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Deliverance, Brooklyn Style

by on Sep.06, 2003, under NYC, On the Road, The Press

Jeffrey Stanley canoeing in New York Harbor near the Brooklyn Bridge; 2003

As some thrilled tourist once said when he overheard a local complaining about the odor of the canals of Venice, we should all be so lucky as to smell that putrid odor every day. The first time I stood on the banks of the Gowanus Canal the dreadful effluvium indeed put me in the mind of Venice. But I never saw floating fields of garbage and dead rats in Venice, and of course there was no stunning Venetian architecture in South Brooklyn to soften the sensory blow. Could I paddle through this industrial wasteland and learn to love it? Dragging a canoe to the edge of  a three-foot drop and staring down into the filthy, brackish liquid, I was determined to find out.

 My goal had to have a rip-roaring, outdoorsy, inexpensive summer right here in New York City, and being on some kind of watercraft was for me a must.  I am an experienced fresh water paddler and have J-stroked my way safely through many treacherous and boulder-laden river rapids, but I am a starving playwright and teacher who by choice lives on nickels and dimes, so escaping to a rustic river for a few days was out. 

 Sure, there’s the image-conscious Hamptons crowd.  These are my smug lawyer and investment banker friends who quietly vanish every weekend from June to September to their upscale getaways along the south shore of Long Island.  If I promise to behave, and if I’m willing to wear the right deck shoes, they will invite me along with them periodically to frolic in their artificially perfect paradise. But the occurrence of such trips for me is unpredictable.  I never know for sure whether they’re going to come through with a last-minute invitation to tag along on a Friday afternoon to hop on the Hamptons jitney or not.  No, I was going to have to find a way to get out onto the mercury-infected waters right here around New York Harbor or be stuck sweltering on dry land all summer.

 My exploration began with a free kayak lesson at a pier in lower Manhattan which I discovered while jogging one June morning. Ultimately the kayaking subculture turned out to be a bust for me. The hardcore kayakers who go out on longer trips seemed militaristic. They liked barking orders, and there was never time to relax in a kayak.  The hobby was also potentially pricey, with literal bells and whistles and flashlights hanging from fancy life jackets, and wetsuits, and funny rubber skirts, and nowhere on most  kayaks to comfortably put my macho fishing tackle or a big sandwich, so I decided to look for something in the way of a nice Cadillac of a canoe. 

 A five minute search on the Internet turned up the Gowanus Dredgers, a canoe club (continue reading…)

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