Thursday, July 22, 2010

Watch Out for That ___ !

I've seen this neat trick, where a person gets into a kayak on an elevated dock, and slides it into the water.  It seems like a really fast way to get a boat into the water, and maybe the only way off of a dock more then a few feet up.

Today I volunteered at The Downtown Boat House, a volunteer based organization that helps people build a connection with the river by offering free kayaking.

As I arrived in my boat the woman working the dock called out to me “Hey Dov!” and set me to work helping people get into and out of the sit-on-top kayaks.

I gave people assistance by holding their boats, providing them kayaking instructions, and giving them the rules.  The principal rule was that they must stay upstream of the dock for fear that they would get caught up in the current.  This almost never happens.

People were there to have fun, and when people gather to have fun, they're usually friendly.  One tall quiet fellow and a little boy in his company were there to get into a tandem kayak.  I sat the little boy in the front and then the big guy in the back.

“Have you been kayaking before?”

In a soft voice “no.”  Gentle grin.

I gave him the usual list of rules which I followed with “Paddle on the opposite side you want to go.  To go right, paddle on the left side and to go left paddle on the right side.  To stop, paddle backwards.”  He didn't seem sure of himself.  Maybe he didn't know right and left so I tried explaining it to him again only this time instead of saying right and left I pointed and said “this side” and “that side” .

I pushed him off as I do everybody.

His paddling was timid as though the water needed to be handled very softly.  Soon the current was rushing him under the bridge that connected the floating dock to Riverside Park.  People were shouting out to him which side of the boat he needed to paddle on in order to get away.  Unfortunately as the current whisked him along he was to close to the sea wall to put the paddle in the water, and perhaps it seemed wrong to him to use the paddle to push against the wall directly.

Not losing a moment, I moved my life jacket and spray skirt aside and sat in my boat attempting to launch it off the low dock while I was sitting in it to be away as fast as I could.  This didn't work.  I had to put my hands down on either side of kayak to lift my weight off the boat and try to shift the whole thing back a very little bit at at time.

After my failed attempt at fast and cool, I was off as quick as I could be to catch up with the tandem kayak as it rapidly slipped away, neither of the passengers able to bring it under control.  Finally I caught up with them.  I instructed them calmly as we both floated downstream boats side by side.

Finally, my words started getting through to them and, with a little nudging of their bow from my paddle, they were making steady progress against the current in the right direction.  I stayed with them for a bit and then, convinced that they had got it,  moved ahead on my own with the intention of getting back to my previous work.

Then the spectators started screaming at me.  Without processing the content of the shouts, which where probably not complimentary, I twisted my head around to see what had become of the pair.  Somehow, their boat had become turned around and was now facing the wrong direction.  They seemed completely helpless to do anything at all as they where once again in the grip of the river.

As quickly as I could I was back around and tying the rope I keep attached to the front of my boat for just such occasions to the front of the tandem.  I towed them back and one of the other volunteers helped them to the dock.

It was good that there were other experienced action people there aside from myself.  Had I not been in the water, one of the other volunteers would have been there in my place and was in fact only a moment behind me in a boat of her own.

The man apologized to me for the commotion he created.  He seemed to me to have a gentle soul that was not ready for the vigors of playing in the Hudson.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Circumnavigating Manhattan One

I put in around 9:00 in the morning quickly heading north with the current. I gazed at the Harlem River off to my right.  It whispered to me “psst”.  After a moment “Hey you.  Yah you. …  Get over here.”  It invited me.  So without giving it much thought I swung a right and began the mile crossing from New Jersey to New York.  The current was strong so I was pushed north a little bit past the Harlem River and had to make slow headway back to the old rail bridge that marks its entrance.

Once on the Harlem River however, the swirling current quickly caught me up and pulled me in before settling against me making the next few hours more challenging then I would have liked.  I passed parks and old industry buildings that where a memory of a dirtier Manhattan.  I went under bridges where the current was strongest.
Under one bridge I had a number of spectators who had taken shelter to get out of the pouring rain.  They shouted something to me but I couldn't make it out while struggling to battle the running water. Under another bridge, just shy of the East River, there were three lanes, two of which where closed for construction.  Shortly after I began my slow progress through that one remaining tunnel a large tug boat turned the corner and approached from the oncoming direction. Now the rule is that the less mobile boat, in this case me, has the right of way.  It's also important that I not get run over.  I blew
my whistle just as loud as I could and a fellow leaning against a railing towards the front of the boat nearly jumped out of his work clothes as his two friends began to laugh at him.  The tug boat honked
and moved over towards his edge of the tunnel giving just enough room for both of us.  And as we did pass, over the boats very loud loudspeaker came “Don't blame this on me!”
I had now decided that I would probably go around the island and hoped to do so with enough time to make it to Yonkers by 6:00 for the paddle club’s weekly outing.  As it turned out, fat chance.
The East River was a rocking wild ride.  At the aptly named Hells Gate the river whirled and twirled in every which way and the right stroke at the right time could propel me off in my desired direction with tremendous acceleration  an incorrect reading of the water would spell disaster.  (Or at least, I imagine so.  I can’t actually spell disaster without the help of my editor.)
As I got closer to Battery Park the waves moving against me slowed my progress some, but I considered it a good thing since I would need them to fight the current as I would head north on the other side of the island.  For the most part I moved down the eastern side of Manhattan extremely quickly , a welcome relief after my slow progress on the Harlem River.

