Lan Tuazon and Starlee Kine

Clandestine Botanists

November 27, 2009

Early Easter morning I set out to North Brother Island with Lan Tuazon and Starlee Kine.

Lan had the idea to plant a peach tree there in memory of Mary Mallon.

‘Typhoid Mary’ was imprisoned on North Brother for 23 years. She was the first known carrier of Typhoid fever.

As a cook in New York, her favorite and most requested dish: peach ice cream.

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Our plan,

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was to find her house,

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and plant the peach tree out front.

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It was important to get to the island before the light came up,

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or we might be spotted.

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North Brother is a bird sanctuary,

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and off limits to visitors.

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But we were careful to avoid the nests.

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We think we found the right spot.

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McKendree Key and Mike Cataldi

Rescue Mission

November 27, 2009

McKendree Key needed some help getting out to work on her sculpture in the Hudson River. She had installed one of her floating pieces as part of a public art project at Riverside Park.

She had planned on swimming out to it the next morning but I proposed to go there in a boat. The rain let up while we were pumping up the raft.

The swivel mechanisms that held the sculptures to their anchors were beginning to corrode and break apart.

There used to be ten islands of bright plastic spheres. Now we could only find two.

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One more seemed to have drifted away from the pack and was stuck in the shallow water close to the bank.

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We were worried that the sharp armature underneath the islands might puncture the boat, but McKendree managed to check the anchor of each one while holding us away.

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Duke Riley

The Greenpoint Terminal Market

November 27, 2009

Duke Riley called me Wednesday night with a top secret water taxi mission: row to the abandoned Greenpoint Terminal Market.

All the old land passages were blocked off securely after the fire. But I have always like to come by water anyway.

This would be the first time I had been back to the area since it burned almost to the ground in May. From the water, it looked almost the same.

We pulled up alongside the docks,

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and found a place to stash the boat.

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We ate some dinner before exploring the building.

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A few steps into the ruins, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

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All the buildings and spaces that I remembered, were piles of brick.

But these were the piles that Duke was looking for.

For years someone had been storing bundles of cloths inside the abandoned warehouses of the Terminal Market.

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Now they were piled in mountains on the cement. The cloths seemed to be the only thing left after the fire.

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Duke had an idea to salvage some of the half burnt remains and make a fashionable ’boutique’.

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The singed 70’s relics could be the next big thing.

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Duke hunted through the piles,

while I started laying out some possibilities.

Duke’s favorite: half long sleeve, half short sleeve.

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It was late and I had to get up early the next day.

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So we took the cloths back to the boat.

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What a good mission – perfect for the capabilities of the tide and current taxi!

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Birgit Rathsmann

The Daredevil

November 27, 2009

Birgit Rathsmann wants to swim across Hell Gate, the channel south of Wards Island, famous for its treacherous current.

She has wanted to make the swim ever since she read about Emilie Muse, a daredevil woman who swam across it in the 1920’s.

She wants to go inspect at the area to see how hard it looks. I told her that I think there might be a few minutes when the tide is slack in Hell Gate, where we might be able to paddle across. But my undisclosed mission is to try and talk her out of it.

The best way to convince her might be to go have a closer look, I thought.

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We took my rubber raft on our bikes over into Queens.

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Hell Gate. From up here it looked calm, but we could see strong eddies and whirlpools in the current.

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I imagine it would be hard to swim out of the way of the big ships that use the channel.

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We inflated the raft and waited.

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An hour and a half after high tide, the current looked completely still. This would be the time to swim if you were going to do it.

I wanted to get the boat out into the channel and see how long the current remained slack; how much time would a swimmer have to cross?

A few minutes ago the water was rushing around these rocks and now it was barely moving.

We waited for another tug and barge,

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and slipped across the Hell Gate channel.

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Ward’s Island.

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On the way back, we could feel the current starting to pull us West at a few knots.

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I think a swimmer could make it across the channel and back in about 40 minutes, if she timed the tides like we did today. That is assuming there were no boats. Now it is up to Birgit’s husband to talk her out of it. Rick – tell her its against the law!

