Hidden Harbor Tour

By Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0729 cropped smallOnce in a while it occurs to us that there might be other ways to see New York Harbor than by kayak.

And so, on Tuesday evening, we traveled down to the South Street Seaport and boarded the yacht Zephyr, for one of the Hidden Harbor Tours organized by the  Working Harbor Committee. Our appetites had been whetted by the recent Tugboat Races, also organized by the Committee. And reading the description of this tour, it promised to be another highlight:

This tour passes by the Red Hook Container Terminal and visits Erie Basin, home of Hughes Brothers Barges and Reinauer Tugs before crossing the harbor toward Staten Island. It then enters Kill Van Kull, the area’s busiest waterway dividing Staten Island and Bayonne, passing tug yards, oil docks and marine repair facilities. It then passes under the Bayonne Bridge and visits the giant container ports of Newark Bay, Port Newark and Port Elizabeth where the world’s largest container ships tie up. On the way back, we pass by Military Ocean Terminal, the 9/11 Teardrop Memorial, the Robbins Reef Lighthouse and another container port, ending up at the Statue of Liberty for a moment before returning to Pier 16.

We got all of that and more.

DSC_0026 cropped small

And beyond the sights themselves, all the conditions came together, that day, for an unexpectedly delightful and memorable experience. The harbor lay bathed in the golden light of a lovely, warm late-summer evening. A gentle breeze refreshed us. A bar on the boat served  alcohol, and Johna promptly ordered a rum-and-coke to add to the mellow mood. DSC_0092 cropped smallLater, the sun set in a blaze of orange beyond New Jersey. And as we motored back toward the lights of Manhattan twinkling in the deepening dusk, we began to discern the twin pillars of light where the towers of the World Trade Center used to stand. We had forgotten that it was the eve of 9/11.

It was a strange feeling to be for once on a big boat, and in particular on the Zephyr, a boat that we often see zooming past us, throwing up quite a wake, as we kayak through the harbor. But we enjoyed the novel perspective on the harbor from 20 feet up rather than from water level. And perhaps now we’ll regard the Zephyr a little differently when we meet it on the water…

The tour did not actually take us to any place that we hadn’t already visited, multiple times, by kayak. But in kayaks we don’t have a tour guide like Edward J. Kelly. He is the Executive Director of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey—a life-long expert on the harbor, and it showed. He talked about the history and economics of the harbor, maritime customs and traditions, and the various types of ships that we happened to encounter during the tour, with spontaneous clarity, humor, and wit, and all in an irresistible Boston accent, just a little incongruous in New York Harbor… (A summary of what he talked about on a similar tour earlier in the summer is here.)

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take detailed notes. I was too busy taking photos—

(click on any photo to start slideshow)

These and a few other photos are here.

62 responses to “Hidden Harbor Tour

  1. Oh my what a fabulous slide show of your Zephyr tour. Stunning shots especially of the twin lights to the sky. Thanks for sharing your adventure.


  2. good to see things from a different perspective… all very nice… you were quite busy taking photos for sure!


  3. thanks for this Vladimir, nothing like being chauffeur driven for a change, AND have a bar attached – not that you had a chance to leave the deck :). I was interested to see the Resolute at work. I assumed in the tugboat race that she had buffalo hide as decoration, to frighten off the competitors. But that is working gear, and no doubt not buffalo hide ;) Thanks for the insight.


    • Definitely not buffalo hide :-)

      But yes, it is working gear. Most tugs have something like it. In most cases the preferred material seems to be rubber cut from tires (or tyres, depending on your part of the world), or whole tires especially along the sides of the tug. The Resolute seems to have coarse mop-like material instead. In all cases I assume (I’ve never actually spoken to a tug crew member about it) that it provides compressible material to soften the contact with the ship or barge being pushed, a greater surface area to provide greater friction, protection for the hull surfaces, etc…


  4. A wonderful description and set of photos, Johna! Thanks for taking us along on your tour :-)


  5. vastlycurious.com

    What a beautiful trip and thanks for sharing it! Johna’s smile is beautiful !


  6. These photos are incredible! Thanks for passing them along. Lotta work!


  7. Thank you for taking me on such a brilliant voyage. Not only that you threw in a view of the Queen Mary (fond memories of docking at dawn on a hot June morning), AND of the Staten Island Ferry. Fantastic pics all round.


    • We saw many of the ships and boats that we normally see on the water, somehow wonderfully concentrated into the two hours. Partly I think it was the fact that it was a weekday rather than a weekend. Also we were much higher up and so could see all of the shipping in the harbor at once rather than meeting them one by one as we normally do when kayaking. Johna was ecstatic to see both of her two most favorite tugs, the Meagan Ann and the Resolute, winners of the 2012 and 2013 tugboat races, respectively :-)


  8. Excellent journey – a definite addition to our NY ‘to-do’ list – many thanks for the information and pictures.


  9. Oh Vladimir!!! I think it is a great tour!!!! I did not know about it! If I go back to NYC, I will try to book one!!!! It gives you a different approach to the city as you say>!!!!


    • Most highly recommended!! But be aware that these tours are not all that frequent. They are not like the trips to the Statue of Liberty or even around Manhattan, which go every hour or two, every day. The Hidden Harbor Tours may go just once or twice a month, and to different parts of the harbor. Check the schedule on the Working Harbor Committee website!





  11. You two have broadened our paddling horizons. Thanks again for images that capture the essence of the places you visit. Each time we visit you on one of these trips we add it to our bucket list.
    George and Jeanie


  12. great tour once again. thanks so much!


  13. Thanks for such a wonderful review and gorgeous photo gallery of our Hidden Harbor Tour of Newark Bay. It was great to meet you both!


  14. What a great trip. And a beautiful photo tribute too. Thank you for showing us through your lens.


  15. Nice, and you didn’t have to do all the work of rowing, either.


  16. Thank you so much for the grand tour! Great shots!


  17. Wonderful “tour de port” – excellent captured… :-)


  18. Thoroughly enjoyed the tour, thank-you both – and Edward J – and the skipper and crew of Zephyr.
    Want! I really do!


  19. Glad you took photos, instead of notes. Enjoyed the photos!


  20. Great pictures as usual. It must have been nice to sit back and enjoy the trip without having to worry about tugboats and their wake? NYC is great from any angle!


  21. Great story and photos, I’ve only supported swimmers in a local triathlon, your paddle looks really exciting.


  22. Some tour! Some place… one could get lost there for days… fun!


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  26. Awesome pictures! Thanks for sharing!


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