On New York’s Low Seas: Day 1

A Week on the Water

A boat.

On City Room: Corey Kilgannon’s dispatches from the city’s waterways.

Francois Guillet, 68, caught my bow line and tied my boat to his steel-hulled work boat.

I told him I was traveling around New York City by boat this week, to meet the people who work and play on its waterways. Monday’s expedition was in Rockaway Inlet, off South Brooklyn, and into Jamaica Bay in Queens.

Mr. Guillet, who runs a marine equipment company in the Bronx, was securing a steel barge to a concrete stanchion of the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, which spans the inlet, so that two workers could inspect the bridge structure by elevated platform.

“They say you have to enjoy the moment — this is the moment,” he said, looking out on the watery expanse, bordered by sandy shores to the north and south.

It was the start of the workweek, and in Manhattan, the machinery of the city was rattling to life. Traffic was thick on the Belt Parkway, visible to the north. But for those who work on the water, it was another chance to be out among pristine marshland and grassy islands with all evidence of its urban surroundings far in the background

It was another day at the office for Mr. Guillet. Only, his office is the wheelhouse of his 25-foot boat, painted battleship gray. His filing cabinet consists of a worn leather-bound book in his breast pocket whose binding was fortified with a strip of duct tape.

“You’re out with nature,” he said. “You feel the wind in your face. You feel the breeze and the fresh air.”

We had entered city waters from Long Island, motoring westward in the Atlantic Ocean just off Rockaway Beach, rising and falling in a 20-foot open boat on the broad rollers of an ocean swell coming out of the southeast. We rounded the rock jetty jutting off Breezy Point and stopped at a city-run marina in Sheepshead Bay along Emmons Avenue where a dozen fishing boats were docked and taking aboard passengers for a day of fishing.

Alex Krechmar, 51, a Ukrainian immigrant from Sheepshead Bay, had anchored just west of the bridge where Mr. Guillet was working. Mr. Krechmar was using four fishing rods, each with a baited hook weighted by a lead sinker to the inlet bottom, 20 feet down. He reeled in a sea robin, writhing on the line, and threw it back.

Mr. Krechmar, a chauffeur, prefers to work on the weekends when the inlet is most crowded, so that he can have the waters to himself on his days off, Monday and Tuesday. The name of his 26-foot pleasure boat, Sea of Dream, sums up his feeling for the waters out here, in his stilted Russian accent.

“It’s amazing, such a beautiful place,” he said, a cigarette between his fingers.

Not far away, William Cruz, 58, fastened pieces of raw chicken to two wire crab traps, which he tossed into the water, next to the hulking, rusted skeleton of a large boat that had long ago run ashore.

Mr. Cruz said he boils the crabs with lemon and salt and eats them. As for the cleanliness of the water, he said, “I haven’t died yet.”

It was now 10 a.m., and Michael Gelman, 56, woke up and walked out onto the second-story balcony of his ornate house overlooking a broad section of a canal on Mill Basin.

He wore a bathing suit and black leather-strapped cases known as tefillin fastened to his head and left arm. Standing at his railing and looking out over the sunny, placid canal, Mr. Gelman, a devout Jew, began to pray.

Mr. Gelman, a Ukrainian immigrant who owns a Brooklyn beer distribution business, gestured to the water and said: “It doesn’t come any better than that. You wake up every day to this beauty and the seagulls.”

A bit farther up the canal, on a small maze of docks that abuts a shopping center, Gary Allen, 40, a Jamaican immigrant in dreadlocks, walked on the roof of his houseboat.

His two sons, Gary, 11, and Michael, 7, appeared, clad in bathing suits. The boys spend the summer fishing and swimming off the dock and tending to the flock of homing pigeons in the coop kept on the houseboat’s roof. Mr. Allen was barefoot and making some repairs to the houseboat, which he called an affordable and pleasant way to live an island lifestyle in New York City.

A similar houseboat next to his cost about $70,000, he said.

“Does this look like Brooklyn to you?” he said. “You couldn’t pay me a million for this.”

Powered By WizardRSS.com | Full Text RSS Feed | Amazon Plugin | Settlement Statement | WordPress Tutorials
Go to Source