Log of the John Magnus, Manhattan to Waterford, May 16-25
Day 1: Pier 40 (Hudson River Mile 2) to Alpine, NJ (HRM 18)
We left pier 40 at 8:45 am, about four hours after low water at the battery. Bronya Weinberg joined us as guest rower. Despite a favorable forecast, heavy rain began almost immediately, accompanied by a nasty north wind, and by the time we reached the George Washington Bridge it was 11 and we were soaked and cold. We decided to seek shelter at the little beach at the end of Dyckman Street, but as we approached, two paddlers beckoned us to join them at the Inwood Canoe Club, a few hundred yards south, and we wound up spending two hours there. It was a bit dispiriting to still be in Manhattan, but on the other hand it was a good place to warm up and dry out. That was serendipity, and so was our campsite that night. Our original destination had been Croton Point, an ambitious goal even on a good day. Having missed the best of the tide, we briefly considered leaving the boat on a mooring at Dyckman Street and starting over the next day. But one of the paddlers told us about some possible camp spots on the Palisades north of Alpine, New Jersey, and so we decided to push on. At 4:15, after some tough rowing against the tide, we arrived at Alpine Boat Basin, directly opposite Yonkers, and put in at a pretty little beach just north of the marina there. There were a few outdoor picnic tables and a large Adirondack-style structure with a covered deck on the second floor. The spot felt good, no one was around but a few fisherman, and in the end we wound up 'camping' right there on the wooden floor. Had someone come along and asked us to leave, our plan was to head north and find a spot at one of the many pocket beaches beneath the Palisades. But no one said a thing.
Day 2: Alpine to Croton Point (HRM 37)
We left about 8:30 and had a leisurely row and sail up the Palisades, meeting Riverkeeper John Lipscomb en route. "I'm glad that dog is lying down," he said as he snapped a few pictures--apparently dogs are considered environmentally incorrect in some Scenic Hudson circles. At about ten we stopped for an hour at the so-called Italian Gardens, an evocative spot at the foot of a large waterfall (and potentially a great campsite). Then we sped north under the Tappan Zee Bridge and through Haverstraw Bay with a big south wind filling in behind us--the wind that had been forecast for the day before. It was blowing hard and at times difficult to keep the boat from rounding up--lots of weather helm on that little rudder. We dropped sail, put in briefly on the west side under Hook Mountain, then shoved off and rowed the last few miles into Croton Point, arriving at 2:15. We pulled up on a little pocket beach to the west of the main beach, and called the manager, Mike, who said we were welcome to camp right there. We walked into town (about a mile) and stocked up at the supermarket, then grabbed a hot shower at the RV campground. It was amazing to sit out on the point that night and watch the stars wheel over the bay--20 or 30 million people live within fifty miles of that spot, and yet we had the place to ourselves.
Day 3: Croton Point to Denning Point (HRM 59)
We departed at ten along with guest rower Phil Weiss, who caught the train down from Cold Spring. The wind filled in again and we mostly sailed, giving the nuclear plant a wide berth and then stopping to picnic at Round Island, just south of the Bear Mountain Bridge (once a separate island, it's now the southern end of Iona Island, and part of Bear Mountain State Park). It's a natural lookout whose summit is covered with stone ruins--old soldier's quarters, no doubt--and to my mind would make a great campsite. The Hudson River Water Trail Guide, however, says it's off limits to paddlers. After lunch we sailed on, still with plenty of tide beneath us, past the grim ramparts of West Point and around the sharp elbow of World's End, then north again past Cold Spring, with the towering bulk of Storm King on the left and the rocky rib of Breakneck Ridge dropping down on the right. At Bannerman's Island a young couple working to clear trails there told us they couldn't let us on the island, but added that "we're leaving in ten minutes and whatever happens after that is not on our watch." So we got a good look at the ruins of the castle and the manor house, then rowed the last two miles to Denning Point, arriving at six, just a few minutes before a major thunderstorm broke. There's a good beach there on the west side of the peninsula, just north of the point. Phil ran to the train and came back with his car, we had dinner at his house, and then I hiked back out to the point to sleep near the boat, just in case. It's a great wilderness campsite opposite Newburgh where the rule is you pack everything out, including human waste, so we did that and also picked up another couple of bags of garbage, most of which seemed to have been left by fishermen. There also looks to be at least one good campsite/haulout on the inside the peninsula, facing Fishkill Creek.
Day 4: Denning Point to Poughkeepsie (HRM 76)
With a short day ahead of us we got a late start (11:15), rowed north and picked up Mike Sadowy in Beacon at noon. No sooner was he on board than the rain came on hard. We put in at Chelsea Yacht Club on the East bank and sheltered under a gazebo there, then sailed north past Wappingers Creek and a giant stone crushing plant to Pirate Canoe Club, a yacht club a couple of miles south of Poughkeepsie. Mike knows some people there, so we tied up for free and then drove to Mike and Betsy's house for pot roast and cobbler. It was still raining, off and on, so we decided to take our hosts up on their offer to spend the night there.
