Sunday, August 28, 2016

Scullers are the Lycranauts of the River

This morning I had to decide - kayak or bike - and not surprisingly my choice was the river. I keep saying that I want to do more biking to build up my abilities, but in summer my heart is always with the river. I think that come mid-fall, when the water turns cold and the dry suits come out, I'll turn more to biking.

I headed out of Columbia Island at about 7:30 AM and as I paddled up a completely empty and beautifully glassy smoth river I kept an eye on the Mount Vernon bike trail to my left, already crowded with cyclists and joggers. Ahh, I made the right decision, not having to deal with crazy weekend crowds on the trail. Just for fun I yelled, "On Your Left!" to some ducks as I passed them.

The river changed as I approached Georgetown. First, in the channel along Roosevelt Island I found myself suddenly engulfed in a swarm of paddle boarders. They looked like a fitness group, as they were all pretty buff and were paddling hard. Mostly young, hunky guys, plus a couple of women with astonishing abs, and a couple of more normal looking people trailing behind (must be new to the group). The group was spread out across the width of the channel and I had to just push my way through and make them open up a path for me.
Coffee Break
As I rounded the Georgetown bend I noticed an awful lot of scullers about, many in the beginner recreational shells. I had stumbled upon a Thomson's Boathouse "Learn to Row" class (I've taken that class). One way I could tell they were newbies is that they were stopping frequently to look behind them (scullers row facing rearward and so have to turn around to see what's in their path). This group clearly hadn't yet developed rower's arrogance - the assumption that you own the river and that you can just plow blindly along making everyone else get out of your way. It occurred to me that scullers are a lot like the Lycranaut bike riders I frequently complain about in this blog (and have coffee with Wednesday mornings). They feel that they have the right of way and everyone else needs to get out of their way so they can go straight and fast. They own the trail/river, in their minds. Well, I will say this for the scullers - at least their outfits are a lot less silly than the bike pseudo-racers.

Anyway, other than the couple of on-water traffic jams I had a nice paddle. Eight miles, with a coffee break at my turnaround point and a little rolling/bracing practice at the tip of Roosevelt Island. The multi-cultural duck family (black ducks, white ducks, mallards, etc.) was out and about. Very little boat traffic. Not too hot.

And I caught a Magikarp Pokemon at the marina on my way back. See here for more about Pokemon.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

I'm Giving Up Kayaking

Ha, not a chance. But I did something almost as out of character: I started playing Pokemon Go. Not to brag or anything, but I'm already practically at Level 5. 

I've never been a gamer. Not even when I was publishing technical articles in Game Developer magazine (a lot of the information sharing technology for Internet games derives from work we did for defense training simulations back in the 90's, and I at the time I wrote some articles about some of our techniques). At one point I was considering moving over to the computer game development world, but the interviews never went well.

Interviewer: "So, what games are you playing?"

Me: "Well, my kids are playing Sammy's Science House. I don't really play games except with them."
Interviewer: "[uncomfortably long pause] ... Thanks for coming in."

But, Valerie and the boys are all into it. It's been great for Valerie - it's been getting her to go out and about a lot. 

Last night was a pretty nice evening and we didn't have plans. I knew that "hey, let's go for a walk" would be a tough sell*, and so instead I said, "Hey, would you teach me how to do Pokemon Go?" We wound up taking a nice walk through City of Falls Church, which is much more alive on a Saturday night than it used to be, what with The State Theater, Little City Ice Cream, Claire & Don's, and so on.. For me, beingoutside is an end in itself, but if having fun outside involves visiting Pokestops and catching Pokemon as they appear, so be it. 

Anyway, I'm just doing this to have an activity in common with Valerie. I'm pretty sure I won't get hooked and will never even fire up the game except when I'm with Valerie 

BTW, Sunday morning I caught a Magikarp Pokemon at Columbia Island Marina while I was loading up my kayak gear and detoured on my way home to visit three Pokestops to get more Pokeballs. Woo Hoo!

*I know this because I said, "It's a nice night. Let's go for a walk," a suggestion which was met with an immediate "No".

