By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina
On the morning of Wednesday, June 27, 2012, we found ourselves standing on Pier 40 in Lower Manhattan ready—we hoped!—to circumnavigate Long Island by kayak.
After paddling down the Hudson River last year, the Long Island circumnavigation seemed to be our next logical expedition. At roughly 230 nautical miles (265 land miles), it was twice as long, but not too ambitious. We estimated that it would take 11 days or so. And we loved the idea of simply taking a cab down to Pier 40, launching our kayaks and paddling round Long Island, and then taking a cab home upon our return.
But, although we’d spent months dreaming about the trip, we came down to the wire when it came to planning it in concrete detail.
The week prior to launch passed in a blur of sleepless nights, with mileage and tide calculations, electronics purchases on Amazon, food shopping, and last-minute trips to REI for camping necessities, all slotted in between the heavy work obligations that always seem to accumulate at such times. We bought tons of food: coffee, rice and oats, packages of dried fruit and nuts, apples and oranges, salami and cheese, vacuum-packed salmon—as it turned out, way too much. We pored over the charts and circled likely campsites, made reservations for places to stay, then cancelled some of them again.
Then there were the fears. Johna worried about things like unfriendly locals, and sharks. (In case that seems nuts, check out this article, from just a year ago, or this one, which fortunately appeared only after our return. Eighteen-foot sharks—Yikes!)
Vlad was no help when it came to allaying the fears. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “We should rent ‘Deliverance’. And ‘Jaws’.” As it so happens, both made an appearance of sorts on the trip. And we were attacked during the 35-mile run up the South Shore—but in no way we had possibly anticipated.
On Monday, when we had originally planned to launch, we still weren’t ready. Nor on Tuesday. But by 3:30 AM on Wednesday we were up and readying to go. The plan was to leave at 5:00, and launch about 6:30 or 7:00 AM.
We almost didn’t make it. Johna was putting the finishing touches on a work project, and as a result we didn’t leave for the pier until 5:25, with Vlad fretting that we’d miss the currents. In the cab on the way there, Johna had a panic attack when it appeared her project hadn’t uploaded, and Vlad suggested we turn around and launch Thursday. But after so much preparation, delaying another day didn’t seem right. (Johna’s work project made it through just fine, as it turned out).
With no traffic, by 6:15 AM we had arrived at Pier 40. Fortunately we had already packed most items into the kayaks on the previous day. But we still had to somehow fit in all our drinking water. (The loaded boats were then so heavy that we could hardly drag them to the water, a foretaste of things to come.) So it took us until 8:00 AM—almost the last moment to catch the ebb current that we would need to make it out of the harbor—to get ready, finally, to set off on our big adventure.
In subsequent posts, we will describe each day of the trip in sequence. And for fellow paddlers thinking about this or a similar trip, we’ll add a Postcript: Lessons Learned with more logistical details.