Meet the Commodore: Steve Harris


Steve Harris’ fascination with boating on the Hudson is nothing new. As a child growing up on Thayer Street, he often went down to the river with his cousin to fish. He spent long hours watching people ply the water in rowboats, powerboats and canoes.

“I didn’t really care if I caught a fish,” he recalls. “I wanted to be one of the people in the boats!” 

There wasn’t any public paddling on the Hudson at the time, so he had to settle for renting rowboats at the lake in Van Cortlandt Park.

Back then there were still several boat clubs on our stretch of the river. Steve moved to California and lived there until about a decade ago. When he moved back, only the Inwood Canoe Club was still standing. 

By then, the club had begun offering Open House. He came every Sunday he could and helped out: “Whatever anyone wanted to do, I tried to pitch in.” In the time-honored manner, he became a member, then a Senior member; then he joined the board.

As soon as he became a Senior, Steve says, he began pushing to accept more members

“Almost everybody was a Senior,” he explains. “I wanted to make it more open to everybody who’s passionate about what we do. My biggest goal is to get more of the community involved, especially Inwood and Washington Heights.”

Paddling the Hudson, he says, opens your eyes to new aspects of the neighborhood.

In an area rich with parks, “This is a whole other playground — it’s a whole other way to commune with nature,” he enthuses. “I think it opens a lot of possibilities for people."

Steve was elected Commodore in 2016. When he isn’t paddling or attending to boathouse business, he works as an audio, photography and videography specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital. He and his girlfriend Barbara, also a Senior member, live in Chelsea.

I Know What You Did Last Winter... You Kayaked!

Instructor and friend of turtles  Lee Reiser in action at Riverbank state park. 

Instructor and friend of turtles  Lee Reiser in action at Riverbank state park. 

This winter, six Inwood Canoe Club Turtles kayaked and raced and rolled and rescued and taught newbies all within the heated confines of a pool.

Aptly referred to as pool kayaking, the program has been led by the gruffly determined Lee Reiser for the past six years. He’s a man on a mission.

“I want you guys to be safe. Pay attention. Know what to do and how to help others,” Lee would shout across the water’s surface. For him, it’s about his rules #1 and #2: be safe, and have fun. As to why he donates his time to helm the free course, he bluntly explains, “People are dying out there.”

“It’s a dangerous sport. You have to wear the proper PFD (personal flotation device) and cold weather clothing, regardless of your experience level. I’ve been on the water my entire life, but that doesn’t mean I can take safety for granted. Not for a single moment. If I teach you, you will pass it on. Risks can be reduced, lives saved.” With his characteristic growl, he adds, “You better do your part.”

Fending off the bitter winter wind howling over Riverbank State Park, practically every Saturday afternoon [24 sessions in total] from November through March, a few hearty souls would pull 15 white-water kayaks from the icy grip of outdoor racks and pass them to volunteers lined up inside the park’s pool area. On average, we were there from 2pm to 6pm, with the last two hours spent helping students, followed by storing the equipment. That left us at least one hour to work on our skills.

“Do you know what a wet exit is?” Lee asked each of us that first day. I’m sure that we all had our own definitions of what that could mean, but no one said a thing. “Know how to exit the boat when it’s capsized, otherwise you’re not staying.” Yikes. One by one we flipped over, then stilled ourselves upside-down with breath held. Our knees, braced against the interior of the cockpit, held us in place. Our water-resistant spray skirts, cinched around the coaming (opening of the boat) around our waists, prevented an influx of water. Under Lee’s watchful gaze, we leaned forward, pulled the front of our skirts toward the bow and up, brought our legs close and pushed ourselves out of the boat to the surface.

From there and throughout the duration of the program we learned self-rescues, including the paddle float and cowboy. We also rescued each other with magically named techniques including the t-rescue, Eskimo bow and paddle rescues, Hand of God, scoop rescue, leghook and sling assist. And, we did a ton of rolls. Some gracefully rolled their kayaks over, under and up with barely a drop of water in their hair. Then there were others (like me with flowing Medusa hair) who specialized in “almost-rolls,” which resulted in more rescue practice by our comrades.

Ultimately we gained remarkable skills that will enrich our paddling experience. We are also now better equipped to guide kayak newcomers safely during Inwood Canoe Club’s Open House on Sundays.

In a conversation at the end of the program, Lee shared kudos, “This year’s participants showed a lot of promise, especially those from Inwood Canoe Club.” Of course, that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Many of us will be taking extra lessons at Lake Sebago and cornering amazing Turtle instructors such as Julie McCoy -- all in preparation to do better and have even more fun next winter.

