Category Archives: Blog

Mega-crane arrives New York

After a 6,000 mile tow, the ‘Left Coast Lifter’ mega-crane arrives in New York Harbor.


The 150-foot ocean going tug ‘Lauren Foss’, powered by twin diesels producing 8,200 horsepower, completed the move of the crane after leaving San Francisco less than six weeks ago. The voyage took them down the West Coast, through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast to New York.

Lauren Foss gets a break after delivering her tow to New York

Lauren Foss gets a break after delivering her tow to New York

The convoy of tug, barge, plus support vessel ‘Iver Foss’ passed under the Verrazano Bridge around 10 am this morning and is now docked in Bayonne, NJ.

The ‘Left Coast Lifter’ was previously used on the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge project and will now assist with construction on the Tappan Zee and New New York Bridge.


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A Frozen Tappan Zee

Several days of below-freezing temperatures have brought the construction around the Tappan Zee Bridge to a standstill. No ferries are running, either — an odd sight for residents of Nyack and Tarrytown, the two towns connected by the bridge.

This morning, a colleague who lives in Nyack sent around a screenshot from a webcam that keeps watch on the construction of the New NY Bridge (it’s set to replace the 58-year-old Tappan Zee). She said the river isn’t frozen shore to shore and that there are breaks in the ice, but there’s no boat traffic at all. shows the 140-foot Coast Guard icebreaker Sturgeon Bay currently 21 nautical miles upriver, heading south at 10 knots. Check the web-cam around 2:45pm and you may catch them passing by.

Tappan Zee Bridge looking west across the Hudson from Tarrytown towards Nyack

Tappan Zee Bridge looking west across the Hudson from Tarrytown towards Nyack

My colleague also found this gem in a book from the Historical Society of the Nyacks. An old Ford Model T crosses the Hudson at this same location, between Nyack and Tarrytown, on a fully frozen river in 1920.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 1.00.05 PM

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Custom Chart: Morris Canal

Here’s the latest intel on Morris Canal: A few months ago, Matt and I decided to create a custom map of the entrance to Liberty Landing Marina. Using the ‘Record Sonar’ Function on the Simrad Chart Plotter, we spent about 45 minutes running a north-south grid at clutch speed, followed by a few east-west passes for additional data points. The water level was three feet down from high tide.

Sonar survey track of Morris Canal

Sonar survey track of Morris Canal

After uploading the collected data, a contour map of the surveyed area was generated. Using Photoshop, I overlaid some additional satellite imagery plus elements from a NOAA raster chart to build the final image:

Custom 3-layer composite: Entrance to Morris Canal

Three layer composite: Entrance to Morris Canal

Looking at the composite, the edge of the channel is now clearly indicated by a 10-foot depth contour line, and a 20-foot deep hole is visible just north of C-dock — most likely created by the prop wash from the Little Lady when she docks at Warren Street.

Check back for part two of this project, as we plan to survey D-dock to the West End, merging all data for one complete chart.

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MAYDAY: Tug boat sinks off Atlantic Beach, NY

We had just left the dock and were heading out of the East Rockaway inlet, relying solely on instruments to navigate through the thick fog, when we heard a Mayday broadcast come across the VHF radio at 16:20:

MAYDAY. This is the ‘Sea Lion’. We’re sinking. Men in the Water.
Water in the wheelhouse. This is our last transmission. We’re going down.

The broadcast was promptly followed by the US Coast Guard relaying the Mayday and a position of, W073.46.177.

I wrote down the numbers and plotted the coordinates. The location showed close to Lake Champlain in upstate New York, about 180 miles to the north, making it unlikely that I was able to hear the actual radio transmission from the ‘Sea Lion’ so clearly. I deemed the given coordinates as improbable and started working my on-board navigation system pulling up a list of close-by ships. Most commercial vessels are outfitted with an AIS transceiver as part of an automated tracking and collision-avoidance system, so chances are that they were still transmitting.

There she was! SEA LION — right on top of that list with a position only about two nautical miles to the south of my location. Putting down the throttle, we made it to the scene in just a few minutes, running 35 knots in 6-foot seas and less than 200 feet visibility.

The Sandy Hook Pilots also responded, dispatching one of their smaller vessels that was stationed at the entrance to Ambrose Channel. [Read our New Jersey Monthly story on the Sandy Hook Pilots here].

The Pilot boat was able to pick three crewmembers out of the water, before being prop-fouled by a rope and unable to reach the sinking tug.
There were all sorts of lines, plastic, oil, wood, and other detritus floating everywhere around us.

We spotted a fourth crewmember clinging to the bow of the sinking vessel. He appeared injured and probably had less than a minute before the boat completely went under. I maneuvered closer from the upwind side and nosed my boat against the hull of the tug. Only about three feet of the ships bow were still showing above the waterline.

