Thursday, December 4, 2014

A dinghy trip to North Brother Island

I met a crazy free-spirited traveler passing by NYC. Her name was Fey. Hey! Let's do some adventurous before you leave! I was thinking about bivouacking at creepy places in NYC, but none of that sounded challenging to us. Finally, I remembered one place in NYC I read about a year ago and it has been on my to-crash-on list since. The North Brother Island! I originally found North Brother Island in the list of "10 Secrete Sites of NYC": Its main selling point to me was, citing: "Accessibility: Welp…it’s sort of impossible..." Besides, who knows what might have been happening on the island before it got abandoned half century ago - there must have been numerable people going through paranoia there. I have a dinghy. I know a crazy fellow. And I've tried a dry suit on few times - giving me the feel that this piece of rubber could help me to survive almost anything. What should prevent us from going to the North Brother Island then? Still, there ware some factors making it a challenge: 1. My only experience with using the dinghy was the daily 5 min commute between dock and my boat, before I moved to the dock three weeks ago. Just once I made a trip to a nearby beach (1km away) and I remember that even that short rowing trip was kind of tiring - my dinghy is not really designed for longer trips. 2. The weather has changed since I moved from the mooring to the dock - it is colder, more windy, and time to time there are waves that could easily sink my dinghy. 3. I had no idea how long it should take us to go from City Island to the North Brother Island, I did not know if there are places where we could land on the way, and I needed to count with that the dinghy might sink anywhere on the way (once water goes in, it does not float). Before the trip we went to rent a dry suit for Fey - my City Island friend Mike has a diving store nearby. Mike immediately picked the right size of suit for Fey. While he was finding all the pieces of suit, Fey mentioned to him what kind of trip we are planning. His first reaction was like: "Are you crazy? How are you gonna do it? It is far, you want to row all the way? There are strong currents, there are tug boats, the weather might get crazy... I have 20 years of experience with diving and I have gone through shit, this sounds crazy to me!" We spent an hour or two discussing with Mike. After hearing Mikes concerns about our safety, we turn the conversation into what we should do to make it safe and possible. Mike checked the tide tables and explained us the best timing for our trip: "Do this and you will go along currents almost all the way. First, leave around 10am or 11am from City Island to Throggs Neck. Then catch another tide from there to the North Brother Island in the afternoon." People often describe the early stage of life as being Young, Strong, and Stupid. I used to be young, and since moving to City Island I feel young again. I have never been strong, perhaps "crazy" is my version of "strong". And stupid, yes, that is one thing I have always been excelling at. Nothing has made my life more fun and ridiculous than the S thing. Even this time the S thing did its job! Being too slow in the morning we started our trip too late. It meant that we had to go all the way to the Throggs Neck against the tide, taking us about 4-5 hours of intensive rowing instead of 2 hours of leisure. Besides, we missed the other tide from the Throggs Neck. I suggested we land somewhere, eat, get some sleep, and continue once the tide goes out way. I woke up several times over the night and watched the water. Wrong way, all night! Strange, the direction of the tides should change approximately every 6 hours, so I was expecting we could leave at 4am. Late in the morning the tide became weaker and we gave up waiting. Again, hours and hours rowing against the tide. Going against the tide means that you don't want to stop rowing or you lose a lot of hard work in a few moments. Eventually, the tide became so strong against us that we were almost not moving even at the full PhD student's arms power. I suggested we better land and try to find some food. Our first trial to land was unsuccessful. A security guard kicked us out the property that looked like a public packing place to us. Anyways, I'm glad the guard did not fill us with lead. We went a bit further against the tide and landed on a mini beach that was part of a the Barretto Point Park. When we were entering the streets from the park I told Fey: "We should check what time the park closes so that we can get back" She replied: "It closes at dusk - which is now. Should we care? Can't we climb?" Feeling impressed I brought the attention of my eyes to the spiky metal bars at the top of the hight fence. After having fun hanging around and filling our stomachs in sort of weird neighborhood, we came back to the boat. (Mike, don't worry, the reason we have no returned the dry suit to you yet is not that one of the spikes went though while climbing over the fence.) It was night already and we were excited to enter into the UNKNOWN. The North Brother Island! It took us less than an hour rowing to get there. I had absolutely no idea what kind of creepy people might have lived there at the point we landed. I proposed my standard approach to bivouacking: Hide self in a very discrete way and sleep. Fey replied: "Let's explore the island, no?" We left everything on the dinghy, I just took one oar in case someone attacked us with a knife. I was trying to walk silently so that we are likely to be heard and that we can hear if someone was to approach us from behind. Whilst I was pretty scared and ready for an action, Fey was chilling. What is more, Fey suggested "Let's sleep in one of the abandoned buildings!" It sounded attractive to me to face the fear of doing so, but then I did not really want to do it: I like sleeping in nature on fresh air. In my experience abandoned buildings have strong smells, feeling of darkness, strange energies,... I hate the sharpness of the corners of the concrete walls. The next day we explored the island. Pictures can perhaps tell better. There were lots of strange machines (at least to me, I wish I knew a bit about those things). One building was half fallen down, many walls, floors and ceiling were missing - we had to jump from side to side in most of the rooms. I was holding to whatever I could find being ready for the floor to break. The biggest surprise on the island ended up to be the library whose floor was filled with random books. Imagine you just go and pick any book from the dust and search through it. Many books have notes and drawings done by drug addicts half a century ago. We left the island late in the afternoon. Instead of going back we decided to visit my friend Poli who lives on a boat in Newtown Creek. It meant we would have to go down the East River - which we only knew about were Mike's words: "Don't even think about it - there are strong currents there." However, for stubborn people like us that translates into: "Remember! You need to try this - you will learn on the way". Before we left, I packed everything to be very ready to leave everything and only save our souls by swimming to any shore... and hopefully rescuing the yellow water proof bag with electronics too. Imagine, we lose one oar for example and a tug boat is going towards us; the only thing we can do then is to instantly put the fins on and swim away without hesitations or regrets. First, we had to cross the Hell Gate. The tug boats we saw there before were very very fast. We had to watch carefully and cross from one side of the channel to another as fast as possible. The water was rough and waves were reaching the top of the dinghy. As we learned later, there is a good reason behind the name "Hell Gate". Once we got on the East River, we had strong currents going our way. Finally! It is so different to let the currents take you instead of fighting them all the way. They were so strong that I could not go against them even if I tried my best...meaning we were moving very fast towards my friend without much effort - except for watching for the boats and pushing the boat closer to the middle of the river where the currents were faster. Well, there was one scary moment when we passed by a whirl. Finally, we made it to Poli's boat late at night. It was the first time I visited him in Newtown Creek. I was impressed by all the little ingenious tricks he uses to live the way he loves to live - breaking all the concepts of the consume oriented society. Ohh, Poli, I live your ways!

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