The Oligarchs’ Erection

(Addendum to “A Six Hour Vacation”)

November 25th

We’ll take a brief interruption from our otherwise chronological order of posts to add a photo that will help readers visualize the New York City skyline I refer to in my August 28th entry,  “A Six Hour Vacation”.  In that post I commented on the skyline as seen from Long Island Sound, but as a poor or unprepared blogger (I hadn’t started this blog at that point) I didn’t get any photos.

Today, after ferocious cold over Thanksgiving, it warmed up and the wind calmed down enough for me to get out on the pond in my winter craft of choice, my Pygmy Boats “Murrelet” sea kayak.  17 feet of self-propelled sleekness and joy, designed by John Lockwood and built in the same shop as Grey Fox.

The highlight of my short paddle was stumbling upon this wonderful view of the city, late in the afternoon.  I hadn’t planned on taking any photos, what with my hands hobbled by big neoprene gloves, but this was too good to pass up and I had my iPhone with me, so I risked it and got it out of its waterproof case. 


In the digitally zoomed view you can see New York’s tallest buildings, including the Freedom Tower (far left); the Empire State building (just left of center, and looking down right puny next to…) 432 Park Avenue, cynically dubbed the Oligarchs’ Erection by certain friends of mine,  just about dead center; and a couple of really tall ones on the right which include Central Park Tower, still under construction but which, when completed to its design height that’s 150 feet taller than 432 Park Avenue, will render that current biggest erection somewhat — shall we say, flaccid. 

Some things you have to learn more than once

September 8th

Labor Day weekend came and went with the first cool weather we’ve seen all summer.  But I was out of town so Grey Fox stayed firmly secured on the floating dock.  Anxious to get out as much as possible before the season ends, I’ve determined to head out today even though we have another weekend of cold and windy weather upon us.  It’s blowing out of the Northeast, which means the wind has 30 or 40 miles of fetch coming straight down the Sound to build up some decent size waves. Only in a Northeast wind do we get anything resembling real ocean conditions in our narrow end of the Sound. But with a couple months of sailing Grey Fox, I’m feeling comfortable enough in the boat and my sailing abilities to go out into 15+ knots and what promises to be 3 to 4 foot waves.

Comfortable enough, even, to have friend and fellow HHYC member Marcia join me as crew.  Marcia is significantly older than I, but about as adventurous as someone her age can be,and she’s been bugging me to take her out sailing for quite a while.  I saw her Thursday at the club (barbecue night) and agreed to take her out Saturday afternoon.

We meet early afternoon on the dock and rig up Grey Fox.  I tie one reef in the main before we launch and we suit up for windy, 70-degree weather and the expectation that we’ll take plenty of spray over the bow.  With the usual routine, we row out, hoist and go. It’s not too lively in the harbor, but once we clear the breakwater the waves get pretty big.  We both sit on the rail but that’s still not much weight/ballast for these conditions. I’mgetting quite a workout and have to pay attention to the trim, as each gust will put the leeward rail close to the water if I don’t ease the main or point up closer to the wind.  But man, this is fun sailing.  I’m thinking it might be a little too hair-raising for Marcia but she’s loving it too, so we head to windward, more or less northeast, parallel to the shore.  I figure we’ll beat our way up to Milton Harbor in Rye, tour the harbor there, then head back downwind for a very fast return to home. 

Headed almost parallel to the shore on port tack, we’re going into the waves and our speed is knocked down by the bashing.   Occasionally a wave top will come over the bow, but the amount of water we take on isn’t particularly concerning.  When we tack over to starboard and head straight towards shore, the bashing stops, but with the waves more on the beam the rolling is accentuated.  I really have to be on my toes to keep the leeward rail out of the water on the down-roll.  It’s a bit-hair raising and I’m anxious to get into the lee of Milton Point.  I wouldn’t want to swamp in these big waves.

After about an hour of sailing to windward, we’re in the lee and enter the mooring field in Milton Harbor. The water becomes smooth, the wind is more moderate and now I can relax.  Compared to the exciting sailing outside, this is a piece of cake.  My hands are really tired from keeping an iron grip on the mainsheet and tiller extension all this time, so once we’re safely up into the mooring field and the calm water, I tie the mainsheet off on the cleat and try to un-cramp my hand. We proceed nicely up through the moored sailboats. And then…

A gust of wind comes up and with both sails sheeted tight, our weight on the gunwale is not enough to hold the boat upright.  The port gunwale goes under the water and… Niagara Falls makes its way into the boat. Yeah, it happens really quick. 

