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I don't see why not. Hell Gate is fine if you go with the tide. (Navigating the East River - Planning Your Passage) You'll want an outboard in case the wind dies and the tide is going for both the East River and the Hudson. The East River is generally no fun, so stick to the Hudson or the LI Sound region.

I learned to sail on the Hudson, you should not just learn by the seat of your pants there. Thee is a lot of commercial traffic that cannot stop or maneuver around for you, you don't want to get stalled with your sheets all tangled in front of a barge.
 
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