The neighborhood of Soundview lies along the eastern side, or left bank of the Bronx River Estuary. “Sound-view” is a curious name, since according to modern maps you cannot see Long Island Sound from there at all, but rather the East River. But a hundred years ago the name was perfectly accurate, as the Bronx River emptied into what was then considered to be part of Long Island Sound. It was only after New York City consolidated in 1898 that mapmakers labeled the waters enclosed by the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx as part of the East River.
Sailors and tugboat men had their own name for this stretch of water: the “Devil’s Belt.” Running from Throg’s Neck at the east to the aptly named Hell Gate below the southern tip of the Bronx, the Devil’s Belt was considered one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the New York area. Strewn with subsurface rocks and beset with tricky tidal currents, the Devil’s Belt was the scene of numerous shipwrecks, including some of the worst in the city’s history, as well as the legendary treasure-bearing ship Hussar.
Navigating the Devil’s Belt required a specialized corps of professional pilots to guide vessels through without mishap. Headquartered on City Island, the Hell Gate Pilots were established in 1757. Their heyday came during World War II, when nearly 15,000 vessels were diverted to Long Island Sound and the Devil’s Belt to avoid German U-Boats. Though few large vessels sail it today, Bronx River paddlers would do well to steer clear of the Devil’s Belt.
Stephen Paul DeVillo