Great, just @#%&*! Great… I managed to sail through big-ass waves and gusty winds to get here with no problem, and in the flat water of the harbor I’ve swamped the boat.   I have an elderly lady aboard who’s probably about to panic (well, she was aboard, but now she’s in the water, as am I) and even though the situation isn’t panic worthy for me, as I know I can bail out the boat in this calm water, my guest is probably terrified, and I’ll never live this down back at the club. 

Rule #1 of dinghy sailing:  NEVER tie down the mainsheet.  In case you forget the other rules, remember Rule #1.   Readers of my blog from its earliest days will remember that I learned this rule back in June on my first outing in Grey Fox.  Clearly my memory is fading faster than my boyish good looks, as it’s only September and here I am back in sailing grammar school again.

Fortunately Marcia is no panicker, and while calmly floating in Milton Harbor and holding on to the floating main boom, she simply asks “what do you need me to do?”.  Having practiced this whole capsize thing once before, I’m able to act quickly.  I recently purchased a sea anchor/fishing drogue, and keep it stowed “at the ready” in the bow of the boat.  I swim around to the bow and deploy it.  That will keep Grey Fox from drifting downwind too fast, and will help keep the bow pointed into the wind.  Then I tell Marcia to get her butt over/inside the submerged gunwale, so that when I climb up on the now-horizontal daggerboard, it will scoop her up and into the righted boat.  It works, and even though the boat is full of water when it comes back to upright, it also has Marcia in it. 

I climb in from on the daggerboard and, as the “frightened man with a bucket”, start furiously throwing water back into the ocean where it belongs.  Marcia offers to bail with the other bucket, but as each bucketful weighs 15 pounds or more and Marcia herself can’t weigh more than 90 pounds soaking wet, I tell her it would be best if she can just sit low in the boat for stability.  Of course right now she is about as soaking wet as one can get, since low in the boat means sitting in a foot of temporarily contained seawater.

I’ve got the boat about halfway bailed out when one of the race committee/ utility boats from American Yacht Club spots us drifting half-submerged through their mooring field. Concerned about us, and also probably not wanting us to drift into one of their club members’ fancy sailboats, the guy in the powerboat offers to tow us to their dock where they can pump out the rest of the water with an electric pump.   He grabs our sea anchor, secures it to his boat and starts towing us slowly upwind to the dock, which is maybe 200 yards away.  I’m not crazy about the idea of being towed with Grey Fox still laden down with a lot of water, and with another 5 minutes of bucketing I would have the boat emptied out and ready to sail back home.  But we are drifting uncomfortably close to a moored boat, and as long as he doesn’t go too fast it’s ok. 

Once alongside the AYC dock, our friendly rescuer Gareth gets the pump going and we’re emptied out in no time.  He comments on the “nice boat – what is it?” and I explain.   Of course, I would be happier bragging on my nice boat if I weren’t embarrassed by my not-so-nice sailing demonstration.   He sees Marcia starting to shiver… the water is still 75 degrees, but once she was out of the water and all wet, the wind really got her cold.  I’m not exactly comfortable, but since I was bailing, I worked up some heat and I’m fine.  

Gareth offers to give Marcia a ride back to Larchmont in his fast powerboat. Figuring that will get her home a lot faster and allow her to get warm, Marcia opts for the lift.  When Marcia looks at me to make sure I’m not offended, I give the nod.  After all, a dunking was not part of the plan when I offered to take her out sailing.  As I cast off for the sail home, Gareth says he’ll probably pass me on the way as he ferries Marcia back to HHYC.

The sail home is almost dead downwind and once I get out of the lee it’s still blowing 15+ knots.  I average around 5.5 knots all the way home. I keep looking over my shoulder for the AYC boat with Marcia in it, butdon’t see them.  When I get back off the cove at HHYC I heave-to to take in sail before rowing into the dock.  One of my kayak buddies from HHYC is out and paddles by, asking “What did you do with Marcia?”  Do I plead ignorance?   Act like I didn’t notice she was missing?  Claim that I threw her overboard for insubordination? Or fess up to the truth? I opt for the latter, and say that I expect her to whiz by any minute in the AYC powerboat. 

