The Ships of Arthur Kill

By Vladimir Brezina

Last Saturday, in the course of a memorable kayak circumnavigation of Staten Island (slideshow forthcoming!), we passed through the Arthur Kill, the industrial waterway at the back of Staten Island. And we stopped for a short while, as we always do, at the Graveyard of Ships.

“Marooned, high tide, but among giants; River. City. Heroes. I should have moved to Brooklyn.”

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.

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At the back of the Graveyard rises the green mountain of Fresh Kills, the giant former landfill of New York City.

Although the old favorites are still recognizable, the Graveyard is rapidly decaying (and is also being actively dismantled, apparently). Just two years ago, this looked like this

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

A few miles further up the Arthur Kill, by contrast, it was all vigorous activity at the Howland Hook Marine Terminal. The Hyundai Forward was being simultaneously unloaded and loaded.

(If you look carefully, you will see a tiny Johna paddling down the side of the ship in the first two photos…)

The cycle of life and death!

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Update June 10, 2012: The slideshow of the entire Staten Island circumnavigation is here.

37 responses to “The Ships of Arthur Kill

  1. Fascinating, appalling – but always a different point of view! And yes, how tiny Johna looks against the hull of that gigantic carrier ship. It’s amazing that you can wander around the harbour like that.

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    • It’s definitely a sore point with some tugboat and ferry captains and others working around the harbor… But actually, in the summer it’s more the little motorboats and sailboats that cause them grief, because there are so many of them and they are everywhere. They cause us grief! ;-)

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      I like to say that we’re allowed to do it because nobody’s quite sure who’s in charge…. the Coast Guard would love to ban us, I’m sure, but the NYPD and the harbor police and the New Jersey police don’t agree that the CG has jurisdiction… and meanwhile, we paddle along through the interstices of authority!

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  2. The pictures are amazing. I was left to wonder–aren’t you guys afraid to be so close to such large ships? Wow!

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  3. Very colourful, very different from when I was at sea when things were a little slower.
    Mike

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    • Yes, the pace is deliberate, but pretty relentless. Apparently these container ships spend less than a day in port, unloading and loading often simultaneously. Then they head out to sea again. According to AIS, after leaving New York City the Hyundai Forward has over the past several days visited Savannah (and perhaps other ports on the US East Coast before that), is now in Jacksonville, and will soon be proceeding to Miami…

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      • Just looked at AIS web page you mentioned, I have read of the iPhone version but never seen it, amazing amount of info. These day’s time is money. It was when I was at sea but less so.
        All the best
        Mike

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Mr Mole–
      Thanks! Hard to believe things were slower once. I always wonder what NYC was like as a bustling seaport—now 80% of the traffic seems to be ferries. What must it have been like when so much more commerce was happening by sea?

      And yes.. Vlad’s photos really do the colors justice.

      What they can’t capture is the NOISE of a ship being loaded and unloaded: The clangs and groans and screeches of metal. We experienced it separately, because I was so entranced I paddled ahead of him. Afterwards, we were both blown away by the feeling of being there. It was amazing!

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      • To be fair I only ever worked on tankers and bulk carriers. As to NYC,we did go to Brooklyn 1st street around the back of Manhattan island a couple of times, and spent three days there. Cold and wet and the only record they seem to have on the local radio was Hey Jude by the Beatles.
        all the best
        Mike

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  4. Great colors on those photos of the Hyundai Forward . Years ago I kayaked through the graveyard and was able to find the Fireboat Abram S. Hewitt http://www.opacity.us/image2999_the_abram_hewitt.htm in all Her rusted glory . I’m a third generation Firefighter here in the city and really enjoyed seeing her . Is she still there ? The Hewitt was the last coal fired fireboat in the FDNYs fleet , she responded to the General Slocum steamboat fire http://forgotten-ny.com/2004/09/north-brother-island/ where some 1200 people were lost . Next time you past through there stop by the small but very interesting Blazing star cemetery http://forgotten-ny.com/2010/01/ship-graveyard-rossville-staten-island/ . Its located to the very left of the graveyard of ships , its a bit overgrown but worth the adventure .

