Tag Archives: canoe

Scenes from the Big Canoe Training, July 2019

On the weekend of July 13-14, 2019, David Wooldridge of Ridge Wilderness Adventures led NBBC canoeists in the Big Canoe Skipper curriculum that he developed. The Langley canoes and this training were purchased with funds from NBBC’s GCEF grant. The boats have already proved invaluable for NBBC’s mission-critical public and educational programming. And the trip leaders and canoe volunteers who participated are eager to pass along the knowledge from this training to other NBBC member-volunteers.

 

Come see the Langley canoes in action at our 2019 Public Paddle series!

And check out other great trips and events in the Paddle Gallery and Events Calendar.

NBBC’s New Langley Canoes: A Transcontinental, International, Intensely Local Boat Story

Of Voyageurs and Voyages

In 2014, North Brooklyn Boat Club received a Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund grant for our Floating Classroom project. NBBC used this money to purchase our two Voyageur-style 25′ canoes.

Floating Classroom landing at Dock

Inscribed with the names of Newtown Creek’s former tributaries and terms from the tidal system of New York harbor, the Voyageur canoes took thousands of people onto the waters of Newtown Creek to learn about its history and ecology.

For five seasons, these boats were the foundation of our educational and public programming and critical to our ability to fulfill our mission. They were a crucial part of NBBC’s participation in a 2016 Earth Day action to protest the exclusion of indigenous peoples from the Paris Climate Accords, paddled by NBBC members and friends from indigenous tribes from around the world. The big canoes carried scouts and veterans, school kids and elders, NBBC members and our friends from other community organizations. They formed the hand we extended to our community, and we who paddled them came to love them.


Listen to indigenous voices

But after five years, we realized that to continue our educational and public mission, it was necessary to upgrade the fleet. So when GCEF announced another round of grants for 2018, we applied to upgrade our educational facilities, including the boats of the Floating Classroom. When we received the GCEF grant award, the quest was on to find the best boats possible for our community mission.

After a great deal of research, we had a feeling that Western Canoeing and Kayaking, manufacturers of Clipper Canoes, was the best fit for what we do. So two NBBC member-volunteers decided that our responsibility to wisely spend the community funds that had been entrusted to us meant we should go see the manufacturer in person. And when you are going to Canada, why not make a paddle vacation out of the trip? So Michael and Patterson — members of the Canoe, Education, Boatyard, Communications, and Public Paddles Committees — announced a trip to do research on the canoe manufacturers (and paddling opportunities) of beautiful British Columbia. There, we went to the Western facility to meet the people who make Clipper Canoes.

(The junket — and mini-paddling-vacation weekend! — was entirely funded by Michael and Patterson; no club or grant money was spent.)

Yankees, Clippers

All Clipper Canoes, including the big ones, are made by hand, so we got to tour the actual factory floor where they are laid up. Western makes big canoes in many styles, from racing models to West Coast oceangoing craft. We met Lynne Smith, who has been with Western since 1977, and she graciously showed us every aspect of the making of Clipper Canoes and the showroom of completed models.


Clipper offers a wide range of styles in big canoes, in the Dancer Series of West Coast models as well as the Voyageur styles that we East Coast types are more familiar with. Lynne and Marlin Mayes, one of the founders of Western, talked us through the design of big Voyageur-style canoes and told us that the keeled, racing model we had been using was not the best for our purposes. They steered us toward the Langley, a 29′ canoe that can accommodate up to 14 paddlers (named after Fort Langley on the Fraser River, the “birthplace of British Columbia”). We realized that the Kevlar-and-gelcoat model would be much lighter than our Voyageurs, which required eight adults to move safely — a tall order for many of our education trips in the Floating Classroom.

Lynne showed us the ins and outs of the factory floor and boats in various stages of completion. She let us test the feel of completed boats in the showroom and demonstrated why Western’s philosophy calls for bucket seats and leg braces rather than bench seats and kneeling — another very East Coast vs. West Coast split in canoe thinking!

It’s hard to overstate how welcoming and generous Lynne, Marlin, and everyone at Western were to us. We felt like they respected our choice to come all the way to British Columbia to meet with them and see their facilities, and they honored that by showing us everything there was to see, from the Langley boats we ended up ordering to paddle accessories, tandem canoes, PFDs, and paddles, going over the function and differences among various models and helping us think through what would be best for the club and our public and education trips.

