Jul 31, 2011

A Sebago Day to Remember

Joe Glickman coaching Laurie Pea on her forward stroke
 Yesterday afternoon, Sebago Canoe Club Commodore Tony Pignatello posted this comment on facebook: “Coming back on the Open Paddle I saw about 50 kayaks on the water. Open Paddle, Stroke Clinic, Level 2 classes plus individual paddlers. That's what makes us one of the best in the city. Thanks to all who gave their time.”

I was one of those paddlers Tony saw. My wife was another. She and I were not participating in the same activity but happened to be on the water at the same time.

Yesterday was indeed a day at the Sebago Canoe Club to remember, a day that rivaled our annual open house in terms of people and activities. Vicki and I pulled into a nearly full parking lot a few minutes before 9:30 AM. Vicki came to the club to participate in the second half of the ACA Level 2 class. I came to participate in a Forward Stroke Clinic led by Joe Glickman, one of the premier paddlers in North America.

As the stroke clinic and ACA Level 2 class were gathering and preparing for the day, the open Paddle was finishing outfitting. A few minutes later, they were all standing in a circle, paddles in the air, Stonehenge like, making introductions and receiving a safety briefing and short paddling instruction. I estimate that about thirteen to fifteen paddlers were among the group.

While the open paddle carried kayaks down to the water and began to paddle, five students and three instructors as well as a dozen or more participants in the Forward Stroke Clinic stood around Joe Glickman as he demonstrated the forward Stoke. After half an hour or more of instruction on terra firma, the two groups broke apart and the ACA Level 2 class hit the water, paddling out into Jamaica Bay while the Forward Stroke Clinic finished outfitting.

By the time the Forward Stoke Clinic put their kayaks into Paerdegat basin and headed out toward Jamaica Bay, the ACA class was already out of sight. As those of us in the Stroke Clinic paddled, Joe observed our forward stroke. Once in the bay, we caught up with the ACA Class, passed it by, and paddled into some shallow water where Joe offered each Stroke Clinic participant some one on one instruction.

Sitting on the bow of each participant’s kayak and facing the paddler, but with his feet on the bottom of the bay, Joe prevented the paddler’s kayak from making forward progress while observing the paddlers’ forward stroke. From Joe observing me while paddling out toward the bay, and from the one on one session, I learned that I need to keep my paddle shaft and shoulders more parallel, follow-through from 11 O’clock to 12 O’clock, and focus on not allowing my right hand to drop during the follow-through.

While were receiving our individual instruction, the nearby ACA Level 2 Class paddled away toward Ruffle Bar and were eventually out of our sight. Those of us in the Stroke Clinic eventually paddled to the concrete ramp at Floyd Bennet Field, each paddler focusing on their forward stoke as we paddled.

At Floyd Benet Field, most of us beached to stretch our legs. As we were standing on the beach, we watched two large NYPD Boats circle nearby to the south. Eventually, a helicopter took off from Floyd Bennet Field, hovered about 15 yards above the bay between the two police boats, and three scuba gear clad swimmers jumped out of the helicopter into the water. The swimmers eventually climbed into a motored raft and headed toward shore while the helicopter flew away. Apparently the NYPD was doing the same thing we were doing, capitalizing on a beautiful day on the bay to practice and refine their skills.

Already having been out on the water several more hours than we had expected, and having paddled farther than we expected, we climbed back into our boats, paddled toward Sebago, again focusing on our forward stroke while paddling, even though Joe was no longer observing us.

Back at the clubhouse, the open paddle had long been back and there was no evidence of their even having been there. With our boats on the wash racks, washed but not put away, we sat around a picnic table and pulled our collective lunch resources to enjoy a late lunch. As we were finishing eating, the ACA Level 2 class began pulling in to the dock, so we hastily put our boats away to make room on the wash racks for their boats.

After the ACA Level 2 Class had washed and put away all their gear, instructors and students gathered around cold beers in the Sebago Club house for some post class debriefing. Those few of us still around from the Forward Stroke Clinic were permitted to listen in. Hearing both students and instructors debrief the day as well as the entire two-day class was itself instructive.

