Tag Archives: Yonkers

Down the Hudson: Hudson to Yonkers-Glory Hallelujah!

Johna in front of West Point

By Johna Till Johnson

“Glory, glory hallelujah!” My voice rang out strongly and surprisingly tunefully.

It was late morning, and I was just entering Peekskill Bay. The weather was perfect: Sunny, cool, with just enough breeze to generate a light chop. I felt my pace begin to pick up. A glance at the GPS confirmed it: I was going at least a knot faster than previously.

Ready to launch in the predawn at Denning Point

I’d discovered experientially that singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” made me pick up the pace by a knot or so.

No other song seemed to have that effect. “Eddystone Light” was fun to sing (especially the part about life upon the ro-o-o-o-lling sea) but it didn’t make me any faster. And neither did the various popular songs I could remember bits and pieces of (“Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” was a particular favorite).

So here I was out in Peekskill Bay, singing Glory Hallelujah to keep the pace going.

I’d left Denning Point before dawn that morning, paddling against the current as the sun slowly rose. By around 8:20 I’d arrived at West Point.

Predawn on the Hudson

Unbeknownst to me, so had my friend Adam. He and his wife were on the early train into Manhattan, just a few hundred yards from me. He snapped a photo through the window, guessing the lone paddler might be me from the drybag strapped on my rear deck (likely indicating someone camping, rather than on a day trip.)

Just after West Point the current finally turned with me, but I wasn’t picking up much speed. Apparently the days before had tired me out a bit, even the “easy” day yesterday.

That’s when I tried singing, and discovered that “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was good for at least an additional knot.

First view of West Point

It wasn’t just the rousing melody. The lyrics were inspiring, and even more so, the meaning. The writer, fellow New Yorker Julia Ward Howe, had created it to inspire Northerners to fight in a hard, ugly, brutal civil war that brought them no direct benefit.

Although I was hardly fighting a war, the idea of doing something difficult for the glory of it resonated.

The shoreline streamed by. The sun was bright, but there was a cool breeze  providing a tailwind. As I made my way around the curve (the river makes a hairpin turn around Peekskill Point), I mentally computed the currents. I’d have the ebb with me until about 3:30 PM, by which time I’d be at the Tappan Zee bridge (or pretty close.)

Then the current would turn against me.

But how bad could it be? The flood was only a knot, maybe a knot and a half. And I’d paddled against the current before. Under normal circumstances it would take maybe 2 hours to get back to Yonkers from the Tappan Zee. So, okay, tack on another hour—I’d be home by 6:30, 7:00 at the latest. Right?

Looking at West Point. Two minutes later, Adam would photograph me…

Of course, there was the question of what happened after that. I’d blithely departed Hudson after making arrangements to leave my car at the B&B where I’d spent the night. The plan was to take the train home from Yonkers.

The catch? I didn’t know exactly where the train station was. There was rumored to be one within walking distance of the boathouse. But the instructions I’d heard were obscure and faintly ominous. “You go through the hole in the fence and climb up on the track.” (No guidance on where the hole in the fence was, or what, precisely, “climbing up on the track” entailed.)

I’d had the presence of mind to jot down the train schedule before I left, so I knew the train stopped at Glenwood en route to Manhattan every hour at 26 minutes past. But finding it would be the trick.

There was the distinct possibility of ending up wandering around Yonkers in the dark with a bunch of camping gear on my back, looking for the mysterious hole in the fence.

Oh well, that was a long way off. And meantime, there was paddling to be done!

Glory, Hallelujah….

I made decent time, and by 3:30 I’d reached the Tappan Zee.

The route home. The “tiny” jig left was where I got out of the current…

As anticipated, the current had just changed, and was ever-so-slightly against me. Annoyingly, so had the wind, which was now coming from its usual direction, southwest. (Vlad : “Murphy’s law of kayaking is that the wind and current are always against you.” Also known as “Florida rules”.)

South of the Tappan Zee, the Hudson is shallow and marshy on the western shore, so that’s where I headed. Generally the current flows more slowly in the shallow parts of a river; and near the shoreline a paddler can take advantage of the back-eddy (where the current strikes protrusions on the shoreline and bounces back, thus going in the opposite direction to the main current).

With these tricks, even with the opposing wind and current, I was able to keep a good 2-3 knot pace, but there was a catch: I wasn’t headed straight home. Instead, to keep out of the wind and stay in the backeddy, I was making a long detour; I estimated it would add two-and-a-half or three miles to the trip. Which meant… another hour.

