Paddling Around New York (County aka Manhattan Island)

Hey, we are the Kayak and Canoe Club of New York…and what could be more about Kayaking and New York then paddling around New York (County) more popularly known as Manhattan Island.

Harlem river -Manhattan during circumnavigationIt’s a 30+ mile paddle but since done right you’re floating with the tides it’s surprisingly easy…if you think spending 8 hours sitting in a kayak is easy.

That being said, this is not a paddle for the inexperienced.

Lower Manhattan from the Ferry terminals at 38th street to South Street Seaport but especially around the tip after North Cove….is just crazy…competing currents, tons of boat traffic, waves coming in off the ocean and bouncing back of the seawalls, no place to get out.

But it’s not class 5 rapids (or even class 3 or 2) either and competent sea or whitewater paddlers should easily be able to do it…

Lower Manhattan is really busy and timing your way around the tip is important.

I’m a big believer in keeping the group tightly together as you will be both more visible and easier to avoid. This means paddling at the rate of the slowest paddlers.

Get some experienced urban paddlers to show you the ropes. 1 rope you need to know is ferries move really fast. Most have bow thrusters and are on tight schedules.

Marine Radios are a good idea as they are how you communicate with boats.

On most of this trip you can’t get out of the water as high bulkheads separate you from the shore. So the group needs the skills for self rescue (and plan your bathroom schedule;-)

East river -we are the Kayak and Canoe Club of New York...and what could be more about Kayaking and New York then paddling around New York (County) more popularly known as Manhattan Island.Check the Staten Island Ferry Schedule and don’t get anywhere near these huge boats. Waiting to cross just after they arrive or leave is a good idea.

Lower Manhattan can have some crazy wave bounce of the seawalls.

You have to follow the currents around the Island, so timing is critical.

How to Paddle Around Manhattan From the Englewood Boat Basin

Start at the Englewood Boat Basin (Exit 1 off the Palisades Interstate Parkway in NJ), leaving about 1 to 1.5 hours after low water at New York (The Battery).

Pro tips: Launch from the end of the small stream at the south end of the boat basin. Landing at higher tide you can just paddle up the stream. In season is you don’t want to pay go north to Undercliff Picnic Area, but this is a muddy launch at low tide. Drop your boats at the beach by the road at the very bottom of the hill, park at the picnic area parking and carry your stuff down.

Go counterclockwise around Manhattan, heading south down the Hudson. You should reach the southern tip of Manhattan Island in about 2.5 to 3 hours, then start heading north up the East River. Note caveats above about getting around lower Manhattan safely. There is a small beach just right underneath the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge where you can take a rest stop, but don’t stay long because you’ll want to catch the raging northward current in the East River.

Beach under Spuyten Duyvel waiting for tide to change to head south
Beach under Spuyten Duyvel waiting for tide to change, needed if you parked south of Englewood.

You should reach Mill Rock (the little island in the middle of the river, directly across from 96th St. in Manhattan ) in about 1.5 to 2 hours. There is a little cove on the north side of Mill Rock where you can beach your boat, or you can paddle a little further up river to Randall’s Island/Ward’s Island and beach there. Wait for about 1to 1.5 hours, then begin north up the Harlem River about 8 hours after low water at the Battery. You will reach Spuyten Duyvel (the confluence with the Hudson River) in about 2 hours. Paddle directly west across the Hudson to the Boat Basin. Total trip time is about 9 hours.

Spuyten Duyvel tide 40 min behind battery

Paddling around Manhattan From Liberty State Park

You have to follow the shifting currents around the Island, so timing is critical.

Start at the Liberty State Park boat launch (Exit 14B off the NJ Turnpike Extension), leaving about 4 hours after low water at New York (The Battery). Go counterclockwise around the Island, heading east across the Harbor and north up the East River. You will reach Mill Rock (the little island in the middle of the river, directly across from 96th St. in Manhattan ) in about 2 to 2.5 hours. There is a little cove on the north side of Mill Rock where you can beach your boat, or you can paddle a little farther north and beach on Randall’s Island. Wait for about 1 or 1.5 hours, then begin north up the Harlem River about 7.5 hours after low water at the Battery. You will reach Spuyten Duyvel (the confluence with the Hudson River) in about 2 hours. There is a little beach on the south side of Spuyten Duyvel, in between the high, arching Henry Hudson Bridge and the low, swivel railroad bridge at the entrance to the Hudson. Wait there for about one-half to 1 hour, then begin south down the Hudson. Depending on the wind, you will reach Liberty State Park in about 3-4 hours. Try to avoid days with strong south winds. Total trip time is 9 – 10 hours.

