Kayaking on the Hudson

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Circumnavigation of Manhattan

The “Circ”, Circumnavigation of Manhattan

When I first heard about the “Circ,” I wanted no part of it.  Paddling 30 miles in one day around Manhattan sounded like a recipe for disaster.  I wondered if I could make it that far without running out of energy.  I passed on invitations for this trip on several occasions, then my friend Dave did the trip and reported back to me.  Dave said it wasn’t that hard and he was sure I could make it.  I trust Dave’s judgment, so I signed up for the trip this year (2013) with a group from the Cold Spring Kayak Club.

The secret to this trip is to go with paddlers who have done it before.  We had 8 paddlers, with about half who had already completed the trip.  Rich, our leader, had done the trip before and had worked out the timing so the currents would be in our favor.  (This is THE key to this trip).
Kayaks preparing to launch.  George Washington Bridge in the background

Hudson River - Upper Manhattan
On June 1, we launched at 9:00am from the Englewood Boat Basin in NJ, just north of the George Washington Bridge.  The current in the Hudson River is very strong in this area and we were flying down towards the tip of Manhattan.  Our overall moving average for the trip was 5 mph, which is pretty fast for a kayak.  The water on the west side of Manhattan was varied.  We had a headwind, so there were some waves created by wind fighting the current.  We also had boat wake that came from every conceivable angle and often refracted off of the bank so you had to watch for waves coming from anywhere and everywhere.  It was nothing our group couldn’t handle, but I wouldn’t recommend this trip for beginners.
Freedom Tower.  After this, it got too rough to take pictures

At the tip of Manhattan, we got an incredible view of the city.  On our left was Manhattan, the Freedom Tower, the Intrepid museum, etc.  To our right we could see the statue of liberty and Ellis Island.  Unfortunately, it was too rough to take any pictures at this point.  There were water taxis and ferries coming and going from every direction.  We had to stay together and keep a keen eye on all of the boat traffic.  Legally, we had the right of way, but realistically, I doubt if any of the sight-seeing or ferry boats would yield to us.
Approaching the Brooklyn Bridge after rounding the tip of Manhattan

As we rounded Manhattan, we approached the Brooklyn Bridge and our first rest stop.  There is a tiny beach adjacent to Brooklyn Bridge Park-Main Street, in the area affectionatly known as DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan, Brooklyn Overpass).  The beach disappears at high tide, so we had to haul our kayaks up onto the rocks.  It was a quick break, just long enough for a snack and a bathroom break, and then we were off up the East River.  Conditions on the East River were quite varied.  It was calm at times, and other times there was a lot of wind-blown chop.  There were also plenty of boat wakes that hit us from varying directions.

In the past, Rich had always passed Roosevelt Island on the east side, but he decided to take us on the west side to see more of Manhattan.  It was fantastic seeing the city from the water, but after Roosevelt Island, we had to cut across the top of Hell’s Gate to get to our next rest stop.  It would have been easier getting into the beach at Socrates Sculpture Park (Astoria) if we had gone down the west side of Roosevelt Island.  As it was, we had to cut across several very strong currents that twisted our boats sideways almost instantaneously.  It was tough going, but the current wasn’t at max flow, so we landed at the beach and hauled out our kayaks for a 3 hour layover.  
Kayaking with the Empire State Building in background

It might seem strange to hear that we sat in the park for 3 hours waiting for the tide to change, but one look at the white caps filling Hell’s Gate and you quickly realize it got that name for a reason.  Anyway, Rich explained that paddling the Harlem River against the current was no fun, so we might as well wait it out.  So we had lunch and took a nap.  It was here that I first heard the term “Circ” when a women asked if I was on the “Circ?”  I had no idea what she was talking about, until she asked if I was circumnavigating Manhattan.  Then I heard several more people who were “in the know” refer to the trip as the “Circ.”
Kayaking on the Harlem River

At 4:30pm, when the current had changed, we paddled through the now benign Hell’s Gate and up the Harlem River.  We had views of the Empire State building, the U.N. and Yankee stadium.  We had one more quick stop at a small beach, then it was out of the Harlem River and across the Hudson to where we started.  The weather was great all day.  It was a little on the hot side, in the 80s, but there was a fairly consistent breeze and a layer of cool air just on top of the water because the water was still quite cold.  
Leaving the Harlem River, entering the Hudson

I checked my GPS at the end of the trip and we had covered 31.5 miles at a moving average of 5 mph.  This worked out to an actual paddling time of six and half hours.  Now that I have completed the trip, I guess I can refer to it as the “Circ.”  Now that you’ve read this, you can be “in the know” too and impress all your friends when you complete the “Circ.”

1 comment:

  1. Though the blog is a bit old we would love to share it on our site in the kayaking portal with a link to your blog let us know