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