Volume 18 • Issue 29 | December 2 - 8, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

The Yankee is likely to be tugged to New Jersey Dec. 1.

Yankee is forced out at home

By Josh Rogers

After a tense week of lockouts, charges and countercharges about endangering the historic Yankee Ferry in the Hudson River Park, the Yankee’s park career neared what could be its final day as the owners prepared to tug the ship to a new home in New Jersey to make room for construction of the park’s Tribeca section.

Richard MacKenzie-Childs, who owns the ship with his wife, Victoria, didn’t come close to saying he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” as another Yankee, Lou Gehrig, famously said at the end of his career and life, but he did say relations with the Hudson River Park Trust were considerably better since last week when the Trust tried to lock him and his wife off Pier 25 at N. Moore St.

“I think they did it to make a point that they were very serious about asking us to move,” he said Tuesday. “We always knew they were serious but I guess they wanted to add an exclamation point.”

He expects a tugboat will move the ship across the river to Liberty Harbor Marina in Weehawken, N.J. on Thursday, Dec 1.

Last week on Monday, he was forced to climb over the pier fence in the rain to get back to his wife and vessel because the Trust changed the locks four days after giving the couple the combination.

Julie Nadel, a member of the Trust’s board of directors, said it was “grotesquely irresponsible” of Trust staffers to leave a ship on the National Register of Historic Places and people behind a locked fence without giving them full access in an emergency.

Nadel said she thinks the Yankee may be invited back sooner under a new administration. “We’ve got a new governor next year and five new appointments to the trust,” she said. “It can only get better for historic ships…. It’s collective amnesia about what the waterfront was and what it could be.”

Her position on the Trust board is more secure since she is an appointee of Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields, whose incoming successor, Scott Stringer, is a Nadel ally.

Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, said on Tuesday, Nov. 22 that if necessary, staff people would be able to quickly notify Park Enforcement Patrol officers to open the fence.

The next day the Trust gave the MacKenzie-Childs the new combination. It was the same day Nadel made a forceful complaint to the Trust and that Downtown Express published a front-page article about the lockout. Martin said because of the reduced staff level for Thanksgiving weekend, the Trust decided the safest thing was to give the couple the combination over the weekend. He said the Trust did not change the locks again after the weekend because it looked like the Yankee’s owners were close to finding a place to move.

MacKenzie-Childs said he made an agreement Tuesday to dock at Lincoln Marina until the spring, when he will have to find a new home because the marina is expecting a new boat. He has begun conversations with people in Greenport, L.I., and he is hopeful that they will have space in the town marina for the 140-foot ship, at least during the three years the Tribeca section of the park is being built.

“It’s just a relief,” he said. “It’s temporary but it buys us some time and the knot in my stomach is no longer there.”

His monthly rent will go from $500 to $1,200 but he said the new marina is giving him a good deal because the rent includes various services for the boat. His first choice though was to remain in the Hudson River Park.

“We really think we benefit the community and would prefer to be in the park,” he said. As to whether he wants to return in three years, he said: “We would like to at this point. There’s probably no better boat to be in the Hudson River Park than the Yankee because of its history.”

He said there are not many vessels left as old as the 98-year-old Yankee that have ties to New York City. The ship also has a strong connection to Lower Manhattan in particular since it previously shuttled new immigrants from Ellis Island to the Downtown mainland, was a Statue of Liberty ferry and has been berthed in Tribeca since 1990 when Jimmy Gallagher, the previous owner, tugged the ship from Rhode Island to Pier 25 to restore it. The ship has been mostly nonoperational since the 1980s when it was last used as a ferry to Block Island.

From Weehawken, the vessel’s next stop will be for hull repairs on Staten Island, where the ship is expected to spend about a month in dry dock.

Preliminary fence work has begun around Pier 25 and Martin said once Con Ed cuts the pier’s electrical power, the contractor would not have been able to begin the heavy work if the Yankee was still there. The Trust would have been billed $5,500 a day for the delays, he added.

Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, declined to comment on whether the Trust endangered an historic vessel last week by changing the locks. Trip Dorkey, the state-city authority’s chairperson, said he did not know the details, but did note the owners had full access to the ship when he visited the pier Sunday.

He said he had little sympathy for the couple since they are violating the law governing the park by living in it and have known for years that they would have to move for construction. “They promised to leave and they’re still there,” Dorkey said hours before the Liberty Marina agreement was reached.

The Trust has known people have lived on the Yankee since the agency was created in 1998 and has treated the violation with everything from benign neglect to strong objections short of an eviction order.

The current and previous owners say the only feasible way to preserve an aging vessel such as the Yankee is to allow people to live on the boat.

Martin said he did not think the ship was put at risk, but even if it was, the owners deserve the blame because they have known for years that they would have to move. “They endangered the vessel by not making arrangements,” he said.

He said there is no room in the park for the Yankee during construction, an assertion disputed by Nadel, the MacKenzie-Childs’ and Greenwich Village’s Community Board 2, which asked the Trust to find room for the ship either at Pier 40 near Houston St. or Pier 54 near 14th St.

The Tribeca section of Hudson River Park is being built with a $70 million federal grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which like the Trust is a state-city authority. The plan calls for rebuilding decaying Piers 25 and 26 near N. Moore St., adding plant life, a playing field and restoring many of the piers’ existing uses, including places for historic ships, kayaks, river-life studies, beach volleyball, mini-golf and a playground.

Josh@DowntownExpress.com


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