Kids get a boat's-eye view of New York
A new group of Navy Junior ROTC kids is out on a windy Wednesday afternoon, 20 freshmen and sophomores from New York's High School of Graphic Arts. They're at Pier 84 well before 3:30 p.m., blue lifejackets cinched tight. A swirl of Spanish and English, shouts of "wait" and "give it slack," fill the air as they lower a 25-foot rowboat into the choppy Hudson River. The plan is to row around the "cove" between Pier 84 and the USS Intrepid.Skip to next paragraph
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Stephanie trembles a little in her baggy sage-colored pants. She has never been out before. Jonathan and Edgar swagger next to her, excited to get back onto the river. "Last week we went all the way to the G.W. Bridge," Jonathan brags.
Jennifer, one of the experienced older kids, directs the younger ones as they load into the boat, and then takes the stern as coxswain. The crew pushes off, heading straight for a metal pier.
Mike Davis watches the students from Pier 84 as they row. This is his legacy: giving New York City children the opportunity to experience - and become comfortable with - a new world within the limits of their city.
Mr. Davis runs Floating the Apple, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing community boating on the city's public waterways. He is a powerhouse, always moving, talking, rowing, and dreaming. The child of a Coast Guard man, he spent his youth in spots around the world that had one common denominator: water.
Now he is a father figure to the roughly 30 teenagers who participate in their high school's Navy Junior ROTC program every year, building rowboats and participating in races.
"I never tire of going out with the kids," Davis says. "They have less hang-ups. It's just a delight seeing them all of a sudden become totally aware."
He keeps a quotation from John Gardner - the man considered the dean of small-craft boating - close to him: "Trust youth, give them room, permit them to develop as whole persons, ask, and set no upper limits, and they will rebuild the world."
Once on the water, Edgar and Jonathan slide their oars out and quickly toss little circles of rope onto the wooden pegs sticking up from the side of the boat. They lean their oars into the water and wrap the ropes around them, sliding them back over the pins again. Their oars are secured. Stephanie and Anthony watch before attaching their oar.
"Come on, guys," says Jennifer, her voice sharp. "We're gonna hit the pier if we don't row. Let's go!"
Stephanie takes a few strokes and passes the oar to Anthony, shifting starboard to stay out of his way. Anthony's hopeless. He slides off his seat backward, hits Stephanie in the head with the oar, and splashes water on her in a matter of minutes.
Jennifer's frustrated. "Stop playing around! Castro, you're gonna have to be my voice today. I can't talk loud enough."
Castro, one of the older students, nods and grits his teeth as he strokes. "In!" he shouts. "Out." Slowly, a ragtag rhythm builds.
"Swimming's more fun than this," Anthony says with a pout.
"Well then maybe you should go swimming in the river," Castro tosses back. Anthony is silent.
The boat lurches toward the far end of the USS Intrepid.
Davis was inspired by boating in Istanbul, near where he worked on an archeological dig for more than 20 years. He wanted to create a way for New Yorkers to go onto the water in their communities that was affordable for everyone.