Of Ships and Social Life: Wintering Over in Erie Basin, 1900

Beautiful Yachts Which Will Soon Awaken From Their Winter Sleep In The Erie Basin: 
Pleasure Craft, All Swathed in Canvass, Dormant in Gowanus Bay—Set Apart from the Humble Canal Boat—Excursion Steamers Patiently Waiting for Summer.

Complete text of article The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sunday March 4, 1900.

Beautiful Yachts Which Will Soon Awaken From Their Winter Sleep In The Erie Basin.

Pleasure Craft, All Swathed in Canvass, Dormant in Gowanus Bay—Set Apart from the Humble Canal Boat—Excursion Steamers Patiently Waiting for Summer.

A LARGE fleet of pleasure boats is moored all winter in the Erie Basin. The canal fleet, which was recently described in the Eagle, is only one of the interesting winter features of the Gowanus. Every storm that rages causes the moving chains and cordage of a hundred yachts, the whole Iron Steamboat fleet and the Long Branch boats to bewail the winter dullness. Only the floating drydocks and the shops are busy now. Elsewhere the basin is in a state of lethargy resembling hibernation. True, the sunshine of bright February days brings from the cabins of the yachts the sea dogs who are now in commission as watchmen, to shop yarns of the cruising season and to flirt conservatively with the girls of the canal fleet, in winter quarters just across the dock ; but the basin lacks the activity and cheerful bustle that nothing but summer can bring.

The social conditions in the basin are somewhat anomalous. The watchmen for the millionaire yacht proprietors naturally regarded with more or less respect. Still they are merely servants, and the canal boatmen, who own their boats, or at least have an interest in them are not prepared to concede the superior imprimatur of which ownership confers. Youth, strength [ ] fitting uniforms and polished brass buttons, however are not to be scorned even [ ] Gowanus as elements of success in social matters and Dame Rumor freely asserts that the petticoat marries of the canal fleet have more than once mutinied against the discipline established by their lords and masters.

While the Erie Basin is the resting place of crafts of every description it is grouped according to its kind, and there is no more mixing physically than socially. The canal boats are gathered in one basin and the yachts in another. Even the steamboats of the excursion lines are grouped in such a way that they are interfered with by nothing else. The boats of the Iron Steamboat Company lie on the opposite side of the basin from the yachts and a considerable distance from the Long Branch boats.

In the Yacht Basin there is not a boat to which the slightest suspicion of degradation to commercial uses could attach. The boats in that department of the famous marine storage establishment are cared for with unusual solicitude. Why they receive such marked favor is, if not clear to the visitor thoroughly understood by the Gowanusians. They agree that the yacht basin were it be rechristened, should be Manning's Little Klondike. This basin is the northernmost of the three and lies on the right side of the Long Dock, between two well built piers. At present it contains about 100 boats. Among those are some of the steam yacht? which constituted the Mosquito fleet during the Spanish-American war. While there are many fast sailing yachts in the basin, none of the America's Cup defenders is there. They are in winter quarters in coves and shipyards on the mainland side of Long Island Sound. All the cup winners, however, at some time in their racing careers, have been there, and all the challengers have head their heavier rigging, which brought them across the Atlantic, exchanged for their racing spars and sails and have been officially measured. There also have British boats been fitted for their return voyages when they have failed to "lift the cup."

The yachts are secured in their places, by strong cables and hawsers, which are taut enough to prevent jamming or chafing in the [fvprivt] winter storms. The polished brass trimmings are swathed in heavy canvas to prevent corrosion, and the gilt names and

ornaments above docks and on the prows are carefully covered with the same material. The deck houses are in canvas covers made specially for the purpose, and the smoke-stacks of the steam vessels are covered with cones of sheet iron or entirely, encased in canvas. Only in a few instances are the deck houses bare or the smokestacks without at least partial protection. The Buccaneer of W. R. Hearst, which was in charge of the government during the Cuban campaign, is one of the best protected yachts in the basin and has one of the best and most sheltered berths. Her large deck house aft is clad in a becoming coat of dark blue, and her hatch-way covered in snowy white, while her bulwarks, rail, stanchions and awning frames are thoroughly waterproofed. Colonel Paine's Aphrodite, one of the largest yachts in the basin, lies, alongside the pier at its outer end; covered from stem to stern with an awning of heavy canvas passing over the main boom aft and made fast to the bulwarks all around. Only her bridge, small boats and tall masts are exposed to the weather, and even the boats have substantial covers to protect their interiors. Howard Gould's Atalanta, which lies stern to stern with the Aphrodite, has her small boats inverted on the after deck house and all her upper works are carefully protected by white canvas coverings. She is a picture even in her winter garb.

The Iron Steamboat Company's fleet lies the opposite side of the basin from the long dock, apparently unprotected and without the slightest suggestion that among the hundreds of thousands who patronize it in the summer it is remembered even by one. Rafts of piling and ship timbers seasoning in the mud and water between the boats and the most eligible place for viewing them lend an aspect of neglect to the scene that is somewhat painful yet. as excursion steam-boats go, they are probably well cared for.

Their surroundings, uninviting enough now, are certainly as attractive as in former years, when the boats were wintered on the Harlem, below the Macomb's Dam Bridge. The Long Branch boats on the left of the last pier in the basin certainly look gloomy enough. It requires a great stretch of the imagination to think of them while gazing at them through a snow squall and listening to the wintry blast whistling around their stanchions, as overcrowded with perspiring humanity struggling for stools on the shady side of the decks.

In a few weeks the sun will shine on the acres of decks in the Gowanus, a snorting tug will haul a canal boat into stream, there will be a Babel of hoarse commands, an odor of paint will be wafted across the flats on the spring zephyrs, scrubbing and polishing will be accompanied by, language not altogether fit for publication, and the yachting and excursion season of 1900 will have opened. Sailors in new uniforms will throng the Long Dock and all other piers. There will be a rush of the wagons of butchers, bakers and greengrocers, with a sprinkling of those of brewers and wine merchants, and then, one by one, the yachts will spend an hour at the coal dock and pass into commission. The Gowanusians will not be sorry for the exodus. Every one of the boats will return many times during the summer and autumn for coal, water, stores and repairs, and every time they come there will be more work for the people. Everybody will hear the clink of silver then, and the glasses at the bar in the Long Dock Hotel will clink in sympathy until late in the balmy night.




  • "Beautiful Yachts Which Will Soon Awaken From Their Winter Sleep In The Erie Basin", The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sunday March 4, 1900.

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