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Last Saturday was the fourth annual City of Water Day, sponsored by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. Like last year, we took Puffin over to Liberty State Park. But unlike last year, we did not have to tie up to the seawall. This year we had a slip waiting for us in Liberty Landing Marina.

But first we had to get there. We got down to our marina around 8:30 a.m. All systems seemed “go,” except when we tried to start the engine, nothing happened. Well . . . not exactly nothing: There was a click, and then nothing. This swan came over to check us out and see if he could help:

It turns out boat batteries do not last forever, and the ones in Puffin may have been the original ones from when she was launched in 2004. Fortunately, Mike, the marina manager, had a couple of batteries in stock and got them installed for us in about fifteen minutes. With the new batteries, the engine started right up, and we were on our way.

It was a bumpy ride past Coney Island to the Narrows, straight into the wind and waves. New York Harbor was its usual hustle and bustle. I monitor VHF channel 13 when in the harbor so I can know what boats are going where. One of the ones we had to look out for was MSC Bruxelles, loaded with containers and bound for Baltimore:

Photo by Karen

 

I was my usual nervous self when traversing the harbor, but thanks to Karen keeping a sharp lookout we had an uneventful crossing from Bay Ridge over to the Statue of Liberty and the Morris Canal. Michelle, the dockmaster at Liberty Landing Marina, was very helpful directing us to our slip:

We missed the ferry over to Governors Island, so we decided to make the most of our time at Liberty State Park. We got some free ice cream, ate some lunch, and then went kayaking for an hour on the other side of the park (where we tied up last year). The views from Liberty State Park are pretty awesome. Here’s the New York skyline:

And here it looks like you can take a train from the old terminal in New Jersey straight to Manhattan:

We had a good time at our third City of Water Day. We got to spend some time in a part of the harbor that we usually just pass through and visit a new marina. But the highlight of the day was when we were getting ready to leave. A boat came into the marina, and the man at the bow looked over at us and asked — not “What kind of boat is that?” (which we’re used to hearing) — but, “Is that your Nimble?”

Turns out he’s the owner of Dunmaglass, a 1993 Nimble Nomad that he keeps in Alabama. We talked with him a bit, and he came aboard for a look around and pointed out where things are different on his boat. We would have liked to stay longer, but it was time for us to head home. After an exchange of emails, we slipped our lines and made for sea. Waves in the harbor were two to three feet, so we ducked around Governors Island and through the Buttermilk Channel. Once past the Narrows we were broadside to the waves, so we had to tack our way back to Jamaica Bay. About three hours after leaving Liberty Landing we docked back home at Sea Travelers Marina.

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On November 30, the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance held its 2010 Waterfront Conference. This all-day event was hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York. More than 600 people attended the conference, representatives of the various non-profits, government agencies, and other groups that use and care about our waters and waterfront. One hundred five individuals made presentations at two plenary sessions and fifteen panel discussions. Obviously I couldn’t attend every session. Here is a summary of what I heard.

The morning started with a boat tour around New York Harbor. We headed first to the New Jersey side near the Statue of Liberty where we heard brief remarks about the Comprehensive Restoration Plan from representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and Liberty State Park. Then it was over to Red Hook to hear about New York City’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan from the city’s Economic Development Corporation and the Department of City Planning.

Water taxi and tug in the East River

Lower Manhattan skyline (I can never resist taking this picture)

The morning’s plenary session, moderated by New York City Deputy Mayor Robert Steel, covered the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan and regional opportunities for collaboration and funding. Speakers came from New York City government, New Jersey government, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The first panel discussion I attended was “Why is the NY-NJ Harbor Missing the Boat?” As a recreational boater, I was really looking forward to hearing what this panel would present. But I was disappointed that the presentations and Q-and-A focused more on bringing tall ships to New York than on providing docking opportunities for recreational boaters. Captain John Doswell (Working Harbor Committee and North River Historic Ship Society) made a very interesting presentation on what makes the perfect pier. He stressed that the perfect pier must be constructed for multiple uses such as recreation, emergency, and historic vessels. They should be able to accommodate boats with different amounts of freeboard, should have cleats and bollards that are easily accessible, and should be level and with straight edges, and the pilings should not be in front of gates.

Jamy Madeja (Massachusetts Marine Trade Association) noted that a University of Michigan study found that every $1 spent by a recreational boater on a slip or a mooring equaled $4 spent at local businesses. She also mentioned that Federal Boating Infrastructure Grants to build, renovate, and maintain facilities for transient boaters are available pretty much for the taking.

Mason Sears (SF Marina) talked about the concrete floating structures (also known as docks) that his company makes. Doswell gave them high marks.

Captain Bert Rogers (American Sail Training Association) remarked that the “water’s edge is not a boundary, but an entry to adventure.”

