Fall Foliage Day Cruises from New York City

With the arrival of autumn, a trip up the Hudson River and to the Hudson Highlands makes for a great day. So, it’s time to make plans to sail north from New York City and enjoy the spectacle of the fall foliage from a comfortable boat.

View of the Palisades in autumn near the Henry Hudson Bridge in Northern Manhattan.

The sightseeing companies listed below offer special fall foliage excursions. A couple of the cruises drop anchor along the way, allowing time to enjoy the autumn scenery from a shoreline cafe or a woodland nature trail.  Check with the websites for more information and tickets. Book soon, though, as these trips are popular.

• Classic Harbor Line Fall Foliage Cruises
Classic Harbor Line sails on beautiful yachts, so the voyage experience is just as pleasing as the spectacular views along the way.   
These sails stay on the water without stopping.
Fall Foliage Brunch Cruise aboard Yacht Manhattan 2.75 hours
Fall Foliage Sail aboard Schooner Adirondack 3.75 hours
Fall Foliage Cruise aboard Yacht Kingston 2.75 hours
Fall Foliage Cruise departing from North Cove Marina 3 hours

View of the Hudson River from Cold Spring, NY

On a Cloudy Day at the Rebranded Seaport

The South Street Seaport has been made over a few times in the past few years, especially following Hurricane Sandy in late October of 2012. The historic seaport near the tip of Lower Manhattan on the East River took on massive amounts of water during the storm, leaving significant damage in its wake. In the years following the flood, remnants of the high water line that signified the extent of the flooding could be seen on many buildings and sign posts, but now it’s hard to find them.

Fulton Street at the South Street Seaport, now the Seaport District NYC

A visit to the Seaport reveals new efforts in re-branding the area and the highly visible corporate sponsorship underlying the financing. Shops, restaurants, and attractions are vigorously marketed as part of a whole package. It’s not the South Street Seaport anymore; it’s the Seaport District NYC. The tone is more upscale than past iterations. A New York outpost of the art-inspired Italian retailer 10 Corso Como opened this past week, filling a vast space at Fulton Market Building with artist-licensed gifts and its own signature black-and-white and circle-and-dot designs.

The Garden Bar, 19 Fulton Street, is open daily from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Compared to large retail corridors around the city where retail blight has become the sad new normal, the Seaport District looks relatively healthy in terms of open storefronts and plans for future tenants. Under the direction of the developer, the Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corporation, the revisioned seaport has taken on a coherent direction and branding. Nearby high-rise luxury buildings, either in progress or in planning stages, increases the likelihood of an even fancier seaport in the future. 

Windblown: A Day Trip on the NYC Ferry

For an adventurous day in New York, provided the weather is nice, try combining the ends of two NYC Ferry routes, Soundview (SV) in the Bronx with the Rockaway (RW) route in Queens. An excursion from the Bronx waterfront south to the sandy shores of Rockaway becomes a great moving panorama of the metropolis.

The beginning - near the Soundview landing in the Bronx

Many New Yorkers have grown so accustomed to getting around by subway that seeing the city like the tourists may come as something of a shock. Being practical sorts, they’ll point out that a NYC Ferry ride costs the same as a subway ride - $2.75 (!) but with perks such as a well-stocked snack bar, comfortable seats, and views of their city’s famous skyline. Plus, there’s something relaxing about a boat ride that the A train, for example, can’t seem to accomplish. So, the experience comes as a happy shock.

Hell Gate Bridge and the Manhattan skyline

To begin this epic north-south trip on the water, start at the Soundview landing in the Bronx. An initial ferry ride may be necessary to get there, so the adventure will start even earlier. From Soundview, you’ll sail down to Pier 11/Wall Street, with stops along the way at the E 90th Street and E 34th Street landings. The trip should take around 30 minutes. At Wall Street, transfer to the Rockaway route for the remainder of the Bronx-Queens adventure. This second route is longer, close to 55 minutes, but you could wind up on a nice beach facing the Atlantic Ocean.

