Boats Not Bombs

In Southeast Asia many bombs and fuel tanks have been converted into other uses, including boats. Photo by Carter Emmart.

In Southeast Asia many bombs and bomber fuel tanks from the war decades ago have been converted into other uses, including boats. Photo by Carter Emmart.

Carter Emmart leads Grand Tours of the Universe as Director of Astrovisualizarion at the American Museum of Natural History, but spends much of his private time in one of his favorite places on Earth, Southeast Asia. It’s in Laos that he recently photographed an example of one of the most remarkable boat types in the world. At first glance it looks like yet another dugout canoe, a tree felled to ferry fruits to market or delicately balanced bicyclists across slow and silty rivers. But no, this is a cluster bomb case or jettisoned bomber fuel tank rebirthed in peace.

As Carter writes, “In Luang Prabang, Laos, the Royal City on the Mekong, now a UNESCO World Heritage center, there are many bomb casings and spent fuel tanks which were dropped by planes during the war. Fortunately this place was protected from the bombing, but a huge air field northeast of town (where one flies in) was the center of a lot of activity during the war in the ’60s until ’75, when the Communists finally took over. We saw bomb or fuel tank boats up the Ou River five years ago, but didn’t get a picture.”

How many bombshells and bomber fuel tanks litter this small nation? This understated video posted by Mother Jones magazine, inspired by a heartbreaking new book called “Eternal Harvest,” helps answer that question.

Other travelers to Laos have reported seeing bomb casings and other war hardware repurposed with minimal modification as hut stilts, planters, grain cannisters, small cisterns, mugs, buckets, and other peaceful implements. Carter saw a bomb tail used as a potted plant holder in a Buddhist cave shrine at Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang, Laos. One must admire the resilience and innovativeness of a people who can co-exist with, and even utilize, these mementos of trauma. “Swords into ploughshares” or “bombs into boats,” it’s all the same. War is hell, peace is beauty. And peace is productive.

Pete Seeger might have loved seeing one of these canoes, which symbolically captures so much of his teaching, at the Clearwater Festival. HarborLAB provides the canoe and kayak program to the festival. Perhaps in a future year, HarborLAB will have the means to bring a “bomb boat” over? Or imagine a boat like this plying our nation’s waterways, paddled by people representing different local peace groups?

In the meantime, when someone asks you if you’ve got a “bombproof roll,” you might reply, “Maybe, but can you roll a bomb?”

Canoe made from a long range fighter bomber fuel cannister. Click the photo for Mark Watson’s full Highlux Photo Blog.


Boats from bombs, Click the photo for the Away Go We blog.

Clearwater Festival and City of Water Day!



Wonderful news! Thanks to our volunteers’ fantastic service last year, the two largest annual water ecology festivals in the metropolitan area have asked HarborLAB back to provide their public programs in 2014! Join us in Croton Point State Park in the Hudson River Valley for the Clearwater Festival on June 21 and June 22 and on Governors Island in the center of our harbor for City of Water Day on July 12!

2014 Calendar Filling Up!

January isn’t quite over and already HarborLAB’s 2014 season is filling up! We’re having trouble with our Google Calendar, so please keep on top of opportunities to volunteer and paddle through our Facebook events page:

Students and environmental volunteers have priority seating on our public trips, but we arrange special events too. Please let us know how and when we might help your service organization extend its mission onto the water, or let’s brainstorm together! 

On many days HarborLAB will organize “Partner Paddles,” which are special events for schools, universities, researchers and artists, environmentalists, and other service groups. For example, in 2013 we had special events for the Hunter’s Point Community Middle School, CUNY Baruch College, CUNY LaGuardia Community College, Hour Children, Billion Oyster Project, NYC DEP and its upstate watershed exhibitors, and others serving the common good. To avoid confusion, these events won’t be posted on our public calendars and event lists, but we’ll post photo galleries and trip reports afterward.

HarborLAB must also devote considerable attention to improving its waterfront space and launch, and conducting environmental science research there. Energetic volunteer recruitment and fundraising for boats and materials will increase our ability to produce simultaneous programs. Exciting times ahead!

Here are a few events to get you dreaming of summer!


Pete Seeger, Rest in Peace.

Pete Seeger. Photo via City Atlas. (

Pete Seeger, who gave so much to peace, rests in peace. Our mourning is exceeded only by our love and gratitude.

Our hearts are with the Seeger family and friends at the Clearwater organization who carry forward his work. We will lovingly serve the Clearwater Festival again this year, on the Hudson River he did so much to clean, with a public paddling program and education table.

Pete Seeger. Photo by Anthony Pepitone via Wikimedia Commons.

Sloop Clearwater. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gratitude to Toshi Seeger (1922-2013)

We received the sad news of Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger’s passing from NYC Friends of Clearwater. She lived to 91 and we’re so grateful for her long lifetime of contributions. Last month we saw Mrs. Seeger at the Clearwater Festival’s food court after our long day of providing paddling to the Working Waterfront. It was touching to see the tender care Pete and the family gave her — she and Pete would have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this month. HarborLAB hopes to honor her with an event this season.

A young Toshi Seeger. Photo by Gene Deitch ©, via Sing Out! magazine. Full article linked below.

