Near death is a a few feet away.

Magnificence and Mayhem

Eagles, Icehouses, and Near-death on the Hudson

Eagles, Icehouses, and Near-death on the Hudson

It began with a forecast of mild temperatures and winds to 5 knots. An earlier more negative forecast had led to 4 cancellations of other paddlers. Heading out just the two of us noticed that the wind was picking up to 10+ knots and yet the sky looked promising. Properly equipped, both of us skilled, we thought out the worst case and how the water on the Hudson would act with the tide against the wind. Satisfied we could handle it, onward.

An exiting and moderately challenging northward passage 5 miles found us at the Icehouse that historically served New York City before modern refrigeration. On the return leg, we spotted a parent eagle in its nest, its likely mate rising on a thermal in the sky overhead, and then what appeared to be a falcon attacking the eagle violently defending it’s territory from the eagle above,

Onward we went awestruck by the wildness and exhibition of the natural world,. But we were jolted out of our reverie by the combination of sharply increasing wind to 20+ knots, gusting to 30, and changing tide turned the waters into heavy wind driven rollers. Surfing the rollers I felt for the excitement and the concern that this could turn unmanageable. My partner was OK but struggling just a bit. Then with a tranquil mind he managed to find his way in them too. This is what it is all about I thought. Kayaking is a connection to the world not an escape, the hand to the paddle, the body to the boat, the water embracing, it is romantic exhilarating, joyous, the boat responding to the surfing conditions, letting the boat take me, one with everything.

And then we spotted two canoes deciding to cross the river at it’s widest point, into the rollers, water coming over the sides of their canoes, the two canoes far apart neither able or interested it seems in keeping track of the other or each fight for their lives separately. Why are they crossing, it looks easier on the side they are already on my partner asks. We don’t know. They don’t have pfd’s or floatation, the water is less than 50, and cotton clothing probably. We watch from afar, too far to help. They struggle each on their own, and make it across, as if all was fine, never a care it appears.

“The condition of the sea is murderous. Homer calls it ‘wine dark’, not because of it color but because that is its nature. It is thick with the intoxication of darkness. It is loved, sentimentally, by the ignorant and by romantics because death is the moment for which Romanticism longs, and because no moment is more vivid than one embraced by death. This is why death at sea is such a casual affair. Death has no need to approach making its intentions clear. Death is already there, a few feet away, resting beneath the table, its head on its paws and a smile in its eyes, happy to accept the scraps that fall. If you are to exist in these wild places, then you must give yourself over to the totality, to the magnificence of this world and at the same time resist and control it. In other words both submit and deny. Neither is enough without the other. “*

Today we think of the sea and water as a romantic ideal, the true test of our natures, somehow a place to find our true selves. But historically water was felt to be a place where civilization and order ended and the sea a place of killing horror. Both views are needed to embrace the totality of what you will find there.

  • Excerpt from Seamanship by Adam Nicolson, Harper-Collins, 2004.

    Copyright 2005 Evan Shaw

canoes and kayaks
I am sure all of you kayakers think we are nuts with our topless boats. (I would hope for better clothes and PFDs next time.)

wll written and enjoyable reading, thank

Great excerpt, Thanks.
“In the midst of life, there is death”. The space between the two can be measured in inches and moments. Let’s get in there and paddle!

Not so!
I am an advid canoeist, don’t have that attitude. When I wrote it, I thought afterwards, I hope it is clear the danger comes from not understanding the strengths and limits of oneself, one’s boat, and how to manage things.

Sorry if you got an unintended take on it. These folks would have been in similar danger in whatever boat they were in.


Extremely well-written

you spin…
a good yarn. Paddle on and keep the trip reports a comeing.

Thanks all. Sometimes everyday reality impresses in a way that moves one to notice larger things. Life on the water has a way of reflecting the complexities of civilized life that illuminates.


Canoes are unfinished boats
and seem to be the boat of choice for the uninitiated.Go figure!

The wine dark, frigid seas referred to above are frightening. Those words, though, would not apply down here in South Florida. The water is transparent, warm and inviting most of the time. Death is always near, to be sure, but down here wee have a better chance of keeping him at arms length from our kayaks.

