Monthly Archives: June 2012

Wild, Wonderful Long Island—Thus Far

By Johna Till Johnson

This is a short post and no photos—we are on our fourth day of what we anticipate will be an 11-day kayak circumnavigation of Long Island.

It’s been amazing thus far. Perfect weather, just enough conditions to keep us interested—and miles of marshes and white sandy beaches.

Currently we’re about 90 miles from our starting point at Pier 40 in lower Manhattan, in a tent on a nameless island in Shinnecock Bay that we’re calling Barking Seagull Island. This is our fourth night of guerilla wilderness camping—incredible that we can do it so near New York City.

Tomorrow we head out for a 30 mile stretch in the Atlantic as we paddle up to, and hopefully around, Montauk Point. We probably won’t be able to land due to the surf, so it will be a long day!

More soon—and full details (and photos) when we’re back at our computers…

Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2012: Follow the Red Herring!

By Vladimir Brezina
(Title suggestion by Johna Till Johnson)

Each summer, NYC Swim organizes a series of short and longer swims in New York City’s waterways. The premier event is the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS), a 28.5-mile race around Manhattan. Along with the English Channel and Catalina Channel swims, it is one of the three swims in the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.

Each swimmer is accompanied by a kayaker (as well as a motor boat). Last year, I kayaked for the Lone Starlettes, four women from Texas swimming as a relay. And two of the Starlettes, Gretchen Sanders and Pamela LeBlanc, must have had a good time, because they wanted to return this year and repeat the experience as a two-person relay, The Texas Two-Step.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Create

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Create.

And these two did create quite an impression!

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Close Encounters with Florida Birds

By Vladimir Brezina

I am still sorting out my hundreds of photos of birds from our Florida trip back in February. But this week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge theme, “Close”, has prompted me to marvel at how closely I was able to approach many of the birds.

I rented a kayak and paddled through the mangroves. The birds perched in the tree tops—some of the trees were absolutely festooned with birds, like some kind of fruit—and looked down at me nonchalantly.

Other birds stood on low branches projecting strategically out over the water. These two just looked at me stolidly, even though I was so close that my kayak was actually bumping into their branch. I could have picked them up with my hands.

And so I was able to get some good shots of the various birds. I have a reasonable idea of what many of them are—some are unmistakable!—but identification by experts would certainly be appreciated!

Some other bird photos from that trip are here, here, here, and here.

Happy Summer!

By Vladimir Brezina

The Summer Solstice, and so the beginning of Summer for us here in the Northern Hemisphere, is today at 23:09 UTC (7:09 p.m. EDT).

Summer—full of possibilities…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Close, Take Two

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Close. I’ve already posted one response, but here’s another.

OK, Fergiemoto at Creativity Aroused totally got to this idea first. Check out her photo! Hers is much more beautiful. But I have more bugs.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Close

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Close.

Kayaking around New York Harbor, sometimes we get just a bit too close!

Sometimes we have the upper hand…

… other times clearly not!

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Travel Theme: Secret Places

By Vladimir Brezina

Over on Where’s my backpack?, Ailsa has posted this week’s theme for her Travel Photo Challenge: Secret Places.


The Yellow Submarine of Brooklyn

Our story begins in 1956, with one of history’s most famous maritime disasters. In thick fog on the evening of 25 July, the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria collided with the liner Stockholm and next morning sank off Nantucket. 52 people died.

But for others, the great shipwreck was a great opportunity. Adventurers dreamed of schemes to strike it rich through salvage (although in the end, as usual, it was the lawyers who made the serious money). And there was plenty to salvage:

The Andrea Doria was known to be bountifully loaded with such diverse items as a $250,000 solid silver statue of a mermaid; thousands of cases of liquor; tons of provolone cheese; 200,000 pieces of mail that the federal government would pay 26 cents a piece for; the ship’s bronze propellers, worth $30,000 each, paintings locked in air-tight vaults; industrial diamonds; the ship’s $6 million metal scrap value; passengers’ personal property left in several vaults and more. [From an old article in Forgotten NY, now apparently deleted.]

Among those hoping to strike it rich was a Brooklyn Navy Yard ship fitter named Jerry Bianco, who developed a bold plan: build a submarine.

Bianco believed he could build a vessel strong enough to descend to 240 feet of water, where the liner rests at the bottom off Nantucket, and could actually raise the sunken vessel by filling it with inflatable dunnage bags; when filled, the bags would lift it off the bottom or to the surface — or so the theory went.

