Brooklyn 2009

The Great Brooklyn Experiment of 2009 carries on despite Mother Nature’s best attempts to break our spirit. I was disappointed to have to cancel our “Thank You” sail for the many folks who helped get us here, which also would have continued our fundraising and outreach efforts here in the Brooklyn community, but that is how it goes when you make your living on a sailing ship.

Clearwater at Red HookIndeed, just docking here and being accessible to the public is a feat in itself, and a goal of mine for many years. Brooklyn—all of New York City in fact—has miles of waterfront, virtually none of it usable for a vessel the size and design of sloop Clearwater. The right-sized docks present too much exposure to the wake and swell in the now heavily traveled waterways; and those docks offering protection are undeveloped and unsafe to board passengers. Add desired proximity to the Bay Ridge Flats, fantastic fishing grounds in the harbor, and the New York City waterfront is facing a tall order from its most acclaimed historic ship.

The vision and generosity of a couple of Brooklynites, however, has opened up a small dock to us in Red Hook and allowed Clearwater to return to this beautiful borough after almost eight years away. Built as a front-loading ferry dock, it is a little funky for the sloop, requiring some crafty fendering and acres of chafe gear. In spite of the exposed nature of the dock, we ridie the swells surprisingly well. The squishy fenders have managed to stay put in between the steel dock and the wooden boat; protecting us, even when the rolling reminds us faintly of being at sea. Plus, we’ve gotten beat up far worse at other docks with far less to show for our troubles.

The location here, again despite the southwesterly exposure, is ideal. The neighborhood of Red Hook, and this particular corner, with its massive and beautifully restored Civil War-era warehouses, feels as if they were made to welcome the sloop. Best of all, we have gained tremendous exposure of another kind while here, as local residents are re-discovering the harbor and enjoying a unique interaction with their waterfront.
At the Brooklyn Dock
We have had free impromptu deck tours for the public, all very well attended. Almost 400 visitors crossed our decks in just a few days, the result of not one word of advertising—just folks walking by, in the area to shop at the Fairway market or the Garden Center, to check out the art galleries, or to soak up the tranquility of lush landscaping set against breathtaking views of the harbor.
Harbor Garden

We’ve had some great sails here so far. Our “Team Clearwater” sail, for our 5 Boro Bike tour participants, was, in the words of Bike NY Executive Director Pam Tice, “sublime.” A westerly wind allowed us to tack up close to the Statue of Liberty, then down towards the Verrazano Bridge. We were serenaded by our friends from Medicine Woman and their rich harmonies during the sail, and this time they brought their cellist! Medicine Woman

Our public sail Saturday night nearly sold out, again with only word-of-mouth to bring folks aboard, and a fresh easterly breeze guided us along the Brooklyn waterfront past the Gowanus, Sunset Park and Owl’s Head. In response to the enthusiasm of our dockside visitors, we added a second public sail on Tuesday evening from 6 PM to 9 PM that filled up as well.

And those famous Bay Ridge Flats, less than 10 boat lengths away, have lived up to their great reputation. In four trawls we have caught at least five flounder, two almost a foot in length; a baby sea robin; several blue claw crabs (one very gravid) and spider crabs; a hermit crab; a moon snail; many bay anchovies; two star fish; four pipefish; and two seahorses. Yes, that’s right—wild seahorses live in New York Harbor! All these specimen were caught in a net cast for half of our normal trawl time. By the time we departed Brooklyn over 150 youngsters had sailed aboard the sloop, joined by over 100 adults—Brooklyn’s “young at heart,” who are just as enthralled by the catch and the power of a sailing vessel as the students.

In the long term, we can improve upon this dock, striving for something more stable, better protected and gentler on the old girl. All in all, it has been a satisfying and jubilant return to Brooklyn, and our bow is well through the entrance of this hospitable borough.

View from Red Hook

My sincere thanks go out to Tom Fox and NY Water Taxi, and Greg O’Connell and Pier 41 Associates for allowing us to be docked in Red Hook. Thanks also to all the local residents and businesses (a big thanks to the Fairway Staff) who have made us feel so welcome here and whose enthusiasm for the sloop Clearwater and her educational program infuses us with renewed energy and pride in our work. I am excited to see what comes next.