The southern end of Manhattan has a lot of scary traffic including but not limited to the Staten Island ferry and the NYC Water Taxi.  For a few brief frightening moments one of the gargantuan ferries seemed to be headed straight towards me before he veered off behind my stern.  I was along a section of the pier that was marked by one port next to another and I was unable to determine where he was headed.
As soon as I was around Battery Park with the Statue of Liberty at my back the pressing water pushed against me more powerfully then any time yet that day.  I was already exhausted with over 20 miles behind me, my progress was so slow that I had to carefully examine the sea wall, only feet away, to make sure I was moving forward at all.
At this time a little girl waved to me and asked me how deep the water was.  I didn't know.

Fortunately I soon found a very nice eddy that had me moving a little faster then I would have were the water completely still.
Just as I passed one of the boarding centers for the New York Water Ways ferry system a tall crew cut fellow from the pier almost directly above me took a picture.  I was only a few feet away from the concrete sea wall as the ferries where moving all around me creating some exiting chop.  I shouted to the guy who took my picture asking him if he would email it to me.  He didn't speak English, so I repeated the word email several times until he seemed to understand.  I understand why this worked as much as  I know how to say email in Russian (I don’t). In water much too rough to be opening up my back hatch, I opened up my back patch to get a pen and piece of paper.  I never had time to really turn around and go through it though, the ferries kept on coming and going around me and with an open hatch I had to make extra sure to stay on top of the quick waves. At the next opportunity I closed it without anything to show for my efforts, but as it turns out he was waiting patiently above me with just those things.

Farther north, in order to stay in the eddy and not go out of my way (I was really tired by now) I found myself sliding under some very low piers. The danger is that a swell set of by a boat or wind will push the water up causing you to hit your head or worse against the bottom of the pier.  If I were to see a swell coming, and I kept my eyes wide open, I would have had to flip my boat so that the bottom of it would have been pressed against the pier and not my head, then as the water passed I would have rolled the boat back up.  A defense theory I fortunately did not have to test.
As the sun and her light left me I tried to withdraw my own lights from the back of the boat, but one of them was caught on something.  I pulled over to withdraw it enjoying every minute of respite for my
exhausted body, but didn't waste much time as the current was finally turning in my favor and I didn't want to miss a moment of the more helpful waters.
I was back in and to my left there was a barge that traveled for some time only a little bit faster then I was until a loud voice said something entirely unclear from the mounted speakers.  I stopped, and
watched it closely.  Apparently he had warned me that he was about to turn across my bow, and as he did I silently thanked him for the heads up instead of just running me over as he pulled into his port.
Night was complete as I made the last stretch, north on the Hudson to the George Washington Bridge.  Though I was truly spent, perhaps through some watery sense of mercy, the Hudson gave me a great helping hand moving me along at a god clip.  Soon I was home.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Around Manhattan

Here are some pictures I took while circumnavigating Manhattan on my own.  A write up will follow.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Slightly Belated Introduction

I remember three English teachers from high school. English teacher number one was notorious for giving out terrible grades. I think I got mostly D's in that class. English teacher number two, after I submitted a particularly fine analysis of The Scarlet Letter, asked me if I had copied it off of the internet. I got a B on the paper which means that she either didn't believe me or it wasn't that good after all. And English teacher number three who claimed that the reason why I did better in some classes then I did in others was because of an early traumatic childhood experience that I may not remember. I am not making this up.

In writing this blog I was hoping to get feedback from a person of English teacher status or greater so I thought back to my high school days, now 9 years past. I couldn't cope with what I imagine might be English teacher number one’s honesty “D- Consider instead a job as a garbage truck driver.” Or even worse, the psychoanalysis into my writings that comes from Number Three: “Dov, this writing tells me that you need to to prove yourself to your peers as a way of compensating for the fact that you still wet your bed.” That leaves English teacher number two.

“Dov, your writing is nice, but you need an introduction,” she told me. So I will write here who I am and what I intend to do.

