Friday, August 22, 2014

Another Maiden Voyage

On my upcoming trip to Maine it is likely that a majority of the kayakers will be paddling Wilderness Systems Tempests - certainly it will be a plurality. It's just a nice, well-balanced do-it-all boat. It's the Honda Accord of kayaks*. Not the fastest, not the most maneuverable, not the roomiest, not the easiest to roll or the most playful in surf, but just a good balance of every characteristic. The other nice thing is that it comes in three sizes, so it can fit just about any paddler: there's a sixteen inch height range among the Tempest paddlers in my circle.

Test Drive at PoG

I own a Tempest 165 (the "Baby Bear" size) in plastic. Great boat, but being plastic it's heavy, slow, and has developed a serious "oil can" dent in the bottom. I always keep my eye out for good deals on fiberglass 165's, but they don't come on the market too often. More often you see the "Mama Bear" 170 size, which is tooooo big for me.

So, when I recently spotted a fiberglass Tempest 165 for sale in New Jersey I pounced on it. After a little head-scratching over how to do the deal without having to drive ten hours I discovered that by serendipity my son David was heading for New Jersey - just 30 minutes away from the seller - to attend an event. I made him an offer he couldn't refuse, and he agreed to go get the boat for me. He got home with it late on a Sunday night. We took it off the car, I put it in the backyard with a cockpit cover on it, and then really didn't look at it for a couple of days. It was only when I opened it up to adjust the thigh braces and seat that I realized that (I'm pretty sure) it's actually the kevlar layup. Certainly the feel when I pick it up seems to say kevlar. So I think I got an even better deal than I was expecting.

Anyway, I took it out for its maiden paddle last night and it was wonderful. Just like my other Tempest, but even more Tempestuous! Rolled it and the hatches stayed dry. All is good.

It is, in addition, the twin of Tall Tom's kayak, except that he has the "Poppa Bear" Tempest 180 size. Same red color. Same layup. So we look like twins when we paddle now. I expected to get some "mini-Me" jokes, but Tom came up with a better one: I am his "Skinny me".

*Reggie calls it the Toyota Camry of kayaks but he is wrong.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

SUP'ing in the Park with Ted

Another SUP outing with Ted today. We made from Key Bridge Boathouse up to Fletcher's Cove. The roughly two mile trip took us about and hour, at least twice as long as it would have by kayak. Admittedly, it was into the wind and only my third time on a Stand-Up Paddleboard, but still ...

Ted has been doing a lot of SUP-ing this summer and definitely showed me up in terms of speed, balance and skills.

I still feel that stand-up paddleboards would make sense only in a world where canoes, rowing craft and kayaks hadn't been invented, but they sure are popular! While there was no wait at KBB for kayaks, we had to wait on line for paddleboards, as the whole fleet was in use. The line was even worse by the time we got back - I'm glad we went early.

Well, even on a goofy non-kayak watercraft it was a nice outing on a beautiful summer day. Eighty degree August days is a kind of climate change I could get into!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Hepcats at Westover

An outdoor gig counts as an outdoor adventure, right? I had a great time sitting in with the wonderful band JC & the Hepcats last Saturday at Westover Beer Garden in Arlington. JC arrived a little late, and so for the first set we were just The Hepcats (or perhaps Jesse & the Hepcats).

I think I played well; however given the mixture of 5 Hour Energy and IPA in my system, I may not have been judging things clearly. I had never tried those 5 hour energy things before. Holy cow - I didn't even drink the whole little bottle and was buzzing for 12 hours. This was fine for the first eight hours, but the midnight to 4 AM part was a drag.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Manhattan Circumnavigation 2014

New York is a city of extremes. On the one hand it is America’s truly world class city, as evidenced by the many metonyms associated with the city: finance in America is “Wall Street” and advertising is “Madison Avenue”. On the other hand, New York is also a chaotic Mad Max world where everything is jury-rigged, broken, the place is over-populated, everyone is trying to scam you, and behavior seems flat-out crazy. I wasn’t sure which of these New Yorks I would encounter when went up to participate in Jerry and Steve’s Manhattan Circumnavigation. Certainly the eleven pages of instructions indicated a high level of organization. Still, I expected a motley flotilla of fishing kayaks, canoes made from hammered out hubcabs, and who knows what else when I showed up early Saturday morning. The launch site at the end of Dyckman Street in Inwood (a.k.a. Tubby Hook) is not in itself particularly remarkable – it just looks like a spot along the river where someone forgot to build a building; however, it was abuzz with well outfitted kayakers equipped with mostly very high end boats. Quite the opposite of what I had envisioned, and I felt like a schlepper for having shown up with a plastic boat. Shortly after Tall Tom and I arrived a guy did show up with a Mad Max New York contraption: a recreational kayak onto which he had bolted a trolling motor, but he turned out not to be part of our group.

