Free sailing! Historic ships team up with BPCA to offer free cruises

Photo courtesy of Patrick Harris Patrick "Captain Pat" Harris is seeking support from Community Board 1 in getting the Battery Park City Authority to curb policies enforced by Brookfield Properties, current operator of the North Cove Marina, which he says are killing the cruise business he runs out of his historic sailboat, the Ventura.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Harris
Patrick “Captain Pat” Harris is offering free summer cruises on the Ventura, along with Tom Burton’s Shearwater, courtesy of the Battery Park City Authority.


Two historic sailing vessels have partnered with the Battery Park City Authority to offer locals free cruises around the harbor and up the Hudson beginning this week.

All would-be sailors can sign up for the free rides on a first-come, first-served basis — and that includes Manhattan mutts looking to stretch all four sea legs, according to one of the salty skippers, who plans a canine cruise later this summer.

“Dogs are great,” said Captain Patrick Harris, master and commander of the historic Ventura sailboat, “as long as they don’t start chewing on my benches like one of them did, the little bastard.”

The free cruises come courtesy of Battery Park City Authority, which will foot the bill for trips aboard the Ventura and Shearwater, two nearly century-old vessels docked at Battery Park City’s North Cove Marina.

The Ventura — one of a few remaining large sailing yachts designed by famed nautical engineer Nathanael Herreshoff — has two remaining trips on offer this summer — including “Water Stories,” a two-hour voyage setting sail on July 31, during which the passengers will be regaled with the tale of two men who embarked from the site of North Cove Marina at the turn of the last century on an epic transatlantic row to win a $10,000 prize for “crossing the Atlantic without steam or canvas,”

The Ventura’s final free voyage of the summer, dubbed “BYO Doggie,” will encourage Downtown dog lovers to bring their furry first mates out on the river on Aug. 14.

Believe it or not, dogs are as happy on a boat as they are in a car, which is to say, pretty darn happy, according to Harris

“Dogs think they’re in the car,” the captain said. “They bite at the air, their tongues hang out — they love it.”

The only real difficultly with the dogs comes when boarding or disembarking from the vessel, a daunting task for a weary pup. But over the years, Ventura’s captain has developed a strategy to ease the tail waggers’ transition from dock to boat — and the secret, of course, is bacon.

“We have a trick where I get a bunch of bacon,” he explained. “Everyone carries bacon in their pockets.” And the somehow, nobody seems to have any problem coaxing their ol’ sea dogs on or off the boat.

The Shearwater, a classic Newport-style schooner commissioned in 1929, is offering two free morning trips on July 23 and Aug. 20, setting sail at 10 a.m. Onboard passengers will find a cooler of beer and cocktails for sale, although patrons are also invited to bring their own libations, along with small dogs.

The vessel will also sail out in the evening on Aug. 3 as part of the free sailing series, offering sea-borne nighttime vistas of the city’s lights.

In addition to providing locals with free access to North Cove’s historic ships, the BPCA’s deal to subsidize the trips aboard Shearwater and Ventura may be an early sign of the state agency’s long overdue appreciation of the landmark vessels, according to Harris.

“They basically saw the light, and said this is a valuable commodity we have in this old boat,” said Ventura’s Captain.

The Shearwater‘s and Ventura’s sailing and sightseeing businesses have been under threat ever since the concession to operate North Cove Marina was awarded to Brookfield Place and a politically connected mega-yacht marina group in 2015.

Almost as soon as the new management took the helm at the public marina, Brookfield doubled the two vessels’ docking fees, while simultaneously enacting policies that hampered their business, such as eliminating signage, reducing their hours of operation, and limiting the amount of dockside repairs crew were able to perform.

Recently, however, the BPCA has persuaded Brookfield to backtrack, allowing the Shearwater and Ventura have to install temporary signs advertising the boats, which will be replaced by more permanent way-finding signs in the near future.

The difference is like night and day, according to the Shearwater’s owner.

“People who work there, who live there, people walking by are now stopping and talking to us for the first time in a long time,” said Tom Burton.

And the extra money from the authority-subsidized trips is a help too, Burton said.

“That revenue doesn’t hurt,” he said. “It’s just a good thing. This is a wonderful program that they’re giving back to the community and I’m hopeful this signals an appreciation of historic sailing.”

To reserve a Community Summer Sail space on Ventura, visit www.smarttix.com and search for “BPC SAILING.”

To reserve a Community Summer Sail space on Shearwater, email Kieran Carley (kieran@manhattanbysail.com) or Jeric Bendigo (jeric@manhattanbysail.com) with the Subject line “Community Sail,” and the date of the sail you wish to attend.