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mallows Bay

I was going to write a quick post saying that I paddled to Mallows Bay again, and just hyper-link "again" to the previous post. Done. But then I searched through the blog and realized that there was no entry about Mallows Bay! I pulled out my old kayaking journal from the dawn of kayaking time - y'know, the kind written on actual paper? - and realized I had written about my first trip to Mallows Bay in September of 2000. I've been back a number of times since, but I guess I never wrote about it.
Rob and Larry examine the remains of the S,S. Accomac (ferry)

Anyway, I'll keep this brief anyway. Mallows Bay is home to over 100 scuttled ships and is a classic story of Defense procurement gone bad. During World War I the U.S. found itself with a shortage of transport ships to bring people and materiel over to Europe. The government placed an order for a whopping 1,000 ships for the war effort. To make a long story short, few of the ships were ever built, fewer still in time to be put into service in the war. The ships were hastily built and had wooden hulls (steel was too expensive during the war). They were consequently so heavy that they had to use most of their own cargo space for coal. Needless to say, at the end of the war they were immediately declared obsolete and were sold off to a company as scrap. The company scuttled them in Mallows Bay, and today they, alongside other ships scuttled there at other times, form an eerie ship graveyard and cool wildlife sanctuary. More on the history here.

We launched out of Quantico, paddled across the river and down the Maryland shore to the bay. We took a break at the (fairly new) Mallows Bay launch, where the very friendly (lonely?) caretaker tlaked with us for a good long time and we ran into a kayak fisherman who bow hunts snakehead fish!

Well, since I've written about Mallows Bay before :) I'll stop here. Pictures below.

Cool 360 degree shots:

On Mallows Bay by the Car Ferry - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Regular old pictures:

Exposed spine of a ship
Up on a bluff looking at the ships

That foliage is growing on the outlines of ships

A plastic boat is a good idea here!

Shore break

First break, checking out a ship above the bay

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Manhattan Circumnavigation #2

When Tom and I did Jerry Blackstone's big Manhattan circumnavigation two years ago, Tom commented that if he ever did it again he'd like to do it on our own as a small group. I thought that in many regards it was certainly doable: the big trip had shown us the basic logistics, the paddling was within our capabilities, and navigation is easy enough (keep the island on your left). The big challenge is timing the tides and current right. If you do it right, you get a significant aid boost from the currents, cutting hours off the trip time. If you do it wrong, the trip becomes dangerous and nigh onto impossible - you can find yourself fighting 5 knot currents and confused, swirling water at Hell's Gate or in "the spider" at The Battery. It seems like it would take a rocket scientist to figure it out.

Have I mentioned the multiple times NASA has presented me with awards for my work?

Yes, I took on the task of figuring it all out. The first thing I did was the brute force approach. I looked at the bib circ's launch times for the last several years compared with the tidal cycle and figured out when you have to launch from Inwood to be at the right point in the cycle. But I really wanted to understand the whole thing better, so I did some more research and found a set of diagrams showing the flows in the rivers by hour in the tidal cycle. Then I plotted out where we would be hour by hour against these flows to verify our planned timing. This was perhaps slightly overkill, but turned out to be useful. The weather forecast for the day of our trip included a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon and because of my deeper understanding of the timing I was able to see how early I could slide our timing without running afoul of the cycle.

We all met Friday night at the swanky Marriott Tall Tom had arranged for us in Teaneck, NJ. The first order of business was to consolidate boats so we wouldn't have to deal with parking a lot of cars in the city. We managed to get all the kayaks onto two cars, piling three kayaks onto each. In the end, parking turned out not to be an issue, but having only two cars turned out to be a good thing at the end of the trip - more on this later.

Then we went out to dinner. Somewhat by chance we wound up at Yakitori 39, a Japanse small plate restaurant which was EXCELLENT. Yakitori chicken wings, duck and avocado salad, seaweed salad, more chicken, bacon-wrapped something or other (I dunno, I didn't eat it) ... It was a great meal, but not a lot of carbs (no rice!) and so after stuffing ourselves we walked over to the nearby 7-11 and bought carb-heavy dessert foods. Plus, I had picked up Italian bakery cookies in Brooklyn, so we had lots of choices for a carb-loading dessert.

Saturday was an early start. Up at 4 (actually, I woke up at 3:58, two minutes ahead of my alarm - amazing how my body does that), out the door at 5, at the launch at dawn. The tiny park and beach at Tubby Hook were deserted (this in itself amazed me - in my New York or yore, five people would have been sleeping there). And wildlife! In addition to the expected rats and pigeons, we saw a skunk at the park! A real skunk! And they really do sort of bound about like Pepe Le Pew. After giving the skunk time to exit on its own, we unloaded (I kept running up to the cars since my not-paranoid-enough cohorts kept leaving them unattended and wide open) and launched at about 6:20 AM.

