The concept is unique: a collection of artistically decorated, permanently docked boats, connected at a communally shared pier in the middle of an urban oasis. And you sleep in them overnight. Accessible by car or by city subway out to Far Rockaway, one of the most talked about and sought after respites from New York life all summer long sits dockside at a relatively nondescript port. There are no signs pointing you in the right direction, nor are there keys for you to enter your stationed vessel. This is a distinctive and matchless place simply called ‘Boatel.’ And if you were fortunate enough to procure an overnight reservation for this summer before word got out- consider yourself one of the lucky ones because it’s bound to become one of the most exclusive destinations within distance of our city limits.
A recent Saturday brought the LocalBozo crew out to Boatel on the A train. The hour long ride seemed to fly by in anticipation of what was to come. After all, we hadn’t read a decent detailed review or caught glimpses of any pictures of the place prior to shipping out. With the experience of a Saturday overnight now firmly behind us, we look back on a tremendous first trip to Boatel: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly.
1. The People
Information is relatively ambiguous on the Boatel website. Aside from packing some sleeping bags, bugspray, food to grill, and some beers, we didn’t know what to expect. What we found was a commune of incredibly friendly, likeminded locals, sharing our relative love for the open water, camping, and barbecuing, which is what makes Boatel such a special place. The shared common area is well lit during the evening and is stocked with some furniture for lounging and a massive grill to share. By the time we had arrived after 6pm, the dock was just about filled with friends eating and drinking, and enjoying the warm weather. What we brought to the party quickly didn’t matter as the dozens of people shared everything from booze to candy and we fell in line accordingly. Though they seemed to be long time friends, little did we know that many of these strangers had just met on the spot, which made the late night dance party to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” all the more fun for us. Rumor had it that there was some skinny dipping going on the night before, but ours seemed a tamer bunch, and alas, our underpants stayed firmly on.
2. The Party
Admittedly, this night was overrun by a mostly hipster bunch, but that’s to be expected anywhere near Manhattan in 2012, and it deserves mention that they were incredibly amiable and generous with our party. And boy did we party. From bottles of booze to buckets of beer, the music played until somewhere close to three or four in the morning. Sitting on each other’s boats and talking to random strangers in a strictly plutonic sense was a strangely interesting part of our trip. In fact, we didn’t exchange phone numbers with a single person there because there was no need to do so. It was almost a fascinating 1960’s style throwback- guests were there to have a great time for the night and then head back to their normal lives, with no attachments.
3. The Experience
It’s one unlike any that I’ve ever had. In just a few short hours, you manage to bond with complete strangers, grill up some tasty barbecue, get a good buzz on, and mix the best parts of boating and camping with relatively decent outdoor accommodations. Even though we were a party of two, at no time during the trip were we bored or uncomfortable- until we hit the sauce a little too hard and snuck off to sleep for the night when the dock was momentarily sparse.
1. The Neighborhood
If you’ve been out to Far Rockaway, maybe you know. Maybe you don’t. There is a two block walk from the subway to the marina- and they are two of the scariest looking blocks that you’ll find anywhere. Although the marina is gated closed, the experience of walking over is briefly terrifying- especially considering the adjacent ‘bodega’ where you can pick up extra beer, food to grill, or anything you may have left at home. If you manage to grab what you need and get out of the ‘general store’ quickly and without incident- you’ve won. Do not return. I can’t believe I’m still alive to type this because that’s how dangerous this neighborhood felt. While the trip was without incident, perception is reality. And my reality had urine running down my legs.
2. The Bugs
Humidity and summertime on the water sound great in theory, but they can’t prepare you from the onslaught of mosquitos here. After dousing myself in bug spray, I still managed to get around eight bites on our boat, but I covered up with a sweatshirt and pants, wrapping myself in a sheet and the rest of the night turned out to be a restful one. But be forewarned, you will get bitten.
1. The Accommodations
Let’s be realistic: you’re sleeping on decommissioned artistically rendered old boats. We were stationed on “The Sea Wolf” (each boat has its own name and theme, which is very charming), arguably the most affordable of the available boats at Boatel. Our ‘bed’ was perfectly manageable and comfortable for our party of two, although some of the larger groups had a more difficult time arranging how to sleep. Unfortunately, the boat aesthetically was perhaps taken off the sea for its looks alone. Our ‘vessel’ was certainly weathered with damage here and there, but knowing that we weren’t staying in the Four Seasons, we were completely comfortable inside. The large deck area on the back of the “Sea Wolf” was also spacious enough to entertain guests as well- a big plus. It is also worth mentioning that the showers and bathrooms onsite are kept remarkably clean. The downside of course is that there is a short walk from Boatel up to the dock in the middle of the night, but beggars can’t be choosers. And while the accommodations weren’t all that much to look at, they were completely comfortable and functional as a whole.
2. The Clean Up
Unfortunately the pictures we were able to grab the day after our stay simply don’t do Boatel enough justice- but it’s easy to see the level of clean up required to keep the place in such fine condition. I mention this not because we spent all morning cleaning up- we awoke plenty early and got the heck out of dodge- but because I do feel for whoever was tasked with the strenuous efforts of keeping Boatel clean.
If what I’ve described above interests you even in the slightest, make a point to make accommodations as early in the season as you can. As the summer months progress and more and more New Yorkers find out about the wonderful goings-on at Boatel, reservations are certainly going to become harder to come by. In retrospect, the overnight trip out to Boatel will likely be the high point of this entire summer for us and despite our apprehension and our moments of pause while we ventured out to Far Rockaway, we would gladly return over and over again.
- Jane Van Arsdale