When Infrastructure Happens: A Semicircular Boat Tour of New York

Classic Harbor Line’s popular architecture boat tours, offered in collaboration with the AIANY (American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter), typically set sail at Chelsea Piers, continue south to New York Harbor, with a close swing by the Statue of Liberty, then pass underneath the bridges on the East and Harlem Rivers on its way north, travel through the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge at the top of Manhattan, and then sail back down the Hudson River to the home port at Chelsea Piers. Learning about the infrastructure of the city while enjoying light snacks and a beverage aboard a well-appointed yacht is an appealing way to spend an afternoon.

The tour offers excellent views of the city's bridges and skyline.

On the July 31 sail, the AIANY Bridge, Architecture & Infrastructure Tour, architectural historian John Kriskiewicz delivered the narration. He told stories of bridge builders and engineers, the history of the piers, the origins of the Port Authority, the importance of Robert “The Power Broker” Moses, the centrality of New York Harbor, and the history of container shipping. Even know-it-all New Yorkers will learn a thing or two from such a trip, including just how the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge ushered in a new era for Staten Island, how Holland Tunnel got its name, and why cantilevered balconies appeal to the middle class. 

Lower Manhattan from inside Classic Harbor Line's Manhattan II yacht

The meta-narrative is convincing. “Infrastructure shapes the skyline,“ Kriskiewicz explained. While directing our attention to the organizing structures that undergird the city - bridges, power plants, sanitation facilities, rivers, harbor, highways, etc., he also asked us to observe the water line. While rounding the Battery, he pointed to the Lower Manhattan skyline and the trillion dollar plus real estate investment sitting only six feet above high tide. This of us who lived through Hurricane Sandy recalled the precarious situation in a real way.

View of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge

The infrastructure relating to maritime commerce has required constant adjustments over time. When shipbuilders built larger boats, most piers surrounding Manhattan could not accommodate them, forcing ocean liners such as Cunard Line’s Queen Mary II to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. Much of the cargo traffic has shifted to New Jersey, we learned, to places like Port Bayonne, Newark, and Elizabeth. The 1931 Bayonne Bridge had to be lifted last year to accommodate larger vessels. 

Passing by the Statue of Liberty

Passing by Ellis Island, we learned many immigrants continued their journey westward via the New Jersey Central Terminal, the great 1880 brick Richardsonian Romanesque building now part of Liberty State Park. On the nearby Morris Canal, boats carried coal, iron, and other goods from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and onto New York.

NYC sanitation facility on the East River

What of the infrastructure below ground? Of course, New Yorkers are well aware of the issues surrounding subways tunnels and tracks. Residents and businesses in Williamsburg are bracing for the upcoming shutdown of the L Train, a project expected to last for 15 months. We also learned of the decades-long project, Water Tunnel #3, that will expand the city’s water supply for a growing population.

A menu, and a map for reference

The tour encompasses the large story of New York City’s place in the region, so the big figure of Robert Moses looms large. While a walking tour of New York would contemplate Jane Jacobs’s wisdom of the streets, this trip invites seeing the city as a part of a larger picture. You don’t have to like Moses’s grab for power or his willingness to carve through whole neighborhoods for superblocks and highways. You do have to think like a planner and figure out how to move 400,000 people, the number of people affected by the L train shutdown, back and forth across the East River.   

View of Roosevelt Island's ferry terminal from comfortable seats 

As noted on the company website, “Guarantee of a full circumnavigation of Manhattan is not included. On rare occasions, the Spuyten Duyvil train bridge is inoperable and cannot open for us to pass through.”

Major upgrades at the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge 

On this particular tour, this is exactly what happened. The boat could not get through. A major renovation of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a train bridge that spans Spuyten Duyvil Creek between Manhattan and the Bronx, is underway. The bridge usually carries Amtrak trains on the Empire Corridor line from Penn Station to points north all the way up to Canada. After Hurricane Sandy, the bridge suffered some water and electrical damage and needed an upgrade. An enormous floating crane has been brought into service to put the bridge back in place, and the Amtrak trains have been rerouted to Grand Central Terminal until work is completed this summer. Our boat had to turn around and go back down.