At the Launch
The morning started out with some “hurry up and wait”. We got there at 7 AM as directed, checked in, parked the car, and then hung around. We chatted with some of the other people launching, including a surprising number of people we knew from the DC/MD/VA area. I smiled as the New Yawk accents washed over me. I wound up walking back to the car to retrieve the water bottle I had forgotten, then again for my sunglasses. I didn’t mind the wait. I was already happy. We had spent Saturday night in New Jersey where we had dinner at one of my favorite kinds of places, a NY style pizza place (eggplant parm hero & minestrone) and breakfast at another: a New York diner (french toast). I also enjoyed discovering on a post-dinner perambulation that Teaneck, NJ is a pretty frum town: had they been open (it was still Shabbos) we could have eaten at restaurants including Shalom Bombay kosher Indian, The Kosher Experience, and Glatt World. Toto, we're not in Virginia anymore. Last, I was happy that the event was happening at all - it had been delayed a day due to rain, and the weather early Sunday morning had been looking iffy.

At about 9 AM we got into our boats and soon thereafter started down the Hudson River. We were immediately introduced to the sound of Steve’s voice over the VHF radio, which would be our main guidance throughout the day. Well, that and occasional contradictory direction from the safety boat that accompanied us. About thirty kayaks had launched in an early “slow, meditative” group. Our guides did a pretty darn good job of getting the roughly 70 people in the main group out and moving down the river in relatively short order. The river had a pretty strong current and we were moving at 6-7 MPH as we passed under the George Washington Bridge, our first landmark.
Hudson River: By the Cruise Ship Docks and the Intrepid

The trip down the Hudson was fast and I was so excited by the sights - the GW bridge, Grant's Tomb, the Cloisters, Midtown, the Empire State Building, The Intrepid, the cruise ship docks – that it seemed like we were at our first stop in no time at all. In fact, it took only about two hours for us to make it down the west side of Manhattan to Pier 26, where we met up with the meditative group. This was also our first break opportunity; however the procedure to take a break was so cumbersome (wait on line to get your chance to get out, get out at the dock, carry your boat off the dock, take a quick break, carry your boat back, wait in line to launch, launch) that I decided to forgo the break and just bob around in the river with many of the other paddlers, checking out the view of the Freedom Tower (the new 1 World Trade Center). This was a good chance to socialize and I caught up with some of our DC/MD/VA paddlers as well as chatting with the locals. I talked with Peter G., who is active in the Greenland paddling community. He admired my laminated wood paddle. I told him I actually didn't like this paddle very much since it tended to flutter in the water more than my other GP's. He responded with an impromptu Greenland Strokes for Dummies lecture, instructing me that I need to make sure my blade entered the water at an angle to minimize flutter. I'm sure he intended to be helpful, but this response somehow annoyed me. I hadn't said, "Gee, Peter, I have no idea how to use this paddle. Would you help me out?" I have over ten years of experience using a Greenland paddle and from that experience I know that I don't particularly like. This. Particular. One. Get it??

Sometimes I think I'm touchy when people offer help.

I will also point out at this juncture that the architect of the Freedom Tower is Daniel Libeskind who is both a Cooper Union alumnus and an accordion virtuoso. My kinda guy.
DC/MD/VA Group at Pier 26 (I'm on the left)
One of the purposes of the Pier 26 stop was to get everyone grouped up for our trip around the Battery (Manhattan’s southernmost point) which had to be carefully timed and choreographed around ferry schedules as well as tides and currents. Because it took so long for the kayakers who had landed to get back on the water we missed one window and so had to wait another thirty minutes. We almost missed the next window 30 minutes later too, but Steve’s repeated exhortations to us over the radio to “Paddle! Paddle! PADDLE!” got us all to the right place in time.
Dodging the Staten Island Ferry