(And, like everyone else we met in British Columbia, when we told them our plan to go paddling in Squamish, everyone at Western — and everyone we met in Canada! — said, “It’s beautiful there! Gets a bit windy in the afternoon, though …”*

We returned to New York convinced that Clipper’s Langleys were the way to go. We added three other tandem canoes for the club, including boats with three and four seats to maximize the flexibility of the fleet for education trips. (And then we agonized over our color choices, and Lynne had to talk us down from a few of our wilder ideas …) We also ordered a large assortment of paddles to go with the new fleet, including the club’s first set of bent-shaft paddles! By November, the order was placed, and then the waiting game began, a feeling familiar to every paddler who lives in a region with winters.

New Boats, New Season, Same Mission

Western sent the new boats and the rest of the order across the continent by train and then the final leg from New Jersey by truck. On a cold, drizzly morning in mid-April, several NBBC member-volunteers met in the early morning at the now-emptied boatyard at 51 Ash St. to unload the truck. By the end of April, the boats had been moved to our expanded dock. Where they sat and waited while the waters warmed …

With NBBC’s equipment scattered among exile locations, getting the new Langleys in the water for a test proved challenging. Finally, in conjunction with the May Steering Committee meeting, we got paddles wet and launched the boats in their new home waters, Newtown Creek.

 
 
That experience — seeing how four adults could shift the boats into the water, how easily they turned, how stably they rode—prepared us for the first real voyage of the new Langleys, our first Public Paddle of 2019!

Held out of the Manhattan Avenue Street End Park thanks to a fruitful partnership with NYC Parks, this was a true community event. The Public Paddles are NBBC doing what we do best: showing our neighbors that the waters are there for everyone and that new ways of seeing old sights unfold when paddling our great estuary.

The Public Paddles will continue all season. Even while in exile from the boatyard as we await construction of a permanent boathouse, NBBC will grow and develop our public and educational programming, just as we have done for more than seven years. We hope that by being out there on the water as often as we can, by showing our neighbors that we all have the right to be on the water, we will continue to kindle a sense of responsibility for the waterways that comes when you experience them firsthand, from close up, paddling a big canoe with friends and strangers and with YOUR community boat club.

*A Bit Windy in the Afternoon: Our Squamish Story

[back]
We spent two days in Squamish, one of the most beautiful towns either of us had been to. Like many towns in BC, it was once a logging and lumber transport center. Built on the peninsulas of a river delta at the top of Howe Sound, Squamish has water on three sides: an old shipping channel on the east, Howe Sound to the south, and the Squamish River to the west. Undaunted by the advice we received to get on the water by 5 AM, we launched onto the shipping channel at the crack of 11:30. All went well as we paddled out into the Sound, where we had to turn right and move out around the long dike of Spit Road, which stretches about half a mile from the mainland. We dodged a few sporty windsurfers, whose parachute-towed surfboards dotted the waters of the upper Sound. Feeling fairly confident, we rode the rising tide up the Squamish River until we found the going harder and harder against the current — even with the tide. (A lesson for paddlers used to the Hudson and New York Harbor: other rivers have real currents, and paddling against them will tire you out.) So after a lunch of very welcome sandwiches, we decided to head back down the now unfamiliar river (tides in Squamish can rise up to sixteen feet!). The main problem, though, was the 30+ m.p.h headwind blowing directly up the river…. Even with the current, we fought for every foot, and the freezing water poured in over the stem of the rental canoe, which seemed to channel it directly onto the bathing trunks of the bow paddler — though they dried just as fast in that wind! Going forward was working out for us, but that left turn to get back across the Sound loomed in our minds. Finally, we pulled over to the dike and hauled the canoe over the riprap and up onto Spit Road. We felt good about the decision and viewed the whole day as a success … especially when we learned that Squamish is one of the windsport capitals of North America!


So, yes, indeed, it’s beautiful there. But it gets a bit windy in the afternoon. [back]

Time and Tide Wait for No One

But at least we know their schedule!

All of NBBC’s East River trips, whether by canoe or kayak, have to take into account the tidal currents of the Hudson River estuary. Indeed, the East River, our home waters, is not really a river at all. It’s a tidal strait where the water of the Atlantic Ocean cycles around Long Island, ebbing and flooding in a complex interplay of forces.