Now I’d arrive closer to 8 PM than 7 PM, if all went well.

I’d gone over 30 nautical miles by then, and I was feeling it. I paddled strongly, but didn’t manage to do much better than 3 knots. Slowly, the beautiful waterfront houses on the western shore slipped by. Ahead was Piermont Pier, a long spit of land reaching into the Hudson.

One summer, Vlad and I had made an overnight, full moon paddle to Piermont Pier. It’s still one of my most vivid memories. I remember napping on the benches, waiting for the current to change, watching the full moon touch the dark waves with shimmering silver. Dozing.

Vlad shaking me awake, gently: “Come on Johna, it’s time to go.” Paddling back to Manhattan in the gray pre-dawn, arriving at Pier 40 just as the sun was rising…

I’ve been to Piermont Pier a few times since, but it’s always inextricably entwined in my memory with silvery moonlight and dark waves. And Vlad.

Pollepel Island in the early morning

This time couldn’t have been more different. The sun was already low in the sky when I arrived, touching everything with honey-colored light. I turned east at the pier. Sheltered from the current, I was speeding along the length of the pier with the wind at my back, barely needing to paddle.

I marveled at the mix of people out enjoying the late Sunday afternoon. Hispanic families fishing. Orthodox Jewish families taking babies for a stroll. Young couples holding hands. Children waved at me, and I waved back.

Soon enough I’d rounded the pier and turned south again, hugging the shoreline of Piermont Marsh. For the first time my destination was visible in the distance: The twin brick towers of the abandoned power plant just behind JFK marina. It was probably still another hour or two away, but I was almost home!

In the peaceful late-afternoon light, I continued on down the western shore, taking advantage of the backeddy. Past Italian Gardens. Past the rockfalls on the Palisades.

Finally I decided to cross. Too early, as it turned out: The current swept me backwards, and I watched in frustration as landmarks that I passed earlier reappeared. But finally I was across. As the rosy sky began fading to darkness, I wended my way down the shoreline.

Soon there was the buzz of jetski engines, and the thumping sound of music, growing steadily louder.

New problem: the ramp was crowded.

Everyone was pulling jetskis out of water, backing trucks and trailers up to the ramp impatiently. I wouldn’t be able to unpack the boat on the ramp. But it was too heavy for me to carry up without unpacking.

Salvation! One of the guys who manned the marina office appeared, a young man around twenty, with tattoos on both arms. He helped haul the boat to a nearby stretch of grass.

I unpacked as quickly as I could in the gathering darkness, throwing all the camping gear into a giant waterproof backpack that I’d discovered among Vlad’s things. (I had one as well, but this one was nearly twice the size).

Staggering a little, I was able to lift to stand up wearing the pack. I mentally thanked my coach and the months of squats and deadlifts in the gym, then grabbed the nose of the boat (which was already mounted on its wheels) and started off towards the boathouse a quarter mile away. Around me, music blared, styles competing with each other at full volume. Latin. Hiphop. Soft rock. A running undertone was the monotonous jingle of the ice cream truck.

Suddenly the darkness was cut with red-and-blue flashing lights and amplified voices. Yonkers PD had arrived to clear everyone out of the park.

I chuckled at the difference between the previous peaceful days and this in-your-face urban vibe. I loved them both.

I packed up as quickly as possible, leaving most of the camping gear and stuffing just essentials into a small backpack (yes, I have lots of backpacks!)

Now what? It was full dark, and the woods behind the abandoned power plant didn’t look inviting. And Yonkers is an urban area (just north of the Bronx.)

Luck had been on my side the whole trip. Surely it would stay through the end?

I decided to check it out, and plunged into the darkness, lit only by the headlamp. A few minutes later, I was delighted to find…. Not a hole in the fence, but a wide-open pathway leading directly to the station. A few minutes’ investigation yielded the delightful fact that a short ladder climbed the six feet or so to the platform’s edge.

I sat down on the bench to wait, feeling pleased. Glory Hallelujah….

Just over an hour later I was back in my apartment in New York, much to the delight of my cat Mully.

And the next day the email from Adam arrived,  with the subject header: “Is this you?”

Indeed it was! One of the few photos of me on an expedition paddle, now that Vlad is gone.

Glory Hallelujah!

