The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Hells Gate’ Category

final monosyllables

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Hangin at Hells Gate, on a hot night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First, there’s a couple of tour announcements at the bottom of the post, both of which are this week – Thursday and Saturday.

It’s been a good few weeks since the last time I was able to get down to the waterfront at night, due to a concurrence of event, weather, and unpleasant circumstance which has plagued one’s efforts in June of this year, but as always a humble narrator perseveres. Last week, a short hop over to Hells Gate here in Astoria gave me a few opportunities to wave the camera around and even set up the tripod for some long exposure shots. That fellow on the phone just kind of wandered into my frame, and then stood as motionless as a statue except for a few wiggles of his arm, for something like a minute or two.

Something which drives me nuts is the way that people will see me there with a tripod and camera, and without even shrugging their shoulders, just go and stand in front of the lens. In the case of the photo above, it actually “made the shot,” but jeez… I stop walking when I see people are about to shoot one of those stupid selfies… common courtesy, like shame, seem to be something people have forgotten about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had arrived at the Astoria Shoreline (the Hells Gate section of the East River, found between Queens and Randalls/Wards Island and defined by the Triborough and Hell Gate Bridges above and Astoria Park and the R/W island shoreline below), shortly before sunset. Despite the light being good and strong, I used an ND filter to allow for a long exposure of the shoreline, as in the shot above. I’m actually a bit disappointed in this one, and wish I used a polarizer as well as the ND filter here. I wanted that water to be more translucent, but that could also be a time of day and oblique angle of light issue. Probably want to use a polarizer at solar maximum, when the angle of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself is acute rather than oblique.

Luckily, this spot is only about a half hour walk from HQ, so I’ll be back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I find the shot of mighty Triborough, above, fairly fetching so the disappointment over that shoreline shot is abated somewhat. Interesting lighting to consider in this one as well, as the MTA Bridges unit (TBTA) still uses old school sodium lights on the bridge roadway which cast off a familiar soft orange glow. NYC, on the other hand, is using LED heads for their street lights which offer a radius of illumination that is both cold and bright.

Back tomorrow.


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Upcoming Tours and Events


Thursday, July 11, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

“Infrastructure Creek” Walking Tour w Newtown Creek Alliance

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade (which we will probably encounter at a crossing), a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Click here for ticketing and more information.


Saturday, July 13, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

“Exploring the East River, From General Slocum Disaster
to Abandoned Islands” Boat Tour w NY Adventure Club

Onboard a Soundview route NYC Ferry – Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Click here for ticketing and more information.


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 8, 2019 at 1:00 pm

half forgot

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Is there a “usual” anymore?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is notoriously a creature of habits. If I find something enjoyable, I’ll repeat the experience over and over until it’s either no longer available or all the joy has been sucked out of it. Rinse, wash, repeat. I’m that way with certain points of views too. It’s an absolute imperative that I grab certain shots when passing the POV by, which is the case with the photo above from the Brooklyn Navy Yard perspective. You never know if “today’s iteration” is the last time you’ll see something, given how fast change occurs these days. To wit, notice how that new construction of yet another glass box residential tower is screwing up the primacy of the Empire State Building?

Additionally, whereas we’ve had wet and rainy years in the past, 2019 seems to be the year that NYC has become the Seattle of the East Coast. I’d prefer London fog to rain, myself, but I like it all atmospheric like.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, before conducting a tour and whenever possible, I like to run the route a couple of days in advance and get my thoughts together. Accordingly, having ridden the Astoria line of the NYC Ferry to Wall Street/Pier 11, I transferred onto the Soundview line that goes north along the East River to the Bronx. After hugging the eastern coastline of Manhattan to East 90th street, the ferry heads into the Hells Gate section of the River. That’s the Triborough and Hell Gate Bridge pictured above, with Randalls/Wards Island on the left and the Shore Blvd. side of Astoria Park on the right.

I often wonder why there isn’t a ferry stop on Randalls/Wards. There’s such an abundance of playing fields and parkland there. Perhaps with future expansions of service there will be. Let’s just say that a certain someone is whispering into a few of the right ears about that one, every chance he gets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Something you might notice, when riding the ferry, are units of the NYPD Harbor Patrol. I’ve ridden the boats with officers onboard, or seemingly at random, an NYPD vessel will shadow the Ferry along its route – as was the case last week. Obviously, this is connected to NYPD’s Homeland Security mission, an appropriately so.

