By Vladimir Brezina
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.
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. Later, 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.