Sunday, November 18, 2018

Short and Sweet

A Beautiful Day. That was the phrase nearly everyone I ran into said as I considered where I would paddle. People at the boathouse, coming in from their own trips, all said that, and eve non-paddlers on my flight path the the boathouse said the same thing.

When Mister Cowgirl and I drove up to Maine a week earlier, we thought the drive was pretty but that more was to come. Sure enough, by November 4, the trees across the river on the Palisades had exploding with autumnal color.

For years, I admired long trips. Anything less than 8 miles or four hours was "boring". With the tidal currents around New York City, it's easy to cover over a dozen miles in just a couple of hours, timed just right. Paddling out to the Throgs Neck and back (just under thirty miles round trip) or from Manhattan to Sandy Hook and back (about thirty-nine miles)? No problem - that's the goal. Getting kitted out for much less than that is. . . well, is it worthwhile?

This particular day, I was faced with a conundrum. I only had a couple of hours available, and the current would be ebbing all morning. I didn't want to journey too far south, but didn't want to be out late.

Behold, the color!

I decided ultimately on a short paddle, across to the Palisades, then north against current, then across to Spuyten Duvil, into the Harlem a bit, and then back.

To the Cliffs
I set off to the Palisades, and ran a little experiment to see just how far south I would drift with the current if I kept my heading true. The results were not quite as dramatic as I expected, but I did drift about half a mile south in the fifteen minutes or so it took me to cross. There was a bit of extra drift as I waited for a powerboat to cross my path.

Closer to the New Jersey shore, I crossed and paddled close to the Adirondack, a sailing tour ship operated by Classic Harbor Line. the passengers took pictures of me as I took pictures of them. I gave chase, and I think with a bit of effort I would have at least kept pace. I didn't want to, however. I was right where I wanted to be: Ross Dock.

The Adirondack, George Washington Bridge in the background.

Ross Dock is a large, square park sticking out of the Palisades, just north of the George Washington Bridge. It's not a dock in a conventional sense: it's a park, a big square jetty sticking out form the Palisades. The river is quite shallow to the north and south, and at this extreme tide, mostly mud flat. I noodled around the nooks and crannies, waving at people looking over the wall, before I started paddling north.

Ross Dock

To the North
As I paddled, I kept close to shore in order to fight as little current as possible, but not too close because it was quite shallow. Quartering waves, maybe two or three seconds apart, rolled in from the northeast. They weren't challenging, and I remember thinking I'd been in much bigger waves and conditions the weekend before, and I sort of went on autopilot.

That proved to be an embarrassing mistake. In short order the waves got a bit taller and stronger, and before I knew it was was washed up on the shore, alternately bracing into the waves and leaning towards the large pebbles of the glacial moraine that is, basically, the river valley. I may as well have put the boat up on blocks, not sitting in water of any depth, and the waves were too short to get enough flotation to push off.

Eventually, I pushed with my hand against a rock, feeling some strain as the wave pushed me in, and that dropped the stern just enough that I could push back into water. Up on the walking path, I saw a bit of relief from a man who seemed about ready to call 911. I wasn't in danger, merely inconvenienced, but I can see how the laity might not be able to distinguish between the two.

Back on course to the north.

Overhead, I saw a Coast Guard helicopter soar over the George Washington Bridge, dropping low, lower than the highest trees and buildings on the Manhattan side of the river. I wondered its mission; to fly so low was unusual, and I thought perhaps the worst, a person found in the water. I didn't seriously consider they'd be looking for me. The helicopter banked, crossed the river, and disappeared over the cliffs to the north.

I continued onwards. I soon came to Englewood Boat Basin, waving at people on shore and keeping a better distance from it. I paddled past the entrance to the little marina there, then found a little eddy to stay in while I finagled a snack our of my day hatch.

Englewood Boat Basin

A fighter jet roared overhead, louder and lower than most planes. Suddenly, I heard its engines increase, and when I looked up again, I couldn't see the plane.

Return Crossing
At the north end of the boat basin, I found a little eddy to hang out in while I finangled a bit of snack and decided on my next move. I decided to take a long ferry glide over to Manhattan.

Looking North.

Normally, when kayakers talk about a ferry glide, it's in a whitewater or moving water context, maybe a few dozen yards. The Hudson River where I was paddling is just shy of a full nautical mile wide.

That said, I do what one would usually do: I picked two points in the distant, one closer that the other, and tried to keep them lined up. In this case, two water tower enclosures on different buildings in the Bronx.

