Volume 18 • Issue 28 | Nov. 25 - Dec. 2, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

The Yankee

Trapped on Pier 25 — Yankee’s owners send out S.O.S.

By Josh Rogers

The Hudson River Park Trust locked the Yankee Ferry owners on Pier 25 Monday in a move some fear could jeopardize the safety of the historic vessel.

“It needs to be cared for,” owner Victoria MacKenzie-Childs said of the 98-year-old ship that once shuttled new immigrants to Lower Manhattan from Ellis Island. “If a fire — if anything would happen, we are complete prisoners on the pier now.”

She said four days after the Trust gave her the new combination to the locks on the Tribeca pier’s gate — ostensibly to prevent vagrants from entering — officials changed the combination Nov. 21 and locked her husband out. MacKenzie-Childs believes they purposely waited until the ship’s caretaker had briefly left the boat so they could change the combination when she was all alone on the Yankee.

Her husband Richard noticed the change when he came back in the rain Monday night and he managed to climb over the fence. On Tuesday, he was out talking to an attorney to see about getting full access to his ship. Victoria said she cannot scale the fence and has remained on the pier since the lockout. At press time, they had not yet complained to the Trust.

Victoria said in a telephone interview that when they got the combination from the Trust last week, she thought they were being “very sweet, very friendly. There was no indication of any harm or putting us in a dangerous situation.” Now she feels “they are trying to smoke us out. It’s like a kind of warfare.”

Chris Martin, spokesperson for the Trust, in response to the assertion the Yankee was in danger, said: “That’s fine. We’re right here with the combination. We have PEP officers there.”

He did not know if Park Enforcement Patrol officers had the combination, but regardless, Martin said the ship would be safe in an emergency because the gate could be opened quickly.

Not everyone agrees. Julie Nadel, a member of the Trust’s board of directors, said the state-city authority has acted irresponsibly with a vessel on the National Register for Historic Places and should find a place for the Yankee to dock while the Tribeca section of the park is built over the next three years.

“For people to be locked out on the waterfront is not safe,” said Nadel. “Kicking out any historic ship would hurt any waterfront park. What you end up with is nothing but benches, grass and trees.”

Martin said the Trust has given the owners ample notice to get off the pier to build the park, and have asked Con Edison to shut off the power. If the utility does this before the owners get a generator, that would also endanger the Yankee because they would not be able to pump out water if the hull is flooded.

Martin said there is nowhere in the park for the Yankee to stay for the next three years, but he said they could come back after the $70-million project is complete.

“We welcome – we really do — the Yankee coming back and applying for our historic ship policy,” he said. Piers 25, 54 and 97 are set aside for historic ships but none could accommodate the Yankee now, according to Martin.

Community Board 2 passed a resolution last week calling on the Trust to “not eschew its responsibility to preserve historic vessels in Hudson River Park.” In its application to build the park back in 2000, the Trust asserted the construction would have “no effect” on the Yankee and other historic ships.

C.B. 2 said the Trust should move the boat to one of two piers in its area, Pier 54 near 14th St. or Pier 40 near Houston St. on either the north or west side of the pier.

Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of the board’s Waterfront Committee, spoke against the south side of Pier 40 because it would, among other things, block the romantic harbor views where he proposed to his wife.

The south side has small kayak and other ship programs which oppose the Yankee locating there. The board resolution said the Yankee should be allowed to move to the south side temporarily if the time was needed to prepare another place for the ferry.

“It’s always been a peaceful boat, well run,” said David Reck, a C.B. 2 member who was perhaps unaware that the ship was armed but not used during W.W. I and II. “It’s never been a nuisance. This has always been a very well-mannered boat.”

Martin has said there is room for the Yankee on Pier 40’s north side, but the Trust doesn’t want to put a non-operational vessel there and close off the possibility of welcoming visiting ships to the pier. He said the agency can’t spend any of the $70 million the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation gave them to build the park on preparing a temporary home for the Yankee during construction. He hopes construction will start soon, and said if the Yankee is still there once the contractors are ready, the delays will cost the Trust $5,500 a day. He did not know the precise day when work could begin.

Jimmy Gallagher, who brought the Yankee to Tribeca in 1990, restored it, and sold it to the MacKenzie-Childs in 2003, said a week ago that a home for the Yankee could be built in the park for less than $10,000.

Mike Davis, executive director of the Floating of the Apple youth boating organization on Pier 40, said he hopes the Yankee finds a place but the south side of the pier won’t work. He said he was less open to them coming to the south side when the wife of one of his group’s volunteers showed him a House & Garden article about the Yankee, depicting it as a luxury private residence where the MacKenzie-Childs were running their design business.

Victoria said she knew the article was seen as “sissy stuff” by some, but she was proud of it. The couple has also opened the boat for public tours, concerts and programs.

Nadel, a Trust director, said she’d like to see more public programs on the ship, but the main concern now is keeping an historic boat in the park.

For Victoria, who feels trapped on the pier, she is not ready to believe the Trust ever wants them back, given that last Thursday officers said “would you like us to lock it so you feel more protected” then changed the combination Monday night. In addition, Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, told her husband on Nov. 7 to “just go away quietly” if they want a chance to ever come back. He sent her a letter the next day that included the quote.

Fishman did not return a call about the comment attributed to her and Martin, her spokesperson, said he was not aware the Trust ever disputed the quote in a reply.

Victoria MacKenzie-Childs said they have pursued every suggestion Fishman has made but it’s not easy finding a place that has room for a 147–foot vessel. “We’ve cased the waterfront of Manhattan and every other borough.”

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson


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