How to Paddle Around Manhattan From the Englewood Boat Basin and Liberty SP
How to Paddle Around Manhattan From the Englewood Boat Basin and Liberty SP – printable cheat sheet


Do as I say, not as I do

Not actually this trip but at least the right river and right time of year.

Last week at the board meeting we discussed paddling within your abilities during the covid situation since you don’t want to force someone to have to get close to rescue you nor do you want to have to end up in a possibly overtaxed local ER.
So when the Lehigh got dumped on I convinced a few unfortunates to join me for the 20 miles from Whitehaven to Glen Onoko. The army core of engineers (ACE) said they’d be releasing 5000 cfs until they got dam back to the maximum they are supposed to keep it at. I’d done 4000 cfs a few years ago and knew to be cautious Continue reading “Do as I say, not as I do”

Bike Shuttling and locking equipment

In this new normal many of us our self-isolating enough that we don’t want to get in a car with others even for a head hanging out the window shuttle…so the obvious solution is a bike (or hike) shuttle.
I’ve also seemed way too many Facebook posts about missing gear – more during this special situation but also during the old normal. So investing in a few locks and using them seems like a pretty good idea.

The basics of bike shuttling are pretty obvious. Drop a bike at one end or a boat at the other.

Less obvious things about bike shuttling.

Continue reading “Bike Shuttling and locking equipment”

What I learned the hard way about paddling

Or beginning whitewater paddling…
As far as safety, I don’t need to tell any of you that strainers and cold water are your big enemy, not rocks, flipping or swimming.

  1. Part of pulling off a combat roll is being comfortable under water….and a big part of being comfortable underwater is not freaking out when you’re not getting air. So practice it and see how long you can last.
  2. As for not freaking out when your helmet is bouncing off rocks, well, that takes a certain amount of just getting used to it and believing that the safest place to be is tucked forward.
  3. That being said, Combat rolls are incredibly cool.
  4. Got to keep fed and hydrated because my own judgment is off when I’m not. Note to self…most whitewater paddlers don’t stop and rest and eat as much as I like to so and I need to remember this and bring snacks.
  5. Make sure even the good guys have cleared the hard spot /drop before you go in. If there’s only one line you want it clear. Ask Andy Frey.
  6. Tie stuff down…this means to your boat if you’re in your boat and tying your boat down when you’re not in your boat.
  7. Bracing (and rolling) on the back deck with my head in the water. Thanks Eric Jackson.

Things I didn’t learn the hard way only because Jeff Bowan gave such a great presentation at my first hrckc meeting. Cold water is really dangerous…actually, come to think of it, I did nearly learn that the hard way, but not when I was boating. Diving into Lake Superior on a hot September day when the lake looked like everyone’s vision of the Caribbean  but was probably in the low 40s.
And some things I’ve yet to learn…paddling alone may be dangerous, just as hiking along and mountain biking and swimming alone are. But I like them.
So you may see me on the mighty Hackensack or Delaware alone and holding a beverage…but you won’t see me on something that challenges me alone.
Did I mention how much fun whitewater is?

Paddling Resources

This is mainly geared toward new paddlers, but I thought it might be useful to others…
KCCNY, you already know about. Use the forum to organize trips, buy/sell gear, ask questions, post anything paddling related. If you haven’t already, please become a member so we can keep having beginner weekends, pool sessions in the winter, maintaining club loaner gear, have follow-up trips, etc. Becoming a member also unlocks some excellent additional features of the site.
AMC is the other active paddling club in the area. (Choose “N.Y. – North Jersey Chapter” in the Chapter/Posted By field and “Canoe/Kayak” in the committee field to see upcoming trips).
KCCNY blog. You’re here! Member-submitted articles and, more importantly, a place for you to post anything paddling related – words, pictures and videos. It would be awesome if someone wrote something about the beginner weekend! Look here for info on how to contribute.
American Whitewater. I highly recommend you become a member. AW fights for paddler access to rivers and maintains this website that lists every runnable river in the country, water levels, descriptions of rapids, etc. It’s an amazing resource and we should support it.
NPMB – Northeast Paddlers Message Board. Forums for paddlers in the region. A good place to discuss rivers, buy and sell used gear, keep up-to-date on any new hazards (e.g., strainers) on local rivers.
Boatertalk. Very active, but more southeast-focused message board and place to buy/sell gear.

