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Re-berth: Historic boat gets second shot at Red Hook home • Brooklyn Paper

Re-berth: Historic boat gets second shot at Red Hook home

All hands on deck: Members of PortSide New York can work en masse to spiff up the historic Mary A. Whalen tanker now that it’s sailed from its old home in the Red Hook Container Terminal, where safety rules prevented crews of more than five people from working on the boat at a time.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

An itinerant piece of Red Hook history finally has a home after a decade of choppy seas.

The 77-year-old ship Mary A. Whalen — an oil tanker-turned-floating-education-space that once ferried fuel from Brooklyn to Maine — has been anchored next to the cruise terminal in Red Hook after owners signed a three-year lease for a berth at Pier 11, where it can soon be opened to regular tours for the first time in five years.

Waterfront education group PortSide New York has operated the boat as a pop-up museum and educational space for a decade, all the while looking for a permanent place to moor the boat. The nearby Red Hook Container Terminal previously housed the ship, but PortSide couldn’t regularly host public and educational programming because of strict safety guidelines in the Terminal, hurting the group’s ability to earn grants that fund its operation and boat maintenance. Unmoored from the Terminal, PortSide can start reeling in money to fix up the boat and provide more programming, a director with the organization said.

“Raising funds was difficult when we were locked up in the [container terminal] but now that we’re here we’re looking forward to smooth sailing in that direction,” said John Weaver, a member of the boat’s board of directors and Sheepshead Bay resident whose father-in-law, Alf Dyrland, was the ship’s captain from 1958 until 1978.

Moving from the terminal to Pier 11 will help restorers gussy up the septuagenarian seacraft at a faster clip, according a PortSide honcho.

“While we were in the container port [workers] couldn’t come on in big groups to work, so we were taking parts off the boat and sending them out,” said founder and president Carolina Salguero.

Salguero bought the historic tanker in the mid-aughts and spent $125,000 fixing it up. PortSide began talks with the city’s Economic Development Corporation in 2009 to park the boat at Pier 11, but the plan went overboard years later when the commission decided to cede control of the pier and two others in Brooklyn to current operator Dock NYC, Salguero said. The Terminal has housed the Whalen since, she said.

The non-profit rode out Hurricane Sandy on the ship, but some historic documents, engine parts, and antique maritime ephemera that didn’t fit on the ark was destroyed, setting PortSide back $342,000, Salguero said. The group got a nod from the White House for its role in aiding refugees after the disaster.

Now Salguero and crew are throwing the boat an open-house and slip-warming party called PortSide Open Weekend — a Flamenco duo from Switzerland is on deck for Friday night, and the public can tour the ship on Saturday and Sunday.

It will be the public’s first opportunity in two years — and last chance for the next few months — to get onto the historic boat, Salguero said.

PortSide captain Salguero has plans for more regular public programming on the boat, but first she’s making certain everything on the aged vessel — and only tanker on the National Register of Historic Places — is shipshape, she said.

“We need at least six months to recover from the last 10 years,” she said. “That’s not a bad ratio.”

“PortSide Open Weekend” at the Mary A. Whalen tanker on Pier 11 (entrance at the corner of Conover and Pioneer streets in Red Hook, portsidenewyork.com). Friday at 8 pm. Saturday and Sunday noon–10 pm.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

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