Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club
Manhattan Circumnavigation - August 20, 2005

by Jerry Blackstone
Photos by Ken Shelton

Low water at the Battery -0.7' at 3:25am, -0.4' at 3:40pm
High water at the Battery 5.5' at 9:22am
Full Moon: August 19

Hi All:

The Sat 8/20 Manhattan Circ turned out real good. Steve Blumling and I started discussing this trip in early January-- as soon as Eldridge for 2005 was published. We looked mainly at an August trip doing it when the current at Hell Gate starts to ebb between 10AM and 1PM. We chose this past weekend based on the ebb starting at 11:11AM.

What REALLY provided a total surprise to me was the ENORMOUS effect of the FULL MOON on the strength of the currents. My God !!! The Harlem River was converted from a lazy drainage ditch to a mighty roaring REAL RIVER.

We had our GPS's on, so we can prove it. My maximum speed on the East River was 9.5 mph. Dave Moore reported 11 mph. And I recall Steve Blumling mentioned 14mph maximum speed. And on the Harlem River I was getting 5.5 mph--without really "trying too hard" !!! That is the Full Moon Effect. A new moon is almost, but not quite, as good.

Our group started to unload boats at the DTBH at 6AM. One or two cell phone distress calls about being lost on West Street Around 7AM Steve, Dave Moore and I pointed out to the group the danger points on the trip. Also, I handed out a Manhattan Kayak Map downloaded for free from Going Coastal.org, an environmental group.

Just before we left at 7:15AM, I called the Coast Guard operations officer for NYC to inform him of our of our trip and float plan. I recorded his name and rank. I was so happy when he said. "Have a great trip" And I was happy again when I heard on my marine radio the Coast Guard notify the marine traffic in the Harbor of our trip as in "25 kayakers leaving the downtown boathouse heading to the Battery to circumnaviagte Manhattan".

When we reached the Battery, Steve directed us well away from the sea wall. Seemed like we went halfway to Governor's island before we turned east to fly up the East River. This was to prevent reflected waves, the strainer effect and unplanned ferries from messing us up. There seems to be a tropism for kayakers new to a place to want to hug a sea wall for security.

The place where the current runs fastest on this entire trip is on the East River by the Brooklyn Bridge. And, even faster by the Roosevelt Island channels. We took the East channel by Roosevelt Island and made our first stop at the beach in Hallets Cove in Astoria Queens. We arrived at 9AM. Unfortunately, the installation on Sports at the Socrates Sculpture Garden, which is next to the beach, had just been taken down. So we had time to expore, take pictures, socialize, snack, and admire the fantastic scenery, etc.

And, also during this layover I handed out current diagrams (ebb) and current diagrams (flood) which I had marked up for the times of August 20. They simplify the diagrams in Eldridge for the ebb--actually high water at the Battery and the next 5 hours for the flood--actually low water at the Battery and the next 5 hours. Using and explaining these diagrams enabled paddlers on this trip to understand the logic of the layover. Also, it enables one to predict when it pays to hit the Hudson River.

Loaded up at 10:30AM for a 10:45AM departure. Paddled sort of due west past the light house at the North end of Roosevelt Island. Rapidly and tightly crossed the channel to the Manhattan side of the East River. Paddled on the West side of Mill Rock staying as close to Manhattan shore as possible since this is where the East River makes its turn toward LI Sound. This spot is the west boundary of Hell Gate.

As we paddled past Randalls Island and onto the Harlem River came the big surprise of the trip as we sprinted up the Harlem River. Thank you Mr. Moon. The Harlem River has so many interesting bridges. As planned we stopped at the Peter Sharpe Boathouse on Harlem River at Dyckman Street or 190thST. Even though the Boathouse was closed, the beach was just fine. Andy encouraged people to visit a beautiful park maintained by a neat nearby school. We decided not to stay for lunch as planned, even though it was 12:15PM. We were afraid that this amazing Harlem River current would vanish.

So after about 20 minutes we continued up the Harlem River to Spuyten Duyvil. Past the Columbia U boathouse. This part of Manhattan has, I believe, the original forest. So green, so pretty, so quiet. What an excellent place to teach beginners how to kayak--and I see NYC Parks Dept signs as over the place. Right quick we pass under the Henry Hudson Pridge and the Amtrak rotating RR bridge which is open.

We are on the Hudson. The familiar Palisades stretch before us. For most of us this is our river. Even though we have about 11 miles ahead of us, we feel like we are on our home court.

Now we arrive at Tubby Hook around 1:15 or 1:30 and stay for 45 minutes for lunch. Unfortunately, the restaurant is closed so no musical backdrop. I met the SAME homeless dude on the Tubby Hook beach that I met last year on my 2004 Manh Circ!!!!!! He again promised to get a kayak. He was amazed that all these old people (my paddling group) were not afraid of the water. etc.

Harry and his friend Robert from a Bronx group, Friends of Brook Park, made some excellent sandwiches from dried seaweed and tahini dip, sprouts and tomatoes. There is so much broken glass on the beach at Tubby Hook that it sounds like a concert of progressive music as the waves move it around. So we had our music after all--just not the kind we expected.

At 2:15 or so we set out for home. My GPS was reading 5.5 mph and I was using my marine radio for the sweep--I was going BEHIND EVERYONE on purpose. Steve was in front, more or less. At this point we had a kayak stampede down the Hudson. We more or less got folks to stop, sort of, at the 79th Street boat basin. Next year I will have a much better communication system set up with the Ferry people. There has got to be better technology than 360 degree eyeballs. Anyway we were all watching, sort of grouped and careful.

A word about point and sweep and marine radio. It great when marine radios are used right. Several people asked me why I didn't just paddle faster. I said Steve and I didn't invite all these people so that we could abandon them on the Harlem or Hudson River. I've been on trips where sweeps forgot their role. I think I'm a sweep by nature. At 5.5 mph or even 4.5 mph I'll be a sweep any day of the week. The sweep and the point should do frequent radio checks using their marine radios. And Steve and I did.

The first kayaks got back to the DTBH at around 4:05PM and I pulled in around 4:35PM. No paddlers were unaccounted for and all those that started with our group made it around Manhattan. All 25. One fellow started late and went around by himself unsucessfully looking for us The volunteers at DTBH were very helpful in getting us out of the water and off the docks with our gear.

So there you have it: around Manhattan in 6.5 hours of moving time (not counting layover time). I have it on my GPS to prove it !!!!!

One final item. After you load up your car, if a large group of people want to go for dinner, what do you do with your car filled with gear with a valuable kayak(s) on top. Where can many cars be parked safely in the West Village on a Saturday night ?????? A conundrum !!!

A few of us discovered a solution to this puzzle. The garage at Pier 40 always has plenty of room and its attended and kayak friendly. From there its a short 10 minute walk to a great restaurant--the Spagetti House on Carmine Street and Bleeker near 6th Avenue. That is where some of us went. It was great!!!!. Next time I'll tell my non-kayaking friends to meet me there. Maybe they'll help with the drive home if I'm sort of tired.

Below is a list of kayakers who made this trip and who "made my day." Note that the two who joined us on the Harlem River made the last leg of the trip by themselves.

Joining us at a Bronx Harlem River kayak put-in that they developed were Harry J. Bubbins (Friends of Brook Park) and Robert Jereski (Friends of Brook Park)

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