Kayaking on the Hudson

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A great trip that only sort of happened

One of my favorite day paddles on the Hudson River is to launch in Peekskill and head north up across under the Bear Mountain Bridge and up Popolopen creek.  There is a waterfall on the creek that makes the perfect lunch spot.  To get there, you have to paddle up the narrowest section of the Hudson where the river essentially makes an “S” turn and has steep rock walls on either side.    Because of the “S” turn, you have limited visibility of oncoming boats.  Because of the topography, you often get big waves refracting off the rocks, especially in the afternoon when the wind kicks up.  Because of the potential for rough conditions, this is considered an intermediate to advanced trip despite the short distance. 
Before we left Peekskill Bay the conditions on the Hudson were not too bad
On this summer day, my wife, Andrea, and I set out early in the morning so we could get back across the river before the afternoon winds kicked up.  We headed out of Peekskill and as soon as we cleared the bay and entered the Hudson, we knew we were in for a rough ride.  The wind wasn’t too bad, but the narrow section of the river had 3 to 4 foot swells.  We were both paddling 16 foot sea kayaks and we had all of the necessary gear, clothing and skills to handle the situation.  We paddled up to the bridge and waited for a clearing in the boat traffic.  It was before the price of gas went over $2 per gallon which meant lots of powerboats.  It was an unusually busy boat day, even for the Hudson, so we waited, and waited, and waited….
As we waited we bobbed up and down on the increasing swells.  After about 40 minutes, Andrea voiced her concerns and I was thinking the exact same thing.  Even if we got across, would we be able to get back?  We turned around and paddled back.
So why was this a great trip?  Because we made it back safe and sound.  Our experience and judgment served us well.  When you paddle, the weather is really in charge.  Even if you are prepared for rough conditions, sometimes it is best to just turn around, go home and live to paddle another day.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Erie Canal - Niagra River to Lockport

Kayaking on the Erie Canal, Amherst, NY

Old swing bridge on the Erie Canal
Busy terminal wall in Tonawanda
Our second trip on the Erie Canal was short but memorable.  We launched in Amherst and paddled west (for the first time) towards the end of the canal.  We stopped at the busy terminal wall in Tonawanda and had a great lunch at the Dockside Inn.  After lunch we paddled out onto the Niagara River.   We had reached the end of the canal and the seeing the sign that said “Welcome to the Erie Canal” gave me chills.  Or was it the sign that said “Danger Niagara Falls only 5 miles ahead?”  Let’s not go that way.  So we headed back to where we started for the day and completed our only 2-way paddle on the canal thus far.
The end of the Erie Canal

On the second day we returned to Amherst and paddled east to Lockport.  This section of the canal is my favorite so far.  We did not pass through any towns or meet any interesting people, but this section contains a large portion of the original canals from 1825 and 1849.  Much of the canal was rerouted in the early 1900s so seeing the old stone walls and the old overgrown towpath just made this part of the trip seem so authentic.  It was quiet, peaceful, and serene.
Kayaking on the Niagara River

As usual we also picked up trash out of the water (like we always do when kayaking) but this day I got my first painting.  It was oil on canvas, still stretched onto a frame.  It wasn’t good enough to keep—too abstract for me-- but I continued to be amazed at the things I find floating in the water.
Paddling under the old tow path

It was a very satisfying, albeit too brief, trip.  As we had the first year, we left wanting more and when we returned for the third year, we were not disappointed.  But that story, I will save for another post.

Taking out just before Lockport

See you on the water,
Don Urmston

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Paddling Clubs, Groups, etc.

So you have realized that it is safer to paddle with other people than to paddle alone.  How do you find other paddlers?  There are two types of paddling groups: clubs and meet-up groups.  Clubs can be either a kayaking club or a general outdoor club like the ADK (Adirondack Mtn. Club) or AMC (Appalachian Mtn. Club).  Kayak and outdoor clubs share some similarities.  Both will have a schedule of upcoming paddles with difficulty ratings and both will have some kind of vetting process for trip leaders.  General outdoor clubs also have the advantage that they offer hiking, and other trips as well as paddles.  The key points with either type of club are that you usually have to join and pay a membership fee, and they have rules that apply to the outings.  When you go out with a club you will have a trip leader who knows the area and you will have to follow the rules of the club.

