. . .wait five minutes. It’ll change.
That old aphorism has stuck with me in all of my paddling trips and trip planning. In a city known for not being able to see much past the next block, when we’re on the water we can see for miles. From certain areas on the Hudson near Battery, one can see the Verranzano, about six miles away, and the George Washington Bridge, about twelve miles away in the opposite direction.
Manhattan is long and narrow enough that sometimes I’ll get on the subway at work under sunny skies and get out under rain at home. I’ll get conflicting reports from friends about the weather as short bands of precipitation crawl across the happy island like so many commuters.
Yesterday we’d planned to paddle down to Pier 40, to meet up with a friend and escort her paddling back to Inwood. She’s dropped her boat off there for some repairs and they were done. It’s a trip that can be done solo, but where’s the fun in that? Tides worked out well for a midday departure from Inwood, returning in the evening.
Trouble was, weather was predicted to be rainy all weekend, but with sunny days on either side. So, we kept an eye on the weather. Sure enough, the two days before, the afternoon was predicted to be low on rain – how winds up in the teens. We decided to wait and see the morning of.
The next morning, a dense fog hug over the river. While it cleared up by 1100, it was partly a result of a hugely warm day, touching 80F, though the water was still in the low 50s F. The morning was warm, and I paddled a bit just to work on my strokes and my balance. At 1130 I checked again – maybe this beautiful weather was a harbinger of good things?
Thunderstorms at 1500, with winds predicted in the teens and gusts up to 25mph.
I wasn’t as worried about the thunderstorms because, based on radar tracking, I expected they would come and go quickly and sporadically. The winds weren’t terrible either, but they would be annoying. They’d form a tailwind, which is normally good, but with a growing flood tide they’d form following seas. We’d spend as much time steering as paddling.
On top of all that, one of our number hadn’t been in a boat for six months.
We called it. We came up with an alternate plan – we would just do this again Sunday. But, a couple of us still me up for some paddling.
At first, we wondered, did we make the right call? It was so nice out – and then the breeze would stiffen. Sure enough, around 1400, an endless cloud crept up from the south over the western side of the river, and we felt like we’d made the right decision. We wouldn’t have left by then. Raindrops pelted us jus north of the GWB.
However, by 1430, that system had moved over, and sun was glaring through a lighter set of clouds . . . .and then by 1515 or so, another set of rainy clouds had moved in. We paddled up close to the shore, waving at fishermen and their families, avoiding their lines. We could see columns of light refracted in precipitation further up the Hudson River valley, straight out of a painting.
After we landed, we washed or boats and changed . . .and by the time we left the boathouse, it was warm and sunny again! We walked over to Broadway, where we parted ways. I made my way home through Fort Tryon Park, and along the way, the sun once again disappeared, and this time the air cooled a bit as well.
Sure enough, about four blocks from my building, it started to rain. Sprinkles, then proper rain, then a downpour. Buckets, I was pretty wet by the time I go home, less than five minutes later.
Did we make the right call? It’s a combination of factors. Any sea kayaker worth their salt should be able to manage in these conditions. Certainly, things were not terrible, and if we’d gotten caught out in it, we would have done alright. The wind, when it rained, was barely a factor. We would have been wearing dry gear so that would not have been an issue. And while we would have still been on he water, about four miles out, when the thunderstorm hit, we could have sheltered in, evening finding a place or two to land and wait it out – and then been fine.
So, it would have been an adventure, in this alternate timeline. But that wasn’t what we were looking for. Coupled with it being early in the season, and one paddler being out of practice, we’re happy with the decision.