The next session I attended was “The Oyster and the Clean Water Act.” Wayne Jackson (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2) described the Harbor Estuary Program and its goal of having all open waters in the harbor be fishable and swimmable. All the panelists agreed this is a long way off. Jim Lodge (Hudson River Foundation) talked about the Oyster Restoration Research Project, a two-year study to determine the possibility of restoring oyster reefs in the harbor. This is a joint project with the Corps of Engineers, the NY/NJ Baykeeper and the New York Harbor School. Debbie Mans (NY/NJ Baykeeper) talked about her great disappointment that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection had ordered the removal of oysters from the experimental reef located in New Jersey waters. She said the project will go ahead with the reefs in New York waters.

Paul Greenberg (author of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food) noted that conservationists are by nature nostalgic, whereas the general public is forgetful. He said the success of conservation programs in Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound is because there is still a living memory of what it used to be like in those areas. The oysters have been gone from New York Harbor for so long that the living memory is also gone. We need to create a new living memory here. Success in New York, he said, will lead to other coastal communities following our example.

The last panel I attended was “Floating the Blue Highway—The Economics and Rationale for Water Mass Transit.” This was the most exciting panel I attended. Pierre Vilain (HDR) presented the results of a study based on U.S. Census Bureau data that showed where people who use ferries live and work. Paula Berry (NYC & Co.) discussed a pilot project from this past summer that showed that recreational users would use water mass transit. Her group teamed up with New York Water Taxi to run a NYHarborWay water taxi that linked waterfront parks on the East River.

David Hopkins (New York City Economic Development Corporation) discussed the role of water mass transit to relieve overcrowding on other forms of mass transit, such as PATH, and to serve areas not served by other forms of transit.

Rex Asiedo (New York City Office of Emergency Management) talked about the role of ferries in emergency situations such as evacuations, blackouts, and the crash of US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson.

Carter Craft (waterfront planner and consultant) reminded us not to forget about regional freight ferries and the role they can play in getting trucks off the roads.

Tom Fox (New York Water Taxi) talked about his idea for high-speed, long-haul ferries to connect the area’s waterfront parks such as Jacob Riis Park, Robert Moses Park, and Jones Beach. He also described his vision of the East River as the Grand Canal of New York. He sees express and local ferries running uptown and down and out to the airports. He said that to be successful, water mass transit must be integrated with and run like terrestrial mass transit, with passengers having the ability to transfer from one boat to another and between the different modes of transit. According to Fox, three things are needed to make this a reality: 1) public investment in infrastructure, 2) private investment, and 3) political will.

After the recap session, where the leaders of the fifteen panels presented brief summaries, we headed over to the Battery for an evening boat tour and cocktails.

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There is still time to register for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s 2010 Waterfront Conference. This full-day event includes not one but two boat tours of New York Harbor and brings together representatives from government, educational, non-profit, and private entities to discuss various aspects of the future of our waterfront. Discussion topics include the reintroduction of oysters to our waters, how to attract more recreational boaters, how to fund waterfront projects, getting kids on and in the water, and more.

Click the picture to go to MWA’s website for more information and to register. See you at the conference!

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At the end of August Karen, the kids, and I, along with our usual excursion partners Elisa and Jon, took an eco-cruise of the Hackensack River and the New Jersey Meadowlands. You’re probably thinking, “What’s so eco about some sports stadiums and a mall?” and that’s exactly why the Hackensack Riverkeeper runs these tours. For about two hours you get to take a relaxing cruise on a pontoon boat through the remarkably peaceful wetlands. It’s a truly unique and surprising area.

You can see a lot of birds in the meadowlands. A major avian migration route from the Arctic down to the southern United States and northern South America runs straight through. Hundreds (thousands, maybe) of least sandpipers stop off here and pick their sustenance out of the mud, and there were plenty of other birds, like this snowy egret (thanks, Nancy):

You can also see the New York City skyline from here, partially hidden by a bit of nature:

And you can see the skyline and the birds at the same time, a truly disorienting juxtaposition:

Back in the days when we didn’t know much about ecology and healthy ecosystems, city planners tried to control the meadowlands with gates to keep the tidal flow out. Here’s is what’s left of one of those gates:

The Hackensack River is also a great place to see movable bridges. Some are still in use, such as this single-leaf bascule bridge and the vertical lift bridge below:

Some are no longer used and are left in the open position, like this swing bridge:

A number of ospreys have made their nests in the meadowlands. There are some telephone poles around with platforms on top, which were supposed to be inviting places for the ospreys to build their nests, but the birds instead prefer to build on seemingly less-hospitable structures. In this picture you can see the nest atop the poles on the right with the radio antenna. Two ospreys are also visible: One is perched on the fourth horizontal bar from the bottom on the large tower, and the other is flying toward the nest from the right:

Finally, an eco-cruise on the Hackensack River lets you go underneath the New Jersey Turnpike, which opened in 1952. An increase in traffic rendered the original turnpike too narrow, so it was widened by adding lanes. Here you can see the original inverted-U cement supports for the bridge and the newer cement posts on either side, which support the added lanes:

This picture from 1951 shows the turnpike under construction:

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