New York Has Beach Bums and Boat People

The beach bum and boating life are usually the providence of Florida or California. We don’t normally think of the metropolises of the Northeast to be home to the sun culture of people who live on boats or spend all of their time on beaches. But you can find some interesting seaside life right here within the five boroughs.

You can find a beach bum type atmosphere at Ruby’s Bar and Grill on the Boardwalk of Coney Island, where you would swear you were at a seaside Florida town where everyone had overdosed on some combination of sunshine, sand, Jimmy Buffet and/or crystal meth. It is a haven of grizzled sea dogs and leathery skin but it is10 times better than most bars in Brooklyn today. Ruby’s has survived for 80 years, no small feat in our rapidly changing metropolis.

A few years ago, I had the honor of being present when the ashes of New York poet, lyricist and musical performer known as ZAK were spread at sea. The friends of the deceased chartered a special boat that took off from the Marine Basin Marina, a small marina in Brooklyn not far from Coney Island. The marina was near some industrial areas and not connected at all to any of the more celebrated boardwalks of Coney Island or neighboring areas. It was a small and relatively desolate area but even in October it was populated by a small number of people who were living on their boats and didn’t want to leave yet. It’s even possible that some of them lived on their boats permanently.

Living on a boat or having access to one is a form of freedom that no one else has. If you have a boat with access to the ocean, you can travel to anywhere in the world. If I get in my pickup truck I can drive pretty far in it if I had enough gas money but I couldn’t get to Spain, the Philippines or the Cape of Good Hope. Those people docked at the marina in Brooklyn could step on their boats and, with enough fuel and good weather, travel to any continent in the world they wanted. You wouldn’t necessarily expect such a sun-drenched boat culture to be alive and well within the boundaries of New York City, but it is.

Near where I live now in Flushing, Queens, one can find the Bayside Marina for a taste of marina life. The marina sits in Little Neck Bay, the bay that gave us Little Neck clams and serves the shores of both Queens and Nassau County. It is accessible by the Cross Island Parkway by car or by foot or bicycle via a path from nearby parkland. At the end of a long pier is a small nucleus of buildings and decks where a small restaurant will sell you fried food and also sell you flares for your boat. You can hear a loud radio in an adjoining place where boaters radio in as they approach their berths. Joggers, dog walkers and people out for a stroll wander onto the pier and mingle with the salty boating types and die-hard fisherman.

One can also find people fishing on all the shores of the five boroughs. You have to be a special kind of brave to eat fish that have come from the polluted waters of the city. But wherever there are docks and piers you can find people fishing or else find the slimy evidence of their presence. Plenty of piers throughout the city even have counters or sinks set up specifically for people to clear their fish.

Queens is also home to both the Rockaways, which has a large beach and boating culture of its own, as well as the small community of Broad Channel, which sits right in Jamaica Bay.

The city’s many coastal communities are still trying to recover from super storm Sandy that struck New York in October 2012. Before the summer is out, or even in the fall, go visit these places and enjoy, even for a minute, the beach bum or boating life.

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