Henry Hudson, a 17th Century explorer, was fairly fanatic in his quest to find a Northwest Passage through the New World to the Pacific. The British were initially unwilling to fund his exploration so Henry Hudson went to their competitors, the Dutch East India Company, who were very keen to find another trading route to Asia. His expedition on the Half Moon was unsuccessful in finding the Northwest Passage, as the river petered out just north of Albany, and Henry was arrested in Britain on his way back to Holland for sailing under another nation’s flag. However, he managed to smuggle his report to the Dutch.
Along his trip upriver, Henry had traded with several aboriginal groups for furs, and his voyage was used to establish Dutch claims to the area and to the trade that prospered when a trading post was established at Albany in 1614. New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island became the capital of New Netherlands in 1625. Fascinating, I thought, as we travelled up his namesake river, some of which, surprisingly, looked as though it had changed little since Henry himself laid eyes on it. Of course we can now travel beyond Albany – the New York Canal System takes boaters into the Great Lakes – as long as we reduce our vessel height to under 20 feet for the many low bridges beyond the NY State capital.
Beyond the George Washington Bridge, the city of New York seemed to give way remarkably suddenly to forested hillsides of the beautiful fjord-like river. Our trip up the Hudson from Manhattan to Waterford, just past the Troy Federal Lock, a distance of about 125 miles, took three days, not including a two days stop to un-step our mast in Catskills, with stops at Half Moon Marina, Croton on Hudson, Duck Cove anchorage near Catskills, and finally the Visitors Centre in Waterford.
Navigation is easy in well-marked channels for the most part, but we had to keep our eyes open for flotsam (tree branches, logs), and the current is strong, especially the ebb, which naturally slowed our progress as we could not avoid bucking it on a full day of travel. The river is tidal to Troy, but salt-water peters out somewhere near Ploughkeepsie (pronounced Pikepsie). We saw bald eagles, wild turkeys and heron along the way. Due to our anxiety to get home now, we did not take our time to sightsee along the way, and missed some pretty historic towns and sights, such as Kingston in Rondout Creek, Ploughkeepsie and Castleton-on-Hudson, but we did enjoy these sights along the way:
The Appalachian and Catskills Mountains: For ten miles the river cuts through the densely forested Appalachians – a really beautiful stretch with an interesting folklore. We had passed Tarrytown earlier – the original “Sleepy Hollow” from the Legend. Apart from the ever-present, noisy and busy railway running alongside us all along the way, the peace and natural beauty enveloped us as we skirted Dunderberg, Bear and Storm King Mountains. Dunderberg is the legendary dwelling of the Dutch goblin held responsible for summer storms. He did not seem too angry when we passed by – on an overcast, somewhat drizzly, but not stormy day. Bear Mountain is the birthplace of the environmental movement in the US and is now home to a huge State Park, though the only part of it we saw was a huge bronze deer head and antlers peeking through the trees. Storm King Mountain is a spectacular 1355 foot peak. Catskills on the other hand, is the location of Washington Irving’s story of Rip Van Winkle, a lazy Dutch settler who slept through the Revolutionary War after being misled by the ghosts of Henry Hudson’s crew.
Westpoint: Despite the steady rain falling when we passed Westpoint, we were hugely impressed by the fort-like buildings of the famed United States Military Academy. Although we both knew about Westpoint, neither of us had realized quite where it was located and were very impressed by the imposing black and grey granite buildings of the campus, its park-like setting, statues, and officers/staff housing in the village.
Bannerman’s Island Arsenal: As we rounded one corner of the river, it was almost as though we’d been transported to the Scottish Highlands. In the early 20th Century, Frank Bannerman, a wealthy New York munitions dealer, built a replica medieval castle on Pollipel Island as a summer resort and warehouse for his interesting arsenal of global military goods. He dealt arms to both nations at war and at peace, outfitting entire armies. He died in 1918 and his family sold the island to the State in 1967, but unfortunately a blazing fire left it in ruins and it has been closed to the public ever since. It was an amazing sight, and I am rather chuffed that birds and lizards now reside there rather than torpedos, cannon balls, cross bows and guns.
Lighthouses: Surprisingly, since we had travelled most of the Eastern Seaboard, some of the loveliest lighthouse we have seen anywhere were on the Hudson River – the Esopus Meadows, Rondout, Saugerties (restored and converted to a B&B), and Athens lighthouses.
Fishing: Unlike the classy clusters of well-equipped and expensive sports fishing boats along the Chesapeake and off the New Jersey coast, we enjoyed the sight of simple recreational fishing boats on the Hudson – mostly men and boys in open boats with simple fishing gear and picnic coolers enjoying the sunshine while angling for migrating striped bass, millions of which make their way upriver to spawn each spring.
Of the historic towns along the Hudson, the only ones we visited were Croton and Catskills. Croton is within commuting distance of Manhattan, with a frequent express train running to Grand Central and Penn Stations. Modest-looking but pricey condo’s line the waterfront. The village has some nice restaurants and a great gourmet market, but what we mostly saw was the inside of the laundromat – the less glamorous side of cruising. Catskills is a pretty valley town along a creek and a busy marine centre – where we unstepped out mast at Riverview Marina.
“All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River. ” Franklin D. Roosevelt
Parts of Upstate New York bear more scars of the recent economic recession than most other parts of the US we have visited this year. Some lovely homes and mansions lined the river, including Franklin D. Roosevelt’s mansion. However, many of the towns we passed through have seen better days. Industrial plants lined the banks in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, and commercial ships ply the Hudson to this point.
While stately buildings peaked out in places, graffiti-decorated run-down or abandoned factories were also evident. Between Albany and Troy we passed under the fist of many bridges with restricted height of 20 feet. It felt weird and we glanced up anxiously at our wind generator as we passed underneath, only to find that we had several feet to spare above it and our mast-support structure.
On the St. Lawrence route we passed through 7 locks. On this return route we will go through 30. Troy Federal Lock (Number 1) was our first and all went smoothly – we transitted on our own and were given a green light as we approach so motored right on in, and grabbed lines at bow and stern to hold onto and keep the boat to the wall as we were lifted 16 feet in the chamber. Two miles past the lock we came to a major intersection, with a highway-type sign on the Mohawk River directing us to port (west) for the Erie Barge Canal and Ontario or starboard (north) to Lake Champlain and Quebec.
View our photo journal for the Hudson River.
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