Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dawn Has Broken a Second Day

Dawn has broken a second day on a crippled, post super storm Sandy New York City.  The extent of the damage is much more evident this morning than it was twenty-our hours ago, a mere twelve hours after Sandy rampaged across the area.  Adjectives such as “epic”, “monumental proportions”, “unprecedented”, and “devastating” are being used by officials, newscasters, and the common person to describe the aftermath.  Some areas of destruction have been compared to areas bombed out during World War II.

Most of lower Manhattan is still without power, and may be for several days.  New York City buses are starting to run but with all eight subway tunnels under the East River and some lower Manhattan subway stations flooded, it will take at least four to five days until subway service is restored.  The New York Subway is the heart of the city and without it our economic and cultural life is severely limited.

The hardest hit areas of the city are definitely the lowest lying areas in “Zone A” as the flooding caused by the storm surge was more damaging than wind or rain.  Especially hard hit are lower Manhattan, Coney Island, and the Rockaway peninsula. Public access to the Rockaways is still restricted as New York Fire and Police personnel go door to door looking for trapped and stranded residents.  The count of homes in the Rockaway community of Breezy Point that were lost to fire now stands at one hundred and ten.  Yesterday at this time, the estimate was fifty.

To the east, on Long Island, the barrier island of Fire Island was perhaps hardest hit.  Residents who chose to stay behind on Fire Island are still being rescued.

What Long Island and New York City has experienced, however, pales in comparison to what New Jersey has been asked to endure.  The city of Hoboken, across from New York, is apparently still isolated and cut off after suffering severe flooding, and as many as 20,000 residents await rescue.  The barrier island communities further south, including points from Sandy Point south to Cape May, communities such as Point Pleasant, Seaside, and Atlantic City, are devastated.

Throughout the NY-NJ-CN Metro region, mass transit is essentially non-existent.  If roads in the stricken areas are open, traffic lights might not be working.  Officials are using helicopters to survey the damage.
Kudos to New York City Mayor Bloomberg, New York State Governor Cuomo, and New Jersey Governor Christie who have not only been touring affected areas but also holding routine broadcast news conferences full of updates.  Local NPR (WNYC), NY 1 (our local cable news station) and the New York Times as well as various other media outlets have been doing a great job providing information.

Living in New York City, it is sometimes difficult to determine what news is local and what is national.  It sometimes seems that the eyes of the nation, if not the world, are focused on New York City, or New Yorkers at least expect them to be so.  Now those eyes are, and will be for a while, until the next natural disaster or war or famine points those eyes elsewhere.

Compared to the adversity faced by others, I have little to complain about.  I not only have a roof over my head, I have power, water, heat, cable and internet service.  Since yesterday afternoon, however, I have been experiencing Verizon cell phone service loss as the infrastructure, with 25% of towers not working, seems unable to support the network.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Sun Has Set on New York City

Power boats tossed on rocks at Mill Basin

The sun has set on New York City, but before it did, my wife and I finally ventured out of the neighborhood to check on our sailboat in Mill Basin and our kayaks in Paerdegat Basin in Brooklyn.  This is what we experienced in the aftermath of  Hurricane Sandy.

Along the way, we encountered several traffic lights along Flatlands and Flatbush that were not working and therefore causing some traffic congestion.   As we waited to turn south on Flatbush, a convoy of about a dozen ambulances, escorted by police cars, screamed south, perhaps on their way to assist with the evacuation of a hospital in Coney Island.

Our spirits were lifted as soon as we saw masts rising from behind the Kings Plaza Marina fence.

Mischief with a shredded jib flapping
Even though it appeared that the high water was several feet about normal, we found our C&C 24 more or less intact.  The only damage was a partially ripped and shredded jib sail still on its furler. Some floating debris, mostly wood and Styrofoam from docks, was floating nearby.  One of the dock cleats had partially pulled out and was missing one of its two bolts.  It was apparent that the boat’s bow had been rubbing or banging against the dock, but the dock was more damaged than the boat.  The dock across from us was ripped up and tied to the rest of the dock.  Several slip docks appeared to be bent at an angle.  At least three beach power boats were visible up on rocky banks.  A neighboring sailboat had a ripped and torn mainsail still on its boom.

The King’s Plaza Marina office and show room still had some water on the floor after about two feet of water filled it during the storm surge.  Some merchandise inside appeared tossed about.

Downed tree obstructing street near Sebago Canoe Club
After exploring Mill Basin, we drove back across Flatlands to Mill Basin, where a large downed tree across the street forced us to make a small detour.

The Sebago Canoe Club did not fare as well as our sailboat.  Most of the walkway had floated up and out of its position.  Apparently several feet of water had entered the clubhouse, causing the cabinetry to dislodge from the walls, the refrigerator to topple, and tossing about most of the other furnishings.

