Monday, February 07, 2011
Moving To The Barge - Pier 63 Maritime
I didn't know what it was for the longest time. It was just this strange place we paddled past on any northbound trip. Amazing how it became my 2nd home for so many years!
I started paddling with Manhattan Kayak Company in June of 1998. All trips set out from the SeaRay marina at Chelsea Piers, where MKC was a tenant. I did a lot of of after work "North-South Tours" that first year, and anytime the current was on the ebb, we'd pass the barge. I don't know why I never went to explore - it was always sort of an interesting-looking place; it was a little rougher-looking in those earlier days (the glass windscreen was a later installation, and I think the original shelter over the stage was less substantial) but there would frequently be a couple of people hanging out at the end, waving at us as we went by - and there was that strange statue - and if it were me paddling by now, I'd have to go check things out.
But I guess that in 1998, I was a little newer to the waterfront, and less inquisitive. Or maybe it was just a matter that paddling out of Chelsea Piers was a very self-contained activity -- you'd take the bus to right in front of the complex; you'd walk south to the sports center, you'd go to the locker room and change, you'd paddle, you'd go back to the locker room and shower, and then if it was a week night it was time to go home, and if it was a Friday "Paddle and Pub" or a longer weekend paddle, we just never thought to go further than the Chelsea Brewery.
Or at least most of us didn't. Thank goodness Abigail did. She was one of a few people who were helping out Eric Stiller, the founder, as guides that year; that was the year that NYC suddenly went paddlecrazy and he ended up needing the help that more experienced people like her were able to offer.
At some point while the rest of us were hanging out in gym-dandy splendor, with peach shampoo and a smoothie bar, Abigail decided to head up north and around the corner of the huge, Basketball-City-bubble-topped Pier 63 piershed. She'd gotten interested in outrigger paddling. I didn't even realize there were outrigger canoes in NYC at that time, let alone an outrigger club 1 pier north of where I got off the bus to go kayaking.
I think she was the first of the MKC crew to discover the wonderfully freewheeling waterfront access that John Krevey had created there, and she went back and told Eric about what she'd seen.
I don't remember the exact time sequence, but by later in the summer, with kayak fever raging on unabated, Chelsea Piers started to put some pressure on Eric to start maximizing his profit margins. They'd asked him for budget numbers for the next season for the first time; he was kind of swamped with guiding and teaching at that point, but with help from Richard(also a great instructor, totally sorted out my forward stroke for me that first year) numbers were produced. Chelsea Piers then looked at them with a business eye & said "You make the most money on short tours. Why don't you focus on those?"
Problem was - Eric, and everyone who was helping him out that year, loved helping people become better paddlers. The program for your first year was to go from your first lesson to a full circumnavigation of Manhattan. Everybody there agreed that 1.5 - 2 hour beginner trips were a necessity. Nobody wanted that to be all there was.
Somewhere in there, Eric made his first inquiries up around the corner.
I don't think I knew that any of this was going on. At that point, I was just a first-year client - one who'd taken to kayaking very fast & with great enthusiasm, but still, a client.
I found out when I got a call from Chelsea Piers in October saying that kayaking was cancelled. "You mean tonight's paddle? Well, can I sign up for next week's?"
The answer was a flat "No". Eric was gone, I was told. The kayaking program would resume in the spring under new management.
I was flabbergasted, and crushed. I hadn't been expecting to get much more paddling in that year, but I'd bought myself a fancy Henderson trilaminate paddling suit and a functional anorak & was hoping to wring as many more weeks out of the season as Richard and Eric would permit me to. I was a new addict, kayaking had filled in a big hole in my NYC life (as a transplant from Hawaii, I'd always missed being able to get to free-flowing, non-chlorinated water), and I panicked. I would never have thought of calling Eric before - but I wanted to find out what the heck was going on, so I looked up his number online & called - almost in tears.
Eric proceeded to chew my ear off for a good hour. I think that was the first time I ever heard the name "John Krevey". Eric explained the whole budget thing, and then he started talking about this incredible alternative to Chelsea Piers. Just around the corner, there was this amazing guy, John Krevey, who looked just like Hans Solo, and he had this fantastic rusty old barge that was just like the Millennium Falcon (Eric being the biggest Star Wars fan you'll ever meet), and there was a hold at the end that slanted up in a way that made it no good for anything but...
So there was need to worry, there would be a bit of a break in the paddling but MKC wasn't gone, they were just moving north to the barge known as Pier 63 Maritime.
And that was how John Krevey's neat old railroad barge came to be home for an entire fleet of kayaks - eventually including a couple of my very own.
The Hold Dock at Pier 63
And that's enough for one night. More about the barge, and what we found there that made it me think of it as such a home for so long, to come (on my next free evening).