught up by this little tug, pushing what seemed to be a golf driving range.

Dov guessed that it was a garbage scow, and the fencing was to prevent garbage from being blown into the water. I hate to say it but I think he might've been right about that.

Tug on the East River.

The tug passed us, and then seemed to be getting closer. We realized that she was turning in towards shore, which seemed odd, until we realized she was probably heading up the Bronx River, which emptied into the shallow bay on our left.

After she passed, we kept paddling. I figured we'd get out to the Throgs Neck, perhaps farther, before turning back. Suddenly, Dov exclaimed, "did you see that!"


"A porpoise, or maybe a dolphin."

Maybe, I thought to myself. I scanned the horizon. I didn't see anything, but it was certainly possible. After all, one or more whales were sighted in the Hudson river last fall. And, it wouldn't be the first time a dolphin was spotted in the East River.

I got out my phone (which has a lifejacket of its own) and watched while Dov floated out into the channel.

Then I saw it!

We played a game of gopher for a few minutes, looking here, then there, telling each other where we'd spotted it. I started recording video, clips of a minute or so at a time, hoping to catch it. Eventually I did, but just a few times.

Dolphin Surfacing.

Eventually, I put together this little clip, which gives a better sense of the search.

Eventually, we didn't see him for a while. A barge was coming out and so we decided to clear the channel. I paddled to the south, thinking it was marginally closer, sheltered behind a large rock. This put us at the northeast corner of Flushing Bay, so we came up with a new plan, something fun to do from the water in Flushing: watch the planes land at La Guardia airport.

La Guardia Airport.

Kayak Dov Stylin' and Profilin'.

Watching the planes land.

 On a clear day, you can see planes landing.

Another touchdown.

We didn't loiter too long, not wanting to overstay our welcome at the very end of the runway.

As we headed back, we fought a steady headwind. The wind had changed direction and grown in strength to its predicted Force 5. Fortunately the tidal currents turned in our favor, as the water started to slurp towards the black hole that is Hell Gate.

In short order we crossed under the Instrument Landing Pier and then crossed back to the Bronx. I say, "in short order" but it actually felt like quite a bit of work, one stage at a time: to the pier, to the channel, across the channel.

Fortunately the wind was an onshore one for us, and we had a pretty easy paddle back to the beach, surfing in some waves kicked up by a nearby barge.

It's not an NYC paddle if you're not close to traffic!

Before turning in, Dov let me try out his Ilaga - it's an amazing boat, one the tracks true but responds very, very well to edging.

It was a beautiful day, if somewhat cold. The water temperature in particular is still quite chilly, and if not for our pogies, our hands got numb very fast.

The upper East River is a neat place to paddle. There's much more variety of shoreline than along NYC's Hudson coast, and the dynamics of traffic and wildlife are unlike anywhere around Manhattan. Whether paddling there or cartopping to put in there, it's a worthwhile destination.

In particular, you can get this view pretty easily.

La Guardia, the Manhattan skyline, a jet plane.

Sometimes, it doesn't take much to prompt a great day at sea.

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