the Kill Van Kull Security Zone

Posted in dredges, kill van kull, new york harbor, shipping, tankers, tugs, Vessel Traffic Service, vhf by bowsprite on 2009/07/09

Vessel Traffic Service announced on VHF 13 that all tugs and barges longer than 400′ may not meet or overtake other vessels in the KV. Curious, I called VTS  (718.354.4088).

“Yes. No meeting, no passing from KV buoy 1 to KV buoy 5 for all vessels longer than 400′ and deep draft vessels.” The three buoys have been moved 600′ to the north of their original positions last week, and it became mandatory for large vessels to observe one-way traffic until further notice.


The Kill van Kull was once at a natural depth of 15-18′, and home to rich beds of oysters, clams, and fishes, surrounded by salt marshlands. Today, dredged to 50′ below mean low water, it is a major shipping channel, making it possible to bring in imported goods, cars, fuel, chemicals, orange juice, and to ship out our recyclables.

The Army Corps of Engineers, with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has been working on the Harbor Deepening Project since the 1980’s. They have had to contend with a bottom made of soft and stiff clays, red shale, serpentine rock, glacial till, and granite. Different kinds of dredges are used for the different materials.


What is happening now is quite special: We’re in the final deepening phase off St. George, the dredgers have encountered bedrock, and a unique use of equipment is at play (oh, I mean ‘work’)…


“That cutter-head begs to serve as inspiration for a horror movie.” – Tugster

The hydraulic dredge, the Illinois was described by Bill as a “floating factory;” it is huge.

Hydraulic dredges usually use a cutting head to dislodge the sediment which is immediately suctioned and pumped through a pipeline to an offsite settling area, often several thousand feet away.

However, working boats in the area have noticed an absence of the pipeline. If there is no dredge spoil, then there must be no dredging. That cutter-head seems to be drilling away at pure bedrock (instead of blasting). Dredge 54 comes along behind it to dig it up. A support barge is there to replace the hard teeth on the cutter head.

What has been the observed result of the dredging of NYHarbor?
° Working mariners have noticed that the current has increased, and that high and low tides have been affected. Those Eldridge tide predictions are no longer accurate in places.
° Docking seems to be more dangerous, but if you dock only at slackwater, you might have several hours to wait, which would cost more money.

Tugster, who caught amazing photos of the machines and vessels at work, poses two questions:

1. what would happen if dredging activities ceased?  Not sure how fast it fills in here, but several points along the east side of North River silt in as quickly as about 2 a year. The way things are set up now, our harbor cannot afford not to dredge. (And, dredging is expensive! that’s fine if your project enjoys federal, state, or city funding, but what if you are a mom&pop little shipyard? you are between bedrock and a hard place: you cannot afford to dredge, but you cannot afford not to!)

…alternatively, if we stopped dredging, the kill would become a kill again (creek in dutch), oysters, clams and mussels would be sold alongside hotdogs, and you’d have to take a train to Baltimore to get those plastic lawn chairs.

2. “How come the mainstream media pays no attention to these activities?” Really cannot fathom, because it is fascinating. Go and look for yourself: the very best deal of the harbor, the Staten Island Ferries, will take you past the dredging site–for free!

Thank you, Bill & Will!

Oops, this just in: Tugster reports that the Illinois is not there anymore. I’m very sorry, they were never vigilant about their AIS.

You will still see the Dredge 54, but this is how the Illinois looked from one of Tugster’s photos:


24 Responses

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  1. tugster said, on 2009/07/09 at 21:08

    love that dredge head . . . same color as a boiled crayfish and just about as pretty!

  2. bowsprite said, on 2009/07/10 at 03:28

    well, it’s from your flattering portrait of it! this cutter suction head IS pretty.

  3. Jed said, on 2009/07/10 at 19:15

    One way traffic can be pain in the azz with light barge and a breeze. Of course it won’t compare to when the dredges were up off IMTT Bayonne – there was no where to go up there.

