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Squall

Today was an exciting day on the water. Once again, I learned a valuable lesson about wind. 

I paddled up to 72nd street with an experienced paddler I’ll call GB. With the current it’s about ten or fifteen minutes; against, more like half an hour, and a bit of a slog.  

We were against, which is something I did yesterday as well, coming out around the sanitation pier into a truckload of current. Thing is, once past the pier, you can move in towards shore and catch a break, even an eddy if you’re lucky; we got clear and then got on to our final destination.  

GB wanted to fix up some equipment we had up there. He’d brought along a box of screws and a hammer drill, and we added an additional beam to a storage rack for vests. As we finished up, we saw dark clouds rapidly approaching from New Jersey. The wind was picking up and we decided to be on our way. We launched, paddled away, and got out to the current. Now, we would be going with it to head south. We’d be home in no time and miss the worst of the storm. 

We saw lightning strike far down in the harbor, somewhere near Jersey City. GB suggested turning around to tell the shop to close up; we went back to tell them about the lightning strike. “We know!” So we turned around and headed back out. I think our friends were surprised we were heading back out. 

By now there were light but steady droplets of rain. That wasn’t a problem. The problem was the wind. It was fierce and blowing from the west across the water. The result was that in the channel there were two conveyor belts: one moving south and another moving east.  

The wind was much stronger than the current, and I fought against it. GB did alright; he actually passed under the pier and turned to face into the wind. I was afraid to do that, because as hard as the wind was blowing, I was worried I’d get pushed up against the support pillars. A few years ago, someone tried that move in better weather and got knocked into the water. I figured if I could make it farther out into the channel, I could keep steady against the wind while the current carried me south. 

That was not meant to be. What ended up happening was, I got to a standstill against the wind. Even facing into it, I was getting blown back towards the shore. Only, the shore was much farther out in the form of a pier. The current was carrying me south. I was going to get caught in the supports of the pier. 

I managed to turn around and head back to the dock. At least the wind helped me with that, and as I got out of the channel, the current wasn’t a concern. 

I got out and helped them put things away. By now, the squall was in full effect. The tide was at max ebb; we could see a bit of sandy beach along the sea wall, and the wind kicked up waves that bobbed us up and down while we wrangled boats in a way that we could secure them with cable locks. 

A bit later, GB showed up, gave me a hard time for giving up so easily, then got out to help. 

In the time it took us to get everything put away – about fifteen or twenty minutes – conditions changed considerably. For one, the wind died down to a breeze. For another, the rain stopped. By then, I was chilly, having gotten wet and then being pressed by a steady breeze. GB asked if I was ready to give it another go. “Let me put on my jacket,” I said, pulling out what has been my best kayaking investment this year short of the boat: a paddling windbreaker. 

At some point, I did lose my sunglasses, probably while we were putting things away. I have to shrug about that – though I did buy them just last week. Ironically, they float, but there was no way I was going to find them by the time I noticed they were missing. They are my generous contribution to the Hudson river. 

We launched, and got out into the channel. As predicted, it was a quick ride back to 56th street. Without the weather cocking us about, we were able to enjoy some long swells of about 18-24 inches, a gentle roller coaster of waves. 

We got back safe and sound. By then, clear skies were appearing on the horizon. We pulled out our boats, cleaned them and put them away. I checked my phone: texts from the mister advising me to get off the water. I texted him back. 

After that, the day was nice if breezy, at least till I got home an hour or so later. After that, two more cloudbursts ran through, followed by spots of sun. It’s an interesting day weather-wise, that’s for sure. 

Published in 2012 Backpaddle Downtown Boathouse New York City

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