Ships of Fools! Daredevils to compete in Gowanus Canal boat race

Ships of Fools! Daredevils to compete in Gowanus Canal boat race
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A Red Hook Daredevil will risk life, limb, and the need to be decontaminated when he races on a stand-up paddleboard during this weekend’s Gowanus Challenge, a non-motorized watercraft race along Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory.

Paddle boarder Chru Brar said he will race with caution through the 2.5-mile course to avoid plunging into the inlet, which is laden with hazardous heavy metals, raw sewage, cancer-causing chemicals, and, famously, gonorrhea.

“I will try to win the race, but I won’t be reckless,” said Brar, a member of the Red Hook Boaters. “It’s very easy to fall right off a paddleboard.”

Brar, who will have to kneel on the 12-foot board when traveling under the low-lying bridges spanning the canal, said he will definitely be wearing his neoprene booties to avoid contact with the liquid that is still considered water.

“It seems a little too close for comfort,” said Owen Foote, a founding member of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, which organized the race that’s being billed as the first-ever to start and end on a Superfund site. The race will serve as a fund-raiser to support the group’s work bringing free waterborne recreational activities to the city.

Members of the Gowanus Dredgers have been racing each other on the canal for years. However, this is the first time the pro-watersports group has challenged other boating organizations to test their speed.

So far a total of 26 cleverly named teams have registered to compete in the race that will start at the Dredger’s dock on Second Street. The course will go all the way to the mouth of the canal near the Gowanus Bay, and loop back to the dock for the big finish.

Contenders brave enough to take on the Gowanus Canal will even get the chance to compete against Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), who will paddle in a canoe for the “SuperFun Sewer Rats” team.

“I’m excited to participate in the world’s smelliest boat race,” said Lander, a St. Louis native, who added that he spent a good chunk of his youth paddling a canoe along the Mississippi River and lakes throughout the Midwest.

“I believe I remember the J-stroke and the C-stroke well, so I hope to be competitive and I pray not to capsize,” he said.

Foote, who will team up with his 73-year-old mother as the “Toxic Avengers,” said while most of the racers are local, boating teams from Canada and Maine will also competing.

And the best advice Foote said he can offer is not to splash and the keep the paddles in the water because the water is contaminated.

Foote added that he 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 a federally mandated cleanup.

“Expect the unexpected – it is the Gowanus Canal,” he said. “Who knows what we will find floating in it.”

Registration for the race is still open to anyone who can come up with a canal-worthy craft. Foote said the race will also be great for spectators who can best view it from the Third Street and Ninth Street bridges.

The Gowanus Challenge [Second Street dock near Bond Street in Gowanus, (718) 243–0849, www.gowanuscanal.org] June 15, 11 am, teams using boats from the Gowanus Dredgers must raise $500 from pledgers.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

Risky rider: Chru Brar (pictured here) is going to participate in the boat race on the toxic Gowanus Canal on a stand-up paddle board. He says he may not even wear a wetsuit.
Courtesy of Chru Brar