Day 5: Poughkeepsie to Kingston (HRM 92)
After pancakes and a morning run to EMS for rain pants (which of course insured that we would see no more rain for the rest of the trip) we launched about noon from Pirate Canoe Club, sailing closehauled into a west wind that kept veering annoyingly into the north. That meant a lot of rowing, which would have been fine except for the fact that the flood tide never really materialized--the current seemed to be against us all day (maybe because of all the rain). The sky began to lighten around Hyde Park, and we eventually stopped on beautiful, rocky Esopus Island, part of Mills-Norrie State Park (no camping there, but it is permitted on the east bank). After an hour's exploratory, we dropped Mike at Norrie Point, then made a long upwind row to Kingston--about seven miles north. We hugged the west bank, trying to stay out of the wind, but it was still a bit of a grunt, at which point I started thinking about a foot-pedal steering system that would allow all four of us to row at once. We arrived at Rondout Creek (Kingston) at 7:30, where we'd arranged to camp on the grounds of the Hudson River Maritime Museum--a terrific place for a layover, with lots of historic buildings and vessels nearby (not to mention the bars).
Day 6: Kingston to Inbocht Bay (HRM 109)
After a two-day stop in Kingston (I had business in New York, and took the bus down) we departed at 8 am, hoping to catch the second half of the flood tide. We rowed north under the Rhinecliff Bridge on glassy water as the Catskill Range came into view. Then a northwest breeze filled in and we hit an incredibly rough patch of whitecapped water--the last of the flood standing up in the breeze. When it calmed we crossed to Magdalen Island and took an hour to explore this fantastic place, said to be one of the main pow-wow spots for Indians traveling up and down the river (lots of no signs--no camping, no fires, no digging, even one homemade one that said 'no fun'). At noon, fighting a strong northwest wind and the beginnings of the ebb, we crossed to Esopus Creek and put in at a little park in Saugerties. We had pizza with Phil and his wife, who'd driven up from Cold Spring, and launched again at 5:30, figuring we'd waited out the bulk of the tide. That wasn't quite right--we had a hard two and a half hours making the next seven miles uptide and upwind--but at 8 we arrived at a large, round, and unnamed island in Inbocht Bay. A few steps in from the south side is a large, driftwood-filled clearing, a perfect campsite (though we found out later the whole island is 'critical habitat' and supposedly off limits from January to September). The tide was out so we had to roll the boat across a good hundred feet of mud flats to reach high ground, but the fenders worked fine.
Day 7: Inbocht Bay to Bronck Island (HRM 128)
Another 8 am departure, trying to make the most of the morning tide. An hour later, after a pleasant, windless three mile row, we stopped in Catskill to buy groceries and hardware (for the steering pedals) and to pick up guest rower Mark Boyer. Due to a combination of things, including a free haircut that Mary couldn't pass up, we wound up spending three hours there, and by the time we got back on the river the flood tide was mostly spent and the wind (out of the northwest again) was up. Still we had a pleasant row up to Athens, where we pulled in at the town park for lunch and to drop Mark. After that, the ebb picked up and we made only about four miles before putting in at Four Mile Point (on the west bank) to wait out the tide. At 6:20 we launched again, with the ebb still strong but all four of us rowing now, thanks to the new steering system. We stopped in Coxsackie for water, then continued on into the twilight. North of Rattlesnake Island we hit the only rock of the trip, though luckily it was with an oar and not the boat. We arrived at Bronck Island a little before dark but were unable to find the water trail campsite--it's actually a few hundred yards south of where it's marked on the map. After some flailing and a few passes up and down the shore, i finally plunged into the woods at the likeliest spot, whereupon a somewhat less-than-friendly kayaker in a headlamp appeared, asking 'Are you looking for the water trail campsite?' Camping there is on two 12-by-12 wooden platforms, with a composting toilet set up on the berm behind--pretty comfortable once you get used to the claustrophobic forest that closes in all around.
Day 8: Bronck Island to Waterford Harbor Visitor Center (HRM 158)
It was hard to get out of camp in the morning, and we finally got on the water about two hours later than i wanted to--at 10:45. But it didn't matter because this was the day we'd been waiting for: sun and a big breeze out of the south. In no time we'd sped by Schodack Island and covered the nine miles to Castleton, where the 'wild' Hudson pretty much comes to an end. A marina there let us tie up for a few minutes and make a sandwich run (check out the Peculium Cafe). Soon after the towers of Albany came into view. The tide slowed and turned against us, but the wind kept up and we sailed, with occasional boosts from the oars to get under the bridges, right up to Troy and virtually into the Federal Lock, which signals the end of the tidal Hudson. Above the lock the current felt strong against us, but the wind was really howling and we had a fantastic four-mile sleigh ride right into Waterford, where we arrived at 6:20 pm.
1) The boat is turned up on horses at the state maintenance yard in Waterford, located at lock #3 on the Erie Canal. Stored beneath her are four sweep oars, two sculling oars, the sailing rig, the self-steering rig, oarlocks, pins, and thole cords, assorted lines, bungees, and fenders, navigation lights, flashlights, a first aid kit, seat pads, and five life preservers--in short, all the gear necessary for onward expeditioneering, with the exception of:
--camping and kitchen gear
--tool/repair kit (make sure to include a wrench and pliers for the nut and bolt in the rudder, which tends to work loose)
2) Since we cannibalized the 2- and 3-seat footboards to make the steering system, it would be a good idea to take at least one more of Don's 'power footpads' (one is already there). It can be slotted under the aluminum bars (also on board) that fit into the floorboards.
3) The sleeves on the oars will need some adjustment to correct the pitch of the blades, particularly on the bow oar which is way out of whack whether you row it on port or starboard. The sleeves haven't been glued yet, so the adjustment can be made with a fine-point phillips head screwdriver. Note that the short oars (11'7") are for the bow and stroke seats, the long oars (12'1") for the two and three seat.