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    • Thanks, Stephen—great comment and links! I was not aware of the (land) cemetery, which looks fascinating—we’ll try to visit it if we get the chance!

      Regarding the Abram Hewitt, I’ve looked at the photos taken of her over the years, but I can’t work out from them where exactly she lay in the Graveyard. So I’ve looked up Tugster‘s 2010-2011 series of posts on the Graveyard. Tugster is the expert at vessel identification, but even he’s been having increasing trouble, given the advanced decay of most of the vessels, figuring out which vessel is which. Here he has a photo on which he comments “stern view . . . beyond where–I believe–Abram S. Hewitt once lay–along Hila‘s starboard side?” That makes me think that the Abram Hewitt is now gone, sunk into the mud, disintegrated beyond recognition.

      The colors on the Hyundai Forward were spectacular because just then the setting sun lit up the ship like a stage set…

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      • Too bad she’s gone , i’m glad I had the chance to see the Hewitt . Are we going to see a post with photos of yourself and Johna towing the Enterprise up the Hudson tomorrow via kayaks ? : )

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  5. What a sad-looking place that graveyard is, but how interesting it must be to get up so close to those old ships. Thanks for the tour. ;)

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    • Very interesting, and a bit scary, particularly as it wouldn’t be at all pleasant to have one’s skin-on-frame kayak impaled on one of the bits of metal that protrude out of the water or, worse, lurk just under the surface…

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  6. I am speechless. Amazing. This is truly a great place for adventure that graveyard of ship. Is it official graveyard for ship from government? Isn’t there people that live around the place that feel disturbed by the ship junk?

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    • Not government, but private, owned for decades by the Witte Marine Equipment Company, which is now the Donjon Marine Company.

      I don’t know what the locals think, but the Graveyard is in a semi-industrial, as well as marshy, area, so there probably aren’t too many locals around to care. In any case, the former owner, John Witte, apparently had a reputation of keeping the curious at bay…

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  7. What an interesting paddle! In Seattle I love to kayak (and sometimes canoe) on Lake Union, past all the rows of houseboats, and it’s fun to see how different they all are.

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  8. The graveyard of ships looks kinda eerie :)

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  9. Minus the trip from pier 40 assuming that’s where you launched , how many hours did the circumnavigation of the Island take ?

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    • It’s hard to simply subtract the portion of the trip from Pier 40 (where we indeed launched) to Staten Island at the beginning, and back from Staten Island to Pier 40 at the end, from the actual circumnavigation because we timed the whole trip so as to have current with us during those sections to and from Staten Island where current assistance is most helpful. If we were doing just the circumnavigation of Staten Island we might have timed the trip entirely differently.

      Having said that, the entire trip starting and ending in Manhattan takes optimally about 12 hours, although it can take significantly longer if you miss the current from Staten Island to Manhattan at the end (which is easy to do). It could be done faster, but trying to do it much faster becomes counterproductive because you will not get optimal current assistance during all stages of the trip. The 12 hours allows time for lunch, even :-)

      From this, I would think that paddling just round Staten Island would take 8 hours or so, timed optimally. It’s a significantly longer circumnavigation than the Manhattan one and the currents are weaker.

      I’ll post a “how-to” for the Staten Island circumnavigation at some point…

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  10. The graveyard is eerie, but strangely beautiful too. This was a fascinating read. Oh, and I spotted tiny Johna straight away in the first photo, but had to enlarge and search for itty bitty Johna in the second photo. :)

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    • The Graveyard is definitely your kind of place, an opportunity for some intriguing photographs! Unfortunately it’s accessible from shore only to a very limited extent… time to get your canoe out from your closet!

      Incidentally, another event you might really like is Figment 2012, on Governors Island this weekend (June 9 and 10, 2012). We were going to go, but it looks like other priorities—such as kayaking ;-)—will take precedence. Here are some photos from last year, though.

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      • I may have to brush up my kayaking skills and dust off my paddle! Figment 2012 looks really fun, the toad on the road was my fave. I shall try to make it out over the weekend, thanks a mill for the heads up about it, Vlad. Have fun kayaking this weekend! :)

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  13. Pingback: The Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard – Flesh & Relics

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