Lately Pier 40 has been in the news due to the controversial possibility of air rights being sold from this and other piers within the Hudson River Park. To me, though, Pier 40 always was and will be the place I used to stretch before and after running along the river in the park.
It’s also a great place to watch the sunset, especially when trying to catch a glimpse of the new crescent moon. On those evenings I would head out along the walkway on the south side to the very end of the pier, where you feel like you’re half way across the river. I find it soothing to watch the boat traffic on the water, and it would remind me that the Greenwich Village was once a very different place than it is now.
In June 2013 we did a program with author Robin Shulman, who wrote the book Eat the City. Robin spoke about the historic prominence of the meat and sugar industries in Greenwich Village. You can imagine how much commercial boat traffic there was in the past.
But thanks to the Village Community Boathouse (VCB), a new kind of boat traffic can be seen in the Hudson River — leisure boating (and in the case of Village Community Boathouse, this does not mean yachts).
Recently I spent some time at the Boathouse, and learned a lot. VCB operates on the South side of Pier 40 in a space where community volunteers (no experience necessary) and students from area high schools and colleges build long rowboats and take them out on New York’s rivers and the harbor for trips of varying lengths. The typical style of rowboat they build and operate is called a Whitehall gig, a 25-foot-long rowboat that is traditional to New York Harbor and its rivers from the 18th and 19th Centuries. Whitehall gigs hold four rowers, a coxswain (who is always experienced and well-trained), and sometimes one or two passengers. VCB is open for rowing from April through October to anyone who simply shows up on Sundays at noon and on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. It is completely free to the public, although donations are gratefully accepted. VCB and its predecessor, Floating the Apple, have been in existence for more than 15 years and predate the Hudson River Park Trust.
Last year, more than 1,500 people took advantage of this unique resource to experience New York from water level, in replicas of the traditional craft that used to meet ships coming into New York Harbor before the days of tugboats. Trips undertaken by VCB can involve something as minimal as rowing around the small “bay” created by Pier 40. Since the prevailing wind is out of the north and VCB is on the south of the pier, this is an area relatively protected from wind, and therefore it can be used during cooler weather when it would otherwise be quite cold out on the Hudson. At other times, when there are experienced and ambitious rowers in the boat, VCB may take trips around the Battery into the East River, all the way around Manhattan or even to Hoboken.
By connecting us to the waterways – those vital waterways that are so important to the history and development of Greenwich Village and all of New York City — Village Community Boathouse does all New Yorkers a great service. And that is why we are so happy to recognize VCB with a 2014 Village Award.