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East River Bridges

First visits to: Throg’s Neck Bridge, Whitestone Bridge, Riker’s Island Bridge, Hell Gate BridgeRobert F. Kennedy (Triborough) Bridge (Randall’s Island to Queens); [name] Bridge (under construction)

Repeat visit to: Queensborough (59th Street) Bridge (Manhattan to Roosevelt Island); Ward’s Island (Randall’s Island) Bridge

Route Map – 14.5 miles     More photos on Facebook       (click on any image for a larger view)

Our expedition: Luis M, Nick B (behind), Rosalba, Larry L, me (RaNae), Violet D, Bob, Carlos N, and Derrick M from our launch site at Fort Totten, with the Throg’s Neck Bridge in the background.

Saturday, September 29 we paddled from Fort Totten to the Long Island City Community Boathouse (LICCB) with 7 members of Sebago Canoe Club and LICCB.  Our friend Larry L, who accompanied us on last week’s circumnavigation of Jamaica Bay, organized the trip for us, including transporting kayaks by car to and from Fort Totten.

The day got a bit of a rocky start when the 7 train shut down due to electrical problems, forcing Rosalba and I to re-route our trip to Long Island City.  Eventually we got there via the E train, where Bob and Violet picked us up.  Nevertheless, we made it to Fort Totten Park in time for our 11:00 launch.

Bridge #1 for the day was the Throg’s Neck Bridge.

The Throg’s Neck Bridge, from Fort Totten Park

After passing under the Throg’s Neck, we paddled past amazing waterfront properties along College Point en route to the Whitestone Bridge.

The Whitestone Bridge

After passing the Whitestone Bridge we had to make a decision, whether to go north past Riker’s Island — where the prison is — or to go south of it in order to pass under the Riker’s Island Bridge. We weren’t sure if the bridge was a restricted area, but decided to go for it and hope for the best.

In order to take that route, we had to paddle past the end of one of the runways at LaGuardia Airport.  It was pretty wild watching planes take off right over our heads.  It felt as if you could hook your paddle over the landing gear and fly away.

As it turns out, we were able to pass under the Riker’s Island Bridge.

The Riker’s Island Bridge

We decided to stop for lunch at Barretto Point Park (the appeal of clean flush toilets was irrestible). Not only did this give us a rest, but it let a bit of time pass so we would not be going through Hell Gate at full ebb tide, which, as NYC kayakers know, can be a pretty wild ride.

A barge was coming down the channel behind us around North Brother Island, so we waited for it to pass in an inlet off the northeast corner of Randall’s Island where we spotted another bridge, this one currently closed for reconstruction.  That’s Nick, one of the trip directors from LICCB and a super-experienced kayaker, who represented LICCB on the trip.  [name of this bridge?]

Once the barge passed, we headed into Hell Gate. We have heard many stories about how treacherous the current can be here, so we were quite glad to find it relatively calm. The bridge is beautiful, and we got a fantastic view of both the Hell Gate Bridge and the Triborough Bridge as we passed.

The Robert F. Kennedy (formerly Triborough) Bridge has three spans. Rosalba passed under the Manhattan-Randall’s Island span on the Manhattan circumnavigation but we had not yet visited this span, which goes from Randall’s Island to Queens.

Coming around the bottom of Randall’s Island, we got this beautiful view of the Ward’s Island (Randall’s Island) Bridge.  (Rosalba visited it on the Manhattan circumnavigation, but it was at night so the pictures didn’t turn out.)

Traveling south from Randall’s Island, we took the western channel past Roosevelt Island, passing under the Manhattan span of the Queensboro Bridge.

Finally, making a hook around the south end of Roosevelt Island, we arrived back at LICCB.  We quickly stowed our gear and took off because the Gowanus Dredgers’ fundraiser was that night.

It was another fantastic day of kayaking. (Did I mention the air was cool and the water was warm?) Thank you Larry for setting this up, to LICCB for their generous assistance and to everyone who joined us.  See you on the water again soon!

