Red Hook Ferry, Transportation

All Aboard! Story, photos and graphs by Kimberly Gail Price

My day on the new ferry

Red Hook has some pretty cool new transportation options, so whether you prefer to travel by land or by sea, the Star-Revue has the scoop on what it’s all about.

On a sunny afternoon ride out of Bay Ridge, Winston was my deckhand. For an extra $1, I rolled my two-toned, purple bicycle onto the ferry, and Winston took over from there. A hundred pennies to not have to fuss with my clunky bike was well worth the money.

The 3 pm boat was running a little behind that day – 3: 10 pm – so if you’re on a time crunch, it’s best to check in with the city’s app – because of course there’s an app for that.

But as we swiftly made our way into Wall Street, Winston and his crew pecked away to bring the boat back to its correct itinerary.

Once on board, I bought an iced coffee at the indoor concession stand. The options there are nearly endless with offerings of beer, wine, soda, coffee, juice… And that’s just the beverage section.

If your lips are dry, pick up some Chapstick. Forgot headphones? They’ve got you covered. They sell treats and toys for kiddos, snacks for all diets, and a surprisingly vast array of other items.

The cabin seats 150 people, and according to Winston, that’s the boat’s limit. Even though there are seats available on the outdoor, upper deck, the US Coast Guard requires one indoor seat for every buttocks aboard. Winston explains this is in the unfortunate event of inclement weather. And those days are coming, he knows.

“It’s going to be awful,” he says of being a deckhand during the harshest seasons. “But you just gotta do it.”

Winston is one of 2-3 deckhands on board. His job is to count passengers, to dock and undock at each landing, take tickets, and harness bicycles. “I keep things clean and people happy,” he adds.

The new ferry route was immediately very popular on the weekends, but the weekday commuter ferry will “catch on,” Winston says. He explains that other lines are more popular, but this is the newest one, and it will take time for business to pick up.

But for a midweek, middle-of-the-afternoon ferry, 31 people aboard didn’t seem unreasonable. And that was only the first stop. Six people got off the boat in Red Hook, and an additional fifteen boarded.

The voyage around the city’s waterways offers sights of iconic Brooklyn and her neighboring boroughs: the three bridges, Verrazano, Brooklyn, and Manhattan; Wall Street and the South Street Seaport; the Watchtower; Red Hook’s historic shipping cranes.

The ferry windows are splattered with the murky waters of the East River, but the rest of the boat is pristine. The boats are cleaned nightly, and employees follow cleaning checklists on an hourly basis while the ferries are in motion.

Between stops – and when all the work is done – Winston takes a few minutes to sit back and enjoy the sail. I ask him if he has any trouble adjusting to the land after a full day at sea. His face breaks out into a full grin. “No,” he laughs, “I don’t really have sea legs. So it’s all okay.”

With the new ferry dock, upgraded B61 buses, and the opening of the Red Hook Boating season, the neighborhood has some cool new traveling options.
The Star-Revue polled a random audience in June to find out how valuable they think the improved modes of transport are.
Most people are pretty excited about the new ferry, but the consensus shows people feel the additional buses will affect them personally as much as the new ferry will.

Red Hook has been shy a few buses for several years now, if you know what I mean – *wink, wink.* But earlier this month the MTA rolled into town with a new ride. And it wasn’t subtle.

Dark blue buses with bright yellow lettering started stopping at bus stops throughout Red Hook. Some Red Hookers looked out the sides of their eyes as though a busload of little old church ladies might be invading.

Instead, the driver, clad in his MTA uniform, cautions riders to “exit through the rear doors.” The only visual similarity on the outside of the bus is the familiar looking sign that tells which bus this is and where it is going: “B61 – Red Hook.”

Inside, the bus looks quite similar. The seats are the same, the handrails in all the same places, the floors the same speckled pattern.

But there are a few differences. The first is that everything – I mean EVERYTHING – is sparkling clean in a way that only brand-new things can be sparkly clean. I might have seen Mr. Clean’s big bald head riding next to me.

