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Red Hook seafarers: Save our ship!

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An historic fuel tanker is sinking in a sea of red tape — and its captains fear they must sell the floating cultural center for scrap if they can’t find it a permanent port by April 30.

PortSide NewYork, a maritime education group, has been waiting three years to anchor the Mary Whalen at Atlantic Basin in Red Hook, but after long-stalled negotiations with the city and the Port Authority, the neighborhood’s seafarers say they can wait no longer.

“The Atlantic Basin is not going to come through for us,” said PortSide’s founder Carolina Salguero, who spent $125,000 refurbishing the Mary Whalen’s Depression-era hull. “Now we need help focusing on the future.”

In 2009, the city’s Economic Development Corporation offered PortSide the chance to move the Mary Whelan from its home at the Red Hook container terminal to Pier 11 — both properties that are managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Supporters of the 74-year-old ship — which has been a swaying stage for opera, historic tours and even a supper club since 2008 — cheered the proposal to dock at the unused pier just south of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, especially after federal security measures tightened, preventing PortSide from hosting more than five visitors at a time and making it impossible for Salguero to stage large events or big fundraisers for her educational programs.

But the plan to steer the Mary Whalen into Pier 11 hit murky waters — and it’s not clear who was at the helm when the proposal ran aground.

Salguero refused to comment on why she can’t anchor her boat at Pier 11, saying only that she is desperately seeking help to find a new port.

Jennifer Friedburg, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation, said that the city was working with PortSide “to find an equitable solution” for the riverside art facility.

The Port Authority didn’t respond to requests for comment, but an insider told The Brooklyn Paper that neither the city nor the waterfront agency

are at fault — saying that Salguero didn’t secure the required fundraising for the site.

Salguero denied that there was any problem with her paperwork or fundraising, and said revenue really wouldn’t be a problem if she could dock at Pier 11, where the ship could host weddings and even serve as a docking station for tugboats.

Betsy Haggerty, a maritime journalist, said it would be heartbreaking to lose what is likely America’s only retired oil tanker-turned-art space.

“The sad part about all of this is that there’s so much waterfront in New York and few places where you can dock a historic ship,” said Haggerty, a former president of the North River Historic Ship Society. “The Mary Whalen is one of our last historic ships, and she can tell a great story.”

About 30 residents showed up in support of the Mary Whalen at a community meeting Monday night at Long Island College Hospital, where Salguero asked for donations to keep PortSide going.

J.J. Burkard, a Red Hook resident and historian, called on the city to save the sinking ship.

“I would hope and pray that every one of us is tuned into the same dream to tear this dark cloud down that hovers over the Mary Whalen,” said Burkard.

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Reader Feedback

al pankin from downtown says:
they should move the boat to sheepshead bay..they have alot of vacant spaces..that place could use a tourist attraction..it is depressing.
Feb. 29, 2012, 8:57 am
al pankin from downtown says:
they should move the boat to sheepshead bay..they have alot of vacant spaces..that place could use a tourist attraction..it is depressing.
Feb. 29, 2012, 8:57 am
Oskar Stein from Carroll Gardens says:
There is no historical need to maintain this vessel nor provide free dockage. Why should taxpayers support a free home for Carolina Salguera? What does she use as a restroom onboard and where is it discharged?
Feb. 29, 2012, 1:31 pm
Echo from NY says:
This boat would be perfect for Sheepshead Bay. There is tons of free space there. Tourists would really like that. It's kind of a drag as it is now.
Feb. 29, 2012, 2:12 pm
common sense from bay ridge says:
This ship can't be docked in Sheepshead Bay, because it is precious art space, and it must be kept in an area where it's appreciated, and the artist living for free can remain inspired to create.

Living in a cultural backwater like Sheepshead Bay is not inspiring to an enlightened, creative type.
Feb. 29, 2012, 7:52 pm
Carolina Salguero/PortSide NewYork from Red Hook says:
Carolina Salguero, Director of PortSide NewYork chiming in to answer some questions.

We think Sheepshead Bay is a wonderful place. Friends in the Parks Department have already looked into their docks in Sheepshead Bay and the tanker does not fit on their piers. PortSide is looking at two other sites in Sheepshead Bay, though neither has been used for public programming, so they look unlikely as solutions.

The tanker MARY A. WHALEN is very worthy of saving both as a historical artifact and as a great space for public programs and maritime training.

The physical shape of the boat (the 90’ open deck and empty tank space below) mean the ship can host large members of the public aboard or serve as a large stage with the audience seated parallel on the pier as during our containerport opera. This shape gives her more uses than many historic ships which often have small deck spaces and small cabins. The tanker is already loved by thousands of people in NYC due to such cultural uses.

The MARY A. WHALEN is highly regarded as a ship to save by preservationists. She is deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and the NYS Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO) was thrilled when we applied for that designation. They approved our application in record time and said they were excited to hear from PortSide because “we’ve had our eye on the MARY WHALEN.” Due to her being an oil tanker, she is a great tool for teaching about fuel consumption and sustainability issues. Our plans include adding air and solar power so that we can talk about modern energy generation taking the energy story from 1938 when she was built up to the present.

The appeal of the tanker and PortSide present was evident at our meeting on Monday 2/27 (which was attended by over 70 people not “about 30” as reported) which triggered many passionate testimonials and offers of helping and included speakers such as Norman Brouwer, a leading maritime historian in the USA, Roland Lewis the head of Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, the heads of several Red Hook organizations, mariners and the general public.

Another key use of the ship is to hold the offices of PortSide NewYork, the non-profit organization which runs all the programs.

The tanker currently has no working toilets. We all use a Portasans on the pier alongside the ship.
March 2, 2012, 3:17 pm
Nancy W from DUMBO says:
It belongs in Brooklyn Bridge Park. All the park drawings show historic ships moored off one of the piers, why not use this boat?
March 3, 2012, 10:05 am

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