View of the many bridges spanning the eastern rivers

The passengers seemed to take the news in stride. It was a beautiful day, after all, and we were having a good time. The change of plans offered another opportunity to enjoy the bridges of the Harlem and East Rivers. The lesson of the journey was reinforced once again. Another piece of the city’s critical infrastructure needed to be put back in place.


Classic Harbor Line’s AIANY Around Manhattan Architecture tour covers much of the same ground but features more commentary on architects and design.

For more information;
Classic Harbor Line

Disclosure: I received a pass for this sail but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations.

The View from Domino Park

When Domino Park opened to the public this summer, the new park on the Brooklyn waterfront also revealed a long section of the shoreline that had been inaccessible to the public for the past 160 years.

The waterfront at Domino Park, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

On the banks of the East River in Williamsburg near Kent and South 4th streets, this area of the waterfront was from the early days easily accessible by ship, beginning with the first Dutch explorers. In 1856 F. C. Havemeyer selected the site for a refinery.

View from the elevated walkway, Domino Park.

Later known as Domino Sugar Refinery, the company employed thousands of European immigrants, and later Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and African Americans. Converting sugar from a raw to a refined state involves hard labor, beginning with the work of the longshoremen who unloaded the ships.

In 2014, the site served as an installation piece by artist Kara Walker whose massive sphinx with African features and nearby attendants addressed the story of race and labor.*

The old Domino Sugar Refinery is slated for redevelopment.

Domino Park includes large artifacts from the refinery days. Mooring bollards painted aqua blue once secured ships that brought sugar cane to the docks for refining. The screw conveyors, bucket conveyors, and hoist bridge moved the sugar around the stages of the process.

The playground at Domino Park 

The 5-acre park includes an elevated walkway, a post-industrial playground designed by artist Mark Reigelman, a cool Fog Bridge with misters, syrup collection tanks, a bocce court, an interactive fountain that shoots up jets of water, and a dog run. Based on a recent visit, children and dogs love this park. James Corner Field Operations whose notable work in NYC includes The High Line, Fresh Kills Park in Staten Island, and the landscaping for Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island designed the park.

Tacocina, the taco stand at Domino Park

Tacocina, a colorful taco stand from the Union Square Hospitality Group (Danny Meyer) offers tacos, snacks, and drinks for sale.

Domino Park brings together many elements of a successful public space - proximity to nature, choice of activities, various arrangements for seating, access to food, and water features. While creating a post-industrial playground, the park also pays homage to the historical context of the Industrial Age in New York. Whether all attendees appreciate and understand this history is another matter.

Chicken adobo tacos, shrimp taco, chips and guacamole at Tacocina in Domino Park

The large refinery building, both magnificent and ominous in its abandoned state, will be refashioned as an office building. The site developer, Two Trees Management, is currently constructing several residential buildings nearby.

A Circle Line boat in the East River

The exceptional view from the park, a panorama from Lower Manhattan to the skyscrapers of Midtown, reveals the larger picture of a city made rich and powerful through the ability to move goods and labor along the waters and to the shoreline.

Directions: The park is accessible by subway via the M, J, Z train (Marcy Av.), or by boat via the NYC Ferry’s South Williamsburg ferry landing. See map below.

View of Domino Park from the East River

* The title of Kara Walker’s 2014 site-specific work is A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

Domino Park
Hours: Monday-Sunday 6 am to 1 am
Website https://www.dominopark.com/

Tacocina hours:
Sun-Thurs 11am-10pm
Fri & Sat 11am-11pm

Images by Sailing Off the Big Apple from June and July 2018.

A Round Trip Ride from Manhattan to the Jersey Shore

The private ferry company Seastreak runs regular commuter ferries from Manhattan to the New Jersey boroughs of Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, as well as seasonal runs to nearby Sandy Hook, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Seastreak also runs seasonal weekend trips up to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, a fetching idea for people trapped in the summer heat of the city.