At that distance, it's hard to see how fast you're moving compared to the shore, but once I was within a hundred yards or so of Manhattan, it was easy to see how quickly I'd drift south if I didn't take a pretty sharp angle. I speed up, kept my course true, and shortly arrived just south of Spuyten Duyvil.

I went through, and passed into the Harlem River.

The Harlem
The current was just beginning to change, and wasn't hard to paddle against. I went up past the Henry Hudson Bridge and took a poke at Muscota Marsh, part of Inwood Hill Park.

A poke at Muscota Marsh.

I went s bit further. At a low tide, the "marsh" is really a muddy flat, so I kept to the left and decided to see how far in I could get. I talked a bit with a woman walking her dog.

Hullo at Muscota Marsh.

Looking in to Inwood Hill Park.

After that, I turned around, paddled back through Spuyten Duyvil, and then on down to the boathouse.

The Parting Shot
On the way back, I paddled up close to the Mon Lei, an old sailing boat that was bought by the owners of the restaurant La Marina (it's in the background). It's been moved recently, and later a friend of mine who's been working on restoring the ship posted a video of her being towed to her winter quarters.

The Mon Lei was once owned by Mr. Ripley of "Ripley's Believe It or Not" fame.

With that, my tour concluded. There was a lot I saw in just a couple of hours paddling - and altogether, I paddled maybe four or five nautical miles. See? Not all great trips have to be epic in duration or conditions.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Day at Democrat Point

How ridiculous must I look? Surely I look ridiculous.

After about the fourth passing motorboat asked me and my companion if we needed help, I though perhaps the orange helmet I was wearing in perfectly safe waters belied the notion that we were OK.

This was how we wound down our day at Democrat Point, Long Island.

We started off parking at one of the starred locations on the chart. At the start of the ebb, we had an easy time heading out. The "unsurveyed" area was very light on current, and had a big sandbar; we spotted a horseshoe crab swimming as we paddled out, and my companion spotted a spider crab as well. Near the channel, dozens of boats of various sizes, from little motorboats to multi-decked charter fishing boats, plied waters. The current's eddy line was noticeable, and after riding it to the narrowest point, we crossed and checked out the entrance to the inlet.

The water was bouncy, and in short order, a messy tiderace formed, ocean swell running into shallow water, against current. Over the course of the day, it would change shape as the ebb tide strengthened and the water level dropped. We only played for an hour or so, removing ourselves by the time the tide got close to two knots. Also, following a capsize and recovery, snack time was called.

While ashore we talked about how to control the boat on waves, especially in broach, and taking waves abeam. We also talked about how to take a range, or a transit, and after that, used that new bit of knowledge to cross the channel to the north, and found a lengthy beach to play along.

After that, we paddled eastward, eventually taking a break in a little nook that was shallow enough for standing but deep enough for rolling, and V (my aforementioned companion) got in some rolls. I did as well, practicing how to distinguish different parts of a roll. I even tried showing a roll without a boat, which is harder than it looks, but not as hard as it sounds.

We found a mini-tiderace nearby, with a small eddy, and that's where we decided to try some "rough water rescues". The water was moving, and the waves were big enough to require proper support, so the rescuer couldn't slack off on holding the boat. All that aside, this was near the approach the  motorboaters were taking to a mooring field, and it's at this point that people stopped and asked, repeatedly, for help. No one asked when we were about to be swept into the terrible maw of the open sea. But, with a friendly wave, we convinced everyone that we were fine. Trust me, I'm a professional.

Which brings me to the helmet. I'd carried it on my back deck, only wearing it for the surf session. Yet, when we were doing rescues, I wanted to keep it clear, and the easy solution was to put it on my head.

We finished the day paddling along the shore, avoiding the shallow area that had now become a wading place for birds and people clamming. We took a find shot at various rolls, hand rolls and offside rolls, before packing it all up and driving home.

Democrat Point is a bit of a drive from our usual area of operation, but it was well worth it. There are a variety of features to play with. It's not for beginners, but with a bit of planning, it offers a variety of learning activities.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Spring into Activity

Summer is here, at last, the rains have subsided and the air is getting warmer. As we climb into the back half of June, I find myself wondering - jimi-nee, is it really over three months since I blogged anything?

