Join the Cardboard Kayak Race!

Calling all educators, campers, and community groups to join us and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance on July 12 for the 2014 Cardboard Kayak Race! Everyone comes by boat to Governors Island for City of Water Day, but only the most creative and humorous mariners make their own zany boats right at the festival. Let your team of kids be among them!

HarborLAB will be providing public paddling programs at City of Water Day and safety support for the cardboard kayak race, as we did last year. We would be happy to help teams of junior high, high school, and college students practice their paddling in the weeks before competing in this unique design-build-paddle event! We and the MWA can also connect you with swim instruction organizations.

For information and registration, please click HERE. To partner with HarborLAB, email




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!

Labor and Liberty Paddle!

Liberty, Ellis, and the harbor. National Parks Service.


FLOAT PLAN CHANGE: Storm possibility, so we will likely alter our plans to launch from the Hudson River, to avoid a cross-harbor paddle with such uncertainty.)

Our culture has long wrestled with deep philosophical questions about the relationship between labor and liberty, none of which will be answered by this paddle tour. But we hope you end the day with wonderful memories and a greater appreciation for harbor history, estuary tidal forces, and urban planning ideas.

We’d be grateful for donations or a sponsor for this paddle, to support our growing  and needed educational and youth programs. Email if you’d like to join us, with the subject line “Labor and Liberty.” Also join our Facebook event for this paddle.

We’ll launch from LIC (Hunters Point South), land at Governors Island for a tidal break, cross the harbor at near slack to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (respecting security zones), and land at the Porte Liberte canal village in Jersey City for lunch. Then we’ll paddle straight back to LIC, perhaps resting in DUMBO.

What development lessons does Porte Liberte hold, in terms of “dos and don’ts,” for NYC inlets, creeks, and canals?

This is a very demanding paddle and crosses larger vessel traffic and waters with a long, exposed fetch. Please be very mindful of this and take safety instructions, to be sent to participants, to heart.

We use the traditional tidal current benchmark of The Battery for our planning. This is for a holistic view of water movement throughout the harbor.

Tides for New York (The Battery) starting with September 1, 2013.

Day        High      Tide  Height   Sunrise    Moon  Time      % Moon
           /Low      Time    Feet    Sunset                    Visible

Su   1      Low  12:09 AM     0.8   6:23 AM    Rise  2:42 AM      19
     1     High   6:12 AM     4.3   7:28 PM     Set  5:04 PM
     1      Low  12:09 PM     0.9
     1     High   6:28 PM     4.8

10am: Gather at Natural Frontier Market (12-01 Jackson Ave , LIC, NY 11101).

1130am: Launch from LIC.

1PM: Land at Governors Island (we’re likely to land earlier).

1:30pm: Launch from Governors Island.

3PMpm: Land at Porte Liberte.

430PM: Launch from Porte Liberte

7pm: Land in LIC.

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Porte Liberte. Google satellite image.

Teachers’ Oyster Seed Paddle!

Oyster seed. Photo by Solar One, another participant in the estuary-wide seeding effort.

Oyster seed. Photo by Solar One, another participant in the estuary-wide seeding effort.

August 26.

HarborLAB will take teachers from the Hunters Point Community Middle School on a paddle from LIC to Governors Island (no landing) to pick up oyster seeds from the New York Harbor School. This is a great chance for the school to learn about NY Harbor School‘s innovative curriculum. We’ll then paddle to back to Hunters Point and beyond to Socrates Sculpture Park, where the oyster seed platform will anchor.
Here’s our Facebook event page:
Please also email with the subject line “Oyster Paddle” if you’d like to paddle and help.
It’s exciting for HarborLAB to play a small role in seeding great maritime education programs in western Queens!  HarborLAB and NY Harbor School are unrelated organizations with shared goals. HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard invited NY Harbor School Founder Murray Fisher to Long Island City six or seven years ago to meet with a landlord and others about encouraging the establishment of a middle school that might graduate students into the NY Harbor School. Erik also lobbied then-City Council Member Eric Gioia for an estuary-themed middle school. Flash forward some years and Hunter’s Point Community Middle School Principal Sarah Goodman independently had such visions. Ms. Goodman grew up learning about marine ecology and stewardship in New England.