He attempted to leap towards us just as the last pockets of air escaped from the tug, erupting like a whale’s blowhole as she sank to the bottom in a boil. We were able to quickly pull him out of the cold water. The Coast Guard and NYPD had vessels en route to the scene, so we transferred the victim to the Pilot boat where the injuries could be better assessed and he be kept warm until medics arrived. Unfortunately the helicopters were unavailable to air-lift the victims because of the dense fog.

When we docked at the Atlantic Beach Fire Rescue station, TV crews had set-up Satellite Trucks, and cameras were rolling. You can watch and read some of our interviews here: ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, Newsday, Daily News, News 12, WROC-TVProfessional Mariner, Working Harbor, SC&I, Soundings Magazine and Fox News. Special thanks to Asst. Chief Scott Lipschitz and his team for the hospitality on shore.

I was really happy that everyone was safe and accounted for — unlike the New Years Eve emergency we responded to, where a car plunged into the harbor and sadly the driver was unable to escape.

Below are some photos of the fog engulfing the Verrazano Bridge, the crewmember clinging to the bow seconds before the boat went under, the victim being pulled aboard New York Media Boat, TV interview screenshots, and the sonar signature of the ‘Sea Lion’ now resting at the bottom of the sea in about 50 feet of water:

A dense layer of fog rolls in, engulfing the Verrazano Bridge, as we head offshore.

A dense layer of fog rolls in, engulfing the Verrazano Bridge, as we head offshore.

Injured crew member clings to bow of sinking vessel

Injured crew member on bow of sinking vessel

Victim of sinking vessel pulled aboard New York Media Boat

Victim of sinking vessel pulled aboard New York Media Boat

The 'Sea Lion' on her way to the bottom

Bow to bow with ‘Sea Lion’ as she’s making her way to the bottom

Transferring 'Sea Lion' victim to Pilot boat

Transferring victim to Sandy Hook Pilot boat ‘P/B America’

Life Jacket from Sea Lion Tug Boat

Life Jacket from the ‘Sea Lion’ tug boat

Giving interviews of what happened out on the water

Talking to the media

To get exact coordinates of the Sea Lion we pinged it with the Sonar and marked the spot.

We pinged the wreck with Sonar and marked the spot

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Polar Vortex: An Icy New York Harbor

After four consecutive days of temperatures topping out in the low 20′s (-6C), ice started forming quickly in many areas of New York Harbor.
The outgoing tides swept ice floes downriver, making navigating the Hudson and East River a bit of a challenge:

Polar Vortex: NYC

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NYE: Car Plunges into Canal

Our New Year’s Eve was one of extremes.

At midnight, we rang in 2014 watching the Statue of Liberty fireworks from the bridge of the 210-foot yacht, Hornblower Infinity (we’d been asked to assist with docking).

A few hours later, we were cutting across the Hudson in our RHIB returning to Liberty Landing when we heard the Coast Guard call: vehicle submerged in the Morris Canal. Our marina.

Bjoern put down the throttle. My mind raced: What could we do if we’re first on scene? Would we be able to break a window? Jump in and pull someone out?

What if we saw a face and hands banging at the glass as the car filled up and went under?

Since Bjoern’s a trained emergency responder I knew he’d figure out the logistics. But when we arrived on scene about three minutes later, there was no car — not even bubbles. Yet there were plenty of eyewitnesses and Jersey City police officers standing on a nearby dock, pointing to a spot on the water where they saw the car go down.

An eyewitness said she thought she saw three people sinking in the maroon Altima.

We searched the surface with flashlights for any signs of disturbance, and to allow potential escapees to know which way was up. We did that for about five minutes before the Jersey City Fire Boat arrived from the other end of the marina. They seemed to have no divers on board and started feeling around for the submerged car with boat hooks.

Bjoern thought that was inadequate and put out a call on the radio for anyone with divers in the area to get to Morris Canal. We were relieved to see the NYPD Harbor Unit and Scuba Team arrive moments later.

Since our RHIB enabled the quickest access to the site, two divers jumped aboard and we ferried them to the spot.

The air temperature was 24 degrees Fahrenheit, the water about 49 degrees, but this elite team of responders jumped right in. You could hear the shivering in their voices over the diver-to-surface radio. They “mowed the lawn” searching for the car, keeping a strategic back-and-forth pattern in less than an arm’s length of visibility.

With no luck on the first round of passes and running low on air, two relief divers were sent in. They held the same pattern and finally located the car, which had drifted with the current about thirty feet away from where it plunged into the canal.

