The Downtown Boathouse at Pier 40 on the Hudson River was the unpromising location for an early evening out in New York.
Friends had whispered that this section of the decaying waterfront was home to one of New York’s best kept secrets. All summer long, and weather permitting, volunteers organise free kayaking for New Yorkers and others in the know. You don’t have to phone ahead, reserve a place, or even wear special kit for their regular sessions. Anyone who can swim can just turn up, sign a waiver, and take to the river on one of their unsinkable, self-bailing kayaks. J, then aged 12, had been kayaking before, on North London’s Grand Union Canal, but the vista there is very different, almost pastoral. This section of the Hudson is broad and grey and industrial, and not for the faint of heart.
I think because of his early experiences [I adopted him when he was nearly 7 and his first years were very hard], J is virtually fearless, and this is often a great strength. But that day, in that place, I was pleased that the rules required both that we keep within strictly circumscribed limits, and that I accompany him. It wasn’t an easy ride. J can have a highly controlling streak as well as the courage of a lion, and I didn’t have much of a say in where we paddled. We got very wet, and quite cold, but there was ample consolation. J loved it, and it is truly extraordinary to see the New York skyline from this angle.
As I trailed my fingers in the chilly Hudson, I found it impossible not to think of the passengers and crew on US Airways Flight 1549 which ditched at almost the exact same spot two years earlier. The plane glided over the Hudson, finally coming down near the USS Intrepid museum three minutes after losing power. All its occupants evacuated and survived, and the story has become the stuff of legend. Fortune smiled on them that day.
Apparently the Trapeze School of New York also operates on the roof of Pier 40. Next time we’re in New York, I’ve told J that I might have to sign us up for their Sunday morning intensive flying workshop. Anyone care to join us?