Start rowing, it’s fun, good for you, and you already paid $43M for it!

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On a warm September day,  New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, Former New Haven City Plan Administrator Karyn Gilvar, and U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro, met among others on the steps of Canal Dock, the newly constructed New Haven boathouse on Long Wharf for a ribbon cutting ceremony. The ambiance was joyful, everyone was excited about this opening that has been delayed for more than a year now.

New Haven now has a boathouse, it’s official! Watch out world, New Haven is now a maritime force to be reckoned with! After some self-congratulatory speeches, everyone thought having a boathouse  was cool, but they had better things to do with their day than boat stuff…

Ribbon Cutting
Photo courtesy the New Haven Independent

The planning and construction of the boathouse lasted more than 20 years, and cost $43 millions in taxpayer money. A major part of the budget ($37M) for the boathouse construction budget came from a federal mitigation for the destruction of Yale University’s George Adee Memorial Boathouse in 2007 to allow for the construction of the Pearl Harbor Bridge.

As soon as Yale heard they’d have to get involved with the city of New Haven for more than putting their logo on a banner, they obviously jumped ship!

The Yale varsity team leaving New Haven to go train in Derby at the Gilder Boathouse.

While a $37M-use-it-for-a-boathouse-or-lose-it federal budget for the boathouse would already have been pretty amazing, for some reason, Mayor Toni Harp fought to allocate an additional $5M for this project. When you know that New Haven budget is running with a yearly $15M deficit, one could see some nautical red flags.

While I certainly would have chosen to allocate this $5M somewhere else (literally anywhere else, throwing $5M in cash up in the air in the middle of the Green would have been a better use), I can understand the ambition for this project and the attempt to revitalize Long Wharf that has been sacrificed to have the I-95 cut the park and the shore off New Haven.

The Sunday after the opening, a big community day event was hosted at the boathouse to welcome newcomers and showcase the work of Canal Dock Boathouse, Inc., a non-profit whose mission is to promote waterfront recreation and education programs on New Haven Harbor.

During the day, you could see boats on the water, outdoor yoga sessions, a movie screening on the pier… New Haven inhabitants were engaged and this sunny day made you almost think that the crazy unrealistic Long Wharf Responsible Growth Plan might actually work with the boathouse being the stepping stone of a new development for the sea shore.

kea would be a stronger one, but I still have not figured out how to build it with an Allen key, their “Śtëpping Støneel” assembly instructions were unclear.

What is done is done, and for $43M, you would assume that if you were to walk on Long Wharf, you should see the boathouse buzzing with activities: boats and kayaks on the water, city students learning how to row, seniors attending fitness classes, events being hosted on the boathouse second floor, guided tours about the history of the former boathouse and its architecture, University of New Haven students attending the environmental sciences marine program hosted at the boathouse…

In fact, if you go walk there, you will see no one (or maybe a single person confused looking for the food trucks). Mostly because nobody knows about it!

So I’m telling you now! Go visit, enjoy the facilities, buy a burrito at the food trucks and eat it by the water on the pier, rent a kayak, learn how to row! It’s the most New Englandy thing to do (aside from complaining about the weather)!

And your Instagram game will be so strong, which is the whole point of experiencing things! Can you imagine how many likes a selfie of you on a boat with a swan in the background will get?

Your first step could be to visit the small exhibition about the boathouse! What you cannot see from the outside is that the glass entrance is only there to protect a beautiful architecture surprise: the restored façade of the George Adee Memorial Boathouse.

A boathouse inside a boathouse?! A glimpse inside the boathouse, image courtesy of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

I live at a 5-minute walk from Long Wharf in Wooster Square and I am a rower, so New Haven basically opened the boathouse for me personally. I was very excited when I first heard about it and became a member of Canal Dock as soon as I could.

How noble of the city of New Haven to create an affordable community rowing club when this sport is often reserved to few affluent people due to its high cost. “We have been tasked with offering affordable access and that is what we are going to try to do,” said John Pescatore, Canal Dock Boathouse, Inc. President, the day of the opening.

And good news, that’s what they are doing: the memberships at Canal Dock start at $100 and welcome anyone interested in learning how to row. For comparison, the membership to the next closest rowing club (the New Haven Rowing Club, inexplicably located in Oxford) is at more than $800, and they force you to be approved by the board of directors. La-Dee-da, New Haven Rowing Club!

Let’s keep building up the excitement of New Haveners for rowing! Canal Dock has an active program of events coming up! They host a fun annual Indoor Relay (next one if on Saturday February 9, perfect introduction to the boathouse, you should consider joining or come spectate! (More info here), a dragon boat regatta in June, weekly rowing and fitness classes, and daily outings (in sculling shells, four, eight, or dragon boat!) when the weather is warmer.

They’re called Dragon Boats because the losers are fed to dragons.

Canal Dock Boathouse is also the home of the Yale Grad Crew team, a group of rower wannabes who are way too old to still be chasing medals in regattas, way too bad to join any other teams (so they created their own), and way too close to getting sued by Yale Athletics for wearing outfits and gear that might let people think they are part of the Varsity team.

But if you join the boathouse, you get to hang out with them, so I guess that’s a plus!

The Yale Grad Crew team on an eight during opening day, and the team captains looking like they are dropping a mixtape

Rowing is an excellent full-body but low impact exercise for all ages! Breathing the fresh air of the ocean while you row on the busy Sound between oyster boats, kayakers, cargo ships, and people dumping bodies is so exciting and rewarding! Thanks to rowing, you will be able to discover the dramatic colors of the Quinnipiac river at dawn, observe the fauna from the water in the underrated Quinnipiac Meadows Eugene B. Fargeorge Preserve, loop around the majestic English Station, a former power plant on Ball Island, or again explore the dark and spooky tunnels of Fair Haven!

Discover the hidden secrets of the Quinnipiac River (Oh boy, I start to sound like a tourism brochure for a country nobody wants to go to…)

However, the future of the boathouse is uncertain. Canal Dock is a nonprofit and rely almost only on donations to operate, since the low cost memberships they offer only covers a fraction of their operating cost. New Haveners need to take full advantage of this amazing facility we already all paid for. If unused, the boathouse will become a waste of $43M in taxpayer money and an additional empty building on Long Wharf. Let us not let that happen and let’s all go on the water!

Disclosure: Florian Carle is a member of Canal Dock Boathouse, Inc. and one of the captains of the Yale Grad Crew, a graduate student club which has an organizational membership to Canal Dock Boathouse, Inc. In case that wasn’t incredibly obvious.

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Florian moved from southern France to New Haven in 2014 with husband and cat before realizing that it was not a suburb of New York City but you don’t really see well when you are zoomed all the way out on Google Maps. He lives in Wooster Square (the highway part, not the fancy park part) and joined a rowing team because New England. He is currently on a tour of “the most American things” he can do. So far, he went to a demolition derby in Durham, a roller disco in Waterbury, a WWE wrestling match in Springfield, a Monster Truck Show in Stafford, the taping of the Maury Povich Show in Stamford, and a rodeo in Wyoming... Feel free to send him suggestions of what to do next!

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