Trip 14: Combined Circumnavigation of Manhattan and City Island

By Vladimir Brezina

The iconic Manhattan view

Saturday, 25 March, 2000

(Note: The prosaic title does not do this trip justice! City Island is a small island in Long Island Sound; just getting there and back from Manhattan is considered an achievement by most New York-area paddlers. A Manhattan circumnavigation is a little more common—most of us have done quite a few—but still a non-trivial paddle.

But combining them both…? I wonder, from this vantage point of almost 20 years, what inspired Vlad to take this trip, after the previous runs up and down the Hudson. If I were able to go back in time and ask him, how would he have answered?) 

Combined Manhattan and City Island circumnavigation

Launched at Dyckman St. around 6:45 a.m. Low tide: wading through horrible mud, careful launch between pilings under pier. Sunshine already lighting up Palisades, but sun dimmed periodically by thin clouds. Quite warm: later, high around 60° F.

Paddled south with ebb current, against slight head wind from the southwest. Under George Washington Bridge, past 79th St. Boat Basin, Chelsea Piers; Downtown Boathouse in about 1 1/2 hours. (Note: This is very fast). Very few boats. Round the Battery; tourists already waiting for Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island boats; in a few minutes saw three of them emerging from their dock in East River.

Up the East River; waves from two of the tourist boats and a tug bounced around and built to about 3 ft. in the triable between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Under the Williamsburg Bridge; hazy sunshine. Now going with the wind and strong current. Out of the muddy Hudson, water now very clear. Just south of the United Nations narrowly avoided seaplane taking off, and later, almost at Roosevelt Island, landing. (Note: That seaplane will appear later in our writeups; nearly two decades on, I still encounter it regularly on the East River!)

Air traffic in the East River

Took the east channel past Roosevelt Island. Current dramatically speeding up. Through Hell Gate: water quite flat (no boat wakes) but heavy swirls. Still with the current and wind, past Rikers Island, under the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and the Throgs Neck Bridge. Reached Throgs Neck at around 11:15 a.m.: 4 1/2 hours for about 25 (?) nm. (Note: That’s a blistering pace, 5.6 knots, or 6.4 miles per hour!)

Past Throgs Neck lost favorable current, in fact now some contrary current. Good view of Stepping Stones lighthouse. Crossed Eastchester Bay over to City Island and around the east side. Water beautifully clear, blue and green. Some intermittent sun, but increasing clouds. Strong contrary current flowing south between islands. Lunch on small island with tall transmitter just off City Island. Two huge white swans looking at me suspiciously. Beach littered with oyster shells. Inviting view east among the islands, past the Execution Rocks lighthouse, out on to the open Long Island Sound.

After lunch, round the northern tip of City Island, under bridge connecting it to mainland, and south through Eastchester Bay. Now paddling with some tail current, but opposed by head wind, now building up to 10-15 knots. Whitecaps everywhere in main channel. Slow going. Back to Throgs Neck again at about 2 p. m. Turning toward manhattan, beam to the wind. Severe weathercocking: boat not balanced. Crossed over to the south shore and landed to take on water ballast (not much, but perhaps some, effect). Starting to rain; misty views of Manhattan. Back under Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, past LaGuardia and Rikers Island. Still slow going, partly against, and still weathercockng into, the wind. Speeding up with favorable current toward Hell Gate. Sun coming out again. Through Hell Gate easily around 4 p.m.

Orange sun setting into Palisades

Through Harlem River, sun low in the sky, wind dying down, water smooth. Rapid smooth progress with good tail current. Emerged into Hudson again just as the orange sun was disappearing behind Palisades. Hudson hazy and calm. Back at Dyckman St. just after 6 p.m.

Paddling time around 11 hours; about 50 nm.

(Vlad’s humorous, gentle sensibility emerges so clearly from this entry: The “huge” swans look at him “suspiciously”; the “inviting view” looking out across Long Island Sound; and the “orange sun disappearing behind the Palisades”.

Perhaps I’ve answered my own question: Vlad was forever in search of new beauty to delight his eye and heart.)

6 responses to “Trip 14: Combined Circumnavigation of Manhattan and City Island

  1. Thank you for posting this story, Johna! Perfect for a quiet subway ride home.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Unbelievable! You know I’m not a kayaker, but I’ve driven in and around Manhattan enough over the years to know that this was an amazing feat. And he’s so deadpan. These are precious documents you have, Johna!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      I know! And I only really discovered them after he died. “Deadpan” certainly captures it–I particularly like his droll observations early on about the value of a tarp and warmer sleeping bag :-).

      But you can really see him emerge, rather quickly, over this season from 1999 to 2000. This is really where he went from a recreational kayaker to a passionate one…

      Liked by 1 person

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