Both Peg and I were born and raised in New York State. Although we were raised in very different regions of the state, we know NY state very well. From the highlands of Western New York, to the wine country of the Finger Lakes, to the ancient forests of the Adirondacks and the peneplain of the Catskills, and to Long Island Sound, the state is a wonderland of natural beauties, if not political common sense. The Hudson River Valley was our home for more than 25 years. It was a wonderful place to live, work and raise our children. The Hudson River is an extraordinary natural wonderland. We loved New York State. But, we are “country mice,” not “city mice.” This monograph is offered from these perspectives.
Northbound from New Jersey, cruisers should consult the website of the Urban Ocean Observatory of the Davidson Laboratory at the Maritime College of Stevens Institute. This site offers a very complete and robust mathmetical model of the ocean and estuary systems from the Delaware Bay to Rhode Island Sound, including the New York Bight and the Hudson River Estuary. The section of the website that shows “Surface Currents” will be invaluable to helping cruisers manage transit times around ebb and flood currents on the coastal Atlantic shelf off New Jersey, and transits of the Hudson River, East River, Harlem River and Long Island Sound. Here is the site link: here: http://hudson.dl.stevens-tech.edu/maritimeforecast/traces/.
Tidal currents in NY Harbor and the Hudson River can run to 2 – 3 kts. In addition to tidal currents, the Hudson River watershed produces a substantial south-flowing current in it’s own right. The result is that the strength and period of ebb exceeds that of flood. Ebb will be 1/2 to 1 kt stronger, and usually runs 7 to 7-1/2 hours while flood runs for 5 hours or less. Plan accordingly; modestly-powered boats heading northbound against the ebb will find progress to be slow and tedious. The Stevens Institute website can help cruisers locate and run in northbound eddies even when the river is ebbing. These eddies can be of substantial help if one MUST run north against the ebb. Be alert for large flotsam in the river, particularly in the early spring and after periods of heavy rainfall in the upper-Hudson watershed.
Northbound from New Jersey, all cruisers – regardless of boat speed and design – must travel offshore in the Atlantic Ocean from at least New Jersey’s Manasquan Inlet to the New York’s Verrazano Narrows. This route rounds the major New Jersey land feature, Sandy Hook, and continues northeasterly across Raritan Bay to New York. The route crosses the ship entrance to New York Harbor (the “Ambrose Channel”). In these waters, smart pleasure boat operators can safely and easily operate outside of marked channels, staying well clear of commercial traffic. It’s an area where commercial traffic and day fishermen are visible at significant distance. It’s also an area where ocean-going ships operate at speed, so there can be significant bow and stern wakes from those behemoths for those too close to their channels. These waters require careful watch-standing, but visibility is 360° and transit will not be any more challenging than any other busy harbor waters on the US East Coast.
“New York Harbor” is comprised of two bays: the “Lower Bay” and the “Upper Bay.” The Verrazano Narrows (“The Narrows”) is the divide between Staten Island and Long Island, and is the demarcation between the Lower Bay and the Upper Bay. The waters south the “Narrows” and north of a line from the southern tip of Staten Island to Coney Island, Brooklyn, are known and charted as the “Lower Bay.” Except for Gravesend Bay, where there is a good pleasure craft anchorage, the Lower Bay is largely open water. The impact of tidal currents is less in the Lower Bay than north of the narrows. The most important “hazards” to pleasure craft in the Lower Bay arise from Day Boat traffic and Fast Cat ferries that operate between Atlantic Highlands and the East River ferry terminal.
Northbound from Manasquan, NJ, upon rounding Sandy Hook, cruisers have several transit and destination options:
1. come around Sandy Hook, steer back to the southern end of Sandy Hook Bay, and stay at Atlantic Highlands, NJ; or,
2. as above, but anchor behind Sandy Hook if prevailing weather conditions are suitable; or,
3. steer northwest to the mid-point of the southeast shore of Staten Island and anchor or stay at a marina or yacht club in Great Kills Harbor; or
4. continue northbound to and through “The Narrows” to stay at either Jersey City, NJ, or in NYC.
Great Kills Harbor on Staten Island is a well protected harbor with several marina facilities. Sanctuary and crew have enjoyed the hospitality of the friendly and welcoming folks at Great Kills Yacht Club. GKYC has a special rate for members of America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA), and will accept other transients on a space-available basis. From GKYC, there are convenient bus connections into New York for those planning to visit the city. Great Kills is an excellent place to ride out heavy weather.
