Serious. Urban. Kayaking. Our circumnavigation of NYC.

We Beat Manhattan, all 31 miles of it.  It was hot, windy, smelly, humid, sometimes scary and very tiring. We paddled our kayaks the entire way around Manhattan Island, in a day.  My buddy Loren (who you may remember from the last post as getting his SUV seriously stuck in the mud) and I have been meaning to do this trip for a while now.  I honestly don't remember who came up with the idea, but I'm going to give it to him, since he is the NYC resident.      

Waking the fleet up early for our adventure.  The resurrected CRV loaded down.

Our adventure plans hadn't been working out recently, since I have been spending a lot of free time remodeling our recent home purchase.  I had a wedding to attend on the 12th, north of the city, so I got in touch with Loren, and he agreed we should try to make this adventure finally happen while I was in town.  The weather wasn't looking great, strong thunderstorms and high winds were forecast for the entire weekend, but I decided to bring along the boat anyway - with the hopes the weather would improve.  By saturday afternoon the chance of thunderstorms was down to 10%, but the temperatures were suppose to be in upper 90's, and the sun was going to be shining.  A brutal outlook for spending all day on the water (water you shouldn't swim in) without shade.

Cruising to our put in at Newtown Creek, from Brooklyn.  The highway was oddly quiet at 530 AM.

Sloane and I arrived in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon, after having way to much fun at our friend's wedding, and sleeping less that 5 hours.  It was hot, like melt the deodorant in your bag hot.  We met up with a few good friends in the neighborhood, who like most folks in NYC, don't have central AC and were doing their best to stay cool.  We immediately went out for lunch, at a sushi place that was guaranteed to be cool, and the food was good too.  After lunch we headed to the park to sit under a tree and wish for a cool breeze that never really came.  After an amazing casual dinner at a local restaurant, Hugo & Sons, I said goodbye to our friends and Sloane (she took a train home the following day) and headed for Loren's place down the road. I had planned on going to bed early and getting a good nights sleep to rest up for the big trip. Instead I got to Loren's at 11, and stayed up until 12 planning and getting gear ready.

At the boat launch, just in time for sunrise.

After 4.5 hours of sleep, we were up and packing coolers for the long day ahead.  As with most of our adventures, the first stop was McDonald's to get some greasy breakfast sandwiches to start the day off right.  We then ran around to a few different gas stations looking for one that sold ice, which it turns out is a difficult thing to find in NYC.  We finally found bags of ice at the third store we visited, and we were off to the put in.  I didn't do much research on the put in, just that there was a small portage, water access, and that it was pretty much where we wanted to start our trip according to the Eldridge current chart - which you will want to study if you plan to do this trip.  Here is a link to another blog that I found incredibly helpful, having never paddled anywhere in the city before.  Here is a list of launches all around the city, read the descriptions carefully! 

At the boat "launch".  This was a gate, a straight drop into the seriously polluted water at least 4 feet down, and a pool ladder to help get in and out of your boat.  Not ideal, but at least we had water access.

The Empire State building from the water on Newtown Creek.

About to hit the East River.

We were loaded and on the water by 6:15 AM, a few minutes late, but given the lack of sleep we thought it was pretty good.  The most crucial goal of the day was to be a Hell Gate at slack tide.  This is a notoriously hard section of water to navigate on the East River, and I'm guessing damn near impossible to do against the current in a kayak.  The current reaches 4 knots here regularly.  With 3.5 miles to go from the landing, and slack tide at 7:30 AM, we were in a bit of a hurry to get there.  As we planned, the current was with us, moving north up the East River, toward Hell Gate.  It was a good feeling to know we had gotten the first piece of the puzzle correct.

Loren and the city, the UN is just to the left of him.

At the tip of Roosevelt Island, and the beginning of Hell Gate, so glassy.

We made it to Hell Gate right on time, and it was a smooth paddle over glassy waters - it couldn't have gone better, we didn't even have to deal with boat traffic, we had the river all to ourselves.  For a look at what the currents can do in this section when the tide is moving - check out this video - click ahead to 40 seconds in to see some sail boats getting tossed around.

