Atlantic Sea Kayakers
Manhattan Island Circumnavigation

May 26, 2001

Low water at the Battery: 5:49 am -0.2'
High water at the Battery: 11:54 am +4.6'
Jeep and I backpaddled against the north-flowing current in the Harlem River, keeping our position under the I-95 overpass. Bill Covert had continued on upriver, dismayed by our gawking. Above us on the elevated corkscrew ramp of the Major Deegan Expressway stood a young man dressed in black, leaning back from the outside of the guardrail, only the tips of his toes on the roadway and his fingers clutching the rail, his body suspended high above the hard asphalt of the South Bronx.
A powerboat full of teenagers drinking Corona stopped alongside us, watching the action through binoculars. "He's going to jump!" said the blonde sitting on the bow of the boat.
Jeep and I watched intently. The ramp was shut down, filled with police cars and ambulances, red lights flashing. Traffic on the Deegan was stopped all the way back to the Triboro Bridge, and I mean stopped - drivers three miles back had their engines off and were walking about the highway, trying to see the problem ahead.
We watched and paddled against the two-knot current as the policemen on the overpass inched closer to the rail. The man swayed from side to side, agitated and desperate, and leaned back even farther as the cops reached out for him. Suddenly, the man let go and his body fell back into space. A cop lunged out, grabbing his left arm. The man's body swung on his toes as the cop wrapped himself around the rail and hooked his foot on the curb, trying not to accompany the man down to the mean concrete. Another cop held onto the first while a third cop reached out and grabbed a handful of the man's shirt. In an instant a flurry of hands struck over the rail, clutching the man's hair, his collar, his arm, his belt and pulling him back head-first until his face was pressed into the solid roadway and all we could see were a pair of white sneakers pointing up at the sky above the rail.
"Wow!" I screamed. The motor boat blew its horn. Jeep and I looked at each other, shook our heads, and dipped our paddles back into the murky Harlem River, continuing our trip north. Some things you can expect to see from a kayak only when paddling around Manhattan.
7:40 amWe push off from the Englewood Boat Basin, heading south down the Hudson River in a cold fog, Jeep Tenneson paddling his Valley Anas Acuta, Bill Covert his Valley Avocet, and me (Bruce Taterka) in my Current Designs Extreme. The Hudson is flat with a light breeze from the north, the forecast rain and cold accounting for the low turnout.
8:40 am The Hudson is like glass and the city silent as we paddle under the George Washington Bridge down to the Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument.
9:00 am42nd Street. The aircraft carrier JFK and other warships from around the world are in port for Fleet Week. The Marlborough flies an unidentifiable flag (Scotland? New Zealand?) and doesn't look nearly as threatening as the JFK. The NYPD Harbor Patrol eyes us carefully to make sure our scruffy flotilla doesn't get anywhere close to a navy ship. We wave obediently to the cops and paddle well away from the security cordon surrounding the ships, deciding not to challenge the combined force of the NYPD and US Navy armed only with Gerber shorties and wearing fuzzy rubber.
9:40 amBattery Park City. The current is still pushing us south despite the slack water predicted by the charts.
10:00 amThe Battery. We wait for the Statue of Liberty ferries to pick up and drop off their tourists before rounding the southern tip of the island into the East River.
10:20 amWe reach the beach under the west pier of the Brooklyn Bridge for a rest and snack.
11:00 amWe push off into the strong north current of the East River. Four brand-new soccer balls are floating against the seawall by Grand Street, and using our kayak-polo skills we bop them into the air and flip them back over the fence. The East River is swift but relatively calm, with none of the wild standing waves and cross-chop of other circumnavigations.
12:15 pmMill Rock. Hell Gate is calm. We explore the cove between Randalls and Wards Islands then take a break on Randalls to wait for the current to turn north in the Harlem River.
2:00 pmWe push north into the Harlem River, the water like glass and the temperature on the History Channel billboard reading 55 degrees.
2:30 pmWe reach Yankee Stadium, wondering about the stagnant traffic on the northbound Deegan
3:00 pmWe reach the I-95 bridge and watch the NYPD rescue the would-be jumper.
3:30 pmSpuyten Duyvel. As we cross the Hudson the sun pokes through the clouds for the first time all day, shining down on us as we wait to allow a long, slow-moving southbound barge of crushed stone to pass. While we wait we do some rolling practice in the middle of the Hudson and heedlessly let the current push us far south,
4:00 pmWe paddled back upriver and arrived back at the Boat Basin.

Photos by Bill Covert

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