Western Queens Green Resources Fair

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HarborLAB was a hit at the packed Western Queens Green Resources Fair! It was a happy, busy gathering at the Queens Library Broadway branch in Astoria, with lots of kids and fellow environmental groups like Transportation Alternatives, Recycle-a-Bicycle, GrowNYC, Green Guerillas, Bucky Buckaw, Smiling Hog’s Head Ranch urban farm, and neighborhood groups like Green Shores NYC.

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Organizer Lynne Serpe calls out another raffle round.

HarborLAB’s table was staffed by volunteers Danushi Fernando, Erik Baard, and Ricardo Grass. We displayed and explained navigation lights, safety signal strobes, current and tide charts, a children’s life vest, and other materials. We especially emphasized our coming New York City-based children’s programs in safer and cleaners waters than can be found in western Queens (an issue we continue to address — Hallets Cove is physically the most suitable spot but quite frequently has unacceptably high bacteria counts) and autumn’s inauguration of Catskill¬†Watershed Wonder Tours. The latter will let kids experientially learn about their drinking water sources by kayaking and canoeing on the Neversink Reservoir.

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Over the shoulder view of volunteer Danushi Fernando teaching kids about safety lights for navigation and emergency signalling.

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Mental note: Like crows, kids really go for the shiny stuff! ūüėČ Maybe we’ll raffle lights next year!

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A family at the Transportation Alternative display. We shared a table. Paddlers and pedalers unite!

The entire event was a huge success. One dramatic moment was when a young boy began to choke on his candy. Unfortunately, his mother began slapping his back to help him, which can do more harm than good. Proper first aid education is vital, especially given that choking is a leading cause of death in kids under fives years old. Erik rushed the boy and his mother to the next room because he happened to know that Queens Library event staff member¬†Chiamaka “Chi Chi”¬†Onyejiukwa (who has volunteered for future HarborLAB events) is also a nurse. As luck would have it, interrupting the back slapping allowed the boy to clear his throat just as Chi Chi swung into action. The boy cried for a bit, clearly traumatized, but we were all comforted that a nurse was on hand for an event with kids — these kinds of things can happen anywhere, anytime.

“Sun Voyage” Under a Supermoon

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Twilight’s last gleaming in the west channel of the East River, between East Harlem and Wards Island. Wards Island pedestrian bridge in background.

(Photos by Sally Attia, Ray Tan, and Rui “Ray” Li)

HarborLAB volunteers and friends enjoyed our inaugural “Sun Voyage” to annually benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It was an uplifting Summer Solstice tour, based on the Foundation’s sunset-to-sunrise “Out of the Darkness Walks.” This first outing was a small, give-what-you-can event, but we hope that our great experience and photos will inspire corporate groups and others with means to join us in future years to support this vital work. Suicide claims the lives of returning soldiers, gay youth, former breadwinners in the shrinking middle class, young people in minority communities unable to find living wages, depression sufferers, and others who have so much to contribute to our society. Even if you missed this paddle, it’s never too late to make a donation¬†to ¬†the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Our “Sun Voyage” began at one of LIC’s liveliest waterfront spots, Anable Basin Sailing Bar & Grill, which would be a great location for future years’ launch parties. Many thanks to owner Veso Buntic for hosting us! ¬†Some of our participants were good omens in themselves: Sally Attia hails from Egypt, land of the most famous sun god, Ra. And then there was the paddling duo sharing one of our boats — Ray and Ray. No kidding.

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Part of the HarborLAB crew on the Anable Basin Sailing Bar & Grill gangway. Premier sponsor TF Cornerstone’s (THANKS! — http://www.tfcornerstone.com/) developments in the background.

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Kids having fun while adults dine ar the Anable Basin Sailing Bar & Grill. There are also a variety of fruiting bushes and trees at this lively spot.