Loren all smiles after a smooth ride through Hell Gate, Wards Island Pedestrian bridge is above him.

After we passed through Hell Gate, we were now in the Harlem River, the narrowest body of water we would paddle all day.  This part of the trip was nice and relaxing, aside from a few groups of jet skiers, there was no real boat traffic.  After passing by the Bronx and Yankee stadium, the surroundings opened up a bit and we were rewarded with trees, and the site of other boaters - we were starting to wonder if we would see anyone else paddling on this trip. The currents changed according to the charts, and we were slowly but surely being pushed towards the mighty Hudson River.

Keeping hydrated, about to pass under the RFK bridge in the Harlem River.

Demshitz in the Harlem river, near the Bronx? Those of you who are white water boaters will know this, for the rest this will make no sense at all.

Passing by Yankee Stadium.  Still a glassy ride.

Passing by Yankee Stadium.  Still a glassy ride.

A crew of folks learning to row on the Harlem River.  We must've passed at least 5 of these groups, all coming from the Peter J Sharp Boathouse.  It was good to see some other paddlers. One of those bridges is I-95.

Loren making the bend into Spuyten Duyvil Creek, at the Marble Hill station.

Loren making the bend into Spuyten Duyvil Creek, at the Marble Hill station.

At the very north end of the Harlem River is a really pretty area called Spuyten Duyvill Creek, which apparently translates to "spitting devil".  This creek empties into, or is fed by, the Hudson River, and the current gets a little dicey going through the narrow mouth of it.  It is also home to the sports complex for Columbia University, including their boathouse. 

Enjoying some shade near Columbia's boat house, on Spuyten Duyvil creek.  The big C is for Columbia University.

By 10 AM we had reached the entrance to the Hudson River.  The sun was getting high in the sky, and we were feeling the heat.  We decided to stop and eat lunch in a shaded cove before leaving the peaceful calm of Spuyten Duyvil, right beside the Amtrak.  The mud was thick, and it definitely had a smell about it, but it sure felt good to stand up after 12 miles of paddling and almost 4 hours of sitting.  We rested for half an hour or so, watched the Amtrak go speeding by and witnessed the bridge swing 90 degrees to allow two smaller boats to pass.  

Lunch at the mouth of Spuyten Duyvill Creek.

After a decent break, we loaded our gear up and climbed back into our boats for our journey down the much larger Hudson River.  The currents again lined up with our schedule and were pushing us swiftly down the Hudson to the Battery.  The water here was a lot less glassy and much more turbulent.  There is a ton of boat traffic in this waterway, and it gets more and more intense the closer you get to the Battery.  I decided that we needed more drinking water, so we made a quick pit stop at the marina at the north end of Manhattan.  I walked into the bar at the marina with my PFD and smelly shoes like it was normal, but apparently it is not.  The bartender was not very friendly, and informed me (after seriously judging what I was wearing) that they weren't open for another half an hour and he couldn't sell me water.  Luckily his co-worker was a bit more friendly, and decided he would help me out.  18 dollars later we had ourselves some ice cold bottled water, and I was much less worried we would get dehydrated.   After going through this water ordeal, I realized at the end of the marina was a kayak rental place, I'm sure this would have been a more friendly place to get some hydration.  

Approaching the George Washington Bridge, which carries I-95 over the Hudson River.

Looking back at the GW after passing under it.

Cruise ships are big. 

We reached the Intrepid museum at 1:30, this is pretty much directly across Manhattan from where we had started our trip, 7 hours ago.  We had paddled 21 miles at this point and were 2/3's of the way done.  Right above the cruise ship we pulled out on a small floating dock that was designated a kayak launch.  We hid in the tiny piece of shade under the ramp that went from the seawall down to the dock and ate a second lunch, amongst goose shit and used syringes - our first lunch spot was so much better.  Needless to say we didn't stay long at this particular spot, and were back on the water as soon as the sandwiches were gone.  The next 5.5 miles were the most hectic and nervous miles of the day.   