A Seastreak ferry docked at E. 35th Street Ferry landing in Manhattan

On the trips to New Jersey, the Seastreak ferries speedily travel down the East River and into Upper New York Bay, then under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the lower bay, through the open waters that lead into the Atlantic Ocean, and then into Raritan Bayshore to complete the trip to Highlands, Atlantic Highlands, or Sandy Hook.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

From Manhattan, the ferries travel to New Jersey via the East 35th Street ferry landing and Wall Street Pier 11, both used by NY Ferry and other providers. Commuters typically take the ferries from New Jersey to Manhattan at the beginning of the workday and return home in the evening. If traveling to Sandy Beach for a seasonal day trip, a shuttle service is available between the Sandy Hook Ferry Landing and several beaches.

Open waters of the Lower Bay in New York Harbor

Seastreak also advertises on their website the option of a round-trip sightseeing ticket at certain times of the day, provided riders stay on the boat. Sightseers can choose from four ports for their place of departure - Highlands, NJ, Atlantic Highlands, NJ, Wall Street, or E. 35th St. The round-trip takes a little over two hours.

Highlands, NJ.

I tested out this sightseeing option on a recent Friday afternoon, and I wasn’t disappointed. At the ferry landing on E. 35th, the vast majority of riders were commuters returning home to New Jersey, so when I asked about the round-trip option for $27, there was initially some confusion at the ticket window and boarding. Nevertheless, some old hands were on deck to make it okay.

Atlantic Highlands, NJ

The ferry trip through New York Harbor was speedy and entertaining, with great views all around. Much of the pleasure of such a trip depends on the ability to make your own fun, as there’s no guided narration. While most commuter ferries stay within Upper New York Bay, these vessels move through the Narrows and into the open waters of the Atlantic, providing peaceful views of the water. Additional sites along the way include Fort Wadsworth and South Beach on Staten Island.

At Fort Hancock, houses on Officers Row line Sandy Hook Bay, NJ.

From the ferry, the main attractions in Highlands and Atlantic Highlands are the views of the scenic hills, the beautiful boats anchored in the marinas, and the double-crested cormorants sunning themselves on the jetties.

Ferry landing, Sandy Hook, NJ.

Sandy Hook, NJ is known as a barrier spit, part of a barrier peninsula on the New Jersey coast. If you think of the Jersey Shore, with places like Asbury Park and Seaside Park down the way, this peninsula is the northernmost point (see map). The area rests within the Gateway National Recreation Area of the National Park Service, a multifaceted park that also includes places in Jamaica Bay and Staten Island. Fort Hancock, a former US Army post, Sandy Hook Chapel, and the Sandy Hook Lighthouse can all be seen from the boat. The fort’s Officers Row houses line Sandy Hook Bay.

Through the Narrows

In addition to the views of the shoreline and open water, the Seastreak ferries provide comfortable seating on two floors of indoor cabins and on an open top deck. A busy bar in the middle of the lower deck keeps many commuters happy on their way home. After grabbing a drink, some riders choose to secure a seat on the top deck, or if breezy, to find a comfortable place of the ferry floor. Most riders stay in the climate-controlled cabins, watching the financial news on monitors or just quietly recovering from a busy day at the office.

A bonus view of Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 docked at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. 

On my return trip, the ferry intentionally slowed down near the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. The Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 was at dock that day, ready to set sail on another transatlantic voyage. Everyone on board was given a little time to admire the enormous cruise ship and to snap a few pictures.

On a Seastreak ferry, near Sandy Hook, NJ.

The Seastreak sightseeing round-trip ferry ride is an excellent option for anyone who likes to ride on a fast boat into the open waters of New York Harbor or for anyone flirting with the idea of the Jersey Shore but not yet ready to commit.

Images by Sailing Off the Big Apple from Friday, June 20, 2018.