About seven and a half hours after we arrived at Sebago, Vicki and were a slightly tired, a slightly bit more tanned, and slightly improved paddlers. Throughout the day and as we headed toward home, we were both amazed at the level of activity at the club that day, three major events, but a few individual paddlers and sailors doing their own thing. We were also impressed with the level of expertise possessed by so many of our club members, expertise they were willing to share with others as trip leaders, assistant trip leaders, and instructors.

Jul 23, 2011

Jamaica Bay Mussels

Generations of New Yorkers have stained the creek along which the Native American Canarsie tribe once lived.

Still, the ribbed mussel persevered, and now city officials are hoping they can help clean up.

While pumps may have worked, crews rigged nets and trays in an effort to get thousands of mussels to latch on.

"Sometimes the simplest solution can be right in front of you, and you need to look at it through a different lens," said John McLaughiln of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Mussels, like other bivalves, are natural filters. They ingest the water, unharmed by toxins from untreated sewage and street runoff.

In the next four or five days, ropes and trays will be completely submerged by water. All that’ll be visible are strips of reflecting tape on top for boats passing in the night.

The hope is that in the coming months, the mussels will start to collect and help filter the water as the tide comes in and out.

"Each individual mussel can probably filter 20 to 25 gallons per day, so when you multiply that by 10,000 or even 100,000 mussels, you're getting a lot of filtering of the water," said McLaughlin.

There are plenty of the mollusks already, but only on the banks tethered to cord grass roots.

So the city hired a crew and paid $350,000 for the entire project. It's part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlanNYC, which hopes to reverse environmental damage citywide.

It's smack against a residential community, but discreetly so. Despite trash and less than pristine water, there aren’t just scores of mussels but jumping schools of jumping fish and ducks paddling northbound.

If the plan works, New York's waterways could become a veritable seafood buffet. After luring oysters and mussels to stay in the five boroughs, officials say they're next considering bay scallops.

Dept of Health Water Quality Report is full of Poop!

An example of a totally useless water quality report: NYC Department of Health
Why? They are never correct...list good water on the worst days, bad water on perfectly clean days...a total waste of our tax dollars and time.

Testing the Water

It's Friday afternoon, and Rosemarie Soldi points to a coffee cup and a piece of plastic next to her on the sand at West Haven beach. Nowadays, she only goes into the water up to her waist. "I would not take my granddaughter to swim here," she says. She has watched the beach become dirtier and dirtier in the 30 years she's lived here.

When West Haven's water is dirty — too dirty by state standards — the town's Public Health department doesn't let beachgoers know. According to an Advocate investigation, West Haven is the only one of five shoreline towns (New Haven, Branford, East Haven, West Haven and Milford) that hasn't closed its beach or posted a dirty-water advisory at all since 2003. But last summer alone, 19 water samples from West Haven exceeded the safety limit suggested by the state.

One June day last year was particularly bad: 13 of the 18 water samples taken by the Health Department at different locations along the beach came back above the acceptable bacteria standard, but Connecticut's longest public beach remained open for swimming.

The state encourages towns to send beach water samples to its lab for free testing every Monday. The lab counts the number of colony forming units ("cfu") of Enterococcus — a bacteria — per 100 milliliter of salt water. State guidelines consider an Enterococcus reading of more than 104cfu per 100ml of water to be potentially dangerous.

Enterococci are indicator bacteria: If levels are high, there's a good chance of too much human or animal feces, which can carry contagious diseases.

With a result above 104, the state says towns should look for pollution sources at the beach, put up an advisory or close the beach and retest the water as soon as possible. Since this isn't required, some towns close their beaches and others don't.

Because of the time lag between when samples are collected and when results come back — it takes one to three days — some health officials disregard test results. Water conditions may have changed by the time towns are notified of a high bacteria count.