It’s fun and easy to be a KCCNY Trip Coordinator

Have you looked at the KCCNY trip schedule and wondered why there were so few trips posted? That’s because we rely on volunteers to post trips. So many of you paddle the rivers and look for KCCNY trips to join, but few of you volunteer to be the Trip Coordinator. Without those volunteers there would be no trips. KCCNY serves a need in the paddling community to provide a strong support group for folks just joining the sport, new to the area, or without a close circle of friends to run ad hoc trips. We bond together, make new friends and help each other going down the river. How did you get started in the sport? Think about giving back to others just getting started or moving up to a new class of river.

The responsibilities of the official trip coordinator are minimal and do not include responsibility for safely leading others down the river. Our official trip rules specifically state that everyone is responsible for themselves. You don’t have to be an expert paddler, or a swiftwater safety instructor to be a trip coordinator. It does help if you are familiar with the river that you are coordinating but it is not necessary.

So what the responsibilities?

Our key concern is maintaining our insurance coverage through the ACA. We follow the ACA guidelines:

These are common sense safety guidelines, such as signing waivers, wearing PFDs and helmets, carrying throw ropes etc. They are all things that you should be doing anyway.

The list of responsibilities and instructions for Trip Coordinators is on the KCCNY Website at

Post the trip, get everyone to the river, check for waivers and ACA event fees, run the river, notify the ACA at the close of the event. That’s it in a nutshell. As a trip coordinator you have the right to refuse to allow a person to join the trip if you feel that they cannot paddle it safely. We ask that the trip coordinators not to post the time and meeting place in the trip description so that anyone who wants to join has to contact you and you can screen them.

If every active club member can organize at least one trip per year, we would have a full trip schedule. There are Lehigh and Mongaup releases every other weekend (on alternate weeks this year, so essentially a local river every weekend), Deerfield and Lower Yough releases all summer, Stonycreek every other weekend, the Lackawaxen every Friday all summer and a variety of other rivers in the Northeast to pick from at all levels of difficulty. Sometimes, it even rains and we have another set of rivers to pick from with natural flow. We would love to have people add some new rivers to our schedule.

See you on the river

Tips & tricks for finding used boats

Used boats are awesome, but finding the one you’re looking for can be a bit tricky, especially if you’re looking for a boat that has been out of production for some time, or so new that there are few people selling yet. Here are a few methods I use:

  1. The no-brainer choice for our area is to keep you eye on Northeast Paddlers Message Board For Sale or Wanted forum. A “wanted” post can be surprisingly effective.
  2. BoaterTalk GearSwap seems to get a lot more boats (and gear) listed for sale than NPMB, but most of the listings are down south. That said, if you know what you want and see a good deal it’s worth checking with the seller. As you well know, we kayakers tend get around and you can often figure out a way to get the boat a lot closer to you. The seller might know someone going north or you might know someone going south. You can also post on NPMB or BoaterTalk to find someone to help you out – especially if you offer to put in a few bucks toward their gas.
  3. eBay and Craigslist are hit or miss, but you can use SearchTempest to search both in multiple regions at once. If you use an news aggregator like Google Reader or Feedly you can get an RSS feed of your SearchTempest results.
  4. You can use Google Alerts to deliver results for your search terms to your reader or email on a schedule you choose. One great thing about Google Alerts is that it will only give new results, which I find tend to be either new articles/reviews on the boat you’re searching for or sale/used listings. It generally won’t send you results for all the kayak stores that have new boats in online catalogs. However, you might want to start off with a regular Google search for your boat and limit the results to “past month” so you don’t miss something that’s still out there waiting for a buyer. Google Alerts also tends to pick up eBay and Craigslist results, so number 3 above may be redundant if you’re using this method.
  5. Finally, one of the best ways to pick up a newer boat for a good price is to get end-of-season demos from stores and brand reps. This can take a bit of patience because the sell-offs tend to happen in September/October, but if the timing works out reps are required to sell off the demos at that time and pass on a predetermined amount of money to the company they rep for. Usually, that amount is pretty low – around $450 – so they have room to price the boats well. Of course, these boats have been demoed all season, so make sure it hasn’t been trashed before committing and don’t be afraid to ask for any missing outfitting. Note that, like any used boat, demo boats generally don’t come with warranties. Also, some kayak companies designate their factory seconds as demos (I know Jackson does), but the issues tend to be cosmetic, not structural. I just went this route to pick up a Liquid Logic Stomper 80 that has been demoed twice – one of those times by me this past spring – for about half of what used Stompers are going for elsewhere. Anyone want to buy a well-loved Mamba 7.5?

