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.

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