Sunday, February 19, 2017
Back to the Seals - another paddle to visit the seals at Swinburne!
I can hardly believe that it's been a month since I got to help organize a paddle with friends from Sebago and the North Brooklyn Boat Club to go see the seals who've chosen Swinburne Island in the lower harbor as their winter home. It ended up being a truly amazing paddle, there was no wind at all and shortly after we set out, snow began to fall heavily enough that compasses came in very handy. When we got to Swinburne, curious seals were popping their heads up out of the glassy calm water to check us out all over the place! Sealwatching paddles are funny that way, they wouldn't be nearly as much fun if the seals weren't evidently nearly as interested in watching paddlers as the paddlers are in watching seals.
The North Brooklyn folks were the ones to first suggest that trip, and in addition to seeing the seals,they were interested in seeing Coney Island Creek (specifically the Yellow Submarine) and getting in a little mileage, so we launched from Kaiser Park at the western end of Coney. This meant crossing the lower harbor from Coney Island to Staten Island a little ways below the Verrazano Narrows, which makes for a trip requiring rock-solid intermediate skills under good conditions. You are crossing a major shipping channel, the tidal currents can be very strong, and if the wind kicks up, you can get some very large chop building up very quickly while you're out there. Our forecast in January was for pretty much no wind, which was great (and part of why I was so eager to make it happen); our main weather problem was the low visibility caused by the snow, which we were able to handle. The other main challenge with that version of the paddle was that Swinburne and Hoffman are not takeout friendly, so anyone who wanted to go along had to be sure that they would be comfortable in their boat for the duration of the trip. With all of that, the group that ended up coming along was limited to more experienced paddlers.
Fortunately for those who would've liked to come but didn't feel comfortable with that day's float plan, Steve H. (Sebago's "Paddling Chef", I've blogged about many great paddles with him, love paddling with him!) decided that it would be fun to run a quieter version of the same trip, launching from Staten Island and cutting out the whole channel-crossing ringmarole. He'd first tried to do it the day after the longer one in January (I was fine with that, I kind of liked the idea of two levels of paddle going on the same weekend) but he'd decided to try just a day or two before the weekend, and I guess people already had plans, because it didn't go off. I was hoping he would give it another try, and when the weather forecast starting showing some really nice weather for the President's Day weekend, he did! This time he got the notice out much earlier in the week, and we had a great crew go out today. It was a special treat to paddle with Sebago commodore emeritus Phil G again - he and his wife moved out of NYC a few years back and he now primarily paddles with the excellent Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, and we all miss him at Sebago - and he brought his signature Fig Newtons to share, just like the good old days! So much fun.
The weather was amazing, the sky was a glorious blue with wispy clouds, the sun sparkled on the surface, the water wasn't quite glassy this time but I don't think the winds even got up to the low end of the 7 to 11 kts I'd seen when I checked the forecast last night, and yes, the seals were as inquisitive about us as they'd been in January. In fact when we rafted up for an on-water lunch break, they seemed to get especially curious - we don't know if they were more comfortable with us when we were all sitting still in one place, or if the noise of our hulls bumping together got their attention, but it seemed like all through that break, there were always at least two or three little round heads in sight, and they got a little closer than they'd been when we were underway. We paddled about 5 miles all told and were on the water for about 2 and a half hours - with the cruising speed of a trained kayaker generally being about 3 knots per hour, that will tell you how much time we spent just sitting and looking! What a wonderful day.
Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the day. Click any picture for a slideshow view. For more, click here to visit my Flickr album.