One diver surfaced with a jacket. The other came up with a victim, and swam him to the dock. Even though it had been more than an hour, the NYPD was optimistically treating it as a search and rescue operation. Several factors were in the victim’s favor: he was young, the water was cold. People had been revived in less forgiving circumstances.

As EMS attended to the victim, two more divers splashed. The eyewitnesses said there were three people in the car; only one was accounted for. They scoured every inch for the others, but found no one.

To be certain, the officers interviewed the eyewitnesses on the dock once more, who now said it was possible only one person was involved in the accident after all.

NYPD decided the raising of the vehicle should be conducted in daylight, when the Army Corps of Engineers could get to the scene. They thanked us for use of our boat, and we thanked them for their impressive service.

We got back to our slip at about 6:15 am, and drove home as the sun was rising. News reports told us that our victim didn’t make it. He was only 22.

I’m still processing the contrasts of that night: how it’s possible, in one moment, to feel that you’re exactly where you’re meant to be – and then in just a few short hours, you’re reminded that sometimes you will be just minutes too late.


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On Assignment with the Sandy Hook Pilots

Over the summer, we spent a day at sea with the Sandy Hook Pilots on assignment for New Jersey Monthly. We watched them scale the Jacob’s ladders of giant oil tankers and container ships to steer these behemoths safely into port.

We’d ride with the launch back and forth between ships, picking up pilots and dropping them off. It was a gorgeous day, and could easily make you think the pilot’s life is for you. But change the setting to a freezing winter day with seas kicked up ahead of a nor’easter, and you start having second thoughts. The transfer from the launch to the ladder of a 1,000-foot container ship turns from a fun leap into one of life-or-death: it has to be timed precisely, lest you fall in the drink or get squeezed between two vessels.

That’s why Pilot personalities are the perfect blend of adventurous and competent. These guys have the responsibility of ensuring that billions of dollars’ worth of global trade arrives to final destinations in the ports of New York and New Jersey.

Check out the full Sandy Hook Pilots article and photo essay in the December issue of New Jersey Monthly — now on newsstands — or read it here at this link.

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NYPD cars, news trucks, and choppers converged on Liberty State Park this week to track down an escapee. But this was no ordinary escaped convict. This was an escaped orphan.

Yes, a very famous orphan: Annie.

Will Smith and Jay-Z (who clearly has a fondness for the movie’s score) are producing a modern-day version of the famous musical.

It’s not clear what scene they’re filming in the park, but actors Dorian Missick and Tracie Thoms appear to be driving little orphan Quvenzhane Wallis somewhere. Check out the rig set up on the roof of the old station wagon. It allows someone to drive the vehicle while lighting and camera gear, mounted to the hood and windshield, capture the action.

The crew had two choppers — A Bell 429 to actually appear in the movie, and an AStar 350 operated by Wings Air Helicopters. The latter was outfitted with a Pictorvision gyro-stabilized camera system to shoot everything happening on the ground.

Maybe we’ll see some of our boats in the background when the movie comes out next year — on Christmas Day 2014.

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“Action!” on the East River

As part of a UK film production, the crew of New York Media Boat spent all night working both boats on the East River. ”ROLL SOUND, ROLL PICTURE” .. “ROLLING” .. “ACTION!”

While Aperture served as a camera platform hosting Cinematographer Till Neumann and team,  Searider is the on-screen boat. In the picture below, Till films the action from the bow, with a RED camera. In this scene, the two actors had just stolen the boat and are joyriding in front of the Manhattan skyline.

The goal of the evening was to shoot three scenes for the trailer of  An Evening with Donald Kempinski, written and directed by Timothy Murray of Little Fella Films. It’s a Staten Island Ferry captain’s tale of acceptance and reconciliation. “CUT! TAKE IT FROM THE TOP” calls Tim over the radio and we reposition the boats for Scene 13, Take 2.

– Check back for the release of the trailer in early 2014 –

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Power Players on the Hudson

Lots happening on the Hudson during this incredible extended summer — including stunning, contrasting examples of power.

On a recent photo excursion, we spotted the tail section of a submarine, possibly on its way to the NAVY shipyard in Groton, Connecticut. Will it be a ballistic missile sub, or an attack sub? Check out this piece from Undersea Warfare on how they put one of these together.

A little less intimidating — but no less exciting — was a visit from the BayCycle Project. Founder Judah Schiller straps two pontoons to his bike, which powers a propeller and pushes him across the water. In late September, he became the first person to bike across the San Francisco Bay, and last week, the first to pedal across the Hudson — without the help of a bridge, of course.

Nearly all U.S. submarines are nuclear powered. Schiller runs on elbow (knee?) grease. Quite the contrast of high-tech versus low-tech power.





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