HarborLAB looks forward to being the Hunter’s Point Middle School’s on-water partner, perhaps in concert with CUNY LaGuardia Community College and other community environmental groups and agencies to which we introduced Ms. Goodman. While the nearby waters of Anable Basin, site of great contamination by Standard Oil generations ago, are likely unsuitable for children (especially in sit-on-top kayaks), HarborLAB will arrange educational field trips and will continue to advocate for paddling in Gantry Plaza State Park.  We also strongly advocate for an Anable basin cleanup, and have lobbied for this with state officials and local developers.

City of Water Day Memories


Volunteer Co-Manager Caroline Walker takes two kids out in the embayment while the rest of their family shared another boat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

HarborLAB was honored to serve at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance‘s request as the public kayaking program at the Governors Island center of City of Water Day, the largest annual harbor festival in our region. We enjoyably and safely shared a very busy little dock with New York Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. (Community Education and Recreation on the Water) rowers. We set 146 members of the public afloat within the protected Pier 101 embayment between 11am and 4pm, despite the happy interruptions of arriving groups of kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and canoeists, and a wildly popular and zany cardboard kayak race.

We couldn’t have achieved these good things for the community without the support of our sponsors and allies. At this event we were proud to fly sustainably produced banners that included both our logo  and those of TF Cornerstone, Con Ed, and the United Nations Federal Credit Union.

HarborLAB was represented by two dozen volunteers, students, and supporters. CUNY students, especially LaGuardia Community College, were especially helpful in our estuary and watershed education tent. They also documented the day’s attractions. Our dock was staffed throughout by Daisy Hope Benjamin, an emergency room nurse with child and adult life saving certifications, as an added level of safety. She was also just great company on the dock! The day’s on-water safety and event production, under which we served, was directed for MWA by Ray Fusco, whose professionalism and kindness made this hard work for public benefit a pleasure.

Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance officials described our program variously as “brilliant,” “great,” and “amazing.” Our success follows similar raves at the Clearwater Festival. Though this is our first season, our core volunteers have years of service on the harbor under their belts, or life vests. Founder Erik Baard has a special tie to City of Water Day — he started the Five Borough Harbor Ramble (the first event through which paddlers and rowers touched all boroughs), which MWA aided greatly (special thanks to Carter Craft!). When the MWA asked to adopt the Ramble as its fully-owned signature annual event, Erik joyfully agreed. Since then the MWA has rebranded the event using the title of its excellent documentary, and profoundly grown City of Water Day as no other organization could.

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Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando stepped down from the desk to communicate a message to the dock crew while new volunteer (met that day) and teacher Kamala Redd hams it up with her niece. 🙂

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The day started in Sunnyside, Queens, where our boats are temporarily stored at the private office of Community Board 2 Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead. Our great innovation of the morning was to heat seal sustainably printed decals to our boats using a blowdryer. Thanks to a Harbor Estuary Program grant for City of Water Day, we rented a box truck to carry boats — we URGENTLY need a trailer (sponsor our purchase of this 16-boat trailer!) and often shuttle boats bit by bit in a HarborLAB Facilities Manager Pat Erickson’s van, but our volunteers had enough work ahead of them. A huge help came from NY Waterway, which sent a special East River Ferry to Hunters Point for HarborLAB to get boats, gear, and volunteers to Governors Island ahead of the crowds.


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Operation Manager EJ Lee on decal duty.


ER Nurse Daisy Benjamin brings fantastic precision to her work.

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Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson with six of our ten Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL tandem sit-on-top kayaks.

HarborLAB’s morning crew of volunteers and supporters. Photo by Scott Sternbach.


On the island, gear was transported to Pier 101 by Ray Fusco’s van. Volunteer Emanuel “Manny” Steier had a creative solution for moving the boats!


Volunteer Zamira Kamal takes a quick, well-deserved break. Photo by Ana Espinal.

HarborLAB volunteers operated two tents, one of which we brought to the island aboard the ferry. The first held waivers and great safety and stewardship information from  the American Canoe Association (HarborLAB is a Paddle America Club). The second, red canopy was our estuary and watershed education desk. At that table we highlighted CUNY LaGuardia Community College research and provided literature from the Harbor Estuary Program, NY State DEC, NYC DEP, ACA, and other great environmental groups and agencies.


Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando and Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson staff the HarborLAB waiver and American Canoe Association information table. Photo by Ana Espinal.


Photo by Ana Espinal.


Operations Manager EJ Lee at the education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.


Teacher David Perrin flanked by EJ Lee and Vernon ShengWuey Ong at the education table.


HarborLAB’s education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.


Photo by Ana Espinal.


Down on the ramp, dock, and water our volunteers had a blast despite the pressures of managing crowds and coordinating safe sharing of the embayment. It helped that NY Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. are both friendly, community-spirited, and highly competent groups. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with them was a privilege.


A beautiful East River C.R.E.W. boat captained by Mary Nell Hawk.

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Volunteers Omar Barrios, Daisy Benjamin, and Danushi Fernando sharing a laugh on the dock.

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Steve Sanford on safety patrol in the MetroBoat, HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard’s mass transit and estuary “brain child” with Folbot (


HarborLAB Board Member Scott Sternbach, CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo director, on safety patrol in his own boat. Photo by Ana Espinal.


Erik Baard managed kayak group arrivals during program hours to keep the dock from getting dangerously crowded. Here he holds HarborLAB boats out on the water while LIC Community Boathouse (also founded by Erik Baard), Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, and Sebago Canoe Club boats arrived in one flotilla.


“Boat Hill” fills in as paddling groups arrive.

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CUNY students and HarborLAB volunteers George Blandino-Ripley and Ana Espinal.



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The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.


Part of the afternoon HarborLAB crew. Yes, a bunch of us pulled double shifts!


Even a hose shower was a blessing.


Students and volunteers enjoyed exploring the island, which is rich in art. Photo by Daniel Cassady.


At least half of us camped over on the island.


Sunrise over Brooklyn. Time to go home.


Daniel Cassady and the rest of the crew carried boats down for an early launch.

Governors Island Paddling with the Downtown Boathouse!


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Did your great experience paddling with HarborLAB in the Governors Island embayment on City of Water Day leave you hungering for more? Are you eager to share that experience with others? Or do you fear you missed out? Well the Downtown Boathouse is offering Governors Island paddling Saturdays through October! Get out there for fun, incomparable views, and the chance to get to know the organization that pioneered so much of NYC’s public paddling movement! We encourage you to volunteer with the Downtown Boathouse and support them as well!

Tel: USA  631 261 1253

Photo for Governors Island Alliance courtesy of Carlo Buscemi Imagery.

The HarborLAB East River Ferry!

HarborLAB's morning crew of volunteers and supporters. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

HarborLAB’s morning crew of volunteers and supporters. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

HarborLAB is very grateful to NY Waterway for its exceptional generosity in providing a special City of Water Day ferry for our boats and volunteers to reach Governors Island in time to provide services. Storms threatened to disrupt the day, according to forecasts earlier in the week. Because we were to commence the public kayaking program on Governors Island at 11AM, we didn’t have the scheduling luxury of “playing it by ear.”

NY Waterway is a sponsor of both HarborLAB and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, which produces City of Water Day. The company also runs special ferries from Manhattan to Governors Island in support of City of Water Day.

When HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard called NY Waterway CEO Arthur Imperatore and Operations Chief Alan Warren to explain our worries, they kindly offered a special East River Ferry to get our volunteers, educational literature, boats, tables, canopy, and other needed items to the island before 10AM. This also saved us the trouble of delivering some items to City of Water Day producer Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s offices in Manhattan. HarborLAB extended this offer to Green Shores NYC, LIC Community Boathouse, Newtown Creek Alliance, North Brooklyn Boat Club, and other waterfront and environmental groups. We were happy to bring longtime Friends of Gantry Plaza State Park and Hunters Point Library community leader Mark Christie among our fellow passengers, along with Claudia Coger, President of the Astoria Houses Tenants Association (thanks to NYCHA Community Outreach professional Howard Hemmings).

The ferry captain and crew members were very courteous and kind, and quick!  Our gratitude to them too!


HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee exults in the morning sun and breeze aboard the special East River Ferry provided by NY Waterway. Somewhere Celine Dion is smiling. Photo by Scott Sternbach.


HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Menje Erickson shows her Con Ed pride! Not only is Con Ed a HarborLAB sponsor and a City of Water Day sponsor, but it’s also her employer. Photo by Scott Sternbach.


A beaming Mrs. Coger represents NYCHA residents, specifically the Astoria Houses. We’re very grateful to Howard Hemmings for helping HarborLAB learn directly from the community about needs and goals.



Boats below deck while volunteers enjoyed fresh morning air. Photo by Erik Baard.

Cardboard Kayak Race!

The fierce First Heat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

The fierce First Heat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

Contestants awaiting the start signal. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

Contestants awaiting the start signal. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

This year the City of Water Day gathering on Governors Island featured the inaugural cardboard kayak race — a bit of lunacy that drew an enormous flood of spectators to the Pier 101 basin. HarborLAB provided paddles and life vests to the contestants and safety kayaks should anyone have needed rescuing.

Kayak blogger Chris Schiffner captured the fun on video from the viewing area, as did HarborLAB volunteer and CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo student Daniel Callaway. HarborLAB board member Scott Sternbach (CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo director) snapped away from his kayak and HarborLAB volunteer Daisy Hope Benjamin (an ER nurse who added safety to the day) took photos from the dock.

The cardboard bodyboard. HarborLAB volunteer Omar Barrios dubbed this team, "the best bromance ever." Photo by Daisy Hope Benjamin.

The cardboard bodyboard. HarborLAB volunteer Omar Barrios dubbed this team, “the best bromance ever.” Photo by Daisy Hope Benjamin.

The competition was organized into several rounds — or, appropriately for the scorching day, “heats” — past a buoy across the embayment, culminating in a mad dash for the medal. Designs ranged from efficient to fanciful. One North Brooklyn Boat Club entry looked like a Balangay, while another was ready to join the New York Water Taxi fleet. A few sank, though the prize for tenacity had to go to North Brooklyn Boat Club for recovering from a keel-over collision in Heat 2 to complete its buoy circuit. Erik Baard pulled the soggy canopy from their boat and carried it on a HarborLAB safety Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL for the duration of the heats. 

In the end, triumph went to Stevens Institute of Technology engineering students whose sleek and sturdy boat reflected weeks of planning. It seemed they could have paddled back to New Jersey in that thing!


Disorderly fun. Photo by Daniel Callaway.

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An early favorite starts to dissolve. Photo by Daisy Hope Benjamin.

All hail the taxi! Photo by Daisy Hope Benjamin.

All hail the taxi! Photo by Scott Sternbach.

A team from Stuyvesant Cove ran a strong second before sinking. They sportingly swam their craft in. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

A team from Stuyvesant Cove ran a strong second before sinking. They sportingly swam their craft in. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

To the victors go the As. Steven's Institute of Technology students with their winning cardboard kayak.

To the victors go the As. Stevens Institute of Technology students with their winning cardboard kayak. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

Great Paddle to Governors Island!

Return from Governors Island, UN in background (Thank you sponsor UNFCU!). Photo by Scott Sternbach.

HarborLAB volunteers and guests we hope will become volunteers, donors, or liaisons to sponsors shared a great day on the water Sunday, June 8. We paddled from Astoria to Governors Island and back. We were especially glad to have HarborLAB Board Member Scott Sternbach join the trip as a photographer and one of our guides.


Passing the LIC waterfront’s iconic Pepsi sign, with new developments in the background. Thank you sponsors TF Cornerstone ( and Rockrose Development!

Our destination was the Figment Festival and the Rising Tide show of NY Sculptors Guild. We were heartened that the ocean was a strong trend in the art, especially works by two sculptors with studios in LIC — Harry Spitz and Bernard Klevickas. Harry has long explored waveforms in various media, occasionally included a kayaking figure! Bernard often works in metal, but has shown a consistent fascination with reusing plastic bottles and containers. Both make marvelous art. Other artists also prioritized reusing plastics, but only Bernard had posters informing viewers about the environmental hazards of plastics polluting our oceans.


Harry Spitz at Figment with wave art. Photo by Erik Baard.


Plastic bottle cloud at Figment Festival perfectly matching actual clouds in the background. Photo by Erik Baard.