Kayaks in racks strewn about
A few kayaks and small sailboats were strewn about the property but most kayaks were still in their racks, though the racks had been moved by the water.  My wife’s Current Designs Sirocco and my Ocean Kayak Drifter were in different racks and both wedged into and against a fence.  My Necky Chatham 17 and her Ocean Kayak Drifter, on two other racks, were still in place.  It will take a lot of work to clean up the grounds and clubhouse.  At An odor of petroleum filled the air, reminders of the spill a couple weeks ago. 

Tomorrow?  After Sandy day two. Schools will be closed again.  Buses will be running, but the subway probably will not.

Dawn Has Broken

Dawn has broken and it is time for the greatest city in the world to assess the damage. Most of my information is coming from local news reports, Facebook and Twitter.

We are fine here in Ridgewood, Queens, but other parts of the city are not.  Our lights flickered last night but we never lost power, or cable, or internet, or cell service.  The worst of the wind seemed to be between 8-10 PM.  At 7:30 PM, JFK recorded sustained winds over 50 MPH with a gust of 90 MPH.  The wind started diminishing by 10-11 PM, but this morning we were still experiencing gusts of 40 MPH.  What rain we had was minimal.
Apparently Manhattan is isolated as all bridges and tunnels are closed, but recently re-opened to emergency personnel.  As soon as engineers check for structural damage on the bridges, they will re-open to the public, except those leading out to the Rockaways, which will remain closed. Six to seven subway tunnels under the East River are flooded and the subway will be down for a while.  I am, however, starting to see MTA buses, empty, passing by our house, but they will not be picking up passengers until after noon, operating on a Sunday schedule for free.

At least fifty homes in Breezy Point, Queens, at the eastern tip of the Rockaways, were destroyed last night or early this morning in a six alarm fire.  Photos of the fire while it was burning look like they are from a Western US wildfire.  Photos after the fire look like they are from a bombed out city from WW II.  Part of the Rockaways, NYC’s southern barrier island across Jamaica Bay from Coney Island, is still flooded as high tide has just passed.  Only emergency responders are being permitted to enter the area.

Lower Manhattan, below about 30th street, is without power and may be so for another day or two.

New York City schools are closed today and tomorrow.  JFK and LGA will open as soon as possible but both experienced flooded runways.

Winds at JFK are now 23 mph, gusting to 31. Last night around 7:30 PM they were clocked at sustained 52-53 mph with a recorded gust of 90 mph.
Walking our dog around our neighborhood in Ridgewood, Queens, we saw very little damage.   We saw many smaller branches, leaves, paper, plastic, and styrofoam strewn about, and a couple flower pots and newspaper stands knocked over, as these pictures indicate.

Later this afternoon, road conditions permitting, we will drive south to check on our sailboat in Mill Basin, but I fear the worst.  We saw a photo on NY1 TV of a flooded parking lot at Kings Plaza Mall, where we dock our sailboat.  The parking lot is at least 10-15 feet above the docks.  The dock float, but I doubt they float that high.

There was about two feet of water at the Sebago Canoe Club on Paerdegat Basin and we have been told that it appears all the kayaks are still on their rack, although the racks were moved by the floodwater.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pre-Sandy Saturday Sail

Looking north toward Coney Island
We enjoyed a fine sail yesterday, Saturday, 12/27/2012, in the advent of Sandy’s arrival here in the New York City area.  Accompanied by Tony and Walter, two of our kayaking friends from the Sebago Canoe Club, we motored out of the dock around 10:15 AM and were under sail by 10:35. With a steady 10-12 mph wind, just a few tacks took us south through Jamaica Bay and under the Marine Parkway Bridge. Sailing west, two more tacks took us out past Breezy Point at the western end of the Rockaways and south through the channel into the open ocean. 
Once out of the channel, where there was a little chop, there were very few waves in the ocean.  The swells were maybe two feet with several seconds of separation.  We have encountered heavier weather and rougher water well within Bay on previous sails.  Even in the open ocean, it was hard to believe that there was a hurricane several hundred miles south.
Even though this was not our longest sail, it was our farthest south, and our first into the open Atlantic.  It was a sail I have wanted to take for several months but never had the time or the wind.  Saturday’s conditions were almost perfect.  All I could have asked for was warmer temps, a blue rather than an overcast sky, and sunshine.

With dropping temperatures and four chilled sailors on board, we sailed only about 7/10 of a mile from Breezy Point before heading back to our home marina.  Just a few tacks brought us back under the Marine Parkway Bridge and up to the entrance to Mill Basin.  With the wind in our favor, we sailed under the Belt Parkway Bridge over Mill Basin, a rarity, before starting the outboard and dropping sail.  We were back in our dock by 3:15 PM, concluding a five hour sail, all but less than thirty minutes of it under sail without power.

