Aaron Donovan’s Aquatic Adventure: Part 3

For the past 2 days, “06880” has reported on Aaron and Susan Donovan’s journey by 18-foot kayak/pedal boat/sailboat (called a Hobie Tandem Island), from Westport to New York City. In real life, Aaron — a 1994 Staples High School grad — serves as media liaison for the MTA.

Here is the final part of his story:

Aaron and Susan left the lighthouse by 9 a.m. They wanted to be out of the water by 12:45 p.m. After 5 years of kayaking in New York City waters, Aaron knew the importance of timing his trip around favorable currents.

With the East River in ebb mode — water heading south to the Battery — he knew he’d be in good shape, even without a wind.

Aaron and Susan Donovan's boat.

Aaron and Susan Donovan’s boat. It’s not very big.

The East River officially begins at Throg’s Neck. Once Aaron and Susan rounded it, the wind completely died. They switched to pedal mode.

It got hot. They drank tons of water. The only excitement in the upper East River is an austere prison barge parked off Hunt’s Point, and planes taking off from and landing at La Guardia.

Unlike Westport and Norwalk, which allow camping on islands near shore, the City of New York has no such facilities.

Aaron says there are islands off the South Bronx, and another at about East 96th Street, that could. One of those — North Brother Island — was the quarantine residence of Typhoid Mary, and the spot where the General Slocum beached while on fire in 1904, killing more than 1,000 people.

It would be bad to end up by mistake on nearby Rikers Island, of course. “Suffice it to say, we managed to find a location where we camped unmolested by the NYPD, Coast Guard or anyone else,” Aaron says.

The next morning he and Susan woke early. They caught the ebb tide down the East River, pedaling against a southerly wind.

Aaron and Susan Donovan approaching the 59th Street Bridge (feelin' groovy). The UN is in the distance.

Aaron and Susan Donovan approaching the 59th Street Bridge (feelin’ groovy). The UN is in the distance.

“In a weird way, it was just another day heading downtown like my morning commute,” he says. Except they were now on water, surrounded by tugboats, DEP sludge vessels, and the Navy training ship The Empire State. Gone were the recreational craft they’d seen in Long Island Sound for days.

Their destination was Governors Island. The former Coast Guard base just off the Battery has been repurposed as a delightful, quiet park. They enjoyed the afternoon, rested up for a morning of pedaling, and waited for the tide to shift.

The Battery, as seen from Governors Island.

The Battery, as seen from Governors Island.

Unlike the East River (and most waterways), which ebb and flow for 6 hours each, the Hudson ebbs for 8 and flows for 4. The Hudson would begin flowing at 3:50 p.m., providing a northbound current to complement the northbound wind. It was a perfect combination for the final leg, up to the 79th Street Boat Basin on the West Side.

Aaron’s office colleagues were on alert. They captured an image of the kayakers from the 30th floor of his downtown office.

Aaron and Susan, as seen by Aaron's MTA colleagues on the 30th floor. The Statue of Liberty is much larger.

Aaron and Susan, as seen by Aaron’s MTA colleagues on the 30th floor. The Statue of Liberty is much larger.

The winds were the strongest of the trip — gusty and shifty. So Aaron and Susan reefed the sail, untethered from the dock and headed out.

At 14th Street a gust caught them off guard, freaking them out. Their GPS showed they were roaring along at 9 knots over 30 seconds. They steered into the wind, pulled in what remained of the sail, and proceeded the rest of the way calmly and smoothly under pedal power.

When they pulled into the dock at 79th Street, they were relieved to be “home.” But they faced the daunting task of unloading the boat, and carrying it awkwardly up to a small kayak storage area. It was, Aaron notes, “the hardest part of the trip — physically.”

Too tired, and hauling too much gear to catch the West Side IRT, they tried to hail a cab. When none showed up immediately, Susan resorted to Uber.

The driver first refused to take their suggested route to their apartment near Yankee Stadium, saying taking directions en route could be dangerous. Then he dangerously distracted himself by adjusting his GPS the entire way.

Aaron and Susan compromised. But the driver missed an exit, then another turn. Getting from 79th Street to the Bronx might have been the toughest part of Aaron and Susan’s entire 5-day, 4-night amazing aquatic adventure.

Susan and Aaron Donovan. Don't try their adventure at home.

Susan and Aaron Donovan. Don’t try their adventure at home.

6 responses to “Aaron Donovan’s Aquatic Adventure: Part 3

  1. Excellent adventure.
    Just one point of fact – The Empire State belongs to the New York Merchant Marine Academy and lives under the Whitestone Bridge most of the time at NYMMA’s campus.

  2. How very cool! Bravo !! – Chris Woods

  3. For those who find interest in this journey (and I certainly do), I’d like to recommend “At Sea in the City,” the memoir of a man who sailed his family-friendly Catboat out from the South Shore of Long Island, up the East River, and through Hell’s Gate. A fun look at the little nooks and byways of the coast, with a bit of history thrown in (The author used to work at a plant near 20th St. and the East R.)

  4. Nancy W Hunter

    Great book suggestion.
    This particular adventure has been fun to follow, especially for someone who has no sailing experience! Both skill and responsibility are crucial…
    (Sadly, I know of a young couple who, while successfully sailing the Hawaiian Islands, disappeared en route back to Vancouver Island).

    Cheers to Susan and Aaron on a successful and enlightening journey!

  5. Great pics! Thanks!

  6. Adventure well done! Great planning, Great performance and Great luck (the wind at your back almost the entire journey and no thunderstorms!)…those lessons at PYC were well learned!