Well, here we are. Mere days shy of a new year, entering winter. Let’s all agree that this has been a heckuva year.
I hope everyone has gotten out to paddle. Whether you’re in the NYC metro area or farther afield, whether paddling on rivers, estuaries, or seas, every time I’ve gone for a paddle, I’v thought of my clients.
Some of you have known me for a while, and as I’ve watched you develop your paddling skills you’ve hopefully watched me develop my coaching skills. Some of you, perhaps only came to a single pool session, or for a lesson taught off a beach somewhere, but I still think about these one-offs.
I am saying thank you to you all. I’ve been teaching on my own now for about five years, under the banner of Tubby Hook Paddle Company. Maybe I’ve worked with you longer, from days at New York Kayak Company, or the work I did with Matt at Prime Paddlesports. It’s pleasantly jarring to think of how long I’ve been a paddlesports instructor, and in case it isn’t clear, I have no intention of stopping.
That said, it’s been a heckuva year (see above). To be honest I didn’t paddle from the time the pandemic hit NYC until the very end of May, and only did some personal paddling through June. By July, I started teaching again, but only in my local club, which set up some protocols minimizing the use of their boathouse.
At the time, so many regulations were changing at the state and local level, not to mention parks regulations, that it was challenging to promise being able to meet somewhere, provide a boat, and possibly equipment, all for a lesson. What if the venue was closed by the time we arrived? Many of you are sans car and while I’ve happily carpooled in the past, it seems unwise today.
The ACA camp at Lake Sebago was closed for a while, and when they re-opened they were not allowing classes like the two-day weekend course I’ve taught several years in the past. Even when I started to set up sessions away from the lake, at one point I nixed a surf class when there were shark sightings and beach closings near the venue. Parking was tough, with the better put-ins closed off by towns as well.
And yet, here we are. I did manage to run an ACA L3 sea kayaking skills assessment (thanks to those of you who attended). I was also able to steal away to Mount Desert Island in October for an instructor course, teaching and learning in the bigger, rockier environments that Maine offers, with some ace guidance from top Instructor Trainers. I also got out on a whitewater session, taking in a river that’s terrified my imagination but which, I’m happy to say, was both challenging and pleasant.
This year of Covid has forced a few changes. First, I’m changing services for email and for booking courses – hence email notifications will look a little different, and when I resume bookings again, that will look different too. Second, I’m sorry to say it’s highly unlikely that there will be a pool program to speak of this winter. While it looked like New York was doing pretty well, the overall resurgence in numbers has forced Dov and I to put any ideas on pause.
We know that sucks. We love to teach, and wish we could just work with students again like we used to. We’re looking forward to the day that we can.
For now, as the water temperature has dropped into the 50s F, those of you with drysuits and your own boat and kit, drop me a line if you’re interesting in some winter touring. As we get into the new year, I’ll come up with some course ideas, but they’ll probably be ad hoc at least until summer.
Be sure to check out the online store, too. I’ve got a couple of jackets, never used, as well as a variety of Kokatat Farmer-J neoprene. Some new Eldridges for 2021 have arrived and will be listed soon. I’m willing to make delivery in the NYC area; shipping further afield.
Be safe. Be well. Be kind. Hopefully we’ll paddle together again soon.
I was out with two long-time students at Democrat Point. Mid-September, after Labor Day. We’d been worried about possible thunderstorms, but that threat dissipated days before. It was a nice, partly cloudy, windy early fall day.
Long-time students are the exception rather than the rule. I’ve been instructing for a little over six years now, and in most of that time I might work with someone once or twice, and that’s it. The rare students I’ve had where I see them year after year, progressing, perhaps taking a year off for various reasons and then returning, well: it’s a welcome dynamic, to see someone else grow their passion and ability in the sport.
We were out here for fun, but also a paddling skills assessment. This meant we needed the right combination of wind, waves, and current. Democrat Point generally isn’t shy about that.
