Featured Sailing Destination
Hudson River, New York City
By ASA Instructor, David Polakoff
“You live in New York, so where do you sail?” My landlubber, New York friends are a bit myopic when it comes to the fact that we live on an island, 13 miles in length, with water on all sides, which is a robust home to all forms of sailing activity. Believe me, the Hudson River/New York Bay is a playground for sailors, and that’s no secret to the New York/New Jersey sailing community, or to anyone with a home or office view of the Hudson River. Applying some license to the lyrics from the “Theme from New York, New York,” if you can sail here, you can sail anywhere.
I’ve been sailing on the Hudson River for 20 years and of the multitude of pleasurable reasons I can give you to sail here, the most compelling is the view. Perhaps you’ve seen the aerial shots, from documentaries, the news, or films of New York, but to own the view, from the water, from a sailboat is totally unique. It can occupy hours to days, especially as the same sites must be viewed during daylight, dusk, and at night. The light show, as the sun descends and the lights of the city come up, is as dramatic as the curtain opening on a Broadway show.
There is rich history in the Hudson River, the East River, and Upper and Lower New York Bay. Whether coming from Long Island, off the New Jersey coast, or a trans-Atlantic route, you will pass through the Narrows, under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the starting line of the New York City Marathon. Enter the Lower Bay as the Lenape Indians used to canoe it and as they met Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European explorer to pass New York Harbor, or as they greeted Henry Hudson, the Englishman who worked for the Dutch East India Company, and was the first to map it. Note Fort Wadsworth, on your port side, which dates back to the American Revolution, and is amongst five forts you can visit on your trip. Perhaps think of yourself as one of your immigrant ancestors steaming into New York during the 1892-1954 days of Ellis Island, passing the Statue of Liberty, which is perhaps the most impactful site in the Harbor; I never sail by it (and I sail by it a lot) without feeling the emotional experience. Whether you pass New Jersey’s Central Railroad Terminal (active from 1889-1967) or the Brooklyn Bridge (1883), the history of America has the Hudson River as its center of effort. The sites range from the iconic (Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building, the rebuilding of the World Trade Center) to the bucolic (Palisades Park on the New Jersey shoreline). The sunsets over New Jersey are truly picturesque and the architects of residential and commercial buildings in Jersey City have given New York’s skyline a run for its money.
Sailing in the Hudson requires, of course, that you check the chart, though there is largely ample depth, save for a few spots (especially near the Statue of Liberty). Be mindful of the fact that the Hudson is a tidal river and has a ripping current. Always factor the tide/current, especially during lighter wind periods, lest you be sailing a treadmill or a conveyor belt in reverse. There are always exceptions, but there is wind throughout the season. Generally speaking, the sea breeze kicks-in by early afternoon. Unless you are transiting via Long Island Sound, sailing the East River is not recommended (narrowness; current stronger than the Hudson; vibrant commercial traffic). Of course, you will experience every form of waterway companion – from swimmers to kayakers to jet skis to power boaters to dinner cruise yachts to tourist craft to commuter ferries to commodity barges to container ships to the Queen Mary II. And of course, the rare Airbus A320-214 (US Air Flight 1549), but that was January 2009, outside of sailing season! Any ASA basic keelboat student learns his/her right of way rules, and will have ample opportunity to practice them when learning to sail on the Hudson!
There are several marinas, which accept transients, on both the New York and New Jersey sides of the Hudson River. All have slips and one in New York has moorings. Anchoring, while very exposed to the elements, including the aforementioned tidal change and strong currents, is largely permissible, though there are no public dinghy landings. Most of the marinas have dockside (or proximity) dining; besides, you’re in New York/New Jersey with food for every taste and budget. The marinas on either side of the River have public transportation access to the opposite shoreline and points inland. The area in which New York/New Jersey sailing is lacking is its offerings of sail up (or dinghy up) to waterfront access, outside of the marinas. But once ashore you’ll have more to do than time permits.
The New York sailing season is the end of April to the end of October, save for the frostbite crowd; check the marinas’ official season start/end for access. There are annual events to observe – from the on water, Macy’s Independence Day fireworks show, to the US Navy Fleet Week, to the tug boat race to the swim around Manhattan. Each year seems to also have its special water celebrations, such as the 2009, 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson discovering the North River (later named for him), the 2010 Red Bull Air Race, or 2011’s 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.
While there are no Hudson River bareboat options, from either New York or New Jersey, if you are not sailing the area yourself, your sailing options include, as always, your New York/New Jersey sailboat owner friend, or various day, twilight, and evening charter offerings. There are replica clipper ships and schooners that offer 90 minute to two hour public sails (or private sails for events/parties) and private sail yacht charters. There are several sailing operations that offer club cruising, racing, and instruction, but they do not rent out their sailboats hourly/daily to non-members (though all allow members to bring day guests). A web search for your specific desire will yield various alternatives and options for all budgets.
Like the diversity of the people traveling the streets of the City, I have met sailors, crew, and transients from all over the world along the Hudson River. If you are a New York tourist, absolutely include plans for viewing the City from the Hudson River. If you are sailing the mid-Atlantic, from the north, south, or east, you will have thrilling rides and a buffet for the eyes, sailing in New York. I’ll wave to you on the River, and then you can tell me stories and show me pictures at one of the marina edible/potable establishments.
About the Author
David Polakoff sails the Hudson River, as a pleasure sailor, race crew, ASA basic sailing instructor, and USCG licensed sailboat charter captain. For information/entertainment, David has a sailing blog/website about sailing on the Hudson River, including waterway and waterfront information and a “walking tour” (narrative and map) of the sail between the Verrazano and George Washington Bridges, and live video of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, via Earthcam. More at: https://northriversailny.wordpress.com.