Ferry owner says bye to Tribeca


By Josh Rogers

The Yankee Ferry’s anchor is staying in Tribeca, but the man who tugged the historic vessel to the neighborhood to restore it 13 years ago, has sold it to travel and “walk the earth” for awhile with his two mutts, Ringo and Murphy.

Jimmy Gallagher, the Yankee’s owner quoted King Fu’s Caine at a farewell party last Saturday which drew hundreds of well wishers. He plans to hit the road next week and the new owners, Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs, plan to continue Gallagher’s work restoring and maintaining the ship at Pier 25, near N. Moore St.

Jim Stratton, a longtime Tribecan, said Gallagher’s departure was a blow to the neighborhood. “When I heard, I was numb for two days,” he said. Stratton, who began restoring his loft in 1974, remembers when Gallagher brought the battered Yankee to the waterfront in 1990. To Stratton, Gallagher’s work on the boat was an extension of the grass-roots pioneering efforts that had occurred inland, namely converting Tribeca’s abandoned warehouses into homes.

Gallagher and friends had to rebuild the ship’s port side after he tugged it down from Rhode Island.

“We could have built three boats in the amount of work we’ve done,” he said. “That’s why I’m leaving – it’s not totally restored, but it’s mostly done. It’s time to move on.”

Neither party would say exactly how much Gallagher got, but it is somewhere between $300,000 and $350,000, according to sources.

Gallagher said as long as he doesn’t think about the price divided by the number of hours he spent working on the boat, he is satisfied with the sale.

Most of all, he said he’ll miss “the people. This is my home…I’ve lived in Tribeca longer than anywhere else…. I haven’t had an apartment in 17 years.”

And of course, he’ll miss the ferry, which was built in 1907 and became a registered historic place after Gallagher restored it. “At the end of the day working on something, you’re really tired – I’ll miss that…The beams, there’s a beauty to it — it’s like music, there’s a spirituality to it,” he said.

The ship, originally named the Machigonne, was rare because it was luxurious for a day-trip ferry. Throughout its active life, the ferry was berthed in harbors up and down the northeast. In New York, it shuttled people to the Statue of Liberty and new immigrants from Ellis Island to Manhattan. Many immigrants were forced to stay below deck on their route to the New World and got their first sight of New York aboard the ferry, said Richard MacKenzie-Childs. In 1947, she was renamed the Yankee and transported vacationers from Providence to Block Island, before the ferry was retired in the 1980s and became a target of vandals.

The boat has remain docked in Tribeca for most of its stay, and MacKenzie-Childs said there were no plans to make the boat sea-worthy again because the costs of bringing the hull up to Coast Guard standards were way too high.

He said he and his wife plan to open the ship to tours on Sundays, have educational programs for children and rent the ship out to corporate retreats and weddings.

“New York is here only because of the water,” he said of what he wanted to convey in the educational programs. “The only reason to build a city was the port.”

Gallagher also rented the boat out to weddings, but the new owner said he and his wife “possibly have a different style.”

As Christian Scientists, the couple plan to run a dry boat, a marked contrast to the free-flow of alcohol at last weekend’s party and the many ship events that preceded it.

The style changes are apparent in other ways. Some party guests said the ship’s rustic galley now looked more like a suburban kitchen with its new decor. For the last two weeks, Gallagher’s large dogs have been sharing the ship with the new owners’ tiny Dachshunds.

But in terms of commitment to the boat’s history, the old and new owners are the same. MacKenzie-Childs said he wants to continue Gallagher’s work and hopes to someday restore the top windows that were taken out of the ship’s main room. The couple founded a furniture design company, MacKenzie-Childs, which they later sold, and have also restored historic homes and barns in Upstate New York.

Richard said he, his wife a handyman and the handyman’s fiancée will live on the ship. “There’s something that must be done all of the time,” he said.“That’s why there needs to be someone living aboard the boat.”

He plans to meet soon with officials from the Hudson River Park Trust, which manages the riverside park. The Trust, which was created five years ago, has never been wild about Gallagher living on the boat, yet they have never told him to leave. At a Trust board meeting over the summer, officials discussed the issue without coming to a resolution. On the one hand, they said the park’s legislation prevents residents, but on the other hand, a person on board a historic ship may be required for maintenance reasons.

This week, Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson said: “We have a policy of not allowing people to live in the Hudson River Park.”

Martin did not explain why the Trust had not tried to enforce the policy against Gallagher or whether his office will try to force the new owners to move.

MacKenzie-Childs said he understands he is on a month-to-month lease with the Trust, but he hopes officials will see fit to let him stay in his new home in the park. “The whole Hudson River Park would have no soul if there were no boats in it,” he said.

For now, he plans to continue planning the boat’s future in Tribeca.

Gallagher said the couple has agreed to honor any prior party commitments. This came as good news to Chris Lione, who may host the last alcohol party on the ship.

Lione, who married his partner, Tom Leonard, in a commitment ceremony on the boat last September, had been planning a masquerade ball this September in part to make up for the food-less catering fiasco at his wedding. He was happy to hear the ball was still possible.

“It’s one of the oldest ferries,” Lione said. “I’m into historic preservation. Nothing like this exists anywhere else in the country.”

Leonard also likes the ship’s atmosphere. “It’s a spectacular setting but it’s very down-to earth,” he said.

Lione explained why he wanted to have a costume ball. “People do things that they would never do,” he said. “We are going to turn this place into Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Gallagher for his part was happy not to disappoint Lione and Leonard. He also thought about his past and future.

He remembered when he first came to Pier 25 in 1986 to restore the Pennacook, a tug boat. The pier was often fenced off and Gallagher would have to climb through a hole to get to his home. He eventually decided to sell the tug and focus on the Yankee. He said the new owner did not maintain the Pennacook well, which is why it sunk near the pier a few years later.

At the party, he briefly toyed with the idea of getting a motorcycle and teaching Ringo to ride near the handlebars, but thought better of it. He’ll probably see an old friend in Key West, Papa Neutrino, who used to have his own vessel near Pier 25 and maybe over to old stomping grounds in New Orleans. He wants to hike in the southern part of Chile, a part of the country he has never seen. In six months or a year, he may look to get another ship to restore, but he doubts whether he’ll be able to find a place in New York to dock. But this month, he said, “I’m just going to put the dogs in the car and go.”


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