Sunday, August 23, 2015

Circumnavigation 2015

"It's on my bucket list," she said.

The client, L, was was born on Coney Island and now works in another city. She'd come back this particular weekend to do this specifically. The other client, P, was a member of our club, someone who'd had a few lessons and trips, but nothing like this.

We were going to circumnavigate Manhattan.

Leading into it, it wasn't clear we'd even run this trip. Only L was signed up until two days before, and there was a large group event run by a coalition of local clubs scheduled for the following weekend.

Well here we were. A full Sunday ahead of us.

I'd gotten in early to check weather and conditions - low wind, would be very hot later, tides - well, they weren't predicted to be any different than we'd already looked up. I worked out a plan with some options for takeouts, diversions, emergencies, depending on how we performed as a group.

When the clients arrived, we did a quick bit of introductions and pulled boats. "We're going to be together all day," I said. "Let's get to know each other." She worked in renewable energy. He was French, but had lived in NYC for fifteen years, and only recently came to sea kayaking.

I put them through a quick bit of paces and coaching before we left, and showed them a low brace, just in case something knocked them off the saddle. With that, we set off on our way.

Leaving Pier 40.

The first part of our journey was to leave Pier 40 and head south, counter-clockwise around the island. We had a little bit of current against us, but the East River was already flowing north. With this timing, we wouldn't have to wait long at Hell Gate to cross past its maw.

Waiting for a Statue Cruise to leave.

The next step was to round Battery, the southernmost tip of Manhattan. I remember on my first couple of circumnavs, this was the most frightening place - there are many large ferry boats of various liveries moving around, as well as commercial traffic rounding one way or the other. But you know what? Most of it is very simple.

The Statute cruises pull in and depart just east of Pier A. They take a while to load and unload. Watch them, and time your move when they've just left and just arrived. Granted we were early in the morning, but these ferries follow a predictable path. Also, on the radio, they're generally friendly and response. You can always ask the captain if he minds you moving past.

Paddling past a loading Statue Cruise.

As we paddled past the Statue Cruises, we were no longer being pushed up the Hudson, but pulled towards the East River. With no wind, and little traffic, conditions could not have been more ideal for our little band.

On around Battery, Clipper City in the background.

Smiles, everyone!
Not pictured: passing the Staten Island ferry and the Governors Island ferry. The former is large and orange, and very difficult to miss. It also leaves on a pretty regular schedule of five minutes after the top and bottom of the hour (as in, xx:05 and xx:35). So one, you can see it coming and going from far off, and two, if you arrive anywhere near the top or bottom of the hour, just wait. There's a nice little nook. Bide your time.

Governors is a little trickier because when in Whitehall station (Manhattan) it's occluded by the slip walls of the State Island ferry. You can take a peek, and radio if needed. You can also just keep your eye out earlier, and make sure you know where it's at.

In our case we saw its radio mast and bridge slipping out as we crossed the empty Staten Island ferry nest. We waited, she pulled out, and we went on our merry way, past the heliport at Wall Street, and then across to the eastern side of the East River.

Our first water break.

"How's the boat," I asked. I always ask clients that, no matter the trip or lesson. I've put P in a Tiderace Xcape and L in an Impex Force Cat.

"It's so stable," she said. They were both comfortable.

From the East River, Below Manhattan Bridge.

The blurry witch appeared on my camera, but the above shot and others came out OK. Here we're looking at lower Manhattan from the east, with the Brooklyn Bridge arcing in from the left, and One World Trade (aka the Freedom Tower, aka the World Trade Center) in the background.

Passing Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Shortly after, we passed the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, now used fora  variety of commercial purposes. This large vessel was the "Orient Delivery". I can't imagine a more apt name for a ship like that.

Approaching the Williamsburg Bridge.

We took another short break at the Williamsburg Bridge, where the river widens and straightens out a bit, and continued up, with a good amount of current with us.

Around this time a lone paddler came up behind us, paddling at a very fast pace. It was an acquaintance, T, who I know from Lake Sebago ad kayak polo. We exchanged hellos and he explained that he was catching up with some mates, so that was the extend of our conversation.

