I feel like I did what any rational person does when they turn 40: Paddle 9 miles in the Chesapeake Bay, row in the ocean for the first time, and paddle a kayak around the Island of Manhattan.

The Gerry Blackstone Manhattan Kayak Circumnavigation or Circ is an annual event that started in 2004. It is named in memoriam for one of its founders, Gerry Blackstone. One must apply to be accepted as paddlers are screened based on ability and paddling experience. After participating in the Circ I now know why there is an application process as it is a long day and challenging conditions may occur throughout the paddle. The Circ attracts 150 paddlers and has been sponsored by the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club since 2014.

Last spring I saw a Facebook post from the Chesapeake Paddlers referencing the event. Since I work at Chesapeake Light Craft and have access to a number of sea kayaks from our demo fleet I thought I’d apply. The event took place in early August and I thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate my 40th birthday. Again, if you’ve read my first post it is now confirmed that I really don’t get out much.

Growing up in north central New Jersey I’ve made many trips into New York City. But seeing Manhattan from the water was a whole other experience. The morning started in New Jersey under the George Washington Bridge along the Hudson. This was one of the two launch spots the group offered. There we unloaded our kayaks and our gear for the day. I’m sure I was quite a sight attempting to cram every last snack into my Shearwater 17. But there was no way I was going to leave behind my peanut butter filled pretzels!

After a brief meeting with our guides we headed south down the Hudson River. The day was growing warmer and reached into the 90’s. I was very conscious of continually hydrating all day because of the heat and extent of the paddle. We had a great group of guides and really friendly paddlers. A mix of newbies, like me, and those who had done the Circ for many years.

Our first stop was at the Hoboken Boathouse which is located across the Hudson not far from Chelsea Piers. Next stop was Pier 40 on the New York side where we met up with our fellow paddlers who launched from the Yonkers Rowing and Paddling Club. There we were escorted by a NYPD RIB boat as we headed towards the Battery. Once at the southern tip of Manhattan we could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, the Freedom Tower behind us, and a LOT of boat traffic. We waited for our signal and in a large mass of paddlers we made our way around the Battery, towards the Brooklyn Bridge, and into the East River. With all of the boat wakes the river was like a washing machine! It was exhilarating charging into big waves. . .until I was sputtering and trying not to ingest gulps of the East River.  

By the time we reached the Brooklyn Bridge the water had calmed down and we started to hit our stride. Lunch was at Gantry State Park in Queens. There I got a chance to catch up with some of the paddlers from my group and meet some Circ veterans.  

The rest of the journey was smooth compared to the Battery but the views of “The City” were unbelievable. Some of the highlights were seeing Yankee Stadium and crossing Hell Gate where the East River meets the Harlem River. Then, paying a quick visit to the Peter Sharpe Boathouse which is home to Row New York.

The Harlem River afforded us with more stunning views, especially as the sun started to set. When we crossed back onto the Hudson the George Washington Bridge returned to view. It had been an incredible journey. We landed back where we started at the Ft. Lee / Hazards Boat Ramp, a group of very tired and jubilant kayakers. After a round of high fives we loaded our kayaks onto the roofs of our cars and made our way home for a well deserved night’s sleep.

For more information on this well organized and memorable trip visit the Yonkers Rowing and Paddling Club at: http://www.yprc.org/

Nicky Stimpson

Author Nicky Stimpson

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