In New York, on the distant end of the city from Manhattan, the Rockaways sit on a thin strip of land at the southern edge of Queens, bounded on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and on the other by Jamaica Bay. It has recently become a destination for young adults, and now there's a hip new place to stay, right on the water.
Using lumber she found in dumpsters, donated building supplies and funds from her own pocket, Constance Hockaday has transformed five abandoned vessels into a boat hotel attached to a floating platform with a movie screen on it. Hockaday, 29, makes no secret that the Boggsville Boatel, as she has dubbed it, was inspired by a 19th century madame who presided over a floating bordello in Oregon.
"I did throw around the idea — for a second — of creating a floating brothel, but I don't know if I'm quite madame material," she says.
Instead, she decided to create a floating hotel. Hockaday, an artist, conceived her "boatel" as a project for Flux Factory, a Queens-based art gallery. But she needed local help too, and found a willing collaborator in Ari Zablonzki, who owns Marina 59. He gave Hockaday an old houseboat and the hulls of four fiberglass motor boats that had been abandoned by their owners.
"People abandon their boats very quickly," Zablonzki says. "Once the engine is gone, they're basically worthless, so whoever owns them usually just dumps them on the marina."
Marina 59 is a fitting location for an unconventional project like a boat hotel. Zablonzki has a couple of goats on the premises that act as lawn mowers, and one of his tenants lives in an off-the-grid houseboat, with a composting toilet on a raft.
Hockaday and her crew of DIY volunteers worked for a month making the long-abandoned boats Zablonzki donated to the project habitable.
"Some of the biggest work that we did was actually getting them to float," Hockaday says, "Putting them on cranes, lowering them into the water, finding out that they leak like all hell, plugging them up, sealing them. This and that. I mean, that was probably the bulk of the work."
Boatel guests pay $50 a night and must sign a liability waiver. There are no bathrooms or electricity on the boats. And the view they have from this inlet off of Jamaica Bay? A public housing project on one side and a school bus parking lot on the other.
"It's just so beautiful out here," says Greta Gertler, a Brooklynite celebrating her third anniversary with her boyfriend Adam Gold by spending a night in the Boatel. "There are so many interesting things to look at all around this whole area. Like that houseboat next door," she says, pointing at, yes, the nearby houseboat with its composting toilet on a raft.
As Gertler and Gold sit on the deck of a 30-foot boat drinking beer and watching the sunset, a steady stream of jumbo jets takes off from Kennedy Airport and heads east over the Atlantic.
"I didn't realize how much I actually really enjoy watching planes take off," Gertler says. "It's just a matter of stopping for a while and watching what's around. New York is generally a great place to do that, but this takes it to another level."
There were five couples staying at the Boatel, barbecuing dinner on tiny grills. The evening was not without drama. A miniature dog named Tootsie fell overboard in pursuit of a hamburger (luckily, Tootsie was wearing a life jacket).
One dock away, Rob Bryn, a musician who's spending the summer in his own abandoned boat, says he thinks the Boatel is a great idea:
"The economy being what it is, this is a vacation spot that's a subway ride away, and the fact that people can come on down here and get acquainted with this place, I think is great."
Plenty of people agree. The Boggsville Boatel is sold out through Labor Day, when it's scheduled to close for the season.