Robert Sullivan, an author perhaps best known for his 2004 book on rats in New York City, wanted to promote his new book on the landscape of the Revolutionary War by plunging potential buyers into the world of historical Manhattan.
Instead, a capsized boat plunged his would-be readers into the Hudson River on Tuesday afternoon.
In “My American Revolution,” which is scheduled to be published in September, Mr. Sullivan writes about personally re-enacting George Washington’s retreat from what is now Brooklyn Heights across the East River to Lower Manhattan after losing the Battle of Brooklyn.
During a publicity event at the Village Community Boathouse on Pier 40 overlooking the Hudson, owners of bookstores and people who were attending the BookExpo America convention at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center listened as Mr. Sullivan discussed the historical importance of Manhattan’s waterways.
So inspired, several of the audience members decided to try historical immersion for themselves.
Two rowboats – built at the boathouse to imitate 19th-century New York Harbor craft known as Whitehall gigs – left the pier loaded with booksellers, volunteer coxswains and local residents who had heard about the boathouse’s rowing program.
The first boat struck a pier at North Moore Street and flipped over, dumping three BookExpo conventioneers, two instructors and two others into 60-degree water, according to the Fire Department. Five of them were pinned against the pier and climbed onto it, while the other two drifted 100 yards away. Mr. Sullivan was not in the boat.
Washington made his nighttime crossing without the loss of a single life. Mr. Sullivan’s flotilla suffered no fatalities, either, although one woman suffered minor injuries and was treated briefly at New York Downtown Hospital, the Fire Department said. (All three BookExpo participants were back at the Javits Center on Wednesday.)
Mr. Sullivan had wanted to lead a fleet of rowboats from a small cove near the Javits Center down to Pier 40 off Houston Street, but had to abandon his plan when city officials told him that it would violate regulations. Still, the shortened voyage proved exciting enough.
“After I finally heard they were safe,” Mr. Sullivan said on Wednesday, “I then started thinking that re-enacting George Washington’s defeats in and around New York is not such a great idea.”