I get Grey Fox back into its den on the floating dock and start hosing everything down with fresh water.   That’s done, the boat’s unrigged and the mast is put away, and still no sign of Marcia. It’s been at least an hour since I left her in Rye.  Am I suffering the insane delusions of a murderer covering up his crime?  Did the whole AYC rescue thing really not happen, I just left her to drown in the middle of Long Island Sound?  I’m about to call over to AYC and see what happened when Gareth zooms in with Marcia in the fast boat.  She’s bundled up in a borrowed jacket and not shivering anymore, but still looks cold.   It seems that it took a while for her chauffeur to tend to some other pressing activities before he could make the 5-mile roundtrip to Larchmont with her. 

With a profuse apology I offer to do anything I can for Marcia but she says she’ll be fine as soon as she gets dry.  But it would be great if can I drive over to AYC in Rye to return the borrowed jacket to Gareth.   That I can do.

In the evening, having taken the jacket back, I email her to let her know and make sure she’s ok.  Her reply: “All’s well that ends well!  When do we go sailing again?” 

A six-hour vacation

August 28th

I didn’t manage to rope in crew for a camp-cruising trip to Maine, the raison d’etre of Grey Fox. Which is probably just as well, since I’ve needed the summer to work out the kinks of Grey Fox and really learn the boat’s capabilities and limitations. 50-something degree water and a rocky, foggy coast are not the best setting to ensure all of the boat parts hold up, or to learn when to reef or how hard it is to row the boat miles and miles, or to practice capsize self-rescue technique. 

I’ve also been hoping to do a “test run” of camping aboard with a weekend overnight here in western Long Island Sound, but the wind and weather just haven’t cooperated.  My preferred overnight drop-the-hook-and-camp-aboard spot, Great Captain Island in Greenwich, is 7.5 miles to the northeast, and the weather forecast for the last several weekends has implied that even if I made it there, survived the night in the boat, and didn’t get chased away by the Greenwich Police, I would be rowing the entire distance back to Larchmont in a flat calm, or trying to sail directly upwind in 3 or 4 knots of wind and oppressive heat and humidity.  The overnight test will have to wait for better conditions.

But I’m running out of summer, so it’s time to “seize the day” as Robin Williams admonishes his charges in Dead Poets’ Society.  I contacted my good friend and former college roommate Chris and proposed that we both blow off our respective professional responsibilities and spend Tuesday afternoon on the water.  Wall Street can certainly live without me for much longer than that. 

)Chris is the Executive Director of a foundation that uses its endowment money to support research and debate on US health care policy.  (The hired director; it’s not his money…)  It sounds like a great job, having to figure out how to spend other peoples’ money on worthwhile, hopefully society-improving work. He confirmed that health policy will move ahead, or at least not backward, in his one-afternoon absence.

We rendezvous at Grand Central and head out to Larchmont around 1pm. We use the train ride to catch up, as it’s been at least a year since we’ve gotten together, even though we’re both in Manhattan several days each week.  Are we really such busy people that we can’t do better than that, or just lazy and not working hard enough at being friends?

Not an experienced sailor, but not a complete sailor-neophyte either, Chris follows my barked commands as we clear the cove rowing and convert to sail.  And I, not known for subtlety, get to practice my Bligh routine.  Hmm… Bligh ended up in an open boat for 7 weeks in the South Pacific with 17 other castaways, skillfully and almost miraculously sailing his way to East Timor and survival.  Hopefully there’s no movement towards mutiny on this trip, as our boat is also our ship, and our beer supply will only last us a few hours.

The wind is faint but almost from due south, so a slow but direct jaunt across the Sound to Sands Point is our plan.  It’s also 90-plus degrees under a fierce sun, so a swim will be absolutely required and there is a nice swimming beach there.

Once we get about a half mile out from Larchmont, the New York City skyline becomes visible.  Out in our little boat, on a glorious tropical-feeling summer weekday when the pleasure boat traffic is relatively thin, we could imagine we are miles from “the rat race”.  The race track is right there, in all its impressive architectural glory, just 16 miles away, but the miles between it and us are magnified by the water and the quietness of the afternoon.