Here’s the note from NYC Friends of Clearwater, including an opportunity to honor Mrs. Seeger this weekend:

There are people who touch our lives and we may never know them or of them but they have a profound impact. Toshi Seeger is one of them.
Toshi was a remarkable strong, humble, gentle and selfless, outspoken activist for social and environmental justice She was the rock behind Pete Seeger. Their 70 year love story was the of the highest heart connection.

As one person mentioned she was a giant of the Hudson River ecological restoration. Toshi was recognized in the Clearwater family as the backbone of all the important work cleaning up our river by Pete and the Clearwater organization he founded. She was also the driving force behind the Clearwater revival. When you direct praise at Pete you also are praising Toshi.

Please send your heart energies to Pete Seeger and the whole Seeger family, extended family and all the many who love them.
Toshi will be remembered always in the hearts of everyone who was lucky enough to meet her and anyone who loves the spirit of Clearwater.

NYCFC is having a Sunset sail on the Clearwater Sat night and we will dedicate it to Toshi.
There are still spots available. If anyone would like to come, email: and

Donna Stein
 NYC Friends of Clearwater
 and kayaker

A Wonderful Time at the Clearwater Festival!


Volunteers Erik Baard and Patricia Vidals (with the CUNY contingent) take two new paddlers out on a gorgeous day. Photo by Danushi Fernando.

Last weekend HarborLAB was the official kayak and canoe provider to the Clearwater Festival (Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival) last weekend. We put over 300 people on the water (not a single flip!) and had a wonderful time getting to know other environmentalists and water enthusiasts. At the end of the second day we had a chance to personally thank Pete Seeger for his enormous contributions to cleaning up our waters, regionally and nationally. Our volunteers were AMAZING. Many thanks to Wesley Miller, Danushi Fernando, Patricia Erickson, Sam Wagner, Erik Baard, Dorothy Morehead, Thea Cooper, Patricia Vidals, Bob Din, Rob Cusack, Caroline Walker, Davis Janowski, Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan, Brian Morgan, Daisy Benjamin, Gil Lopez, Anarita Macri, and more! Special thanks to our youngest volunteers, Sanaa’s son, Brandon, and Davis’ daughter, Brynn.

We’re also grateful to Clearwater Festival Working Waterfront Co-Coordinators Stan Dickstein and Eric Russell for their friendly and supportive partnership, from paperwork to paddling! It was also an honor to work beside our educational role models, Rocking the Boat and NY Harbor School.


HarborLAB’s fleet of kayaks afloat at the Clearwater Festival. Photo by Erik Baard.


The HarborLAB booth staffed by our international crew of volunteers Daisy Benjamin (Philippines), Sanaa MIcheal (Egypt), and Danushi Fernando (Sri Lanka). We were almost disappointed that all queries were in English! Dorothy Morehead was also a vital part of the desk team, which ensured that our waivers were filled and provided environmental literature.


THe Working Waterfront at the Clearwater Festival. Working the beach in this photo are Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan, director of the CUNY LaGuardia Community College environmental science program, and her husband, Brian. HarborLAB provided the canoes and kayaks while rowing was provided by two educational role models for us, Rocking the Boat and NY Harbor School, and recreational groups.

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Kayaks and canoes and rowboats, oh my!


HarborLAB Board Member Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan (director of Environmental Science, CUNY LaGuardia Community College) and husband Brian land one of our canoes. They paddled after serving others for the entire day on the beach. THANK YOU! Photo by Gil Lopez.

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Sanaa’s son Brendon paddles in after volunteering too. Photo by Sanaa Micheal.



Packing up after a long weekend of service! Volunteers Caroline Walker, Sanaa Micheal, and Danushi Fernando carry one of our kayaks back to the truck driven by Wes Miller coming up and Patricia Erickson back down. THANKS to all! Photo by Gil Lopez.


An exciting weekend ends with serenity. Sunset on the sloop Clearwater. Photo by Erik Baard.

Free Clearwater Admission Through HarborLAB!

Clearwater Festival music stage.

Clearwater Festival music stage.


Come kayak, canoe, and volunteer with HarborLAB at the Clearwater Festival this weekend, June 15 and 16! The Clearwater Festival ( is our region’s greatest water ecology and music event. If you help us for four hours, we’ll cover or subsidize your admission for the day! We need volunteers especially for Saturday afternoon, but we appreciate help for all shifts.

Email ASAP to sign up for Saturday, Sunday, or both! Please share this with friends and students!

Here’s the Facebook event:

We need volunteers to help us get waivers signed, fit paddlers for life jackets, and shepherd paddlers within a small, beautiful and protected cove. Our volunteers get free or reduced admission, including camping, for just four hours of service for each day of attendance! We have carpooling from Queens and the train is very convenient.

We owe such gratitude to Pete Seeger and his Clearwater organization for their pioneering work for cleaner waters and ecological education, on the Hudson River and nationally. The Festival is the critical fundraiser for that work.

This is a great chance to meaningfully advance the cause of healthy estuary ecology in all corners of our harbor, from gorgeous preserves to currently toxic channels. See something you love and you want to protect on our harbor? See a pollution problem that must be fixed? Come to the Festival and make your case to the many government agencies, environmental nonprofits, and green businesses who’ll be participating!

Come out for relaxing fun, music, learning, and camaraderie on clean waters!