The trip around the Battery was indeed something for the organizers to have been anxious about, primarily because of boat traffic. The Staten Island Ferry. The Ellis Island Ferry. The Statue of Liberty Ferry. Ferries to New Jersey. Water taxis, The Beast. It was like the TIE fighter attack on the Death Star. "Look out! Ferry coming in on your right" "Paddlers in the back, large wake about to hit you!" "Paddle, paddle, PADDLE!" Then, as we got around the point of the Battery we were in front of the New York Heliport. The helicopters were no threat to us but they added to the noise and confusion. Plus, the lower East River is a choppy mess,  I guess caused by a combination of boat traffic and mixing at the confluence of the two rivers (n.b.: the East River is actually a tidal strait). This was part I had been looking forward to the most. I'm a fan of the East River bridges, particularly the Brooklyn Bridge, and so it was really cool to pass under it and its ugly duckling sisters the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. Unfortunately I didn't have much time to savor it. I barely even had time to take a picture. The current was moving us along very quickly (yes, the East River flows north when the tide comes in) and the leaders were setting a very fast pace, I guess to get us out of that heavily-trafficked area as quickly as possible. Between the current and our paddling we came close to hitting 8 MPH, about double the normal speed one would expect to move in a kayak). Soon we were past the Watchtower (now with website:! Does that mean they don't knock on doors anymore?), and up towards Queens. We attempted to group up for a photo in front of the Long Island City Pepsi sign, but as we had already discovered when trying for a group photo in the Hudson, aligning a large group of kayakers in moving water is close to impossible. We did the best we could.
Approaching the Brooklyn Bridge
We continued up the East River, going around the east side of Roosevelt Island, heading for our lunch break. Past the UN. Passed under the 59th St. Bridge, where, trust me, no one was singing, "slow down, you move too fast" - we were still moving pretty quickly. Shortly after the 59th St. Bridge, I mean the Queensboro Bridge, I mean the Ed Koch Bridge, we made a hard right into Hallet's Cove, which is a crazy Mad Max New York place. It's not a marina. It’s barely anything. The beach appears to be just some silt that built up outside the sea wall which has been discovered by the small boat community. There certainly wasn't room there for 100 kayaks. The first wave of people to land grabbed beach spots while a volunteer who had been waiting for us there shouted at us to leave a pathway to the stairs up to the street. He also got into an argument with the trip leaders as to whether all the boats needed to be brought up onto the street or not.

"You gotta bring awl these boats up to duh street! When the tide comes in awl these boats are gonna float away!"

"We know abouw dit. We do dis every year. We tie all duh boats up and everyting's fine!"

"I'm tellin' you, there ain't gonna be no beach by the time you lawnch again!"

"Don' worry abouw dit. It's fine!"

In the end, we left the boats that had landed on the beach and carried the rest up, lining a block’s worth of sidewalk with boats. Passersby were asking us what was going on. Everyone seemed to like the idea that we were circumnavigating the island.
Bumper to Bumper Traffic at Hallet's Cove
The boats on the beach were all packed in next to each other and so it was only with some contortions that I was able to reach into my day hatch and retrieve my lunch. Adjacent to where we landed there's a city park, a sculpture garden in fact, and so we had a lovely place to spread out and have our lunch - world class New York. But crazy Mad Max New York reared its head again - the park has no rest rooms and so we all had to sneak into the Costco up the block to use the restrooms. Interestingly, the restrooms were not guarded (restrooms in New York are usually guarded against the public like they were King Tut's tomb).

Our lunch break was fairly short (maybe 45 minutes?) then it was back into the boats. Launching was even more chaotic than landing. People were bringing boats from the sidewalk down to the beach without any consideration for whether there was even room for them. You had to keep ducking and dodging as boats went by. A local wise guy who had been biking past (and who is himself a kayaker) volunteered to help carry kayaks. He asked if I'd watch his bike and we bantered about my selling it once his back was turned. As we were pulling out of Hallet’s Cove another group, in sit-on-top doubles, arrived to land. Steve's voice came over the radio shouting "Circumnavigation kayakers clear the beach immediately! There's another group coming in!"

