Monday, August 3, 2009

After the Storm

Earlier in the week Bonnie had proposed a Sunday circumnavigation of Jamaica Bay, but since put in was scheduled for the morning I knew I would not be able to participate. When she later moved the launch time back to 2:00 PM I signed up. The float plan called for us to launch around 2 pm., ride the flood tide up past Howard Beach, hit the Wharf right around a pleasant time for dinner, and with decent conditions be back to the club around sunset. We were instructed to bring deck lights since there was a good chance we would be finishing in the dark. Originally the weather forecast was looking pretty good and I was looking forward to an enjoyable Sunday afternoon and evening paddle.

By Saturday the forecast had deteriorated to a prediction of showers and thunderstorms mainly in the afternoon. Bonnie was still willing to paddle but thought it best to start at 3:00 PM instead and to cut the trip down from a circumnavigation of the full bay (around Broad Channel) to a circumnavigation of the western side of the bay (around only Canarsie Pol and Ruffle Bar and the west side of Broad Channel). Just for fun, Bonnie prepared a couple of Google maps showing roughly what she was proposing.

The full circumnavigation would include a pretty long stretch where marshes and shoal water would keep us pretty far from shore over on the far side of Broad Channel, the preserve, and East Pond. The shorter route would include a lot more options for places that we could paddle to for shelter if we saw something coming and also not putting Broad Channel between us and the club and the Wharf as well as allowing for more options for changing the length of the trip by taking a more direct route instead of the meandering over through Broad Channel depending on what we ran into.

By Sunday morning however the weather situation had deteriorated. Bonnie cancelled the official club trip due to increasing probability of thunderstorms but noted that a couple of us are still going to meet at the club to see if we could at least sneak in a much closer to home, shorter paddle, with the weather calling the shots.

Bonnie phoned me around 11:30 to see if I still wanted to paddle. I did. We agreed to still meet at the club in the afternoon. Around 1:15PM it was raining pretty heavily. Nevertheless I was about ready to walk out the door to the car to drive to Sebago when Bonnie called again. We briefly talked about the afternoon and we decided I would pick Bonnie up at the bus stop and together we would go on to the club where we would evaluate the weather. Although five people had originally planned to join the trip, the paddle was now down to a possible two, Bonnie and me.

As I drove to pick up Bonnie I was listening to the weather on my vhf radio. Severe thunderstorms with possible cloud to ground lightening and high winds were predicted to move in from New Jersey and enter New York Harbor around 1:00 PM and then move further east by 3:00 PM. I arrived at the bus stop a little ahead of bonnie and sat in the car through a downpour. The weather radio reported possible water spouts over Raritan bay, pockets of heavy rain, and possible urban flooding. Bonnie arrived a little after 2:00 PM, ran from the bus to the car though the rain and climbed in the passenger’s seat. I updated her on the most recent forecast and we agreed to drive to the club and wait until 3:00 PM before making a decision to cancel paddling altogether, postpone paddling until later in the afternoon, or to head out into the bay.

As we pulled into the parking lot of the Sebago Canoe Club, folk from the morning’s Audubon bird watching paddle were preparing to head home after a wet morning’s paddle. Officer of the Day Andy, and Nahum, who also hoped the weather would clear, remained at the club. The rain continued but appeared to be lessening. By 3:00 PM it was barely raining and the sky to the east was clearing. The only warnings on the weather radio were for urban flooding. All the storms had moved out to the east. Bonnie and I decided to head out into the bay with the hope of at least reaching Ruffle Bar. We were in the water by 3:30 PM, Bonnie in her usual Yellow Romney and I in a Red Montauk. It was the first time I had paddled the Montauk, a club boat, which I later learned had a broken skeg.

At first paddling through some nasty effluent from the sewage plant up Paerdegat Basin we quickly paddled into cleaner water after passing the docks. Even before reaching the Belt Parkway Bridge I fell in love with the Montauk. It seemed to be handling well, moving well, and I felt very comfortable in it. The thigh braces hit me just right but I decided I needed to to adjust the foot braces a notch to gain just a little more leg room.

At the Belt Parkway Bridge I gently paddled into a few pilings, wedged the bow of the kayak between the pilings for support, and managed to readjust the foot braces without having to take off my spray skirt and get out of the boat. I was now really ready to paddle.