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First visits to: Queensboro Bridge (aka 59th Street Bridge), Roosevelt Island Bridge

Route map            More Photos       (click on any image in this post for a larger view)

Erika M and Rosalba under the Queensboro Bridge, with the Roosevelt Island Bridge in the background. This photo will appear (upside down*) in The Big & Awsome Bridges of Portland & Vancouver, the first-ever kid’s book about this historic collection of bridges, written to bring engineering science to life in elementary classrooms.

Click here to learn more about the Big & Awesome Bridges project.

RaNae & Juan Carlos all lined up and ready to cross the East River with the rest of the LICCB group. The Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island Bridges are in the background.

Erika and Rosalba approaching the Roosevelt Island Bridge.

Rosalba and I joined Long Island City Community Boats this morning on their paddle from Anable Basin to Hallet’s Cove, where they offer community-sponsored free kayaking. Along the way we logged two new bridges – the Queensboro Bridge and the Roosevelt Island Bridge. We went in two boats this time, accompanied by Erika (aka Elika) M in Rosalba’s boat and Juan Carlos P in my boat. This way we were able to take photos of each other at the bridges. And we made two new friends who hopefully will accompany us on future adventures!

Before heading home on the subway around 1:00 we stopped for a visit at Socrates Sculpture Park and its Greenmarket. It is now 4:30 p.m. and pouring. I hope you LICCB folks headed home before the rain!

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*Why will the picture appear upside down?

There are three bridges in Portland built by the famous New York bridge engineer Gustav Lindenthal. Lindenthal was the NYC Commissioner of Bridges in the early 1900s. He came to Portland in the mid-1920s to design two bridges across the Willamette River in Portland and finish a third. The Ross Island Bridge designed by Lindenthal looks almost exactly like the Queensboro bridge turned upside down. In Sharon’s book, the photo of the Queensboro bridge sits right next to a drawing of the Ross Island bridge and you can see the similarity.

First visit to: Verazzano Narrows Bridge
Repeat visits to: Williamsburg Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge

Route Map           More Photos      (click on any image in this post for a larger view)

The Verazzano Narrows Bridge much the way it looked as we floated under it just before dawn. (Photo from meandmysansar.blogspot.com)

Rosalba and I landing on the beach at Coney Island

Rosalba and I joined a group from Long Island City Community Boathouse led by the intrepid Ted G on a kayaking trip from Long Island City to Coney Island — by night! We left the boathouse at 1:30 a.m. and paddled down the East River with all the lights of New York City glittering around us like a galaxy. There was almost no traffic as we paddled across the very quiet, calm New York Upper Harbor and through the Buttermilk Channel (between Governor’s Island and the Brooklyn waterfront) before landing for a short rest in Red Hook (near where we had key lime pie last weekend). Then it was on again to the Lower Harbor before crossing under the Verazzano Bridge just before dawn. The sea at slack tide was glassy smooth and the same color as the sky; looking out toward the ocean the horizon all but disappeared and we were suspended in this amazing quietude of blue. We rounded Sea Gate as the sun came over the horizon, and landed on the beach just below the Coney Island tower a little before 7:00. The only other people on the beach were a church group performing baptisms.

Rosalba in our kayak on the beach at Coney Island, with the church group in the background

At 9:00 the CIBBOWS – Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swim – began. We participated in swim support, guarding the jetties along the beach and keeping swimmers on course. By 10:00 it was over; we got the boats off the beach then Rosalba and I caught the subway home as we had arranged before the trip with Ted. His plan had been to continue on to Breezy Point before trailering the boats back to LIC later in the afternoon, but once the boats were off the beach everyone else decided they were too tired for that, and as we were leaving the rest of them were preparing to load up the boats and leave as well. We were home by noon.

Our only glitch of the trip was that while beaching the kayaks after swim support we got caught in the surf at the last minute and rolled onto the beach. I felt a bit stupid, but then woman in the next kayak rolled hers too so I didn’t feel quite so bad! No damage done, just a LOT of sand in my ears!

We calculated that we traveled about 17 miles, and it was only our second significant kayaking expedition. All in all, another legen . . . DARY experience!

First visits to: Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge

Route Map              More Photos      (click on any image in this post for a larger view)

The Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges (Photo from panoramio.com)

The weekend started simply enough: I thought it would be nice to go kayaking on Saturday. This would be, except for a short paddle at Manhattan Boathouse a few weekends ago, Rosalba’s first kayaking experience.

