Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I Kayak the Castle

"How come I'm veering right?" I was paddling up the Hudson River, heading to Bannerman Castle from the put-in point at Cold Spring. No matter what, I couldn't seem to stop drifting to my right.

"Maybe you're cutting in closer on one side. Let me watch you for a minute."

One of the four guides (there were 20 kayakers) dropped back and watched me for a minute.

"In at the foot, out at the shoulder, trace the horizon," he said.

Yeah, yeah, I heard you the first time. So why am I still drifting right?

I tried leaning onto my feet, twisting at the hips, cutting in closer, farther, tracing the horizon and not paying attention at all. The results were always the same. I shrugged as best I could under shoulder-power, compensated again and again for my right-drift, and paddled on to Bannerman Castle.

Hope that sunscreen holds out, I thought. The weather had cooperated to give us kayakers a perfect day. Bright, a slight breeze, and the only serious waves that needed fighting came from the wakes of waterskiing joyriders.

Bannerman's Castle is a glorious ruin on tiny Pollepel Island, 50 miles north of New York City. I first saw it on October 10, 2006, when Amtrak sent me leaf-peeping on their train to Montreal. What the hell is that, I thought. A month later, I headed up in my car to photograph the castle from shore.

Bannerman is gorgeous but it's no Hearst Castle. From the beginning, this glamorous wreck's intended use was as a storage facility for military surplus. Private military surplus, owned by a munitions and collectibles dealer. When I was a kid, my mother temped for a place called "Replica Models" in my hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. She'd been amazed at this subculture of both reproduction and original pith helmets, pistols, and bayonets. (This was years before her Civil War fascination... or maybe the the two are linked.) Anyway, I'm a comic book editor. I get collectibles and quirky subcultures. And I love that an eccentric Scottish guy bought an island and built a castle for his collections business.

The castle was nearly destroyed by fire in 1969. It's not stable. New York State owns it now and only allows "hard hat tours" under specific conditions. I tried to go last year but tours were canceled after they found an unexploded shell (there are presumably many but they are not found so often anymore).

You don't have to kayak to get to Bannerman Castle. There are regular boat trips for $30. I just thought I'd make a day of it and anyway, I had been to Cold Spring before and knew I could get to Hudson Valley Outfitters on the Metro-North train. (The other tour possibilities are listed here.)

An hour and 15 minutes of steady paddling brought my small group to the island. I didn't really have to struggle, and I'm a fairly lazy person. My assumption is that anyone of reasonable fitness could do this trip, though the last bit got a little tough as only two kayaks could pull up to the finishing point at once, so the rest of us had to sit still in the river and await our turns.

I kayaked in, stepped into the Hudson in my brand-new ($39.95 on sale at Union Square DSW! Remember my last pair was destroyed in the Grand Canyon, RIP Tevas, 2001-2008.) Tevas, grabbed my lunch out of the kayak, and walked ashore.

1 comment:

Pville Peg said...

Were they sea kayaks, with a rudder? Perhaps the rudder was askew, and that's why you kept drifting right.
We once went on a kayak trip in the sound behind Mt.Desert Island (Acadia National Park, Maine), seal-watching and such. Larry & I were in one kayak, the kids in another. The rudder was stuck, so our kayak wouldn't go straight. We called the guide over, and, out there in deep water, she made the repair. To accomplish this she pulled alongside, and, as Larry & I held her kayak firmly alongside ours, she was 2/3rds out of her kayak and head first up into the covered area where the rudder pedals are--that is, between Larry's legs. With some difficulty she did something up under there and got the rudder working.
The kayak tour was expensive, but the look on Larry's face as the beautiful young woman inserted her head, arms and shoulders up into the kayak, resting her torso in his lap? Priceless.