My name is Dov Neimand. I am 8 years old and I intend to kayak from Spain to Israel starting this August. No, just kidding, I'm 26. The rest of that crazy statement is true though.  After months of planning and mostly failed attempts to organize sponsorship I have now most of the logistical issues behind me and am training in earnest.
There are some questions that people frequently ask me when they hear about my trip and I will try to answer them here.
Q: What countries will you go through on the way?
A: I will start in Cadiz Spain, after France and then Italy I will cross to Albania. South of Albania is Greece which I will cut through then across the bottom of the Aegean hopping through the Grecian Islands. At that point I will need to consider how safe Turkey is. If I proceed then I will continue along Turkey and then cut south to Cyprus then make the final longest crossing from Cyprus to Haifa, Israel. From Haifa I will head south and conclude my trip in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Q: Were you often dropped on the head as a child?
A: I am only familiar with two such occasions. Once by my brothers and once when I was in the back seat of my mom's bike.
Q: Will you sleep in your boat at night?
A: I hope to sleep every night on the shore except for during my crossings the longest of which is 160 miles. I hope to make that in under 40 hours of paddling and then sleep on shore. I will however be prepared to sleep in my boat if I am unable to complete the crossing without it.
Q: What does your mother think?
A: She doesn't like it that much.
Q: What kind of safety gear will you have?
A: I will not have any safety gear.
Q: You where really dropped on you head as a child, weren't you.
A: No, just kidding (though not about being dropped on my head as a child), I'll have lots of safety gear with me. I will not risk my life for any kind of fun or thrill on this trip, my list of safety gear is too long and boring for me to get into here.
Q: How many miles is it?
A: About 4,200. I came up with that number by having google maps measure the length of the roads along the coasts. In order to complete this trip in 6 months I will have to average at 32 miles a day 5 days a week.
Q: Will you be using that boat we see you training in?
A: No no no no. I'll be using an Epic 18 which I tried out at Jersey Paddler. It fits like a glove and is a damn fine boat.
Q: Will you be doing it alone or with a group?
A: I haven't yet found a partner and I still hope to have one for all or at least part of my trip. Would you like to come?
Q: No thanks I'm married / have a job / can't kayak / too old / need to finish school / have a life / need to study the topography of my navel.
Q: What made you think of such a crazy idea?
I've always wanted to do a really long trip like the Appalachian trail or one of the E trails that cuts across Europe. I've wanted to see Europe for some time now. Since I live in Israel I thought it would be nice to do a trip that starts or ends in Israel and that pretty much leaves only one direction. Lucky for me I've been kayaking since I was a little boy. There's one last question that only a very few people ask. “How can I help?” There are three things I still need though I'll manage without them. A partner, logistical help, and money (Anything I raise above half the cost of the trip will go to the Alliance For Climate Protection). If you can help me with any of these things, please email me at
I hope you continue to read and enjoy this blog,
Dov Neimand

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Week in Vermont

I spent this last week up in the Burlington area visiting with family and kayaking. Lake Champlain is amazing with cliffed banks crowned by majestic forests and gentle mountains off in the distance that welcome some of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen.
My aunt and uncle have a house on the water so I was able to get out in the mornings without too much delay and paddle in the direction that caught my fancy. On Thursday my journey took me north, passport in hand, with the thought that I might get to Canada. After an hour and a half of paddling on extremely calm water I came to a beach that was populated with fun filled beach goers and decided that it would be a splendid place to work on my technique. And some time after that, cold and wet because lake Champlain is cold and wet, I needed a break out of the water.
I pulled up to the sunny beach, took my wet shirt off in the hope that I'd be warmer without it, walked around for about a minute and then went back to my boat. There was a park ranger waiting there. “Your not allowed to have boats in the swimming area.”
I'm spending as much time swimming along side the boat as I am in it, maybe it's OK?” The swimming area was nicer then the surrounding areas and had more than enough room for my small boat, the swimmers, and the great distances between us.
You'll have to take it beyond the buoys [to the area with the red growths in the water and the really sticky mud instead of the nice sand]”.
OK. Sure.”
How did you get to the beach?” He asked.
I paddled up in my boat.”
So then you didn't pay, did you?”
I stood accused. I hadn't paid, nor should I have to I thought, because if I had known that the beach would cost money to use then I would have kept on paddling right past it.
I was just leaving.” Only I couldn't just get in my boat and go because I had left my shirt to dry on a picnic bench.
Everybody that uses this beach pays for it. This woman right here paid for it.”
Random Woman: “I sure did.”
That's why the beach is so nice. We couldn't have a beach if nobody paid for it.”
So I was being told two things. First that I couldn't use the water off of the beach for my boat and second that I had to pay for that which I wasn't allowed to use. I could choose not to pay, but then I would be a jerk.
My wallet three dollars lighter I continued in the direction of Canada. Why make a fuss over 3 dollars? If I lose 3 dollars a day more then what I currently intend to spend on my trip, that'll put me $500 closer to running out of money in the middle of my trip which is a dangerous possibility.
On Friday afternoon I went paddling with my big brother Josh, his friend Rich, my aunt, and my uncle. When we got back Josh and Rich where helping me with my off side roll when Josh, standing in the water not far from my boat, took something out of the lake and cradled his hands around it as though it where precious. “Look what I got” he said to me. And as I looked into his hands to see what he had found ...
I wiped the water off my face and with smile asked Josh if he would mind if I used his name in my blog.
And he said “Only if you write that I'm a sexy beast.”
I think [my other brother] Ben might edit that out since he's been doing my editing for me.”
Rich suggested “Instead of writing 'Josh is a sexy beast' you should write 'Josh is much sexier then Ben, edit that out big brother.'”*
As I drove back from Vermont I couldn't help but think I was leaving something of a paradise, both the land and the family made it a wonderful place for me.

* Ben is doing the best he can with what he’s given.