Row, row, row your boat — down the Gowanus Canal

Row, row, row your boat — down the Gowanus Canal
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Everyone is a winner at this boat race — so long as you don’t get wet.

The toxic Gowanus Canal is the course for an upcoming non-motorized watercraft competition open to canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, and rowboats of all sizes.

Dubbed the “Gowanus Challenge,” the June jaunt will feature 2.5 miles of action on the foul-smelling waterway, which is laden with hazardous heavy metals, raw sewage, cancer-causing chemicals, and even gonorrhea — warranting a federal cleanup with a price tag of a half-billion dollars

“This is the first race that begins and ends on a Superfund site,” said Owen Foote, a founding member of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, which organized the race.

Members of the Gowanus Dredgers have been racing each other on the canal for years, but this is the first time the pro-watersports group has challenged other boating organizations to test their speed. The course will start at the Dredgers’s dock on Second Street, go all the way to the mouth of the canal near the Gowanus Bay, and loop back to the dock for the big finish, said Foote.

Boathouses across international waters have even expressed interest in the race, which will serve as a fund-raiser to support the group’s work bringing free waterborne recreational activities to the city.

As such, each team must raise $500 from pledgers and sponsors to compete, but squads can consist of however many people fit into the crew’s vessel of choice.

Individuals brave enough to take on the Gowanus Canal who are not affiliated with boathouses or other aquatic groups are welcome to participate in the race, if they can come up with a canal-worthy craft.

The winner will likely receive a grand prize of a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

Foote hopes holding the race will help raise awareness of the fact that every time it rains, millions of gallons of raw sewage flood the waterway — which is why the feds will likely force the city to install massive $78 million holding tanks to catch the runoff as part of the Superfund cleanup.

But organizers about aren’t worried about any health risks from racing on the waterway.

“We don’t have a lot of concerns,” said Foote. “We’ve been exposing our hands and paddles and having casual contact with the water for 14 years.”

Federal advisories for kayakers or canoers on the Gowanus Canal recommend boaters to “minimize direct contact with the water” and to wash your body and clothing “soon after paddling,” according to an advisory by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Gowanus Challenge [Second Street dock near Bond Street in Gowanus, (718) 243–0849, www.gowanuscanal.org] June 15, 11 am, $500 entry fee.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.