Lest this sound crazy, Bianco did succeed in forming a corporation, selling stock, raising more than $300,000, and building a 40-foot, 83-ton submarine that passed Coast Guard inspection with flying colors, and, in October 1970, was ready to be launched.

But for want of a nail…  Bianco was chronically short of money (he painted the submarine chromium yellow, because that was the cheapest paint he could find).  Because the launch was to be paid for by the pound, he did not ballast the submarine fully, and it capsized upon being lowered into the water.

And there it has remained ever since.

By now, not much of its yellow paint remains; it’s half-submerged, rusted, barnacle-encrusted… a modest, curiously-shaped object that nevertheless hides a fascinating history.

It’s in Coney Island Creek, a bucolic backwater of New York Harbor visited only by birds, fishermen… and kayakers! But not many know about it. We didn’t for many years. But now that we do, we visit it often. It’s one of our secret places.

These photos are from a visit just last week. The text above is partly adapted from a previous post on the Yellow Submarine. And a nice New York Times article on the submarine and its location is here.

“Just Another Day in Paradise”

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

It’s late morning on a cool, rainy early June day.

Vlad and I have taken half a day off midweek for a training paddle—we need to get our mileage up for the Long Island circumnavigation we’ve got planned in a few weeks.

The currents aren’t right for too much, so we’ve decided to head down to Coney Island, land if possible for a late lunch, and return. (Boat landings are prohibited on the swimming beaches at Coney Island during the summer season, so we are not sure how the landing will work out…)

The day is oddly peaceful for midweek: Despite the usual ferry and commercial traffic, everything feels peaceful and subdued—muffled, perhaps, by the grey clouds that lower overhead and cling like cotton wadding to the buildings and bridges.

Cool, cloudy, muffled: Not what you’d normally think of as a wonderful day. Much less a heavenly one. But just south of Governor’s Island I overhear this exchange on the radio:

Captain 1: “How’s it going? We really need to get together sometime.”

Captain 2: (unintelligible crackle).

Captain 1: “Yeah, I hear ya! (chuckle). Just another day in paradise…”

Vlad  and I laugh at that, and wonder. Maybe the two are planning to get together in Bermuda, or the Bahamas? Surely New York Harbor on a cool, rainy day doesn’t qualify as “paradise”.

Guess what? By the end of our trip, I’m not so sure. Yes, we get shooed off the beach at Coney Island by the lifeguards. But we paddle across schools of dancing fish, peruse the Yellow Submarine…. and are greeted upon our return just at sunset by one of the most dramatic, spectacularly colorful rain showers either of us have ever seen.

Just another day in paradise? Look at the pictures, and you decide!

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All photos from the paddle are here. And for the Yellow Submarine of Brooklyn, see here.

Old, Bold Paddlers

By Johna Till Johnson

There’s an old saying, variously applied to pilots, Marines, race-car drivers, and other professional risk-takers: “There are old pilots. There are bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots.”

I was thinking of this as I swam my daily laps today, in the company of a woman who’d taken up aquatics after two hip replacements—which she attributed to 30 years of aerobics. She pointed out that Jane Fonda (aka aerobics queen) had to get both her hip and knee replaced.

And many runners have had to give up their beloved sport due to joint damage from years of pounding. Then there are the activities that are almost exclusively the province of the under-30 folks: Gymnastics. Professional dance. Skateboarding.

The message is that the world is full of things that you can’t do wholeheartedly for your whole life: You can’t be old and bold.

That got me to thinking: Kayaking is one of the few sports where that’s flat-out not true. Sure, whitewater appeals to younger athletes. But sea kayakers are at least as likely to be middle-aged or older.

Usually we complain about this. Sea kayakers bemoan the fact that our sport appears to be dominated by the middle-aged—maybe because that reminds us that we’re no longer the young hipsters.

But you know what? I like the fact we sea kayakers can be old and bold.

How bold? Well, the races I’ve paddled in don’t have age classes–just boat classes. And the guy who regularly wins the fastest, most competitive category turned 70 a few years ago (we think). At any rate, he got a lot faster after he retired.

Yep, you got that right—this guy routinely trounces 25-year olds.

And he’s not unusual. Older kayakers routinely show the young ‘uns up with feats of endurance and athleticism. And my dad, a natural athlete, kayaked until the last year of his life—when he was 79.

Kayaking is one of those rare sports in which technique and endurance are more important than strength and explosive power—which means you can keep getting better and better as you age.

In sum: There are plenty of old, bold kayakers. I aspire to be one!

Preparing to be bold (at the 2011 Blackburn Challenge)… and those are NOT white hairs, yet!