Have any suggestions to add? Post them in the comments.

River Reading

From the seat of your boat, it can be difficult to make a distinction between a downstream wave, hole, or barely-submerged rock. Here’s a tip: It’s often easier to figure out what you’re facing by looking just below the feature.
For example, you see a hump of water and, just beyond it, a patch of flat water. That flat water is probably an eddy and the hump is probably a shallow rock making that eddy. Now, what if you see a similar hump of water with waves following behind it? That’s probably a much deeper rock making a wave. Or how about splashy whitewater just behind that hump? Probably a hole. I don’t recommend trying to memorize these as rules; They’re just some examples and there are lots of variations. Better to start working on your reading as you paddle. Look downstream and try to decide what something is. Then, as you go by it, watch how it looks as your view changes. Over time, you’ll gain an almost instinctive feel for what things look like from above.
When approaching a hole, it can be easy to become mesmerized by the white froth right in front of you, but here again looking below the feature can be helpful. Almost always, there will be one or more spots where you can see some current jetting out of the hole. These indicate weak spots where you can punch through. Line up, take a stroke, lean forward and you’ll bounce right through that scary wall of water.
Even after years of paddling, I still often face features I can’t fully identify until I’m almost on top of them. That’s where the maneuverability of our boats comes in so handy. You can get very close to a feature, line up for a potential eddy, turn upstream to catch a wave, etc., and make a last second adjustment if necessary.
If I’m really having a hard time figuring out what I’m looking at, getting out to scout is always a good option and, again, reading backwards can be a powerful tool. Standing on-shore, looking at a difficult rapid, it’s often much easier to plan your route starting at the bottom – where you want to exit the rapid – and then working your way up to the top.
Don’t be discouraged if it all looks like a big mess to you now. Learning to read the river is like learning a new language and full-immersion is the best way to get up to speed. Just keep paddling, looking downstream, testing your on-river theories, and playing with the river. It will all come into focus and you’ll be experiencing the joy of finding your own lines and even taking the lead soon.