Tommy Burke and Tamara Cepeda

A Change of Plans

November 27, 2009

I have been talking to Tommy and Tamara about some possible water taxi missions for a while, but we never arrived at anything concrete.

So on Sunday, we decided to try and make it out around Roosevelt Island.

The current pulled us North, the way we wanted to go.

But the wind was blowing against us, making it hard to stay away from boat traffic.

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We decided to turn around,

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and put up the sail.

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We moved quickly with the wind.

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Soon Roosevelt Island was way behind us.

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We came back alongside the Huron Street Pier.

There was a sunbather on the docks, and that gave us an idea.

We headed out to the ocean (by car).

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It was too hot for the Tide And Current Taxi.

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Rachel Mason

Hoffman Island

November 27, 2009

Rachel Mason and I decided to try and row out to Hoffman Island early one Saturday morning.

Hoffman is an abandoned island in the South Harbor,

a few miles from the Verrazano Bridge.

The city made Hoffman from landfill in 1872 and it served as a quarantine station. It was abandoned in 1961 and the buildings were demolished to deter visitors.

But in 1973, a film crew was apprehended shooting a pornographic film there.

The fog helped us get out to the island without being spotted,

and we pulled the boat around to a small inlet shielded by the rocks.

The island was filled with cormorants and huge seagulls.

There were nests in almost every tree.

I was a little worried about poison ivy.

It looked like every plant on the island was oily or reddish and had three leaves.

We didn’t see much evidence of the structures that stood here.

Hutton bricks from Kingston New York.

Rachel wanted to go for a swim on the East shore where the water looked clear and deep.

We walked back along the seawall,

and saw flock after flock of cormorants.

You can’t quite see it here – but the trees were filled with egrets.

We paddled back to Staten Island.

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Sally Paul

Canarsie Pol

November 27, 2009

Sally and I launched from the Canarsie Pier to explore some of the islands in Jamaica Bay.

The water seemed to be covered in some sort of foam.

We both got some good pictures of it .

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The wind was against us.

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As we rounded the Northeastern point of the island called Canarsie Pol,

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we decided to drag the boat through the shallow water instead of row.

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Even as we got out into deeper water,

it was easier to pull the boat.

We eventually pulled up to a small island to have lunch.

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The island was made of shells covering a bank of soft mud and our feet sank so deep, it was difficult to stand.

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I began to worry that if the tide changed directions we might end up at the landfill.

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So we dragged the boat the rest of the way around Canarsie Pol,

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and floated back to the dock.

Jackson McDade

Staten Island Boat Graveyard

November 24, 2009

When Jackson McDade heard about the Tide and Current Taxi, he knew just where he wanted to go: the Staten Island Boat Graveyard.

This is about as close as you can get to the ships from land.

But we found a little river in someone’s backyard,

and cut quietly through to the Arthur Kill waterway.

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We floated out into the graveyard,

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and began to explore the wrecks.

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We floated right up to the decaying ships.

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In some cases, we were able to float right through.

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It is difficult to understand from the pictures how big this stuff is,

or to get a sense of what it feels like to stand close to it.

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There is something ominous about the whole place.

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In fact, Jackson told me that being around sunken ships is one of his greatest fears.

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He has no fear of heights or violence,

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but the depth and darkness and not knowing what is just under the surface of the water,

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he thinks must be related to the very idea of death.

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Jackson doesn’t believe in reincarnation.

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But he said that if he did,

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he might think that in a past life he died at sea.

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Not on the Titanic or anything like that,

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but maybe as a sailor on a commercial ship.

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It is easy to imagine, walking around in some of the wrecks.

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From up here we noticed something disconcerting.

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The tide had gone out so far that the creak from where we came was just a muddy bank.

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We had to find another spot to take out the boat.

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We pulled it up the bank,

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through the woods,

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and eventually back to civilization.

Josiah McElheny and Anne Daems

The Gowanus Canal

November 24, 2009

Josiah McElheny’s glass studio is right on the Gowanus Canal,

so I met him and Anne at a little ladder that goes from his back patio into the water.

We headed up the canal,

and Josiah pointed out some of the areas slated for development over the next few years.

