Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Trip Reports x2 - Chelsea to Yonkers & home again!

Decided to do trip reports tonight, Chelsea to Yonkers & back!:
Trip 1 - Chelsea to Yonkers:
Date: 5/19/05
High Water at the Battery: 5:21 AM
Launch Time: 4:00 AM
Destination: Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club
Purpose of Trip: Deliver kayak to Yonkers to get ride to Hudson Valley Kayak Symposium
Notable Stupidity Involved: Goal - to deliver kayak to Yonkers & catch 7:39 train back to NYC. Plan was that the 7:39 would get me to Grand Central Terminal by 8:15, and to work early enough to go take a shower in the company gym (ha, now wouldn't that have been nice). Also left 2 more plausible trains to catch - 8:01, arr GCT 8:37 - still enough time to be at work a little early (maybe still time for a 2-minute throwing of self through hot running water), or the 8:17, arr 8:50, dash into work a little late (boss had been alerted to insanity - I've been working until 7 or 8 on a regular basis so 10 minutes late was sort of ok as long as he had a heads-up)
Non-Negotiable Self-Indulgence: I arranged car service to take me to the pier. Trying to get there by subway at that hour of the morning would've been taken the whole venture a little further into the realm of sheer masochism than I would ever require of myself.

See what all you non-urban people with cars are spared? Subways, Metro-Norths, getting up at oh-dark-thirty to paddle your kayak almost 13 nautical miles before work simply to get it to someplace you can hitch a ride to a weekend event, worrying about getting mistaken for a terrorist at 4:30 in the morning?

ok...actually it was kind of fun. Plus when I think about the environmental karma points I must be racking up for using public transportation for almost everything...

Best Laid Plans Etc. Points of Trip (aka Isn't It Lucky I Left Myself 2 Possibly 3 Trains To Catch?)(aka Hope I Didn't Give Anyone at Work A Complex With My 10-Yard Personal Space)(actually there were only 2 less-than-fine things, really):
1. Headwind. The forecast had said something about NW winds 10 - 15 kts. That's manageable - and I had hopes that that early, maybe it would still be quiet - sometimes the early hours can be the calmest. Not this time. Naturally, as I was on something of a genuine deadline, the Wind Gods chose to have some fun with me as is their wont. The minute I ventured out from the shelter of the derelict piershed at Pier 64, there it was - 15 knots, steady, NNE or so, strraight down the river & right in my face every inch of those 13 nautical miles. No point in crossing even if I weren't very leery of solo crossings especially at night (not crazy about them during the day even - better to cross in a more visible group). Would've been GREAT sailing weather. Ha. Anyways, aside from the extra effort of paddling into a headwind, the other thing that really sucked about that wind is that a steady wind from the north will make the current change sooner than normal - that's just a given, you work with it. I'd timed my launch to give me the strongest part of the flood, hoping to be up to Yonkers before the current turned - but it felt like it hit slack somewhere around Spuyten Duyvil at the north end of Manhattan, so the last 3 miles were against a building current. You can still make headway sneaking along the bank though - there's always a forgiving zone along the edge. I used that.