We set out from Oak Beach, paddling here and there to show off various strokes. With the current in our favor, we quickly made our way down to my favorite feature, a recirculating eddy that serves as a bit of a rough-water chairlift.
We played and maneuvered on the eddy line for a bit.
While boat traffic was relatively light, we were next to a channel for recreational and fishing boats. Guess who else likes to park their boats on moving, shoaling water? A bit of awareness was in order.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an assessment without self-rescues! There was a lot of rescuing that day – less for cause, and more for show.
After our play, we went out to the point itself, crossing the main boating channel to land at the beach on the far side. After lunch, we took a stroll to the point to assess the water. It was a bit tall and dumpy for surfing, and a bit confused owing to the wind.
Navigation was part of the assessment – knowing where you are, as well as how to get there.
On the way back, we tried a few presentation rescues – i.e. the casualty stays in their boat while the rescuer presents a boat or paddle for them to right themselves. It’s a rare sight in most of my teach, so it was nice to see it pulled off successfully several times.
I’m happy to say both participants displayed their abilities to the level of the tasks. For many people, kayaking, including sea kayaking, is simply touring in benign conditions, with the occasionally inconvenient weather or on-water incident. Being able to navigate, paddle, tow, rescue, and lead in a dynamic environment is a real step up in achievement.
I taught a 1-1 class last weekend, focusing on draws and pries.
A draw pulls the boat to the paddle. A pry pushing the paddle towards the boat. Put another way, the paddle can stay on one side of the boat while turning the boat one direction and then the other.
First a bit of practice on flat water; above it’s a bow rudder, which is effectively a bow draw.
Next, we tried staying in a small race that forms at the railroad bridge, as the Harlem ebbs into the Hudson. In the above, it’s a stern draw – rudder position but with the blade pulling the stern, effectively turning the bow of the boat away from the paddle.
Being able to turn the boat without changing the paddle’s position is a great skill to have in dynamic water, when you might not have time to change sides. Whether in surf, whitewater, or just playful waves, they’re a great addition to your collection of boat handling skills.
So, here we are. Still in the midst of a global pandemic, but thankfully, in the Tubby Hook area of operation, one that has fallen to a manageable level. Let’s all hope that this only changes for the better, here and afar.
June was the first month that I began paddling personally, for fun, on anything like a regular basis, and in July I taught some classes at a local club, trying out some ways to accommodate concerns about COVID-19. I really enjoy teaching and guiding, and surprised myself with how much I enjoyed getting back to it.
Here are some steps, in addition to what’s been previously posted, that I’m taking for programs for the remainder of the year.
Unfortunately, with the changing state and local restrictions, I won’t be posting any courses ahead of time. If you would like to work on specific skills, or take part in a journey, please email email@example.com
For now, no programs run from Tubby Hook in Manhattan. The parking area has been closed off, and while some group activities are allowed, it’s better in my opinion to avoid.
The ACA camp at Lake Sebago is open for member use, but not classes. This means no classes at the lake this year.
On land, wear a mask. It should go in a drybag for taking it along on the water. No mask required on the water.
I’m including hand sanitizer in my first aid kit, and asking that all clients bring their own. Think of it as another kind of sunscreen to have with you and apply regularly.
Bring enough food and water for yourself. We will not be sharing food or water, except in emergency.
Maintaining 6 feet distance as best as possible on the water.
Our main concern will be assisted rescues. When practicing, we’ll try to keep appropriate distance between rescuer and casualty, and try some other adaptations to be safe against Covid.
August and September are great times to be paddling in the Hudson River Valley. The water is as warm as it gets, and is refreshing in the summer heat. As Fall arrives, the foliage along the waterfront, especially the Palisades, can be quite beautiful.
Be safe, be well, be kind. I hope to hear from some of you, even if it’s just to keep in touch.
If you’ve been paddling for a while, especially with other paddlers, you may have heard about “stars” or “levels”. You may also have heard of the “American Canoe Association” or “British Canoeing”. This document describes what these are.
