Monthly Archives: March 2013

Travel Theme: Smoke and Mirrors

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Smoke and Mirrors, in honor of Smoke and Mirrors Day (where do these designations come from?), “which celebrates all things magical and illusory”.

The magical smoke and mirrors of a calm dawn on the river…

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This Year’s Visit to the Swinburne Island Seals

By Vladimir Brezina

Last week’s excitement about the East River Dolphin reminded us that we hadn’t seen our old friends, the Swinburne Island seals, in almost a year, since last April in fact. So on Sunday we paddled down to visit them again.

We paddled up to Swinburne Island in what we hoped was a stealthy manner, cameras at the ready.

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Unfortunately, with the morning’s forecast of significant winds and, presumably, waves and spray—which in the event did not materialize—I left my non-waterproof DSLR, with its telephoto lens, at home. So both of us were limited to our little waterproof cameras—not really suitable for capturing the details of distant seal heads in the water.

And soon there were heads popping up all around, peering at us with a cautious curiosity. Now and then one advanced daringly close, then immediately crash-dived with a snort and a loud splash.

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If you look at the photo above closely (click on it to enlarge), it shows seven seal heads. Altogether, by counting the number visible simultaneously or nearly simultaneously all around, we estimated that there were at least 15 seals around us, although there could well have been many more. There were a few small seals, presumably babies.

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As usual, the seals preferred to observe us without being themselves observed. They popped up directly behind our boats and peered at us intently, then immediately dived as soon as we turned around.

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As the seals heads rose out of the water in upredictable locations around us for a few seconds before disappearing again, we snapped away in the hope of capturing the decisive moment.

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And indeed, in some shots, when we later examined them at home, there were seals in places where we had not even noticed them at the time…

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Swinburne Island itself, although clearly hospitable to seals and seabirds, seemed more desolate than on our previous visits, even more empty of the ruins and dead trees that had covered it, probably as a result of the visit of Hurricane Sandy back in October of last year.

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Then it was time for some tea on the water, if possible out of the cold wind. We considered rafting up in the lee of Swinburne Island itself, but it was clear that hundreds of gulls would seriously object. We ended up having our tea off the neighboring island, Hoffman, where the local opposition was less intense.

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After tea, with the current now turned in our favor, we paddled back to the Verrazano Narrows on our way home.

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And, in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Nature had a final bonus ready for us—a porpoise (or perhaps another dolphin), calmly surfacing, arching its back, diving again…

It was in almost exactly the same spot where we had observed another porpoise two years ago, in late March 2011. Come to think of it, that previous sighting was the subject of the very first post on Wind Against Current :-)

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Together with the sighting of the dolphins and seals in the East River last week, it’s hard not to feel that marine mammals are really coming back to New York Harbor!

Next up, I believe we are ready to encounter at least a  medium-sized whale…

A Magical Maiden Voyage

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

“This will be your best circumnav ever,” said Randy, smiling.

I smiled back, a bit dubiously.

Randy’s a friend and the owner of the New York Kayak Company.  I’d just bought a new kayak from him—a red-and-black-and-white Tiderace Xplore-S Carbon Pro, a long, lean, lightweight boat designed for expedition sea kayaking.

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Solstice

I loved the new boat—which I promptly named Solstice—but I was feeling a bit squeamish about taking her for a maiden voyage on a Manhattan circumnavigation. It’s always a bit tricky paddling a new boat, particularly one that handles considerably differently than your previous one.

Solstice is a good 15 inches longer than Photon, my old Valley Avocet, and an inch or two narrower.  That design makes for a boat that’s faster and more powerful, but also potentially harder to control. And although circumnavigating Manhattan isn’t an inherently challenging proposition, there are some tricky bits, even in calm conditions.

The  swirling eddies at Hell Gate can almost always be counted on to provide some excitement, for instance, as can the ferries at the Battery (and their wakes).  Being unable to handle your boat  in such situations is not a good thing—even less so in winter, when a capsize can lead to hypothermia, even if the rescue or self-rescue is effective. So taking a brand-new boat out for a 6-hour trip seemed, under the circumstances, slightly risky.

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In the water for the first time!

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A longer, narrower boat…

But Randy’s confidence was contagious, and I tried my best to shelve the worries.  And as Vlad and I launched a bit later that day, we were both looking forward to the outing, our first longer paddle in the NYC area since before Hurricane Sandy.  I hoped Randy was right.

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First strokes

I had no idea how right he’d turn out to be. The trip was… well, “magical” is the best way I can describe it. Or maybe “enchanted”…

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Weekly Photo Challenge & Travel Theme: Time—Future Tense

By Vladimir Brezina

Once again, the Weekly Photo Challenge and Ailsa’s Travel Theme are in uncanny synergy—this week, the two themes are Future Tense and Time.

And here’s a photo that seems to me to symbolize these two themes. I know many of you have seen it before. But that was back in November. Time has passed, and what was then the Future has now most likely become the Present…

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Happy Spring!

By Vladimir Brezina

The Vernal Equinox just occurred a few minutes ago—and so, Happy Spring!

First flower

… to those in the Northern Hemisphere, of course. And to those in the Southern Hemisphere, Happy Autumn!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime, Take Two

By Vladimir Brezina

IMGP1118 cropped smallThis week’s Photo Challenge is Lunchtime. I’ve already shown what our lunchtime very often looks like. And continuing the same theme, here is today’s lunch!

It was snowing.

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But lunch was just one of the many high points of this trip, which Johna is writing up. Watch this space!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime!

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Lunchtime.

When lunchtime rolls around, we’ve already been paddling for hours—and we are starving!

Sometimes we land. Over the years, we’ve had lunch in many memorable, picturesque spots—

Sandy Hook, NJOn the Hudson River near SaugertiesPea Island, Long Island SoundSouth Shore of Long Island

But often it’s just not convenient to land. We have our lunch on the water—

Off the Rockaways, New York City

And in winter we really don’t want to get out of our boats at all. We raft up for a few minutes in the lee of a convenient windbreak—on a Manhattan circumnavigation, we head for our favorite barge off Randall’s Island—for some hot tea and salami and cheese—

Our favorite barge off Randall's IslandWhat's for lunch todayHot teaSalami and cheese

And let me tell you, it tastes damn good under the circumstances!

(And a second post on the Lunchtime theme, showing our most recent lunch at the barge, is here.)