[Warning: digression]  For many years (before my time) the tallest building in New York was the Empire State Building, and then for over thirty years it was the twin towers of the WorldTrade Center.  Tragically, after 9/11 the Empire State Building was back to #1.  The Freedom Tower was supposed to restore Ground Zero to prominence.  It’s an impressive and architecturally attractive building.  However, from our vantage point, the tallest building in New York is an unimaginative square monolith located in midtown called 432 Park Avenue. At 1,396 feet high, its roof is higher than the top floor of the Freedom Tower, which is 380 feet tall overall only because of its graceful spire (yep, that adds up to 1776). 

Image result for 432 park avenue new york

Forget about freedom:  this building is 96 stories of full-floor condos priced from $20 million up (each).  The identities of the condo owners are mostly hidden behind names of offshore corporations, but it’s a fair guess that at that price, a lot of them are Russian oligarchs and middle-eastern royals, plus no doubt a few old-fashioned self-made billionaires, and some celebrities including J.Lo and A-Rod. 
One of my kayaking friends has dubbed it “The Oligarchs’ Erection”.

I didn’t get any photos from out on the Sound, but it doesn’t look any better from the distance.    

Anyway, back to sailing. The light breeze propels us to Sands Point at a modest but relaxing pace.  We have time to debate Obamacare (about which Chris has probably forgotten more than I’ll ever know), the latest Trump follies and whether the Blue Point Toasted Lager we are drinking counts as craft beer even though it’s brewed by Anheuser-Busch InBev-SAB.  At least we are able to reach consensus on one of those topics before we run into Long Island (the original home, by the way, of Blue Point Brewing Co. before it was bought by the Behemoth). 

I nudge the boat in to within 75 yards of the beach, successfully avoiding a few rocks which I know are lurking somewhere just below the surface.  I sometimes joke that I parallel park my car “by braille”, meaning I know I’m close enough to the curb when the wheels hit it. It’s not great for aluminum wheels, but a car is, in my view, an industrial contrivance subject to abuse.  Grey Fox, however, is almost like a child to whom I served as father, and I don’t fancy myself a child-abuser.  Fortunately, we experience no tactile contact between the daggerboard and the submerged glacial erratics.

Over goes the anchor and down comes the mainsail.  The mizzen can remain unfurled and keeps the boat nicely riding head-to-wind at the anchor.  We are rigged for cocktails.

I rig the swim ladder and jump overboard for some welcome relief from the heat.  With my waterproof camera in hand I snap a few photos of the boat, hoping for a good one.  I don’t really have any yet, since I’m usually aboard the boat and have both hands occupied with tiller and mainsheet.

We’ve anchored in about six feet of water and it’s hard to get a good shot while treading water. I climb back aboard.  The swim ladder, with rungs fashioned from galvanized steel pipe (so that they sink) held together with rope and hung from the gunwale, is extremely handy. It was a good idea of mine conjured up over a bored winter weekend.  Chris takes the plunge. With the camera in hand he does much better at photographing — he just stands up with plenty of breathing room.  He evens gets a good one of the skipper/builder aboard his craft.

We swim ashore for a walk around and shoot a few photos from the land-side.  With the city now well out of view, and an idyllic beach and salt marsh behind us, we feel wonderfully remote.

After a walk and the swim back to Grey Fox, we raise the anchor and head back towards Larchmont. With the wind at our back and the northwest-sinking sun in our face, it’s primo relaxing sailing.  Chris puts on his best salty air for the camera.

Unencumbered by helmsman duty, I get to crawl all over the boat observing and photographing from different angles.  I don’t even have to juggle my beer and the tiller.  Having crew is great!

Before long the sun is near the horizon and we’re back toour home port.  It feels like we’ve been gone for a couple days to someplace far away. We haven’t changed latitudes but we’ve done pretty well at changing attitudes for an afternoon.  A fantastic six-hour vacation!

