The Brooklyn waterfront isn’t always the first borough that comes to mind when one thinks of paddling in New York City. Kayaking and canoeing seem disproportionately concentrated in Manhattan aside from a few well-known outer-borough exceptions like the “Paddle the Bronx River” event.
Instead, Brooklyn’s most polluted post-industrial waterways like Newtown Creek or the recently ‘awarded’ superfund site around the Gowanus canal usually grab all the headlines. The free kayaking offered by Brooklyn Bridge Park last year aimed to change that perception by reconnecting the borough to its 30-mile waterfront.
Overshadowed has been the long-time efforts of the Sebago Canoe Club, a 78-year-old boating club in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Tucked away on a quiet piece of shoreline along the Paerdegat Basin (pronounced Pa-da-gat), on first glance the volunteer run 501c(3) nonprofit has the weathered-look of a long closed down container yard. Faded signs, overgrown grass and a chain-locked main gate comprise the view from the street, with freight containers and a long driveway about all that can be seen from outside.
But walk through the driveway gate to a small clubhouse on a Saturday morning, as we did last weekend for one of their bi-weekly “open paddles,” and the scene is far different. The containers are jam packed with boats, mostly one-man kayaks, and the clubhouse has a well-used kitchen and locker room. By 9am, the place is crawling with paddlers, both experienced and new.
Unlike the East and Hudson rivers, Jamaica Bay is wild. At 16,000 acres, it holds the title of being New York City’s largest open space–19 times larger than Central Park–and is the only national park in the country accessible by subway via Broad Channel on the A train. Over 9000 acres of the bay is an established wildlife refuge where salt marshes, beaches and brackish water ponds are home to over 300 birds, including osprey.
On our paddle, the group leaders took us around Paerdegat Basin, under the Belt Parkway and out to a sandy point about a mile away on the Mill Basin. There were plenty of birds to see, although the only ones I could name were the 747s constantly cruising over us on the way to nearby JFK Airport. Engines and the highway’s drone aside, the city feels very far away.
Passing under the Belt Parkway into Jamaica Bay
While the club is private, it is actively taking on new members and pushing its guided paddles, which happen Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Although most members seem to drive, Sebago Canoe Club is easily accessible by transit via the 2 or 5 train to Flatbush Ave/Brooklyn College and a short ride on the B103 limited. Alternatively, you can take the B6 bus either from Canarsie Rockaway Parkway station at the end of the L or from Ave J on the Q.
All photos by Jake Schabas