A Brisk Paddle Up the Palisades

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

IMGP7239 cropped small“Do you think we can make it to Piermont Pier?”, I asked.

“I know of no reason why not,” Vlad replied. A small alarm bell rang at the back of my head: he hadn’t exactly said, “Yes.” And Vlad is a man who uses words very precisely.

But I brushed it off. We’d come quite a distance up the Palisades—just over 19 nautical miles, in fact.  Aided by a stiff flood current, we were almost at Italian Gardens, and we were deciding whether to stop there or continue onwards.

Piermont Pier, the long finger of land extending into the Hudson just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, was only two miles away. We hadn’t been there yet this year, and the summer was almost over.

And though we’d had a brisk northerly breeze in our faces the whole way, we’d come thus far with no trouble. As Vlad said, there was no reason why we couldn’t make it the rest of the way.

So we set off into the wind-against-current chop ahead of us.

But quite soon, I realized the stretch ahead of us was very different from the gentle conditions thus far. The “breeze” had turned into a veritable wind whistling in our ears, 12-15 knots or more. The waves it kicked up were 2-3 feet high—nothing calamitous, but requiring a lot of energy to cut through. And worst of all, the current was fading, slowly but surely.

I watched as the GPS that clocked my pace dropped from 4 knots to 3.5… to 3, to 2, and then to 1.5. One-and-a-half knots! At that rate, it would take me an hour or more to make it to Piermont Pier—and by then, the current would be well against us.

It might not be possible at all, in fact!

IMGP7271 cropped smallVlad was far ahead of me—his boat is heavier and more wind-resistant than mine, and he already looked quite small in the sea of white-flecked waves. I redoubled my efforts and was rewarded to see my pace improve… 2 knots… 2.5… 3 knots. I stabilized at around 2.8 knots and put my full focus on paddling, as my Solstice crashed through the whitecaps, one after another.

After what seemed like a very long time, but was probably only 45 minutes or so, we pulled into the sheltered water in the lee of Piermont Pier. Suddenly the wind ceased. It was calm, and a whole flotilla of ducks floated peacefully among the pilings, while fishermen and day-trippers looked on.

We pulled up on a narrow beach and left the boats while we went in search of a picnic spot among the reeds. Soon enough we found a couple of cement blocks, out of the wind, that were pleasantly warmed by the sun. You can always tell the difference between picnicking in the summer and any other season—in the summer, you look for places out of the sun, while the other three seasons, you look for places in the sun.

As we ate, I asked Vlad, “Why did you say you knew of no reason why not, instead of yes?” He replied that a northwesterly wind usually kicks up rather fiercely in that part of the Hudson where there is a gap in the protective barrier of the Palisades. And though it shouldn’t have been a problem, given the day’s conditions, one never knows when conditions might change… a few more knots of wind, or the current slacking sooner than expected, could have resulted in a real challenge.

But fortunately, that hadn’t happened. We rested a bit longer, then set off back home, much to the amusement of a trio of children and their mothers, who waved us goodbye.

We launched into the beginning of the ebb current. And this time the brisk wind was at our backs, driving us forcefully forward. We reached home earlier than anticipated, just in time to watch the sun set across the Hudson from Pier 40. A brisk trip indeed: 42 nautical miles in a little over 10 hours.

(click on any photo to start slideshow)

16 responses to “A Brisk Paddle Up the Palisades

  1. Glad the brisk wind was at your backs… Amazing shots!

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  2. OMG Hilarous iming. We led a trip for new paddlers out of Inwood to Alpine, departing noon-ish and returning 430. About half had to return early (with experienced paddlers) while four of us slogged on, running out of current near Alpine. The return was remarkably easy and relatively wind-free. Fun on the way up though! Delighted you got out again so soon.

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      HI Julie! This was actually a few weeks back, not the “breeze” we had yesterday. I’m sure that was fun for the newbies, ha!

      Don’t know about you, but I was down for the count on Saturday, then caught up on errands Sunday (no paddling). But, there will be a blog post about Friday’s travels!

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  3. Great shots. Enjoyed the adventure.

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  4. Aaaaahh! Lucky you! Thanks!

    George

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  5. I love the “idea” that Vlad’s heavier boat made paddling easier for him. Has he commented on it? Ha!
    Wondering about the wind and current. Would the western side of the river been in a partial lee headed up?

    George

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Not paddling overall, just paddling in the wind.

      With no wind, I can almost always keep up (on hot days, I’ll even go faster).

      And it’s not the weight, exactly–it’s more the fact that the folding boat conforms to the water and rides farther down, generally, exposing less surface area to the wind, and in a different shape. Remember, it flexes quite a bit (unlike a hardshell). Vlad’s boat actually rides pretty low in the water, particularly when he’s in it (even more so when it’s fully loaded).

      Think of how differently a styrofoam cup and a wet handkerchief respond to a breeze in a puddle!

      I’ve noticed this with other paddlers, not just me–a hardshell is a LOT more susceptible to wind, particularly an ultralight one like mine. (I’ve got the hardcore carbon pro model, which is something like 30-35 pounds for a 17-foot boat.)

      Since you asked, he is not entirely bought into this theory :-). But I’ve paddled both fiberglass hardshell and folding boat more recently than he has, and I’ve had MUCH less difficulty with the wind in the folding boat. So *I’m* pretty confident in the theory, for what it’s worth. :-)

      As for the lee, we were fine until the river widened. If we’d absolutely, positively HAD to make it there (say we’d planned to camp there for the evening, or something) you’re quite right! We would have done exactly what you’re suggesting: crept along the side of the river, out of the ebb current and most of the wind. But that would have extended the trip by an hour or two at least, and guaranteed current against us, so we opted to cut straight through the waves.

      Thanks again for reading, and posting!

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  6. beautiful pictures and thank you once again for a great adventure! love it! :)

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  7. Your posts are like reading chapters in a novel. And I’m usually on edge – to much suspense for me. But.. I love it.

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  8. What an exciting post. Such beautiful pics too. :)

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