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Foggy Paddle

On Saturday I paddled north out of Inwood from Inwood Canoe Club with my friend MH. While the air and water temperatures were relatively mild, the sky was overcast and a fog bank approached from the north. We started later than expected, paddling against the current most of the way to a point just past the Riverdale station for Metro North, before turning around and gliding back home.

MH is a canoe guy, with a fantastically light solo canoe, faster and just as nimble as me in a sea kayak. I paddled a Wilderness Systems Tempest 170, one of the club boats, since my own is still locked up in a boathouse that is more or less inaccessible.

While the current was strong and only got stronger as we paddled, it was smooth as glass. We kept close to the shore and worked our way up. This was the first time I paddled north of Manhattan on the eastern side of the Hudson. There are some very nice houses, as well as the relics of old railroad structures no longer in use, such as a foot bridge, missing its floor, that descends to the waterline several yards past the shore. We passed the Riverdale Yacht Club, the Metro North Station, and were just short of the sewer treatment plant for the city of Yonkers when we decided to turn around.

One interesting part of the trip was paddling past Spuyten Duyvil. This is the area, known to be somewhat treacherous, where the Harlem river connects with the Hudson at a perpendicular angle, creating weird current effects. Normally I am paddling into the Harlem, and I’m familiar with managing these strange effects. However, this time I was paddling past it, as current flowed out of the Harlem toward me as the Hudson flowed towards me head-on; the result was dozens of little vortices, baby versions of tall-tale terrors, and S-shaped eddy lines formed by cross currents pushing me this way and then that, which would have spun my boat like a top if I didn’t manage steering with some strong sweep strokes. I was also gradually moved out further into the river, meaning I had more current against me, and it was a fair amount of work to not only stay straight, but to angle back in towards shore, where we could continue on our way.

I did not bring my camera along, and while I wish that I had, I’m not sure that it would have captured the sublime beauty of this trip. It was quiet, for one thing, and there was no other traffic while we paddled – no ships, no barges, no small craft. Our voyage was only punctuated by a train going by periodically along the Hudson Line tracks.

Across the way, we could see the Palisades, but even these disappeared gradually as we met the fog bank. When we left, the air was clear but we could see the fog far up the river. It rolled down as we paddled, so that by the time we were in Riverdale, we could see it curling past the Palisades, encroaching upon houses, and enshrouding our view as we crept northwards.From Riverdale Station, we could barely make out the towers of the George Washington Bridge.

Coming back was a breeze. While I tend to paddle even with current, it was nice to not have to work so hard to keep moving forward, and I was able to take in the view that we had paddled past. I paddled farther out into the river and saw both sides, now with more fog obscuring their features, but with a glassy-smooth water surface that doubled everything before me. MH kept closer to shore, leaving me mostly alone to take it all in – the quiet, the cliffs, the expense of cloudy nothingness before me slowly resolving to familiar landmarks. There was the Henry Hudson Bridge, and there was the George Washington Bridge (named, I should point out, for men who crossed these waters under considerably greater duress). There were the Cloisters, peeking above the elevated tree line of Fort Tryon Park, and there was the marina and Englewood Cliffs.

We came in and climbed out, hauling our boats and then cleaning them. We stayed to do some work around the boathouse – still being improved following post-Sandy repairs, and then that was that – the end of a beautiful day on the water – in January.

I will end by saying that temperatures are unusually warm for winter. It’s January and the air was in the  high forties, predicted to be in the low fifties in some parts of the city. Water temperatures have dropped to the high forties and are more of a concern from the perspective of judging paddling risk. While it certainly isn’t summer paddling, it’s not quite ice paddling either. We’ll have to see if this turns out to be a cold inaugural winter paddling season for me.

Published in 2013 Backpaddle ICC Inwood Inwood Canoe Club New York

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