Seastreak https://seastreak.com/

Gateway National Recreation Area https://www.nps.gov/gate/index.htm

A Sailor’s Walk on the West Side: Chelsea Piers to Ear Inn

The shoreline of the Hudson River on the lower west side of Manhattan was once farther inland than today, a gently curving line rather than the straight line marked by the Westside Highway. Along the shore, captains, sailors, shipbuilders, and dockworkers worked the piers to move along passengers and goods to their destination. This thriving mercantile industry built New York City. 

The Rusty Knot, 425 West Street 

This two-mile walk near the old shoreline (see map below) avoids the High Line and stays on the streets, a few of them with cobblestones. Beginning in Chelsea at the piers, the stroll continues through the Meatpacking District, the West Village, and Soho. Many places of interest line the streets and shore in the area, allowing for several detours. Two watering holes with nautical themes, The Rusty Knot and the legendary Ear Inn, enhance the experience.

Chelsea Piers

1. While Chelsea Piers is now known as a sports complex for many New Yorkers, the building of the original piers - Pier 54 to Pier 62 - was a momentous undertaking at the turn of the twentieth century. The increasing size of the new transatlantic liners such as the Mauritania and Lusitania necessitated a bigger facility. A fancy (very fussy) outdoor plaque commemorates the opening of the piers under the administration of Mayor George B. McClellan. A wall within the current complex illustrates the story of the piers over several decades.

History Wall, Chelsea Piers. The boat second to the left is the Lusitania.

Several companies still use the piers for popular tours. Among these are Spirit Cruises, Classic Harbor Line, and Bateaux New York. South of the covered piers, Pier 54, part of Hudson River Park, may be identified by a metal archway. It was here that the Carpathia arrived on the evening of April 18, 1912 with survivors of the Titanic disaster. (See more on Walking Off the Big Apple.)

Gansevoort Street, deconstructed

2. Gansevoort Street, near the Whitney Museum of Art and the southern start of the High Line, was once the center of a thriving market. Before the rise of the Meatpacking District, the old market named for American Revolutionary War officer Peter Gansevoort (1749-1812) was connected to the maritime trades. Near here, writer Herman Melville, a grandson of Gansevoort, worked as a customs inspector for 19 years beginning in 1866. The street and surrounding Meatpacking District is undergoing major infrastructure renovations to improve drainage, replace water mains, and repair cobblestones.

Westbeth Artist housing, 55 Bethune St

3. Westbeth Artist housing, 55 Bethune St. The Westbeth building on West and Bethune Streets, the former home of Bell Labs, was converted into an artist colony in the late 1960s. Diane Arbus moved here in January 1970. Merce Cunningham had his studio here for 40 years. The nonprofit housing complex is committed to affordable housing for artists.

The Rusty Knot, at 4 p.m just before patrons arrived.

4. The Rusty Knot, 425 West Street, is a friendly bar with a nautical theme. A stylish dive may seem like a contradiction in terms, but the bar is decked out with some fine furnishings and pleasing wall art. Real deals on the drinks.

Weehawken Street. One of the last vestiges of the old waterfront.

5. Weehawken Street. One of the last vestiges of the old waterfront, this block-long street between W. 10th and Christopher Street, is worth a visit. The street is home to a rare wood-framed shed, once part of a market located here.

Structure on West Street, part of the Weehawken Street Historic District.   

A plaque for the historic district, an obviously low-profile one, reads ”The Weehawken Street Historic District is a picturesque enclave of 14 buildings dating from 1830 to 1938 that illustrate the area’s long history as a place of dwelling, industry, and commerce, much of it maritime-related."

Ear Inn, 326 Spring St.

6. Ear Inn, 326 Spring St. Established in 1817, Ear Inn is surely the greatest sailor bar in the history of New York City. Amazingly and thankfully, it’s still here, having celebrated its 200th anniversary last year. Open everyday from 11:30am to 4am, the Ear Inn is the sort of bar you could imagine visiting in broad daylight or in the middle of the night.