And we were thrown right into the blender. For some reason, the water right under the George Washington Bridge was choppy as heck, and we had the wind against us besides. I immediately started to worry. If it was going to be like this all the way down the Hudson than we'd never make it on time and would be exhausted before we finished even a third of the trip. I began to be glad I had also researched bail-out points along the route. The good news is that the super chop turned out to be a local anomaly (wind pattern caused by the bridge? a shoal? aliens? Who knows!) and within half a mile or so we were on smooth water. We still had the wind against us, but with the current's push we were making pretty good time.
On the water

Down the west side we went - the bridge, Grant's tomb and the Riverside church, the 79th Street Boat Basin. Before we knew it we were approaching mid-town. This part of the river has some "keep-out" zones around the cruise ship terminal and the Intrepid.  I knew what to do if a cruise ship was in port (stay 100 yards out), but I wasn't prepared for the circumstance we encountered - a cruise ship just coming into port as weak approached! Fortunately, the ship got into dock just before we got there. I wouldn't have wanted to have dealt with the wake of that thing, even moving a one knot, let alone had to maneuver around it while it was under way.
It's bigger than we are

At the Intrepid museum we got a treat, as the U.S. Coast Guard bark Eagle was there - a striking sailing ship. The Intrepid is also within the keep-out zone. Needless to say, our resident photographer Rob eagerly violated the keep-out zone (as well as the ones around the tunnel vent shafts) to get the best camera angles. But we had no issues with the authorities. About this time it dawned on us that we had a seventh paddler paddling with us. A solo paddler doing his own circumnavigation had caught up with us. He kayaked alongside us for a bit but got impatient with out touristy pace and eventually continued on ahead of us.
At the downtown boathouse we took our first break - not really necessary, but a good "nice to have". This is one of several locations in New York offering free kayaking and they were happy to let us pull out there for a few minutes - as long as we signed liability waivers. They even steadied our boats as we climbed onto their slippery and weirdly sloped dock.
Back on the water we regrouped and prepared for the dash around The Battery. This are has a high density of ferry traffic and so we had to time it right. This is where we had our only mishap of the day. A ferry wake caught us off guard and Jim, who was paddling a surf ski (not an enclosed kayak), capsized. We quickly got him back in (on?) his boat, though the mishap earned us an escort for a ways from a Police boat which had been loitering nearby. We got around the point in plenty of time to avoid the Staten Island ferry, but at that point Jen seemed to fall back a bit and so we grouped up to make sure everything was OK - and then realized we had stopped right in front of the dock where a Statue of Liberty ferry was heading and so took off again to get out of its way.