The handrails are painted bright yellow, completely free of scratches and marring. The windows still look like real glass. The floors are not dusty, despite the thousands of shoes that tread over them daily.

The buses are new. And even though the dread of the B61 is upon us, it’s rather nice to be riding in something so nice and shiny. It just makes commuting a little more fun.

The other big upgrade are the numerous charging docks on the bus. Every seat throughout the bus has them. So if you’re phone battery is low, grab the Metro Card and the charger, and head over to a Red Hook bus stop. You might have to wait a bit, though. Only every fourth bus is a pretty one.

Catch a ride on the upgrade because it might be the next big thing. But if it’s date night, you’d be wise to have backup plans. They might be all shiny and new, but it’s still the B61.

Red Hookers voiced their own ideas about other transportation alternatives in the neighborhood. Shockingly, four of those surveyed expressed interest in MORE Citibike stations. Others left us notes on the survey, even though no space was provided for them to do so.
“Hate them! [drew a bold X over CitiBike],” Anonymous Survey Number 19
“I live in Carroll Gardens…” Anonymous Survey Number 7
“Connect us to Sunset Park!” via pedestrian bridges. Anonymous Survey Number 11
Summer is back and so are the Red Hook Boaters. They’ve got kayaks and paddles, beachfront property and the greatest view in the city. All you have to do is sign a waiver. Oh, and know when to be at Valentino Pier.

The Boaters cruise on Thursday nights from 6-8 pm and on Sundays from 1-5 pm, weather permitting. The tide is high tonight, so we can’t go under the pier.

Tim Gamble used to live in Manhattan. Then he moved to Red Hook. In 2006, he started Red Hook Boaters in his landlord’s backyard. Then he moved to New Guinea.

Todd took over. He runs a tight kayak; he checks every lifejacket himself. He welcomes new boaters and delivers the “20-second what’s what.” He tells them the rules, and gives them basic instruction. He explains how to paddle and turn the boat. He even knows the direction of the wind, and warns the boaters on how it will affect the current. “Tonight, it’s swift and moving south,” he says.

The Red Hook Boaters currently have about 20 kayaks, a couple of interns and a handful of “ace volunteers” like Michael Delgado. He has been involved with the Boaters since 2013. “They gave a lot to me” – by teaching him how to recuse people and how to tow a boat – “so I try to give back.” Delgado shows up nearly every Thursday and Sunday to volunteer.

The Boaters raise money through a tip jar on site during boating hours. “It’s nothing to scoff at,” Todd says, referring to the plastic bottle sitting in front of my reporter’s notebook. It’s stuffed with dollar bills, and it’s only 6:30 pm.

They also lead the occasional corporate cruise around the harbor for cash. They take school groups on float trips. Although they do not set a fee, most groups donate to the nonprofit.

This year’s interns are from the Harbor School on Governor’s Island. Armani Diaz, age 16, and Simon Chen, age 14, realized they have the same birthday as I interrogated them. They also had no idea “kayak” is a palindrome. Or what a palindrome is…

Throughout the season, the volunteers take trips together. In recent years, they’ve paddles to the Coney Island, Newton Creek, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the Statue of Liberty.

And Todd talks more about life vests. “The strongest part of the ebb,” I hear him tell a boater as he tightens down a strap. “The thing we worry with most is the fitting of the lifejacket. Because if it’s on right, your head really can’t go under water.”

They have life vests in all sizes for babies as young as 6 months old for “little, little guys,” Delgado calls them, children and adults. The boaters welcome everyone from young to old, beginners to experienced.

“There are a lot of kids in the neighborhood who have never taken their shoes off in the sand, so it’s a lot of fun when they show up,” Todd says.

Kayakers can paddle out for 20-25 minutes on busy nights and afternoons, but otherwise “they can stay out as long as they want,” says Delgado in his thick Brooklyn accent.

Kayaking may not be the best choice for a commute, but it’s certainly not a bad option for a Thursday night sunset ride in the New York Harbor. Just don’t forget to drop a dollar in Todd’s tip jar.

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