Back at the dock, sails reefed, flaked, and covered; we enjoyed a rum toast and a bottle of wine with crackers.  Before leaving the boat, I tied three extra lines, including one around the mast at one end and a telephone pole sized vertical poll at the other end.  I brought home my tool box and first aid kit as well as a few sentimental items and left the rest to nature.
Along with most of the other power and sail boats in our marina, we kept the boat in the dock when hurricane Irene passed through last year.   While I expect Irene to be bringing a higher storm surge, our marina is one of the most protected in Jamaica Bay, with several live-a-boards there permanently.

After dinner at nearby Nick’s Lobster, we stopped by the Sebago Canoe Club on our way home so that we could tie down our kayaks.  We are not concerned so much about the wind blowing the kayaks of the outdoor racks as we are worried about them floating away during the storm surge.  After tying down our kayaks, we filled the car with gas, saving the rest of our pre-Sandy preparations for the following day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Holy Trinity of Climbing Instruction Books

A REALLY old photo I took,  probably  from the late 70's. 
While recently sorting through some books in my library, I pulled three off the shelf that and I consider my Holy Trinity of Climbing Instruction Books; Basic Rockcraft (1971) and Advanced Rockcraft ( 1973) by Royal Robbins and Walt Wheelock’s Ropes, Knots and Slings for Climbers (1961).  Yes, I am that old!

I caught the climbing bug the summer of 1974, when I was 16, after being introduced to ropes, slings, carabiners and brake bars while rappelling sixty feet off a water tower, and overhearing the people who taught me how to rappel talking about their climbing adventures at Seneca Rocks, WV.  Soon after that first rappel, I somehow managed to acquire these three books, and along with some Goldline Rope, nylon webbing which I tied into diaper slings, carabiners and break bars, taught myself and some friends how to climb and rappel.

Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft taught me theory as well as ethics.  While Robbins wrote about pitoncraft as well as nutcraft in Basic Rockcraft, I have never placed a piton. I came to climbing after the advent of the clean climbing movement, and Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft gave me all the theory I needed to learn about placing clean protection.  The practice I gained from following other clean climbers and eventually leading.  Ropes Knots and Slings for Climbers rounded out my early climbing education, filling in any gaps not covered by Robbins.

My copies of these three classics are not originals.  I wore those out years ago and eventually replaced them.  Nearly forty years later, I have read many other climbing instruction books, but these three still stand out as holy writ, sacred works of climbing.  As I flipped through their pages, looking at the photos, diagrams and drawings, I was reminded of younger days when I dreamed of Yosemite and Everest, climbing heaven.

I learned how to lead scaling the walls of Seneca Rocks, WV, and have since climbed in New York’s Shawangunks and West Virginia’s New River Gorge as well as other smaller cliffs and crags.  I even free rappelled off West Virginia’s New River Bridge, through over 700 feet of thin air.

I never made it to Yosemite or Everest, although I still dream . . . someday. I never put up a new route.  But I have enjoyed rock.  I have loved rock.  I have worshiped rock, thanks to this Holy Trinity of Climbing Instruction Books.  Flipping through their pages, I could almost feel the rock under my hands and feet, feel the sun warming me and rock, feel the wind rustling trees and hair, smell the nearby pine trees, and the rock and lichens just inches from my nose.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


It seems that every time my wife and I take out a friend for a first time sail aboard Mischief that we experience something new.   Today, we took our friend Laurie, and wouldn't you know it, we enjoyed two new sailing experiences.  This is a post about one of them.
Checking NOAA's National Weather Service Marine Forecast for New York Harbor earlier in the morning, I knew there was coastal fog but that it was predicted to burn off by 9 AM.  Laurie, who lives closer to Jamaica Bay than we do, texted a little later to say that it was very foggy there and to ask if we were still going sailing.  Since there was no fog in our neighborhood and the NWS was predicting that the early morn fog would burn off, we texted to Laurie that we were still planning to sail and that we would meet he near the boat around 9 AM.

We met Laurie a little after 9 AM and were on the boat by 9:15, motoring out of the dock by 9:30.  As we were motoring out of Mill Basin, heading out toward Jamaica Bay, a power boater heading back in passed nearby and yelled to us that the fog out in the bay was like pea soup.  As we passed the transition between Mill Basin and Jamaica Bay around 9:50 AM, we started seeing more behind us than before us.  I throttled down the outboard and asked my wife to turn on the navigation lights and hand me the compressed air fog horn.  I asked her and Laurie to focus ahead and let me know immediately if they saw anything in front of us.

Eventually we lost almost all visibility.  Had it not been for my Garmin GPSMAP 78sc preloaded with U.S. coastal charts, I would not have been able to as safely navigate through the fog.  I could not see any of the usual navigational buoys, buoys I had passed numerous times in daylight as well as dusk, until I was a mere 30-40 yards away.  We also encountered several anchored fishing boats about 30-40 yards distant, none with engines running, lights burning, or bells ringing, but safely avoided them.  None of the usual land-forms were anywhere near visible.

