Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A Response to Captain Brucato

OK - that was sort of funny. I got a Facebook message tonight. It linked to a post on a local tug captain's blog & said "So, what do you think?". The post began, "Who’s the mental midgit (sic) that came up with the idea of kayak tours of the East River’s waterfront?", and continued in roughly the same vein. Ordinarily, I'd read something like that & my response would be "Whatevahs...", because this is something I've seen going on since I started kayaking, NYC's waterways are increasingly mixed-use, the commercial folks who used to have the place to themselves resent the added stress, kayaks are a convenient scapegoat, and when a skipper has a blog, it's perfectly natural for him to vent there. The occasional calls for nanny-state type regs have been going on for years, I do occasionally vent myself but mostly I don't worry about them so much any more.

However, I'd misread the message as being FROM Capt. Brucato...and I read it as a direct challenge. So, being an obliging sort, I figured I'd step into the ring & go the requested round.

Fortunately, I went back & reread the message prior to posting. That was when I realized that it was from somebody else entirely. D'oh!

My first thought was to just delete the comment, heave a sigh of relief at an averted potential conflict, and get back to my Norwalk trip report.

But I had already put a good bit of time & thought into the response, and with a few excessively snarky bits carved out, I really didn't think it was such a bad thing to say. So I said it. We'll see how it goes.

Here's Capt. Brucato's post.

My totally longwinded response (posted & resulting in a pretty interesting discussion, and I am not being facetious in my use of the word "interesting"):

Capt. Brucato – if you want to teach people, teach them. If you want to insult them, insult them. Your call. But if you start by insulting them and then offer to teach them, what kind of results do you think you are going to get?

I’ve seen some idiotic behavior out there myself. Every experienced NYC paddler has – I challenge you to find one of us who hasn’t got a horror story. I’ve also seen a lot of people do a lot of good – and much needed – work on boating safety for recreational boaters. I recently got my NYS safe boating certificate after a day class taught by a gentleman from SUNY Maritime (sponsored by the sailing committee of my boating club). I’ve been to a boating safety class taught the NYC-area Power Squadron (sponsored by the NYC Watertrail Association & New York Riversports), and my club has a very good relationship with the Coast Guard Auxiliary members at the yacht club next door (I wish I could join the Auxiliary but I simply haven’t got the free time).

All of those organizations, and the individuals involved, manage to do a very good job of educating recreational boaters. And PS – the sites you visited probably don’t say much about harbor traffic specifically because they are aimed at letting people try out kayaks in controlled situations. The only place that I know of in NYC where a person can rent a kayak & just go is in one of the farthest corners of Jamaica Bay. I bet that if you emailed any of them saying “I just bought a kayak on Craig’s List and I just can’t WAIT to get out on the river, what do I need to do”, you’d get a response much more in line with what you’d want to see. Personally, I’ve had some mixed emotions about some of the all-free all-the-time programs – but some of them are run by some very skilled paddlers who are as committed to teaching people safe boating habits as you would want them to be.

If you want to help, I’d suggest that you drop the name-calling, try to rustle up a modicum of understanding for kayakers (listen, if I had the money to paddle the east end of LI every weekend, or elegantly cruise about on my “yot”, I bloody well would, but I grew up in Hawaii, being on the water is my favorite thing in the world, and guess what, local kayaking through a local club happens to be what I can afford), get in touch with any or all of the volunteer organizations named above. You are correct in that with the influx of recreational boaters, some with absolutely none of the experience a boater needs to operate in NYC’s heavily mixed-use waterways, getting out there in all kinds of craft, there’s a crying need for all the education that can be made available – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, though, there are some damned good programs out there already.

PS – ordinarily I wouldn’t have left a comment here – but I got sent to the post by a Facebook message asking for my opinion. I misread it & thought it was from you, and although I usually keep my more strident opinions to my own blog, I thought that you were looking for sparring partners & figured I’d obliged. Went back & looked again and…oh oops, it wasn’t you. However, upon rereading what I’d written (and excising a few overly-snarky moments here & there), I think I do have something of a point. So…there you go.

Anybody else want the soapbox? I’m done with it now!

PPS – note to J. – if the captain now proceeds to verbally dismember me, it’s all your fault &…oh, I think you’ll owe me a beer, OK?

hm, and speaking of boating safety, one of these days I really need to redo my area trip planning tools (cold water safety will drop lower on the sidebar until the fall - not such an issue here in July). Featured among those will be's boat handling page - down at the end, the guy still persists in calling us "HPV" (which bugs me because that's usually short for "human papilloma virus"), but I'll forgive that in light of the fact that it's one of the best short writeups I've seen on the topic of how to handle NY Harbor's significant commercial traffic & live to tell the tale.


bonnie said...

Issue #1...I just told a tug captain to be nice...


Only half-kidding...I do know a couple of tug captains, and they're great people, just much more likely to tell it like it is than some silly rec boater who spends half her life in a cubicle!

Jean Trapani said...

People who complain about other types of boats are often saying "I'm really worried about running into or over these other boaters! I wish they would not put themselves or me and my crew/boat in harms way." I've listened to every type of boater complain about so many other types of boaters so it seems like everyone is complaining about someone. Powerboaters are called stinkpots, sailing vessels are called blowboats, etc etc.

A paddler made a video to educate other paddlers about harbor safety, it is free, and short and at this URL:
and of course a longer version is either being worked on or finished. Ray Fusco is helping with distribution. Ray has been working tirelessly on safety issues in the NYC area for many years, his website is

bonnie said...

Thanks, Jean. Well, he didn't apologize for the name calling (he's a tug captain, ferpete'ssake) but he did come back with a pretty thoughtful response. I've sent him those 2 links and also a couple of other local organizations that might be good for him to get in touch with.

I do understand the frustrations of the local commercial folks, especially people like Capt. Brucato, who've been working the harbor long enough to actually remember the days when recreational boating was pretty much just not done. I've been hearing complaints like his for the entire time I've been paddling - don't think the answer is restricting classes of boats, though (in fact "no-play zones" of the sort he'd like to see would just send kayaks around on a a detour, which would probably just put us even MORE in the way), I'm in the education education education camp. If Capt. Brucato ends up getting in touch with Ray or any of the other groups I mentioned, this was a good conversation to have.

bbrucato said...

Okay, Methuselah I'm not.

bonnie said...

Sorry, Cap! :D I was still in girl scouts when you started working on tugs, but I didn't mean to make you sound like THAT old a salt.

Thing is, I only started paddling around here in 1998, and it was my impression that the boom in recreational boating of all sorts was really just getting up to speed then - in fact it was that fall that the NY Times published the first article I saw discussing the problems that the harbor's shift from almost purely commercial to mixed use were beginning to cause. Good article, click here to read. Wouldn't it be interesting if the Times would revisit that? "14 Years Later, The Mix Is Still Uneasy".

bbrucato said...

You might find this an interesting read. The end result of this case has colored the way most local professionals view the recreational community. For good or ill this is my reality.

bonnie said...

What a terrible, terrible story. I'd actually never heard that one. Assuming none of my friends have either, I'm linking to your description of the outcome.

Very much worth a read.