My radio has a built in GPS and according to it we were clocking 4.7-5.6 knots. To my speedier friends aware that the average paddler moves at 3 knots, let me remind you these were largely untrained beginners. We had a lot of current helping us out, though I kept them paddling.

Up the East River.

We did slow down as we approached Roosevelt Island. Shortly before, in Long Island City, we passed a ferry terminal and had an awkward bit of communication with one of the ferries. He was well out in the channel and not changing his heading as we approached the terminal, and with current, we were about to slide by it. In fact we were north of the terminal when this ferry turned directly at us and blew his horn - he seemed to want to glide in sideways to the terminal.

We moved to the side but really: signaling your intentions helps everyone.

Passing Midtown East - United Nations in background.

Passing Long Island City.

Passing the United Nations.

As we approached Roosevelt Island, we went up the eastern channel, between Roosevelt and Queens. In short order we spotted the Costco that presages Hallets Cove, and pulled in for a little break.

Here is where this circumnav plan varied from others. Crossing in front of Hell Gate is often something that requires waiting an hour or so, simply because trips run out of other locations in Manhattan usually get us here at a different time. The current that flows through Hell Gate is, on paper at least, never slower than two knots, and you have to paddle across that, in an extended ferry crossing.

In this case however, we were only about twenty minutes early, so we cooled off a bit before paddling over to the northern tip of Roosevelt Island, waited for a barge to pass, then paddled up and around Mill Rock.

We were right behind two other kayakers, out for more or less than same thing. We caught up with them a little further up, along the Randalls Island shore. It was T and his mates, having performed a pretty remarkable exit along the shore wall, as if it was a neatly-stacked set of rocks in Maine. We said hello again, but thins time we were taking off. I had something different in mind for these clients.

Little Hell Gate Park, Randalls Island.

There's a small wetland in the center of Randalls Island. It's what remains of a watery passage that used to separate Randalls Island and Wards Island, called Little Hell Gate - a smaller alternative to its larger and better-known cousin. In the twentieth century, a number of projects filled in the passage along the west side of the island, leaving only this little tidal wetland.

I've run trips from Inwood to Little Hell Gate with the club I belong to. On a circumnav, it's a bit out of the way, but with our schedule we were facing about .7 knots of currnet against us, and I thought an extended break was in order. We paddled into the marsh, and I played dumb, "how far back can we go", until we arrived at a little dirt ramp, from where we could get out, walk over to some newly-cleaned public restrooms, and top off our water bottles from a fountain.

Reviewing the Paddler's Box.

About an hour later,  we set off again, and made our way up the Harlem at a pretty good pace, until we arrived at Peter Sharp Boathouse - the halfway point, and where we'd stop for lunch.

The best part about this stop? Shade. My biggest concern on this trip was managing heat and hydration. Air temperature was in the nineties, with little wind. I made sure everyone drank up water, and stopped more frequently to let them cool off. An extended lunch break in the shade, at the halfway mark, was perfect.

Ready to go.
Here we ran into an acquaintance, H, who was setting out in his folding kayak for the 79th Street Boat Basin. I've run into him a couple of times before - he's someone who keeps his folding kayaking folded, in his apartment, heads out to a spot somewhere in the city, assembles it, and paddles it. We said our hellos and he waded into the water to launch.

Once we were rested up, and had again made use of facilities and refueled our bodies, we set out again, rounding the northern tip of Manhattan, under the 207th Street Bridge and then the Broadway Bridge. Then, something happened, which has never happened on a trip I've run.

One of the clients' mother waved to us from the shore in the park. We paddled over and said hello.

"I just ordered some chocolate chip pancakes," she said. "From the cafe over there." She pointed at Indian Road Cafe, a popular neighborhood joint. Heck I've gone to trivia nights there.

We explained that we'd just eaten, and in any case had to keep moving to stay with the current. We gave her an estimated time of completion and were on our way.

Surveying the Hudson, near Spuyten Duyvil.

We headed on out past Spuyten Duyvil, to gorgeous views of the Palisades, and then turned south, and out into the channel to catch as much current as we could get.

Looking south to the George Washington Bridge.

Another Water Break, Palisades in background.