New York harbor is one of the largest and busiest seaports in the world. For visitors, especially first-time visitors, navigating the Upper Bay of New York Harbor is a special case by any comparative standard; very large harbor size, very complex locale, multiplicity of connecting river and creek systems, swift tidal currents, large variety and speed variations of commercial traffic, abundant official traffic from many agencies, variety of pleasure craft (very large to very small), charter traffic (sight-seeing and tour boat), occasional large flotsam in the water, several security zones, multitude of local knowledge place names, and more.
The entire area north of the Narrows, from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the Battery of lower Manhattan, is the “Upper Bay” of New York Harbor. The Upper Bay is more narrow and very much busier than the Lower Bay, with a wider variety of navigational challenges and watercraft. Staying out of marked channels is highly advisable and not always clear to those unfamiliar with these waters. The Upper Bay has commercial facilities, docks and commercial traffic literally 360º from almost any point along the through north-south route. In the south-center of the Upper Bay basin, there is a very large commercial anchorage for ships and large ocean-going barges. The area can be busy with working tugs. From a line between the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island north to the W. 70s of Manhattan, ferry traffic and water taxis rule. The professional captains of these vessels operate on schedules, know where they’re going and are not impressed or distracted by the skyline of NYC or the figure and form of the Statue of Liberty. Cruisers MUST be alert to these vessels, which approach quickly, from every direction, and often turn abruptly to proceed across the bow of slower vessels.
In general in the Upper Bay, it has been our experience that there is less commercial maritime traffic, and especially less tug, tow and large ship traffic, on the eastern shore of the harbor (Brooklyn shore) from “The Narrows” north to Governor’s Island, then across the mouth of the East River approaching lower Manhattan. That is our preferred route through the harbor. After we round the battery into the Hudson River, we favor the eastern shore, but stay 1000 feet or so offshore. That gives water taxis space to maneuver around us without our “being in their way.” We try to time our passages through the Upper Bay and lower Hudson River to be between the hours of 10h00 and 15h00. Sundays have the least water taxi traffic, but generally during mid-day hours, water taxi traffic is “minimized.” There are very high speed catamaran ferries that come to lower Manhattan from Atlantic Highlands, NJ, so MAKE SURE TO KEEP WATCH BEHIND YOU. These fast ferries can appear in remarkably short time, and they throw large wakes for which cruisers will want to be prepared.
Those planning to transit the East River to Long Island Sound must consider the state of the tide and tidal currents. The currents in the East River, particularly between Roosevelt Island and Hell Gate, run to 8 knots or more at ebb and flood. It’s way safer to have that current with you than against you; especially for us, as we are only a 7.5 kt boat to begin with. Second, in the day or two preceding your planned passage, make certain there are no heads-of-state visiting the UN. For some, including the President of the United States, the Coast Guard will close the river to all traffic. For lesser dignitaries, the main channel will be closed, forcing pleasure craft and through commercial traffic to use the alternative channel. That channel is fine, but slightly more of a pilotage challenge in swift current conditions.
If the East River is closed, there is an alternative route to Long Island Sound, around the north end of Manhattan, via the Harlem River. Pilotage is no problem, but there is a complex of road and railroad bridges across the western mouth of the Harlem River (called “Spuyten Duyvil” on charts). The bridges are remotely operated based on train traffic. Delays can be significant and train traffic varies throughout the day. Obtain current local knowledge for the Spuyten Duyvil if planning to use this route.
Aboard Sanctuary, we do not find AIS and RADAR to be useful in NY Harbor or adjacent waterways. In the case of AIS, there are simply too many targets to be helpful. Proximity alarms are useless. Water taxis and other vessels that might actually represent a navigation hazard do not carry AIS transponders. We turn our AIS off because it’s more of a distraction than a help.
DO NOT TRY TO NAVIGATE NY HARBOR FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE DARK OR IN POOR VISIBILITY! THAT WOULD BE AN INVITATION TO ANXIETY AND UNWANTED ENCOUNTERS OF THE PHYSICAL KIND. THERE WILL BE WAKES!
