Gowanus 1, Flotilla 0: Canal kills boats that float in inaugural ‘Tides of October’

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Photo gallery

First mate: Nancy Seaton helped coordinate the fleet.
Howling at the canal: Participants launched their boats off the Carroll Street Bridge at high tide on the same night as the full moon.
Shining bright: Participants were encouraged to add lights to their designs so they would glow under the full moon.

The Gowanus Canal was introduced to its own, disgusting version of Louis XIV’s famous Versailles water festivals on Saturday when a fleet of handmade vessels navigated its noxious waters under the light of the full moon during the inaugural “Tides of October” flotilla in Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory — and every boat that took a dip paid the ultimate price.

Vessels that “floated” along the sludge-filled thoroughfare emerged covered in a film of the waterway’s famous filth, and, much like the Titanic, will never sail again.

“They got pretty dirty and we threw them all out afterwards,” said Andrea Parker, who is the executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, which sponsored the event. “They mostly just looked wet, they weren’t covered with coal tar.”

Participants crafted their boats out of materials such as plywood, styrofoam, and even ice — and one organizer put a Barbie and Ken doll at the helm of her vessel, which she said was right where the famous couple belonged.

“I thought they might like the canal, and maybe it was a little bit of a critique of gentrifica­tion,” said Nancy Seaton, a Queens resident who helped put on the flotilla with a small crew of designers.

The watercrafts set sail from the Carroll Street Bridge at 6:18 pm — the time of high tide — and drifted to Second Avenue as dozens of people watched the spectacle.

But an unexpected tide in the opposite direction challenged the sailors, creating conditions similar to the world’s most treacherous triangle in Gowanus, said Seaton.

“They got caught in the tide which was coming in when we launched at the bridge so it was a little like the Bermuda Triangle” she said.

Canoers were ready for action, though, and staged a rescue mission by herding the fleet to its home port.

And Parker said the flotilla reminded residents that the canal is much more than the butt of dead body and gonorrhea jokes (or facts) and is an important part of the area.

“It’s nice to be able to get into the canal and do something creative and engaging,” she said. “The canal is also the center of our community.”

Saturday’s boat parade marked the first Tides of October flotilla, but Seaton said that she’s hoping it will grow into an annual event with even more boats next time around.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Alan from Cobble Hill says:
unexpected tide?
Oct. 19, 2016, 5:38 pm
Bigant from Park Slope says:
Maybe Gawanus has a unexpected moon.
Oct. 19, 2016, 6:55 pm
carolegardens says:
The toxic Canal is the center of our community? Really?
I think we should designate another spot.
Oct. 20, 2016, 9:49 pm
Margaret from Gowanus says:
People, it's what you don't see in the canal that is most toxic. This bit of science from a Riverkeeper video of the Gowanus Canal. It's not somthing to play around with, or in.
Oct. 21, 2016, 1:42 am

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