It is easy to feel a kind of preemptive nostalgia for all the things that will be leveled,

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and turned into luxury condominiums.

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The branch of the canal that we chose seemed to come to a dead end.

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We found ourselves floating in a swamp of debris.

At the other end of the canal, a flushing tunnel pumps in fresh water from the Hudson.

They built the thing in 1911 but it broke.

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And then in 1999, the city set aside money to reactivate the propeller and tunnel.

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It must be back there somewhere,

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and it appears to be working.

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Josiah wanted to explore one of the derelict buildings that has just been purchased for renovations.

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(The end of one.)

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I asked Josiah what he would do with the canal if the whole thing were up to him.

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Well, first off, he thinks the industry that is here should be allowed to stay.

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Some of it will have to, like the cement factory.

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Then he thinks the open and abandoned spaces should be kept just like they are now.

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Perhaps some kind of a trust could be created that gives people access to the areas, he suggested.

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They could propose projects for specific periods of time.

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As we get further out into the bay, we saw large oil slicks.

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I remembered rowing to this spot in the canal before and seeing the oil in the water just like this.

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I took alot of pictures of it then too.

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The truth is, it’s hard to imagine any of this looking different in 10 years.

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How can something that feels so utterly forgotten ever change?

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It is like the whole city is turned around, looking the other direction.

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The Gowanus Bay, 1851.

Elsie Hill

The Ghost Ships of Coney Island Creek

November 24, 2009

Elsie Hill made some paintings about the water this year.

So when I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride in the Tide and Current Taxi, she thought it might be fun to try some plein air painting from the boat.

Sunday morning something caught my eye in the Times,

and we headed to Coney Island to see what we could see.

We rowed against the wind to get up to the shipwrecks.

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The article in the Times said that the wrecks might be sunken whaling ships.

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But the things we saw looked more like old construction barges.

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Except for this one, which looked like a submarine.

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Elsie set up her easel and began to paint,

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while I read.

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On the way back we saw groups of men all along the beach taking in nets.

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I asked one group what they were catching.

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“Whatever is down there.” he said.

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Elsie used to take me out in her boat in Savannah.

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We would spend whole days in the rivers around her grandmother’s house, and she taught me to throw a cast-net.

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We would cast and cast and take in whatever was down there.

Roxanne Bartlet, Lan Tuazon, Mike Williams, and Rich Porter

Dutch Island

November 24, 2009

Some friends and I took my boat out to Jamestown, Rhode Island.

A few nights earlier, Rich Porter told us about an Island he had always wanted to visit off the coast. We decided to try and camp there overnight.

Although Dutch Island lies in a busy shipping channel, he didn’t think many people ever tried to visit the island at all.

We packed up the boat and left from Dutch Harbor. With five of us and all our camping gear in the boat, we were riding low in the water.

A few minutes into the trip, I noticed that something was dreadfully wrong.

We paddled back to shore and examined the hole.

I have always let myself believe that in the face of peril or challenge I become composed and more effective. Like how Joseph Banks described Captain Cook when their ship ran aground on the Great Barrier reef; cool and cheerful.

But when I saw the hole I felt terrible and wanted to go home.

Luckily everyone else responded quickly and effectively,

and within a few minutes they fashioned a patch out of things they found on the beach.

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We set off for Dutch Island just after sunset.

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I kept an eye on the patch but it seemed to be holding up.

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We made it through the channel without incident,

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and landed on the island in the dark.

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Without a flashlight, we took pictures to see where we were going.

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We set up camp late.

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The next morning we split up and explored.

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We found another home-made boat.

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Rich and Mike took it for a sail.

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We left the island scraped up and happy. There are no pictures of it, but Rich saved the life of a small deer that he and Mike found trapped down in one of the cisterns.

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Dutch Island

Mike Olshan

The Coney Island Creek

November 24, 2009

Mike Olshan found out that I had been to the sunken submarine in the Coney Island Creek and he asked if I could take him out to photograph it.

He remembered seeing it out there years ago and has always wanted to get a better look.

Duke Riley came along as well.

