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Posts Tagged ‘Buttermilk Channel

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Now there’s something you don’t see every day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Working Harbor Committee excursion to Gowanus Bay saw our vessel plying the Buttermilk Channel section of the East River, which is found between Red Hook and Governors Island. The legend about how this section of the river ended up being called Buttermilk Channel states that back in colonial times, it was so shallow at low tide that Red Hook farmers would herd cattle over to the island for safe keeping and free grazing. Dredging projects in the industrial era lowered the depth hereabouts, creating a shipping channel.

As our vessel moved along, a big orange boat called the Staten Island Ferry entered into Buttermilk, which is pretty unusual. Incidentally, despite its size, the Ferry is a boat. If it could launch a boat, it would be a ship, but since it can’t, it’s a boat. Life boats don’t count, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was actually a dredging project that caused the anomaly. New York Harbor is an estuary situated between a giant conveyor belt for silt and soil called the Hudson River and the estuarial waters of Jamaica Bay and Long Island Sound. The back and forth tidal action of the East River, coupled with the titanic flow of the Hudson, causes the harbor floor to build up constantly and channel maintenance is an expensive but necessary activity ordained and financed by the ports people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as we were leaving Buttermilk Channel on our way to Erie Basin and Gowanus Bay, the NYPD Harbor Patrol came splashing by, offering themselves up with an iconic backdrop.

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Just a short one today, but… Sludge Boat, baby, Sludge Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, while on a ferry to Red Hook, (long story) the Port Richmond Sludge Boat was spotted. You might recall a recent post which described the christening and official launch of the three new exemplars of the NYC DEP’s sludge collection vessels, but if you don’t – here’s a link to a 2014 Newtown Pentacle post that discusses it. Long time readers know that I’m a bit obsessed with sludge boats, for some reason.

These boats are “MV’s” or municipal vehicles, which means that you and I own them. They are ours. Now if only DEP would lend me the keys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All three examples of this new class were designed with Newtown Creek in mind, as this kind of MV’s can pass under the Pulaski Bridge at high tide, without requiring the drawbridge to open. Gross tonnage is 2,772 on these vessels, they’re 290 feet long with a draught of 4.3m. There’s three of them operating in NY Harbor now – Hunts Point, Rockaway, and as pictured above Port Richmond.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 14, 2015 at 12:30 pm

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Buttermilk Channel, in today’s post

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just a single image today, of a tourist boat plying the East River’s Buttermilk channel. Your humble narrator is off on a short adventure today, so look forward to what I’m going to find at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

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There’s a FREE Newtown Creek walking tour coming up.

Sunday, June 21st, America’s Workshop
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 16, 2014 at 11:00 am

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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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