Monday, July 16, 2007

Beaches of New York Harbor

The weekend was wonderfully waterborne; Saturday, I joined the New Members Paddle at Sebago; we went to Ruffle Bar & back & then ordered pizza & scarfed & schmoozed. A good time, as they say, was had by all. Sunday, I'd happily accepted an invitation to get back out on the Hudson for an afternoon's sail on the Rosemary Ruth. Conditions were beautiful & the tides were right for us to sail all the way down to the mouth of the Gowanus Canal. Perfectly lovely day for sailboats - and my gosh did the harbor seem to be crawling with schooners! I think one of these days I want to do a "Schooners of New York Harbor" post. And I will definitely be doing a post with some pictures from the weekend.

Neither of those will fit within a lunch hour, though. Instead, this afternoon I wanted to mention Beaches of New York Harbor!

Although Manhattan IS an island, it's not one of those islands that's famed "in song and story" for it's miles of palm-bordered beaches. Mostly 'cause it hasn't GOT any palm-bordered beaches. Unless you really stretch it & count the phony Coney Island palms (oh, yeah, and those are in Brooklyn). The bulk of the Manhattan shoreline is, in fact, bulkhead; for the first few years of my life in NYC I simply assumed that the waterways surrounding Manhattan had to be horribly polluted because everywhere I walked to the shoreline, I saw promenades, with railings, then steep stone walls dropping down to the green water. Having grown up in Hawaii, with the whole public right-of-way thing, I just figured that if there weren't ways for people to get to the water, that must mean that there's something bad about the water.

I am of course very happy to have been wrong in this case.

And once I found that out, and began exploring New York City's waterways by kayak, I started to find out that in addition to the "official" places where people can get to the water, there are all sorts of little places where a reasonably coordinated person could, in a real pinch, get off the water. Some of these are just places where the seawall becomes a little less forbidding, but you'll also find, tucked into odd corners & nooks, little scraps of beaches.

That's where the local knowledge really makes paddling safer and more enjoyable. Without them, you end up having distances between possible landings that, while manageable by an even somewhat experienced paddler under ordinary conditions, can become formidable should something go wrong. Less dramatically, they also give paddlers spots to break for lunch, wait for the current to change in their favor, or just stretch their legs.

Of course, this being New York City, and access involving the sort of issues I write about here frequently, our ability to use those beaches is NOT a given. The Beaches of New York Harbor website I linked to above was built and maintained by one of our more active local paddlers, Rob Buchanan. Earlier this year he & a group who were rowing a Whitehall gig had planned to take a break on one of his favorite little beaches, the one beneath the Brooklyn Bridge on Manhattan's East Side. They got chased off by the New York Harbor Police in no uncertain terms - they were warned that if they landed, their "trip would be terminated". Being in a borrowed boat, indulging in a bit of low-key civil disobedience was not an option, so they rowed on - but Rob wasn't just going to let that go.

He's been working very hard to bring people's attention to those little landings (he calls them "soft edges"), their usefulness for paddlers, and so when the ability to use one of them is challenged, he's good about spreading the word. He's putting together a request to the group that gave the NYPD the instructions that no boats were to land on that beach (the Empire State Development Corporation, which is early on in planning some uses for that stretch of waterfront) asking them to reconsider their policy - that just reminded me that his site would be a good one to link to!

He frequently mentions the Public Trust Doctrine. This is a concept that most people who take up paddling become familiar with fairly quickly - it involves the very old idea that "the seashore and the seas constitute a common heritage and that they ought to be open to all."

You can read about that here.

That's all I've got time for now. Hope you enjoy checking out Rob's site!

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