Monday, September 7, 2015

Rougher tides of yore

Scene of the Hell Gate explosion viewed from 87th Street on October 10, 1885.
Monday, Labor Day, September 7, 2015. Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny and warm day here in New York. Sunday morning I went down to the Promenade with my dogs to check out the boats in the river.

The tide was moving in and it was stronger than usual. This is the area historically known as Hellgate, which is a Dutch-derived name for a narrow tidal strait. This one is where the Harlem River on the west converges with the Long Island Sound on the northeast and the New York harbor on the south. It was a rocky, dangerous area to ships. The explorers in the New World found it hazardous to lethal.

In the middle of the 19th century the US Army Corps of Engineers began using explosives to move the rocks. The process took seven decades. In 1885, the Corps set off the largest planned explosion until the test of the Atom Bomb sixty years later. The blast from the Hellgate explosion could be felt clear down to Princeton, New Jersey. Sunday morning’s rough looking waters were a mere reminder of the much rougher tides of yore.
I love to look at the boats and easily fall into imagining what it feels like on each one. Although I also indulge in imagining who these people are and what their boats mean to them. I see many of the private boats as an expression of some kind of personal achievement. A reward, perhaps even for one’s labors, this holiday.

Then there are the passengers on board. The girls of one’s dreams, out riding on the foredeck, sunbathing, luxuriating in the wind while in the cabin, the captain of someone’s dreams is steering the craft south to the harbor and the Atlantic. Then there’s the bigger motor cruiser with sixteen passengers on the fore deck and aft, (I counted them) taking in the same luxury as those girls sunbathing. No doubt heading out to for a beautiful cruise along the coast, and an onboard buffet lunch.

Then there’s the couple on the LUTKA motoring north to the Sound, maybe going for a sail out toward Sag Harbor? And of course the SS Cell Phone Hawker.
Our friends heading out toward Sag are bobbing along, ducking the seaspray as they move toward calmer waters. Then there was the guy on a jet ski (no seat). I’d been watching him surf the waves created by the converging tides. He was moving along at a good clip and once fell over for a couple of seconds that looked like he’d disappeared below, and I was wondering if anyone saw him ... but he re-surfaced and pushed on for the thrill of riding this powerful tide.

Moving south at the same time was this tugboat that looks like it’s ready for an MGM musical fable.  And then there’s the family out in the their cruiser with the proud captain intensely moving them quickly down stream. And the tourists – which could be a lot of New Yorkers themselves – jammed aboard, taking the Circle Line around Manhattan which looks entirely like a fabled city from that vantage point.
I went back out about 4:30 to see what kind of activity there was on the water. With the sun beginning to set, and the colors changing, people are heading for their harbor and home.  Many moving at good speeds. And then there’s another couple, moving south, leisurely motoring by. I often wonder if the couple have retired from city life, business life, maybe even family life, and set sail for their own beautiful sunsets. A respite, which is what the holiday was intended to be from its inception.

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