A Late-Summer Staten Island Circumnavigation

By Vladimir Brezina

Staten Island circumnavigation 83

High on our list of paddling priorities for this summer has been the Staten Island circumnavigation.

It’s a trip that has everything—the busy New York Harbor and the open water of the Lower Bay, islands and lighthouses, surf on sandy beaches, grassy creeks and salt marshes, wildlife, heavy industry, decayed piers, shipwrecks, huge container ports, container ships, barges, and tugs of all shapes and sizes, imposing bridges, and finally the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline glowing in the sunset or, after it, sparkling with a myriad lights…

And all this in just twelve hours of paddling!

We used to do a Staten Island circumnavigation often, but suddenly we realized we hadn’t done one for two years—since Hurricane Sandy, in fact. We wondered how Sandy might have changed the familiar landmarks…

And the long days of summer were drawing to an end.

So on Saturday we went. Here are some photos.

Staten Island circumnavigation 2014

Our GPS track, with the locations of the photos indicated. Click to expand.

(click on any photo to start slideshow)

Then it got too dark to take pictures. But the most exciting part of the trip was still to come! The paddle through the narrow Kill van Kull in a dense traffic of tugs, barges, and that container ship following just behind us… The crossing of the mouth of the Kill van Kull in the dark, from one flashing buoy to the next… The paddle through dark smooth waters past the Statue of Liberty, the sparkling skyline of Manhattan growing ever larger… And finally the crossing of the Hudson back to Pier 40, weaving through the procession of loud party boats on their Saturday-night promenade…

Altogether, 42 nautical miles (about 48 land miles).

39 responses to “A Late-Summer Staten Island Circumnavigation

  1. I’ve said it before but I have to say it again – you bring such a unique perspective to travel in NYC. Such a treat to read/view your blog.

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  2. Good Grief I was paddling along Great Kills myself that same day , too bad I didn’t come across you two , I would have gave you an escort through My stomping grounds :) . 42 mi ,12 hrs ! Please tell Me you got out at some point to stretch ?

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    • Too bad we missed each other!

      We did get out for half an hour or so at Tottenville—not to stretch, but to eat some lunch. When it’s warm, and there is a convenient beach handy, we do that. If not, not—we just raft up and eat on the water. In winter that’s much more pleasant…

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  3. Very cool. I want to join next time! I am still out in British Columbia, kayaking and also dragon-boating. “See you in September.!

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  4. I like your posts a lot and the photos make it possible to be there:))

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  5. Cool set, the wreck is great!

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  6. vastlycurious.com

    I was sitting on your shoulder, loved the tour and the up close photos of the graveyard . The water looks like glass in one shot! Also the change in daylight and the buck! So fun and thanks for letting us live vicariously with you both!

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  7. Wonderful urban paddle with a few touches forever wild. My favorite area the graveyard of ships, stunning photos from the kayaker’s perspective, best view on the water.

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    • The Graveyard is always a favorite. Unfortunately there is less and less of it each year. On the other hand again, they’ve added the first new wreck, the John B. Caddell, in what must be decades. It gleams strangely white among all that old rusty metal…

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  8. Wow. I’d love to see all this for myself. Sounds like kayaking is the only way. It’s tempting, but since I’d be a beginner, probably not in my near future. I’m glad I got to see it through your eyes.

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    • Well, it is possible to visit some of the sections by kayak without too much trouble. In particular, the Graveyard of Ships—people launch a couple of miles away for a short paddle to the Graveyard. And yes, a kayak (or other small boat) is by far the best way to see the Graveyard…

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  9. Looks like a wonderful day – amazing clouds, & the graveyard is fascinating.

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  10. Great tour and beautiful shots !
    It’s always very intersting to see the Big Apple from your point of you !
    Ciao ciao
    Max

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  11. Wow – a journey that has it all and so beautifully recorded!

