By Johna Till Johnson
For my first paddle in a long while, the weather was cooperating beautifully. The day before had been cold and blustery, and the day after was predicted to be dark and rainy. But Saturday dawned sunny, clear, and calm.
There was just one catch: The temperature had been below freezing for a couple of days, and wasn’t predicted to rise above it today. Would the embayment at Pier 40, where we launch from, be iced in?
I worried anxiously in the cab on the way down.
Unnecessarily, as it turned out: As we pulled up to the pier, my heart leapt at the sight of bright, clear water lapping gently against the dock. (But I would see my ice later on, never fear!)
My friends Val and Julie joined me a few minutes later. We’d agreed to keep this trip short: I could ease back into paddling, and we wouldn’t have to worry about being too far from home.
Currents dictated that we should head south in the midafternoon: Slack was at approximately 3 PM. So departing Pier 40 around 2 PM meant we could paddle for an hour or so, then turn around and ride the rising flood back home.
Morris Canal was the obvious choice. It’s a short canal on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, just north of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. It’s a popular destination in the summer, because there’s a waterfront restaurant where you can get burgers and drinks before heading back. In fact, most paddlers don’t usually go much farther down the canal than that.
But we had time on our hands. So after a surprisingly short jaunt across the Hudson aided by the still-strong ebb, we paddled slowly down the canal. Past the shuttered restaurant… past sleepy marinas… past working boats, including various tugs and a fire boat.
We explored a marine crane, marveling at our ability to paddle underneath. Mostly we watched as the waterway slowly transitioned from commercial (condos and parks) to decaying industrial, to wild.
The waterfowl were the first clue. At the first marina we startled what we think was a blue heron, who seemed both perfectly natural and strangely out of place amidst the pleasure boats.
Later on, amidst the standard urban mix of mallard duos and and clusters of geese, we caught sight of what Val identified as coots: Black duck-like birds with white faces. And slowly the landscape changed as well from concrete and rusting steel to reeds, which rustled faintly in the stillness.
Reeds… and ice.
At the very end of the canal I found my ice: Nearly translucent sheets perhaps 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, thin enough for a kayak to paddle through, but still with a tricky habit of pulling paddles underwater and destabilizing the boat. After amusing ourselves crunching through the ice for a bit, we turned around and headed home, into a rising flood assisted by a stiff breeze. For the first time that day, we really felt the 20-something temperatures.
We arrived back at Pier 40 just before sunset, chilly but energized. Ice crusted our paddles and sheeted over our decks, and we were quite happy to pack up and head over to a nearby bar for steaming bowls of chili and fortifying libations.
Ice in Morris Canal: A perfect way to welcome in 2015!
(Click on any photo to see all the photos in a slideshow)