I was a little disappointed to see that the sub was so far underwater. I had forced us all up early so that we could catch the slack tide at daybreak, not even thinking about how much of the sub we would be able to see.

We were missing all the best parts, I told them.

But MIke was excited to get up close to ‘The Yellow Submarine’. It is something he had always wondered about.

He said he heard the sub was an experiment of some kind, made by amateurs, and that it sank right off the dock.

Or it might have been built by scientists,

to explore other sunken ships.

After exploring the sub, we wanted to check out the rest of the Coney Island Creek.

The Creek seemed to keep going and going.

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And while we paddled, Mike told us stories about growing up in the Bath Beach section of Bensonhurst.

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He can remember when there was a band of real Roma Gypsies camped down by the River near Stillwell Avenue.

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They had two truck campers and a varda.

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“That’s a horse drawn cart.” Mike said.

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We passed right by where the gypsies used to live,

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although it doesn’t look like much today.

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There are lots of people living along the Coney Island Creek today.

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Many birds live here too.

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We came up to where the creek ended and turned around.

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On the way back we passed back by the “Ghost Ships of Coney Island”.

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We talked about how the article about these boats in the paper a few weeks ago was really what brought us all together down here.

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And I’m happy that it did.

Mike and Cynthia Parker and Matt Lorenz

Stripes' Grave

November 24, 2009

Mike and Cynthia Parker grew up a few blocks from the Hudson up around 100th Street.

Mike contacted me a before with in idea for a taxi mission that was quite unusual.

He wanted to go see the place where they had burried a family pet.

I asked my brother, Matt to come along as well,

and we set off in search of Stripes’ Grave.

As we floated, Mike pointed out landmarks along the river, and told us about how things used to look back then.

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He had never looked at any of this from the water before.

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That’s right where Mike and Cynthia used to live.

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So it must have been around here that Mike, Cynthia, and their baby sitter, came down to the water with the recently deceased body of their pet turtle, Stripes, in a cookie tin.

As we passed the place where Stripes met his watery grave, the true story began to emerge.

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You see, a burial at sea was not the baby-sitter’s original intention.

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She first took Stripes and the kids to a nearby park and tried to dig a grave, but the ground was hard and frozen. So they carried the tin down to the water and tried to huck it over a large fence that used to run along the river here.

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The toss wasn’t far enough and Stripes ended up in the rocks on the bank. They couldn’t climb the fence either, so they had to leave him there, exposed on the shore.

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Cynthia and Mike both feel that as far as funerals go, the ordeal with Stripes wound up being a little inconclusive; without a real sense of closure.

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However, they seem to have made the best out of the circumstances at hand.

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We made a little toast to Stripes,

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and then ourselves.

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I thought it might be possible to foat all the way to Chelsea before dark,

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but by 7pm, the tide was changing and we were fighting a fair amount of current.

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We paddled up to the shore,

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and Matt pulled us along all the way to the Boat Basin.

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We nestled the boat in with some other dinghies.

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I thought it might be safe there for a couple hours.

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The river looks different after you have been out there in a boat.

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It’s hard to describe, but when you stare out at it, you can feel the pull of the tide and the gusts of wind,

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and I can never believe how flat it seems.

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MOMO and ZOSEN

Buena Suerte

November 24, 2009

MOMO and ZOSEN are graffiti artists.

When MOMO contacted me about taking them somewhere in the boat, I figured that it would involve a large scale act of trespassing and vandalism.

But what they had in mind, was to build something off of a piling at Huron Street pier;

a 25 foot high totem made of lath and paint.

They assembled some of the parts in the parking lot at Huron Street.

We paddled away from the dock; the wings of the bird figure extending far over the back of the boat, touching the water just a bit.

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We looked for a place to attach the totem,

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but the tide was high and most of the pilings were under water.

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Momo chose a piling and began to attatch the legs.

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We lifted the figure slowly, using the anchored legs as a fulcrum near the base.

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But the top of the sculpture had been hanging in the water for nearly a half hour, and it was much heavier than before.

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We had to jettison the bottom half of the totem. You can see it laying in the water here to the left of the pilings, floating off down the East River.

