Sunday, January 08, 2006

New Year's Day Paddle

Sigh. Beautiful day out there today. Did I get out on the water? No. My drysuit still hasn't reappeared. I think maybe this coming week I may get a little 212 on Kokatat. I have a feeling I missed out on a really nice paddle today and I didn't want to start pestering them too soon but they've had it a month and counting now (although that month did include two weeks of holiday stuff & I imagine that probably slowed things down) and I'm just getting a little crazy with not being able to go. Once again, thank goodness that G-man saved my New Year's Day paddle.

That, btw, was a lovely one & I figured I'd do a trip report with pictures tonight. Virtual paddling is a pathetically pale shadow of actually getting out there, but I started this blog partly to allay cabin fever (yikes, last January, I'm coming up on a year here, hard to believe!).

I'd called for a 2:00 launch. Before I checked the tide tables for the 1st, I'd been hoping for that long-delayed sushi paddle (maybe next week, although I think all my friends just did one a couple of weeks ago during this drysuit-related paddling hiatus of mine so they may not be ready for that just yet) but the way the tides worked out, that was going to need a launch around 10:00 to avoid the dreaded Edgewater Mudflats (which are quite spectacularly nasty - I swear that an eon or so down the pike some futuristic paleontologist is going to find a fossilized kayaker that tried to launch too late in the tide cycle, got sucked down into the oily slimy reeksome ooze there at Edgewater's edge and was never heard from again...) , and on New Year's Day when you know for a fact that people will be out late the night before, that didn't seem realistic. So instead I just called for an afternoon jaunt, no particular destination, just on the water at 2:00, heading north for a couple of hours against the rising ebb, then turning around & getting whirled back home again around sunset.

And that's just what happened.

Here we are heading around the corner of Pier 64, the derelict piershed just to the north of where most of us keep our kayaks (we are getting a growing contingent of Pier 40 people though, which is nice!). I wonder now how much longer that old piershed will be there - there's a barge with a crane just north of there; it's condemned & slated for demolition at some point. Think I've said before - I'll miss it. It's ghostly looking - but it's also a sheltering presence, calming the waters beside Pier 63.

Hmmm, we seem to have a bit of a traffic jam here. Once they got themselves sorted out (amidst a lot of laughter) we started north, paddling hard. I was worried that I was going to be back into my fighting-with-the-drysuit mode, but I did get some good paddling in before I shipped the thing off, and I have actually been hitting the gym reluctantly but regularly, and I found I was moving a lot better than I'd expected to. Dang that was a nice surprise.

It had rained quite a lot the week leading up to New Year's Eve, snowing a bit on New Year's Eve day - this always leads to a lot of crap in the water. I think that this qualifies as the single largest piece of flotsam I've ever seen wandering around loose in the river. It's actually a camel - this is not quite a dock, but large timbers fastened together to make a float which is then generally left in place beside a pier where it serves as sort of a big fender between a large ship & the pier. All jokes about runaway camels aside, this is actually a really nasty thing to have running around loose in the harbor, particularly after dark when it would be pretty difficult to spot from, say, a fast-moving water taxi (wince).

Here's a pier that I've been watching slowly collapse, right before the garbage barge pier (ok I know that's an unnattractive name, used to bum the MKC founder out no end that I'd call it that but that's what it is, so that's what I call it). Back when the Hudson was dead from pollution, the pilings that supported all the piers lasted an unnaturally long time because there were none of the little critters that like to eat pilings (shipworms, teredos and gribbles, oh my!). Now they're back with a hearty appetite & between them & the odd runaway camel, a pier left to itself will gradually start collapsing. It's a very slow process. I wish I'd thought to take a series of pictures of the area at the end of Pier 64, which is the one I've watched the most closely as it slowly crumbles. The new piers in the Hudson River Park all stand on concrete pilings but many of the piling fields that remain from former piers are being left as they provide habitat for a lot of creatures.

Here's Tom at the Melted Piers. This is an old pier that was abandoned, then burned, leaving nothing but a twisted iron skeleton. There used to be two of these, and the other one was even more surreal-looking - this one just looks like it went down on its' knees on one side - the other one, the heat must have been even more intense because the girders actually went soft and bent, leaving a blackened tangle of iron spaghetti. The New York Times, I think it was, once did a story on those piers, talking about how fascinating-looking they were, but still slated for demolition; in one of those funny-sad moments, Adrien Benape, the NYC parks commissioner, wrote to say that he actually thought they were wonderful & that he had no intention of having them torn down - he was still relatively new at the time, I guess, because it turned out that things had already been set in motion & it was too late to stop the demolition of the more melted of the two. One day a couple of years ago I paddled up there & there was a barge there; within days they'd dismantled the fascinating wreckage and left. I wonder if Mr. Benape managed to get a stay of execution for this one - I hope so.

Still heading north at the 79th St. Boat Basin. This barge made life very interesting there - it was getting pretty close to low water here (which in our peculiar piece of water means max ebb, not slack as common sense would want it to be), so we were already paddling pretty quickly to make headway (the Hudson at max ebb runs about 3 knots - nautical miles per hour - when it's going at it's fastest; 3 knots also being the accepted "average touring speed of a trained paddler", you get the picture, right?), and when you throw a big, bulky obstruction in the middle of that, the water goes even faster getting around it. Took a lot of focus; this was one of those situations you sometimes find on the Hudson where you have just GOT to concentrate & not slack off for a second 'cause if you do, in that second you'll lose ground that took minutes to gain (Lyn actually found herself being pushed backwards for a moment, which hasn't happened to here in ages - and I was last of course because I must have lost twenty yards just taking this picture! Particularly dicey coming around the end - this was not a manuever I would have tried with beginners period (of course then I wouldn't have beginners out on forty degree water in the first place). I may expand on this in a post later this week, it'll be kind of esoteric for non-paddlers but I think it's kind of interesting how it all works.

Lyn & Dan charging on past Grant's Tomb (OK, I better not have to tell anybody who's buried there - at least if you aren't from Sweden or Malaysia or something...of course my friend from Spain -- Wenley at OnKayaks -- on the other hand probably knows more about Ulysses S. Grant than 95% of US citizens) - we had a little water break to catch our collective breath, now we're moving well again, but we're pretty close to our turnaround here.

And here are Dan, Tom & Lyn at said turnaround. I think we all still felt pretty good but the plan was to get back before we had to break out the deck lights -

and as you can see here in this shot of Carl (slightly to my south), we're getting a little bit of a sunset tint in that line of clear air between the clouds and the horizon! So, it's time to head for home...

But first I decide that I want to wish the fish a Happy New Year! Ordinarily, I strongly prefer doing my winter rolling right at the end of a paddle, when I'm feet away from the dock and yards away from a warm room with dry clothing - but this time I make an exception, I've been quite comfortable temperature-wise during this paddle, I'm with a very competent crew of people, I put my thick neoprene immersion hood on, and frankly the water up here is a LOT nicer than the water down at Pier 63, which didn't look rollable at all...of course the thing is that what's gonna getcha on these post-rain days isn't the stuff you can see, it's the stuff you can't see. Nevertheless, it looked enough better up here that as I mentioned, I indulged in 3 rolls on both sides. Most satisfying! As I mentioned, the water temperature really prompted me to concentrate on form; I started by sculling down to get used to the water & make sure the hood was properly adjusted, then went for (and got) nice, clean, slow sweep rolls. Ahhhh. A fine way to start the year!

We set off for home again & just as planned, the strong ebb simply whips us home - we're pulling in back at the barge before twilight.

Post-paddle sushi tasted simply splendid - all in all, a great start to 2006!

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