Trip 1: Hudson River, Rhinecliff to Ossining, September 1999

Text and Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Early morning colors on the river

Note: After Vlad died, I was astonished to discover that he’d meticulously maintained logs of nearly 300 kayak excursions he made, alone and with others, from 1999 to 2011. He only stopped when this blog became the official chronicle of our journeys.

Although they are true nautical logs, with observations on the weather, conditions, and mileage, they are also written in his characteristic style, with whimsical musings and droll asides sprinkled throughout, so they make for surprisingly lively reading.

Best of all, he also worked in the last months of his life to preserve his vast collection of photographs, so I’m able to pair the logs with photographic illustrations of the same areas. They are not necessarily from the same trips (though some almost certainly are). Wherever possible, I’ve attempted to match for season and conditions.

I plan to publish one each Thursday for the next year or so (not all logs are long enough to make into standalone blog posts). I’ve edited the logs minimally; you’re reading almost exactly what Vlad wrote.  —Johna Till Johnson

18-19 September, Rhinecliff to Ossining
Saturday, 18 September

(Editor’s note: Vlad traveled south from Rhinecliff, which is the starting point roughly in Kingston. The Denning Point campsite is marked, as is his destination at Ossining, a bit north of Rt 287 on the map.)

7:10 Amtrak train to Rhinecliff. The train was delayed by the possibility of water and downed trees on the tracks—Hurricane Floyd hit the area on Thursday night—and I was able to launch only around 11 a.m. Sunny, temperature in the 70s, light north wind, calm water. Water very muddy, with swirls of mud, like light unstirred coffee. Visibility only a few inches. Other signs of hurricane: in some places accumulated masses of floating debris, mainly old driftwood and dead branches presumably swept off beaches. Later I saw some downed trees and numerous beached boats.

Just north of Middle Hudson River (Esopus) Lighthouse, I saw a seal. (Although this far up the river the water is completely fresh.) First it was following in the wake of a sailboat motoring in the other direction, then a few minutes later I saw that it had turned and was following me.

I stopped paddling and watched. The seal kept diving and surfacing, poking its head out of the water. Once it arched its back out of the water like a dolphin. It kept to a distance of about 10 yards. I started slowly paddling twards its position while it was submerged to get closer for a picture. I got slightly closer, but then the seal (apparently unable to see underwater because of the mud) surfaced by chance about two feet off the port side. It must have panicked and gone into an emergency dive; all I saw was an enormous splash, like a huge fish jumping, and was soaked with spray. (Another argument for a waterproof camera.) After that the seal did not surface for a while, and then kept to about 30 yards.

Camp at Denning Point

Good ebb current (1-2 knots?) plus tail wind (10 knots?) in favor. Keeping in the middle of the river, I reached Pougheepsie about 2 p.m. Then the current slacked off. I was hoping that with the runoff water the ebb would be prolonged and the flood abbreviated. This was probably the case to some extent, but nevertheless soon when I stopped I found myself unmistakably drifting backward, despite the tail wind. So I continued along the shore.

I reached Beacon about 6:30 PM, then continued to the camp at the southern tip of Denning Island, arriving around 7 p. m., just before sunset. I briefly explored the trails inland, but could not find the grassy area near ruins described in the HRWA guide. So I camped on a level sandy spot, under trees and behind big driftwood logs, just on the point, with good visibility both west across the river and south to Bannerman’s Island. It got dark, lights came up across the river and a quarter moon: bright moonlight, sharp moon shadows, I could almost read.

Outdoor Research bivy sack with Thermarest inflatable pad, on flat, level ground, very comfortable. Good ventilation, quick and easy to set up. (Editor’s note: I have what I believe is that original OR bivy sack, though I’ve upgraded to a newer model for my own use. I very much agree with Vlad’s assessment!)  Old sleeping bag still adequate this time, but probably too light for any significantly colder temperatures. Also too small—need to get larger, mummy-style bag with hood. Need tarp that I can spread out, too, otherwise sand gets into everything.

Morning fog

Sunday, 19 September

Morning somewhat brisk—fall is definitely coming. Mist rising from the river, drifting over with the north wind, but now and again glimpse some blue sky. Took a number of pictures of trees in the mist around the campsite. Left about 8 a. am. Across the Fishkill Creek estuary south from Denning Point, paddled completely surrounded in fog. Took pictures while paddling along the opposite shore: trees emerging from the fog. Bannerman’s Castle.