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Now she was half as tall, but much easier to lift up standing.

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“And just as beautiful.” I said.

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Zosen had written “Beuna Suerte” in her wings.

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Momo said that when the sun came out, it would light up the gold letters.

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Good job.

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Now it was almost light,

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and we let the boat float away to get a better look.

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If you want to take a look at what Momo and Zosen made,

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walk down to the end of India Street, where it meets the East River.

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You will see two rows of fence there before you get to the water.

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Off to the right there is a hole just the size of a person.

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You can’t see it really from the street, but just go through the hole and you will find another in the second fence.

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And then look straight out across the water.

Craig Koon

The Harlem River

November 24, 2009

Kraig Koon found out about the Tide and Current Taxi from our mutual friend, Scott Mitchel.

We discussed some possible trips and decided to paddle over to a little known historic site in Inwood.

It is the site of the oldest known Native American settlement in Manhattan,

and it is believed to be the place where Peter Minuit, Director General of New Netherland ‘purchased’ Manhattan from Indians living along the banks.

It all happened right here. There used to be a tulip tree here that was a hundred and sixty five feet high and considered to be the oldest living thing in Manhattan. Now there is just this rock.

One of the very first things that happened on our trip was that I dropped my camera into the river and it sunk right to the bottom.

Craig held the boat in the current while I reached down and felt around for the camera. But it was gone.

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Luckily, Craig had a camera too, and he said that I could use his pictures.

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He likes to take pictures of bridges,

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trains,

and signs of waterways. The original waterways of Manhattan now enter the rivers in places like this.

In fact, one of the main things that he wanted to see on our trip was the place where the original path of the Harlem river enters the rerouted shipping channel. Here it is; now a Target parking lot.

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We headed down the Harlem with the intention of making it back to Roosevelt Island where Craig lives with his wife Stephanie and their two boys, Erik and Ayler.

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Sometimes that river doesn’t even look like New York City,

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like here at the Flotilla 51 Yacht Club.

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“Never name your boat Titanic,” Craig said. “Its not funny and nothing good can come of it.”

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The truth is, when I was planning the trip, I didn’t look very closely a the tide.

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I was more concerned with getting out early on what might have been the last sunny and warm day this year.

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We ended up rowing against the tide most of the way.

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But there was plenty of interesting things to see;

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like this phone book, sailing along beside us, a few knots faster than we could row.

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More forgotten waterways.

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Finally around Randall’s Island, we had a clear view of midtown Manhattan in the distance.

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It was almost time for the current to change, and that is not a good time to get caught the currents of Hells Gate.

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However, crossing South of Millrock Island was the only way back to Roosevelt Island. We paddled as hard as we could against the shifting currents and slipped in between two of the biggest ships I have ever seen in the East River. We landed safely.

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Eric Forman, Constance Wyndham, and Duke Riley

Hell Gate and beyond

November 24, 2009

Constance had contacted me about the possibility of rowing out to Millrock Island,

but when we paddled out into the current we could see large eddies and whirlpools.

Usually when I look at photographs that I took from the boat, the water appears much flatter and calmer than my experience of it at the time.

But I think this one gives a good indication of the huge forces at work just under the surface of the river.

We decided to turn South and ride the current back to Greenpoint along Roosevelt Island.

We were quickly intercepted by the Coast Guard. They had received a call that four people were headed into Hell Gate in an open rowboat. “We weren’t going to go into it,” I said. “Just close to it. Now we are going to Greenpoint.”

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The Coast Guard said they would follow us in case we ran into trouble;

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and they did;

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all the way past the 59th street Bridge,

and past the Water’s Edge Club.

We told the Coast Guard that we were planning on getting to Greenpoint before dark,

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and now it was like a race against time.

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What would they do if we didn’t make it back?

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But at the mouth of the Newtown Creek the Coast Guard said goodbye and asked us to call when we made it home safe.

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Once we were out of sight,

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Duke opened a bottle of wine,

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and we headed up the Newtown Creek,

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to the Schamonchi ferry.

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That is the old Martha’s Vineyard ferry parked up past Pulaski Bridge on the Newtown Creek.

