The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Tugboat

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It’s not luck or preparation, just good timing with me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Returning to Astoria after a recent sojourn to the fabulous Newtown Creek, one elected to cross the waterway at a point some 1.3 miles from its intersection with the East River. Luckily, that’s where the City of Greater New York maintains that chunk of our collective property which they call the “John J. Byrne memorial bridge” or as it’s known more simply to everybody else – the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge.

As I was nearing the apogee of the span, descending traffic barrier signal arms accompanied by bells and flashing lights provided indication that this double bascule draw bridge was about to open up and allow a maritime passage. What fun!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gazing through the security fencing, a humble narrator did spy a barge and tug plying the contaminant rich waters of the Newtown Creek. The barge was set up to act as a platform for a crane, by all appearances. Perhaps it was coming from the nearby Kosciuszcko Bridge project, but that’s just idle speculation.

It’s a big old creek, Newtown is, with lots and lots going on all the time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

With the bridge open and the always heavy flow of automotive and truck traffic halted, one took the opportunity to run around on the roadway without the fear of getting squished. You can just see the top of that crane moving alongside the Brooklyn side roadway bascule, above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYC DOT bridge tender was definitely keeping an eye on me, to which I say “fair enough.” Imagine the sight of one such as myself, darting to and fro across the concrete roadway, hooting and hollering in my revel, camera waving about and filthy black raincoat whipping in the breeze.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then the joy came to an end, as all joy must. A return to the ultra mundane occurred as the bridge returned to its resting state. One set his feet solidly to work and strode defiantly into Blissville, eyes fixed on the north, where Astoria eternally awaits.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

March!

That’s the Long island Expressway there, incidentally, at Borden Avenue and Van Dam. I love this point of view on it.


“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.


Events!

Slideshow and book signing, April 23rd, 6-8 p.m.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for a slideshow, talk, and book signing and see what the incredible landscape of Newtown Creek looks like when the sun goes down with Mitch Waxman. The event is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP here. Light refreshments served.

Click here to attend.

The Third Annual, All Day, 100% Toxic, Newtown Creekathon. April 28th.

The Creekathon will start at Hunter’s Point South in LIC, and end at the Kingsland Wildflowers rooftop in Greenpoint. It will swing through the neighborhoods of LIC, Blissville, Maspeth, Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint, visiting the numerous bridges that traverse the Creek. While we encourage folks to join us for the full adventure, attendees are welcome to join and depart as they wish. A full route map and logistics are forthcoming.This is an all day event. Your guides on this 12+ mile trek will be Mitch Waxman and Will Elkins of the Newtown Creek Alliance, and some of their amazing friends will likely show up along the way.

Click here to attend.

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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?


“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

April 2, 2019 at 11:00 am

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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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 26, 2019 at 1:30 pm

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Friday tugboat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That brutally cold Friday the day after Thanksgiving? Actually, the Friday night after Thanksgiving? Yup, a humble narrator was clinging to a bulkhead in Greenpoint watching a Tug deliver an empty barge to SimsMetal and preparing to tow away a full one. There’s two different approaches to night shot photography in this post, incidentally.

The first and the last images are relatively wide aperture and high ISO shots with a shutter speed just fast enough to freeze the movement of the maritime industrial action. By “relatively wide,” I mean f4.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is typical of the sort that you’ve been seeing a lot of lately at this – your Newtown Pentacle – narrow aperture and long(ish) exposure at a fairly low ISO setting. Anything that’s moving at all has a bit of motion blur, especially the tugboat, which has been reduced down to a series of light streaks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had made the trip to Greenpoint in pursuance of capturing an image of the moon rising over Newtown Creek, a shot which just didn’t end up working out for me in the end. Ultimately, I came home with a few “worthies” on my camera memory card, but nothing to write home about.

Tugboat!


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 30, 2018 at 11:30 am

rotting ossuaries

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A dollar short and a day late…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I seem to be about twelve hours behind on my scheduling today, due to a very busy week. Thusly, a single image of a DonJon Tug moving barges about on Newtown Creek greets you in this very late post. Back tomorrow with something decidedly meatier for you to sink your teeth into, lords and ladies.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 27, 2018 at 1:59 pm

cluster around

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Happy Labor Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a break this week, and single images will be greeting you sans the verbose drivel they’re normally accompanied by. It’s a rather busy week that I have ahead of me, but look for a strange old man wandering about the concrete devastations of the Newtown Creek with a camera. That’ll likely be me.


Tours and Events


Dutch Kills Dérive. Free!
Saturday, September 8, 2018, 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM with Flux Factory

Drowning in our own muck and mire, modern society must transmute its existence into that of an allegorical baptism in order to emerge a society of water protectors. The historic facts of exactly how our civilization has transformed the historic Dutch Kill waterway into a sewershed will act as both a numbing analgesic and a point of illumination. Tickets here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 3, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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Remember, remember…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day, June 15th in 1904, the General Slocum excursion boat left its dock at Peck Slip in Manhattan at ten in the morning with just over 1,000 people onboard – most of whom were women and children. It caught fire as it moved north on the East River, and reports of smoke below deck reached the wheelhouse as it was passing 97th street in Manhattan. It didn’t take long for the wood hulled boat to catch fire. It was a product of Tammany’s NYC, where safety inspectors could be convinced to overlook violations for a small sum, which is why the life vests were filled with sawdust and powdered cork and the fire hoses onboard were either non existent or rotted. Most of the crew abandoned ship, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves. By the time it grounded at North Brother Island, the official death toll was 1,021. Bodies were washing onshore at Hells Gate for days.

Today is the anniversary of the day that Lassez Faire capitalism and local control of the ferry industry ended in NYC, and why the United States Coast Guard was given broad oversight powers regarding safety onboard vessels in NY Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the Slocum disaster, which scored the largest death toll of any single event in NYC until the September 11th attacks in 2001, the Coast Guard instituted regulations and rules for all shipping in NY Harbor which they enforce with military discipline. It’s why you hear an announcement on every ferry trip telling you where floatation devices can be found onboard, and why private pleasure and fishing vessels in the harbor are often “pulled over” by USCG for safety inspections.

It’s also one of the arguments I make when talking politics, with my friends who identify as “Conservative,” in defense of what they describe as “job killing regulatory oversight.” There is a staggering amount of inefficiency and an abundance of stupid rules in Government, but we also haven’t had anything like a General Slocum disaster in what… 114 years?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given the focus point of my historical interests, which can be somewhat summed up as “maritime industrial history of NYC from the colonial to WW2 periods,” there’s a lot of horror stories which I’ve stumbled across. 95% of the environmental issues in NYC were caused by unfettered and unregulated industrial operations which, prior to 1972 and the Federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts, had zero obligation not to dump acid into rivers and streams or pulse metric shit tons of poison into the air. A disaster can occur in any era, but the needless deaths of 1,021 women and children onboard an excursion boat leaving from lower Manhattan to attend a picnic on Long Island? Unthinkable in the modern era.

All that is due to a regulatory regime for the maritime industry which was largely created and coded into law by Republican Party politicians led by Teddy Roosevelt. Dump acid into the water, or spew sulphur compounds into the sky? Also impossible thanks to a Republican named Richard Nixon. Give credit where credit is due, I say. I also question why the politics of the modern day has members of the same political party chipping away at the achievements of their historical forebears who ensured that you could just mindlessly walk onto a ferry without thinking about the General Slocum


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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