Hell Gate in the 1600’s

New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd is book which follows fictional characters through historically accurate time periods. I found this particular passage about Hell Gate in the 1600’s quite interesting.

“For at the top of the East River, the waterway forked. On the left, a narrow channel led around the northern tip of Manhattan. On the right, a broader channel led eastward to the huge sound whose placid waters, sheltered from the ocean by the long island, stretched for nearly a hundred miles. The danger lay at the fork. For even if all three waterways seemed calm, they were secretly pushed or pulled by subtly different tides and currents so that, at their meeting, a complex hydraulic churning took place, made even harder to read by the positioning of several small islands in the intersection. Even on the calmest day when, out in the sound, the soft waters scarcely seemed to stir the reeds, any unpracticed waterman coming to the fork could suddenly find his boat sucked into eddies and whirlpools and smashed uncontrollably into a wall of water that seemed to have arisen like an angry god from the deep. “Hell Gate” they called this place. You avoided it if you could. Cautiously, therefore, keeping close to the Manhattan side, they entered the narrow channel on the left; and though buffeted, they came through safely. On their left lay the little settlement of Harlem. Though the northernmost part of Manhattan was only a mile across, it rose to impressive heights. On their right was the beginning of Bronck’s land. The narrow channel continued for a few miles until, passing some ancient Indian caves and encampments, it led through a steep and winding gorge into the great North River. Here, too, there was another place of dangerous cross-currents to be negotiated. Once out into the big river, van Dyck gave a sigh of relief.”

Today Hell Gate is much safer to navigate. On October 10, 1885 the US Army Corps of Engineers blasted the dangerous rocks strewn throughout Hell Gate in the second largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic bomb. This has made passage through Hell Gate much safer for larger powered vessels. Eddies and whirlpools still exist and present a potential danger to human powered boaters. Combined with the large volume of commercial shipping traffic, and, at times, class II rapids, passage through Hell Gate by a human powered vessel should only be attempted by the experienced.

Hell Gate Blasting - Oct. 10, 1885

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