We decided to head toward Ruffle Bar. Even though we were paddling into a head wind and with one foot waves were making good time. An hour later, almost to Ruffle Bar, we decided to go ahead and paddle to the Warf for a bite to eat. Ninety minutes after leaving the Sebago dock were standing on the dock at the Warf, 416 Beach 116th Street, Far Rockaway. We both ordered a bottle or Corona. Bonnie ordered steak with fries. I ordered a hamburger as well as some fried shrimp with onion rings. We shared the fries, shrimp, onion rings and view of Jamaica Bay with the skyline of Manhattan far off in the distance (top photo right).

An hour later, recharged and refueled, we paid the waitress, climbed back into our boats (second photo right), and with the sky continuing to clear decided to go for the full circumnavigation of Jamaica Bay. We paddled east, under the Cross Bay Bridge and then under the MTA Subway Bridge carrying the A line. We then turned north and paddled with Broad Channel off to our left and Kennedy International Airport to our right. Had it not been for the occasional Jet taking off from Kennedy we probably would have been in the nearly complete silence of Jamaica Bay. At one point, with Bonnie paddling paddling off to my right and JFK behind her, it looked as though she was paddling for a landing as a jet took off behind her (third photo from top, right).

At the top of the island we paddled under the northern MTA and Cross Bay bridges and headed east toward Canarsie Pier and home. The longer we paddled the more hopeful we were that we might actually get to see a sunset (fourth photo from top, right). Around 8:15 we were rewarded. On water nearly as calm as I have seen Jamaica Bay and with only a slight breeze Bonnie and I both stopped paddling in order to pull out our camera’s and take pictures of the sunset (fifth photo from top, right). Once the Sun had set to our right we noticed a nearly full moon emerging from behind the clouds to our left. It was a nearly perfect setting.

With the Sun now down and some paddling still ahead of us Bonnie and I rafted up, opened our day hatches to retrieve our deck lights, and helped each other prepare for night paddling. With lights from Canarsie Pier and from as far away as Far Rockaway, as well as the lights from traffic on the Belt Parkway and the Moon for illumination, we could see fine. Even though I was now wearing a headlight, I did not turn it on. Our deck lights, mounted behind us, and the green and red warning lights mounted on the front of Bennie’s Romney were not meant to help us see but to make us more visible to other boaters, even though we had seen no more than three or four other boaters all day.

Under moonlight (bottom photo, right) we paddled past Canarsie Pier and toward the Belt Parkway Bridge at the entrance to Paerdegat Basin. As we approached the bridge we could hear drumming. Someone was sitting near or underneath the bridge keeping rhythm on what sounded like a djemba. The primitive and exotic sounding rhythm combined with the glassy smooth water and the moonlight was hypnotic.

By 9:00 PM. Five and a half hours after departing, we were back at the Sebago dock. We carried our boats up to the wash rack and hosed down paddles, spray skirts and boats. We put the boats away, changed, chatted with Nahum who has also just returned from a row, and were leaving the parking lot by 9:30 PM.

At 15.3 miles, this paddle was my second longest to date and the longest since October 2008 when I paddled 15.5 miles with Walter and Tony. Bonnie is a great paddling companion, experienced, competent, a strong paddler. Jamaica Bay never ceases to surprise me. The hour long dinner break at the Warf was a great break about a third of the way through the trip. The sunset and the moonlight were added bonuses. We almost had the bay to ourselves as the nasty weather earlier in the day apparently kept recreational power boaters off the water. This paddle after the storm is one of my more memorable paddles, a nearly mystical retreat from the everyday. And as you can read on Bennie’s blog, the best paddle she ever cancelled.


bonnie said...

Great writeup!

Thanks again for suggesting first that we keep going to the Wharf, not just Ruffle Bar, then carrying on with the longer trip. That sunset & moonrise were quite phenomenal, as was the way the day cleared up so nicely.

Hope you weren't too sore!

I also hope to actually do my trip report tonight too.

Rockaway Vivian said...

Having just completed my first nighttime paddle (the Sebago full moon paddle to/from Ruffle Bar on Sat. 8/8), I loved reading your post, John (and Bonnie's). The experience on the water at night is mystical. I am most impressed with how the Sebago folk are so inspiring and supportive--even when I made a poor choice of craft, and lagged far behind, I got great encouragement from Phil, Lisa, Marty and others. See you soon. Rockaway Vivian

John Edward Harris said...

Moonlight paddling can indeed be a mustical experience. On the other hand, under the right conditions when I am paddling "in the zone" I can easily enter a Zen-like state where I experience everything as one.