That’s a SAFE “response boat medium” pictured above, which are increasingly long in the tooth vessels that first started populating the fleets of the “services” a little more than a decade ago. Every service has its own flavor of SAFE boat.

On a site maintenance note, I should be rectifying this ad banner insertion bullshit that WordPress has been inflicting on this site shortly.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 18, 2019 at 1:30 pm

alive in

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Things that pull or push other things, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that NYC Ferry trip I mentioned in yesterday’s April Fools post? As it happened, a humble narrator hit a fortuitous moment in terms of river traffic when boarding that particular boat. Everywhere I pointed the lens, there seemed to be something going on. For the curious – this was the Soundview route, which I boarded at East 34th street over in the City, after taking the Astoria line from Hallets Cove to that location.

A few people have asked me (in real life or “meat space”) if I have some sort of relationship with the NYC Ferry people since I keep on mentioning them. The answer is “sort of,” since I do know a couple of people who work at Hornblower through the old NY Harbor crowd. A while back I did a blog post for NYC Ferry about what to do and see nearby their Astoria dock, an effort which I was recompensed for with a free 30 day pass on their boats. That’s pretty much the size of it, except for the taxes we all pay to the City which heavily underwrite the $2.75 fare. I’m just a fare paying passenger, and one who really enjoys getting out on the water – even if it was a particularly cold and blustery March afternoon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted this rather smallish tug at Hells Gate, towing a couple of barges of what looked like either gravel or uncooked asphalt. That’s the Wards/Randalls island combine in the background, the shoreline of which hosts a staggering amount of municipal infrastructure. The NYC DEP has a combination of wastewater and sludge dewatering facilities on the shoreline mirroring Astoria Park, there’s the Hell Gate railroad Bridge and the East River span of the Triborough Bridge complex as well. Just yesterday, I was making plans with a couple of people to spend a day on the Island(s) and get to know the place a bit better.

Used to be two islands, Randalls and Wards, but… y’know… Robert Moses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Coming from the south/west, another tug was spotted transversing Hells Gate. That’s the Astoria Park shoreline, and you can just make out the nascent skyline of LIC’s Court Square neighborhood peeking out over the bare trees behind the bridge. I’ve been told that even with modern vessels, you have to “pick your battles” with the swift currents in this section of the river lest you end up burning up half your fuel supply fighting its ebb and flow.

One time I was sitting in Astoria Park, right alongside the Hell Gate masonry seen above, and taking pics. I started laughing while watching some rich guy in a speedboat gunning his engines against the current, but his boat was just barely holding position agains the incoming flood tide. This isn’t necessarily the case with tugs and other overpowered boats, of course, but fuel costs are what rule the roost in the shipping and towing business. How much you “spend to earn” is where an experienced versus inexperienced crew and scheduler make all the difference. Same thing is true with shipping by rail and trucks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another fuel barge and tug combination was passed, while the camera’s point of view was looking north westwards over Randalls/Wards Island towards the Little Hell Gate Bridge and the roads leading to Triborough’s toll plazas. Good timing, thought I, as a CSX train set was transiting over the elevated rail tracks connecting to Hell Gate’s East River Arch Bridge (which connect to the NY Connecting Rail Road tracks in Queens) and heading for the Bronx. I think the next stop for the CSX rig will be Owls Head yard in the Bronx, but that’s just a guess.

What do I know? 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, I had outfitted the camera with zoom lens for the trip. It’s a Sigma, the 18-300 f3.5, which provides the “all in one” functionality needed for this sort of excursion. One thing about the East River and its various tributaries and estuarial bays is that you are going to want to shoot both wide and long, sometimes flipping back and forth several times in just five minutes. Given that you’re on a boat, speedily moving through the water and with all kinds of weird particulates circulating in the air column… you want to limit the number of lens flops you do.

I can recommend the Sigma, btw. I also have and love their 18-35 f1.8.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What was that I was just saying about zooming in?


