Delaware & Hudson Canoe & Kayak Club
1999 Full Moon Manhattan Island Circumnavigation

Saturday, September 25, 1999

Low water at the Battery: 3:15 p.m.
High water at the Battery: 9:03 p.m.
Sunset: 6:48 p.m.

4:30 pmBeautiful fall weather - high seventies, bright sun, blue skies and a breeze from the north at the Englewood Boat Basin. Light chop on the Hudson. Although lots of people were interested in the concept of a night paddle, only 3 of us actually showed up: Bill Covert from Doylestown in his Valley Avocet 16', Bob Wilkie from New Rochelle in the Pacific Water Sports Sea Otter 16', and Bruce Taterka from Chester in the Current Designs Extreme 19'. Before shoving off, Bob and Bruce crack light sticks and tape them on their boats. Bob is also equipped with a stern running light, while Bruce and Bill have lights clipped to the back of their PFDs. We also tape our paddles with reflective tape, and between us we have a radio, cell phone, whistles and an air horn. All of us have headlamps and extra batteries. We are ready for the dark.
5:30 pmJust north of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument. The QEII is pulling out of her berth at 40th St., heading for the ocean. Other than that, traffic on the Hudson is light. Bob informs us that the East River channel on the west side of Roosevelt Island is closed for security reasons until 8 pm due to the United Nations being in session. Bob also informs us that he spoke to the Coast Guard yesterday as a precaution, and they were fully in support of our trip. According to Bob, the Coast Guard takes no official position on whether people should take dangerous trips or not, because it's a free country. They pointed out that the law requires a minimum of a white light, and warned that barge operators frequently complain about kayakers on the Hudson, which they can't see and equate with bicycles on I-95. The Coast Guard also told Bob, however, that the NYPD Harbor Patrol has jurisdiction for keeping the waters clear, and advised Bob to call them. Bob did, and in the spirit of Giuliani the NYPD was hostile and aggressive, warning that our trip was crazy and that the NYPD would likely wind up "scooping" pieces of what's left of us out of the river. Then they hung up on him. Nevertheless, we paddled on.
7 pmSunset at the Battery. The Harbor is lit in orange and purple light reflecting off the granite and glass towers of lower Manhattan. As night comes on, the Statute of Liberty's torch begins to shine and our lightsticks take on their greenish glow. Pedestrians at the Battery stare and shake their heads.
7:20 pmThe current is swift in the East River, bringing us rapidly north to the narrow debris-strewn beach under the west pier of the Brooklyn Bridge for a rest stop and dinner. Night comes on full force now and the moon rises big, round and red over Brooklyn. We rest and eat, waiting for the UN security blockade to lift on the East River. Bob cracks the first of the evening's several Bass Ales as the moon rises higher over the Manhattan Bridge. Eventually, we realize that we are sharing this sad little beach with a pack of cat-sized rats who become bolder and more active as they get used to our presence. Headlamps on, we very carefully check our cockpits before putting on our spray skirts and set out north up the East River at 8:10 pm. The thermometer on the Watchtower billboard reads a comfortable 70 degrees.
9:00 pm34th Street. The current is moving right along on the East River, and there is a lot of boat traffic that is more or less invisible until it's right on top of us. We hug the Manhattan shore and keep our eyes wide open and headlamps on. Near the 23rd St. marina we have our first encounter with an NYPD boat, which comes within 30 yards of us while towing a disabled motorboat into shore. Two cops stand on the side of their boat with their arms folded, staring at us without any gesture of recognition whatsoever. While we would have appreciated a supportive wave, we are glad not to hear a megaphone ordering us to shore. We continue on.
9:30pmNorthern tip of Roosevelt Island. The stretch between Manhattan and Roosevelt Islands is dark and wild beyond belief. There are the usual rips and eddies formed by the 4-knot current surging upriver against the north wind, creating big swells compounded by the steady traffic of barges, ferries, and Saturday-night party boats with thumping bass, disco lights, and big wakes that roll our boats, bounce off the cement walls of the channel, and roll us again. Above the music of the party boats ("livin la vida loca . . .") we hear a cry from the deck: "Hey, check it out -- kayakers!" followed by a drunken standing ovation over the port rail.
10:10 pmRest stop at Randall's Island. Unlike the fast and busy East River, the water along Randall's is desolate and slack under the full moon. The beach that usually exists beneath the stone sea wall is submerged in the full-moon high tide. We get out of our boats in shin-deep water and lift them onto the seawall. We rest, waiting for slack tide in the Harlem River.
11:10 pmHead up the Harlem River from Randall's. The current is moving north, the water is flat, and we are alone on the water.
11:40 pmYankee Stadium, 64 degrees. Yankees lost 2-1 to Tampa Bay a few hours earlier. (What is a Devil Ray?)
12:30 pm207th St. In the bright moonlight we can see that the "C" has been painted in fresh blue and white. The current is moving nicely, the water is calm, and we haven't seen one other boat on the Harlem River. This is what moonlight paddling should be all about, as opposed to the insane conditions on the East River.
12:55pmBack to the Boat Basin. A group of kids passing a pipe on the beach are stunned to see our boats arrive on the beach, illuminated by our bobbing headlamps and the chemical-green glow of our lightsticks. We put our stuff away, loaded our boats on our cars, and finished off the last of Bob's Bass Ales. A great trip.

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