Monthly Archives: September 2011

Between Scylla and Charybdis: The Dangers of Sandy Hook

By Vladimir Brezina

In my last post I wrote about paddling from Manhattan down to Sandy Hook, NJ. But paddling down is the easy part. It’s on Sandy Hook that unsuspected dangers lurk.

I remember a Sandy Hook trip of some years ago. (OK, I’ve just looked it up in my records and it was in September 2000—eleven years ago.  How time flies…) Erik Baard and I paddled down from Manhattan and landed on the beach near the northwestern tip of Sandy Hook. We had a leisurely lunch, took a stroll along the beach, lazed about, and after a couple of hours were ready to paddle back to Manhattan. But just before we launched, we thought that we might, just out of curiosity, find out what those two big signs that stood there, facing away from us, said…

(I’ve never landed on that part of the beach since :-) But I’ve paddled past many times, and haven’t seen those signs again. The Coast Guard has probably relaxed its grip somewhat. Still, many parts of Sandy Hook remain restricted for one reason or another.)




In the meantime, on the opposite, eastern side of Sandy Hook, there is another set of signs…

These signs mark the notorious Gunnison Beach:

In 1999, New Jersey passed a law that allows municipalities and counties to prohibit all types of nudism on state or local beaches in their jurisdiction, making Gunnison Beach the only legal nude beach in the state, since it is on federal land not subject to state or municipal regulations.  Also, since there is no law against alcohol on federal lands drinking is allowed. Gunnison is the largest clothing-optional recreation area on the East Coast. The clothing optional beach, which offers dramatic views of Brooklyn and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, attracts nearly 5,000 naturists per weekend in the summer months. Part of the beach is shared on a seasonal basis with a reserved breeding ground for the endangered Piping Plover, a native shore bird.

(Who says that Wikipedia doesn’t have a sense of humor?)

Sadly, every time I’ve paddled past Gunnison Beach it’s been deserted, except for one or two men who may have been naked but who also were largely invisible behind the barriers they had to erect against the bitterly cold wind… Of course, that might have been because I’ve paddled on the ocean side of Sandy Hook mostly in the off-season. In the summer, the whole ocean side is patrolled by rangers who order any kayaker who attempts to land summarily back into the surf.

So, Sandy Hook is a dangerous, and fascinating, place. And I haven’t even mentioned the crumbling military ruins, the guns, the missiles, of Sandy Hook—that’s for another post!

The Engineer Who Transformed Shipping

By Johna Till Johnson

I have a weird habit, one that I share with many other (equally weird) folks: I love to read obituaries.

“Isn’t that morbid?” you’re thinking. On the contrary: Obituaries usually make me happy.  A good obituary is a celebration of the life and times of a person I’ve probably never heard of, but end up wishing I’d met.

And though I’m sorry to have missed that person, it’s enlightening to know they once existed. It reconfirms my bedrock belief that the world is a far stranger and more interesting place than I’ll ever fully know.

I also happen to be deeply intrigued by shipping containers. One of the great joys of paddling is the up-close-and-personal look you get at shipping containers. Stacked on barges. Loading and unloading from docks. And occasionally, strewn randomly across the landscape.

I marvel at their ingenuity of form, at the fact that they can be stacked so high without (apparently) ever falling over, and lifted and transported securely. I occasionally wonder what it’s like to live in one, given that they’re about as large as the typical Manhattan studio. (Don’t laugh. It’s apparently a growing trend—and it’s eco-friendly to boot.) And of course, I think about the individual who first invented them.

As you’ve probably guessed, the engineer who created the modern shipping container died recently. If you’re too busy to click on the link, here’s the short version: His name was Keith Tantlinger. He died at 92. He lived mostly on the West Coast (California and Washington State) where he worked on tools to build the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber during WWII.  And his crucial engineering insight that created the modern shipping container was the Twistlock “locking corner”, a simple and effective mechanism that made it possible to safely stack shipping containers many layers high.

And the smiling photo that accompanies his obituary (taken in 1958, right around the time when he was working on shipping containers) shows a young man enjoying the rush of creativity, and confidently aware that he’s changing the world.

A world that continues to be stranger and more interesting than we’ll ever fully know… which makes me very happy indeed.