Previously, on Kayak Cowgirl:

The pool programs finished up. For the second year running I've taught at the winter pool program operated in Dobbs Ferry by Matt Kane at Prime Paddlesports. I had a good range of students, from beginners to improvers, working on everything from basic forward and turning strokes to re-discovering their roll. I came to look forward to those Sunday drives up the parkways, with one or more boats on my car.

I paddled on a very windy day with Kayak Dov in Jamaica Bay, in March. I don't have any photos handy but, I recall Dov saying he wasn't looking for conditions, but rather wanted to scout the area for an IDW he was teaching. We arrived on a day with F5-F6 winds, overcast, and a very strong ebb tide rushing past Bennett Field. We took a look-sea and decided, "hey, why not?" It was a fun, if robust paddle.

April was kind of a wash. Literally. It rained a lot, (shocking, I know), and was windy, and overcast, and just generally not a pleasant month for paddling. According to my paddling log, I got out once, with some friends out of Inwood to Mitsuwa market..

Then in May, Mister Cowgirl and I took a holiday to Scotland, the isle of Skye, where we paddled with a certain famous sea kayaking coach . . .but that will be a bit before I finish writing. Over the two days we paddled, we played in a tidal strait called Kylerhea, and paddled around some skerries near Armadale.

Yours Truly, so happy to help carry boats.

Posing on the water near Armadale ferry.

Literally just happy to be here! Near the Glenelg ferry.

The ferry in that last was fascinating to the Mister and myself. The paddling was quite nice too! And yes, I got some tips from the famous sea kayaking coach.

It's been non-stop since then.

At the "Sebago Season Opener" interclub racing event Memorial Day Weekend, I placed first in the Womens 100m! Third in the 400m and 800m. This was all in a field of three.

Ribbons for All!

What can I say, I'm a sprinter. Though, actually, in past events I've usually done best in the 400 - the 100 warms me up, and the 800 I just peter out on the return leg.

Then there was a whitewater trip with Mister Cowgirl and friends. We paddled the upper and lower Esopus, near Phoenicia, New York. These are Class II rapids, with a couple of Class III features along the way. I paddled the lower half last year; this year, I did the whole thing.

Kayak and Mister Cowgirl, together on the trail.

My WW Canoe friend LB, finishing some rapids.

A Bald Eagle.

The weekend after that, I took some boats out to Long Island to demonstrate. Rebel Kayaks. These are performance boats in the Greenland style - popular with rollers and other traditional skills enthusiasts. Kayak Dov sells them in NewYork and New Jersey.

The Paddle Wagon with a Husky on top.

Plus, I got to paddle a bit in a Long Island harbor and catch up a group calling themselves "Small Craft Advisory" .Rough water and surf enthusiasts!

Finally, just last weekend, I taught a class at Lake Sebago, hauling four boats there and back, borrowing two more, and teaching a great group of beginners some of the fundamentals of paddling, bracing, and incident management.

Ducklings, all in a row.

So, now you're caught up! I promise to write more about my trip to Scotland, which several people have asked about. I expect to paddle whitewater again this weekend (June 23) as well. And, for sure, the summer really gets into gear by July, starting with the Hudson Valley Paddlesports Symposium July 6-8.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


A couple of weeks ago, I dropped in on the pool program run by my friend Matt at Prime Paddlesports. After teaching a few lessons there, I hadn't been in a couple of weeks. I brought along my newly-repaired Gemini SP to practice some rolling.

What a pleasant surprise to see fellow Manhattanites (and paddlers extraordinaire) D&O there, with an array of small boats. OG, the "Original Jersey" girl from the Channel Islands, had brought along her squirt boat.

Squirt boats are meant to be extremely playful, mainly in whitewater, finding current features to twist and shout and dance upon. The boat sits practically submerged to begin with. Just a little momentum, and it starts to dive and place the paddler perpendicular to the water.

As I watched her practice, I was intrigued. No way would I fit in that! I'm a good deal taller, and the boat, sitting on the floor, was no higher than my hand! But OG encouraged me to try, and with a little shimmying, I was able to slide in.

One of my friends, TI, took some video while I floundered about. Friends, it was like a real rodea, gettin' pitched around. 

Unfortunately I seemed so trimmed to the stern, I had to go backwards to make it dive. You can hear OG exhorting someone to push down my bow.

Well, it was a holler and a hoot. I'm not sure when I'll have another chance, but I'd take it if I had one. It was not quite the death trap I feared, but it was a lot of work to stay upright - and getting out in an emergency would be a bit more terrifying than in a pool surrounded by friends.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Seat Repair

A few months ago, I had to take the Gemini SP out of circulation because the backband broke.