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  12. Christopher Schiffner

    I haven’t been to the ship graveyard since 2009 but some people that have been there more recently might find these older pics interesting for comparisons sake.
    http://www.schiffner.com/image-gallery/?a=vg&g=cschiffner_0.87433400_1252814949&r=1&gp=3

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    • Thanks, Chris! Those are really nice. You took the trouble to go deeper in between the wrecks than we usually do—on a Staten Island circumnavigation such as last weekend’s we usually feel like we have to press on after just half an hour at most at the Graveyard…

      But I have been there a number of times over the past fifteen years. My earliest pictures, such as the ones in this post, are from before 2000. And, as your pictures also show, there has indeed been quite a deterioration, especially in recent years. Here’s that iconic ferry at the outer edge of the Graveyard, before 2000:

      then in 2010:

      in 2012:

      and now in 2014:

      And it’s great you went inside the Major General William H. Hart!

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  13. another fun outing and amazing photos! thanks for the ride! what a treat! :)

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  14. Excellent!!

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  15. Oh thank you guys for taking me back!! I used to inhabit all these spaces, but from the land side. I explored every corner of the island and admired the amazing variety of it, but finally, living there was too stressful. When NYS DOH cut dozens of positions, including mine, it was the writing on the wall, and I moved out here to the Seattle area. So it’s good to revel in the nostalgia for a very unique location, and your photos are just excellent. (I saw that deterioration in the shipwrecks over just 4 years of living there. Not to mention the shoreline after a huge storm…)

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  16. Pingback: Broken | Wind Against Current

  17. Its been a year but hope to revive this post… I’d like to row around staten island in the next few weeks or so and could use some advice. Did you use Eldridge to time your route with currents, at least as much as that’s possible? I’d be starting at Great Kills harbor on the south shore, so only 36 miles or so for me.
    Thanks!

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    • Hi, Peter,

      Sorry for the late reply—we were away in Australia.

      Yes, definitely do time your trip to take advantage of the currents. They are significant everywhere around Staten Island except along the south shore. We no longer use Eldridge to look up the currents, but the little chartlets that Eldridge reprints each year are useful to understand the general nature of the current flows. For more information on tides and currents in New York Harbor see this post.

      Do contact us if you need more specific information!

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      • Hi Vladimir –
        Many thanks for the reply. I’ve used Eldridge for years sailing and in my rowing around Raritan Bay. But the information along the Kill van Kull and channel was difficult to read… Anyway, I’ve since done some more snooping about your site and found the link to the Stevens Tech current charts, very nice… And with their help I’ve changed my plan to a clock-wise tour, alert in the morning up the channel, then letting some nice currents bring me home in the afternoon down thru the narrows and even a bit along the south shore. And I can always hope there isn’t a stiff westerly on my nose… a lot more windage on my Chester Yawl skiff than your kayak… -:) Anyway, no boat traffic to speak of along South Beach, all the better after a long row and my back no doubt screaming.
        I’ll post some questions to your Australia site – i have a morbid fascination with salt water crocs.

        cheers,

        Peter

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        • That sounds like a good plan. The key point to remember is that (as the Stevens site shows quite well) the currents in the Kills round the back of Staten Island split, or combine, at Shooters Island at the bottom of Newark Bay. That is, for much of the time that the current flows down Newark Bay, it then splits at Shooters Island to flow southwest down the Arthur Kill, and east down the Kill van Kull. Or, in reverse, it flows northeast up the Arthur Kill and west up the Kill van Kull to combine at Shooters Island and then flow up Newark Bay. The current through the Kill van Kull can be quite strong, that through the Arthur Kill not nearly as strong.

          Our plan when we circumnavigate Staten Island from Manhattan, also clockwise, is therefore to ride the current up the Arthur Kill so as to arrive at Shooters Island at the tail end of that current, and then pick up the current already flowing down the Kill van Kull.

          It’s very desirable to have current with you, rather than against you, through the Kill van Kull, as that is probably the busiest waterway in New York Harbor. In particular, it is the home of many of the harbor’s tugs, which pop in and out of the embayments along the Kill van Kull without any warning. So it’s good to get through there as fast as possible.

          With regard to the wind, yes, we don’t like westerly wind for the circumnavigation: it can make the south shore, where there isn’t much helpful current, a real slog. We look for easterly wind—that is, some kind of weather system :-)

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