After the chaos of Hallet's Point we entered a calmer section of the trip. After regrouping at the lighthouse at the northern tip of Roosevelt Island we dashed across the East River (Paddle! Paddle! PADDLE!), avoiding the complex flow of traffic in the spot where boat traffic from the East River, the Harlem River and the Long Island Sound all come together. We continued around the west side of Ward's Island and past the Triborough bridge (excuse me, the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge) and into the Harlem River. This is a much smaller river than the Hudson or East but it is still an active commercial river with plenty of boat traffic. Our guides kept yelling at us to keep to one side. 
Harlem River Scene (I'm talking to Lorah, just ahead and to the right)
Unfortunately they had switched "point" person (the kayaker who was designated to be the lead for the group) to "Alex" at the lunch break but had never communicated who Alex was or what he looked like (I had mentioned this to Steve as we launched but he didn't do anything about it) and so we had some trouble keeping order, wandering to both sides of the river and getting ahead of the point man. It was, in fact, only once we were in the Harlem River that I figured out who Alex was.
Harlem River Selfie
Toward the top of the Harlem River we made our final stop at the Peter Sharpe boathouse. It was only my second time out of the boat all day and it was nice to stroll around a little bit and explore the boathouse area and the very pretty adjacent park - world class New York on display again.
In the Harlem River (me again)
Back into the boats and it was time to finish our trip up the Harlem River, past the Columbia University boathouse, through the unexpectedly calm Spuyten Duyvil (the "Devil's Whirlpool"), through the Spuyten Duyvil swing bridge, and down the Hudson a little bit to get back to our starting point.

Hauling the Boats Up Dyckman Street
When we landed we found ourselves still enmeshed in the contradictions of New York. The previously quiet Tubby Hook launch was filled with people hangin’ out. More significantly, early in the morning we had ignored the launch’s next door neighbor, La Marina, as it was closed and quiet. Well, it turns out that La Marina is a current New York hot spot, name-checked in rap songs and frequented by celebrities (world class New York). Oh, and just three weeks ago one of the club’s security guards had been shot in the neck while attempting to break up a fight (crazy Mad Max New York). The police had the whole block cordoned off in anticipation of the night’s crowds, there were security guards wanding everyone on the way in, and the street in front of the launched had been turned into a parking lot, I guess for the club. There was no way Tom and I were going to get the car anywhere near the place. We came to the realization that the best way out of there was to carry our kayaks the three blocks to where the car was parked. So, still dressed in our paddling gear we grabbed the two boats – I got the bow end, Tom the stern, and started walking. With close to 150 lbs of kayaks and gear, it took us a while to walk the three blocks to the car (I think this was the most strenuous part of the day!). But here’s the good thing about crazy, Mad Max New York: nothing is out of the ordinary. Not a single person did a double take as we passed by, though a few asked us if we had enjoyed our time on the waw-duh. We got to our car and discovered that the area where had parked had also been transformed from early morning calm to a happening scene. We were right in front of the streetside tables of Mamajuana Cafe, a Dominican restaurant/hookah bar/nightclub and its neighbor, a Brazilian steakhouse. Both were teeming with people and security guards. A trio of musicians, perhaps waiting to play at one of the places, hung out and discussed different gigs out on the sidewalk. Again without raising any eyebrows we plopped the kayaks down on the sidewalk and began loading our gear and then the boats onto the car.

After we finished load we went back down to the water where the Inwood Canoe Club was hosting a post-paddle party. The party was pretty mellow, the setting overlooking the river was beautiful and it was nice to have a chance to chat with our fellow paddlers. I had a burger and some sides and downed several large cups of Diet Coke to help keep me awake, since we were planning on driving home immediately thereafter.
Sunset at the Inwood Canoe Club
The New Yorkers who paid us no mind when we had walked by earlier toting two large sea kayaks did take notice of us when we were getting ready to pull out – parking spaces being perhaps an even more valuable commodity than bathroom access. Speaking of which, one of the guards came up to us and asked, “Are you getting out? Can you wait a minute while I get my car?” I said, “Sure, but I’ll tell you what. If we wait for you, can I use the bathroom in the restaurant in the meantime?” Hey, I had a whole lot of Diet Coke sloshing around inside me and a long drive ahead of me. Tom, being a country boy, had raised the idea of just using some bushes along the riverside bike trail, but the last thing I wanted was to finish my trip with a public urination citation from one of the many cops keeping an eye on the neighborhood. So instead I made my deal with La Mamajuana.

The drive home went quickly. I think we were driving fast enough that relativistic effects began to creep in, shrinking the distance we had to drive. I crawled into bed at about 1 AM having completed a "to-do" item that had been on my list for a long time - not just the circumnavigation itself, but to paddle, paddle, paddle in my home town.

GPS Track