Cheap slip: Sail boat docked in polluted Brooklyn waterway
It’s one of the most polluted waterways in New York – a fetid stew of oil, sewage and sludge. But Newtown Creek is paradise for Max Mulhern.
The 47-year-old London-based sculptor is spending part of his U.S. vacation docked at the notorious waterway separating Brooklyn and Queens as part of a quirky family boat trip.
“I like to stay off the beaten path,” Mulhern said on Thursday aboard his 40-foot sailboat. “It leads to much more interesting encounters.”
Keeping his boat tethered to a crumbling cement wall in an industrial section of Long Island City has another key perk: he’s staying in the city rent-free.
Mulhern, an accomplished skipper on an artist’s budget, seeks out the desolate and sometimes very dirty nooks as he travels along the East Coast en route to Maine.
On this, his second such boating trip in as many years, Mulhern has already spent two days docked at another unlikely locale, Coney Island Creek.
Mulhern arrived in the U.S. on July 1 with his 15-year-old son, Owen. After days of prepping, the intrepid Mulhern men left New Jersey’s Raritan Bay bound for Brooklyn on Sunday.
Reports of pollution don’t faze Mulhern. Neither does the fact that Newtown Creek is best known as the site of one of the nation’s worst oil spills.
“You wouldn’t want to raise small children nearby, but it’s certainly not too dangerous to go down, have an ice cream and watch the water go by,” Mulhern said.
“I wouldn’t use that water for anything other than to have my boat float. But there are signs of life, so that’s a positive thing.”
Mulhern, a Maryland native who started helping his father fix old boats at the age of 5, bought his vessel last year.
It’s equipped with a solar shower, kitchen, stove and seven berths. The boat is more remarkable for what it lacks: electronic navigation devices.
Mulhern navigates the waterways using only a compass, sextant and his intuition.
He also uses his sloop as a launching pad for his art. Mulhern creates floatable sculptures out of wood, iron and copper, which he releases into the water. “I feel like they’re gifts to the sea,” Mulhern said.
Within weeks, Mulhern will be joined by his wife, Myriem, and 13-year-old daughter, Octavia. They’ll head out July 18 for the next leg of their journey.
When he’s not on the open water, Mulhern hangs out on his boat, sketching art and greeting inquisitive passersby.
“It’s just a nice place to be,” Mulhern said.
BY Ben Chapman and Rich Schapiro