March 14th – As I paddle out into Port Jefferson Bay the morning sun is blocked by a cloud bank. Soon the clouds will clear and the sky will be blue. I consider myself lucky to be out on the water enjoying all this while a Pandemic makes its way across America.
By Cecil Hoge
March 14, 2020
On this Saturday, I took the opportunity to go for an early morning paddle. That is easy for me because I live by the water and have a dock about 100 feet from my back door. So all I have to do is walk out of my living room onto my back porch, walk down a few stairs and go another 100 feet. I am then on my dock where I have several inflatable boats at my disposal. On this day, the water on the bay is flat and glassy, the sky is still and has a large bank of clouds off to the Northeast. The temperature is around 45 degrees Fahrenheit and the sky is still reflected in the shimmering tones on the glassy water.
Today, I choose to paddle my RazorLite kayak. I have a choice: on my dock, I have a kayak and a rowing craft, I also have a solar-powered electric motor craft I call the TriTiki. I use the TriTiki to cruise around our bays on warmer days. Today is not one of those days.
When I use my kayak on chilly days, I also use a kayak blanket that we sell for that occasion. I like to be warm when paddling a kayak and since my legs do not move when paddling that blanket comes in mighty handy for when I want to be toasty warm.
Out on the water in my kayak, the air is clean and wonderful to breathe. Soon, I know, the winds will pick up out of the Northwest. Then the clouds will move out and the sky will be fully clear. And with the sun will come some extra warmth. No matter, I am well dressed for the occasion with gloves, a windproof fleece-lined nylon jacket, and a warm wool hat with earmuffs. I am, as always, totally warm and comfortable.
I paddle out past the old stone bulwark that used to lead to a wood bridge that spanned my bay (Little Bay) and leads to Setauket Bay. The wood bridge is gone since 1898 when I assume it was washed away by a ferocious storm. On this tranquil morning, I am wondering if I am paddling in an allusion – if this calm and beautiful scene is but a dream. Perhaps, in reality, I am paddling in an unseen and silent storm.
The broken-down stone bulwark is still quite close to where I started, so I do not feel that I have exerted much effort. It is the beginning of my paddle. I am in no hurry. A little further along a line of 7 Canada geese proceed out in front of me from the shore. I steer a little further out in order to give them space and time to figure what they want to do. I know either they will get all excited and start barking at me or they will change course and paddle their webbed feet back towards shore.
I am hoping they will not get excited because they make a terrible noise and the end is always foreseeable. They start barking, then their barking becomes louder and occurs faster and then they all fly away barking as they go. But on this day, they have wisely chosen to change course, stay silent and cruise back toward the shore.
March 15th, 2020
On this day in old Setauket (it was first settled in 1665), the weather is clear and reasonably warm for the time of year. I choose to use my rowing craft this day. This happens to be a prototype of a new kind of inflatable boat that I am tentatively calling the GoSkiff. Originally, I designed it to accommodate a sail, which I tested at the end of last summer. It sailed quite well, but with the advent of colder weather and winter, I converted it to a rowing craft, using my friend Urs Wunderli’s sliding rigger arm. I have been using this sliding rigger arm for 5 years now. Urs calls it “Row Board” and sells it on his website: DiscoverRowing.com. I consider “RowBoard” an uninspired name, but the product is truly great. I have told Urs to rename it the “Wunderli Rower”. So far, Urs has ignored my suggestion.
A sliding rigger arm is similar to a sliding seat, except instead of the seat going back and forth, the rigger arm holding the oars goes back and forth. In truth, a sliding rigger arm is actually more efficient. I won’t go into all the details. Both systems improve the ability to row. What I like about rowing is that it provides a total body exercise. That is because your arms, your legs, your hips, your stomach, your back are all in motion. Rowing provides another advantage over paddling in that you are naturally warmer because all parts of the body are moving…so no need for my trusty kayak blanket.
Rowing is different from paddling in that you see where you have been, rather than where you are going. It also is a form of exercise that seems to feed on itself. Simply put, there is NOT a tendency to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Rowing seems to promote an exercise rhythm that becomes addictive. Once you start rowing you really do not feel like stopping. That does not mean you do not take in the sites…you do. The difference is that you usually row steadily for a long time, not wanting to slow down, but still seeing the sites as they pass into vision. And yes, after rowing steadily for two miles or so, I do stop and secure my oars. I then float silently on the water as the wind blows me where it wishes and I take in the sites while I chug down a seltzer. The sparkling water is surprisingly refreshing after rowing 2 miles.
I characterize paddling as lollygagging whereas I characterize rowing as rowing. Paddling is lollygagging in the sense that there is always the temptation to stop paddling, take a deep breath and take in the scenery that is always in front of you. And in fact, that is one of the most pleasurable aspects of paddling.