An hour past low water at the Battery, from Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book. H/T: New York City Water Trail Association

So the NBBC trip leaders plan each trip carefully, taking advantage of the period of slack currents to ride the ebb tide one direction and the flood tide the other. To help our trip leaders and keep our members and friends informed, NBBC has added a tide widget to the website’s sidebar:

This widget shows the tides, but it does not show the currents. That information is available from NOAA. And on our Paddle page, you can find a slack chart as both a JPEG and a PDF, showing the predicted moments when the tidal current reverses direction at Thirty-First St. in the East River:

Tidal Currents, 2017, off 31st St.

Tide and current shape the estuary now as they have done for centuries and centuries . . .

Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg’d waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! drench with your splendor me, or the men and women generations after me!
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta! stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!

–Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
 
 
Bushwick Inlet trip, May 27, 2017
 
 
And, of course, when the currents won’t cooperate, we always have Newtown Creek!

Meet the Paddlers, Part 5

NBBC exists to enable and advocate for human-powered boating on the waterways bordering Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in particular, and all through the New York Harbor. It is a community organization, and the member-volunteers — trip leaders, trip assistants, and program volunteers — who keep us on the water come from that community and give back to it by making NBBC programming happen.

Here are two more of those amazing volunteers. So if you see Amy, Peter, or any of our trip leaders and volunteers around the club or out on the water, say hi, and thank them for lending their time and skills to keep North Brooklyn boating!

And visit the Trip Leaders and Volunteers page on the NBBC website to learn more about them!

Amy

Canoe trip leader

Public paddle, 2015

Amy in the bow at a public paddle, 2015


Q. Tell us about a favorite route or trip that you like to use for club paddles.
One of my favorite trips is Hallets Cove with a Roosevelt Island circ. It’s a great trip length, and it’s always fun to get some ice cream from Costco and check out what’s going on in the Socrates Sculpture Garden. And coming back via the west channel is really fun. I’m also a huge fan of public paddles; you can find me sterning one of the big canoes at most of them. I love encouraging new people to come out on the water and learn about the Creek and what NBBC is all about.

Q. Tell us one of your favorite stories about a particular club trip.
My first City of Water trip was incredible. It was so fun to see so many other people-powered boats out and about and to know we were all headed to the same place and that everyone else on the water knew it was happening. It was a great sense of community. Crossing Buttermilk Channel for the first time was exciting, and when we got to Governors Island, exploring with other NBBC folks was amazing! When we camped that night (this is the only day you can camp on Governors Island!), after a wonderful dinner, much talking, and stargazing, I slept under the open sky, and it was wonderful. To this day, I’ve only ever been to Governors Island by canoe, and I kind of like it that way — it changes how I think about the place.

Prepping for big canoe rescue training, May 2016.

Prepping for big canoe rescue training, May 2016.

Peter Tiso

Canoe trip leader

Pete gives Public Paddle paddle prep

Pete provides the public Public Paddle paddle prep


Q. How did you first find North Brooklyn Boat Club? What’s your origin story as a club member?
Back when NBBC was still meeting at the Brooklyn Rod & Gun, I went to go write about them for Greenpointers. I nervously sat around a table eating peanuts and surrounded by people I didn’t yet know would become my friends, but I knew they were on to something. I held a relevant merit badge from the prestigious Boy Scouts of America, but my canoeing was pretty rusty when I first got to the club. When I brought down my old canoe to donate and Willis took me out in the middle of the river at night for the first time, I was totally hooked.

Q. Tell us about a favorite route or trip that you like to use for club paddles.
I really love the trip from Greenpoint to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The feeling of having the whole river pushing you both ways is indescribable, and there are many small, interesting places to explore along the way, and the best view of the Williamsburg Bridge is from the water underneath it. After you do it a few times, the tricks of the current around docks and pilings feels like a playground.

Peter on the Creek

Peter on the Creek


Q. Tell us one of your favorite stories about a particular club trip.
Jeff Stark once put on a performance set on the Gowanus Canal called The Dreary Coast, which placed the audience on a barge moving up and down the canal. One night he opened it to people who arrived in their own craft, so we paddled down in one of the 25-foot war canoes. Aside from the performance itself — one of the best uses of forgotten space I’ve ever seen — the trip down and back was memorable. We surprised a tugboat we were coordinating with over the radio with how fast the canoe could go when full of good paddlers, hit some exciting rough water in the harbor, and went out for sandwiches in face paint and life jackets. I think all of our canoeing should be done while dressed as damned souls and our faces painted to terrible masks.

Pranking the kayakers, September 17, 2015


Learn more about Amy, Peter, and other super-skilled and endlessly enthusiastic NBBCers on the Trip Leaders and Volunteers page!