10 Kayakers versus Ferry, Hudson River. And the winner is…

On August 30th, a group of 10 kayakers was basically run over by a NY Waterway ferry that was backing out of its Manhattan slip into the glare of the sun in the western sky.  Several were injured; two seriously.  It’s all under investigation of course.  Not many other facts have been reported so far and thus it’s hard to piece it all together.

The kayak company involved claims to not have had a collision before in its 20-year operating history.  But the incident does beg some questions…

  • Was the kayak group being reckless, passing close by an active ferry dock?
  • Did the ferry sound a proper signal and post a proper lookout?
  • Are New York Harbor and the Hudson & East Rivers even suitable environments for kayaks and stand-up paddleboards?

There’s been a large increase in kayak and even paddleboard activity around Manhattan recently. It’s cheap, easy access to the water.  But the water moves – fast.  There are strong currents that make real sailboats stand still against the skyline while sailing full tilt.  Then there’s the traffic.

“You have every single marine traffic situation that is known to man, every single day.  You have high speed ferries of different sizes that have different routes, you have pleasure craft, you have ocean liners, you have commercial dredges.  It all exists here.  You see kayak and paddleboard people on the Hudson River with a 3- or 4-knot current at dusk — it’s insane.”

-Captain Frank Crescitelli, fishing charter captain (“Fin Chaser”) based in New York Harbor.  (As quoted in the NY Times article referenced below.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (New York Sailing Center’s location on City Island, half the length of Manhattan away from it but light years away as far as the boating and sailing environment), we have the Touring Kayak Club near our moorings.  They launch from their own ramp in City Island Harbor.  Sometimes, I think they stray a bit far from their base, but the traffic conditions are far more manageable and predictable here.  Plus, currents can usually be swum against, so paddling against them is a cinch.

TKC is a private membership club that no one seems to know much about. The last time I checked, they were wait-listed.  At New York Sailing Center, we are planning to introduce kayaking and perhaps boardsailing (“windsurfing”) in 2017.

As for NY Harbor and the Rivers, it’s hard even for non-capsizing sailboats to manage all the logistics and stay safe on, much less enjoy, the waterways.  We keep hearing of collisions and capsizes – yes, capsizes with non-capsizing sailboats!  Why?  They push it.  They fly spinnakers without enough experience, training, or regard for weather.  So, they flip ’em.  And, sometimes sink ’em.  Seriously?  Yup, so just say no to SUP…

“It’s a super-accessible way to get exposure to the waterways, where there is a really undiscovered part of New York City; there’s a mystique to it. But if you’ve never experienced a 40-knot vessel coming at you with a kayak, that’s a problem.”

-Elias Vaisberg, who runs kayak fishing tours out of Staten Island.  (As quoted in NYT article referenced below.)

The quotes above were from the NY Times article about it on August 30 titled “Recreation and Commerce Collide on New York’s Crowded Waterways” by 

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America’s Cup and why Sailing the Hudson Still Sucks…

So, the America’s Cup came to New York earlier this season, and it was half empty.

The world’s best sailors and boats – and they couldn’t even get a series off on day one?  They lost half the weekend.  Was it sailable?  Eh….

It was at City Island.  We had a fine time.  But on the Hudson, they had strong enough currents to make it unsailable.  On Sunday, they were sometimes standing still after maneuvers.  Sure, the wind was a little light.  But not THAT light.

This is just one example.  It’s an historical conundrum.  Why do so many people (try to) learn to sail in NY Harbor and the Hudson, when pro sailors can’t figure it out?

  • Perceived proximity
  • Marketing hype
  • The ? factor (as in we just don’t get it)

Don’t take our word for it!  This shot, and the following article excerpts, sum it up nicely.  One of our instructors recently took this picture of a picture.  It was on the wall of another sailing school (down Mid-Atlantic way…)

krunch
Real? Photoshopped? Don’t know… but we know this scene has happened on numerous occasions with several schools in New York Harbor and the Hudson.

And now, back to the America’s Cup from earlier this summer…

Read the following article excerpts, or the whole article via link at bottom, and imagine trying to learn to sail or even enjoy new skills (if even acquired) in NY Harbor and the Hudson.

-from Extreme Sailing to Meet Extreme Conditions on Hudson by Cory Kilgannon (New York Times, May 5, 2016)

nb: we’ve inserted some editorial notes here and there, indented like this.

“Holding a world-class sailing race, part of the America’s Cup series, off Battery Park City may make for spectacular shoreline viewing, but it is not easy for organizers or racers, who may prefer a location farther offshore with easier winds to navigate and little interference from other boat traffic.”

“The race poses daunting logistical challenges. There is the harbor traffic — ferries, tugboats, barges and other large vessels that ply the Hudson — that must be diverted, along with a designated area for the more than 700 personal recreational boats expected to anchor for the event.”

…not to mention Circle Line, the Shark Speedboat Thrill Ride, various large booze cruise boats, etc.

“Then there is the rapid current of the Hudson River as well as effects on the wind by the tall buildings flanking the racecourse, both in Manhattan and on the other side of the river in Jersey City.”

The current is so strong that anyone who’s spent a little time sailing here has had their boat ‘in the groove,’ going full tilt, only to look at the shoreline and see that they’re just standing still.  All boats down there need engines to deal with this and usually get underway and stop under power.  Doesn’t teach how to do it under sail…

The wind sheers and downdrafts created by the buildings are neither pleasant nor productive.

“All of which complicates the task of timing the races to start precisely at 2 p.m. for live coverage of the regatta on Saturday and Sunday.  Races have been held near urban areas before, including in San Francisco and Gothenburg, Sweden, but they have never been staged this close to a downtown area.”

“Organizers have met for months with New York City officials and law enforcement agencies and other parties. Commercial shipping companies have agreed to work around the race times, and a separate lane will be established near the shoreline for ferries and other vessels.”

Sailing school activities (classes, club sails, and races), cruising boats visiting, sailing tours and charters, etc. don’t get this kind of special attention at all and must scurry out of the way of all the commercial traffic – which comes from every direction at once.

“For sailors, a major challenge will be the Hudson’s wind and current conditions. To adapt to the strong tidal current, which during the race will be running south with the outgoing tide, organizers are using heavier anchors and longer chains than usual to secure the race buoys, which are called marks.”

The strong current coupled with light winds wound up killing Saturday. Whole day lost.  (This is supposed to be a competition of the world’s best sailors on fast, high-tech boats capable of speeds over 40 knots.)

“As for the air, the canyon of high-rises in Manhattan’s financial district and in Jersey City could negatively affect the all-important wind that is the sailor’s fuel.”

“For sailors, a major challenge will be the Hudson’s wind and current conditions. To adapt to the strong tidal current, which during the race will be running south with the outgoing tide, organizers are using heavier anchors and longer chains than usual to secure the race buoys, which are called marks.”

“Practice races on Friday will be filmed for use in case conditions on Saturday or Sunday prevent the regatta.”

Welcome to Manhattan, the Mecca of metropolitan Sailing!..   NOT.

Here’s a link to the entire article with a few pics.

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