The other unplanned delay was waiting for a tug & barge. One reason I decided to go with such an early start is that there's not a lot of traffic that early in the morning (I definitely beat the morning rush hour when 16 ferries are trying to get into & out of 4 slips at 38th st). However, commercial traffic goes on all night, and as it turned out, there was a tug & another vessel of some type moving around a barge that appeared to be moored at or near the end of the northernmost pier in the passenger ship terminals. This was an interesting situation - first of all, you have to be incredibly careful of tugs & barges, especially at the hour of morning I was travelling when no one would be looking for a lone kayak, even a well-lit one (I use a split red/green fore & a couple of white lights aft, but I always operate under the assumption that I'm completely invisible & it's my job to stay out of the way anyways, ten times so in this case). Secondly, there's a 100 yard security zone around the passenger ship terminals - legally I had to go around outside it. Now, I was carrying a VHF radio tuned to 13, the harbor channel. I could have admitted to existing & asked what they were up to & whether I'd have time to go around them - but as a rule, I really prefer to stay quiet & leave the talking to the professionals - just having the radio on usually gives you a good picture of who's doing what, and where, especially if you know your area & the habits of the boats that frequent it fairly well. In this case, I hung around on the south end of the zone trying to judge what they were up to. Finally, after 10 minutes or so of indecisively watching the big boys waltzing around, I was about to ask if I could go around, but just then my VHF crackled to life with a "Securite, securite, this is the Tug American Patriot with barge at the passenger ship terminal heading for the channel & putting it on the wire, southbound for the Narrows". OK, that answered that. That meant I needed to get my little tiny butt out of any possible southbound trajectory that this guy might take. So...well, ordinarily I am the most law-abiding security-zone respecting paddler you'd ever hope to find but in this case, the absolute fastest place to go, with the current still moving north at a good clip was actually to just tuck myself in between the first 2 piers of the complex until they went past. A security guard saw me come in and came over very promptly, and before he could say ANYTHING I apologized profusely for being there & explained that I was just getting myself well out of the way of the barge that was heading out. He stayed to chat, or to keep an eye on me, or both, until the barge was gone & I went on my way.

Once again the waterproof Standard Horizon HX460S VHF radio paid for itself. They're expensive but to be able to listen in to what the big guys are doing & be able to stay the hell out of their way? Can't put a price on that. I wouldn't have dreamed of doing this trip without it.

That was absolutely the only other traffic I had to deal with that early, though. There were other barges, but they were all out in the channel & I was well out of the channel & life was good.

Anyways, those were the only 2 aspects of the trip that weren't quite perfect. In the case of the wind, hey, what can you do. In the case of the barge, ditto, and well worth waiting to see what they were going to do. Even with those delays, I was still on the 8:17 to Grand Central!

High points -
Being on the water at sunrise is always something very special.
Hearing the swallows twittering their good-mornings to each other. Barn swallows are quite common along the waterfront, and aside from being wonderful to watch flying (I saw one swooping & diving & surfing in a corner behind a building one windy day - I could absolutely swear that bird had found himself or herself the aerial equivalent of a whitewater "hole" and was "throwing down"!) I also just love the way they talk to each other - it's all twittering, but the range of twitters is so great they really sound like they are carrying on these very intense, involved conversations with each other. These guys like to perch on the Adirondack's whisker stays (the two steel cables that run from the sides of the boat to the tip of the bowsprit) - they just sit there & cheerfully talk to each other & you can't help but smile at how sociable they are. To hear them twittering away at each other up at the World Yacht Pier at 4:30 in the morning? Well, that was neat.
Mama duck, up around Ludlow, whisking her ducklings around a corner and into a hidden nook of a waterfront structure (er, ok, it was a really stinky sewage treatment plant - this IS urban paddling, sometimes you get pew-stinky along with your adorable widdle fuzzy ducklings) and then doing an absolutely wonderful broken-wing impression to lead me away from them. I didn't know ducks did that! Sadly a little while later I saw a Canada goose moving away from me in a similar style only I don't think that one was play-acting - Canada geese are big enough that if you are bothering their young'uns, they don't muck around with trying to lead you away - there was actually something very exhausted-looking about the way this one moved away, too, and I felt bad that I scared it.
Paddling under the blooming paulownia trees on the bank of the river - sadly, these are not an endemic species & the jury's still out on whether they are invasive or sort of OK as introduced species go, but boy, they are pretty.
Watching a tug & barge heading north along the Palisades, shining in the sunshine - I can't remember which company it is but there's a certain tugboat company that paints its' boats in this very sharp-looking red and tan livery, barges too - they just look downright spiffy out there.
And (heh heh heh, I lose karma points for this one) there was definitely a guilty ha-ha sort of pleasure in watching the Metro-North trains heading to NYC & thinking about all those commuters watching me gliding along on the river as they head off to work & wishing they were me(how would they ever guess that I was going to be a few trains behind 'em and using my lunch hour to take a nap - that was the cost of such a nice morning).