Loren passing the Chelsea Piers.

The water in this area was never calm, and I took very few photographs here, since I didn't feel stable enough to leave my camera out of the waterproof bag.  The wakes from large ferries, yachts, police cruisers and cruise ships would sneak up on us from half a mile away and crash over our decks.  We learned to time them, but when they are coming from all directions, it is hard to avoid.  We pretty much paddled along the edges of the piers, trying to stay out of the way of all the heavy traffic. 

Self portrait in the side of a mega yacht.

Approaching the battery.

Loren and lady liberty.

Directly after this shot, we headed around the last sheltered area on the Hudson, and quickly turned back around.  The wind was blowing hard and boat wakes were breaking over our decks every few seconds.  We headed back to the last cove we had passed, and discussed the best way to tackle this.  I put on my spray skirt and found out at the same time Loren had neglected to bring his.  We noticed that when we were close to the seawall of the battery, the waves would reverberate off the wall and back towards us, causing all sorts of turbulence - so we decided to stay further away from the wall, at least 100 yards. We discussed what we would do incase of a capsize, and that I would lead around the first bend.  

The plan was going well, and it seemed the wind had died down a bit.  Then Loren passed me, and began to pull away from me.  I continued on at my own pace, keeping a careful eye on all the boats in the harbor and which way they were heading.  The further away Loren got from me, the more dangerous our situation became.  If one of us were to capsize, it would take a considerable amount of time for the other to reach him.  Loren was not thinking this way, and just wanted to get across the battery and the East River to shore as fast as possible - which we both did without incident, thankfully.  He pulled into a small beach near Montague street, while my route took me further up the East River to a floating dock, closer to the Brooklyn Bridge Park.  I landed and called Loren to let him know where I was, and to yell at him for leaving me behind. He hopped back in his boat and paddled up to find me.  After a few angry exchanges about how dangerous what he did was, and him explaining that he had to go as fast as possible because he was worried about capsizing - we worked it out and were back to paddling the final 4 miles of our trip.  

Loren and the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.

Going under the Williamsburg Bridge.

Once we were in the East River, the wind and current were on our side, and they pushed us quickly back toward Newtown creek and our take out.  The boat traffic slowed considerably once we got passed the Brooklyn Bridge, and we were once again able to relax.

Graffiti at the mouth of Newtown creek.  This is how we both felt.

Loren using his umbrella as a sail heading to the landing.  We brought umbrellas along to provide shade, but by the time we wanted to use them, the water was way to turbulent to hold onto one and your paddle, so this was the only use they got.

As we made the turn into Newtown creek, we opened some semi-cold beers we had been saving all day and had a victory toast.  31 miles in 10 hours.  We arrived back at the landing at 4:45 and began the difficult process of getting our boats and gear from the water to the car.

Loren climbing the ladder at the "landing" on Newtown Creek.

Victory photo.

We got our gear loaded pretty quickly and headed back to Loren's place. All we wanted to do was go get food, but we smelled way to bad to be out in public, so opted for quick showers before eating.  We ended up at a bar in Loren's neighborhood that served Mexican food from the restaurant above it.  We sat at the bar, watching some serious storm clouds roll in - thankful they had held off - and devoured our food.  We were back at Loren's before the sun went down and I quickly fell asleep on the couch, feeling like I was till bobbing in the harbor when I closed my eyes.  It was a very uneventful evening and sleep was the top priority.  I was up early the next day to head back to Baltimore and was home by 11 AM to give all my gear a serious scrubbing from the polluted waters we had launched and landed in (not that our harbor is any cleaner)

This was a great trip, and it worked out incredibly well, despite having never paddled anywhere in NYC before.  The weather was semi-cooperative, aside from the oppressive heat and humidity, but at least we weren't chased off the water by lightning.  We are both unsure if we would do it again, but I would definitely like to hit the battery in the early morning hours if I did, to avoid a lot of the boat traffic there, and probably do it in reverse - paddling up the Hudson and back down the East River.  I highly recommend this trip to anyone who is a strong paddler and wants a very different view of NYC.