In the year of our lord two thousand seventeen, I bade farewell to the subway and went to sea.
Who knew what adventures waited on the maiden voyages of Lord Mayor William de Blasio's armada?
I had heard of townsfolk in Rockaway awaiting the vessel with great interest, crowds of such size that some vessels swelled past capacity. On Monday morning, the first day of sailing, equipment malfunctions slowed the East River passage for some would-be wayfarers. I packed my rucksack with provisions accordingly.
Out into the vast blue expanse
After purchasing my passage, I boarded the swaying good ship “201” at the edge of Wall Street and threw myself upon the mercy of the captain. So hastily was the vessel impressed into service that it had not yet truly been named.
Said captain was not amenable to my offer of seaman’s service in return for wages. Yet, he allowed me, given my fare paid in full, to remain onboard until we docked on the island of Manhattan once again. And so I enjoyed the sea air as the ship picked up speed around Brooklyn, despoiling my own provisions given that the ship’s galley was not yet properly stocked, apart from a crate of complimentary croissants.
Our good captain navigated past a Staten Island Ferry and a four-masted schooner of outlandish proportions. “What marvels there are to be observed from the top deck,” was the general sensation from my fellow passengers on the midafternoon voyage, given the countless commemorative pictures taken, poor representations of all the watery world that the eye could see.
Confusion struck among the steerage ranks when the good ship 201 docked at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Some passengers speaking the language of France exclaimed in surprise that they had believed themselves bound not for this unknown port but for the well-traveled Brooklyn Bridge. Eager was I to render myself useful to these confused visitors, by explaining the secrets of the R Train (though I struggled to explain in my native tongue that the visitors' fare was not transferrable to our region’s other modes of transportation).
In the course of this service, I made the acquaintance of two bosom mates: one a passenger like myself, John Gutierrez of Rockaway, who also hoped to aid the lost explorers. A retired officer of the law, Gutierrez planned to make regular use of the ship when need arose to turn helm for Manhattan.
The other was deckhand Rob, who shared John’s enthusiasm for the ocean. Formerly a commercial fisherman who had made months-long voyages to the Bering Sea, he was now happily enjoying calmer maritime employment.
His tales of isolation on such cloistered voyages and the evils of overfishing were interrupted by Gutierrez, who excitedly pointed to larboard at the strip of land known as Coney Island, where he had spent the beginning of his policing career.
We then came to the choppy waters where the Hudson River, East River and open ocean meet. The captain righteously drove our small vessel through the chop as less seaworthy passengers than we gripped their seats and grimaced.
A journey filled with merriment
My new mate Gutierrez asked deckhand Rob if, perchance, fishing equipment had been brought aboard. Alas not, though space was carved out for bicycles and surfboards.
Gutierrez proceeded to engage fellow passengers about the passing scenery as we approached his native land. We heard tell of Kingsborough Community College, where a firefighter friend had entered the covenant of marriage, a fireboat shooting off fountains of cascading water in the background. Also the houses of Breezy Point damaged in the gale winds and floods and fires of The Superstorm Sandy.
The ship arrived at Rockaway at its appointed time and passengers departed happily. For many in this midday sail, it was a pleasure cruise. According to official sea logs, the ship and its fellows bravely carried 1,828 passengers between Rockaway, Brooklyn and Manhattan on Monday. Many more — 16,500 in all — make the similarly lengthy weekday journey by train from the 11 stations on the peninsula and Broad Channel.
But the call of the sea shall always draw some from land, for whatever purposes: including preparation for longer seafaring on a Carnival cruise, as was the case for two soon to be married individuals onboard. I encountered them squirreled away in a corner of the main deck, secreting strong grog from hidden bottles.
I gave thanks but graciously refused the offer to share their swill as we approached the docks and sounds of Manhattan. Upon disembarking, they excitedly told tall tales to the waiting crowd about the journey they’d just experienced. I left them to their stories and stumbled some distance on dry ground, sea legs no succor in FiDi.