Cruising in Luxury (i.e not in Grey Fox)

August 23rd

My son is back from a summer half semester of study in Vancouver, and with only three weeks before it’s time for him to report back to Boston for fall semester, we fit in plans for a 5-day sailing cruise in Rhode Island.  This won’t be on Grey Fox, but on my Dad’s 28-foot sloop “Allegro”.  It’s an “Alerion Express 28”, a really awesome traditional-looking but modern design that I have heard friends in sailing circles refer to as “that $150,000 day sailer”.   Which is a more or less accurate description.  And I can attest that for that kind of price tag, and with over 450 of this model now on the water so that the makers have had time to tweak the design, you get a heck of a nice boat that really is optimized for day sailing with a crew of up to 6 people.

My father is a lifelong sailor, although for most of 30 years all he got to sail in was Navy ships and submarines.  In fact he was the commanding officer of a nuclear sub in the 1970s.  For many of his retired years he owned an Olin Stephens-designed, vintage early 1970s Tartan 34, in which he sailed Narragansett Bay and cruised the New England coast.  But age catches up with us all, and four years ago he concluded that he and his equal-aged co-owner were no longer up to the physical demands of sailing a rather old-fashioned 34 foot boat.  So he down-sized and up-budgeted to the Alerion.

Dad’s Alerion 28,  “Allegro”

The Alerion is not really designed for cruising, and when he got it my dad thought he was done with cruising for good.  But having done a couple of 5-day beach cruises in my dory, I assured him that this boat, with a hardtop over your head at night and with a pot to piss in that isn’t literally a pot that you empty over the side, would make cruising downright cushy. If only Dad would invest in some monogrammed towels, we’d have a regular Four Seasons experience.

Day 1 – Newport to Kickamuit River at the northern end of Narragansett Bay.  A hot sunny day with only a slight southerly breeze.  We ghost up the bay before the predicted major weather change.   About 5 pm the thunderstorms come through to break the heat and humidity, and the wind comes up. The forecast calls for a strong blow out of the Northeast that will last three days.  Kickamuit River — really a salt pond with a river at one end and a narrow mouth at the other — is a nice cozy harbor for the windy night.

Day 2 – Back to Newport.  Our original plan was to head to Point Judith or even Block Island with the wind behind us, but as we head south on the bay the strength of the wind convinces us otherwise.  Even in the protected waters of Narragansett Bay and on a broad reach, we are burying the rail and at 7+ knots, it’s — let’s say — exciting.  For sure Dad has never had Allegro out in anything this wild before, so for him I’m guessing it is — concerning.   Foolhardy youngster (I) and wisened old man of the sea (Dad) debate the idea of pressing on to Point Judith, but the Captain gets more votes and makes the wise call to pull into Newport and call it a day.   We get there before noon.

Day 3 – Newport to Block Island.  The wind whistled and screeched through a veritable forest of rigging at the marina all night. That’s why Dad never stays at a marina when cruising.  But this is his home port and it was actually reassuring to be snug in the slip. noise can be tuned out, but concern for the ship would keep him awake all night.  By morning the 30+ knot winds of yesterday had moderated to a steady 20 with occasional gusts to 25. Block Island is about 25 miles from Newport, and involves crossing at least 10 miles of open water which, even though it is called “Rhode Island Sound”, is about as open as being in the middle of the Atlantic.  Next stop, Portugal.  Still a little hesitant, the 83-year old captain allows me to convince him that with a fulsome 3-man crew with a youngish average age of 51 (but with wide dispersion, at least I think that’s the statistical term), we can handle the run at least as far as Point Judith.  If it’s too wild, we’ll duck into Point Judith’s aptly named “Harbor of Refuge”.  If it’s manageable, we’ll continue on to the Block.  The wind is still strong but less gusty than yesterday, and predicted to moderate a bit during the day.

We clear the East Passage and while the water gets larger as we lose our lee, the Alerion handles it with ease. I’m having a blast steering, which is a pretty physical activity in those conditions. We get comfortable with the boat’s seakeeping and decide to press on to Block Island. It’s almost dead downwind, so we alternate tacks to keep a comfortable angle to the wind and waves and to keep the mainsail off of the swept-aft shrouds.  Out in the open, I estimate the wave heights at 6-8 feet.  It feels like sailing a dinghy, and on occasional surges down the waves we hit over 9 knots — not bad (and not hull speed) for a boat with a 23-foot waterline!   But the deep keel makes the boat really stiff, so it’s really not like a dinghy — you don’t have to worry about capsizing.

