A Different Perspective

I was going to write a follow-up to last week’s article on Simon Biles and talk about teamwork, but decided to go with something a bit more lighthearted: a Hudson River cruise.

As many of you may know, I live in upstate New York, specifically near Troy. A dominant physical feature here is the Hudson River. Within a 10 miles of my house there are eight road bridges and one river bridge. But even with that many crossings, it’s a definite barrier to travel at times.

The eastern side of the river, other than Troy tends to be fairly rural with only a couple of large open-air shopping malls. But to the west is Albany and Colonie and they have the two largest indoor malls in the area, plus a number of open air malls, the State Capitol, and the bulk of the office space. This means to do a lot of what most of us on the eastern side want to do, we have to cross the Hudson.

I suspect most folks who cross the river don’t give it much thought, beyond it being a barrier to get over using one of the aforementioned bridges. I know as a bicyclist I definitely have to do some route planning when I want to get to the other side.

This past weekend, my family and I decided to experience the Hudson from a different perspective, actually on the Hudson. We signed up for a 90 minute tour on the Dutch Apple leaving from downtown Albany. I want to start with the name. I’d say most of my readers are probably aware that the name of the river comes from Hendrick Hudson, an early explorer of the area, who first sailed up the river that now bears his name in 1609, over 400 years ago. They might even recognize he was Dutch. But, given the state I live in is known as New York, most folks think of New York as primarily an English settled area.

But, the early history is definitely Dutch and there’s still a very strong Dutch influence in the area that extends beyond the name of the river. I live in Rensselaer county, named for Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. He was once claimed ownership of the most land by any European in North America, with his claimed holdings extending for miles on both sides of the river.

In addition, the first settlement in the Albany area was known as Fort Orange. Also, instead of streams in the area, many of smaller waterways are known as Kills. But enough of the early history and language lessons.

The cruise let us see the river from only about 10′ above the water level, not 100′ like some of the bridges (little side note, until late in the last century, the US Coast Guard required bridges as far north as Troy to have at least 60′ clearance.) And instead of crossing over the river, this allowed us to cruise along it.

After undocking, at first the Dutch Apple headed north from its mooring. We sailed under the Dunn Memorial Bridge where a Peregrine nesting box was pointed out and some could see a one of the nesting falcons. I could not.

Dunn Memorial Bridge (Peregrine box underneath on top of the concrete pier)
Dunn Memorial Bridge (Peregrine box underneath on top of the concrete pier)

Unfortunately for us, just north of there is the Livingston Avenue Railroad bridge. This is a swing bridge that’s too low for the Dutch Apple to pass under. Taller boats can pass upstream of it but need to make arrangements in advance with CSX/Amtrak. So from there we turned downriver.

One thing many people are not aware of is that the Hudson River is actually an estuary as far north as north Troy where the Federal Dam is located. This means that there are tides on the Hudson all the way to north Troy. When one crosses over the river one can notice the tides if one is observant or the tide is particularly low and the smell pungent. Saturday, as we headed south, the tide was coming in. Between this and the wind, it actually meant the boat had to make more effort going downriver than upriver!

River in foreground, with the old D&H building in the midground and Corning Tower left of center in the background.
Albany from the Hudson

Another reminder of the importance of the Hudson and the nearby Mohawk, and later Erie Canal was that the Albany/Troy area was once the gateway to the west. Besides the waterways, trains were an important part of this, and one of the major local railroads was the Delaware and Hudson. From the river you have a nice view of the old D&H building which now houses SUNY Albany offices and other offices.

Heading further south, on the eastern bank Fort Crailo was pointed out to us. Again, a Dutch influence, but also home to where Yankee Doodle Dandy was later written down.

Given that the Hudson is a tidal river and Albany is still an important gateway to the west, the Port of Albany is a key part of the local economy. But again, I would suspect most folks who drive across the Hudson aren’t aware of the size and scope of the port. I think most equate it with the area where the Dutch Apple and the USS Slater are docked. Really though that’s not the active part of the Port of Albany. But the following photos show facilities on both sides of the river.

Foreground is the Hudson, with a seawall and then a wide open area for the port of Albany.
Port of Albany with huge mobile cranes

Apparently the Port contains the largest grain elevator east of the Mississippi!

Sloping roof dominates image with storage towers on both sides. Part
Grain Storage at the Port of Albany

As you can see, even ocean going ships come this far north.

Large orange tank, with two tugboats pushing it into position.
A large ocean going tanker
Bulk cargo ship with 3 of 4 cranes in operation, loading scrap
Loading Scrap on the eastern short
Dark and light orange barge with tug headed up stream.
Barge with tug

Not all commercial craft on the Hudson are ocean going. The Mississippi isn’t the only major US river with barge traffic. That said, Hudson river barges are much smaller and as far as I know, are only moved one at a time. It’s hard to tell in this photo, but the barge actually has a small notch in the stern that the tug fits into for pushing. This barge is most likely loaded as its sitting low in the water and being pushed. Once empty, often the tug will move to the front and tow the barge as it will be riding higher in the water and by being in front the tug has better visibility.

But the Hudson is not all business. Folks also have lots of fun.

Powerboat passing us on the Hudson.
Having Fun

Finally after about 50 minutes of sailing, we headed north. Our tour was scheduled for 90 minutes, but because of the incoming tide, we actually headed upstream a bit faster.

Image is of the Hudson, with the Corning tower a speck in the background. Boat ensign in the foreground.
Looking north before we turned around

I’ll brag a bit and say I probably know a bit more about the Hudson and its history and influence than many in the area, but it still really helps to see it close up and realize things like exactly how large and busy he Port really is and to hear more history of it and even see some of the history (like the shore protection put in over a century ago, or some of the older residences on the river, some that are close to 300 years old).

We have a deep history here and its worth getting down to see it. And sometimes one needs to look at something that they see every day from a different perspective.

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