“Yellow Submarine Paddle” Memories

HarborLAB paddlers resting and rejoicing after we made it through The Narrows well ahead of the tidal current reversal. Photo by Erik Baard.

HarborLAB volunteers had an amazing Saturday, paddling 15 miles from our Hunters Point, LIC launch on the Newtown Creek to Coney Island Creek. We met our three goals of cleaning some of the beach there, planting thousands of native plant seeds and restoring the legendary Yellow Submarine to its joyful color.

Davis Janowsi, Paul Baker, Erik Baard, Mairo Notton, Diana Szatkowski, Patricia Erickson, Alessandro Byther, and Scott Wolpow formed the core volunteer team in preparing and carrying out this program, and we were grateful to be joined by new faces and old friends alike. We had 12 paddlers in six of our tandem kayaks, with wildly individualistic Jerry Blackstone paddling his own, fittingly enough.   😉

The weather was wonderful, and the crew was chatty and cheerful. We cruised with the ebb down the East River, through Buttermilk Channel and the Upper Bay, and finally The Narrows. We took Gravesend Bay stroke by stroke against a breeze, too far into open water to draw encouragement from marking our progress against the shoreline. At this point we noticed that James Covert had slathered on so much sunblock as to appear undead, like a “floater” had climbed aboard one of our boats! Such jocularity and seeing Coney Island’s landmark Parachute Jump emerge into greater detail buoyed our mood. Volunteers helped power the tandems of newer paddlers for the last, arduous hop. When we at last landed at Coney Island Creek Park, the heat beckoned us below the surface for a swim. We dove in, laughing and relaxing before advancing to our destination, the little peninsula at nearby Kaiser Park.

HarborLAB paddlers planting seaside goldenrod seed balls into dune bases at Kaiser Park on the Coney Island Creek. Photo by Erik Baard.

At Kaiser Park our crew — especially Davis, Diana, Mariah Chinchilla, Swan Drsti, and James — picked up lots of trash. The American Littoral Society organizes annual local shoreline cleanups (September 19 this year), and as usual HarborLAB will clean South Brother Island. But HarborLAB found that these ALS events do such a great job communicating the need to reduce the plague of plastics in our oceans that we decided to perform this service and hands-on educational program far more often.

A unique added benefit HarborLAB brings to its trips is seeding the shoreline. During the off season our volunteers partner with schools, corporate teams, and community groups to collect seeds and then together make seedballs (compost, clay, and seed). The Greenbelt Native Plant Center of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation has also kindly donated seeds. On this trip we seeded Seaside Goldenrod and Coastal Little Blue Stem into the bases of dunes. Goldenrod faced the water while Coastal Little Blue Stem went between the street and the backs of the dunes. The cleanup crew mentioned above, plus Wendy Frank (better known as communications coordinator for the Five Borough Bicycle Club) planted well over 1,000 seed balls as infill between existing scrub, to provide protective cover for birds and other small animals, feed migrating Monarch butterflies and other beneficial insects, and stabilize the dunes. This simple act protects habitat and human homes alike.

We’re very grateful to the Natural Resources Group of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation for its guidance and permission to plant.

Below is a video clip Erik shot of Monarch butterflies feasting on goldenrod nectar on South Brother Island.

Informational sign about the Yellow Submarine provided by NYC Parks. Photo by Wendy Frank.

Informational sign about the Yellow Submarine provided by NYC Parks. Photo by Wendy Frank.

Some of our crew hit the water again to make a special visit to the famed (in nautical circles) Yellow Submarine of Coney Island Creek. HarborLAB’s painted the Yellow Submarine back into a bit of its former cheer! Erik had heard about this wreck, built during the ebb of Beatlemania, and then read about it in “Forgotten New York.” He mentioned HarborLAB’s goal of visiting it to “Wind Against Current” blog co-author Vladimir Brezina. The hard-paddling neuroscientist remarked, “Well, I must warn you that it’s not so yellow anymore.” Indeed, despite at least one other touch up years back, the NYC Parks sign pointing out the sub to shore walkers accurately describes it only as “rusting.”

Mairo, Miyeon and Shawn Cornell, and urban eco-artist Dee Dee Maucher (of the Masters of Succession Collective, and a supporter of HarborLAB’s green neighbor, Smiling Hogshead Ranch) showed particular passion for the task. We got the paint from the Newtown Creek’s own Green Depot. We chose an exterior paint that would be nontoxic and free of volatile organic compounds, and able to seal in the original, toxic industrial paint. You see, for all its appearance of sunny innocence, the Yellow Submarine was painted with zinc chromate, a carcinogen that also causes lesions. This paint also turns brown over time, compounding rust’s ruin of the submarine’s distinctive brilliance. The shade of paint we used was labeled “Sassy Yellow.” Perfect.

We had a blast painting the submarine and might return to cover more area, and layer our first job. We focused mostly on the conning tower, the most visible portion of the vessel. But Mairo had the insight that highlighting the trim would convey much more of its shape and size for viewers at a distance. We paddled away feeling happy, imagining how kids might project their imaginations onto the now once-again more truly yellow submarine.


HarborLAB paddlers restoring the Yellow Submarine’s conning tower to its happy namesake color. Photo by Erik Baard.

HarborLAB paddlers leaving a happier Yellow Submarine behind them as a gift to kids visiting Coney Island Creek. Photo by Erik Baard.

We loaded our boats onto our trailer and left Kaiser Park in high spirits. Those of us who strolled had the good fortune to pass the Mark Twain Middle School for the Gifted and Talented and its urban farm. Yes, we’ll be inviting them to partner soon! Some of us went home directly after exploring a bit. Others lingered for delicious Caribbean food at Footprints Cafe. The choral refrain of the song playing as we sat was, “I’m way up, I feel blessed.”

More photos below.

One thought on ““Yellow Submarine Paddle” Memories

  1. Pingback: We All Love the Yellow Submarine! | Wind Against Current