I texted Victoria to see if the Long Island City Community Boats (LICCB) were doing their thing that day. She texted me back that Saturday was City of Water Day at Governor’s Island (GI), and a group from LICCB was kayaking from LIC to GI to participate. By the time I got the message they were well on their way, if not already there, but I texted her that we would come down and would come prepared in case there was some way we could kayak back with them.

Kayaks “parked” on the hill above Pier 101, Governor’s Island (Photo by Violet D)

We got down to GI around 2:00. I had thought that LICCB was doing on-the-water demos, but they weren’t – their boats were all on a hill above the dock (along with boats from several other clubs). No one was around, except for one person who said that the group was meeting there to leave at 5:00.

We came back at 5, and that’s when the serendipity started.

We discovered that there were no places available in the boats going back to LIC. But there was a second group camping on GI for the night and going back with the tide at 2:00 on Sunday. It turned out that one couple that was supposed to go with the Saturday afternoon group missed their launch and needed to go back on the ferry/train, so someone asked if we wanted to stay overnight and row their boat back. Rosalba was game for it, so we decided to stay. It was her first camping experience.

Kevin, Violet D, Me, Rosalba F, Dedrick, Bob & Ted G camping on Governor’s Island

Rosalba had made several roast beef sandwiches the other day and had three left over in the fridge. Instead of packing only two, she packed all 3. So, we had at minimum half a roast beef sandwich each for dinner. As it turned out, everyone in the group just put stuff on the communal table and we all ate from whatever was there. It seemed kind of like loaves and fishes. And, the event organizers had arranged to have grills and hot dogs, and they shared the hot dogs with everyone camping out there. SOO good – I haven’t had a hot dog burned over an outside grill in years. And Rosalba had her first hot dog!

Me, Rosalba and Violet pitching tents

Now, camping is not allowed on GI, BUT, just for this event, they allowed the kayaking groups to camp. Imagine: camping in New York City! But of course we didn’t have a tent. No problem –Ted, the trip leader had two and offered to let us use one. The next morning he and several others were leaving around 5 a.m. to do swim support for the Brooklyn Bridge swim. The car that had carried his tents to the island was leaving at 9 but he wasn’t going to be back until after that. So, Rosalba and I broke camp the next morning and got his tents on the truck. Worked out great for everyone!

As for clothes, I had worn athletic shorts and a sports bra top under my brown wrap dress, but I still would have liked something other than sticky, sweaty clothes to sleep in. While we were eating dinner a guy came by offering us event T-shirts. Voila! – pajamas! – which also served as a shirt with sleeves for better sun protection the next day. Meanwhile, the wrap dress served as a blanket when the temperature dropped in the middle of the night.

Through the course of the evening, a variety of complete strangers shared with us their Frisbee, their homemade chocolate chip cookies (Rosalba’s first), and even their toothpaste (which we used with a finger for lack of a toothbrush, but it was far better than nothing!).  And when we needed flashlights, I remembered that I had recently gotten mini-flashlights at a trade show and had put them on both Rosalba’s and my key rings.

After dark, five of us were listening to music and trying to dance, but a family with kids asked us to quiet down. So, we took iPhones etc. down to the dock. The two guys – Kevin and Dedrick – were discussing different types of Latin music, and eventually the conversation got around to tango. Rosalba said she had Gotan Project on her iPhone, so I started teaching her to dance tango. Picture this: there we are under the stars on the dock, with the Manhattan skyline in the background, dancing tango.

The next morning we broke down the tents and got them on the truck, cleaned up the camp site and left to take a walk around the island. After about half an hour, just when we were getting to the tip of the island, Rosalba commented that she was feeling rather sleepy. So was I, for that matter. (Despite the hot day, the night had become rather chilly, and though we had a tent, we had slept without sleeping bags, blankets or mattresses.) Then we turned a corner and there before us was a big, beautiful, grassy picnic area with . . . HAMMOCKS! We grabbed a couple of them and settled down for a nice, long nap.