Awards in general are essentially a way to demonstrate that at some point, you were observed exhibiting all the skills required to qualify for an award. Awards are organized in a spectrum of skills, so there are entry-level awards to demonstrate accomplishment in paddlesport fundamentals, mid-range awards to demonstrate experience and skill, and advanced awards to demonstrate a high performance level. Awards are generally discipline-specific as well, for sea kayaking, whitewater, racing, etc.
Not everyone is interested in an award, but they are a good bit of shorthand when joining a group, guide, or club. To say, “I passed a level 2 skills assessment” or “I have a Three Star paddling award” can be useful for conveying to someone what your experience is. That said, most guides and instructors will still observe you, in case you’re rusty (or lying!), but it at least establishes a baseline expectation of your paddling ability.
Awards and their criteria are defined and managed by paddlesports organizations and their associated awarding bodies. I describe two below; there are others, but I’ve encountered them rarely and know little about them. Generally, you don’t need to be a member to take most courses listed with an organization, but you will need to be a member in order to receive an award.
The American Canoe Association (ACA) has representation around the world but is primarily based in the United States. Membership has an annual cost, with a base membership fee; additional fees apply for instructors and professional or semi-professional athletes participating in sanctioned events. There are a number of benefits to being an ACA member; notably for the NYC metro area, access to the ACA camp at Lake Sebago in Harriman State Park. Only ACA members may use the camp. ACA awards for sea kayaking run levels 1-4; there is a level 5 for some disciplines. You can learn more about the ACA’s awards, known as assessments, here.
British Canoeing (formerly known as the British Canoe Union or BCU; British Canoeing is the current name), also has representation around the world. British Canoeing re-organized their awards scheme, and there is now a free membership option. Most of the membership perks do not apply to members outside the United Kingdom, but there are free and low-cost online resources available to members. While known for the “Star” system, British Canoeing has done away with stars in favor of newly-named personal performance awards. Awards are generally delivered through a member’s “home nation” canoeing association; for non-UK residents this is British Canoeing International.
Which Awards and Awarding Bodies Are Right For Me?
There are only so many ways to paddle a boat. Most of the real differences between the ACA and BC are in how material is organized and presented, and also how they relate to their respective nations’ as governing bodies for competitive sports. The best coaches I have worked with have been qualified in both systems.
Put another way, there isn’t an ACA way to paddle forwards, nor is there a BC way to paddle forwards. Both organizations continually assess and revise their curriculum, and if you ever get to talking with someone who’s been around long enough, you’ll learn that everything old is new again.
Generally, work with whatever system your paddling mates are using, or what’s available to you locally. In the US that generally means joining the ACA and taking advantage of those resources. However, there are small colonies of great BC-trained instructors in New York and New England, so that path isn’t entirely impossible.
Julie (that’s me!) can deliver courses and awards in both the ACA and British Canoeing. I’ll be honest, keeping up to date in both schemes means training takes more time and resources. It’s been worth while.
If you want to know more, drop me a note. Most of the awards classes I have run have been for clubs, but if you’ve taken more than a couple of courses, or have been paddling a while, you’re probably ready for the challenge if you’re interested.
Force 4 winds, and near-freezing temperatures? Sounds like a great day for a trip!
I was pleased that two long-time clients agreed to join me on a cold November day’s journey from Inwood to the Bronx Kill last weekend. It’s one of my favorite local paddling trips, and the brisk temperature and wind made the trip, which is normally a bit of a lazy-river trip, into something more adventurous.
The Bronx Kill is a narrow creek that separates the northern side of Randalls Island from the Bronx. It’s a narrow passage, requiring portage at low tides, connecting the Harlem River with the East River, just above Hell Gate. The eastern end affords one of my favorite waterborne views in the city, looking out on the upper East River.
We set out from Inwood, paddling into a stiff F4 headwind from the NNE for about a mile with plenty of flood current. Not far out on the river, the collision of wind against current made for some sizable waves, and on another day we might have gone downwind surfing.
