Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Pioneer Passes

As I mentioned in my earlier post - in the midst of all the election happiness, there's sadness at the loss of Mike Davis, the founder of Floating the Apple.

Rob Buchanan, who I've mentioned here from time to time (usually linking to his New York Harbor Beaches site, which I love), is another tireless campaigner (pardon the election rhetoric) for recreational access in the New York City area. He posted the following yesterday after Erik of the Long Island City Boathouse saw the news on another online forum, posted it to NYCKayaker & asked Rob for more information. This response, coming as it did from an active Whitehall rower who knew Mike well, was far better than anything I could've come up with. I asked if I could post it here & he was happy to let me do so. Thank you, Rob.
I'm sorry that I don't have much news to report at this point. Mike had a stroke last week and died yesterday in the hospital. I don't think anyone but immediate family--his mother, brother and neice--were able to visit him there. I have not yet heard what the plans are, if any, for a memorial service.

For those of you who don't know Mike's story, he was an archeologist who spent a lot of time in Turkey, was impressed by the amount of human-powered boating on the Bosporus, and came up with the idea of building boats and community boathouses here as a means of reestablishing 'universal public access' (one of his favorite phrases) to our urban waterways. The boat he developed, along with an engineer/naval architect named Mike Mcevoy and a master boatbuilder named Don Betts, was a 27-foot plywood-and-epoxy replica of a 19th-century Whitehall gig, a classic New York Harbor design perfectly suited for fast, safe rowing and sailing in these waters. About 30 of them have been built so far, the vast majority by high school and college

Mike had a kind of Johnny Appleseed vision in which Floating the Apple would spawn a series of spinoff boathouses, and in fact that is pretty much what has happened. While the FTA 'mother ship' resides in one of the new Hudson River Park boathouses (on pier 84), three other groups are rowing the same boats: the Village Community Boathouse on Pier 40, East River Crew on East 96th Street, and WeeRow in Weehawken, New Jersey. It's also worth noting that Adam Green, who started a similar program called Rocking the Boat in the South Bronx, was a Mike Davis protégé for a while.

One of the greatest--and, occasionally, most maddening--things about Mike was how stubbornly he pursued his agenda. His belief that there could be no compromise when it came to the right of the public to the waterways and the foreshore was a huge inspiration to many of us, and key to the development of recreational boating in the harbor. It also sometimes made him difficult to work with, to put it mildly. But the fact remains that without his clear vision and unwavering advocacy, there's just no way we'd be where we are today.

Among Floating the Apple's oldest traditions is an annual youth regatta called the American Star, after the sleek rowing gig that defeated a British counterpart in a famous match race off the Battery in 1832. Before his death, Mike laid plans to hold this year's American Star at Pier 84 on December 6, and barring some hideous bureaucratic snafu, that's when it will happen. If you want to get a firsthand appreciation for what Mike Davis brought into being and what he was all about, please join us there.

Rob Buchanan
Village Community Boathouse

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