Monday, November 20, 2006

The Next Couple of Years

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A whole lot of NYC folks - including me - had their first kayak lessons here! That's the Surfside III Marina where we'd launch, where the red & white striped awnings are. The netting on the left is a golf driving range, and the piershed on the right houses the Chelsea Piers Sports Center.

Speaking of NYC folks - I should mention, as I sometimes do, that the 2 major challenge for paddling in NYC come down to "Where do I keep my boat?", and "How do I get to the water?"

To paddle anything but a folding kayak in NYC requires waterfront storage with launching within kayak-toting distance. Would be lovely not to be so dependent on that, but most of us live in apartments, we have no basements or backyards where we can store our kayaks & no cars to tote 'em around with. On the one hand, the average NYC paddler can pat him or herself on the back for being eco-friendly to da max - seems pretty darned green to ride the subway to your non-motorized hand-launched craft. On the other hand - it can end up being a total pain in the okole when the keepers of the storage get recalcitrant! If you've read this blog before, you've probably got that picture - but I just wanted to give the setup for anyone who's stumbled across this recently & is going "Why all the hoo-ha?"

Back to my first year. I got in just under the wire that spring. I got an urge to try this kayaking thing, called Chelsea Piers, & got put through to Fred, who was handling the reservations for the kayaking program there. I made noises about having paddled canoes, and being comfortable in water, and so on, but Fred very quickly convinced me that I did need to start with a lesson. I was able to sign up for a class that very weekend. It was mid-June. Shortly thereafter, the New York media, as I mentioned yesterday, all simultaneously got bitten by the kayak bug, and within a couple of weeks after I'd taken my first class, classes were booked up 2 months in advance.

That didn't end up working out as well as you'd think for MKC, though! Fred, who'd been such an effective gatekeeper when I called, started getting more calls than he could handle; inexperienced people started talking their way into tours they shouldn't have been on; tours were overbooked - and in the midst of all the season's frenzy, the management asked Eric for his 1999 budget. Richard, who was helping Eric out at the time, ended up putting something together for the management - who took a look over Richard's figures and decided - at least according to Eric - that they wanted to maximize the kayak program profit by cutting a lot of the longer tours & focusing on the beginner stuff - hour-long "pony rides" at forty-five bucks a pop, and the like. It all came to a head in October - I'd bought a package of hours & had been going out regularly, I'd bought my first wetsuit (a Henderson paddling suit that served me well for many seasons, but has now been sacrificed to the pool gods - chlorine does a number on trilaminate), I was thoroughly enjoying my first Fall on the Hudson, when I got a call from Chelsea Piers. No more kayaking. Eric was gone, they'd be offering kayaking next season, but not through MKC.

Now you can't cut off an addict from their drug without them doing something about it. Naturally, I got in touch with Eric to find out what the heck was going on. Got an earful for an hour, the gist of which was that MKC was going to move to the barge at Pier 63. I told the whole story of how MKC happened to end up moving in a fairly recent post - you can read that all here which reminds me, I have got to scan some of the rust-people pictures - pulled some of those out the other day & it's just the essence of how things get done on the barge when they really need to - people just pull together & do 'em. Not always cheerfully...but that would be a major sidetrack.

Chelsea Piers brought in a big company from Maine. Moon & stars were apparently promised by both sides; delivery failed to occur to either side & H20utfitters packed up their Perceptions & left at the end of 1999. MKC ended up handling the Chelsea Piers kayaking program again, but they gave up on offering storage. Not enough money in it, and I don't know precisely what happened in the intervening year, but the rumour was that the Maine folks had mistaken launching at Surfside III - a private marina - for a right, when it was a privilege, and one that the marina operator could & did revoke after one too many run-ins. Plus our local waterways require a lot of local knowledge - as do the Manhattan clientele (I've heard that "212" is adventure-sport guide jargon for particularly demanding, high-maintenance clients). Anyways, off they went, MKC got the CP kayak program back, but at that point private boat storage, other than that at the DTBH, became very scarce.

Within the next year, that changed for the better - realizing that we had a certain set of clients who were getting to be good enough paddlers that we just couldn't keep them entertained anymore, we rented a hold on the barge that a boatbuilder was vacating, cleaned it out, installed some racks & let those folks get their own boats & become truly independent paddlers. That was primarily spearheaded by Ubergirl & her ninja-lawyer fiance (he was a good guy), who'd become partners in the company the 2nd year. Sometime in the same time frame, New York Kayak Company left the dot-com castle for digs on Pier 40, where he started offering storage & classes, while continuing to operate a retail shop.

That setup held for a couple of years. MKC at the barge, NYKC at Pier 40, or the DTBH (for those with more time than money) at Pier 26. When the first hold filled up, MKC put in a second one. Randy added a new container. Not dramatic growth, but there were definitely more & more trained paddlers being able to have their own boat & do their own thing in the Hudson River Park.

In the meantime -

The Hudson River Park Act was passed. The Conservancy became the Trust. Plans were made, opinions on boathouse designs & operations requested & gladly offered, renditions drawn. Boathouses were slated for Pier 26, the Gansevoort Peninsula, The future of the 3 main kayaking groups in the park were not guaranteed (how many times have I said here that the Pier 63 situation was always supposed to be interim?)- but the general future of kayaking seemed reasonably secure. When it was decided that the barge would be allowed to remain in the park, moving to 66A, it seemed like at that point us Pier 63 paddlers could finally let go of our worst worries.

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