Nice piece!
What makes it enjoyable for me is to read well written prose rapped around a topic I’m familiar with. Write on!

why do you even post Jim3727
It’s always a negative comment about canoes. You don’t need to post, everybody can just assume that you are thinking something negative about canoes. Do you even paddle or are you just one of the guys who gets out once a week and thinks they know all about paddling.

I go out twice a week

– Last Updated: May-11-05 1:51 PM EST –

without fail. I work. Otherwise I would go out more often. For a few reasons, I feel irritated and bothered when I read these posts about inexperienced people dying on the water in small boats. I feel compelled to comment on canoes.

I don't need to be an "expert" to enjoy kayaking. I know just enough to keep me out of trouble and one of the things I DO know is that canoes are ridiculous on the sea.

"canoes are ridiculous on the seas"
Well, I guess Verlan Krueger never knew what he was doing on the 1000’s of miles he did paddling his canoe on open seas. Yeah, you’re an “expert” alright. How did you become such an authority on canoes if you don’t paddle one???

so you aren’t an expert
I could say that kayaks are ridiculous on a lot of rivers. They can be a lot harder to get out of compared to canoes which could put you in a bad situation when you encounter a strainer. Most of these people that die on the water are very inexperienced, don’t have lifejackets, don’t have proper clothing for the water temperature. It doesn’t matter whether they were in a canoe or kayak. Kayaks can be flipped over just as well as a canoe. If you don’t know how to roll your kayak or get back in, you are going to be in just as bad of a situation.

Hummm Now!

– Last Updated: May-11-05 1:28 PM EST –

Ya know, for the most part I stay outta these type of things but jim3727 you just kind of rub me the wrong way. I read more about kayakers getting in trouble than canoers. I'm sure a search on this site would find that true! I hate to say it but you need to pull your head out of....the sand and realize that there's more than one style of boating out there and your preference is not the only one on this earth. Make room for the rest us of pal, us canoeist have been around a long time. Perhaps it would do you some good to try out a canoe sometime in your life. I've done my time in yaks so I know what I'm talking about and I make it a point never to down talk other folks choice of water craft.

Evan, nice writing, really enjoyed it and I thank you. My apologizes for responding to the negative post to your thread.


Even more ridiculous
>one of the things I DO know is that canoes are ridiculous on the sea. <

Except the Hudson is a RIVER!

What you DON’T know can hurt you?

Anyone who paddles canoes

– Last Updated: May-11-05 1:48 PM EST –

and knows what they are doing, won't have much of an argument with my point about un decked boats and how easily they are swamped compared to a kayak... whether it is heavy chop on a river or the sea. A child can see that. Apparently you cannot or will not, though. I don't care for canoes. I think they are silly and have very limited uses... and I think I can say so.

And I do not have to respect any one else's decision on anything. I can disagree all I want to as long as I explain. If I list some points you disagree with, make some counter points instead of making a personal attack on someone you do not know. Some people here need to grow up a little. This thread is about somebody who died in a canoe. It is a negative subject and my thread is a reaction to it.

Near Death
Canoes and kayaks can be sunk by incompetent paddlers or bad weather throughout the world. I have lived in South Florida for 37 years and have paddled cockpitted seakayaks and open canoes throughout the area. Contrary to popular belief, the waters can turn dark and ugly or a drugged out powerboater can snuff you out. Canoes require a great deal of skill in open waters. Kayaks are somewhat less work. Interesting to note that the Arawak and Timicuun populations of this area used open boats quite successfully in moving through the Keys as well as between the Bahamas. The Miskito Indians on the Nicaraguan coast still use open canoes for green turtle harvesting. I suppose good reading of the weather in the place you are is essential and evolves as our connection to place is developed.


Tell it to Bob Foote & Nolan Whitesell
Take your QCC down the Grand Canyon & see how far you get. They did it in canoes.


Good Grief!
The authors original essay had to do with HIS experience on the water. He pondered the “why” of things, but in no way made a judgement for or against anyone or anything. For once can we just enjoy anothers writing without being subjected to the same old tired arguments.