Yonkers at twilight

Special thanks to Henry at YPRC who gave me the encouragement to finally finish this, reminding me that at least one person is reading! Thanks, Henry! 

Down the Hudson: Hudson to Yonkers-Preview

By Johna Till Johnson

My first solo-kayak-camping trip in the NYC area.

I’ve solo-camped (hiking) in the Catskills, solo-kayak-camped in Florida, and kayak-camped (with companions) in the NYC area and elsewhere.

But until now I’d never planned and executed a solo-kayak-camping expedition in my own backyard (so to speak).

I put into a still and misty river at Hudson just after sunrise on Friday. It was cool, calm, and quiet. The fresh scent of early morning rose from the grass and water. I was cheerful, relaxed, but a bit edgy.

I took out 100 miles later on Sunday evening in a sweltering Yonkers  sunset to the earsplitting beat of Latin music and the scent of vapes and barbeque. I was stiff, chafed, and blistered… and overwhelmingly happy.

In between were accidents, surprises, detours, and serendipity.

This is the best photo of the trip. I took it right before sunrise on Esopus Island. Consider it a sneak preview of writeups to come…

Early dawn at Esopus Island

An Unpaddle

North along the ice-bound Hudson

By Johna Till Johnson

It was the first weekend in February. I was back in town. Brian’s broken elbow had healed. It was a beautiful day: Sunny, windless, relatively warm.

So we headed to Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club to take out our boats for the first time in… too long.

“It might be iced in,” I cautioned as we drove. But I didn’t really think so. Yes, there’d been the Polar Vortex and its sub-freezing temperatures earlier in the week. But we’d had several days of warmth.

Surely everything was melted by now?

Er, no.

As we gazed at the ice-locked boat ramp, the only thing we could do was laugh. “We’re not going out today!” I said. “Nope!” Brian agreed.

Brian laughing

Instead, we went out to the end of the pier and took pictures of each other and the frozen Hudson. And laughed in the sunshine.

Johna at end of dock

We drove back to Brooklyn along the West Side highway, watching the ice in the river diminish as we headed south. Inwood, where Julie paddles, was still packed in, but the river was mostly ice-free by the George Washington Bridge. The embayment at Pier 84 was wide open; had my Avocet been seaworthy, I could have taken it out. And I later learned that Bonnie had had a lovely paddle that same weekend in Jamaica Bay. Yonkers was just slightly too far north to permit us to go out.

Ice ice baby!

But we didn’t mind! We had a lovely excursion in the sun and mild air, and saw ice floes in the Hudson. Next time….

Johna looking south

A Winter Nighttime Paddle on the Hudson

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Johna Till Johnson and Brian Fulton-Howard (see note)

George Washington Bridge from the north

December 3, 2017

It was to be Brian’s first winter paddle. That is, even though it wasn’t quite winter yet, the air and water temperatures told us it was time to don drysuits—something Brian had never done before.

The conditions were perfect: the forecast was for a misty overcast day, with air temperatures in the 50s and water temperatures in the 40s, with virtually no wind.

And thanks to the “supermoon”—a larger-than-usual moon due to the moon’s close orbit to Earth—we’d have king tides, bringing currents of between 2 and 3 knots in the Hudson. That meant an easy paddle in both directions, if we kept with the current. (Currents that strong and stronger are common in the East River, but more typically in the Hudson they range from 1 to 2 knots).

There was just one catch.

To travel with the current in both directions, we had two choices for our launch from Yonkers: A predawn launch heading north to the Tappan Zee bridge, or a midafternoon launch heading south to the George Washington.

Realistically, I couldn’t picture getting up early enough for a pre-dawn launch.

But if we took the latter option, we’d be spending most of the trip in darkness.

Was that really wise?

One of my good friends and coaches, Taino, likes to illustrate kayaking risks with a slot machine metaphor: Each risk may be acceptable individually… but if enough of them line up—disaster.

So what were these risks? Well, it was Brian’s first time paddling in a drysuit. And it was winter paddling (paddling in cold water is always riskier than in warm). And paddling in the dark.

But countering that were the near-perfect conditions (particularly the lack of wind). There was fact that we were two paddlers (two are always better off than one). Also, Brian is a strong paddler, with a level head and good judgment. And we both felt healthy, with no injuries or ailments.