A meet-up group is a much less formal arrangement.  Meet-up groups are just what the name implies.  Someone posts a “meet-up” on a website and anyone who wants to go shows up for the paddle.  Usually the person posting the paddle will also list some details about skill level and conditions you may encounter.  These trips do not have to conform to the rules of a formal club, but remember, you are on your own as far as safety is concerned.  

To summarize, clubs have rules, and trip leaders.  Meet-up groups have no formal leaders, but no restrictions or cost.  Most paddlers I know will go out with both clubs and groups depending on where the trip is going.  Clubs tend to be more popular with beginners who like having a designated trip leader, while meet-ups are more popular with experienced paddlers who do not need the guidance a trip leader provides.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trip Report - YakJam - Norwalk, Ct.

Ron's Pirate ship greeted us at the launch
Paddling among the islands off Norwalk, Ct.
Anyone who lives within driving distance of Norwalk, Ct. should check out this awesome, grassroots event.  It takes place every August on the weekend that is closest to the full moon.  It is hosted by the Stamford Kayak meet-up group and is a truly grassroots effort.  Individuals show up along with groups of paddlers from area clubs.
Dramatic sunset over Norwalk
I went along with five other paddlers from the Mid-Hudson chapter of the ADK.  We met up Friday at the public beach in East Norwalk and launched around 4pm.  The paddle out to Shea Island took about 30 minutes.  Once on the island, we set up our tents, and then went for a late day paddle around some of the islands.  After dinner, we went out for a moonlight paddle and witnessed the coolest sunset I have ever seen while paddling.  What struck me the most was that behind us was a brilliant sunset, while in front of us; it was dark with a full moon reflecting off the water.
Kayaking the full moon, Norwalk, Ct.
Saturday is the main day of YakJam and many paddlers show up just for the day.  During the day, there were various paddles along with talks and clinics.  I went for a morning paddle, and then caught the discussion on wave physics.  After that, I participated in the rescue practice and the Coast Guard flare demonstration.  There was also a paddle led by a naturalist, a hands-on talk about the intertidal zone, and several clean-up paddles to nearby islands.
Tom Galvin with Peter (YakJam organizer)
The forecast called for rain Saturday night and all day Sunday, so we broke camp and headed out before it got dark.  There are normally paddles and clean-ups scheduled for Sunday as well.
Throughout the weekend, I met many nice people, got to check out some fantastic kayaks and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the area.  Although donations are welcomed, the event is completely free and open to anyone who wants to attend.   One note- the bugs on the island are horrific.  During the day, you can get away with some bug spray, but only if you stay away from the plants inland.  At night, you will get eaten alive if you are not wearing a bug screen suit or head cover.
Bug headnet and bodysuit

For more info:

See you on the water,
Don Urmston

Monday, August 15, 2011

Trip Report - Seal Cove, Maine

Kayak launch in Seal Cove

Paddling the quiet waters of Seal Cove
Seal Cove is on “the quiet side” of Mt. Desert Island.  This is a small working harbor that sees a few guided tour groups, but is much less crowded than Bar Harbor.  Again, we waited for a calm day with winds predicted to be 5mph or less.  We launched from the town ramp on Cape Rd.  The conditions were perfect.  The water was like glass and the only waves came from boat wake.  We were greeted in the harbor by a harbor seal.  I guess the place lives up to its name.
View of Seal Cove from our kayaks
We paddled out around Moose Island and watched a local lobster boat, Jenny G. II,  pulling traps.  The lobster boats do not motor in a straight line; they turn all over to get to the next trap.  To watch the boat swerving around, you would think the captain was drunk.  It is fun to watch, but presents a real problem for kayakers as you never know where they are going next.  The key is to look on the boat for a buoy.  Once you know the color of the buoy, you can look around in the water and find them.  Avoid the buoys, and you avoid the boats.  Be warned, lobster boats are working boats and have no patience for kayaks.  They will not turn to avoid you and they will not slow down to avoid creating a wake.  It is your responsibility to avoid them.
We had planned to venture up to Hardwood Island and make a landing, but our trip got delayed.  We spent so much time watching the pod of porpoises breach and come up for air that we never made it to Hardwood Island.  No matter, the show was amazing and we returned happy as two little clams.  We tried to get pictures and video of the porpoises, but as usual, all we got was footage of water and some great memories.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trip Report - Bar Harbor, Maine