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/07/11 at 02:56

      IMTT : International Matex Tank Terminals
      looks tight…(anyone know how to put in a little jpg chart in here? I have it but can’t insert it)

  4. […] For a charming watercolor of the business end of this unit done in boiled crawdad red,  see Bowsprite’s latest […]

  5. Celeste Maia said, on 2009/07/11 at 04:45

    I do love your drawings, even if I dont know anything about dredges and other similar implements. That cutter-head dredge is a vicious bulldog! Though drawn by you, it makes me want to pat it…

    Do you have the power of omnipresence? Can you watch the coming and goings of your NY harbor from a cold mountain village in Switzerland?

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/07/11 at 06:56

      Ah! I DO have powers, and bestow them unto you…well, ok, it is not a power, but a lovely site I monitor. And, yes, I have it up, even while here the dew freezes and crystallizes on the alpine clovers…

      However, this was a post begun a week ago, with the help of my part-time “boss” and friend Tugster while the bulldog was chewing up the rocks!

  6. Mage Bailey said, on 2009/07/11 at 10:18

    Amazing drawing of the cutting head. You’ve made it into a marvelous monster just waiting to eat. 🙂 Have a great weekend. 🙂

  7. […] More dredging fantasms  . . . I believe these disassembled parts once made up the cutter head featured here and then rendered in Bowsprite’s water color here. […]

  8. naveganteglenan said, on 2009/07/12 at 06:06

    Very interesting, and (I insist) lovely watercolours, and thanks for the link to the that I immediatly add to my blos 🙂

  9. Andy said, on 2009/07/12 at 14:08

    “Not to be Used for Navigation”

    Too damned funny.

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/07/12 at 16:46

      I think i’ll make tank tops & tshirts with this on it. What size are you, guys?

  10. Buck said, on 2009/07/13 at 10:18

    Mage is right – you’ve made that cutter head come to life.

  11. tugster said, on 2009/07/13 at 13:25

    re: the head . . . the greens are eyes and the whites . . . teeth, of course. horns are horns. wicked bottom feeder.

  12. Andy said, on 2009/07/28 at 20:06

    Love the ship pic. Why can’t we just get the Madoff people to do it manually via bucket brigade or such?

  13. tugster said, on 2009/07/28 at 22:19

    andy– i think yer on to something: singsing had its rockbreaking, downsouth they may have chain gangs, but in boro6 . . . put the felons on the dredge boats . . . raking up the pcbs and or dioxins from the silty bottom.

  14. bowsprite said, on 2009/07/29 at 03:59

    Men! please–the KVK is visually, physically, & aura-wise polluted enough. Have mercy.

  15. Robin Locke Monda said, on 2009/08/29 at 09:56

    Hi Bowsprite:
    I love your paintings, I love your blog, I love your entry here about the dredger. I’ve been writing about the dredger, and I’m working on a website called “Sounds Like Staten Island,” where I make mention of the sound of the dredger. Would it be possible to use one of your watercolors for my site? I would give you credit and link to your blog. Are you a Staten Islander?

  16. KVK Fest « tugster: a waterblog said, on 2009/08/29 at 21:24

    […] Bowsprite took the foto above; all others by Will Van Dorp.  By the way, if you know the Where’s Waldo series, bowsprite is depicted in one of the fotos above.  Where’s bowsprite? […]

  17. tugster said, on 2009/10/23 at 11:15

    by the way, since there’s a 10% discount, i’ll have a dozen clamshell buckets, a bucket of bay dressing, 2 cutterheads over easy, and a double cafe luz. to go, please.

  18. bowsprite said, on 2009/10/23 at 11:28

    no bay dressing. How ’bout scum?

  19. […] cutter suction head.  Bowsprite’s drawn it, and even given me a pin for my hat sporting her drawing of the snaggle-toothy one.  A […]

  20. […] Cutterhead dredge Illinois!!  If Illinois makes it all the way to the sixth boro, you know who will have more opportunities to perfect her rendition of the toothy snouted machine. […]

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