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 2, 2019 at 11:00 am

alienists were

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Dag, I really got my $2.75 worth out of this ferry ride, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing my maiden voyage on the NYC Ferry’s new Soundview route, the boat left its (Manhattan) East 90th street dock and proceeded towards Hells Gate. This is a spot I often visit, but always from the landward side in Queens. Living in Astoria, a frequent destination when I’m out for a constitutional walk is Shore Road, which adjoins Astoria Park and provides commanding views of two bridges which I’m rather enamored with – the Triborough and Hell Gate. The former is just one part of a complex of automotive bridges built under the guidance of Robert Moses which opened in 1936. The latter is a rail bridge (OK, technically it’s a complex of bridges too) which opened in 1917, designed by Hornbostel and Lindenthal, and constructed by Carnegie’s American Bridge Company for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Hells Gate is formerly the most treacherous section of the East River, due to whirlpools and strong currents which wrecked hundreds of ships during colonial and early republic times. Its name is an anglicization of the old Dutch “Hellegaat” which refers to “a bright passage.” The hazardous conditions in this section of the East River were caused by the topography of the riverbed beneath the water, a situation which was dealt with by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in several stages during the 19th century. The USACE efforts culminated with an 1885 detonation of mined explosives that broke up the riverbed, an explosion which was the largest intentional detonation in all of human history until the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945 (debate about certain WW1 military actions does exist on this topic, btw.)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the Ferry moved northward towards its destination at the northern side of the Bowery Bay section of the river, we passed by the “Astoria Energy” power plant located on the forbidden northern shore of Queens. That nomen is one of my own little inventions, indicating the frustration a humble narrator often expresses when discussing the coastlines of the Borough. There’s a solid wall of “not allowed” secure sites along the shoreline, which is ultimately prosaic and appropriate, but still frustrating. You’ve got the power plant, then a sewer plant, then Rikers Island, and then LaGuardia Airport. The first time you might be able to get close enough to even see the water is at Flushing Bay.

Fingers crossed for an East Elmhurst or Flushing Ferry line, anyone?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve seen this POV a few times over the years, but it’s still pretty uncommon for me. That’s Randalls/Wards Island on the right, which used to be seperate islands until Mr. Moses made them one landmass as part of the Triborough project. Hells Gate and Triborough’s East River span are at center, and the former Politti Power Plant (which the Astoria Energy outfit now uses as its campus) are on the left.

More tomorrow, at your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2019 at 2:00 pm

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On the boat.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, I took a ride on the new Soundview line of the NYC Ferry recently in pursuance of scouting out a tour which I’m going to conduct along its route. Soundview is a long ride by the standards of the new Ferry system, some 46 minutes. It takes you north from Pier 11 Wall Street along the eastern shoreline of Manhattan with stops at 34th street and then at 90th street. Its path carries you along the rather familiar sights of the great bridges section of the East River (Brooklyn to Queensborough) and then proceeds into the River’s west channel between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan.

Pictured above is a tug towing an empty fuel barge southwards along the waterway. How do I know it’s empty? Look at how high the barge is riding in the water… that’s how.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The west channel of the East River is preferred for the passage of larger ships and maritime industrial traffic for a couple of reasons, most notably the absence of height restrictions due to the Roosevelt Island Bridge and the “no wake” zone around the Big Allis power plant in Queens’ Ravenswood section. The Soundview ferry uses this channel to proceed northwards, passing by notable Upper East Side landmarks like Rockefeller University in the East 60’s.

That’s another huge articulated tug and fuel barge in the shot above, operated by the Reinauer company. Articulated means that there are cabling connections which allow the Captain of the tug to operate the two entities as a single vessel. There is also a large cutout notch in the bow of the barge which the tug nestles into.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last stop in Manhattan is at East 90th street, whereupon the ferry route heads across the East River to the east channel, and heads into Hells Gate. Those of you with a historical mindset might already have an inkling of what this tour will be talking about, but let’s just say that a little bit more than a century ago on a nice morning in mid June, a large group of people boarded a boat just north of Wall Street at Peck Slip, and more or less followed this route. Things did not go as planned for them, and bad things happened. Very, very bad things.

