Approaching 10 A.M. on Sunday, June 22nd. The forecast was iffy, and our trip du jour being tide dependent, it was one of those painful meet-at-the-club-at-7:30 am starts, but nevertheless, here we were, 9 Sebago members & two guests, preparing to launch from the Conference House Park in Tottenville, Staten Island, a site on the new NYC Watertrail. By shortly before 10, I (being the actual leader-type for the day) was holding a pre-trip briefing on the beach. "So we launch here, and we go north on the with the current until we find a lot of old boats. Then we find a beach for lunch - I think I know a good one. Then we paddle back 'til we see the gazebo again. OK? What's that Stevie? How do we keep from getting lost? I dunno, this is a tricky one. But we'll figure it out!" And right on time, off we set for the Graveyard of Ships.
For more info on the Watertrail, see http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_things_to_do/facilities/kayak/
Actually getting lost wasn't a concern at all - Stevie was kidding 'cause I'd gotten all serious and trip-leaderly and actually showed everyone the route on the chart. This wasn't really necessary, the route, as I said, is quite simply northbound along the Staten Island shore of the Arthur Kill. Can't really go wrong. The main concern was weather - there was a chance of thunderstorms, and winds in the afternoon were slated to be gusting to 20 kts, from SSE. That meant a possible solid headwind & chop & maybe thunderstorms making the 5 miles home a little less relaxed than the "relaxed intermediate" I'd originally called the trip. We lost a couple of people to that ominous forecast. Here, we'd only gone a couple of miles, but things were clouding up some.
Heading north from Tottenville, you start passing some of the oldest hulks, probably barques from the late 1800's, just past the Outerbridge Crossing. Bob A., our guest from the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, shared a fascinating bit of trivia with us concerning that bridge - I'd always assumed it was called Outerbridge because it was the outermost bridge as you travel south on the Arthur Kill. Turns out it was actually named after Eugenius H. Outerbridge, first chairman of the Port Authority of NY/NJ. I didn't take any pictures of the first abandoned ships, as a) I'd taken some good ones in similar gray conditions the last time I was through this area during a Staten Island circumnavigation I did a couple of years ago, and b) I've bent the battery compartment door on my camera, so it's completely un-waterproof until I send it to Colorado for maintenance, but I couldn't resist this old ferry, the Astoria (probably one of the ferries that ran to Astoria, Queens until the mid-1930's).
Steve H., also going for his camera. I was glad he brought the hardshell - his other boat is a beautiful Greenland skin-on-frame, he'd done a lot of work on it over the winter and with all the wreckage around, a hardshell kayak & some close attention to where you are are good ideas.
For example, the edge sticking up out of the water that Steve's boat is pointed towards here? That's the edge of a mostly - submerged barge. Getting out to where the paddler in the distance is required a little careful picking your way.
This is also why kayaks are the best way to see the area. A motorboat, you simply couldn't get in very close. Shallow draft is where it's at. E. was actually maybe the smartest of us in a plastic boat.
A seriously beaten-up secondhand composite boat with a million scratches (like my Romany) is the next best thing!
There's another old ferry across the way. Funny story about that - when I was with Manhattan Kayak, we did a Graveyard of Ships trip. Problem was, none of us had been there. It was a huge hassle lining up cars, we really had to impose on the clients. Once we got there, there was this foul smell of chemicals coming from somewhere (the Arthur Kill is a very industrial area). A couple of the clients got to feeling not-so-hot. We saw the old barques down by the bridge. We saw the old Astoria ferry. We paddled across and paddled through this ferry. Then we turned around & went back to Tottenville. The trip was not repeated & went down in the MKC annals as "The Toxic Tour". "Underwhelmed" was about the kindest term I would apply to peoples' responses. The funny part? We completely missed the place I now think of as the ACTUAL graveyard, which is pretty much five or ten minutes north of where I shot this picture, just past Smoking Point. D'oh! Just the tiniest bit longer, and the Toxic Tour might have been redeemed!
I've been hearing rumours that they're starting to take some of the old hulks out of the Graveyard - something about condos, and cleaning up the view. I have to admit that I was actually a little worried about that as we were approaching. What if the place wasn't as fascinating an old junk pile as I remembered it? I always worry, when I'm a trip organizer, that somehow I've made it sound more interesting than it is & people are going to be let down...
Well, no one seemed to be disappointed with this one - and I think there may still be time for another Graveyard of Ships trip or two. A couple could be gone, but for the most part, everything was just as I'd remembered it.
The Kill was very quiet - this fuel barge was the biggest thing that passed us until right at the end. During the circumnavigation, it seemed like there was a veritable parade of giant freighters & tankers. Not so much this time. Maybe Sunday is still a day of rest for some.
Lunch break on Smoking Point - a lovely, peaceful, isolated beach -
with a stunning view of the Hess "tank farm". This is actually one of the things I love about paddling in this area - the contrasts between the parts that look like they must have looked 200 years ago, and the intensely industrial. E. made an interesting observation while we were looking at the old ships - "It's so peaceful in here", she said. And she was right - the old rusting boats blocked the wind & baffled the waves, and the loudest sound was birdsong. Now here on the beach? The loudest sound was the rumbling of thunder over there in Jersey. We saw some lightning. TQ checked the hour-by-hour weather on his cell phone. Great 50% chance of thunderstorms, 60%, 50%. We watched the storm all through lunch; it didn't give much indication of coming to see us. I suggested that we just go ahead & start back while things were cooperating, just staying close to shore. Worked fine. We had a bit of a headwind on the way home, but not as bad as the forecast had called for.
In fact we even got some sun on the way back. I felt sort of sorry that people had dropped out, because I don't think we ran into any conditions that they couldn't have handled - but then again, it was unsettled & it quite easily could have been worse if that Jersey thunderstorm had chosen to head our way. I'd put my non-waterproof camera away in a drybag just in case it started to pour. Pulled it out when I saw this guy coming down the Kill! Phew, I'd promised shipping. This counted!
Back at Conference House Park...
E. kicks back for a little well-earned relaxation at the end of a perfect trip (Belt Parkway traffic jam? What Belt Parkway traffic jam? Let us not discuss the Belt Parkway on a Sunday afternoon...). BTW, the structure up behind the trees? That is the Conference House, so named for a peace conference that was held there early in the Revolutionary War - the British were ready to let the rebels sign a peace treaty & go back to being good loyal subjects of the Crown. Obviously that didn't happen - the site of that non-occurence of course remains famous to this day.