Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Prelude

By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina

Ready to launch into adventure

On the morning of Wednesday, June 27, 2012, we found ourselves standing on Pier 40 in Lower Manhattan ready—we hoped!—to circumnavigate Long Island by kayak.

After paddling down the Hudson River last year, the Long Island circumnavigation seemed to be our next logical expedition. At roughly 230 nautical miles (265 land miles), it was twice as long, but not too ambitious. We estimated that it would take 11 days or so. And we loved the idea of simply taking a cab down to Pier 40, launching our kayaks and paddling round Long Island, and then taking a cab home upon our return.

The basic plan

But, although we’d spent months dreaming about the trip, we came down to the wire when it came to planning it in concrete detail.

The week prior to launch passed in a blur of sleepless nights, with mileage and tide calculations, electronics purchases on Amazon, food shopping, and last-minute trips to REI for camping necessities, all slotted in between the heavy work obligations that always seem to accumulate at such times. We bought tons of food: coffee, rice and oats, packages of dried fruit and nuts, apples and oranges, salami and cheese, vacuum-packed salmon—as it turned out, way too much. We pored over the charts and circled likely campsites, made reservations for places to stay, then cancelled some of them again.

Then there were the fears. Johna worried about things like unfriendly locals, and sharks. (In case that seems nuts, check out this article, from just a year ago, or this one, which fortunately appeared only after our return. Eighteen-foot sharks—Yikes!)

Vlad was no help when it came to allaying the fears. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “We should rent ‘Deliverance’. And ‘Jaws’.” As it so happens, both made an appearance of sorts on the trip. And we were attacked during the 35-mile run up the South Shore—but in no way we had possibly anticipated.

On Monday, when we had originally planned to launch, we still weren’t ready. Nor on Tuesday. But by 3:30 AM on Wednesday we were up and readying to go. The plan was to leave at 5:00, and launch about 6:30 or 7:00 AM.

Johna ready to go!

We almost didn’t make it. Johna was putting the finishing touches on a work project, and as a result we didn’t leave for the pier until 5:25, with Vlad fretting that we’d miss the currents. In the cab on the way there, Johna had a panic attack when it appeared her project hadn’t uploaded, and Vlad suggested we turn around and launch Thursday. But after so much preparation, delaying another day didn’t seem right. (Johna’s work project made it through just fine, as it turned out).

Vlad ready to go!

With no traffic, by 6:15 AM we had arrived at Pier 40. Fortunately we had already packed most items into the kayaks on the previous day. But we still had to somehow fit in all our drinking water. (The loaded boats were then so heavy that we could hardly drag them to the water, a foretaste of things to come.) So it took us until 8:00 AM—almost the last moment to catch the ebb current that we would need to make it out of the harbor—to get ready, finally, to set off on our big adventure.

In subsequent posts, we will describe each day of the trip in sequence. And for fellow paddlers thinking about this or a similar trip, we’ll add a Postcript: Lessons Learned with more logistical details.

Next: Day 1 —>

35 responses to “Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Prelude

  1. When I went down to Pier 40 to take my cruise up the Hudson, I saw all the kayakers out on the water by the pier. I made a video, but haven’t done anything with it yet. Quite a trip.


  2. Spiritual World Traveler

    Look forward to reading about this trip!


  3. I was wondering about the weight in each kayak and how that would affect its handling … I’m on the edge of my seat to see you launch:)


    • We didn’t have any means of weighing them, but fully loaded they must have weighed a couple of hundred pounds or more each. The Feathercraft specifications say that my boat, the Heron, has a maximum payload of 405 lb (including the kayaker), and the boat itself weighs 54 lb. When fully loaded at the beginning of this trip, the two of us could hardly drag it, never mind lift it (which would not have been advisable anyway, as it could have broken the boat, or us). We could just about lift Johna’s boat, which is smaller. One conclusion from this, of course, is that we packed too much :-)

      As far as handling is concerned, most kayaks become more stable when loaded, and that was the case at least with my boat—but it’s pretty stable to begin with. Speed seemed to be relatively little affected. Yes, the boat was riding lower in the water, so there must have been more friction, and it should theoretically have been harder to accelerate the boat. (On the other hand, at speed, there was presumably more momentum to bash through waves…) But overall, the load didn’t play a huge role once the boat was off the beach and in the water.


      • It’s interesting about the handling, Vlad, but I’m enjoying the idea of you two trying to get those boats from your place down to the wharf and into the water … :) Thanks so much for the detailed explanation!


        • Actually, we keep the boats and associated paddling gear down at Pier 40. So it was just a matter of bringing all the other stuff down to the pier, getting the boats out of the locker (a converted shipping container), loading them, and then dragging them a few yards down the boat ramp to the water.


        • Of course, how silly of me – no more cupboards in your apartment hallway these days! :)


  4. Fascinating, as always.


  5. What an adventure! Look forward to the next installment.


  6. Quite an undertaking. It must have been very exciting.


  7. Lions and tigers and sharks, oh my! The kayak/shark video is amazing and scary. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the trip stories :-)


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  9. Can’t wait for the rest of your installments.


  10. Mad Queen Linda

    Quick! The edge of the reader’s cliff is beginning to crumble from all of us leaning over it! And despite your clarification, I like to imagine the two of you in a yellow cab with the kayaks strapped to the roof. Are there any stickers on the taxi windows that say, “Kayaks ride free”?


    • In the old days, readers had to be patient—installments of serialized stories came out once a week, or once a month. From the overwhelmed writer’s point of view, I can see the wisdom of this ;-)

      Will look into the kayak-taxi thing…. maybe we can start something…


  11. I’m glad you’re giving the trip in bits and pieces. I absolutely laughed when you wrote about trying to get away. Your week sounds just like us when we try to get away for camping trips. Deadlines pile up, heavy work schedules, trying to get enough supplies together, etc. We seem to always have delays as this.
    I just started kayaking and absolutely love it. Starting on on tame, quiet lakes for now. So much fun, though!
    Looking forward to hearing more. Helps us beginners learn.


    • Yes, trying to get away is always like that, for us and by all accounts for many others… but with the first paddle stroke on the water, all that stress falls away… :-)


      • I, along with many I’m sure, know EXACTLY what you mean!


        • In miniature, it was like that every day. The most unpleasant part of the day, for me at least, was packing up camp and trying to fit everything into the kayaks once again… but then, launch drew a sharp line between all that and the rest of the day to come, with the knowledge that all that was done and we had no need to look back, only forward…


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