I long ago gave up my childhood dream of voyaging on a time machine, but tonight it came true when I rowed an eighteenth-century-design rowboat, a Whitehall gig, up the Hudson River. The trip was made possible by the Village Community Boathouse of Pier 40 at West Houston Street, an organization that works to "restore safe, universal public access to our city's largest public space--its waterways". They run free community rowing sessions from April to November on Tuesdays and Thursdays after 5:30 pm and Sundays at noon.
I first saw a Whitehall gig on the Hudson when I was kayaking. It was a choppy day, and the gig bounded over the waves like a happy stallion. I promised myself to row in one someday.
All you need to participate with the Village Community Boathouse is to be reasonably fit, willing to wear a life jacket at all times, ready to take instructions, and willing to help clean and stow your boat after your trip. Thankfully, I met the requirements.
There were six of us in our boat altogether, under the command of coxswain Dave Clayton.
Our gig, the "Nonpareil," was some 25 feet long. It easily accommodated our coxswain and four rowers. We took turns being a passenger so that we all got a chance to row.
Under Dave's amiable but careful command, we rowed north from Pier 40 and back over about an hour. The "Nonpareil" easily handled the waves we encountered and sped along with the strokes of our oars.
It was great exercise. And when I wasn't watching my own oar and the stroke rower who set the pace, it was a great way to see the Hudson.
The trip was also a bit of a history lesson. Whitehall gigs, supposedly named for the street in Manhattan where they were built, were first used in the eighteenth century to ferry people and goods around the harbor. In the nineteenth century they were raced.
Today, the Whitehall gigs of the Village Community Boathouse are part of an effort to restore public access to our waterways and to introduce people, above all young people, to the joys of messing around in boats.
I can't think of a more worthy endeavor or a better way to pass my time. I'll be back.