Some officials place more trust in what they see on the beach: If nothing looks suspicious, the beach stays open. Most beach closings and advisories — more than 75 percent between 2003 and 2008 — are due to rain, not high test results. Several towns, like Milford, proactively close their beaches when there's heavy rain. Stormwater runoff picks up pollutants and, in older sewage systems, runs down the same pipes that carry raw sewage to treatment plants. The plants are overwhelmed when it rains, so they dump untreated sewage into Long Island Sound.

Chances are, testing only once a week won't catch most sewage spills. A test taken on a Monday wouldn't detect a pollution incident occurring on Tuesday.

Only occasionally does the test have perfect timing. One West Haven beach sample, taken on June 24 of this year, showed more than 19 times too many Enterococcus bacteria. After the test results came back, Ray Puslys, West Haven's chief sanitarian, walked the beach and discovered the culprit: The city's sanitary sewer line was backed up. He warned the city, which fixed the problem, but not the public. In the meantime, the beach stayed open for swimming.

The tests, West Haven's Puslys argues, are meaningless if water conditions have changed by the time the test results come back days later. "Going by the results," he says, "you tend to close a beach when it should be open and open it when it should be closed."

Because the Enterococcus test is slow and out of date, local public health officials are caught in a difficult position, says Jon Dinneen, a research analyst at the state's Department of Public Health. The federal Beach Act of 2000 required that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) come up with new standards and a faster test by 2005. When that deadline passed, the National Resources Defense Council waged a successful lawsuit against the EPA. The new deadline is 2012.

Dinneen says swimmers should always follow the state's long list of safety guidelines — don't swim with open cuts, don't put your head under water, don't bury friends in the sand, always towel off after swimming. Because you never know when you're swimming in unsafe water.

Jul 22, 2011

NYC WaterTrail Web: Public Boating Program Cancellations due to Sewage...

NYC WaterTrail Web: Public Boating Program Cancellations due to Sewage...: "Please be advised that the following organizations have alerted NYCWTA that they have canceled all or some of their public paddling programs..."
As things stand now, it'll be business as usual at Sebago!

Sewage Update

Ugh. Do I ever hate having to write a title like that.

Anyways. The Times has an article today about the fire & the resulting water quality issues - click here to read -

And as they mention in the article, there are now advisories against swimming at 4 beaches south of the Verranzano - here, again, is the water-quality site; advisories are now posted for Midland, Cedar, and South Beaches in Staten Island, and Sea Gate at the westernmost tip of Coney Island.

As of now, water quality at the beaches closer in to the bay is still fine and barring further changes, all programs at the club will run as planned this weekend.

We are fortunate.

Jul 21, 2011

Hudson River Sewage Dump

Updated w/closure & advisory info at 4:30 pm. Please scroll down for details.

If you have access to a kayak & Hudson River waters in the NYC vicinity, and you had any thoughts about beating the heat with some rolling and rescue practice - DON'T.

A fire at the North River Sewage Treatment Plant has knocked out a couple of pumps and there's been a massive discharge (ongoing as I post). Click here for full details.

Via the NYC Kayaker Distributed E-mail List - thank you as always to the Hudson River Watertrail Association for maintaining this incredibly useful "kayak grapevine". I usually hear it there first.

Adding a suggestion, slightly later - if you were considering attending any of the area's public paddling programs this weekend, it would be a good idea to check the website of the place you were going to go before you do. I think most of them have phone numbers you can call for a status update or will make announcements on their sites. I'm only aware of one so far (Hoboken Cove) that has made the call to not run their program this weekend, but others are considering it & will make their decisions as the situation develops.

Sebago will most likely be open for business as usual - we're way way south and around a very sharp turn, I think we're unlikely to have any problems. As long as the Brooklyn beaches along the inlet to Jamaica Bay are OK, we are too - click here for water quality reports.

Update, 4:30 pm...hat tip this time to the the New York City Watertrail Association, http://www.nycwatertrailweb.blogspot.com/ -
Rob Buchanan from the Village Community Boathouse got a press release from the DEP a little while ago. None of the beaches in the Lower Harbor or the Rockaway Peninsula have issues; as of now, seems that it's mostly the area north of the Verranzano that's been impacted. Testing will continue and if there are any changes in status, it'll be up on the water quality site shown above (think I got that from Andy Novick originally, thanks Andy).