Commodore Janet Handy to Step Down

A new youth program was started by Handy during her tenure. 

A new youth program was started by Handy during her tenure. 

Dear Turtles and Friends,

I hope the past year has been a good one for you. At this time of year, my thoughts drift to the waves of the Hudson and the fuzz-ball ducklings who will be riding them soon. It’s generally the best time of year for me—but this year is bittersweet. This will be my last year as Commodore and I leave the role with mixed emotions.

In 2006, when I joined ICC, the club was a quiet boathouse on an out-of-the-way path at the end of a little-used cul-de-sac. It was paradise! During the last decade, the environment around us and the club itself have changed dramatically. And it is still paradise!

I am proud of what the club has accomplished during my tenure as Commodore. It has been a wonderful and terrifying ride, and I have grown in ways I didn’t anticipate. I thank my fellow board members for their guidance and patience during my first experience in a leadership role. I am sad to leave, but the club is ready for a new vision that can take us to the next level.

The past year has been a busy one for the club. Under the excellent leadership of Vice Commodore Steve Harris, the club completed a number of projects, including a new floating dock, a boardwalk leading to the boathouse, and several boat racks. Our members donated hundreds of volunteer hours to complete these projects, and can be proud of the lasting legacy they are building.

We saw lots of smiling faces last summer at Sunday Open House—1,000 guests visited over the season and we were able to put big smiles on some young faces. Our new youth program offered kayaking events to three local organizations and served a total of 52 Guests. The first event was on June 10th, with 14 middle-school students and four chaperones from Inwood Academy. A dozen 11th graders and four adults visited from Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) on June 20th.

The final event was on August 17th, with high-schoolers from the Bronx Works Blue Waves swim team who paddled with us in 2014. Fourteen swimmers and four lifeguards paddled while parents and families watched.

Since the kids had kayaked with us before, we took them on a trip down to the George Washington Bridge. This summer, we will invite these organizations back and build further partnerships.

I have been privileged to work with a talented and giving group of members, and I am grateful for and proud of the amazing things they do and create. My relationship with the club will continue, but now I can focus on my reason for joining a decade ago—paddling!

Janet Handy



Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

Students at Riverbank learn the key to Rolling. 

Students at Riverbank learn the key to Rolling. 

I wanted to learn how to roll a kayak for two reasons: the stated, practical reason and the generally unspoken, yet universally understood, reason. I wanted to have the ability to right myself should I capsize, in the fastest way possible. Also, rolling a kayak looks badass. I heard from other Turtles about the volunteer program at Riverbank State Park. In exchange for teaching members of the public the basics of kayaking, I would get access to instructors far more experienced than myself.

After months without paddling, the December day arrived, and I immediately faced several things I never had faced before: paddling indoors, without wind or waves or tree roots, and in whitewater kayaks that were a fraction of the size of anything I’d paddled before. I didn’t know it yet, but these things don’t “track” at all because they are built for narrow, tumultuous rivers that require hair trigger course changes.

Every other time I’ve got into a boat, I’ve put it in the water first and then sat down. But for these kayaks you had to sit in the kayak at the edge of the pool and then plunge the kayak into the water bow first. It looked easy enough.

I got a boat after almost everyone else, I set the boat up on the side of the pool as I saw others do, sat down, and dropped in. I pointed the boat for Lee Riser, the instructor. He had the other volunteers gathered around for briefing before the students showed up. I reflexively stuck the paddle sharply downward into the water to stop my forward momentum, which, instead, spun me around like a top in my stumpy kayak, still heading at Lee. A couple of shakier backstrokes and I managed to avoid both crashing into him and capsizing in my confusion. But I became accustomed to the new water, boat, and entry soon enough.

The volunteer teaching started off lightly. We typically had three to five instructors per student. I did get to teach kayaking basics, namely how to go forward, go backward, turn, stop, wet-exit, and then (later on) I got to teach other instructors how to do a T rescue, heel-hook rescue, Eskimo-bow rescue, and Eskimo-paddle rescue.

Throughout, I reiterated my goal of learning to roll. I had a couple of instructors attempt walking me through the mechanics, but I kept failing at it with remarkable persistence. “Hold your paddle like this, then once you’ve gone over, push up here and lean right and back … No! Your other ‘right’! … No! Your other ‘up’!”