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We rowed up to her in the dark,

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and climbed aboard between the deck and pier.

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Constance came across the ferry schedule,

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and Duke pointed out where he grew up in Cape Cod.

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Duke, Constance, Eric, and me.

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We decided to row back around to Huron Street and take the boat out on the dock.

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Manhattan

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Under the Huron Street Pier

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This is the last picture ever taken of the Tide and Current Taxi,

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because I left her on the dock at Huron Street and when I came back to get her with my truck, she was gone.

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I think someone must have come down there after us, and pushed the boat out to sea.

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If you see her out there, let me know.

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She meant so much to me.

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When Constance and Eric learned that the boat was lost, they said they wanted to help me make another.

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The design was a little different, more simple,

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but I think it will make a good Tide and Current Taxi.

Cyrus Amundson

USS Intrepid

November 23, 2009

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Cyrus wanted to take a taxi mission to the USS Intrepid, to make something in the space that the boat left when it was taken away.

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He wanted to fill the gap with some kind of memorial.

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But on the day that the Intrepid was scheduled to move,

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the tugs could not pull her out of the deep silt along the bank and she was stuck there for weeks.

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Dredgers worked around the clock to dig her out and pull her loose.

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So Cyrus decided that maybe we should just visit her in port.

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We left at dawn from just above the security zone that surrounds the Intrepid.

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We figured we could float down outside the zone and sneak up next to the battleship if it seemed safe.

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I was uneasy about the whole thing.

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I thought that if we were aprehended, our situation seemed harder to explain than usual.

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In the rubber rafts, even on a Sunday morning, I expected that we would attract attention.

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But with a mission like this,

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you just take things one step at a time.

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It was getting lighter,

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and it was a beautiful morning to be out on the Hudson River.

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The tide was pulling our boats South quickly,

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and soon the USS Intrepid was in sight,

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Cy got in his boat and prepared his sign.

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The idea was to float right up next to the battleship with a message.

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>It would be the smallest kind of boat next to the biggest.

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>Maybe someone would be up early enough to see us.

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We paddled into the security zone,

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past the dredger and into the slip beside the battleship.

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I couldn’t believe we were so close.

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At first I didn’t know what to make of the sign that Cyrus had made.

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I couldn’t figure out if the ‘Museum of a Lesser War’ referred to the Intrepid or the rubber raft. Was he talking about the Iraq war or ‘The Great War’.

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But when I saw him out there next to the battlship it didn’t seem to matter. We felt so small floating out by the ship, all of those ideas became the same thing; the same scale.

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You see, I think that Cyrus really likes the Intrepid.

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There is something sad about seeing it leave Manhattan.

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Soon there won’t really be anything like it on the waterfront.

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We drove back to Brooklyn around the Southern tip of Manhattan,

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and talked about how much the city has changed even in the short time that we have lived here.

Anthony Lepore

Harlem River

January 7, 2007

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I thought that boating season was pretty much over for the Winter,

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but there was such a warm and sunny day in January,

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that I decided to take a short trip with Anthony Lepore down the Harlem River.

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He has a friend who works for the New York Restoration Project in Swindler’s Cove.

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They turned this whole area that used to be sort of a dump,

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into a place where people can learn about the Harlem River Estuary.

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As we paddle out, we had to dodge a few motors that seemed to have escaped the clean-up.

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Coming out of the cove, we picked up the current going down the Harlem River.

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January 7th, 2007. It must have been over 60 F.

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No one was in sight at the Flotilla 51 Yacht club.

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In fact, no one seemed to be out anywhere.

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Once again, I was struck by how how quiet and remote it felt to be out on the water.

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We were just a few miles from Times Square.

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We decided to get out and take a look around.

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Someone was feeding birds under the old Croton Aqueduct.

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Back in the boat, Anthony told me about his upcoming trip to New Zealand.

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He will be meeting two friends to Kayak around some of the small unpopulated islands,

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and taking photographs at the National Zoo.

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We landed a little South of Swindler’s Cove.

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The weather wass so warm, it almost seemed like Spring.

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It looked like the trees thought so too.

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