Conditions among the Porcupines were perfect

Kayaking along the "bar" to Bar Island
View of Bar Harbor with Cadillac Mtn. in background
The Force was with us
"Cottages" along the shore
Upon our arrival in Bar Harbor, we were greeted with the news that two kayakers had drowned in the past month.  When we read the newspaper articles, we learned that in both cases, the kayakers were paddling boats that were not suited to the local conditions (one was not wearing a pfd).  Here in Maine, the water is 55 degrees and the weather can turn nasty in an instant.  There is no room for error.  Having paddled here for many years, we know that the best weapon you can use against Mother Nature is patience.  If conditions look questionable, paddle another day.
When we got a nice day, we paddled out from the town pier and took in the sights of Bar Harbor.  This is a working harbor, so you must look out for lobster boats, sail boats, sightseeing boats, etc.  We made our way around Bar Island, then back around Sheep Porcupine Island.  We watched the lobster boats zigging, zagging and pulling traps.  We dreamed what it would be like to own one of the vacation “cottages” from days or yore.  The water was calm and so was the wind--another beautiful paddle in Bar Harbor.
Thunder Bay a.k.a. Old Rusty
If you go… Watch the forecast for winds.  Pay attention to the tides—the “bar” connecting Bar Island is under a good 5-6 feet of water at high tide!  Stay clear of lobster boats and remember they do not keep a straight line.  Get a good nautical chart so you know where the ships will go.  Stay close to the islands to avoid the boats.  The Porcupine Islands are much farther out and apart than they appear.   
Be sure you know your limits.  It may be a harbor, but conditions can get pretty rough.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Erie Canal - Lockport to Rochester Part 3

July 6 – We started our day with a newsman from a Buffalo TV station who took some film of us launching and paddling about, and interviewed two of us kayakers.  When we finally got started for real, we paddled to Brockport for our lunch stop.

Unloading Phebe the Erie Canal Mule
While we were walking into town, we came across and old man, Jack, unloading a full-sized mule statue off of a trailer.  He was attempting this alone so we offered our assistance.  It turns out that the statue – Phebe- was in for repairs and needed to get back to her perch overlooking the marina.  So we pushed and pulled and finally got the mule back where she belonged.  As a thank-you, Jack told us to go to 58 Main Street for lunch.  No one there knew who Jack was, but it was really good food.  
Jack & Phebe

Our "campsite" in Adam's Basin
Paddling on, we arrived at Adam’s Basin and took out at another B&B whose owners had graciously allowed us to camp on their lawn.  Once again, a few of us availed ourselves of the comfy rooms.  We drove into Spencerport and had great BBQ at the Taste of Texas.  The next morning, we once again had an amazing breakfast buffet.

Where the Erie Canal meets the Genesee River
July 7 – Our lunch stop this day was Henpeck Park in the town of Greece.  It was a nice spot to stop, relax and eat lunch while we reflected on this year’s trip. 

Our final destination for this trip
After lunch, it was off to the finish line- the Genesee Waterways Park in Rochester.  The landing here was a paddler’s dream.  The center has over 100 feet of low docks and nice wide ramps that lead to the parking lot.  It was good to be back to where we started this trip four years ago.  At this point, we have paddled from the Niagara River to the Cayuga-Seneca Canal—about half of the total canal.

