Field Notes | Tackling the NYC Water Trail
As a New Yorker, my vacations are to other places, not to Times Square. But when I learned about the NYC Water Trail, which promotes paddling in all five boroughs, it compelled me to start planning. Then, last year, I paddled from Albany to Manhattan on the Hudson River Water Trail. Now I SUP year-round from the top of Manhattan and lead camping trips for kids. —Mac Levine
I loved seeing my city from the water. I can now drive over every bridge and say: "I SUP'd that." The camping had great views, tranquility and an opportunity to meet a wide variety of New Yorkers and their families experiencing nature. The goals of the paddle were to reach all five boroughs in one expedition and to raise awareness and funds for Concrete Safaris, a nonprofit I founded to get kids in Upper Manhattan to play, learn, and educate their communities outdoors.
I created a spreadsheet indicating day, mileage, start and stop locations, break locations, lodging, and contacts for the week. I pre-booked campsites at Floyd Bennett and Fort Wadsworth and arranged to stay on the properties of a local canoe club and a yacht club. One major challenge to paddling this urban trail was figuring out who might belong to a club in an area where I wanted to sleep. A faster paddler could have done more distance in fewer days, but I reached my max thus far at 27-miles in a day.
In theory the journey sounded like a great adventure; in reality, it felt like a live video game of my worst nightmare. I kept expecting the sky to open so the players could peek through the clouds to point and laugh, or tell me I was done. I hyperventilated for seven days. I loved competing against myself and enjoyed full-day paddles, but found it hard to eat enough calories with few places to stop.
STARTING / STOPPING POINTS
Day 1: Dyckman Street (200th) / Hudson River, Manhattan, through the Harlem River. Stop on the Bronx Kill. Portage (due to low water) of about 200 ft. to the East River, then to City Island, the Bronx.
Day 2: City Island down the East River through Hell Gate to Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Stop in Queens.
Day 3: Fort Greene down the East River through the Narrows and Coney Island Channel to Floyd Bennett Field (FBF) in Gateway National Recreation Area (GNRA), Brooklyn. In-water stops.
Day 4: Layover at FBF due to high winds (original plan was to SUP approx. 20 miles within Jamaica Bay)
Day 5: FBF through Coney Island Channel. Stop on east end of Coney Island. Across the Lower Bay of the NY Harbor to Hoffman Island. North to Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island (SI), GNRA.
Day 6: Layover in SI due to winds and two safety device malfunctions (original plan was to SUP 35 miles around SI and stay in Jersey City)
Day 7: Staten Island through the Narrows and Upper Bay of the NY Harbor along NJ to the Hudson River. Stop at 79th Street Boat Basin. Against current for last 6-miles to Dyckman.
Total Distance: Approximately 90 miles.
It was sunny except for two drizzles on the sixth day. The river and ocean ranged from tranquil to washing machines with .4 – 4.6 currents and chop. Traffic involved ferries, marine rescue, sailboats, jet skis, yachts, cruises, dinghies, container ships, and tankers.
Each bag was double-lined with heavy plastic. The tent and sleeping bag had their own double-liners.
Large Bag: sleeping bag/mat, tent, 2 tarps, ropes, bungee, 2 short-sleeved shirts, 2 tanks, 2 shorts, 4 bikinis, hoodie, rain jacket/pants, chair, book, bandana, gloves, batteries, towel, Hudson River Water Trail Guide, vest, 2 pairs/socks, long john bottoms, fin.
Medium Bag: Bear canister, food/cooking for 9 days, suntan lotion, bug spray, sanitizer, shower bag, duct tape.
Small Bag: Chargers, magazines, 3 Nalgene bottles, 6-L bladder, GoPro, first aid, Chaco's.
What I wore: Water shoes, neoprene socks, shorts, bikini, long/short-sleeved shirt, bright red rain jacket, hat, glasses, head lamp, PFD, leash, Spot, marine radio, charts, and a watch.
Explore New York City from the water in a photo essay from our Winter 2014 issue.
Thinking about going on a SUP adventure soon? Upgrade your gear with our 2015 Gear Guide.