Volume 20 Issue 12 | August. 3 - 9, 2007

Downtown Express photo by John Wendle

A group of Whitehall rowers closed in on Pier 40 after circling Manhattan last Saturday.

Rowing, rowing Whitehall boats; Life is but a dream

By Lucas Mann

New Yorkers enjoying the Hudson River Park on Sat., July 28, might have been surprised to see a fleet of six-person, wooden row boats flying international flags, resolutely battling the current. No, this was not a race to rediscover America, it was the International Rowing Federation’s annual rowing tour. Every year, the event takes place in a different country, and this year, after journeying along the Connecticut River and into the Long Island Sound, the participants ended their tour with a row around Manhattan Island.

The rowers were lucky to have some local guides from Floating the Apple, a nonprofit urban boat-building and rowing group based on Pier 40 at W. Houston St. Floating the Apple is dedicated to reconnecting New York youth with the city’s waterways. Floating the Apple’s young staff offered the international rowers the historic Whitehall boats they had made, as well as their local expertise as coxswains — sitting at the rear of the boats and directing the rowers.

“The boats were heavier than we’re used to, but very well made,” said Joop Vanderlelij, a rower from Switzerland. “Because the water here is so rough, you need a sturdy boat. It felt very safe and no water came into the boat.”

Vanderlelij spoke just minutes after exiting his vessel at Pier 40 around 5:30 p.m., having begun his circumnavigation at 7 that morning. He and the other five people on his boat were exhausted. Still, Vanderlelij had the energy to praise his surroundings.

“This is my first time in New York and it’s great to be here,” he said.

The Hudson River didn’t make the experience an easy one. Even the Floating the Apple staff wasn’t quite ready for the rowing conditions.

“The wind was coming on at over 10 miles per hour,” said Suresh Ramdhanie, 20, a two-year Floating the Apple veteran, who — in contrast to the spandex and uniform shirts of his boat mates — wore combat boots and a backpack with a Nine Inch Nails sticker on it. “I think we expected it to be easier,” he said.

Ramdhanie was optimistic, however, about the results that this eclectic rowing tour would have.

“It was cool, I had two Australians, a Turkish guy and someone from Argentina in my boat,” he said. “It has to be good publicity. The way I figure it, we had 14 boats, all 26 feet long, going around the city. Somebody had to notice.”

The flotilla was quite the sight as they pulled back into Pier 40. Ranging widely in ages — the oldest was 80 — and nationalities, with some rather weak-legged after their exertions, the rowers spilled onto the dock. A few were hospitalized during the day from the grueling conditions, and some were treated on the pier for sunburns, dehydration and leg swelling. Spirits remained high, though.

“It was beautiful to see the skyline as we rowed,” said Stig Fischer, Dutch commissioner of the International Rowing Federation. “Floating the Apple has been great in organizing this for us. The coxswains explained all about the buildings as we went past them, and the names of the bridges and everything.”

The rowers got the full New York experience. They stayed at a hostel in Harlem, rode the subway to their boats in the morning and were even served real New York bagels before embarking.

Each rower from the 17 countries represented got a taste of what made Floating the Apple veteran Michelangelo Aurello get into rowing two and a half years ago. He, like Ramdhanie, got involved with Floating the Apple through a gym class option at City-As-School high school and stayed with the group after he graduated.

“I just enjoy the Hudson River,” Aurello said. “You get to see New York from a really different point of view.”

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