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Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite

The cowgirl took off Friday from the day job in order to paddle to Liberty State Park with some friends. It was time off well spent.

Altogether we were ten paddlers, mostly women, all experienced in paddling around NYC waterways.

It was a beautiful day, with little wind. The only complaints we could muster would be that it was muggy on the way out, with a light haze draping everything in the distance.

We set out from Pier 96 and began crossing the river. With strong current southbound, we stay in the channel, avoiding ferry paths. I had a bit of a surprise when I paddled closer to shore and came around a blind corner to see a ferry poised to leave, but after some hand waving, worked out with the pilot letting me drift past him before he left. After that, it was a pretty smooth ride down the New Jersey side, past Maxwell Cove, past dry docks in Hoboken, past the Goldman Sachs building and Morris Canal.

At this point I took a picture of EP in her Necky Elaho.

EP in her Elaho.
EP in her Elaho.

Morris canal is a waterway that runs between the northern edge of Liberty State Park and Jersey City, with Liberty Marina tucked in far behind. Once past Morris, you’re practically at Ellis Island. Here, CL looks out ahead. The building is on Ellis Island, and farther south, you can make out Lady Liberty.

CL in her kayak.
CL in her kayak.

We paddled past Ellis, and passed in front of Liberty, where I took several photos like this one, with several paddlers lined up in front of Lady Liberty.

Lady Liberty.
Lady Liberty.

Once past and below Liberty Island, we headed west into a large bay below Liberty State Park. From here, we could make out everything from Jersey City to Lower Manhattan. Here’s the cowgirl, with Goldman Sachs in the background on the left, and the new World Trade Center tower poking over her head on the right.

Kayak Cowgirl.
Kayak Cowgirl.

On the far end of the bay is a housing development called Port Liberte. While it’s private property, it’s a pretty site to look at, and a few people decided to take a look.

Port Liberte.
Port Liberte.

From the entrance, looking behind us, we could barely make out the Verranzano Bridge through the haze, in the distance.

Looking South.
Looking South.

After hovering around the entrance, we paddled back to meet our friends who had landed at Liberty State Park already. Along the way, we came across one dead crab. . .

Dead Crab.
Dead Crab.

And then the shell of another – only this second one was a beautiful horseshoe crab shell.

Horseshoe Shell.
Horseshoe Shell.

This being the second time I was down in the harbor this summer, I have to say this view of Lower Manhattan is becoming familiar – especially as the Freedom Tower continues to climb.

Looking North to Battery.
Looking North to Battery.

On the way back, the wind picked up a bit, and conditions were more interesting. That’s OK, because the lil’ buddy was up on the deck.

Looking North to Battery.
Looking North to Battery.

We spent about an hour and a half layover at Liberty State Park – following a group of sit-on-top kayaks run as a program by Liberty State Park to a small beach landing. From there, we walked over to a picnic area and had lunch in the shade, making use of the facilities and taking pictures of ourselves and the gorgeous views from this little vantage point. I had most of an Apack MRE, skipping the cookie and candy, since it was a short enough paddle that I didn’t need all 1300+ calories.

On the way back, we passed behind Liberty Island – it’s less traffic, and a bit more intuitive of a paddle. That being said, it’s an area an old coach of mine called “the washing machine” because the collision of currents and topography results in waves coming from all directions. We all managed to get through without any trouble, in part by keeping ready for a high brace to either side of the boat.

As we came up on Ellis Island, we passed one barge, and could see another one approaching behind us. A small boat motored up to our main element, and then up to the lead elements. We were worried that it was Coast Guard or some other law enforcement, perhaps that someone had violated the security zone around Liberty but no – the small boat was a pilot (or harbinger, perhaps) of the barge, letting us know where the barge was headed. We got out of its way and kept moving up the main channel while the barge – loaded with a crane and two truck-mounted cement mixers – went into Morris Canal.

We paddled up – the current fully with us now, until about 38th street, when we performed a ferry crossing – moving laterally and letting the current carry us up the river. It’s an odd sight, moving straight forwards, but watching the cityscape move sideways. We paddled straight into the embayment at Pier 96. Altogether it was about a six-hour trip, of which only four were spent paddling. As day trips go, it was just about right.

While I like to write about “lessons learned”, it’s hard to pick anything outstanding here. In medium and large groups, trips typically break into smaller groups, with a fast group and a slower group. That is exactly what happened here, and while it’s good to keep a group together for the sake of visibility and safety, having smaller subgroups doesn’t hurt.

For long expeditions – especially in any kind of conditions – sea kayaks are a must. One paddler was in a sit-on-top, an Ocean model Prowler. This model has a good prow, which helps cut through waves, but is otherwise a very wide boat that gets bounced around in conditions like “the washing machine”. This isn’t bad in itself, but it did slow the boat down.

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

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