EJ Lee and Wes Miller weren’t paddling, but they helped immensely in our set up and launch, with irreplaceable support from Patricia Erickson and Dorothy Morehead. Launching from Anable Basin Sailing Bar & Grill was festive. It’s a rare spot that offers dining and an active dock (spud barge, generally for sailboats). And it’s kid friendly!

As the eastern sky darkened, the moon claimed our attention. Though the “supermoon” phenomenon was hyped, we were certainly entranced by this brilliant companion. We got our first chance to fully appreciate it as it rose over Hallets Cove (where Erik started the weekly public paddle program as founder of the LIC Community Boathouse) and new towers are starting to rise. A number of HarborLAB’s volunteers live in Astoria.

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Moon ascending over Astoria’s East River Tower.

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We had a mellow glide on glassy water paddling up the east channel of the East River, holding to the Roosevelt Island side to avoid bridge and power plant security zones. Dusk finally started to fade near the Blackwell Lighthouse. Infamous Hell Gate was placid though strong currents worked in our favor. A neat alignment is that when tide is high at The Battery in Manhattan, it’s a perfect point in the current cycle to launch a circumnavigation from LIC.

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“Supermoon” over Hell Gate. RFK Triboro Bridge leading to the moontrail.

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In the cove that was once the mouth of Little Hell Gate, a channel separating Wards Island from Randalls Island (and Island of Meadow) grows a stand of mulberries. We were a bit early for them but there were still plenty of ripe fruits to sample. There are a few places to pick fruit while paddling across the harbor, even from the seat of your kayak! One autumnal destination is the 100-tree apple orchard on Randalls Island that Erik and allies planted.

We entered the Harlem River, which tidally begins after the Bronx Kill, just as it was creeping out of slack water. We caught up with two kayakers we spied while we were snacking on mulberries. One was from Peekskill while the other hailed from Connecticut. The latter is a dedicated circumnavigator, looping Manhattan island eight times so far this year alone. The two friends were doing a double-circ, which Erik did in 2011. Both highly skilled whitewater mavens were exceedingly friendly, especially given their lack of sleep! But the best boasting rights go to Craig, who swam around the island on four occasions through the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim! Erik was his safety escort in the year 2000 and they’ve been buddies since.

We paused at the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse dock at Swindlers Cove, which is operated by Row New York through New York Restoration Project. Not everyone got out. We had a groove going and decided to keep our momentum. But with daylight and more time, it’s worth exploring the adjacent wetlands of Shermans Creek, Manhattan’s last natural saltwater marsh.

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Placid Harlem River, a few minutes away from arrival at the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse.

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Sally Attia, Craig Kandell, and Mairo Notton relax next to the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse on the Harlem River’s Swindlers Cove.

Rounding Inwood Hill Park through the Spuyten Duyvil was bliss. The scent of abundant honeysuckle reached us across the water. In the uplands grows Manhattan’s last primeval forest. The wall of the Palisades stood before us like broad-faced dark wave.

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A rare moon over a rare urban forest. Hudson River below.

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Ray and Ray!

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What beckons more, the dark expanse or the glittering string of bridge lights?

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Approaching the George Washington Bridge under a spotlight moon.

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The moon serves as a George Washington Bridge tower light as we paddle through a river dusted with gold.

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Sun Voyage participants frozen in fear under the La Marina guard tower’s spotlight. ūüėČ

As we took to the Hudson’s rolling waves, Ray Tan remarked that the water looked “like jello.” In the dark, with the high contrast of moonlit wave tops and inky wave faces, the water did seem more substantial.

We tried to pull in at the La Marina nightclub at Tubby Hook/Dyckman Street but encountered a wall of security as unyielding as the Palisades. We opted to press on to 79th Street Boat Basin (great cafe, sadly but expectedly closed), where the friendly dockmaster made us feel welcome. We hauled out and strolled uphill to Broadway for a hot meal at 2AM. That’s how NYC should be for all boaters, from kayaks to tugs: a seamless transition from streetscape to seascape, and we’re not talking about flooding!