The deciding factor was esthetic: The morning was predicted to be cloudy, with little chance of a beautiful sunrise. But if we opted for the evening paddle, there was at least the chance the clouds would part and we’d get to see the supermoon as it rose.

The evening paddle it was!

Brian arrived at my apartment around 2, and we prepared to pack. Hot, sweet tea: Check. Plenty of chocolate (Brian’s contribution): check. All the usual cold-weather gear: hats, gloves, “space blankets”: check.

Except for one thing…

As Brian pulled on his drysuit (discovering in the process that it fit perfectly), I asked, “So you brought your neoprene booties, right?”

Ahhh… nope!

Brian hadn’t realized drysuits need shoes (or some kind of foot covering) to avoid getting punctured. (Drysuits basically consist of GoreTex, zippers, and gaskets—you need to wear insulating clothing underneath, and put on some kind of foot covering.)

But Brian is nothing if not resourceful. “Got any duct tape?” he asked. I did, along with the cardboard and Sharpie he requested. And in a few minutes, he’d made himself a pair of cardboard-and-duct-tape “sandals”—not super fancy, but enough to protect the soles of his drysuit from damage.

That problem solved, we proceeded to Yonkers, where we managed to launch around 3:30 PM. Manhattan was visible in a haze of pink as the last hour of daylight slowly faded into dusk.

Manhattan in a haze of pink

We paddled south with the current (which was roughly 2 kt at that point). We stopped to have a look at the Riverdale Yacht Club, a beautiful structure on the eastern shore of the Hudson. Brian explained it had formerly been the Riverdale train station on the Metro-North line. (Apparently, there’s even a book about the Riverdale Yacht Club!)

Riverdale Yacht Club

We paddled on, and arrived at the Spuyten Duyvil swing bridge  guarding the Harlem River just around sunset. We’d previously discussed taking a gander down the Harlem, so in we went. The current was with us, and growing stronger as we went forward.

We had our radios on, as a standard precautionary measure. Suddenly there was a crackle as a tugboat—the Kenny G—announced it wanted to bring a barge through the bridge.

We paddled closer to the southern shore of the Harlem, and I radioed back a message to the captain: “Securité, securité, two kayaks in the Harlem river, we know you’re there and we’re staying close to shore until you pass.”

The captain acknowledged, and we continued down the Harlem with an accelerating current.

Sure enough, the tug and barge soon passed, steaming by at 12-15 kt, or maybe even more.

We paddled on for a few more minutes, but decided that the accelerating current was just a bit too risky. So we crossed over to the north side and paddled back to the bridge, helped along by a healthy back-eddy.

We stopped at the mouth of Harlem, inside the bridge in a protected, mostly still patch of water, to have chocolate and rest. By then it was full dark, but with the lights of Manhattan all around, we could see fairly well. We turned on our deck lights and I donned a headlamp (Brian would do so later on).

When we exited the Harlem, I glanced back over my shoulder, and gasped. “Look, Brian!” I shouted. The clouds had cleared, and the supermoon was rising over the Bronx.

Supermoon rising over the Bronx

I took as many photos as I could, and then we continued south to the George Washington. Rather arbitrarily, we’d chosen the little red lighthouse as our turnaround point.

We arrived at the lighthouse right around 6:30, which was by our calculations right at slack. After several tries, I succeeded in getting a shot of the lighthouse flashing, though I couldn’t convince Brian to get in the picture.

Little Red Lighthouse (and little red kayak)

We paddled back in full darkness, glad of the extra visibility provided by our headlamps. True to prediction, the current increased slowly: 0.8 kt, 1.0 kt, 1.2 kt, 1.8 kt.

A conga line of tug-and-barges heading south on our left took us a bit by surprise, as we’d initially thought they were anchored (though there no danger as we were well out of their way). And the moon, by now high in the sky, was visible for most of the way.

We arrived back in Yonkers just past 8 PM, meaning we’d spent about 4.5 hours on the water. We’d paddled 18 statute miles (15.5 nautical miles) at an average pace of 4 mph, or 3.5 kt. –including the time we’d spent enjoying chocolate. The power of the king tides!

All in all… a very successful first winter paddle for Brian. Here’s to many more!

(Note: Regular readers of this blog may be forgiven for wondering who this mysterious “Brian” is. He was formerly one of Vlad’s grad students, and is now a post-doctoral researcher in his own right. He and I have paddled several times this year, though this is the first time I’ve been able to do a writeup. He, his wife Tyna, and I have become quite good friends.)

