Cruising the Hudson River

Written by Randy Whaley on December 2nd, 2009

(40⁰42.615′ N by 074⁰02.436 W -  Mile 1717.81 - New York City, New York)

As we entered Federal Lock 1 just down stream from Waterford we knew our cruise was about to change. 

First, we were no longer traveling alone.  We had finally caught up to Bob and Debbie MacConnell on Melanie Bear and would be cruising to Florida with them.  Secondly, this would be the last lock in the Erie and Oswego Canal System.  Last, but not least, we were now entering the Hudson River which would bring us from a world of fresh water to brackish (a mixture of fresh and salt) then into the salt water which flows up the river on tide changes from the Atlantic Ocean.  As the huge doors opened and we left the Federal Lock 1 we would be seeing 160 miles of the Hudson River as we traveled to New York City.

Albany, New York - The State Capital

Albany, New York - The State Capital

Henry Hudson was the first European to explore the river throughout its navigable length and to leave a detail description of his voyage.  In the fall of 1609, Hudson and his ship, the Half Moon with his crew of 20 Dutch and English sailors explored the Hudson River from New York harbour up to present day Albany the state capital of New York.

The Hudson River, south of Federal Lock 1 is technically not a river at all.  It is a fiord which is subject to tidal changes of up to five feet.  Tidal changes initially are a challenge for fresh water boaters since you have to leave enough slack in the dock lines when you are tied to a fixed (notfloating) pier.  Tides also have to be considered when you anchor since every five or six hours the tide will reverse sending the boat 180 degrees in the opposite direction.  This is too say nothing of the depth considerations that must be taken into account when you are navigating. 

Tidal flow can also work for you or against you, literally.  Our trip on the Hudson would see tidal flow change from as much as 2 knots traveling with you or would slow our trip by 2 knots depending on the time of the day and the change.  Tides are now part of our life just like the weather.

The Hudson River, as I said, is a fiord with very deep sections of water and high, cliff-like walls rising a few hundred feet into the air on either side.  At first, you do notrealize the depth of this canyon until you see the size of a freight train hugging the sheer wall on the western shore, see a commuter train racing along near the water on the eastern shore or see huge buildings dwarfed in comparison to the cliffs.  To punctuate the size of the these walls we were fortunate to be traveling on the river during the fall change of colours.

img_0795Once on the river, we realized that dead heads, large weed balls and refuse were floating back and forth with the tidal flow so, a sharp look out was required of everyone on the bridge to avoid hitting the debris with the hull or worse,  getting some of these sizable pieces caught in the propellors to create more serious damage.  Fortunately, we managed to avoid all of the obstacles as we made our way to New York City.

Since we planned to meet the MacConnell’s children and our daughter and her boyfriend in New York City on Thursday, October 8thfor Canadian Thanksgiving weekend we knew we had three days to make our way over the next 160 miles which would be an average length run for us each day.  The first day we made it to a little village named Coxsackie, NY.  It did not look very much like a tourist" destination so, we decided to anchor behind a protective island in the river and have a quiet evening on board. 

When we dropped the anchor, the tide was incoming with a moderate current of roughly 1 knot and we hooked on to the muddy bottom that provided good holding.  I slept with “one eye open” for most of the night aware that the current reverses roughly every six hours.  While we held, we woke the next morning to find that we were pointing in the opposite direction with quite a bit of debris hooked around the anchor chain.  This was being held in place by a 2 knot current.  How much force is there from a 2 knot current?  If you were swimming in a current of this strength and you held on to a fixed object it would be all you could do to hang on and your body would be extended like a flag from a flag pole.

Waterfront - Kingston, New York

Waterfront - Kingston, New York

Once underway, we continued to head down-stream the next morning taking advantage of the outgoing tide for the next 34 miles.  We arrived at a very historic small town named Kingston which was once (briefly) the capital of New York State.

Kingston is indicative of the re-birth of many of the small towns that were once prosperous along the Hudson River.  Since many of the buildings showcase period architecture of the 1800’s people are rescuing them to be updated as restaurants, shops and in some cases museums.

In Kingston, after a wonderful outdoor lunch at a cafe located in this picture just off the waterfront, the guys decided to head to the marine museum while the ladies went for a walk.  This museum features a collection of watercraft and ice boats as well as pictures and historic documentation. 

Just down the street another historic group who did not appear to be connected to the museum are restoring World War 2 “PT Torpedo Boats” with one finished example sitting on the river wall complete with 50 calibre machine guns.

Is Your Summer Home Like This?

Is Your Summer Home Like This?

The next day, we were on our way to Terrytown, near Sleepy Hollow and the home of the Headless Horseman, just upstream from New York City.  As we began our journey that morning the weather was overcast but it was a great opportunity to see some of the summer homes of some legendary New Yorker socialites like the Vanderbilts.

As you can see from the picture, some of these structures are beyond what we would describe as “summer homes” but these structures go back to another era.  You can only imagine the patriarch of the family getting into the family launch and heading down stream to New York City for a few days at the office.

The Hudson River is also the home of a very historic military university, West Point.  West Point sits high on the walls of the river with one of the few low land flat areas near the river housing the football field and the athletics center.  It is here at the bend of the river where thick steel cables were stretched across the river to stop opposing warships from slipping further up the river.

West Point is an imposing structure which, due to the war on terrorism in the United States has restricted access.  It is clear that the large yellow bouys mean that small craft like ours are not to enter the restricted zone near shore.  

West Point Military Academy

West Point Military Academy

It is unfortunate we were not allowed to stop here.  My guess is that the architecture is quite spectacular.

As we continued down the river, the weather was about ot turn.  The wind started to pick up and as it rushed down the fiord it brought dark clouds which seemed ominous.  As the wind continued to build, we began to see small water spouts picking up moisture off the river’s surface.

It only got worse!  We experienced our first “microbursts” while aboard a boat and while we had been through water spouts and high winds before on Georgian Bay, this was quite different.  Suddenly, strong winds would hit the boat easily exceeding 60 knots and last about 60 to 90 seconds pushing Prime Time V to port.  For those of you who have ridden on this boat you know that it does not lean.  This day, it did!

When we finally entered TerrytownHarbor Bob and I both realized tying to a dock here would be a mistake.  The winds were blowing a constant 30+ knots and there was no portection here (on the east side of the river).  After some quick manuevering both Melanie Bear and Prime Time V were looking to the weatern shore where we would be in the protection of the hills.

We entered a marina in the town of Upper Nyack, which was our good furtune.  It is one of the great little suberbs of New York City.  This was also our departure point for John and Susan.  They were great guests, experienced boaters and just fun to be with.

Our plan was to leave the next morning but, just past 8:00 AM one of the marina employees came to suggest we hold off leaving for a few hours.  With the change in the moon the tidal swing was around 8 feet and he was quite concerned (almost certain)  we were on the bottom of the muddy river.  Another good bit of luck since today, the farmers market was open in the city parking lot.  Off we went with our recycle bags to see what we could find.  It was the best farmers market we have found so far on this trip.

Melanie Bear Finds NYC

Melanie Bear Finds NYC

Fully provisioned, we left late in the morning for our 37 mile journey into New York City.  We were looking forward to getting to NYC since our daughter Karen and her boyfriend Peter were joining us for the weekend.  Melanie Bear would also get four new crew members as well for a few days.  What a great way to spend Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

What did everyone do in New York City?  What does anyone do?  Go shopping, see a play, go to great restaurants, sight see and generally gather in the excitement of the city.
After a few days of shore leave, we would be going on to the ocean to continue our journey south.

Comments are closed.