By Vladimir Brezina
The Manhattan circumnavigation is a classic New York City kayak trip. Hundreds of paddlers do it every year. For a 30-mile trip, it’s surprisingly easy, largely because the strong tidal currents that swirl around Manhattan do much of the work.
To use the currents instead of fighting them, though, it’s important to time the trip right. The key is the correct timing of the passage through Hell Gate. When going around Manhattan counterclockwise (the more usual direction), you want to reach Hell Gate at, or before, the turn of the current from flood to ebb, so as to ride the flood current up the East River, and then the ebb current up the Harlem River.
But what if, for whatever reason, you are late, and find yourself facing a growing ebb current while still in the East River short of Hell Gate? The contrary current slows you down, building more strongly all the while… And the ebb current in the East River can build up to 5 knots or more—faster than most paddlers can paddle.
It might seem that the whole trip might have to be aborted…
Not quite. It turns out there’s a way to paddle through Hell Gate against the current, and even use the contrary current to advantage.
Here’s how we do it.