A kind of Styroberg by Bernard Klevickas. Photo by Erik Baard.


The closest plastic bottles should come to water — a mobile over sink. Sculpture by Bernard Klevickas. Photo by Erik Baard.


Plastic bottle cloud at Figment, interior. Photo by Erik Baard.



Plastic bottle cloud at Figment, exterior. Photo by Erik Baard.

HarborLAB’s boats became part of the show, with kids clambering all over them for the couple of hours we spent on the island. In this case the boats floated on imaginations!

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Our volunteers were amazing, overcoming our growing-phase logistical challenges with aplomb. When our launch site is fully developed and we have a boat trailer, we’ll have stories to tell newer volunteers! Our destination was Governors Island, for the Figment Festival and Rising Tide art shows. Our launch point was Hallets Cove in Astoria, which our volunteers pioneered in earlier engagements as a public paddling access point. Our boats are stored in Sunnyside, thanks to Queens Community Board 2 Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead, until we can set up our launch site. Many thanks to the volunteers who shuttled the boats back and forth in two van trips (plus one cartop). Now would be the time to sponsor HarborLAB’s boat trailer, please! Email to make that happen.


Volunteer Bob Din and guest paddle home past the skyline. Photo by Scott Sternbach.


LIC rising. Paddlers in front of the growing LIC waterfront. Sponsor TF Cornerstone ( is playing a leading role in development and building community between new and generational residents. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

We had plenty of favorable current both ways, but vastly different conditions. On the way down we had a lively breeze in our faces — shifting but never harshly gusting. On the return the burgeoning flood was absolutely glassy for most of the way. Where water once flowed unnoticed past largely abandoned warehouse and factory waterfront, ferries now buzz about with new tower residents, tourists, and Manhattanites discovering weekend fun beyond their shores. LIC, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg offer art, food, and shopping to rival any city, and any part of NYC. We were grateful for the NY Waterway donation that purchased our marine radios to ensure safe passage along busier reaches. LIC Partnership’s Dana Frankel found us on Governors Island and surprised us with the fact that she’d been aboard the NY Waterway Frank Sinatra, which paralleled our course to the island!

June 9: Paddle to Governors Island! Figment Festival and “Rising Tide”

“Head in the Clouds” exhibit of the FIgment Festival ( under construction.

We posted a new trip to our fan page’s “events” calendar:

Paddle down to Governors Island to see the art of waterfront ally Bernard Klevickas and kayaker Harry Spitz and many other artists at two exhibitions. See more about the world-acclaimed Figment Festival below.”Rising Tide” is a sculptural exhibit also on the island with a theme of disruption, inspired by Hurricane Sandy. We attend in honor of the UN World Oceans Day this weekend.

Please join the event on Facebook *and* email us at with the subject line, “Figment.” We will email participants with further safety and coordination details. Please consider how you might support HarborLAB as a volunteer, a donor, or liaison to a sponsor.

We’ll launch from Hunters Point on the ebb and pass under the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn Bridges before landing at Governors Island. We’ll return on the flood, landing back in Queens in time for dinner.

From Governors Island Alliance:

FIGMENT is a free, inclusive, participatory arts event held in multiple cities and drawing tens of thousands of participants each year. Now in its 7th year on Governors Island, FIGMENT NYC removes the barriers of museum and gallery walls and entrance fees, and blurs the lines between those who create and those who enjoy art. At FIGMENT you will find works in every imaginable medium including sculpture, installation, performance, music, workshops, games, social experiments, and heart-stopping technological innovations that change the way we see the world… and visitors are invited to bring something, too! FIGMENT NYC has been named the Best Art Festival in New York by the Village Voice, and BBC Travel writes, “If FIGMENT were a country, it would be the happiest in the world—and I would apply for citizenship immediately.” See you at FIGMENT! What are you bringing?”

“Rising Tide presented by the Sculptors Guild, 11 am to 5 pm. Almost six months after Hurricane Sandy, artists across the region are still putting the pieces of their lives back together, getting into their (in some cases, devastated) studios, and creating new work. This show will acknowledge rising tides of all stripes (political, social, psychological) in the hope of drawing attention to the new forms that result — to the bright and shiny treasures that have now washed ashore.”