On my many paddling or rowing journeys, I see many interesting sites…loons diving for fish, hawks circling high in the sky, seagulls clustering over a school of minnows, elegant white swans cruising nearby with young brown-tinted smaller and younger swans in tow, a seal popping his or her head out the water to check you out. Now, these sites occur at different times of the year and some are far more often than others. I see seals only a couple of times in the year, always in the dead of winter, although two years ago a baby seal took up residence on my dock – see below:
On this Sunday I take my rowing craft, tentatively called the GoSkiff 14. As I mentioned, with rowing you see where you have been. Now I have to confess that I cheat. I have installed a mirror on my rowing craft. It allows me to see most of where I am going – my mirror does not have Xray vision through my body so I have to be careful. That still does not prevent me from occasionally running into a buoy or a boat. At this time of year, all buoys and boats have been removed from the harbor except for one rather large fishing vessel named the “Lisa Jean” that floats by itself in Setauket Harbor as a reminder of the fishing fleet that once was moored there.
So, off I go, rowing as I wish through the different bays. Paddling or rowing these days is practicing social distancing in the extreme. There are no other paddlers, rowers or boaters on this day or, for that matter, on most of the days during the late fall or winter. So, I usually have all the bays to myself. When I go rowing in the winter, I wear fleece-lined pants which keep my legs toasty as they push back and forth. As I have mentioned, I like to be warm and, if you dress properly, you always are. I would mention here for those concerned about my safety and boating regulations I always wear or carry a life jacket, so worry not, I am safely ready for my journeys on the sea.
It is another wondrous day on the water even though there is a chilly breeze. I carry other equipment with me that I consider vital. If it is an early morning, I carry hot coffee in a Yeti mug. If it is later in the day, I carry a couple of seltzers in a thermo-lined bag. At this time of year, the thermo-lining is not required, but the bag makes it convenient to carry the seltzers. So, on this sunny and clear March day, I row out past Little Bay, past Setauket Bay and into Port Jefferson Bay, the largest of our four bays. Here I can take a break, pull out a seltzer and take in the view. It is a good day to be alive.
March 16th, 2020
And so, while America deals with closing schools, bars and restaurants, I intend to paddle or row the waterways of America. From my dock, I can paddle into a small bay appropriately called Little Bay. From Little Bay, I can paddle to the Atlantic Ocean.
Of course, paddling from my house to the Atlantic Ocean is something of a jaunt. Long Island Sound is about 5 miles from my house, but the Atlantic Ocean is another 60 miles to the East or the West. One has a choice when coming out through the inlet into Long Island Sound to go West towards New York City through the East River into the Hudson River into the Atlantic Ocean with New Jersey just on your right. That’s a good choice if you want to paddle on to Miami. If you decide to go East, all you have do is paddle 60 miles East and pass Montauk Point and then you can head to Block Island or further north to Maine if that is your fancy.
Needless to say, I restrict my paddling to the 4 bays that are most directly accessible from my dock. I failed to mention the fourth bay which is called Conscience Bay. It is off to the right as I come out into Port Jefferson Bay. Anyway, I think you get the idea that I have a lot of options, even if I don’t take them all. But paddling or rowing are the main options that I choose to ward off the sad events of the Coronavirus in America.
March 18th, 2020
I go for a very early morning row. It is mostly dark when I leave at 5:45 am. The water on the bay is a flat black glass. The moon is still out and it sports an unusual halo this early morning. I do not know what the halo portends. It seems strange. In the distance, there are lights from the surrounding houses that circle my different bays. In the dark, I hear garbage trucks making dinosaur screeches as they stop and pick up cans. Today is plastic day. The town of Brookhaven (our township) has announced that it can no longer recycle the plastic they are picking up. I wonder where the plastics will go.
Here is what I see on the bay:
I row out of Little Bay into Setauket Bay and then into Port Jefferson Bay. The dim light of the day gives way to a clear blue expansive sky and soon I can feel the first warmth from the sun. The wind is out of the Northwest about 10 mph and as I come out of Setauket Bay, it pushes against my back as I row forward. When I get to the mouth of Port Jefferson Bay, I take a break, put up my oars, sip my still hot coffee and ponder the new day.
After a few minutes of contemplation, I pick up my oars and resume my journey. It is easier to row back since the wind is now pushing me in that direction. As I come around the bend in Setauket Bay, I row along the Strong’s Neck shoreline. I am now protected from the wind because I am in the “Lee of the Land”. And while I always dress warmly, the extra warmth that comes from the rising sun in an area protected from the wind is much appreciated.
March 20th, 2020
This day is sunny and warm, with temperatures making into the 60s. I take the opportunity to go for a morning paddle.