In this case, however, the overall distance would be about seven nautical miles each way, longer if we opted to venture out and around the Brother islands. Once we passed under the railroad bridge into the Harlem River, we were sheltered from the wind, and enjoyed a quieter paddle for about a mile.
Under the Henry Hudson Bridge, past Muscota Marsh and the Columbia “C”, site of the old Johnson Ironworks, then under the Broadway Bridge and turning south past the MTA railyard, we paddled. By then, the wind had subsided just a bit, and in any case was a tailwind, and we continued on past Peter Sharp Boathouse, the Washington and Hamilton Bridges, and High Bridge.
The Harlem River is a the most bridged waterway in New York City, as far as I can tell. Its history is curious, since until the nineteenth century it wasn’t really navigable; the area between the Hudson and the Broadway Bridge was more of a creek, one that was deepened and partially straightened out when Marble Hill was separated from Manhattan. The Harlem up to that point was more of a narrow, nearly-dead end tidal canal.
As it happened, I was at a local Revolutionary War re-enactment the next day, and picked up a printout of the area from that period. Look closely, and you’ll see how much more serpentine the water flowed back then.
We paddled down, past various other bridges, eventually arriving at the NYPD marina on the northwestern corner of Randalls Island. At that point, we entered the kill, and paddled along its mix of industrial and bucolic scenery, until we came to the railway and highway bridges at the end.
The Triboro (now RFK Jr.) bridge and Amtrak railway bridge extend over the kill, as well as a nice foot bridge connecting the island and the Bronx.
We paddled out to the mouth of the Kill, and contemplated cross further out to the Brothers. However, that would have exposed us to a strong wind abeam, and the shipping channel looking a bit busy with traffic. We opted instead to turn around and find a place for lunch.
We paddled back up the kill, then down the Harlem a bit more, and ended up having lunch in Little Hell Gate Park. A large marshy area has formed in the inlet separating what used to be Wards Island from Randalls Island, when the eastern end of the passage separating the two – the “Little” Hell Gate – was filled in to build a water treatment plant.
After a bit of rest, re-hydration, and use of facilities, we set out again, with plenty of current on our side, but a steady headwind most of the way back.
The trip was mostly uneventful. We were just paddling, seeing again the sights we’d seen before. The entire day had been free of traffic on the river, except for a Circle Line boat we saw pass by at lunch, and then the Manhattan II, a regular tour from the Classic Harbor Line.
One thing about paddling in New York City, you’re sure to be in other peoples’ scrapbooks!
As we came around the the Broadway Bridge, we were once again sheltered from the wind, and enjoyed the remaining mile or so to the Hudson. We were a little concerned because we could see big white waves on the Hudson, in the distance, but in the end they turned out to be farther out in the channel.
The last mile was uneventful, and with plenty of current, we arrive back where we started, unloaded and cleaned boats, and went our separate ways.
Most pictures of kayaking are sunny, beachy, summer. As we move into autumn, however, paddlers with Tubby Hook are reminded that proper sea kayaking may experience a wide range of weather, and there’s no reason to let a little rain cancel a trip.
These are some photos from a mid-October journey through Spuyten Duyvil and the upper part of the Harlem River.
We paddled north and then went under the railroad bridge at Spuyten Duyvil.
Onwards we paddled, past the Columbia C and under the Broadway Bridge, water dripping down through its grates in addition to the rain.
At the 207th Street Bridge, we took sight of our goal: the Peter Sharp Boathouse in the distance. A little further south, a Classic Harbor Line vessel would pass us.
At Peter Sharp, we took in a view of the Hamilton, Washington, and High bridges.
We got a heavier dousing of rain on the way back, between 207th street and Broadway, but after that, the weather lightened up. As we came around Spuyten Duyvil, we had a beautiful view of the Palisades, though considerably less visibility than when we set out.
All in all, it was a lovely paddle. Cool, clear of traffic, quiet except for the patter of rain. Proof again that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad attire.