On a late October morning this fall, the volunteer staff members of the Manhattan Community Boathouse discovered that their two-ton, 400-square-foot floating dock had been stolen from Pier 96.
This was no small feat. The dock was made up of connected 4-by-5-foot modular pieces, all filled with river water, making it massively heavy. Sure, the dock’s ties to the pier were easily cut, but the anchors chained to the river bottom below would have been less smoothly managed. And disassembly of the dock would have required hours of work, not to mention someone submerged in the frigid Hudson River waters to catch falling pieces.
It’s enthralling to imagine an Ocean’s Eleven-style maritime theft scenario, but Manhattan Community Boathouse president Kaitlin Petersen says the thief stole away with the dock by water, and in one piece. “There are a million conspiracy theories out there, but there is quite literally no evidence,” Petersen says. “The dock was expensive, so it's been floated that it has a resale value; it’s also quite possible someone will be enjoying it next summer up or down the river.”
Wherever the poached dock is hiding, the Manhattan Community Boathouse, a nonprofit that runs a free summer kayaking program through the Hudson River Park Trust, is without a crucial piece of its operation. The dock, which rests low in the water, is needed for people to get in and out of kayaks safely, especially because the Boathouse hosts so many beginners. Unless the organization raises $30,000 to purchase a dock by the end of February, the kayaking program that served 20,000 people last summer will cease to exist. They recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for the cause that has raised $3,900 so far—you can make a donation through Feb. 20. Donations from pleased kayakers that take advantage of the free boathouse program allow the nonprofit to pay rent and utilities as well as maintain equipment, but that money comes nowhere near the tens of thousands now needed to order a dock in time for it to arrive by Memorial Day, the start of the season.
Petersen has been a volunteer with Manhattan’s free kayaking programs for five years. When the Downtown Boathouse moved their operation to Tribeca, she and other volunteers formed a new nonprofit to continue providing fun waterfront access further up the river. “[The volunteer group] was my first support system [in New York City] because my family is not here,” says Petersen. “The waterfront is this huge untapped resource, and we let people go out and be active.”
That’s why the scoundrel that took this dock is causing summertime sadness for many New Yorkers in the middle of winter—a FOMO on kayaking fun for the thousands who get a thrill from being out on those polluted Hudson waters.
This is the first dock theft on record in NYC history, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and the New York City Police Department all got involved in the modern-day whodunnit, to no avail.
“They patrolled the entire length of the river to see if they could find it,” Petersen says. “We were holding out hope it would magically reappear. If it turns up, we’d take it back! But we’ve given up on counting on it returning safely to us in one piece.”
Other organizations on the waterfront are now considering higher security options now that this sort of mischief is on the table. “Its such a silly thing to talk about,” Petersen say. “It seems so outside the realm of possibility.”
Because, who in their right mind would steal a dock?