File photo — I didn’t take many pictures on this cruise, so I have to borrow a few from prior years

By 1pm we’re off the Block Island North Reef, and once we get in the lee of that the sailing is smooth and speedy right up to and through the cut into the Great Salt Pond (“New Harbor”).   By 2pm we’re on the mooring and drying off in the sun.   We fill our afternoon with some cleanup, lunch, a swim off the boat, and then a trip ashore for a walk to the Old Harbor.  Our swordfish dinner at Deadeye Dick’s restaurant — a Block Island landmark I can remember eating at when I was a kid — can’t be beat.

Boatswain and Captain on Block Island.   Photo by the First Mate

Day 4 – Block Island to Wickford.  The northeasterly continues strong through the night and is still blowing 15-20 knots when we awake.  If that holds, it’s going to be a long, wet slog back to the mainland.   Hoping for the wind to subside further, we take our time with a leisurely breakfast.  By 10 am we head out.  narragansett bay is almost dead to windward.  Here’s where the Alerion’s design really shines:  the boat is exceptionally close-winded, and with a big main and only a working jib on a traveler, there are no sheets to tend when you tack.  Just put the tiller over and you’re done.  We sail on port tack all the way to the Point Judith breakwater — 10 miles — and never have to adjust the sails.   In fact I’m able to tie the tiller down with the boat perfectly balanced, and she practically sails herself most of that way.  The wind steadily moderates and it becomes a delightful sail.  Before we know it we’re abeam of Beavertail and into the sheltered waters of Narragansett Bay’s West Passage.  Not long thereafter the wind peters out completely and we end up motoring the last few miles to Wickford.

Wickford is a delightful little harbor, with an antique New England town that seems almost as if time forgot it. The old-timey feel is accentuated by the several old wooden schooners and cutters that lie near our mooring, and the parade of ten or more catboats we watch proceeding out and later back into the harbor from their Tuesday night regatta.  Just don’t look to the northeast, where the lost-in-time aura is broken by the huge industrial buildings and mercury vapor lights of Quonset Point, where Electric Boat builds sections of nuclear submarines.

Towards the end of the day the sun comes out, the heat returns and it feels like summer again.  We spend a delightful summer evening dining al fresco in the cockpit on a pretty awesome one-burner meal cooked up by the exquisitely gourmet first mate (he’s modest too!), and then listening to the RedSox game (unbelievably, they lose — not their general tendency this season!)

Day 5 – Wickford to Newport.  We wake to grey skies, rain and 12 knots of wind from the southeast.  i.e. from exactly where we want to go today.   Hardier sailors would suit up, hoist sails and get very wet on the beat to windward.   With 4 days of lively sailing already under our hats, the captain decides to let the piston staysail do the work today.  “Suck-squeeze-bang-blow, that’s what makes my diesel go!” … I learned that one back during my Navy days.  Although I have to admit that Volvo’s little 2-cylinder 12HP diesel makes a fair bit less banging and blowing noise than the 16 cylinder Detroit Diesel beasts that I used to be responsible for in my younger Navy days.

Captain Smith:  “Lieutenant Allen, I was just down in Aux Room #2 and saw a lot of diesel lube oil in the bilge!”
Lt. Allen:  “I cannot tell a lie sir, I put that oil in the bilge.”
Captain Smith, knowing that I was not the kind of youngster to sabotage the ship, and that the Detroits were notorious for leaking oil, but nonetheless showing some redness of face: “Well, go down there and get it cleaned up!”  

Thankfully the Volvo is tight as a drum and Allegro’s captain does not order me to do any bilge-diving.  By late morning we’re back at Allegro’s home slip in Newport.  Cruise completed, I’m sure we made the highlight of Dad’s summer.  If it were a Visa ad, that would be … Priceless.

A different flavor of water

August 4th

No sailing today, but I managed to get on the water anyway.

Today’s weather was forecast to be pretty awful, with rain all morning and Africa-hot heat and humidity once the rain stopped.   That didn’t sound like good sailing weather, or good anything-outdoors weather. Since my wife and son are both out of town, I decided to take a day trip to change my scenery.   It’s amazing how a day trip to someplace new and different can feel almost like a downright vacation.   Today’s destination:  Kingston, NY, on the Hudson River about 90 miles north of New York City.  Kingston sits at the mouth of Rondout Creek, a decent-sized river that flows into the Hudson from the west.   The Hudson River Maritime Museum is there and it looked kinda interesting for folks into all things maritime (… that would be me).