The walls and ceiling are covered with fascinating objects, some nautical, some not. There are lots of depictions of ears, a moody print of a street near a wharf at dusk, several old oars, the great poster of The Public Theater's 1976 production of The Three Penny Opera that I taped to my wall in grad school, a large faded historical lithograph of the many piers surrounding Lower Manhattan, and a light fixture in the shape of Betty Boop. The bar is located in the historic James Brown House, built around 1770 for an African aide to George Washington.

At the time of its construction, the house was just a few feet away from the shoreline. Ear Inn is the best place in the world to imagine what that was like.

Link to map.

Images by Sailing Off the Big Apple from July 2018.

Chelsea Piers website https://www.chelseapiers.com/
Westbeth http://westbeth.org/
The Rusty Knot https://cargocollective.com/therustyknot
Ear Inn http://www.earinn.com/

The Lure of City Island

By the early twentieth century, City Island had built a worldwide reputation for building quality wooden boats, especially yachts. Situated in the waters of western Long Island Sound and Eastchester Bay, the island is suitably positioned for great sailing. City Island provided service for schooners stopping along the East Coast, and the yards hired skilled craftsmen to build yachts that would win and defend several America’s Cup races.

The Bx29 City Island bus turns around near the southern tip of the island.

For a time, the boatyards dominated the economy on City Island, and when the wars came, the boatyards contributed to advances in naval technology, including the World War II era minesweepers. Kids on City Island grew up with the water, catching crabs and rowing small boats.

Memories of the glory days of yacht building on a City Island storefront. 

City Island built enormous yachts for the Gilded Age robber barons of New York. The island’s most famous contributions to yachting were the City Island-built racing boats of the 12 Metre Class. Five served as defenders in seven successful America's Cup campaigns. A trip to the City Island Nautical Museum on Fordham Street tells the story of these legendary boats - Columbia, Constellation, Intrepid, Courageous, and Freedom.

A display at the City Island Nautical Museum

The demise of the wooden-hulled boat in racing played a role in the decline of the island’s boatyard industry. Many of the craftsmen found more lucrative work in the construction business or in other trades. Real estate developers were more interested in the land on City Island than the sea.

A Laughing Gull perched on a lighting fixture at Johnny's Reef.

Sailing still plays an important role on the island, with three yacht clubs, commercial marinas, and businesses that offer fishing trip expeditions. The City Island Yacht Club Sailing School, an affiliate school of the American Sailing Association (ASA), offers classes and certification. A few boatyards and marinas can still fix your wooden yacht, if you have one.

A couple of patriotic piña coladas at Johnny's.

Most visitors make the trip to City Island for the many seafood restaurants, the ambience, and the small town setting. Tourist guides often mention that City Island, located in a far northeastern region of the Bronx, has the feeling of a New England-type fishing community.

Hawkins Street Park on City Island

For an overview, take the Bx29 City Island bus all the way to the south tip of the island and walk down to Belden Point. Stop in for a drink and seafood at Johnny’s Reef and enjoy the view from one of the outdoor picnic benches. Then wander back up City Island Avenue either on foot or by bus, and explore side streets. Several shops and good restaurants may be found along the avenue near Hawkins Street Park, a small gathering place for locals. The City Island Nautical Museum is open on the weekends.

City Island Diner and its companion, The Snug, on City Island Avenue at Fordham Street.
The island was hosting its homecoming.  

City Island has been featured in several films, including CITY ISLAND (2009) with Andy García and Julianna Margulies. In an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld talks to Ricky Gervais at City Island Diner. Anthony Bourdain visited Sea Shore Restaurant & Marina for a Bronx episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown. Free dockage is available there if arriving by boat.


Directions: To visit City Island by mass transit, take the 6 train all the way to its northern terminus at Pelham Bay Park Station and transfer to the Bx29 City Island bus. Residents of Northern Manhattan have a relatively faster trip, as City Island is almost a straight line due east via the BX12-SBS to the Pelham Bay station and then the bus.

The City Island Laundromat 

Images of City Island by Sailing Off the Big Apple from June 30, 2018.