“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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The best of these photos are enlarged on a full-width photo page. Take a look –>

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

38 responses to ““Just Another Day in Paradise”

  1. Yep! It must have been even more spectacular to be in the middle of it, riding those beaten copper waters, gliding through that watered gold rain … What a day:)


  2. Wildly beautiful and I imagine you had the best view of it all!


  3. What images! A strange paradise, but … paradise just the same.


  4. It’s amazing how much drama and beauty clouds add to a photo.


  5. It just goes to prove that paradise doesn’t have to have sunshine and palm trees. Great pics! ;)


  6. I just posted this on the “best of” photos —

    Great photos! NY is a kind of paradise — in ruins. OZ after the Apocalypse. I was in Brooklyn last week and caught the sky on two occasions — after a sun shower there was a double rainbow over Gravesend and in the afternoon with the day threatening thunder storms all day there where 5 mile high thunder heads that never became storms — instead we were treated to a spectacular cloud display. I fortunately caught both sky’s on my iPhone. But I think the phone has become an obsession — I am forgetting to take a real camera. My iPhone shots are good but would be better if I had my LX5 in addition. I’ll post a blog entry about these later.


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Yes, that rainbow WAS double! And unfortunately Vlad missed it. We were pretty far apart by then, and I was trying to get his attention by pointing at the rainbow–I think instead he took a picture of me pointing! (Reminds me of the old Zen saying about not confusing the pointing finger with the moon… :-) Anyway, the whole day was spectacular. Glad you captured it!


  7. Looks like you had fun. Beautiful shots with the clouds enhancing it all.


  8. Wow, I just watched that slideshow three times in a row, those skies are magical. The rain shining copper in the sunset is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in ages. And I love the yellow submarine! :)


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks, ailsapm! Glad someone else likes watching the slideshow as much as I do :-). Yellow submarine is one of our favorite trips… we rarely get to see it because it’s so close to Pier 40 that it’s usually not worth a trip on its own, and by the end of a longer one we’re too tired for a detour. But in this case it was a great alternative to landing at Coney Island….


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  10. The photos yas shot are outta sight .I had authorities try to evict me from Wolfs pond beach along the south shore of Staten Island around this time last year . Short story long,after a few hours of kayaking I decided to land on a closed beach and dig into my PB&J sandwich in Wolfs pond park (another beach a hundred yds away was in full swing) and as I’m draggin the boat up this rambunctious little gal wearin a smokey the bear hat comes outta nowhere runnin in my direction hootin n a hollerin about how I can’t land there and it’s against the law . So I says to her I’m just gonna take a short break ,I’m gonna have some grub and be on my way, no harm no foul . Well She’s not havin it and makes contact via radio to another beach ranger ,all the while I’m settin up shop against a sand dune underneath a nice shady scrub bush . A few moments later her backup shows up ,a fella wearin a similar get up except he’s got a ticket book in hand . He’s askin me for my name and where do I live ,show me your I.D. and so on and so forth , I was tempted to tell em I just paddled across the pond from Great Britain but thought better of it : ) . Anyways after I refused to give them any information they said they were goin to call in the real police to which I replied “and have an ambulance respond also being that I’m feeling dizzy and faint and that that is why I landed here in the first place ,to get some nourishment into my system and that I hope you two don’t get into any hot water for trying to chase a person off a beach who’s just trying to rest for a bit ” . Well after that they kind of seen where this was goin and that I just wasn’t worth the effort or aggravation and told me not to stay to long and went on their way to be on the look out for Russian subs or somethin . The City has ,and I’m sure you know this designated kayak launch sites of which Staten Island has six that require a permit ( $25 or something ) which I refuse to get .Unfortunately another way for the City to squeeze more money out of us . Any ways your photos are outta sight . http://www.nycgovparks.org/facilities/kayak .


    • I had a similar experience once, years ago, when I landed for lunch on South Brother Island. Two corrections officers came over from neighboring Rikers Island in a boat and, using plenty of four-letter words, began to threaten me with all kinds of things they could do to me, such as showing me the inside of Rikers Island… In the middle of this torrent of abuse a thought suddenly struck them, and they asked almost hesitantly: “Are you stranded on this island?” When I said no they resumed their abuse… So I guess an emergency trumps everything!