The George Washington Bridge (and Little Red Lighthouse).

We moved on past the Little Red Lighthouse and the George Washington Bridge, and then on past Morningside Heights and Harlem, watching the skyline to our left change from parkland to apartment-land.

Harlem / Morningside Heights.

New Jersey to the right.

Out in the channel catching as much current as we can.

As we approached the mooring field to the north of the 79th Street Boat Basin, we moved inshore a bit because some tour boats were coming down the river behind us, and a barge was being pushed north - well out of the way, but traffic overall was about to get crowded. We took some pictures, and talked about the next two stages of our journey.

A brave man - taking his phone out of its case on the water!

She kept her phone in its case.

We stopped at the Intrepid. I considered going, but the next mile or so was going to be busy, since the next few piers were all working tour and taxi berths. Also, the Intrepid is kind of a nice place to take pictures. And I was thirsty. I wanted to take a nice gulp of water.

A brief stop at Pier 84 - and the Intrepid.

One thing that was kinda weird - so this pier is the home of another paddle shop, and there were several kayaks and paddleboards out. A small motorboat wandered in. I'm not sure what the rules are but I've never seen that happened, and in short order the dockworkers shooed him away. As far as I can tell they wanted to get close to the Intrepid for photos.

We set out, glided past the Circle Line docks, past the major water taxi dock, and then continued on the final leg of our voyage.

One World Trade in the distance.

I think I may be officially done counting how many circumnavigations I've completed. I think this is number five or six. In some ways, they aren't hard - many New York paddlers joke that it's the easiest thirty miles you'll ever do - but there are several stages, and each stage presents its own challenges.

There are the usual concerns like wind and weather, as well as group shepherding and incident management, but there's also the boat traffic, places to take out in emergency, and the duration - it's a lot of time in the boat. So, it's not a trip I would take for granted, or do "in my sleep." All the trips I've been on went well, with only one requiring that we put someone out, near the end. A lot of things can go wrong, and avoiding those things is paramount.

Home again to Pier 40 !

This was a trip I ran as a guide for New York Kayak Company. Located at Pier 40 in Manhattan, essentially Houston street and the Hudson River. Pier 40 offers very close access to the waters around lower Manhattan, putting Liberty, Staten Island, and even Sandy Hook in reach of the experienced paddler.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paddle for a Cure

About two weeks ago I took part in the fifth annual Paddle For A Cure event, a paddle-themed fundraiser for a local cancer patient service. I did it a few years ago, and have been meaning to go back since.

The event takes place up the Hudson River from NYC. The location has varied a bit; this year it was from Newburgh down to Cold Spring.

My new friend Mary Mautner gave me and my boat a ride. We drove up the night before and stayed in a hotel (air conditioning . . .ahhhhhhh) and got there plenty early. Here we are with our boats (mine is red, hers is purple, both are Valley, hence we were, "Valley Girls").

Mary Mautner.

Kayak Cowgirl.

Of course, ours weren't the only boats there.

Our Boats.

More Boats.

And yet more boats !

After a safety briefing, off we went. The idea was, we'd all paddle down the river and pick up waterproof poker cards along the way. The winning hand(s) would get prizes. While I was the first to turn in a set and had a sixth wild card, the best I could come up with was two pair, a high-low set at that. You WON'T find this Cowgirl gambling in a saloon anytime soon.

The view of the Hudson.

Mary in her plastic Avocet.

My New Boat.
 Longtime readers may know that I've been paddling a Valley Argonaut for three years now, and while I love that boat, it's widely acknowledged as too big for me. It's essentially a high volume Aquanaut, meant for someone about five inches taller and half again as heavy. It's still around and I'll paddle it some more, but I found myself drawn to a newer Valley boat, the Gemini SP.

Now, I won't belabor what you can already look up - the Gemini is so named because there are two variants, the play version and the touring version. This is the former. It's fun, it's responsive, it loves rough water and it's plastic, which means the next time I go rock-hopping, I'm bringing it along.

Passing Bannerman's Castle.

Unlike the last time I was here, the event passed Bannerman's Castle, formerly a storage site for munitions and other goods, until an explosion wrecked it. It's an interesting place to spot along the river, whether kayaking or not.