In an effort to pair English instructions with physics, I got a pair of goggles so I could see what actually happens, and especially in relation to this “up” I’ve heard so much about and as gravity supposedly defines such a thing.

Due to holidays and such, I’d end up waiting about a month before I could give anything a shot. By mid-January, I finally got back in the pool! I had goggles, I had watched loads more YouTube videos, and I had the determination to patiently sit upside-down to watch exactly how I manage to screw this up every time.

I asked fellow Turtle Katherine Winkleman to spot me so I could give it a shot or three before thumping my boat for a bow rescue. I leaned in, flopped over, looked out under the surface of the water, turned my paddle to match my gaze, turned my hips, unfurled, and found myself entirely upright, hearing Katherine call me an ass for making it look so easy.

From there, I practiced more with goggles on in order to graduate from repeatedly accidentally succeeding to feeling like I had a good enough idea of what and where and when and how to move. So I took the goggles off and then practiced until I felt like I had a good enough idea of how to set up for the roll. Then, I stopped setting up above water and practiced simply flopping upside down in a vaguely similar manner and position as I imagined I would if I capsized all unplanned and ungraceful-like.

At the very last class, the students no longer attended, meaning fewer folks in the pool, so Lee brought in sea kayaks so we could practice things (nearly) for real, and I did just that. Much to my relief, rolling felt just as natural in a sea kayak as it did in a little whitewater boat.

Next up: practicing on the Hudson River, with wind and waves and weather and whatnot.

Rules of the Road... On the River

Knowing how to share the water with other vessels is a key part of safe paddling. Club members Katherine Winkleman, Steve Welch and Julie McCoy attended an event this spring promoting shared use of the harbor. Along with fellow paddlers, sailors, and commercial mariners, they took a tour of the lower Hudson and East Rivers, and heard from members of the community about potential hazards and the protocols to avoid them.

If there is one key point to remember, it’s that when on the water you are a mariner. Like everyone else, you’re expected to follow the “rules of the road.” It may seem silly to compare a kayak to a cruise ship, but there are rules for all vessels. We all work together to get where we’re going safely.

Communication and Visability.

In areas of significant traffic you should carry a two-way marine radio. This is a set of ears as much as a mouthpiece, and it’s a key piece of equipment for communicating with other vessels. In the harbor, the most important channels are 13 (bridge-to-bridge) and 16 (distress or hailing the Coast Guard).

Size matters. Small vessels, such as kayaks and paddleboards, will appear to be faster and closer than they actually are. Large vessels will appear to be slower and farther away than they actually are. Additionally, paddlecraft sit very low to the water and are harder for bigger ships to spot. Since VHF radio works by line of sight, our radio signals don’t travel as far, and may be obstructed.

Sounds and Lights.

All powered vessels are required to signal when they change course as well as when they depart from shore. Listen for audible signaling when approaching and passing working docks. Powered vessels must sound one short blast to mean “I am altering my course to starboard” and two short blasts to mean “I am altering my course to port.” Additional rules apply when powered boats are maneuvering within close range of each other. Five blasts of the whistle means “I do not understand your intentions,” and is not something you want to hear. Full details are in Rule 35 of COLREGS.

Night Lights for Paddlers.

This question comes up periodically. Rule 25 (d)(ii): “A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights prescribed in this rule for sailing vessels [i.e. sidelights and a stern light], but if she does not, she shall
exhibit an all around white light or have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.”

Area-specific Advice.

At the Battery, there’s a chill patch of water between the Statue ferry docks and the Staten Island ferry dock; it’s a good place to wait out traffic.

Just south of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn side, is a ferry terminal and restaurant at a blind corner if you are northbound; be aware and swing a little wide for visibility. 

Be aware of security zones; these are marked at
Liberty and Ellis, and there are 25-yard zones at the Statue ferries and a 100-yards zone at the UN, which at times can extend across the entire East River. 

Changes in security zones are posted publicly and often cross-posted to community mailing lists.


The Safe Harbor is an organization that put together a nifty film a few years ago outlining the perspective of the harbor from each constituency. Their website and the full 28-minute video can be found here. There’s a shorter one about staying out of the channel at

The “rules of the road” are known officially as COLREGS. You can find a good summary and link to the full set at The Coast Guard has them posted at

Radio rules are simple but lengthy to describe.
Paddling Light has a decent primer: When I refer to trips I refer to the group as “Kayak [# of
kayaks].” So, if I have five kayaks in my group, we’re
“Kayak 5.”

Got questions? Contact an experienced member of the club. We’ll go over some of these topics in various classes this summer as well.

