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.
Anyway 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.
I’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!