I had set the alarm on my phone for 1:00, the time we needed to be back at the boats to prepare for a 2:00 launch. I woke up around 11:20 and realized that this was too late – we needed to leave where we were no later than 12:30 to make it on time. So I turned on my phone (which I had turned off to save battery power) and reset the alarm. For some reason, the “off” switch was giving me problems, and as I was trying unsuccessfully to turn off the phone, it rang. It was Victoria (who had gone back to Manhattan the day before) calling to say that the group had decided to leave an hour earlier (someone had called her and asked her to call me, since I had neglected to leave my number with anyone), so they were meeting at 12:00, not 1:00. If she had called even a couple of minutes later, the phone would have been turned off, she would have missed me and I would not have gotten the message.

It was now 11:30 so we packed up and got moving. We walked over to a nearby food truck to get something to eat on the way back, and just as we arrived, so did the tram.  What timing! We jumped on and were back at the main ferry landing in under 10 minutes. With a quick stop at the restrooms, we made it back to the boats right on time at noon.

Eating key lime pie at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies in Red Hook. YUM! (Photo by Violet D)

The reason for the time change was that the group decided it was too hot to sit around on the island until 2:00 when the tide would turn upstream, so they decided to paddle south with the still-outgoing tide to go swimming in a protected cove in Red Hook (Brooklyn). We had a lovely swim, and it turns out that there’s a little shop there on the dock that sells key lime pie so of course we had to indulge! (Another first for Rosalba.) (http://stevesauthentic.com/wpnew/)

Approaching the Brooklyn Bridge. This is the moment when we started coming up with the idea to kayak to all the bridges in New York City. (Photo by Violet D)

At 2:30 we headed upstream with the tide. The views of Governor’s Island and the downtown skyline were amazing. Rosalba, I learned on the trip, specializes in structural engineering for bridges, so she was especially excited to paddle under the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. (We were in a double boat by the way, and paddled really well together.) About the time we passed under the bridges it started to rain a bit which only made the whole adventure more fun. I started singing “Singing in the Rain” at the top of my lungs and Rosalba yelled out “I love you RaNae!” (as in, “I’m having so much fun and I’m so glad I ended up living with you!”). Fortunately the rain wasn’t heavy and didn’t last long, and the thunderstorms that were predicted stayed north of Manhattan.

(A note about paddling on the East River, and New York City waterways in general: Ferry boat captains call kayakers “speed bumps”. :S Boaters beware!)

At about 23rd Street we rafted up and let the current carry us about as far as the United Nations. Then we crossed the river at Uthant Island (a rock near the U.N. just big enough for a a few dozen cormorants and seagulls) and pulled into the LIC dock around 5:00. We helped wash and stow all the gear, then took the subway home for long, cool showers and dinner (pasta, of course) – in that order.

At the end of the night, I told Rosalba about how Barney Stimson, a character in the TV show How I Met Your Mother, describes adventures like this: they are “Legen . . . (wait for it, wait for it, wait for it) . . . DARY!”

Perfectly put, Barney, perfectly put.

It all began on July 14th, 2012. I (RaNae M) took Rosalba F, the Italian engineering graduate student living with me for the summer, on what was supposed to be an afternoon excursion to Governor’s Island that we thought would include about half an hour in a kayak. The tide of events turned (as it were) on the spur of the moment, and suddenly we were on a 2-day overnight camping and kayaking trip, thanks to our friends at Long Island City Community Boathouse. We camped with them overnight on Governor’s Island, and the next day paddled south for a swim at Red Hook and then northward — in a rainstorm — home to Long Island City. Along the way we passed under the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge, and that’s when I learned that Rosalba’s engineering specialty is bridges. Somewhere during the course of the next week we cooked up the idea of visiting all the bridges in New York City — by water as much as possible — before she goes back home to Italy in December.

We could not even begin to accomplish this goal without generous encouragement and assistance from Victoria O, Steve E and Ted G of the Long Island City Community Boathouse, as well as many others who are assisting us and becoming friends along the way.  Our sincere gratitude goes out to them and to the many, many waterway enthusiasts who share their time and efforts to help make New York City’s waterways accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

This blog is the story of our adventures.