Here's the description of the area that the DEP says IS affected:
Water quality modeling indicates that there is no immediate impact to permitted beaches due to the dilution capacity of the river. Based on recommendations from NYC Health, the Hudson River, the East River from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge to Verrazano Bridge and the Harlem River will not be fit for recreational activities such as swimming, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing or any other water activity that would entail possible direct contact now through at least Sunday.

Jul 5, 2011

A 360-Degree Firework Spectacular

Two dozen paddlers, some in traditional decked sea kayaks and others in single and tandem sit-on-tops, enjoyed a 360-degree firework spectacular last night from the vantage point of Jamaica Bay between the two islands known as Canarsie Pol and Ruffle Bar.

When my wife and I arrived at the Sebago Club House a little before 5:00 PM, some paddlers already had their boats ready for the paddle, even though it was still hours a pot-luck barbecue picnic away. As more and more members and guests arrived, so did more food. There were several choices of chips, salads, grilled vegetables, burgers and beverages to enjoy, and enjoy we did. No one went away hungry and a lot of leftover food went into the clubhouse refrigerator afterward.

Around 7:30 PM, after cleaning up from the social, we put butts in boats, and boats and paddles in the water. The shore to sea breeze blowing through Paerdegat Basin suggested we mind enjoy an easy paddle out into the bay but have to paddle against a head wind on the way back. As soon as we cleared all the docks and were in the wider part of the Basin, however, the breeze calmed, but we still enjoyed an easy paddle out into the open waters of Jamaica Bay.

Once in the Bay, we tightened our formation at buoy 13and then crossed the channel toward the western end of Canarsie Pol. As we crossed the channel, a spectacular sunset illuminated the distant buildings of the Rockaways, painting their drab concrete grays with a luminous reddish orange luminescent glow. The setting sun also showed us that the scattered clouds were clearing, suggesting we might enjoy a fine view of fireworks.

Once clear of the channel, we turned west, and past the Pol. After clearing Canarsie Pol, we headed toward Ruffle Bar. As we paddled toward the Bar, we started seeing fireworks in the darkening sky over the Rockaway’s. Midway between Ruffle Bar and Canarsie Pol, with the highpoints of the Manhattan skyline visible over the tops of the trees on Canarsie Pol, stopped to wait for the NYC Fireworks. As we waited, however, we continued enjoying pyrotechnics over the Rockaways, as well as from many other distant sites, some from perhaps as far away as Long Island. With a clear 360 degree horizon, we could see so many fireworks around us that I lost count of how many sites we could see.

Finally, with the darkening sky in the west, we started seeing the fireworks set off from barges in the Hudson. Thanks, Macy’s! I have watched the New York City Fireworks from the banks of the Hudson. While being closer to fireworks and enjoying the display as part of a large crown has its advantages, one cannot see the fireworks from all the barges when that close. Our vantage point from the waters of Jamaica Bay not only allowed us to view the display from all the barges, but afterwards, rather than moving with the throngs toward an overcrowded subway, we paddled past a variety of birds in the city’s largest Wildlife Refuge while enjoying the wide-open expanse of the glassy smooth Bay.

Once the New York City show was over, occasional displays of random fireworks continued to entertain us as we paddled back to Paerdegat Basin. The eerie reflections of terrestrial lights off the glass-like Bay almost lulled us into a hypnotic dream-like paddling cadence as we crossed the main channel, but as we approached the construction area near the Belt Parkway bridge over the basin, realty once again claimed us as we carefully negotiated the narrow channel under the bridge and into the basin.

Once back at the club, we carried boats and gear up to the wash racks where we rinsed it free of saltwater. After we put it all safely away back into lockers and on top of cars, we settled around tables in the clubhouse were we enjoyed a post paddle desert of Italian pastries, beer, wine, conversation and fellowship. About fifteen minutes before midnight, we said good-bye to friends old and new and headed home. It was a spectacular Sebago Canoe Club Fourth of July to remember.