      Glad you liked the photos! :-)


  11. Give bored people in uniform any little bit of power and an opportunity and they will harass folks in a kayak. I have been harassed multiple times on the water and on shore. The most egregious was on what I consider to be my own private boat ramp and turf at 59th Street and 12th Ave. in Hudson River Park (Manhattan). I have launched one or the other of my two folbots numerous times since the ramp was completed a few years ago.
    So two years ago on a weekend morning I’m assembling my big two-seat Greenland 2 sea kayak. Up walks a Hudson River Park cop (also dressed like Smokey the Bear, though Smokey likely has a higher IQ and is more useful). He was a young guy and asked me what the heck I was doing. I know I gave him a bit of a quizzical look like ‘isn’t it obvious? this is a boat ramp and I’m am launching a boat you ninny.’ but instead I answered what I was doing.
    “You cannot launch here,” he said in no uncertain terms.
    “Yes I can.” I said already getting my dander up and proceeded with what I was doing.
    I knew the regulations and knew that paddlers do not even need a permit to launch from Hudson River Park, in designated locations. I repeated this and even told him that I also had a Parks permit and a map of launch sites, rules and regs, which I fished out of one of my bags and handed over to him.
    By then I was quite irritated and it showed. It is bad enough that I cannot get access to Pier 84 in my own back yard and have to haul my boat(s) 16 blocks to this spot.
    “It is a shame you do not know the rules for your own organization,” and told him to get in touch with his superiors including the water safety officer and a couple high-level folks in the Park Trust bureaucracy. He then actually apologized, clammed up and moved along because I think I embarrassed him in front of some passers by. That set the tone for my day though. I just kept shaking my head to myself.
    I have even regularly purchased a NY City Parks & Recreation permit up in the bowels of the Arsenal in Central Park (I’ve always gone up there in person because mailing the application seems to take an inordinate amount of time and the darned thing is only good for the calendar year). But I am starting to be of the same opinion as Stephen and did not get one this year. They do not seem to put this money toward any improvements to launches or facilities. I have all the necessary equipment including navigation lights, VHF radio etc. etc. and NYPD boats still routinely stop me. And on other occasions I have heard the NY Waterway ferries complaining about kayakers over the radio to the NYPD or Coast Guard. Commercial interests are quite cozy and chummy with law enforcement and the Coast Guard out there (along with the NY State Police and other munincipalitiy boat law enforcement etc. etc. etc) I guess because they are the only folks the get to speak with regularly.
    Back in 2002 after I bought my first boat I thought I would try my luck with a few locales here in Hells Kitchen with floating docks, after all it is my own neighborhood and back yard. At the time we had only the Pier 26 Downtown Boathouse location to launch or land from and that is a long way to paddle against a flood. The first place I tried was approaching the “Beast’s” dock owned by the Circle Line. I had patiently waited until the Beast departed so that I was in no one’s way and it would be 45 minutes or an hour before it returned. I approached the dock and hollered up to a staffer. No, no, no. Some teenager said. I asked to speak to a supervisor. One came over. “No,” he said as he puffed out his chest. I tried to discuss it further and said I would just hop out and pull my boat up and get out of the way in a minute or two. “If you approach any closer I will call the police,” he said.
    I just shook my head and paddled away.
    I next thought I would attempt the Intrepid, which had floating docks as well. Same thing there, though they set off the anti-aircraft klaxons on me first.
    I have since learned that it is all about insurance and liability of getting sued if anyone is injured. I think there were also fears about the USS Cole and general fear post-911. The latter was a particularly bitter pill for me as I was downtown day of and volunteered, manning a triage site to which no one was ever brought.
    Nonetheless I was born and raised in Florida where it is everyone’s God-given right to access the water. The only places you cannot are someone’s private property. No so here.


    • In terms of rights of access to water, if you think New York is bad, try Connecticut ;-) And New York City is particularly bad because it’s so built up and there are so few points of access to the water. Contrast that with Long Island, from where we’ve just returned and where we had no trouble, even in this high season, not only in launching, but in camping right next to the water every night…

      But yes, it can be infuriating. Organizations such as the Hudson River Park Trust have rules that often seem pointless and obstructive, and which then are arbitrarily interpreted by employees who don’t really know what the rules are in the first place. But in that disorganization lies a degree of flexibility. With some good will, as opposed to antagonism, one can often achieve a reasonably good outcome, as we’ve learned on several occasions


  12. love the one with the Verazanno Bridge … they’re all great.


    • Almost every other trip, because of the tidal currents, we paddle south, and so under the bridge, of which I must by now have accumulated hundreds of photos, at all times of the day, in all kinds of weather. You just can’t not take a photo of that bridge when passing under it…


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  16. Wow, amazing photos! You just gained one avid follower who’s gonna check your blog everyday and show it to the family. :)


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