At dawn on Saturday, August 17, forty-four intrepid rowers gathered at Pier 40 to begin VCB’s annual circumnavigation of the most famous island in the world. We were joined by four members of the international press from Australia, Brazil, and Switzerland, and by VCB’s new friend Captain Jack Maggi whose Hospitality Boat carried three passengers who wanted to make the voyage by motor rather than human power. Our Chase Boat, skippered by Ingo Gunther, first mate Dave Clayton, carried one of the journalists. The other three rode along in gigs.
We set out right on schedule in six Whitehall gigs and King Tide. Our crews included six visiting Gloucester Gig Rowers, two members of the Boston Rowing Club, and nine dynamic Dragon Boaters from Morgan Stanley who had decided to spend a relaxing day facing sternward for a change of pace. Commodore Marcel Dejean provided each crew with well-designed map of the route complete with a schedule, designated stopping points, and helpful instructions (where there would be bathrooms! what hazards to avoid!). Marcel’s route and schedule would prove to be just right.
The weather forecast had been unsettled, with a small chance of thunderstorms in the area. Fortunately these held off. Light cloud cover and a gentle northeast breeze provided refreshing rowing conditions as we rode the Hudson ebb south, rounded the Battery, and met the flood tide to sweep us up the East River. At 9:30 AM we reached Anable Basin, where, with the generous permission of Long Island City Community Boathouse, we tied up at their floating dock. After a long break to drink coffee and wait out the tides, we continued up the still flooding East River to cross Hell Gate in a weakening current and enter the Harlem River as it was beginning to ebb. Luckily for human-powered boaters, the Harlem ebbs north, the opposite of the East.
We enjoyed the placid waters of the Harlem River, counting the bridges we rowed under. There are 21 in the whole circumnavigation. Along the Harlem we passed the picturesque Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse, home of Row New York, and several inviting homeless camps tucked along the wooded shoreline.
We entered the Hudson at Spuyten Duvil, where the low rail bridge was open for boats for the first time in several years (so we didn’t have to take down bow flags and duck). The Hudson was beginning to ebb, and we pulled over at the beach under Dyckman Street Pier for a short break. By this time the crews had all become friends and the Gloucester Gig Rowers were inviting us to come row with them in Massachusetts. After a brief chat we jumped into our gigs for the last and hardest leg of the voyage. The boats spread out across the silver river under the magnificent George Washington Bridge. Some foolish person remarked at how flat the water was. Flags up in Washington Heights were still indicating a gentle northeast breeze. Ha! Old man Hudson must have heard, and soon he kicked up a stiff east wind that pushed us over to the Jersey side and set some nice big waves in motion. For the last hour we bounded over waves into the wind, arriving back at Pier 40 in various stages of exhaustion, happy to have tested our mettle after ten hours on the water.
Inside the boathouse Melissa Curtis and her band of elves had transformed our normally cluttered workspace into a festive party room. Tables set with colorful tablecloths, a spread of delicious African food, and a variety of cold beverages welcomed in the tired mariners. We reconnected with friends, family, and volunteers who had helped make the event successful, and we celebrated a great row.
We thank all who came from near and far to pull an oar with us, to share the day with us, and to donate their hard-earned doubloons to Village Community Boathouse.
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Photos by Sally Curtis