Category Archives: Kayaking

City Sunset Silhouettes

By Vladimir Brezina

In the middle of the city, you don’t see the horizon. Well before sunset, the sun dips behind a dark palisade of silhouettes

Central Park sunset 1
Central Park sunset 2
Central Park sunset 3

To see the sun touch the horizon, you must climb very high

Manhattan vista at sunset

or, down below, wait for a very special day

Manhattanhenge 500(Manhattanhenge 2014)

Or, of course, watch from your kayak on the river!

Hudson River sunset 1
Hudson River sunset 2

A response to this week’s Photo Challenge, Silhouette, and Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge, Horizons.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Texture.

Waves sparkling in the afternoon sun in the Lower Bay of New York Harbor

As kayakers, we pay close attention to the texture of the water around us.

Typical summertime conditions in the East River
In the hole in the East River

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Travel Theme: Simplify

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Simplify.

We are bringing all that on our kayak trip? We should simplify!

All that stuff??

And we have. We’ve learned that Nature will provide what we need—

— an easy chair to relax in after a long paddle

Easy chair

— a beer cooler

Beer cooler

— a stove to cook dinner

Stove

Nature is very helpful these days ;-)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Zigzag

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Zigzag.

As every sailor knows, the most direct way to the destination is usually a zigzag—

Zig
... and a zag
... and a zig

Kayak sailing on Long Island Sound, 2007. Story and more photos here.

A Tale of Two Compasses

By Vladimir Brezina

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Course: 130 degrees magnetic!

I distinctly remember the first time the value of a good marine compass was driven home to me. I was circumnavigating Staten Island for the first time, clockwise, and had reached the gradual turn around the southwest tip of the island at Tottenville. I had never been there before—everything was new. I had a marine chart, but the very tip of the island was folded over on the other side, just out of sight. It didn’t seem necessary to refold the chart, especially as, as soon as I passed around the tip of the island into the Arthur Kill, I would have to fold the chart back again. And hadn’t I just studied the chart and knew exactly what was ahead? And so, as I made the turn and was faced with the choice of several waterways, I boldly set off toward the Raritan River instead of the Arthur Kill. Only when I was almost in the Raritan River did I happen to glance idly at the compass, to discover with a shock that I was paddling 90 degrees off course, west instead of north…

But as I grew familiar with New York Harbor, the compass seemed less relevant. I dutifully strapped it onto the boat for every trip, but I hardly ever looked at it.

Perhaps because I hardly looked at it, I was able for many years to get away with the Suunto Orca. For a folding kayak, I needed a strap-on, rather than a permanently mounted, compass, and the Orca was one of the few available. But it’s very popular, I notice, even among hard-shell kayakers, who have many other choices.

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But when in recent years we started to take longer trips into unknown waters, and I really needed a compass, I found I could hardly use the Orca.

Rather than having an evenly rounded globe of clear plastic, like most compasses, the Orca has a boxy shape, with an awkward bend along the top, just in the wrong place to distort the view of the numbers underneath. And the bend tends to accumulate scratches, making the plastic even more opaque.

But most importantly, the numbers on the Orca’s card are too small. On a kayak, you want to mount your compass as far forward as possible, so that you can keep both the compass and the horizon in view at the same time. But when mounted far forward, the Orca’s numbers can hardly be read, through the scratches and the water droplets that also gather on the compass.

Enter the Brunton 58.1.40241_eA much better compass! It has a rounded globe. The numbers, and especially the letters for the principal compass points, are much bigger than the Orca’s.

Underneath it is nicely shaped to sit solidly on the ridge of a peaked kayak deck, without sliding to one side or the other, like the Orca tends to do.

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And, online, the Brunton 58 is even a little cheaper—around $50—than the Orca ($70).

During the 2014 Everglades Challenge, I certainly appreciated having a good compass. On a number of occasions, when we were hesitating which way to paddle among the indistinguishable mangrove islands, a glance at the compass immediately made it clear.

And, as happens with the best equipment, the compass began speaking to me. (No, this was not a hallucination—although a speaking compass would not have been that remarkable among the bizarre hallucinations on that trip…) Rather than sitting there passively, waiting to be interrogated with difficulty only when absolutely necessary, as with the Orca, the Brunton was such a pleasure to look at that I naturally incorporated it into the round of things I looked at while paddling—the waves, the clouds, the compass… It was quietly pushing information at me, constantly telling me that we were on the right course—or sometimes not.

And having a good compass eliminated the conversations with Johna that always went something like this:

Vlad: “See those two islands, the big one and the little one? We’ll paddle through the gap between them.”

Johna: “You mean the big island with the tall trees?”

Vlad: “No, more to the right. The island with the white tower.”

Johna: “I see two white towers…”

Now I just say: “Steer 130 degrees magnetic!”

Or rather, I would say that if Johna too had a usable compass. During the Everglades Challenge, she still had an Orca.

We left Johna’s Orca behind in Florida at the end of that trip. Now we’ll get her a Brunton.

I Did It!

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

On the beach after the race

This was the fifth year that Vlad and I raced in the Blackburn Challenge, the 20-mile circumnavigation of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. The race is named for Howard Blackburn, a 19th-century mariner of uncommon grit. (You can read about him here.) Any human-powered watercraft can participate, and there is usually a wide range, from paddleboards to rowing shells, dories, and dragonboats—plus several flavors of kayaks.

Thus far, I’d placed every time, helped out by the relative smallness of the field of women sea kayakers—there are typically only half a dozen or so in my class.

After collecting two third-place and two second-place finishes, I yearned for a first. Last year I missed it by a mere six minutes. And I just knew I’d gotten faster this year. I’d trained hard—though not as consistently as I’d liked—and still had some stamina left over from completing the Everglades Challenge earlier this year.

So I was pretty sure that this would be my year.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Containers.

The key to efficient expedition kayaking is the successful management of containers. It’s taken us a while to learn that lesson…

How will all this stuff fit into those two little kayaks??

How will it all fit?(2014 Everglades Challenge)

It’s a matter of the right containers

Camp in the woods(2011 Hudson River paddle from Albany to NYC)

to be able to find things when we need them

Found it!(2012 Long Island circumnavigation)

and quickly set up camp before the evening mosquitoes swarm

Setting up camp(2012 Long Island circumnavigation)

or make dinner on a dark beach before the tide comes flooding in…

Dinner on the beach(2014 Everglades Challenge)

Cardboard Kayak Race, Redux

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Last year, I wrote about the first annual Cardboard Kayak Race, held on City of Water Day at Governors Island.  This year, I was in it!

No, it’s not what you’re thinking. We didn’t build a boat out of cardboard and then race it. But others did! And I was part of a fleet of “safety kayaks” whose job it was to rescue paddlers whose cardboard boats sank (and fish out the sodden detritus).

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Relic.

Kayaking around New York Harbor, we pass many relics of its maritime past—

Binghamton

Binghamton 1
Binghamton 2

Major General William H. Hart

Major General William H. Hart

— the Yellow Submarine, Quester I

Yellow Submarine 1
Yellow Submarine 2

— and, of course, the celebrated Graveyard of Ships

Graveyard of Ships 1
Graveyard of Ships 2

Kayaks Under the Keel

By Vladimir Brezina

Sea kayaking, most of the time, is about wide open waters… But, paradoxically, kayakers also can’t resist exploring tight spaces. They poke the nose of their boat into every sea cave they come across, for instance.

Urban paddling is a bit different. Instead of sea caves, we have low bridges, tunnels, passages under piers.

And now and again, we even get the chance to paddle under another boat…

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… to create our own sea-cave experience

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