At the finish line was a lovely yellow folding boat pointing the way in. It was a lovely color against the river valley's green!

While we waited, a themed riverboat went by - a Paddlewheeler for the cure? Nah.

Then we had lunch, and a raffle. This Cowgirl did not fare as well as the last time she was here.

A P-38? How'd that get in the race?

Like bingo, but less comfortable.

Nancy Brous.

One person worth special mention is Nancy Brous, NYC paddler, Vice President of the Hudson River Watertrail Association, and dare I say community activist. Nancy helped organize this event from the beginning, and with support from friends and associates has kept it going five years running.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Dance Card

Hey everyone,
Sorry for the delays in posting - the issue with summer is, that's when all the trips happen!

In the past three weeks I've: bought a new boat, paddled at a fundraiser, taught, fixed up my own boat, taught, explored an interesting patch of water, and led a circumnavigation of Manhattan. Those last three things were the past weekend alone, making it somewhat emblematic of the entire summer.

I've got plenty of photos and videos to share, but like the New Horizons probe, it will take a while to download and process them all. Be patient, buckaroos.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

To the Intrepid

Last weekend I ran a trip to the Intrepid. The Intrepid is a retired US Navy aircraft carrier, situated on the Hudson in midtown and presented as and air, sea, and space museum (complete with recovered space capsule and space shuttle - albeit one that never went into space). You can visit before catching a matinee of Wicked. In any case, it's well within reach of the Pier 40 ranch, especially when you leave on a flood tide.

Paddling along - Empire State Building in Background.

It took no time at all to get there -half an hour or so. We had at least two knots of current with us, and a small, strong group (all women, I should mention). At about 2.5 miles, it took us just about half an hour - the only delay was avoiding a water taxi that decided to pass in front of us after looking like he'd pass port to port and come in behind us.

The Intrepid.

Once there, we saw familiar sights -well familiar to some. One of our group had never been. The facility has a Concorde, an old submarine, and the Intrepid itself. The giant garage on deck in this photo is where they keep the space shuttle.

Well met.

We ran into some familiar faces. Another shop operated directly south of the Intrepid.

Larking About.

We also took group photos.

Now, the Cowgirl noticed her little squad had difficulty moving into position for a good photo, so at this point she started formulating an impromptu lesson plan.

We started on the way back. It would take longer, since the current was slack at best.

The clouds.

We were rather taken by these clouds - puffy near the city, but clearly streaked by some higher-speed winds farther aloft in altitude.

Once past the ferry terminals, we pulled into a little embayment, protected from current and traffic. The issue I'd spotted earlier was the draw stroke - why is this so tricky? It's a simple stroke but requires some precision to be effective. I demonstrated it and had them practice drawing towards and away from each other.

1. Face your work.
2. Vertical shaft, keep the high hand in position.
3. Draw the power face towards you, then slice to recover.

I demonstrated two methods of recovering the blade - that is, getting it back where it needs to be for the next draw.

Then, I gave them a little game. Rescue my ducks! I have copied this from a really great coach I studied with recently. I toss little rubber duckies and tell my students to rescue them. In this case, immediately to the side, so they had to draw to them.

I ought to mention that in keeping with my personal theme, my ducks have cowboy hats. I named them Dale and Roy.

Approaching Chelsea Piers.

With that, we were on our way, paddling uneventfully, and with more current in our favor - almost as if I planned to stop and kill a little time for the current to speed up.

Near Chelsea Piers, I heard on channel 13 a vessel planning to come out. I got the group over to the side, out of the main channel. Sure enough, a brunch cruise sauntered out, the Badeaux Celestial, which never fails to remind me of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus . . .with a brunch deck.

Who has the better cruise?

Down we went, observing more traffic as we went along.


Finally, we came home to Pier 40, our home base. Such a lovely day!

Afterwards, these two clients left and I had a 1-1 lesson with a student from last year. August has blessed us with good weather. After June's rain and July's unbearable humidity, we have heat, buy gentle breezes and plenty of sun. Summer is flying by, but this Cowgirl for one is making the most of it!