The lower East River was the section I had been concerned about since it had been quite choppy on the previous circ, but this time it was quite smooth and we immediately felt the helping push of the strong East River current (the East River is actually a tidal estuary and completely turns around and reverses its flow with the tide). The Brooklyn Bridge is my personal favorite - it's a thrill for me to paddle under this beauty. After we passed under the Brooklyn and were heading towards the Manhattan we saw yet another ferry heading our way. We tried to ascertain which side of him we should be on - was he hugging the shore or heading out into the harbor? It seemed like every time we maneuvered to get out of his path, he would turn towards us again. Fortunately, this was all occurring right in front of the little beach area under the bridges (the same beach where just weeks earlier a foolish kayaker had lost his boat while he was ashore in search of pizza, triggering a massive search and rescue operation when the kayak was found floating unmanned in the river) and so at the last minute we made a mad dash for the beach to get out of the ferry's way. We think he was intentionally screwing with us.
Brooklyn Bridge
As we paddled up towards the Williamsburg Bridge we had a run-in with another boat, this time a tour boat. We were a little further out into the river at this point and it came up on our right side, between us and the Brooklyn shore, aiming, I guess, to give the tourists a glimpse of hipster Williamsburg from the water. The boat passed us and then cut left, trapping us inside a sizable horseshoe shaped wake. We all had to focus on staying upright. For the second time of the day Suzanne yelled at me for getting in her way as I positioned myself to take the wake head-on rather than broadside. All at once I looked over to see Rob riding out a double, super-tall foamy wave of wake. I swear, this was Hawaii Five-O stuff. In my mind I began to formulate how I'd get over to him when he capsized - but as the wave passed him and he reappeared from within the foam, we saw he was still in his boat. Clearly the badass moment of the day!
From there it was a scenic (up the east side of mid-town) and uneventful ride up to our lunch break at Hallet's Cove. I love Hallet's. It's a little beach landing area right in the middle of a street in Queens. Hop out of your kayak, walk up three steps, and you're on Vernon Boulevard in Astoria. This is quite different than the desolate barrier islands where we usually take our breaks on kayak trips! Hallet's is hopping. There are people there enjoying the few feet of watefront beach. The pedestrian traffic is a mix of Latinos and hipsters. A large group of beginner kayakers on a group trip out of the Long Island City boathouse pulled up. We walked through Socrates Park and Sculpture Garden, where there was a typical New York mix of plant sale, families, yoga, and everything else going on and used the bathroom at the Costco. We talked about how next time we should skip bringing lunch and just get a pizza from Costco! I didn't tell Jen, but we were just blocks from the Isamu Noguchi Museum and the Museum of the Moving Image.
At Hallet's Cover
We had a tight window to pull out of Hallet's and make it through Hell Gate. You have to catch this section at slack tide, or it can be quite hairy. We launched at the earliest point in that window (still mindful of thunderstorm potential) and slipped without incident into the Harlem River. This final section of the trip is pretty relaxed. At this point you still have a tidal push (the Harlem River is tidal as well) and the river is a narrow, straight canal heavily shaped by man to be easily navigable. In fact, I learned something on this trip I had never known - that the borough of Manhattan and Manhattan island are not one in the same. There's a little piece of what's now the mainland that's part of Manhattan. Marble Hill used to be the very tip of Manhattan, then they cut the ship canal across it, effectively slicing it off and making it an island. Later on, the original river on the north side of the island was filled in, making it part of the Bronx landmass. But the neighborhood of Marble Hill and its surroundings officially remain part of Manhattan.

I knew there were a lot of Jews in New York, but until this trip I never realized the island itself had been circumcised!

Jim at Yankee Stadium
This part of the trip is described in one person's blog as "ugly industrial", but we kinda liked it. More "real" than the skyscrapers of midtown. Plus, Yankee Stadium! At the very northern tip of Manhattan (island) the industrial blight fades away and it gets kind of green and pretty. In this section you also see the anomaly of a lighthouse on top of a building and a tower so attractive it's hard to believe it was built as a mundane piece of infrastructure - a water tower - in the 19th century. We made our final stop at Peter Sharp Boathouse. Then, a quick trip through Spuyten Duyvil, back out into the Hudson and back to our starting point Inwood.

As with our Tom's and my experience, the little park was much more alive in the late afternoon (we landed at 3:30 PM) than earlier in the morning. Instead of skunks and rats, the park was filled with locals smoking weed and taking in the sight of the river. Out on the street, the dead end of Dyckman Street had been turned into valet parking for La Marina restaurant. How they get away with this - it's a city street! - I don't know, but I do. Last time, between the valet parking scene and the act that 100 boaters were unloading at the same time, Tom and I chose to carry our kayaks across Manhattan to the car rather than try to get anywhere near the launch with the car, which would have been impossible. This time it was earlier and there were fewer of us, and so it wasn't quite as bad. The good folks running the valet parking were good enough to let us bring in one car at a time and we loaded boats while dodging the never-ending shuffling of cars around us. Then it was back to the hotel where we shuffled boats once again and showered (separately). We met down in the bar intending to just have a drink then go out, but we were all pretty tired and wound up eating dinner right there.

As the official trip leader and "commodore" of this outing, I hereby declared it to have been a success! Bravo Zulu to all participants!

Some links to some other landmarks along the way:

The Little Red Lighthouse under the GW Bridge
Battery Maritime Building
The Queens Pepsi-Cola Sign
Socrates Sculpture Park

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Rest of Maine

I have already written about cycling and kayaking in Maine. The rest of the trip was pretty col too. For completeness, here's a summary of the rest of the trip:

Thursday: Set off from DC to drive as far as we could. Quite unlike us to not have a planned destination. We made it as far as Lowell, MA.