Aboard Sanctuary, we always monitor BOTH VHF Ch. 16 and VHF Ch. 13. The commercial chatter will be mostly “obscure” in NY Harbor unless one is familiar with local landmarks (“the narrows,” “the gate,” “the Kill,” “the race”). DO NOT WASTE TIME CALLING COMMERCIAL VESSELS; THEY WILL NOT ANSWER! JUST LOOK OUT THE WINDOWS, MAINTAIN A VIGILANT VISUAL WATCH, AND BE PREPARED AT ALL TIMES TO YIELD.
Within the Upper Bay, both the New Jersey and New York shores have marina facilities. Marinas in this region are expensive. All marina facilities in the Upper Bay and lower Hudson are exposed to large wakes, particularly during the daytime hours.
So, then, what do we do? Sanctuary and crew typically depart Manasquan Inlet and proceed north offshore, to and through the Narrows, and into the anchorage at Liberty Landing State Park, behind the Statue of Liberty (N 40.69617 W -74.06443). That transit is a distance of 45 StM. There, we anchor in peace and quiet. The LLSP anchorage is mostly a fair-weather anchorage, exposed to the south and east, and with only mediocre holding in soft silt. Water depths at LLSP range from 5’ to 12’ at MLLW. There is room for 4 – 6 boats. There are few wakes. In truly fair weather conditions, cruisers can anchor in the Upper Bay in a large, charted anchorage off the Statue of Liberty. The night-time “city-scape” vista from here is truly spectacular. However, this anchorage is exposed to ever-present large wakes from water taxis, ferries and other commercial traffic, so is not for those prone to motion sickness. LLSP is a great staging point from which to run North up the Hudson River or East out the East River towards Long Island Sound.
Cruising authors Alan and Susan McKibben, who’s book we like and recommend, use a Statute Mile reference system which they credit to an earlier cruising guide author, Arthur G. Adams. In this system, New York’s famous 42nd Street is “Hudson River mile zero.” In this monograph, I have adopted that same mileage reference system.
Northbound, we always try to depart NY Harbor when there is a flooding component to the tide. Fighting the ebb is a waste of time and energy. Northbound, the cruiser is treated to spectacular views of the New York City skyline. North of the city, vistas of the New Jersey Palisades are magnificent. North of the Palisades, the river widens for a while. The widest section is at the Tappan Zee Bridge (Mile 23.2; locally known as, “the Tap”). In this area, there are marinas at Tarrytown that offer commuter railroad access to NYC. We continue north to Haverstraw Bay (mile 30.5), on the East shore of the river, where we anchor in 7’ – 12’ of water in a sandy bottom with excellent holding. Croton-On-Hudson is on the West shore (mile 32.0) and offers marina and anchorage opportunities. Haverstraw Bay is exposed to the North and West, so if conditions are not favorable, we continue another 5 miles or so North, above Peekskill. We anchor on the West (South) shore of the Hudson River, on a mud shelf (mile 41.5), in about 12 – 15’ of water with good holding. This locations is about a mile south of the Bear Mountain Bridge. The shelf shoals quickly, so mind your sounder. The vistas here are stunning as one looks up at “Anthony’s Nose.”
Above Bear Mountain is the stretch of the Hudson that is home to the United States Military Academy at West Point (mile 47.0). There is a marina there which we understand is available for retired or active duty military, but there are no marinas in that area for the cruising public.
North, between West Point and the city of Newburgh, NY, on the East shore, is Pollepel Island. This private island is home to “Bannerman’s Castle.” The island is closed to the public. The “castle” is in ruin and is definitely unsafe. There is a peaceful and scenic fair weather anchorage between the island and the eastern shore (mile 53.0). Enter the anchorage from the south via the correctly charted deep water channel that is very near the shore. Holding is good in depths of 8′ – 12′. Swing room is adequate, and there is room for several boats. There are heavily trafficked passenger railroad tracks along the entire length of the East shore of the Hudson. There will be some train noise in this anchorage.
Northbound from West Point, although there are commercial marina choices in the Newburgh (mile 56.0) and Poughkeepsie (mile 70.5) area, we suggest through cruisers stop at the Poughkeepsie Yacht Club (mile 78.6). Rent a car. By car:
1. visit West Point; two forms of picture ID are advised,
2. eat at one of the 5-star restaurants of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA); make advance reservations, and
3. visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt home and Presidential Library and the Vanderbilt Mansion at nearby Hyde Park, NY.
