spotlight stories

spotlight on rocking manhattan

Every year in the early fall, over 100 people from all around the city and beyond join together to row 30 miles around the island of Manhattan and raise money for Rocking the Boat. Rocking the Boat volunteer Oliver Ryan is returning for his seventh Rocking Manhattan this year. Read his first person account of past rows:

So…one year we came out of the Harlem River up by the Columbia boathouse and onto the Hudson, and there was a fierce head wind. And it began to rain. We rowed non-stop, just barely crawling to the George Washington bridge. If you've never been in a row boat under the GW Bridge, you don't fully appreciate the scale of certain things. Superstructure is an apt term. Even in that moment, the immensity and height of the bridge was daunting—and we had plenty of time to study it because, at that point, we had stopped making any headway at all. We were rowing full steam, and seemed dead still in the water. There's a happy ending to this story, but wait for it. 
Most years, the row around Manhattan is tropical. Last year, with Tiffany steering and singing, we landed back at the new Brooklyn Heights Marina at the golden hour. The giant orange Staten Island Ferries were shuttling across the harbor, and there were helicopters taking off from financial district towers, and both building and aircraft were glinting in the sun, like a perfect architectural rendering, or an imagined futuristic metro utopia. That's a great feeling, finishing the row at the golden hour, on glassy calm water, with the current swinging you along, and all of New York in sync and in order. And, at the end, there's a bottomless feast of food, and plenty to drink, and some of us have a tradition of going out for a Dark & Stormy or two if we can still move our legs.  

But that one year was different. There were whitecaps on the Hudson, and water spraying into the boat, and it was like something out of the 19th century. Some of the other Whitehalls had to be towed, but our boat managed to stay toward the front of the pack. We were somewhere between misery and ecstasy. Teeth gritted, borderline mutinous, and not sure we could make it. Well, somehow, we did make it. It wasn't glassy calm at the end, or even sunny, but it was beautiful. That year was the hardest year, and it's easily my favorite. 
That's the funny thing: We sign up for these things somewhat afraid of the difficulty. We're afraid of the waking up early, and the rowing, and, most of all, of the asking for money. But, in the end, the greatest lesson of Rocking Manhattan--and perhaps Rocking the Boat in general--is this: The more effort you make, the sweeter it is. That's not just true of the rowing, but also the fundraising. It's stunning to be out on the water looking back at the city; and it's equally moving to get emails of support from friends. The feeling of being re-connected. So important, especially when you're a New Yorker. 
And, well, there was never a better Dark & Stormy than the one we drank that year, after battling the Hudson, and making it home. 

kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids

rocking the boat
812 edgewater road
bronx, ny 10474
phone: 718.466.5799
fax: 718.466.2892