Wednesday, July 9, 2008
After a five-year hiatus Floating the Apple is back on Pier 84.
This time home is not old cargo containers on a crumbling pier. Home is a large boathouse on a new Pier 84, the gem of the Hudson River Park,
a network of pier parks stretching from Battery Park City to 59th Street.
FTA, a non-profit co-founded by Mike Davis, has called Pier 84, located at 44th Street and 12th Avenue between the Circle Line
and Intrepid Museum http://www.intrepidmuseum.org/ home from since 1992.
Unlike the volatile currents of the Hudson, FTA's mission has remained steady: promote community boating and access to the Hudson which Davis calls "our greatest open space."
FTA has succeeded on both counts. FTA has built 20 boats. In the past FTA used loaned storefronts on busy midtown streets as workshops. The new building, an 80 by 40 feet space, is a workshop and storage facility. Davis hopes to establish a maritime library.
Students from the Navy Jr. ROTC program at Graphic Arts High School on West 49th Street build and repair boats while earning school credits. They learn carpentry, boat design, maritime history and ecological science and rowing skills. City-As-School had a similar program with FTA, at the Pier 40 boathouse near Houston Street.
"Several generations of people have had no connection to this magnificent river. We live on an island but we were landlocked," Davis said. "We couldn't even see the water. Huge pier sheds blocked our view.”
Davis speaks with a deep, firm voice. Medium build, with a round, rugged, sea-tanned face with long bushy white eyebrows and a high forehead, Davis resembles a New England ship captain.
"When you are on the river you deal nature's realm, wind, current and weather. You don't quibble with the rules," he said.
Anthony Geathers, a 17-year-old student at Graphic Arts, said "I learn teamwork, responsibility and how to handle a boat. It's exciting.”
Davis, an anthropologist, got his idea for community boating after visiting Istanbul with the University of Chicago. Rowing on the Bosporus, a narrow strait that separates Istanbul's European and Asian sections, is extremely popular. "This was one of my great experiences. Istanbul and New York were built to be seen from the water," he said.
Returning home he researched local history and discovered New York had its own rowing tradition. Used for commerce, transportation, sport and policing Whitehalls populated the both the city's waters.
Whitehalls www.whitehallrow.com/legacy_html/history.php are built for speed, yet sturdy enough to handle wakes and strong currents. They are also rigged for sailing.
Maritime historians believe the boat's originated in England and came here in the early 1800's. Whitehall boatman got their name from the ferry station near the fireboat pier. Renowned for their exploits the boatmen operated from a cove built by the city to thank them for rescuing passengers from a ferryboat fire. People used the boat to go to work.
Whitehalls plowed the Hudson until the end of World to protect the port against thieves and saboteurs. The boat fueled competitive racing. On a cold December day in 1824 over 50,000 people, crammed the Hudson waterfront to watch the Whitehall boatmen defeat the legendary Thames men from England.
This summer FTA offered free rowing Thursday through Sunday from 3 p.m. to sunset. In late August FTA staged its annual evacuation from Brooklyn, a re-enactment of the dramatic rescue of 9,000 men of George Washington's Revolutionary army. Fall events are planned.
"We welcome all who want to learn about boating and the river. I want to get as many people out on the water as possible." Davis said.
“But free community boating can only succeed with a strong core of volunteers and we need help”.
Editor’s Note: Mike Davis died November 2, 2008.
*PHOTO by Merecedes Fanchin: Mike Davis and students rowing on the Hudson off Pier 40 in lower Manhattan