Last Manhattan Circumnavigation of 2012

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal: On a sunny weekend in late October, we decided to circumnavigate Manhattan.

We didn’t anticipate, though, that, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, it would be our last circumnavigation of the year, indeed our last major trip in New York waters. And so this trip has a special resonance in our memories.

A Manhattan circumnavigation is usually a pretty predictable trip, though always a treat. It’s not particularly long by our standards, but packed with variety. The scenery ranges from the urban…

Midtown Manhattan from the East River

In the East River: the Empire State Building, with Vlad in the foreground (photo by Johna)








to the bucolic…

Fall colors in the Harlem River

Fall colors in the Harlem River







Ferries in the East River

Riding the chop and keeping an eye on the ferries down by the Battery

and the paddling conditions vary nearly as much: The water down by the Battery is often exciting (enhanced by ferry and other shipping traffic)…



Up the Harlem River

Heading up the Harlem River

but  the  long glide up the Harlem River is usually tranquil.





All in all, we looked forward to a lovely, if unexceptional trip.

Unexceptional except for being our last long trip of the year.  The following weekend, we toured the Gowanus Canal—a scenic, but short, excursion.

And the Monday after that, Sandy arrived.

Our Manhattan paddling home at Pier 40 was shut down, and the pier itself remains closed (though we’re hopeful it will reopen soon). In addition, there continue to be some restrictions on paddling in New York Harbor. So we haven’t been out (in New York waterways, at least) since.

Which made this “unexceptional” trip rather exceptional, after all.

So our recollection of this circumnavigation is tinged with a bit of melancholy and a sense of loss. As the graffiti has it:

Poetic graffiti in the East River

“Alas this bitter life filled with sweet dreams” — Poetic graffiti in the East River

But even an “ordinary” trip has moments of incandescent beauty, which will live on in our memories…

Yellow and blue nocturne

The George Washington Bridge: Yellow and blue nocturne

We hope to be back on the waters around Manhattan in 2013!

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33 responses to “Last Manhattan Circumnavigation of 2012

  1. That is the best view of the GWB- soooo much better than trying to cross it and so pretty in a yellow haze!

  2. The Harlem River looks my sorta scene – calm and quiet so you can hear the paddle enter and leave the water. I intend to get a sea-kayak myself so I can get photos from similar perspective to yourself (that is scheduled for mid 2014 so until then I will be watching your blog – happy new year

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Scott–may you get your sea kayak as soon as possible, you don’t want to miss a single day on the water :-). And fair warning, the Harlem isn’t always so benign—on one of my early circumnavs, I got caught by a wind so powerful (compared with my then-feeble paddling skills) that I literally got spun around and couldn’t point myself forward. Luckily that doesn’t happen TOO often!

    • Photography from a sea kayak is very rewarding, but can be a bit tricky. I think you have to decide up front whether you want to (1) use the kayak essentially as a platform from which to shoot with your regular high-end camera, or (2) go for a paddle and take photos while paddling. If (1), there’s the issue of how to protect the camera from the water, which can limit you quite a bit. If (2), the best way to go is with a waterproof camera, even if the quality is not as high, so that you don’t have to worry.

      As an example of approach (1), I notice that Chris Mazzarella, for instance, has done quite a bit of his lovely nature photography from a kayak. As an example of approach (2), Marek Uliasz is an expert. I’ve tried (1), but only under very calm conditions. Normally I opt for (2).

      • Thanks Vladimir for taking the time to respond in such detail, I have had ago on one previous occasion in th boundary water canoe area, Minnesota. On the whole I took land based shots but on the good days I took them from the inland lakes (shooting back inland) but that was an Open Canadian which on inland water is very stable. But I will have a look at both Chris and Marek – cheers Scott

  3. Happy New Year! Love the graffiti – like spray-can Shakespeare!

  4. You’ve got a magnificent view!

  5. beautiful! happy happy new year, and many more intrepid adventures and wondrous views for 2013! plus, peace, joy and good health! xo c!

  6. I would love to do that some day. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I love reading your adventures, hope you have many more in 2013!

  8. I’m hardly saying anything new in pointing out that most graffiti is illiterate (and much of it illegible), so I expected “Alas this bitter life filled with sweet dreams” to be a quotation, but I just did an internet search for that sentence (in quotation marks) and failed to turn up any hits other than your post.

  9. I just found your beautiful blog and forwarded it to another paddling friend nearer to you – currently I am in Galveston, TX. Gorgeous text and pictures. Beauty and adventure can be found everywhere.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Why thank you, Marilyn! Your blog is fantastic, too–I read the post about alligators with interest, as we’re soon to embark on some excursions in alligator-territory! Thanks for the kind words, and for forwarding it!

  10. Happy New Year to both of you!!!!
    I love the graffiti and the bridge at night!
    Waiting for more adventures this year!

  11. I really, really like the picture of the George Washington bridge! Those colors are amazing! What a wonderful adventure you take us on! Thank you!

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks, Becky! I loved that one, too. I remember when Vlad took it, he was fretting it would be too dark for it to come out. Instead we got those lovely wobbles of light…

  12. As always, I love being included in the tours of your “wilderness” on water – thank you Johna, and I hope you and Vlad are able to get back on the water soon. Happy New Year!

  13. Thank you for taking us along. I wish to see more of New York now that I’ve seen a small part of it.

  14. Enjoyed traveling with you in 2012 via your photographs. Looking forward to your 2013 adventures. Thanks for all the likes on my blog.

  15. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond | Wind Against Current

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