Cold Spring

South toward Cold Spring, the fog began to lift. Mist and clouds, but now also sunshine and increasing patches of blue sky, dramatic views of the Highlands. Trees still for the most part green, although here and there one already turning. With Bannerman’s Castle, could almost have been Scotland. (Editor’s note: As some readers are aware, Vlad spent several years as an adolescent in Scotland.)

Bannerman’s Castle

Gusts of stronger north wind (15 knots?), some following seas building as always here. Past Cold Spring, West Point with increasing current in favor. Peekskill at about 11 a. m. White beaches of Verplanck (lunch in someone’s homemade hammock overlooking the beach). Across Haverstraw Bay. Lots of motorboats and sailboats criss-crossing the bay.

White beaches of Verplanck

(Editor’s note: The other photos may or may not have been from this exact trip; at least one is not, because it’s a later boat model. However, this photo is almost certainly from this trip; it’s Vlad’s first boat and paddle, and its album caption is “White beaches of Verplanck”—a phrase that appears to be unique to him, and that he seemed to have coined on this trip. )

Now good sailing breeze: onshore breeze building from the south, waves negligible at first but by Croton Point 1-1.5 feet. Ebb current fading too. Making relatively slow progress into the wind. Significant area of higher breaking waves (2 feet) south of Teller’s Point. Boat filling up on water. Effects on handling quite noticeable: boat wallows with and through the waves rather than bouncing over them as usual. Made for the south shore of Croton Point to bail out the water, then across Croton Bay to Ossining. Arrived about 4 p.m. 5:30 train to New York City.

Must seam-seal and Scotchguard deck, shorten paddle-leash and eliminate Velcro paddle attachment.

Whole trip about 50 nm, paddling time about 16 hours.

12 responses to “Trip 1: Hudson River, Rhinecliff to Ossining, September 1999

  1. What a treasure trove from the dear man! Am delighted you’ve found it, both for your own enjoyment, and grateful that you’re sharing it with us. Thank you!
    This journey reminds me of a relative who grew up in the area and often spoke of her childhood adventures. Names like Wappingers Falls and Poughkeepsie are delightful reminders.
    “Morning fog” photo is magical!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The whole post, including your intro and notes, is such a poignant read…for the way reading through the archives must affect you, and for the memories this triggers in me. That’s a fabulous photo of the tree in the mist. I’m kicking myself for never getting out to Bannerman’s all the years I lived in the area. In Sept ’99 I was living in Hastings-on-Hudson.I had already been in NYC or metro NYC since 1967, so the Hudson looms large in memory. The moon on the river – I liked Vlad’s description. Venus alongside a crescent moon hanging over the Palisades is my the all time favorite.
    I can’t believe there was a seal all the way up there! Must have been the hurricane, right? I should remember that one but I don’t; I suppose they all blended together.
    What a gift Vlad left. I can imagine a book….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thank you! It’s actually the most amazing thing for me right now. Because one of the saddest parts of losing someone is that you know you’ll never again have that experience of encountering something new together.

      But with these notes, I’m introduced to Vlad I’ve never met–a Vlad who is not only younger than I am now, but younger that I was when we met, if you can believe it!– and get to see the wonder of visiting for the first time places we later visited together (for my first time). It is a very new experience, and it’s one we’re having together–even though he’s gone.

      It’s really wonderful.

      And yes, I love the simple observations–like cream in coffee, the quarter moon. So vivid!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful. I’m looking forward to the series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks! Me too, and I’m looking forward to posting it! I picked Thursdays because it gives me a good “buffer” from the weekend (if I don’t get it done then).

      Plus, Thursday, June 1 is Vlad’s 59th birthday. Next year I plan a party, but for this year, the launch of the series will suffice…

      Like

  4. This is a double treat, bringing happiness to Thursday mornings and trip one a glimpse of the Hudson estuary from last century, almost a decade before we became amphibious.

    We’re looking forward to coming installments.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Looking forward to more :)

    Like

  6. The encounter with the seal was especially nice; it”s so great that he kept these notes, and now we can experience a tiny sliver of his experiences, all thanks to you..

    Like

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