My First Kayak Commute

Family kayak trip in the Croton River.

Adventure Sunday kayak trip in the Croton River with family and friends.  We had remarkably beautiful weather for the kayak portion of our adventure on an otherwise rainy day.

In the previous post, I described the genesis of the idea of a kayak commute and some of the initial steps taken towards bringing that idea to reality.  I acquired an Oru folding kayak, went out on a guided trip across the Hudson, and honed my kayaking skills with family and friends.  The foundation had been laid for me to complete my first solo kayak trip across the Hudson as part of my daily commute.

Wading in the Croton River on a family kayak trip.  The water here is the cleanest and clearest I've seen in any NYC-area waterway.  Perhaps that's because the source for this river happens to be NYC's oldest municipal water source still in use.

Wading in the Croton River on a kayak trip with family and friends. The water here is the cleanest and clearest I’ve seen in any NYC-area waterway. Perhaps that’s because the source for this river happens to be NYC’s oldest municipal water source still in use.

But first, I needed some more practice.  Kayaking did not at all come naturally to me at first.  In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I fell in the Hudson each of the first two times I went in a touring kayak.  For those who are not familiar, touring kayaks are the long and narrow kind which you sit inside, and are far less stable than the recreational, or sit-on-top, kayaks typically made available to casual users.

The ORU kayak fully assembled and ready to go out on the pier at Pier 96, Manhattan Community Boathouse.

The Oru kayak fully assembled and ready to go out at Pier 96, Manhattan Community Boathouse.  Cruise ship in the background coincidentally has my parents on board.

I chose to try out the Oru kayak in a protected environment where I could receive help if needed.  I have been volunteering with the Manhattan Community Boathouse at Pier 96 for the past several weeks, and all the other volunteers there have been exceptionally helpful.  Volunteers also get free access to premium equipment not available to the general public, such as the self rescue kit featured here.

And so, on a particularly hot and sunny Sunday afternoon, I took my kayak down to their dock.  At home unfolding took about 20 minutes, and it was even faster out on an open pier rather than inside my cramped apartment.  I also attracted a small crowd of curious onlookers, precisely as all the reviews had suggested would happen.  But then it was time to get in the kayak and go out on my own.

The view sitting inside my kayak and facing Pier 96.

The view sitting inside my kayak and facing Pier 96 and the far west side of Manhattan.

My initial impression was that the kayak felt noticeably lighter and flimsier than the 60 lb plus touring kayaks I was used to.  On the one hand, that made it very easy to carry back and forth from the dock to the water.  On the other hand, it also meant the kayak was easily tossed around and carried by the wind.  At one point a wave caused the kayak to slam front-end first into the wooden pier, causing a bit of damage to the rubber water seal I later repaired with some glue and a spare bike tube.  Nevertheless, after just a bit of practice I was making my way across the embayment with ease.

The waters are noticeably calmer inside the embayment, and although the 12′ Oru feels slightly more stable than the 17′ “Necky” touring kayak I used with NY Kayak Club, it is still a touring kayak.  Remaining upright requires consistent attention and stable posture.  Given my past experience crossing the Hudson, that meant a possibility of a wet exit and self rescue could not be ruled out, and I must be ready.

in the middle of a self-rescue following a wet exit.

Climbing back into the Oru, practicing a self-rescue following a wet exit.

I enlisted the help of one of the lead volunteers to watch me intentionally capsize my kayak and help direct me back in from the water.  The experience was challenging but overall quite encouraging, as I managed to get back inside the kayak and moving again in just a few minutes.

Back at the pier, though, I noticed that my 28-lb kayak was now weighed down by an additional 50-100 lbs of water.  Using the bilge pump to bail out most of the water prior to getting back on shore is apparently not optional.

The ease with which the Oru kayak fills up with water also convinced me to follow through on some advice I had heard from multiple parties.  While the Oru kayak certainly floats well without any additional flotation, Oru does sell specially designed float bags to displace some of the water in the event of a catastrophic capsize.  This prevents the kayak from becoming completely inundated with water and effectively unmaneuverable.  I placed my order for float bags the next day.

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Taking the kayak to work on the ferry.

Two weeks (and multiple additional practice sessions) later, my float bags arrived in the mail and I was ready to venture out on my own.  The only remaining question was when.  Since the Fourth of July was coming up, I decided the Thursday before, when my office would close early, would provide me with the opportunity to try it out for the trip home without having to stress about arriving somewhere in a reasonable amount of time.

Oru kayak still folded up, on a bench by the Colgate clock.

Oru kayak still folded up, on a bench by the Colgate clock.

But that meant I had to get the kayak to work some way other than paddling it.  Thursday morning I loaded the kayak on my bike, rode down to Pier 25, parked the bike by the water, and walked the kayak about a half mile to my usual ferry terminal in Battery Park City.  At the end of the day I walked the Oru out to the rocky beach by the Colgate Clock at Paulus Hook, Jersey City.  Lugging around the heavy and awkwardly shaped box form of the Oru was by far the least enjoyable aspect of the ordeal, and a good reason for me not to attempt a one-way trip again.

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Oru kayak fully assembled and ready to go on the walkway by the rocky beach kayak put-in.

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View from inside the Oru leaving the Little Morris Canal, behind the Colgate Clock.

Unfolding the kayak and loading it with my work clothes and other essentials was relatively quick and painless, and in no time at all I was out on the water paddling towards Manhattan.  Being out on the water felt truly majestic.  The weather was dry and some light cloud cover protected me from the sun.  Though the winds and the current made the kayaking a bit more strenuous, I steadily made it across without any incident.

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View from inside the Oru approaching Pier 25 in Manhattan.

Sitting on the dock after pulling the Oru out of the water at Pier 25.

Sitting on the dock after pulling the Oru out of the water at Pier 25.

Fifty minutes later, I had arrived inside the Pier 25 embayment and I paused to take a few more pictures and bask in the glory of having completed my first solo Hudson crossing by kayak.  As I stepped onto the dock, it felt almost magical to have arrived in Manhattan without the use of a bridge or any motorized transport.  Ahh, success!

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One thought on “My First Kayak Commute

  1. Pingback: Frequently Asked Questions on Kayak Commuting | The Greenway Commuter

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