The trip back down was MUCH less eventful. That was Memorial Day. Jack & a few other folks from Yonkers were planning a trip south on Memorial Day anyhow - I just jumped in on that. Jack told me to just get myself there by 10:00 - there was a 9:30 train that got there at 9:51. Perfect. Even got a good night's sleep. OK, had to fight some current at the end but worth it for non-insane start time for once! The day was absolutely gorgeous - I wanted to get a waterproof single-roll camera but the Rite-Aid in Grand Central was closed. There was at least one moment when I really regretted that - the water was so calm up by Yonkers in the morning, and we crossed straight over to the Palisades, and at one moment I looked to my right and there were the three women from the YPRC, paddling with verve, evenly spaced, bows cutting strongly through the water, forming a perfect angle - a bright blue boat, a red-orange boat, and a yellow boat - there was just something about the primary tones of the boats, and the symmetry, that was just stunning. Made me wish I'd been able to get that camera.

We saw a hawk along the Palisades - only in sight for a moment but fun to see; lots of ducks and geese; a white egret who was perched on a pile of rocks, evidently done with his morning fishing & just enjoying the sun; and lots and lots of homo sapiens at play along the banks (including a very dignified-looking gentleman in black trousers & a white dress shirt, serenading the world in general with a soulful saxophone rendition of "Over the Rainbow"). The women turned back shortly after we got to Edgewater, south of the George Washington Bridge - they'd planned to make a shorter trip of it but it was nice to meet them, the Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club really has some nice, pleasant, laid-back members - while Jack & Bob & I continued down. I was very glad Jack & Bob came with me - it was Fleet Week (we had 2 flyovers, 1 by modern jets, the other by some vintage prop planes, that was cool) and a beautiful day on the river, so of course every motorboat within driving distance had come to look at the Navy ships (got pretty bouncy with all those wakes sloshing around chaotically!) - my particular piece of the Hudson was about a hundred times busier than I've seen it since last year (you forget, having the place to yourself over the winter, how many motorboats & jet skis there are - and those STUPID cigarette boats, ugh, that's the one kind of recreational craft about which I actually see no redeeming features, they must have one of their races coming up 'cause there are a lot in the harbor right now & there usually aren't that many, thank goodness). They seemed to travel in packs - I actually wonder if they plan excursions the way my Pier 63 paddling friends do - and there were clear breaks where there was less traffic, but even so, it was nice to have some company for the crossing.

Good to have my Romany back home.

It's funny how much more detail I remember from the trip up. I really do pay much closer attention to things when I'm paddling solo.

One other random thought - it's amazing how much having to get to work at a certain time changes the overall tenor of a trip. The northbound trip had it's moments - but there was no time to relax & enjoy. I enjoyed, yes, but with the exception of one Balance Bar stop when I started feeling like I was running on empty, I enjoyed at a very steady cruising pace, NO breaktime!

Anyways, as I said nice to have my boat back home again - this week's going to be nuts again at work & if I can sneak in some time on the river, that will do a lot for my sanity. Sigh.

I do feel like I should close with a word about paddling alone as I had to for my Yonkers delivery. Seriously - it's much smarter & safer to paddle with other people. I'm experienced, conditions were good, and I know the area I was paddling very well, but even so I took precautions like calling the Coast Guard the night before to let them know my plans (mostly 'cause around here a solo kayak at 4 am could just raise suspicions & the best way to be REALLY late for work would be to get myself pulled over for questioning - although I do have the advantage of looking pretty harmless) and carrying a VHF that was on & tuned to the harbor channel until I was well clear of all the commercial vessel piers (and really glad of that, too).

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