Kayak Trip: Manhattan—Sandy Hook

By Vladimir Brezina

On Sunday, Johna and I went kayaking. As usual, we looked up the tidal currents and went where the currents would take us that day. That turned out to be Sandy Hook, NJ.

The trip from Manhattan to Sandy Hook and back is one of our favorite trips. We do it often. It’s a full day’s trip but, with favorable current both ways, not overly strenuous: about three hours there and four hours back, with plenty of time between for lunch. I will give details of how to plan the trip so as to use the currents to best advantage in a future post. But in the meantime, here are some photographic highlights of Sunday’s trip.

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Happy Fall!

By Vladimir Brezina

The September Equinox occurred today, September 23, 2011, at 09:04 UTC, or 5:04 a.m. in New York City. And with it, the first day of Fall!

Autumn in New York
Why does it seem so inviting?

It’s autumn in New York
It’s good to live it again.”

To celebrate and anticipate the joys of fall, here is a gallery of fall foliage photos that I took in NYC’s Central Park last year on one spectacularly beautiful day, October 28 (late in the year for peak foliage color, it might seem, but not so in NYC’s urban heat island).

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Spam Poetry

By Vladimir Brezina

As surely as a flame attracts moths, a comment box attracts spam—with pretty much the same results. WordPress has an excellent spam filter that kills most spam outright. But occasionally it presents a particularly delectable piece of spam, under quarantine, for our enjoyment.

These spam comments, which the filter has quarantined but not killed outright presumably because it’s not quite sure whether they are spam or not, have a distinctive tone. They are, indeed, like real comments—but from some kind of mad dream.

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Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go in the Water…

By Vladimir Brezina

After Hurricane Irene a few weeks ago, this startling photo went viral on the Internet, and was picked up by TV stations and print media.

This picture was taken in Puerto Rico shortly after Hurricane Irene ravaged the island. Yes, that’s a shark swimming down the street next to a car, and this is exactly why authorities in NYC are warning people not to go swimming in flood waters after a hurricane.”

There’s something fishy about that photo, though…

This has happened before. The hero’s encounter with a scary monster has always made for a good story. But nowadays a story isn’t enough—the hero has to have a good photo, or better still, a video! Just think how the poor Loch Ness Monster is losing credibility because, whenever it surfaces, nobody around has a camera or else the photos come out blurry…  And so, in the age of Photoshop…

Here are a few well-known photos and videos. Some are fake—but some are not! Which are which?

Update (September 21, 2011): Answers provided.

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The Red Vines of Autumn Along the Hudson: A Photoessay

By Vladimir Brezina

Summer was very great (:-)). But now, according to the National Weather Service,

“[a] taste of fall is in the forecast! A strong cold front will cross the Tri-State area Thursday ushering in a Canadian airmass. Temperatures will only be in the 70s Thursday with a chance of a few showers or even a thunderstorm. Then, the much cooler air arrives by Thursday night. Temperatures will fall to near 50 degrees. High temperatures on Friday will only be in the mid to upper 60s. Dewpoints will also fall into the 30s during the day Friday making it feel like autumn.”

In New York City, the trees remain green, with no sign of fall color yet. But the city is an urban heat island, with temperatures elevated often by ten degrees or more. Outside the city, no doubt, leaves are already starting to turn. It’s time to plan fall foliage trips—by kayak, naturally!

Some of the best fall colors can be seen along the banks of the Hudson north of the city. I haven’t been up the river since our May paddle from Albany to New York City, but here, in a collection of photos from past years, is what I imagine is, or soon will be, happening…

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Twin Towers

By Vladimir Brezina

“The … most prominent landmarks, which can be seen for a long distance at sea, are the twin towers of the World Trade Center …”

New York Harbor and Approaches
United States Coast Pilot Volume 2
30th Edition, 1998


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The individual photos are here.

Irene and Lee Have Left Quite a Mess in New York Harbor…

By Vladimir Brezina

These tropical storms have certainly stirred things up! Hurricane Irene came through ten days ago and deluged the entire region, and a couple of days ago Tropical Storm Lee repeated the performance. This morning, looking out of the window on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, we saw a strange sight in Hell Gate…

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Beaufort Force Zero: A Photoessay

By Vladimir Brezina

Winds and waves are all very well , but some of the most magic moments in a kayak on the open sea come when the wind dies down completely and the calm sea joins with the sky…

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