More precisely, the part of the seat pan that one of the bolts attached to had sheared clean out. I mentioned this in my post about the Rendezvous event, but for various reasons I didn't finish the repair until January.

First I emailed Valley, and they suggested replacement. Honestly, I was angling for some sort of free or warranty repair, but that's not how the kayak world works. In any case, they're in the UK and I'm in the US, so I was directed to the nearest Valley dealer, Kayak Centre of Rhode Island. Matt Bosgraaf set me straight, and even sent along a pair of bolts later on, that I'd forgotten I'd need.

Some people have been unclear about what I mean about the "seat pan". There are several ways to mount a seat in a boat; the true enthusiasts will situate some carved foam, but I wasn't ready to do that. Basically it's a butt-shaped bucket.

Here's the replacement, upside down and backwards.

The Replacement.

I noticed some spider cracks on the right. Asking around on a sea kayaking forum, comments were generally split between "that's just a byproduct of the manufacturing process, don't worry" to "no that's terrible, send it back." I wrote Valley again with a picture, and they said, in effect, the former. By this point I hadn't paddled the Gemini for a couple of months, so I decided to install the seat.

Area of Concern.

Doing so would require some non-trivial effort. First I had to remove the old seat.

Look! A ball in my cockpit.

I started by removing the hip pads. These are held on with small straps, so that was easy. This is from the broken side, and you can see a hint of zip-tie poking out - but we'll get more into that later.

Hip Pad.

Next I had to remove the four screws that hold the seat in. Imagine the seat is a U, and it's an undersink mount, the top ends attached to the underside of the deck. Two small plats underneath act as sort of lateral washers.

I was nervous about doing this over floorboards with gaps over the open river, but also, it was cold, and I was determined. So, I was careful, cupping my hand under each thing that might drop.

One side detached.

The opposite side, still attached.

I did most of this with a cheap household repair kit. I need to get a better one - the bits don't stay in the driver! I tried using my Gerber but it wasn't comfortable, nor ratcheting.

Cheap ratcheting screwdriver.

Here, on the "good" or unbroken side, you can see how the backband normally attaches. Basically, a bolt with a washer goes through the strap and holds it fast to the sides of the seat pan.

This is what it is supposed to look like.

The backband also attaches to the middle of the seat pan, almost straight down range from the business end of your bum. This proved to be one of the more challenging things to remove, because an inch of foam is on the opposite side, and I couldn't do anything more than rotate the bolt until I removed the foam

Backband above, seat pad below.

The backband also secures via bungie through a small hole in the back of the coaming. It's held fast with a knot tied through a thing. I don't know what this thing is called.

Support for the backband.

With the backband no longer attached to the boat, I was able to slide the seat out. It took some doing - sliding it forward to a slightly wider part of the boat, then rotating. It weren't hard, but it weren't easy neither.

The seat pan removed.

Now that the old seat pan was fully removed, I could see the damage in full light. The round hole is supposed to be there. The square hole above it is not. From what I can tell, the entire square, approximately 1" by 1", popped at once, and shortly after, the fracture between that and the circle formed.

You can make out the black zip ties that I had used to keep the backband in place at the time, but these were only temporary. I found that they not only wore out quickly, but put more strain on what was left of the seat pan, since they didn't have a washer and bolt to distribute the load more evenly. Basically, the edge they looped around would saw away, and the zipties could put the load on the narrow edge they looped around. It was a mutually destructive relationship.

This is not what it is supposed to look like.

Last step: taking the bandband off the old seat.

With the seat removed, I could finally flip it over to get at that pesky bold holding the backband in. To do that, I had to remove this foam padding from the bottom.

This block of foam is all that's between the seat and the keel.

Not so hard once you can get to it!

This little nut attaches the backband to the lower part of the seat.

Now, "getting to it" meant I had access. I still had to use a small vice grip to hold the nut in place while I removed the bolt. At the time, it didn't occur to me that I'd have to take the foam off.

Foam bent back to access the nut.

At last, side by side comparison of the old and the new seat pans. Looks like a match!

Old and new. Maybe I should lease?

One minor thing I had to do: there are two small loops of rope tied on at the front; these made for good handles when I had to tug the old pan free. To transfer them, I undid a knot on each, and slid them through.