Learning to Roll, or maybe not

We’ve all gone through it, or are at least in the process of it. Learning to roll a Kayak can be extremely frustrating. Of course some people seem to pick it up right away. I hate them just a little.
After my debacle in the Ken Lockwood Gorge I decided that I just might need to know how to roll the kayak if I wanted to continue boating. I had tried teaching myself but it wasn’t working out too well, in fact, it wasn’t working out at all.
Not knowing where to start, I googled “kayak lessons NJ”. The first site that popped up was KCCNY. At the top of the webpage was a drop down menu for activities and one of the items listed was a kayak rolling course held at Morris County College. Perfect. I called up my friend Ed and we both signed up.
Ed and I arrived a little early the first night. We left our boats in the car and wandered aimlessly around the gym looking for the entrance to the pool. Eventually, we saw someone else carrying a kayak toward a side door. Utilizing our superior intellect, we reasoned that we should probably follow them and went to get our boats.
We entered the pool area and were greeted by Kurt, the head instructor. Kurt told us to leave the boats poolside, change into our swim suits, and join the rest of the class on the bleachers.
The class consisted of about 10 students. Kurt introduced us to Jack, Ellen, Connie and Mark and said the they would be our instructors. Ellen was already in her boat so Kurt asked her to demonstrate a roll for us. Looks easy enough.
Next we watched a video explaining roll technique. I wasn’t too impressed with that. I’m more of a hands on learner and I wanted to get in the water to try things out. I was certain that given a few pointers, I would be rolling in no time.
The first thing we were asked to do was a wet exit. Mark demonstrated while Kurt explained how you tucked against the boat, pulled the grip loop to pop the skirt, and slid out of the boat. I’d already practiced that manuever a few time in Ken Lockwood so I wasn’t overly concerned.
Kurt told us that he wanted us to stay upside down in our boats for as long as possible before attempting the wet exit. He explained the instructors needed to get a feel for how comfortable we were in the water. I’ve always been a strong swimmer and love the water so I took my time and made sure that I was the last one out of my boat. Maybe I’m a tad competitive.
Ed is competitive too, much more than I. In high school, Ed was one of the star athletes while I was more of a fringe player (benchwarmer) who got in the games when they got out of hand. Ed isn’t all that comfortable in the water and it was good to see that he was one of the first people out of his boat.
Each instructor had two students. I was working with Mark while Ed worked with Ellen. The instructors held our hands while we practiced hip snaps. Kurt explained that we wanted to put as little pressure on our hands as possible when we snapped ourselves upright. It didn’t seem logical to me. I want to push down hard so that I can pop the boat upright. Mark tells me to use my hips, not my upper body but I’m having a lot of trouble grasping the concept. Ed is doing much  better that I am and that’s really starting to bother me.
The night ends and much to my surprise, I’m not even close to rolling up. I was certain that I would get it right away. Later that night when I return home, I bend over the bed to kiss my wife and all of the pool water drains out of my sinuses and runs out my nose. It’s an extremely romantic moment.
Things don’t improve much a week later when we take the next class. Mark is trying to explain the mechanics of a sweep roll but I’m not getting it. Mark wants me to sweep the blade across the surface of the water but I keep trying to pull it down to flip myself over. It’s not working and I’m getting frustrated.
To make matters worse, Ed is doing very well. Ellen told him that he has a really strong hip snap and is working on teaching him a “C to C” roll.  As I watch, Ed puts it together and snaps himself up without any help from Ellen. Then he does it again. He is the first one in the class to get a roll and I was sure that it would be me.
Jack asks Ed to flip again and tells him that he is going to rock his boat in order to simulate a whitewater roll. When Ed flips over, Jack grabs his stern and rocks it violently up and down. Ed doesn’t even try to roll and promptly does a wet exit. I feel a little better.
Another week and I’m still not getting it. Mark has his hands full with me. There is so much to remember. Blade flat at the surface of the water, pressure on my right knee and hip, extend the arm and sweep, roll the other hand up against my life vest. I just can’t seem to put it together.
Finally I take a break from it as Jack demonstrates some stroke techniques. Mark goes off to work with another student. I think he’s glad to be rid of me
Jack shows me how to put my boat on edge when making a turn. He says that it make the boat more stable when paddling in whitewater. It doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels like the boat is really wobbly on edge and not at all stable, but I do it anyway and Jack tells me it looks really good. We practice a few more things, draw strokes and forward strokes. I’m pretty good at that as I have canoed a bunch of times and the concept is a least a little familiar to me.
The night ends with me following Jack around the pool trying to catch him. I can’t do it and I still don’t have a roll.
Ed can’t make it for the final night so I am here alone. There are fewer students tonight so the instructor ration is almost one to one. I’m working with Jack tonight. He tells me that I have all of the components for a successful roll and that I just have to put it together.
Its getting much closer now. A couple of times I almost make it up and Jack only has to help a little bit. Other times I don’t even come close and Jack has to help a lot. I feel bad for Jack. He has to struggle to lift my 190lbs out of the water when I screw things up.  He doesn’t complain but I’m sure he is getting tired. I marvel at the patience that both Mark and Jack have exhibited with me. I feel completely inept.
We’ve been at it for almost an hour when Jack tells me to take a little break. He tells me that I have the roll and we will put it together once I get a little rest. Sounds okay to me, I think that we’re both a little worn out.
I meet Jack in the shallow end after break. This is it, the last hour of the last class. Jack stands by as I flip, set up, sweep my paddle across the water and roll up. I can’t believe it. I look at Jack, sure that he has helped but he assures me that he didn’t touch my boat. It seemed so easy, I just popped right up.
I try it again, then a third and fourth time with the same result. I keep coming up with ease. It seems so easy I can’t understand how I was unable to do it before. The rest of the class watches as we try a bunch of different things. Jack has me pass my paddle from one hand to the other over the bottom of my boat before I roll. He takes my paddle away then hands it back to me upside down. He grabs my stern and bounces me up and down. I roll up each time. I’m a star. Where is Ed when I need him?