Fri: More driving! We finally made it to Bar Harbor and settled into what turned out to be our favorite accommodations of the stay, the Saltair in. This place was really nice, and the couple who ran it were very warm and welcoming. They did a lot fo the work themselves and had lots of good suggestions on activities, restaurants and such. We quickly discovered that Maine is not the best place food-wise for people who don't eat shellfish. We ate dinner at the Thirsty Whale. I had a haddock sandwich.
Sunset at the Saltair Inn

Sat: Started the day with a nice breakfast at the inn on the deck overlooking the water. We then headed over to Acadia and biked. Lunch at Jordan Pond House, then a like more cycling for me. We had dinner at a recommended pizza place - which turned out to be pretty discusting. Valerie couldn't even eat the eggplant parm hero. To make up for our sub-par dinner we got some very good ice cream at Ben & Bill's and watched the sunset in downtown Bar Harbor. This was the most beautiful sunset of the whole trip.
Spectacular Sunset in Bar Harbor

Sun: I went kayaking at Long Pond in Acadia, and Valerie went shopping in town. After paddling I browsed a little bit in town too. In the evening we brought a picnic up to Cadillac Mountain and watched the sun set. A little while after we got there we noticed a group setting up a big cross and a portable keyboard over to our left. They came over an invited us to participate in a "non-denominational" sunset worship service.
Sunset at Cadillac Mountain
Hiking at Acadia
While Hiking 

Mon: We did a short hike at Acadia (it was a hot day), then drove the park look and headed out. We drove to Camden, where we stayed at The Inns at Blackberry Common. This place had very nice rooms - rustic but very upscale - but the proprietress was one of those innkeepers who seemed a little put out at having to deal with guests. One wonders why such people start B&Bs. Unlike Saltair, she wasn't very hands on, either - most of the work was done by a gaggle of Bosnian college students working in the U.S. for the summer. We walked into town and ate at an upscale pizza place.

Tues: I got up early and went for a run, which helped situate us in terms of what was nearby. We drove down to Rockland and went to the Farnsworth Museum, which has a focus on the Wyeth family. After the museum we walked around downtown Rockland a bit and got lunch in a combination crunchy granola grocery and lunch spot. On the way back from Rockland I picked up a rental kayak at Maine Outfitters. After a dinner of leftover pizza we went for a lovely sunset cruise aboard the schooner Surprise.
Aboard the schooner Surprise
Sunset on the Water

Weds: In the morning I kayaked Rockport to Camden and Valerie browsed the shops of Camden. After a nap we went out for a dinner at Peter Ott steakhouse in downtown Camden.

Thurs: After a breakfast including a rum raisin polenta and an omelet with cheese and herbs we packed and hit the road, heading for Portland. Valerie was asleep when we drove through Bath, ME but I was excited to see two Zumwalt class destroyers under contruction at Bath Iron Works. These things really look like ships from the future.

We hadn't planned this, but I decided to stop in Freeport, where we did some outlet shopping - L. L. Bean, of course, plus lots of other outlets. We didn't really buy all that much, but it was still a nice experience. How do I know I was on vacation with Valerie? Ben & Jerry's for lunch.

After we finished our shopping we continued on to Portland, where we checked into the Old Port Hilton Garden Inn. Our room had a somewhat funky smell - like the AC hadn't been run in a while, but we put up with it. Valerie had had her steak dinner the night before, so I got my choice: The Green Elephant vegetarian restaurant. We walked there (about a mile) and both wound up loving the food there.
The synagogue at the Maine Jewish Museum
Outside the Museum

Fri: I got up early and went for a run on a trail along the bay - pretty nice. Our room didn't include breakfast, but when we checked in Valerie used some sort of Jedi mind trip and the woman at the desk gave us breakfast coupons - so we ate at the hotel. After breakfast we went to the Maine Jewish Museum (yes, there is one), browsed downtown, and then caught a matinee of the Star Trek movie. How do I know I was on vacation with Valerie? Donuts for lunch at Holy Donut. The Old Port is sort of the hipsterish part of Portland and I had the odd experience of going into a kitschy store and finding that many of the retro items they were selling (Polaroid cameras, eight tracks, ...) were items I remember from when they were new. Boy, I *am* old.

After the movie Valerie had a bad stomach ache and so she went back to the room to rest. I strolled downtown a bit more and wound up hanging out at a coffee bar and reading. For dinner we went to a loud bar called Rosie's. Kind of a local hangout, but it was nearby and they had some items which appealed to Valerie, who was still under the weather. I had haddock "chowdah" and a salad.

Saturday: Breakfast, then we headed home.