Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Manhattan circumnavigation

The past week has been busy with reading proofs for my new book, communicating with the contributors to the volume, and, now, getting ready to prepare the index. Still, it has not been all work. Last Saturday I went on a kayak circumnavigation of Manhattan. The photo at the top shows part of our group launching from Pier 40 in Manhattan in the early a.m. That's my friend Rose in front, with whom I often kayak, and New Jersey across the Hudson River in the background. And the glorious photograph and the others below (including one of myself) is by kayaking pal David Gottlieb, who is also a photographer extraordinaire. Last year I did another circumnav, and David's photos were just as splendid. I wish I could take pictures like that myself, but I've learned my lesson. Last year, landing at South Beach on Staten Island, my kayak was caught in a rip current and turned over, drenching me and everything that was not in the hatch, which included my non-waterproof camera.

Kayaking is something I only got involved in about six years ago, and there is no way I will ever reach beyond my current BCU2 level. I simply don't have the time, and, if I had my druthers, I would really prefer to spend lazy afternoons on a lake or lazily paddling down a quiet river, as in the small figure in the painting here, which I saw in Chelsea this spring -- and, unforgivably, I don't know the name of the German painter. I will find it, however, and correct the omission, but suffice it to say at the moment that the river in question in the Fulda.

Paddling in an urban area like Manhattan, however, you get kind of tough and macho and push yourself to newer feats. Last year, several of us paddled to the Verrazano Bridge and beyond, hoping to land at Swinburne Island, but at a certain point past Staten Island you start to feel you are really in the ocean, and there was no way we were able to put in on the island. That's when we turned back and landed instead on South Beach, where I had my encounter with the rip current. This year, my goal is to paddle north to the Tappan Zee Bridge, about a forty-mile paddle. The trip has to be timed to catch the currents right, and what makes the trip more unpredictable in summer is that, even if you have the current on your return -- and the ebb current is really stronger in the Hudson than the flood -- you are likely to encounter south winds, which means you can face gigantic swells.

That's what happened on the circumnav on Saturday. According to Phil, another kayak buddy who keeps a track of these things by GPS, we covered 30.1 statute miles, with an average speed of 4.7 mph -- and a maximum speed of 9.6 mph. All was well through the 27-mile mark, but at 125th Street, about a mile south of the George Washington Bridge, we crashed into strong south winds that pushed three- to five-foot swells against the current. The picture below gives an idea of how rough the river was.

Before those swells set in, however, there were sights to see, and even a break at Hallets Cove in Queens. By the way, I should add that I have fond memories of Pier 40, where we launched at 7 a.m. on Saturday. Pier 40 was where, as a girl of eighteen, I caught a ship of the Holland-American Line, for my first trip to Europe. I had come to New York, where I actually stayed in a hotel by myself. I had a friend from college, with whom I had gone to see a Broadway play the night before, Oliver! The next morning, leaving my hotel, I caught a cab and told the driver, "Pier 40." It was like saying, "Grand Central Station." Everyone knew what Pier 40 meant, and I often think of that first European trip when I bike past Pier 40. The ocean liners don't berth there anymore, but it is the site of various boating activities, including the Downtown Boathouse, where I am a volunteer.

UPDATE (9/9/11): The painting above of a kayaker on the Fulda River in Germany is by Silke SchÖner, whose exhibition I visited back in May at the Dillon Gallery in Manhattan. Sometimes it helps to clean off one's desk.

1 comment:

Vlad Brezina said...

Enjoyed reading your Manhattan circumnavigation story and the rest of your blog!

Paddle to the Tappan Zee Bridge? Let me know when and we'll do it! :-)

(BTW, it's more like a 50-mile paddle...)

Vlad Brezina