Observations – I have read a couple of travel logs written by people who have kayaked the Erie Canal.  They listed this section as very boring and said that there was nowhere to get out of the canal.  I found it very scenic.  It is true that several sections are walled in by the ubiquitous broken rocks found all along the canal and much of the way you can only see the trees that line the canal, but I found it very green and peaceful.  There is a stretch of a few miles leading into Rochester where the canal walls are very high, but even here we found the occasional flat rock on the side where we could get out and stretch.  I think because we paddled as a group and took time to walk around the towns; the trip was much more interesting.  If you were paddling alone and focused only about covering as many miles as possible in a day, then I suppose it would be boring. 

The other thing we noticed is that many of the towns have added low docks or ramps.  Approximately half of the landings we used this trip did not exist 4 years ago. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Erie Canal - Lockport to Rochester Part 2

Medina recently installed a low dock for kayaks
July 4 – We left Middleport and paddled on to Medina for our lunch stop.  We ate at the Country Club Diner.  The menu was basic fare with a down-home appeal.  The portions were large and no one left hungry. After lunch, we waddled back to the dock and launched our kayaks hoping the canal current would carry us to Albion for the night.  With a little help from our paddles, it did and along the way we picked up a giant, basketball.  You find the strangest things when you go kayaking.  At the ramp in Albion were five girls who were jumping into the canal.  They explained that they were making a movie for YouTube and were sure to get our names as we landed.  I gave them the giant basketball and they had a great time swimming after it in the canal.  

Kayaking with the giant basketball

The ramp in Albion is right across from a rather serious looking prison and there are no bathrooms (at the ramp, I am sure the prison has them).  So, we had previously arranged to camp on the lawn of a local bed and breakfast.  You meet some very nice and generous people when you take a trip like this.  The B&B had some cancellations, so a few of us grabbed up very comfortable and air-conditioned rooms, while the remainder pitched their tents.  A short walk away was the Crooked Door restaurant.  Once again, the food was amazing.  We couldn’t find bad food on this trip if we tried.  (We didn’t try).  

Kayaks waiting along the Erie Canal towpath
July 5 - In the morning, our hosts at the B&B put out a huge buffet spread for breakfast and we ate entirely too much.  We drove back to the prison and launched off the ramp.  We paddled east again until we got hungry for lunch.  There was no lunch stop this day, so some of us scrambled out of our kayaks and up the rocks, while others ate lunch on the water. 
After a long day in the kayaks, we reached Holley.  We were all tired of eating out, so we sent a party to the local Wegmans supermarket to bring back hot dogs and brats.  We had a wonderful cookout right at the local terminal wall and pitched our tents right among the picnic tables.  After dinner, we went for a walk on the nature trails in the adjacent park and got some ice cream in town.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Erie Canal - Lockport to Rochester Part I

Erie Canal Kayak Trip, July 2-7, 2011
The Flight of 5 locks from the old Erie Canal
This trip was done as a series of car-camping shuttles.  We moved the cars each day and set up camp.  This allowed us a certain level of luxury not normally associated with kayak camping.  We arranged all of the camping in advance.

Underground in Lockport
  July 2 - We arrived in the afternoon and started our trip with a visit to the underground tour in Lockport, NY.  We walked through the old canal run-off cave that once carried water that powered the factories lining the banks of the canal.  After a visit to the canal museum, we launched our kayaks and headed east through the double locks that drop a total of 49 feet.  Sitting in the lock, looking up, we were in awe of the engineering and ingenuity that was required to create this man-made wonder.  A few miles later, we arrived at our campsite: the spacious lawn of the Widewaters Drive In.  The owners graciously allowed us to camp and even left the bathrooms open all night just for us.  We drove into Lockport and had a fantastic dinner at Wagner’s restaurant.  Try the beef on weck and the wings!

