The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for July 28th, 2013

promised haven

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Maritime Sunday drifts in today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Witness the United States Army Corps of Engineers DCV Hayward as it hurtles into the so called Buttermilk Channel section of the East River.

The legend of Buttermilk Channel is stated thusly- in the ancient days of the Dutch decadence, the Brooklyn to Governors Island section of the tidal strait was so shallow at low tide that farmers would drive their cattle across the muddy puddle and set them to grazing on the island. The cattle would be vouchsafed against canids or the attention of thieves by the high tide, allowing the farmers to move on to other more profitable pursuits. Returning to fetch their dairy cows at the next low tide, the farmers would find that their herds had fed on Governors Island plentiful salt grass, and the cows would produce vast amounts of wholesome milk the next morning. This is how this section of the East River came to be called Buttermilk Channel. Or so the legend states.

Balderdash, claims Captain Doswell of the Working Harbor Committee, although your humble narrator argues for the historical record and colorful story. We agree to disagree.

Subsequent dredging, much of it accomplished by the stewards of the Hayward- the USACE- allows a maritime channel of sufficient depth to disallow the transit of cattle to Governors Island from Brooklyn in modern times.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The maintenance of this channel, specifically keeping it free of floating debris which could impede or injure vessels plying it, is the responsibility of skimmer boats like the Hayward. Built in 1974, Haywards’ crane can handle 120 tons, and she is specifically a “drift collection vessel.” Hayward is one of three such vessels the USACE operates in New York Harbor (with the 1948 vintage Driftmaster and the 1980’s Gelberman) which remove just north of 100 tons of debris from the water annually. This debris includes downed trees, trash of all sorts, really anything that might find its way into the water. Sometimes this can involve downed aircraft.

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Want to see something cool? Summer 2013 Walking Tours-

Glittering Realms Saturday, August 3rd, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

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