See slideshow below for more photos. Click on the arrows to move back or forward!

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Trip 13: Peekskill to Manhattan Redux

By Vladimir Brezina

Bright sky beyond bare branches..

Saturday, 18 March 2000

7:43 a.m. Metro-North train to Peekskill. Sunny all day, no clouds at all (got sunburned), but chilly. Temperatures in the 30s, possibly just making it into the 40s. Some snow on the ground around Peekskill; puddles and shallow water spilling over into the parking lot frozen overnight.

Launched by 10:00 a.m. Paddled south against the current into Haverstraw Bay, then along eastern shore and across to Croton Point. 10-kt tail wind and 1-ft following seas (whitecaps in main channel), both increasing significantly alongside Croton Point and south into the Tappan Zee. Some icing on the boat from freezing spray.
Croton Point around noon. Followed eastern shore of Tappan Zee; wind and waves gradually diminishing. Lunch on north-facing beach at Philipse Manor, vey cold standing wet in the wind. Now good ebb current (close to spring tides today). South of the Tappan Zee wind completely calm; water mirror-smooth though still some residual ripples. Still very few boats (saw only three or four boats all day, mostly commercial, tugs and barges) but planes and helicopters flying over the river seemingly every couple of minutes.

Spent some time photographing around Yonkers. Wind then picked up from the south; head wind but not too strong. Reached Dyckman St. around 4:30 p.m. Paddling time around 6 hours; about 28 nm.

(Note: Vlad’s pale Eastern European skin was prone to sunburn, and he suffered badly from it—he would even get feverish at night.

Beyond that, the Vlad I met is emerging clearly from the page: casual familiarity with the tides (spring and neap), currents, and wind speeds. And completing a 28 nm trip in 6 hours is a characteristically blistering pace: 4.6 knots, or 5.4 miles per hour, some of it against the current!

Finally, it gratifies me that he found Yonkers, where I now keep one of my boats, pleasing enough to photograph. I’ve fallen a little bit in love with the place myself.)

 


Trip 8: Hudson River, Peekskill to Yonkers

Text and photos by Vladimir Brezina

Winter sunset at Yonkers

Sunday, 5 December 1999

7:43 a.m. Metro-North train to Peekskill. Launched by 9:30 a.m. Hazy and windless morning; water like glass. Relatively warm for December (later in the day, temperature up to 60°F). (Note: The scientist in him, and also the world citizen, would always make a point of including units. Most Americans, and nearly all American nonscientists, would assume Fahrenheit to be understood.)

Paddled against flooding current (for first two hours) down to the entrance to Haverstraw Bay, then directly across to Croton Point. No wind at all, water like a mirror, reflecting sun struggling through banks of clouds at first, then becoming a steady diffuse bright glow in a pale blue sky, with outlines of opposite shore and Croton Point in front very hazy. Very few other boats: a few fishing motorboats and the usual tugs and barges; a couple of kayakers around Croton Point.

Tappan Zee in the mist

Past Croton Point around noon and south through the Tappan Zee. A mile or so north of the Tappan Zee Bridge wind suddenly picked up to 15-20 knots from the south. (Note: In later years, Vlad used to cite Murphy’s Law for paddlers, “The wind is always against you, no matter which direction you’re traveling.” It seems to be true surprisingly often. Perhaps it should be called “Brezina’s Law”?). Waves soon built up to 2 feet (wind now against ebbing current). Progress considerably slowed by the wind and waves. Stopped at Irvington around 2 p.m. to reassess situation (met another pair of kayakers, somewhat unprepared for the conditions), then down to Dobbs Ferry (another pair of kayakers). Wind gusts up to 20 knots, waves (not even in middle of channel) up to 4 feet. Larger waves much more pleasant, less bouncy, than short 2-foot chop. South to Yonkers; now (4 p.m.) sun setting behind orange and blood red clouds, soon to be dark, so took out. Train back to New York. (Note: This entry is very close to home as Brian, Vlad’s former student, and I paddled from Yonkers to Croton Point and back this past Sunday—under very different conditions. It was warm, sunny, and just enough bounce to be fun. It’s also interesting to note Vlad’s decision to take out. In later years he might well have opted to continue on, as he had no issues with paddling at night, and four-foot waves were less intimidating. That said, he clearly made the right decision for his level of expertise. That sensible quality stayed with him all his life.)