Riverkeeper Boat Log: Water Sampling Patrol from Ossining to Brooklyn

At 0700 hours I boarded the Fletcher at Westerly Marina in Ossining, New York. We fueled up, loaded the sampling bottles, and cast off for the city. I was at the helm, Carol was prepping her sampling supplies, and John started to catch up on emails and phone calls. For the first twenty miles we didn’t have any sample sites to stop at so we just drove, waved at passing boats, and talked about the river.

Boarding the Fletcher
As we approached the Tappan Zee bridge, John and I talked about the controversial bridge construction project. Since construction began there has been a spike in sturgeon deaths in the surrounding area. Scientists have found that most of the deaths are from boat propellors, which John and many others attribute to the bridge construction work boats.
The solution to this problem? John says it’s a simple one: prop cages. 9000illa

Propellor cages have been used in the past when boat operators are concerned about getting lines tangled, wrapping up weeds (like hydrilla!), or harming wildlife.

According to John, this simple fix would be enough to curb the dramatic increase in loss of sturgeon, a treasured and endangered Hudson River fish.

In addition to the sturgeon killing, the construction has also been continuously stirring up sediment from the river bottom, which greatly disturbs both aquatic life and the balance of nutrients in the water.

Unfortunately, it’s too late for much of this to be fixed. The bridge is on its way to being built (and it should be built, the old one is really on its last legs), so we won’t stop construction.

Maybe eventually there will be some compensation that could be put towards one of the hundreds of projects to help our river, not kill its fish and stir up its silt.

Osprey nest (5 of them in this photo!)
John and I also spoke briefly about the barge anchorages that have been recently proposed along the Hudson. The US Coast Guard has called for 43 berths in 10 new anchorage fields between Yonkers and Kingston to help barges legally stop as they travel between New York and Albany.

Riverkeeper is taking an aggressive stand against this proposal, encouraging Hudson River communities to join the fight and prevent our river from becoming “a floating fuel pipeline” or “a parking lot” (LoHud).

This issue, like just about everything, isn’t black and white. It’s convoluted; it deals with both the strain and the importance of trade, the justifiable fears about crude oil and the NIMBY syndrome, the boating community and the community of homeowners with waterfront property.

… I’ll come back to this in a later post.

Anchored barge off Hyde Park

Water sample processing station

The Fletcher
Piloting the Fletcher through New York Harbor reminded me of its how beauty and chaotic energy demand a captain’s unwavering attention.

If you turn away to watch a seagull or snap a photo for a second too long, you could easily find yourself in the path of a high speed ferry barreling out of the East River.

If you spend a minute daydreaming as the sails whirl by your port side, you could miss the fisherman to starboard as he returns home with his catch.

The harbor hums with motors and halyards; it keeps you alert and even anxious when you’re at the helm, but you enjoy it anyways.

Sails on the Harbor by the Buttermilk
While on patrol, we slow down and stick our net out over the side whenever we pass dropped soda bottles or released balloons.

As we motored down the West side of the harbor, passing Hoboken and nearing Jersey City, we saw a floating fender. It looked brand new and nearly blinded us as the afternoon sun passed over its white sides. I rounded it like a racing buoy and Carol was about to grab it when we heard frantic shouts from behind us.

We looked back and saw a group of four or five adults on a small sailboat, running on mainsail only and waving their arms at us.

“Man overboard drill!” One of them shouted at us.

Bearing away from the boat and their floating fender, I explained to a confused Carol what they’d meant. I’ve been the victim sailboat to a well-meaning motorboat before, trying to snag my Type IV PFD before my sailing lesson can pick it up in irons.

Hudson River Community Sailing


Recording data onboard
As we processed the final samples and entered the day’s data, we passed the flats and turned into the Gowanus Canal.

It reeked of industrialism.

Parked barges awaited their cargo, power plants roared to keep up with the 93 degree day’s air conditioning quota, and oil slicks floated by like ducks following their mother. A lone wind turbine rose above the mayhem, passing the factory roofs and scattered trees. A seagull landed on a piling only to fly away seconds later; there’s no dinner here for you!

Barges parked at Gowanus Canal entrance

One wind turbine vs eight gas burning power plants

Gowanus Canal entrance

Oil sheen on the Gowanus
After hopping off the Fletcher and waving goodbye to Carol and John, I walked a block to the F train and made my way home.

As I walked a bridge over the Gowanus, I wondered why the city doesn’t make a bigger effort to clean up. Not only is it harming wildlife, potential recreational waters, and the watershed’s overall fitness, but on a purely superficial level: it looks bad. 

Oil slicks aren’t pretty despite their rainbow palettes and none of the power plants had thought out the aesthetics of their architecture.

Why doesn’t NYC clean up?

For Further Reading:

Barge Anchorages

Crude Oil

Bridge Construction: Dead Sturgeon

NYT: Gowanus Canal Cleanup Prayers




2 thoughts on “Riverkeeper Boat Log: Water Sampling Patrol from Ossining to Brooklyn

  1. Your writing and great photos leave me feeling like I was there on board. Thanks for the information, too, like the sturgeon, prop cages, etc. You’re a fine chronicler of the watered world.

    Liked by 1 person

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