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Leading the Public

Sunday morning, I co-led a public trip with MD. Helping us were S, E, and Sa (two guys with the same name starting with S). It was E’s first public trip. 

Public trips are one of the free programs the Downtown Boathouse (DTBH) operates. Basically, Saturday and Sunday mornings in the summer we will take a group of the “public” – walk-up participants – on a trip up or down the river. The usual requirements of having an ability to swim and signing a waiver are in place, and it is strongly recommended people paddle in the embayment a few times to get used to paddling a boat. We take half a dozen single-seat boats and four double-seat boats and come back in three hours or so. 

On this trip we opted for Mitsuwa, the Japanese supermarket in Fort Lee. We would run out of current by the time we got there, wait a bit, then come back with current. 

The day was incredibly muggy. Hot, sticky, and overcast to boot. There were predictions of scattered showers, up to 50% chance of rain. Rain isn’t an issue, but lightning is. 

We got the public situated – a series of steps that are long and boring to describe. We usually can’t take everyone. We give them a brief primer on the trip, test their abilities in the embayment, and kick out anyone who might be problematic. We didn’t kick anyone out this time. 

In this case, we gave the benefit of doubt to a mother-daughter pairing in a double. The mom was OK, but the daughter was kind of useless. We guessed she was being dragged along on a Bonding Experience. To be fair, once we got underway, after quite a bit of at-sea coaching, they were able to make headway, but it took them a while, and we had to keep an eye on them. 

Public trips are where I most feel like a kayak cowgirl. We shepherd the public along, making sure they stay where it’s safe, herding them from one point to another. They’re slower than the typical pace of an experienced group – lots of time figuratively gripping the pommel, reins in hand – move along, little doggies, move along. 

We made our way north past now-familiar landmarks – Pier I, the Boat Basin, the mooring field. We stopped for water twice before even crossing the river – the heat and humidity were just draining us in our exertions. We lined up around 96th street, and then crossed the river, where we took water again and then headed north. 

We stopped again to let people catch up. By then, the current was starting to turn, and the weaker paddlers were getting strung out. As we got underway, after some effort, the mother-daughter team gave up and were towed by two volunteers. They had done well, but against the current was too much for them. 

We landed at Mitsuwa. The first thing I noticed was that with the current running out, it was turning into a mud flat, a characteristic I’m already familiar with at that landing. We got everyone out but were keenly aware our time was limited. 

We took a relatively short break. Often, we take an hour or more, but in this case, it took us so long to get there that we couldn’t stay long. I picked up some of my favorite Japanese groceries – including this sort of milk-juice drink, snacked and chatted a bit, and then got ready to go. 

After I applied my sunscreen, several folks asked for it. I expect this to happen so I gave up my near-empty bottle, keeping in mind the full stuff in my locker back at the boathouse. 

Sure enough, when we launched, the mud beneath the waves was a quagmire. People lost shoes (and recovered them). We had to push the boats out pretty far in some cases because otherwise they were stuck in the mud. Once we got clear, we were OK, but it took some effort – and this is not a beach you want to be sliding around barefoot on. It’s got glass and other sharp objects; it’s not a pleasant place at low tide. 

Paddling back was easy-peasy. We had good current, and therefore kept on the Jersey side. Before we crossed, we pulled into an embayment and encouraged people to “accidentally” fall in one at a time to cool off. Only a couple of people took advantage of our offer – possibly because the first person to do so cannonballed in and stood up in less than four feet of water. I hung of someone’s bow and dipped myself in to cool off. 

Coming back was . . .weird. First, there was traffic, which is OK and even typical; if anything, it was unusual that there had been almost no traffic when we crossed the first time. However, while waiting for a motorboat to pass, we noticed a ton of flashing lights on the traffic circle above the boat basin – all FDNY vehicles.  

Then, we saw an FDNY boat zoom up the river and past the boat basin. We paddled a bit, then saw an NYPD boat, followed by an NYPD helicopter that ended up hovering over the boat basin. We crossed a bit, and stopped as two more NYPD boats raced up the river.  

We also saw some crew boats hovering in the 72nd street embayment – my guess was they had radios and were waiting for traffic to clear. We finally crossed and went downtown, and saw a USCG helicopter flying north. 

Now, these may have been unrelated events, but it sure seemed like they were related, but we had no idea what prompted them. 

Overall it was a good trip. Mom and daughter did well on the way back – especially crossing. Everyone who left came back, and seemed satisfied. The only thing that marred the day was less about the trip – I noticed some cracks in my boat’s gel coat, and I’ll have to get them fixed, which is something of a hassle. I’m not sure where they came from but it doesn’t matter – I can paddle a bit, but will need to get them fixed. 

Published in 2012 Backpaddle Downtown Boathouse New York New York City NYC

One Comment

  1. […] I’ve mentioned the public trips run by the Downtown Boathouse before; the Inwood Canoe Club runs a similar program called Open House. In both cases, members of each club escort members of the public, sometimes called guests, up or down the river, according to conditions. While the details of each program – and similar programs run by commercial operators in the area – may vary, they do have a few elements in common. […]

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