As we paddled easily south, first light glowed softly through the street grid and gilded the glass facades of New Jersey’s business districts. Luna grew pink as she set down over the continent.

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Paddling a pink moontrail to NJ.

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A most marvelous shot of the moon setting by the Central Railroad Terminal of New Jersey.

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Soon enough the first real shine of the sunrise flared off the Jersey City waterfront.

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Approaching downtown Manhattan was like arriving at the Emerald City. Again we opted to press on, rather than stretch our legs ashore. The sit-on-top kayaks allow for more flexing and movement than conventional cockpit boats, though those are often elegant and gorgeous.

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Turning to pose in front of the World trade Center.

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Cruise ships file into the harbor early in the morning. It’s vital to plan trips to slip past terminals before their arrival so that we can stay 100 yards out (security zone) while also avoiding these behemoths on arrival.

As we swung around The Battery, letting the Hudson River’s ebb hand us off to the East River’s flood, the sun was like a blow torch. As Mairo remarked, we might have been better off with welders’ masks.

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Sun blazing over the Brooklyn Bridge.

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After our long lunar interlude, the sun resurged as the star (literally) of the show. We coasted quietly back to Hunters Point.  A load of wrap up and cleanup work followed, we slept every wink we could.

The Watershed Experience in Brooklyn Bridge Park

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A few media reps and DEP contracted photographers stopped by the HarborLAB booth. Photo by Manny Steier.

Our city’s drinking water reservoirs are located in regions chockablock with outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, fishing, biking, and of course paddling. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection, steward of this resource, organized called The Watershed Experience on Saturday in Brooklyn Bridge Park to promote tourism to these attraction just two hours north of NYC. HarborLAB was invited to share the good word about our coming Watershed Wonder Tours.

HarborLAB volunteers Manny Steier and Erik Baard had a great time meeting representatives from the Ashokan Center, DEP natural resources, Frost Valley YMCA, and other potential partners. Getting there and back was half the fun — Manny biked from central Queens and Erik paddled from LIC. On the way down, Erik skirted the margins of the Liberty Challenge race as outriggers rounded a buoy by the Brooklyn Bridge — underestimating the current they were bucking, one crew rubbed shoulders with the buoy!

Wes Miller, Pat Erickson, and Dorothy Morehead were critical in getting the show on the road. One terrific bonus for Manny and Erik was meeting the friendly and capable Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse crew, especially Darren (who came to the rescue with sunblock) and Charlie.

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Kids got a kick out of rolling in the grass in our boat, which is the same model as is destined for the Neversink Reservoir. We also served as referral booth for the Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse! Photo by Manny Steier.

A second treat, for Erik¬†was feasting on Amelanchier¬†growing in the park!¬†(Manny doesn’t eat food he’s not authoritatively identified.)¬†Amelanchier¬†look like blueberries but are more closely related to cherries and peaches. The fruit is variable across the species, but the ones in Brooklyn Bridge Park (on the north side of the kayaking embayment, at the entrance to the path leading up stairs) were as sweet as fruit punch. All varieties have small seeds at the center that taste like almonds.¬†In our region — especially the Hudson Valley — the most famous variety is known as shadbush¬†(Amelanchier arborea), because the flowers bloom as shad (a migratory fish that’s an historically important food and still a delicacy) swim back into the estuary on their way to northern spawning grounds. The large bush is also more morbidly known in New England as serviceberry, because its bloom occurs when the ground is thawed enough for burial of the winter’s dead. If you’re from outside of the East Coast, you may have heard of their close cousins, known as Juneberry or Saskatoon on the prairies. Erik plants these small trees through his Gotham Orchards project, and they grow in many soils. Some argue that they are great for waterfronts because of their salt tolerances, but report that they aren’t particularly salt tolerant. We’ll follow the confidence of NYRP that the species is able to survive occasional saline flooding.

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Amelanchier in Brooklyn Bridge Park! Photo by Erik Baard.