Lock 34 in Lockport
Kayaks seem very small in the lock

Our 1st Kayak Campsite
The Campsite was at an ice cream stand, great root beer floats!
July 3- A few of us snuck into Lockport and had breakfast at Tom’s Diner.  The food was simple, and good.  After breakfast, we launched from Nelson Goehle Marine Park (across from our campsite) and headed east to Gasport where we stopped at a defunct Marina and ate lunch.   

Roughing it with a plastic wine glass.
Then it was on to Middleport.   We did not like the landing situation in Middleport, so we arranged to take out at a private house and leave our kayaks on the lawn until morning.  We walked into town and camped at the terminal wall.  It was a very scenic spot and close to the bathrooms and showers.  After some wine and snacks, we took a short walk along the canal to the Basket Factory and had an incredible meal.  The salmon was terrific, the margaritas were spot on and the cherry-chocolate cobbler was amazing.  All of this “roughing it” was starting to get to us.
We had a great meal at the Basket Factory.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Deck Bags

Most sea kayakers go with the “clean deck” theory.  If you have no stuff on your deck, your kayak’s center of gravity is lower and it is easier to conduct rescues.  However, deck bags can put some important gear right at your fingertips and I do use them on occasion.  It is nice to have your camera, extra food and emergency gear right there in front of you.  Over the years, I have used a couple of deck bags and here is what I have found…
Sitka Kayak Deck Bag

Fold-down map holder
My favorite deck bag is made by Sitka.  It is nylon and not completely waterproof, but is has a nice low profile and holders for water bottles on the side.  It is a bit floppy looking, but I love the built-in map holder which folds down to give you a closer look.  I keep my camera in a small dry bag anyway, so the fact that it isn’t completely waterproof really does not matter.
Seattle Sports Deck Bag

This Deck Bag has a high profile
My other dry bag is made by Seattle Sports.  It has a built-in plastic frame so it looks very clean and professional.  It also has a clear plastic window so you can see what is in it.  This one holds more gear, but does create a big profile on top of the kayak.  I only use this one for extended trips or when I am paddling a kayak with no day hatch.  

So if you want your sunscreen, camera and other gear easily accessible, consider a deck bag for your kayak.

See you on the water,
Don Urmston

Monday, May 30, 2011

Kayaker rescues motorboat!

The Boy Scouts got is right.  I often get scoffed at by other kayakers when they see me loading all of the safety gear that I carry with me.  “How long are you going for?” they will ask.  Well I was reminded today of why I (and you) should always carry your safety gear etc.  I was teaching two friends how to kayak, and I only had two kayaks with me.  So they took turns trying out the kayak and practicing what I had showed them while I paddled along in my kayak.  We were in a small pool on the side of the Black River in Watertown just above a dam.  The current was way too strong for beginners, so we just stayed in the pool and paddled around in circles for a few hours. 

So I thought, why bother bringing any safety equipment when we will be only a few yard from shore the whole time?  Well, a motorboat launched and went upstream.  A few minutes later, the same motorboat floated by with the engine off.  They were only a hundred yards or so from the dam and I noticed the guy had a paddle and was furiously paddling toward the shore.  It did not take me long to figure out what was going on.  Their engine had died and they were headed over the dam in a matter of a minute or two.  I gave my new kayaker instructions to stay put and quickly paddled over to the motor boat.  When I arrived, I asked if they were okay and they replied “NO!”  My first thought was to clip a rope onto the front of the boat and tow it in.  I could use my tow rope or the extra rope I always carried, except both of these were back at the house!  The woman on the boat fumbled with the bow line and managed to get it untangled.  She passed it to her husband and he tied it to the back of my kayak.  I was able to tow them in, but while he was fumbling with the line and tying it to my kayak, the man in the boat had to stop paddling.  Had we been just a bit farther downstream,  we would not have had the time. 

If I had my gear with me, it would have taken me only seconds to clip onto their bow and start towing them.  In an emergency, every second counts.  So be prepared.  Bring your safety gear, first-aid kit, rope, etc. with you every time you go out paddling.  The one time you don’t bring it, is when you will really need it.