Jamaica Bay after the morning fog cleared
Barely moving under power in a light wind, we raised the mainsail and turned off the outboard.  Still close enough to a buoy to see that there was not enough wind to overcome an incoming tide, I restated the motor and headed further down the bay.  Within 5-10 minutes we were completely out of the fog with nearly unlimited visibility.  With a change in course I turned off and raised the motor and headed south on a close reach.

Even though we were in the early morning pea soup fog only a few minutes, I can now understand how easy it would be to lose one’s bearings, become disoriented,  run aground, or  run into another boat under foggy conditions.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I have been kayaking, first a sit-on-top and then a traditional sea kayak, for over eleven years.  I have been sailing a 24 foot sailboat for two years.  I have been on a week long ocean cruise.  I have been on a numerous ferry crossings along the North Carolina coast as well as between Ireland and Scotland.  I have never once been seasick, that is, until recently.

About an hour into a recent group paddle with nearly two dozen other paddlers( from the Sebago Canoe Club and National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Alums from New York City) on a choppy Jamaica Bay in 12-20 mph increasing minds, I missed a brace and went over.  After wet exiting, I reentered my kayak, as I had done many other times during practice, with the help fellow paddler Tony P.

Once back in my kayak, I started paddling, but I did not feel balanced.  I tipped again and once again wet exited.  I thought I was close enough to shore that it would be easier and quicker to tow my kayak, with me in the water behind, to shore (photo below).  A strong head wind and the drag of me and my boat prevented fellow paddler John H. from making much headway while towing, so with his help, I once again reentered my kayak.  I almost tipped several more times before making it to shore, even while being towed and with fellow paddler Ilene L. close by my side, but I managed to stay upright until I slid up onto the sandy beach.

View from behind my Necky Chatham 17 while John H. was towing.

Once on shore and out of my boat, my legs/knees felt week and I felt sick to my stomach.  John H. suggested I might be seasick, but I could not understand how I could be seasick when I had never before suffered from seasickness.  After forcing down some lunch and resting for about 15 to 20 minutes, I felt a little better, climbed back into my kayak, and started paddling back to the clubhouse.  As soon as I was back on the water, however, only a few yards from shore, I felt like I could not maintain my balance, as if I had no balance.  The smallest wave seemed to knock me off balance and I did not feel like I had the strength to brace, recover, or paddle  Rather than impeding the rest of the group, I decided  to paddle back to the beach and remain behind, to be picked up by car later.

After waiting a couple hours, my boat and I were driven back to the clubhouse by John W. and Andy N., where we had started our trip and my car was parked.   Even though there was a feast going on when I arrived back at the clubhouse, I did not have the least bit desire to eat anything.  I cleaned up my gear and headed home.

Back home, after a hot shower, I felt like I had been run over by a truck and still had no appetite. Following up on John H's diagnosis, I researched seasickness and kayaking.  I searched several combinations of words until I discovered an informative post about Common Sea Kayaking Ailments and Sea-Sickness on Kayak Dave’s Kayaking Blog.  I also found a short but helpful reference in Sea Kayaker’s Deep Trouble: True Stories and Their Lessons from Sea Kayaker Magazine, p. 139.  Later, I found a very informative post, The Seasick Paddler, on

Finally, about eight hours after I stopped kayaking, I still felt weak, achy, and had a slight headache  At least I had an appetite, however, and I finally ate some food.  After another hour or two, I took a couple Ibuprofen and went to bed.

Knowing that when you are knocked off a horse that the best thing to do is to get right back in the saddle, I awoke the next morning and went kayaking.  In 18-13 mph decreasing winds, I headed back onto the water with a group of another twenty paddlers from the Sebago Canoe Club. Some of them had paddled with me the previous or had heard about my misadventure and were therefore concerned about how I felt.  Those who had seen me the day before told me that the day before I had  looked pale and not my usual self.

As we paddled out onto the bay, I felt like I was doing fine until after we crossed the channel in a little chop.  After the channel crossing in rough water I again started to feel unbalanced – like I was going to tip.  Then I realized that I had been focusing on the bow of my kayak and the oncoming waves.  I immediately started focusing, instead, on the horizon.  In what seemed like seconds, my sense of balance returned and I no longer felt unbalanced.  As the morning and the paddle progressed, I kept my focus on the horizon and I felt stronger, more balanced, and more confident.  By the end of the paddle, I felt like my normal kayaking self.
Had I been, unawares, focusing on the bow of my kayak and the oncoming waves the day before?  I do not know for sure, but my hunch is, I was.  I will never again.

I owe special thanks to Tony P., John H, Ilene L,, John W. and Andy T. from Saturday's Paddle, and to Dottie L. from Sunday's paddle.