Hudson River Cruise, Manhattan to the Erie Canal, May, 2006!

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This is a visual log of a voyage up the Hudson from Pier 40, Manhattan, to Waterford, New York in the John Magnus, a 26-foot rowing gig named after an early 19th-century coxswain who won some famous races in a similar boat in New York Harbor. Four of us--Mary Betts, Maria Kearney, Randy Harris and I--plus Randy's dog Marshall left Pier 40 on May 16. Occasionally joined by 'guest rowers,' we took five days to reach Kingston at mile 92, laid over two days, and then took another three days to get to Waterford, at mile 158.

We liked the idea of going upriver--it felt more like we were explorers, as Randy put it--and since the Hudson is tidal all the way to the Federal Lock in Troy, at mile 154, we figured it would be just about as easy to go south to north as the other way around. In any event, we paid close attention to the tides and tried to ride the flood every day. When the wind was in the north, we rowed, but when it was in the south we stowed the oars and threw up a little sailing rig (standing lug). Our best day mileage-wise was our last, when we made 30 miles, mostly under sail.

Our plan was to camp along the way, and we wound up doing that every night but one, in Poughkeepsie, where a friend, Mike Sadowy, put us up. We bought and studied the Hudson River Watertrail Guide, which was invaluable, and used the 'official' campsites on three occasions: at Croton Point (mile 37), Denning Point (mile 59), and Bronck Island (mile 128). All of them were terrific, though Denning Point needed a good cleaning (we took out two hefty bags of trash, most of which looked to have been left by fishermen). In Kingston, by advance arrangement, we camped on the grounds of the Hudson River Maritime Museum on Rondout Creek, an excellent natural harbor full of historic buildings and vessles (not to mention bars).

The other two nights we spent in 'unauthorized' camp spots. On the afternoon of the first day, after a tough morning of unpredicted rain and north wind, we wound up on a cozy beach at Alpine Boat Basin (mile 18) in the Palisades Interstate Park, directly opposite Yonkers. We intended to continue north and camp at one of the many pocket beaches beneath the Palisades, but no one was around and in the end we rolled out our bags right there on the wooden floor of the picnic pavilion. On our sixth night out, we again found ourselves far from any official sites. Rowing uptide at dusk in Inbocht Bay (mile 109), near Cementon, we put in at an unnamed island and a few steps in from the south side found a lovely clearing filled with driftwood--easily the best campsite of the entire trip. Later, we heard that the island is strictly off-limits from January to September, but it's hard for me to feel bad about it. The restrictions aren't noted in the HRWT guide, there was no signage, and as elsewhere we scrupulously packed everything out (including our own shit).

I know there are a lot of bird people out there who will feel differently, but to me one priority in planning for the future of the Hudson ought to be the establishment of regular campsites for small-boat voyagers in places like the Palisades, Inbocht Bay, and, while we're at it, somewhere in the Poughkeepsie area. The Hudson is a freeway--arguably, America's first freeway--and while I'm all for IBAs (Important Bird Areas), it makes no sense to try to 'recreate' pristine, human-free wilderness zones in places where trains and barges run all night, islands are made of dredge spoils, and, in any case, people have roamed for millenia. Put another way, the key to conservation is not fence-building but stewardship, and the key to stewardship is, I believe, respectful access.

The John Magnus is currenty sitting upside down on sawhorses in the state maintenance yard at Erie Canal Lock #3, waiting for another crew to take her on--either north to Champlain or west to the Great Lakes. A number of her sister gigs are available for public rowing, free of charge, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the Floating the Apple boathouse on Pier 40. Go check 'em out!

--Rob Buchanan
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Click here for a more in-depth, day-by-day account of the trip
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