Just in case the weather might improve, I threw my kayak on the roof of the car.   I figured that a little summer rain is not a problem when you’re in a kayak, and if it wasn’t too nasty I might be able to get a little paddling in after I toured the museum.

The car trip up was a bit nerve-wracking as it was really raining buckets as I wound my through the Hudson Highlands on the Taconic Parkway, but just about the time I got to Kingston the rain stopped.  The sun came out and almost instantly lit up to blow-torch intensity, and pretty soon steam starting rising off the pavement.

The Hudson River Maritime Museum is small but it’s got a great collection of stuff. I learn that Kingston was a major port on the Hudson in the 1800s, the most important one between NYC and Albany.   Its importance was primarily due to the fact that it was the terminus of the Delaware-Hudson Canal, which served as a key conduit for Pennsylvania coal, stone and natural cement to make its way to New York.  Steam tugs would pick up loaded barges at the end of the canal and tow them down to Manhattan.  The museum is right on Rondout Creek, where canal boats and steamers used to dock.  All along the creek front are old buildings left over from the town’s industrial and commercial past.


Visiting Kingston for the weekend was the Kalmar Nyckel, a replica of the vessel that ferried Swedish colonists — including the colonial governor of New Sweden — across the Atlantic several times during the period 1637 to 1644.  The New Sweden settlement was somewhere in Delaware, which is where this vessel is homeported nowadays.  If you were unaware that Sweden had settlers on the eastern seaboard of North America during the 1600s, you’ve got lots of company.  Seems those modest Swedes were not very good with the PR.

AKalmarnyway I enjoyed going aboard the ship and poking around.  The replica is impressive and stoutly built, with massive timbers fastened with treenails.  What is really striking is how tiny this vessel is — 93 feet on deck and 300 tons displacement — when you think about how many people it carried and how long it took them to cross the Atlantic.

Museum visit complete, and sun in full shining mode, I headed to Kingston’s nearby waterfront park to launch my kayak and do some exploring.  The launch is on the big river just north of Rondout Creek’s mouth.  Marking the mouth, at the end of a long breakwater, is Kingston Light:


Passing the lighthouse and entering the channel, I paddle about a mile up Rondout Creek, where the canal boats in the old photos at the museum have been replaced by an impressive flotilla of sail and power boats of all sizes.  On the south side of the creek near the mouth there is a whole ghost fleet of derelict barges, cranes and working craft, testament to the creek’s industrial past.  On my way back out of the creek and into the main stream of the Hudson, I pulled up on the sandy shore at the mouth and notice that the sand is sprinkled with lumps of hard black coal… I don’t know much about coal but I know that it’s not native to this part of the Hudson;  these must be leftovers from the canal barges of yore.

Signs of the Hudson’s industrial past are everywhere.  Near where I launched my kayak was this abandoned factory.  Judging from what the shore was lined with, I’m guessing this was a brickworks.


In the still air the heat is oppressive, but my ball cap works pretty well as a ladle and every few minutes I scoop another ladle-full of river water over my head to cool off.  Even though the tide range here is about three and a half feet, the water has no taste of salt.  I clear the Rondout channel and head across the river to Rhinecliff.  The Hudson is only a mile or so wide here, and I’m in Rhinecliff in no time.  I pull the boat up onto the grass near the municipal boat ramp and walk “into town” which is just over the railroad tracks that hug the shore.  There’s not much town here, and I’m underwhelmed.  But all I really need — desperately — is some water.  I spot a guy watering the hanging flower pots on the porch of the The Rhinecliff Inn and ask if he can water me as well (well, my water bottle, not me).  He kindly obliges.

Kingston is practically in the shadow of the high Catskills, and the views from kayak-level on the river are stunning.

CatskillsI’m back at my launch point on the Kingston side by 4 pm.  I indulge in a swim off the beach to cool off, then I load the boat on the roof, change into dry clothes and I’m on my way back home.  The day turned out pretty sweet after all!