March 21, 2020
Since the weather is sunny and a pretty comfortable 52 degrees, I head out for a paddle on the bay. I encounter no other paddlers. It is still early for most kayakers to get out on the water. I take my trusty kayak blanket to keep my legs warm and dry. The dry part is an especially handy feature because of “paddle drip”. This is something that most kayakers never mention, but water tends to make its way down the shaft of a paddle blade and drip into the cockpit of the kayak. But no worries for me, my trusty, toasty waterproof kayak blanket keeps me both warm and dry. It is a good day for a paddle and I come back feeling refreshed and happy at the news that we can continue operating.
March 27, 2020
The weather on Friday was clear and in the low 50s. I take the opportunity to go for a paddle and ponder the state the world with a wide expanse of blue water in front of me.
It was a beautiful day and a wonderful paddle. The air was fresh and clear and I saw no one during my paddle. It was just me, some seagulls twirling around in the sky, some swans cruising elegantly by me, some great blue herons standing on the shore looking on at me in disapproval. I can tell you from experience herons, especially great blue herons, don’t like humans. They consider us interlopers on this earth.
The weekend comes and with it some nasty, rainy, cold weather. I stay home and light a fire. It gives a cozy and toasty feeling for me and my family.
March 31st, 2020
This Tuesday morning I choose to go for a row. That is both practical and smart. It is a cloudy, cool morning with a heavy bank of clouds stretching above as far as the eye can see. The temperature is around 40. The wind is out of the Northeast blowing at steady, cold and unforgiving 10 to 15 mph. My decision to row rather than paddle is practical because my kayak has gathered about 3” of water since I last used it. When I go down the dock, the first thing that I do is undo one of the drain valves on my kayak and drain out the water. Then I close the drain valve and flip the kayak upside down so no more rain can come in and the kayak will dry out.
My decision to go for a row is also smart because the kayak seat, having rested in 3” of water, is not going to be either warm or dry. So I then get on the other floating dock holding my rowing craft, slide it off that dock and get on my “GoSkiff” after I place a dry seat cushion on it. Fully prepared now, I begin my row out of Turtle Cove (my name for my little cove) and ply my oars into Little Bay. As mentioned above the temperature is still pretty chilly, the wind right nippy coming out of the unforgiving Northeast. Someone forgot to tell this March that it was supposed to go out like a lamb.
In Little Bay, I hug the shoreline which means closely passing by the cemetery that is at the end of the road my house is on. Appropriately, my road is called Cemetery Lane. The cemetery houses many folks from the Revolutionary War. Strong’s Neck, where I live, was settled in 1655 by the Smith and Strong families. And many family members are now buried in this nearby cemetery. I stay close to the cemetery and the shoreline because it keeps me in the “Lee of the Land” and thus I am sheltered from the nagging Northeast Wind.
I ply my way along the shoreline on this gray and cloudy day, happy almost instantly to be out in the clean refreshing air. I come around the stone embankment and pass into Setauket Bay & Harbor. Immediately, I run into the 10 to 15 mph Northeast wind. Now I can row quite easily through that. Because I am rowing directly into the wind and my back is facing the wind, I am quite shielded, thanks to my trusty Duluth Nylon fleece-lined jacket. I can plow through winds pretty efficiently up to 25 mph, but after that, I prefer to let others try it. Rowing in 25+ mph winds is a younger man’s game.
I read that Teddy Roosevelt when he was a boy, loved to row in Long Island Sound in high winds. Teddy was a sickly child and not strong, but as he got a little older he took up outdoor exercise with great relish, his theory being that outdoor exercise would help him overcome his early sickly disposition. It seemed to work. He went on to become a very energetic President of the United States. Teddy grew up in Oyster Bay about 21 miles west of here.
I am not rowing in high winds on Long Island Sound today. Good thing too, because it would probably mean rowing against sizable whitecaps. I am rowing in brisk Northeast winds as I ply my way through Setauket Bay and Harbor. Pretty soon, as I row into the narrows of Setauket Bay, I come up to the one boat that is still moored in the harbor. It is the “Lisa Jean”. She stands as a lonely reminder this once was a working harbor, a place from which whalers set out into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in search of whales and whale oil, a place where fisherman and clammers and oystermen once made their living.
The “Lisa Jean” is moored about a half-mile from Port Jefferson Bay, so this is about a one and half mile row from my house. I take a picture of the venerable fishing craft and row my way around it and head back home. It is not my longest row by any means, but it is enough of a row to get a full slug of fresh air and to be reminded that the real world is outside, not inside. I am hoping, like Theodore Roosevelt, that my paddling and rowing activities will bring me true peace of mind and strengthen my body. While I am at it, I also hope that it will protect me against the Coronavirus.
Back on my dock, I walk up my dock gangplank and look back over my little cove and the bay beyond. I cannot help but think it is a beautiful morning.
Author’s Note: The above story is an abridged version of a longer blog published on my personal blog site. The longer version discusses in addition to paddling and rowing, the progression of the Coronavirus, and other political and economic conditions. Should you be interested to read the full version, click on TangledTalesofanAmericanFamily