Self-proclaimed stewards of the city’s waterways, the North Brooklyn Boat Club recently took charge of the 200-foot long space at the northern end of McGuinness Boulevard (49 Ashe St.) last year, providing their members and enthusiasts the opportunity to get out on the water in human power boating, canoeing, kayaking and rowing tours along the East River.
Will Elkins, member of the group’s steering committee, as well as trip leader and canoe instructor, said that while they are dedicated to enduring the spirit of the outdoors lifestyle, they are also devoted to learning and preserving Newtown Creek and the adjoining East River.
“I was doing kayaking on my own in the city, so I thought why not get it organized,” Elkins said. “It’s a great spot because we’re really close to the East River.”
In the last year, the group received startup grants from the Hudson River Foundation, support from the Long Island City Community Boathouse, and also acquired donated steel containers from TNT Scrap Metal and Plackos Scrap Processing to store their equipment.
With the help from the neighboring businesses and community, they were able to offer their fast-growing group, which has already reached nearly 100 members, up to four excursions a week last year.
“Most of New York is surrounded by water, and with the state of the creek (Newtown Creek), a lot of people avoid the water because there is a lack of knowledge of the water around us,” Elkins explained. “My interest is getting people out there who never thought that was possible.”
As they await warmer days for their trips out of their waterfront dock to the East River, either toward Astoria or down to Red Hook, the group spends their winter meets learning about the ecology of the water, brushing up on boating and safety technique, and developing a boat building and repair workshop for the upcoming season.
“Right now, we’re doing a lot more off the water stuff,” he said. “Word has gotten around pretty naturally, and so far it has organically happened pretty well with people finding us and coming out and joining.”
The group is currently working with LaGuardia Community College as they plan on turning one of the donated containers into “The Ed Shed” - a classroom space for teaching members and students from the college about the surrounding ecosystem.
Fung Lin, also a steering committee member, specializes in traditional boat building, and is currently working on rebuilding a 1940s peapod boat he found in Sag Harbor, Long Island.
“She’s in pretty good shape for a 72-year-old girl,” Lin said of his find. “She’s fastened with iron, which is all rusted, so all the frames have to be replaced and the old lines have to be replaced. It’s going to be quite a bit of work.”
Lin, a native of Singapore, plans to bring the old vessel to the group during the offseason to help rebuild and spark some interest in the craft of boating.
Steering committee member Jens Rasmussen grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, and though he joined the group to bring his enthusiasm of the great outdoors, he has also been able to find his own escape from the towering metallic city.
“We’re in New York City, and one of the most powerful forces of nature is right here,” Rasmussen said, looking out at the waterfront, referring to the Hudson River as a “wilderness like any other.”
“Once you get out on it, and you have that experience, it’s interacting with incredible forces of nature,” he said.
While the three set up the grill, threw some ice on the beer and lit the fire for their members who slowly meandered into the newly found oasis last Saturday, the group of misplaced outdoorsmen in the middle of a towering city had finally found their place.
“All of us love the city,” Rasmussen said. “We just want both.”