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Archive for June 19th, 2009

Adventures upon the East River 1

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Tugboat and Barge by you.

This tug, the Paul Andrew, is pushing a barge of shredded autos down the East River. Most likely coming from the Newtown Creek- Photo by Mitch Waxman

A friend invited me on a couple of his recent outings on the East River (and beyond). It’s a rare opportunity for most New Yorkers, oddly enough, to get out onto the water. My host is an expert on the customs and history of the mariners of New York City’s own estuarine cataract, and I jumped at a chance to experience- in such knowledgeable company- the East River and its environs. What I encountered was a harbor, at work.

East River Tug by you.

This tug, the Dean Reinauer, was zipping quickly along- Photo by Mitch Waxman

Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges by you.

Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge with downtown Manhattan, from the East River- Photo by Mitch Waxman

A squall of black clouds and drenching rain had just pushed through New York, and a misty sky was dueling with the sun for dominance over the day. As we passed under the Williamsburg Bridge, it began to clear. Just in time to see the concurrence of suspension arcs on the downtown river skyline.

Manhattan Bridge by you.

Manhattan Bridge footings, from the East River- Photo by Mitch Waxman

New Yorkers, we lose all sense of the scale of the things we see here. We live in a cyclopean world constructed by long dead titans of science and industry. From the water, you truly gain a sense of the wondrous vision and ambitions of the men who built this enormous endeavor called The City of Greater New York.

Red Hook, Cunard Pier by you.

Cruise Ship in Red Hook, from the East River- Photo by Mitch Waxman

When we were passing Red Hook in Brooklyn, the weather mercifully began to cooperate with us. The storm was blowing out, and the burning eye of an occluded sun again stared down upon New York. Being the gigantic Lovecraft nerd that I am, I couldn’t help but think about Robert Suydam and his poor bride leaving for their honeymoon from this very Cunard Pier.

Looking up the Hudson by you.

Looking northwest, up the Hudson, Jersey city on left, Manhattan on right – Photo by Mitch Waxman

from Wikipedia:

Main article: Geography of New York Harbor

In the broad sense, the term includes the following bodies of water and their waterfronts: Upper New York BayLower New York BayNorth River (i.e. the lowest part of the Hudson River), East River,Kill Van KullNewark BayArthur KillThe NarrowsJamaica BayRaritan Bay, and Harlem River. This includes about 1,200 square miles (3,100 km2), with over a 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of shoreline. At peak it contained 650 miles (1,046 km) of developed waterfront in 11 individual, active ports in ManhattanBrooklynQueens, the BronxStaten IslandPerth AmboyElizabethBayonneNewarkJersey CityHoboken, and Weehawken. Although the U.S. Board of Geographic Names does not include the term, New York Harbor has important historical, governmental, commercial, and ecological usages.

When you reach the point where the Hudson River empties into the brackish waters of the East River, you are officially in New York Harbor. And on the shallow floor of the harbor can be found the first depressed indications of the river carved Hudson Canyon.

A word about the Hudson Canyon

The plume of pollution that trails out to sea from New York City is hundreds of miles long and miles deep. It slithers down the Hudson River and out of Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal and thousands of broken sewers into the area where the Hudson and East Rivers conjoin and mingle with those of the Atlantic- an enormous watershed called the New York Bight.

For generations, fleets of sludge ships have dumped their cargo directly into the extant oceanic borders of the Bight. These dump areas were sited above underwater depressions, and several “dead zones” can be found in these waters at multiple levels in the water column.

In the deeps below the Bight, around a hundred miles from the spot where I took the pic of the Hudson- an underwater channel eroded by the Hudson’s flow begins a diving course to the ocean floor and turns into a pleistocenal submarine crevasse- the Hudson Canyon. A subaqueous Grand Canyon, it is at least four hundred miles long and at its deepest measured point it is an astounding seven thousand and two hundred feet (two thousand and two hundred meters) below the storm tossed surface. 

Even at that crushing depth, New York City garbage and human waste have been found by scientists.The theorized end of the canyon is thought to terminate well beyond the North American continental craton where it joins with the Atlantic’s abyssal plain. Without access to the still classified sonar mappings of the deep sea floor produced by the Navy department during the Cold War- this postulate can only be conjectured. Who can truly guess what is is that lies down there, in that sunless eternity of cold and abyssal pressures?

This view of the Hudson, of course, is the one enjoyed by the Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty by you.

Statue of Liberty- Photo by Mitch Waxman

and Ellis Island

Ellis Island by you.

Ellis Island- Photo by Mitch Waxman

from wikipedia:

Ellis Island, at the mouth of the Hudson River in New York Harbor, is the location of what was from January 1, 1892, until November 12, 1954 the main entry facility for immigrants entering the United States; the facility replaced the state-run Castle Garden Immigration Depot (1855-1890) in Manhattan. It is owned by the Federal government and is now part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, under the jurisdiction of the US National Park Service. It is situated predominantly in Jersey City, New Jersey, although a small portion of its territory falls within neighboring New York City.

The family story goes like this:

Grandfather Alex got off the boat from darkest Russia at Ellis Island in 1915, and a man asked him “Do you want to be an American Citizen?”,

Grandfather says “yes”,

the man says “sign here”,

Grandfather signs,

the man says “Welcome to United States Army, son”.

Grandfather gets on another boat, does basic on the ship, and ends up as a doughboy in France. His uniform had spats.

Speeding Tug by you.

The tug John P. Brown- Photo by Mitch Waxman

More to come tomorrow- or if you don’t want to wait and just want to check out the whole sequence of photos- click here for a slideshow of the whole series

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 19, 2009 at 1:31 am

Posted in East River

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