These venues are not accessible from the water, so a car is necessary.
The city of Kingston, NY, was the first capitol of New York State. The original “Senate House” is located in the “uptown” historic “Stockade District.” Visit Kingston via the Rondout Creek (mile 86.3). The entrance to Rondout Creek is marked by the Rondout Lighthouse. Follow the well marked entrance channel. There are two marinas in the Rondout Creek that cater to transients. These facilities have different pros and cons. The Rondout Yacht Basin is a full service marina facility. RYB has gasoline and diesel fuel, pump out, pool, floating docks and all of the normally expected marina amenities. When entering the inside basin there, mind the current in the Rondout Creek, which will try to sweep the unsuspecting cruiser sideways in the basin entrance. The other dockage facility in the Rondout Creek is the Kingston City Dock. The City Dock has short floating finger piers. There are heads and modern, clean showers, but no laundry and no wi-fi. There is no fuel or pump out.
The City Dock has the significant advantage of being located within the downtown Rondout Historic District of Kingston. From these docks, it’s an easy walk to several excellent restaurants, gift shoppes, a wine store and the small but unique Hudson River Maritime Museum. The Rondout Yacht Basin is located across the Rondout Creek and 1/2 mile upstream, on the East shore. Access to the Historic District from RYB requires a dinghy ride, a taxi/car, or bicycles. Very hardy cyclists can bike to the Historic District. The bike ride is at least 1-1/2 miles, and involves significant hills. All things considered, we personally prefer the City Docks for their convenience and location in the Historic District.
Upon departure from Kingston, northbound, Sanctuary and crew run to Waterford, NY. Waterford is the gateway village to the NYS Canal System. There are marinas along the Hudson, at Catskill, NY (mile 107.2), Athens, NY (mile 111.2), Coeyman’s Landing, NY (mile 127.5), and Albany, NY (mile 139.5). All of the communities of the mid-Hudson Valley are 19th Century working villages. In general, we don’t stop after Kingston until we get to Waterford. Albany is NY’s capitol city. We’ve seen it. The Port of Albany is not difficult for cruiser’s to transit. The Albany Yacht Club (mile 139.4) in downtown Albany has a deserved good reputation, with floating docks and a small ships store. It is within walking distance of local pub food and pizza sources. Ground transportation would be needed to get to grocery shopping.
Above Albany, cruisers pass through the “Federal Lock” at Troy (mile 147.7). That lock gets it’s moniker because it is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers rather than the NYS Canal Corporation (“feds;” get it?). That lock and dam stops the tide level variations on the Hudson. Once north of the Federal Lock, cruisers are in the NYS Canal System. At Waterford, the route divides; one goes North to and through Lake Champlain, the other goes West towards the Mohawk Valley on the historic Erie Canal.
Waterford, NY, is a great stop for cruising visitors, with free, first-come, first served, floating docks with 30A and 50A power and water, and serviceable if crude heads and showers. Some years, the NYS Canal System length-of-stay limit (48 hours) is enforced, and other years, not. Check with the friendly folks at the Visitor’s Center. There is also a high wall at Waterford that can be used for alongside dockage. Shore access on that wall may require substantial agility depending on the design and free-board of the boat involved. Immediately West of the Visitor’s Center is the “flight” of five locks that mark the beginning of the Erie Canal and the transition from the Hudson to the Mohawk River.
The headwaters of the Hudson River follow the Champlain Canal north to Lock C7, and then the river wanders off to the NW into the Adirondack Park to wilderness venues like North Creek and Newcomb, where it becomes a magnificent, pristine mountain creek instead of just a magnificent, deep-water river-estuary. The transit from the New Jersey Palisades north through the Catskills to Albany and again north to and through Lake Champlain is every bit as beautiful as the Georgian Bay region of Canada or the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee. Do not rush this area thinking better things are ahead. That would be a great under-estimation of what this region has to offer!
Two cruising guides we particularly like for this region include:
1. “Cruising Guide to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River,” by Alan and Susan McKibben, The Lake Champlain Publishing Company, Burlington, VT, 2006
2. “Hudson River Guide (2014),” Lawrence Zeitlin, self-published, http://www.scribd.com