The Floating Dock is Dead! Long Live the Floating Dock!

Approximately a year ago, ICC replaced its old floating dock with a shiny new one that volunteer Turtles built themselves. The decommissioning of the old dock raised a few questions. First and foremost, “What does one do with a 16 foot by 30 foot floating dock after it is disconnected from the pilings?” As large as it was, and weighing an unknown number of tons due to its waterlogged condition, it had become a ponderous, waterlogged, sinking, failing structure. We kept it around last summer partly out of nostalgia. And over the winter out of inertia.

After the swap, the old floating dock was anchored in the cove to our north between ICC and La Marina. In those protected waters, it survived a summer, all and winter secured by three anchoring lines. It hosted numbers of geese and accumulated their leavings, and also was a place where flotsam would simply accumulate, an inanimate collector of river trash.

With time, however, her structural integrity failed, and in mid-winter it began to come apart at the seams, some parts floating out to sea and other parts sinking to the bottom. On Sunday, February 28, we held a well-attended workday and began the process of disassembling our beloved behemoth. At low tide,Turtles swarmed over the dock to end its days. Despite the wetness, the mud and the slime and barnacles and sharp rusted metal and splintering wood and cold, cold water, the Turtles persevered. From above, we had a team of Turtles on the unsteady float, unbolting, unscrewing and levering with crowbars to take the dock apart. From below, we had a brave crew of volunteers in shoulder-high waders in the frigid Hudson River chipping away at the dock using a variety of hand powered tools including sledgehammers and our massive six foot “persuader” pry bars.

Out with the old? Not entirely. The decking wood was harvested for future use. Waterlogged timbers were arrayed on the shoreline to help break waves. Usable metal hardware was salvaged, while the rusted pieces were sent to metal recycling. Multiple generations of flotation were removed and directed either to the landfill or to our storage for future use. In shipyard terms, we “broke up” the dock.

While several Turtles of yore recall working to repair or reattach the old dock, no one so far can say when it was actually built. The process of taking it apart had the feel of an archaeology survey. There were several generations of wood additions, of hardware and of flotation types, each offering clues about its history.The most impressive feature was the framework (or skeleton), composed of two MASSIVE hardwood timbers, 30 feet long and approximately nine inches wide by 20 inches high. These timbers were most likely hewn from tall old-growth oak trees, relics of a bygone era. Despite having been in the water for decades, we feel fairly sure that the species was white oak (Quercus alba). White oaks are indigenous to the northeastern United States and can grow to majestic proportions. White oak are not only beautiful, but also water- and rot-resistant. Useful for land and maritime construction, these trees were almost logged out of our landscape for their utility. White oak along with live oak (Quercus virginiana) a.k.a. “green oak” or “evergreen oak” were the principal building materials during the United States golden age of wooden-hulled frigates such as the U.S.S. Constitution and U.S.S. Constellation. It seems our old floating dock was of noble provenance.

For those who witnessed or participated in the building of the new dock and the breaking up of the old one, the contrast in design could not be more obvious. The old dock’s structure relied on the strength of its timbers, which were connected in a massive way at very few points. The new dock is much lighter and is a composite of many smaller planks bound together at multiple points. The old dock relied on the wooden components as part of the flotation, and on the natural rot-resistance of the old-growth species. The new dock uses modern flotation canisters, and is designed to maintain most hardware and wood components out of the water. Naturally rot-resistant lumber is no longer available for this type of purpose, and what is available today, mostly plantation-grown pine, must be chemically treated to retard the decomposition that is inevitable in our marine environment. 

The lighter structure rides over most waves,allowing the kinetic energy to pass harmlessly underneath. Maintenance is another area where the new design has its benefits. The old dock was buoyed by flotation that was attached to the bottom of the decking, constantly pressing upwards. If there were wakes and waves while deck boards were removed to conduct maintenance, the workday became an extremely tricky and dangerous affair. With the new design, decking can be freely removed for replacement or periodic maintenance underneath without compromising the structure as a whole and with far less risk of injury to our volunteer Turtles.

Overall, both designs have their merits and their shortcomings. Each is a product of the era in which it was constructed. Hopefully, the new dock, despite the difference in design and materials, will be able to serve our club as well and as enduringly as did the old dock. We will remember the old dock fondly, and we will be reminded of her as we observe salvaged pieces of her serving other purposes around our club such as landscaping timbers in the garden and buttressing segments of our seawall.

With gladness in my heart at her demise, I still say, “Long live the old dock!”