I noticed an intriguing aspect that I think made these much easier to re-tire the knots: beveled ends.

I appreciate engineering details.

Knowing that I'd have to have access to that nut again, I poked and widened a hole in the underseat's foam block before gluing it back on.

For a hole in the seat-bucket, Eliza.

All of the above is as far as I got on the first day. It was a cold day in December, and I needed to let the glue dry between the foam and the seat, before I could install the seat.

Between my work schedule, weather, and social obligations, it was a full two weeks before I went back to actually install the new seat.

When I went back, I pulled the boat out to the deck in the club's garden, so I wouldn't be over water, and laid out the bits I needed to re-install.

Backband bolts in the Sephora case, side mounts below.

I like to organize my materials before I start. Off-camera, my boxes of tools on a ledge.

It looks more refined without the fittings for a human.

One concern is, I'm still using the old backband, which means I've got the strap that chafed against the zipties for a couple of days. I ended up folding some gorilla tape over the end, before re-attaching to the seat pan.


Now, unfortunately, low temperatures seem to have put my phone into a coma, so I don't have more pictures. However, installing the new seat was fairly straightforward, mostly a reverse of the removal. I do have a one more tip to share, though.

Lining up and bolting the side mounts was really tricky. About three photos up, you see a pair of metal plates with bolts through them; those bolts go down just to the side of the coaming, holding the seat's sides against the interior of the deck. Those plates help distribute the load.

The hard part is holding those plates up while also holding a nut in place while driving the bolt in from above. It's a tough angle, and I couldn't reach my arm in - just my fingers through the circular hole in the side. This is all out of sight, because of the seat pan.

Eventually, I devised a method of using a piece of tape folded back on itself to stick the plate onto two of my fingers while the other two held the bolt just long enough for the bolt to get some bite.

I'm happy to say that the replacement seems to have gone well. I've had that boat in the pool a couple of times since, and also on a 7nm journey in the lower harbor of NYC to check out some seals. Time will tell, but I think this is one repair I can check off as well done.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Winter Mitsuwa

I recently paddled with some members of my club to Mitsuwa market, in Edgewater, NJ. It's a popular mid-range destination for our club, about four nautical miles each way. Timing with the tidal currents makes it a pretty easy trip. The trick was, this was in winter, December, a day after a significant snowfall.

I've mentioned it before, paddling there solo a couple of years ago.

Clearing the deck.

With temperatures in the 30s F, water about 50 F, everyone was wearing drysuits. At least one member was wearing one for the first time in actual conditions, and a couple others were relatively new to drysuit and cold water paddling. The wind prediction was on the high side - broaching F4 from the west - but turned out to be milder, and more from the south.

Shuffling to and fro.

Mister Cowgirl readies his steed.

We also had sunshine on most of the journey, so after layering up to meet the predicted wind chill, several of us found ourselves warm, in some cases overheating.

While we'd had several inches of snowfall the day before - incidentally, something I drove in briefly, making the rounds of various holiday parties - some was still on our deck, but mostly it had melted. We had "movie snow" decorating the cliffs and trees, but otherwise the water was indistinguishable from any other day of paddling.

Finally ready?

We did spot snow falling off the George Washington Bridge, as it was plowed off, way up high. We could see it streaming in heaps to the water below. That was kinda neat.

Five of us set out. Along the way, we met up with AA, another club member who'd been supporting a swimmer out for a photo shoot. That is, someone swimming in the water, without anyof our fancy thermal protection, near the Little Red Lighthouse, for about half an hour, just for the sake of some photographs. We were amazed. AA came over and said hello, but opted not to join us - he'd worked late the night before, and went back to get some shuteye.

We proceeded, and I found my first navigational challenge. This trip is easy enough to handrail, but one of my favorite marks is no longer in place: the Ferryboat Binghamton, a historic ferry later turned floating restaurant, abandoned years ago and long since demolished by hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Last summer, plans were finally executed to remove the old lady from her mooring, so I took a few minutes to figure out where we needed to go - past that wharf, or farther and around that long pipeline pier? It was the pipeline pier.

Our landing at the beach.

Happy Holidays!

We landed and secured our boats, then went into the market. I had a hot pork and noodle soup.

Nom !

After about an hour, it was time to return. We took in a good view of Manhattan across the way.

From parking lot to Manhattan.

It was a great trip. If you want to see the on-water portions, check out my video with a lil' holiday music set to it.

Happy holidays to all !