More tomorrow, at your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 26, 2019 at 1:30 pm

entropy prone

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Everybody poops, even the Queen of England. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one spent some time last weekend wandering around the forbidden northern coast of Queens. On my way back to HQ on the other side of Astoria, I opted to take advantage of the gathering dusk and swung along the open East River coastline views offered by Astoria Park. The tripod was set up, filter affixed, and that’s a three minute long exposure of Hells Gate you’re looking at above. 

As is usually the case here in Astoria, the tripod and camera gathered no small amount of attention unto me. For many of my neighbors, it seems it would be far less shocking were one to whip out an AK-47 and start shooting randomly into the air than it is to see a DSLR being brandished and operated. Small children had their hands gathered up by parents and caregivers as they walked by, women clutched at their purses, and men began aggressive posturing while chattering away in some central Asian guttural language. iPhones were produced, and a humble narrator was photographed while photographing, which must create some sort of recursive loop in space and time, ultimately.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If only these people knew what lurked below the waves… the battrachian horrors which exist in the kettles and broken stones that litter the bottom of the river… but… such matters and knowledge have been carefully suppressed by Federal and State authorities for generations. Suffice to say that Hells Gate and Triborough not only provide for passage above the river, but also act as weights to cage something that we never, ever, want to see rising from the water. 

Brooklyn doesn’t have these sorts of problems. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, a ball game of some sorts was occurring on Randalls/Wards Island, which bathed the mighty Triborough Bridge in cold stadium light. Post facto, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself decided to meet up for dinner back on our decidedly terrestrial side of the neighborhood, whereupon we visited a place which had caught our eye but which we hadn’t patronized. 

Here’s a rare Newtown Pentacle recommendation for a restaurant – District Saigon on Broadway just off 37th street was fantastic and not terribly “spendy.” After my long walk, a delicious bowl of Vietnamese Pho soup was quite a welcome repast. It also pooped out nicely the next day, which is a big part of my consideration when discussing food. I like to review its entire gastrointestinal journey from tip to tail, rather than just the sensations of entry. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 18, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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From Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst wiggling about and adjusting the camera settings to capture the image above, a humble narrator was photographed by the occupants of a passing minivan (which slowed down to do so) on Shore Bouelvard alongside Astoria Park last Sunday. The largish iPhone brandished at me skillfully ignored all the folks engaged in romantic congress in the front seats of their cars, or the small army of marijuana enthusiasts who were similarly situated in the parking lane. Clearly, the iPhone person had uncovered some nefarious activity being committed by a strange old man in a filthy black raincoat, and would be reporting so to the proper authorities. I was waiting for the goon squad to arrive and kick in my front door back at HQ later that night.

Mighty Triborough, and the Hell Gate Bridge, in today’s dark light post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is just something about camera equipment that sets off the accent crowd here in Astoria which I’ll never understand. It’s kosher to wave your phone around wherever you go, but if they see a DSLR, it’s regarded with the same sort of caution and concern that you’d expect for brandishing an assault rifle. Given that the times I’m not carrying a camera are so rare that they are statistically irrelevant, it means that I get stared at a lot.

I’d get stared at a lot even if I wasn’t carrying the camera, as a note.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Children gasp or cry, dogs growl, old ladies clutch at their purses… all things that happen when one such as myself scuttles past. Men puff themselves up and assume aggressive posture, police slow down and observe, security cameras pivot on their swivels. The only living creatures which do not react negatively to me are birds, and one can walk through a flock of them pecking away at the ground with nary a ruffled feather.

A few years ago, whilst wandering about, I snapped a quick photo of the facade of a local Greek church – St. Irene’s. A small mob of old Greek ladies suddenly appeared and literally chased me for about 3/4 of a mile.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I favor atmospherics like fog for these kind of shots, normally, but for structures as massive and far reaching as Triborough and Hell Gate – fog and mist get in the way and obscure too much detail. It’s particularly dark on this section of the East River as well, which causes any sort of artificial lighting to flare due to the contrast.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In my never ending quest to break habits, a rare vertical or portrait format shot from the “House of Moses.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I walked into Astoria Park to get this final shot of Hell Gate. I do wish Amtrak would light this bridge up at night.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 23, 2018 at 11:00 am

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