NY Daily News – July 17, 2011

Boatel Lures Summer Vacationers in Far Rockaway
By JON KALISH
July 17, 2011
Read the original here.

For just $50, you can spend a night at the “boatel” that just opened in Far Rockaway.

Yes, the 30-foot-long motorboats converted into floating hotel rooms have some drawbacks: Light is provided by citronella candles, jets taking off from JFK across Jamaica Bay can be deafening and it’s a long walk down the dock to Marina 59′s bathroom and showering facilities.

So, of course, the place is sold out for July.

And August.

And through Labor Day – though it may extend the season and add additional weekdays to its Thursday-Saturday availability.

“I’m not trying to bring Burning Man to Far Rockaway,” insists 29-year-old Constance Hockaday, the Texas native behind the project. “I just wanted it to be adventurous enough so that when you were stepping off of that dock and onto this dock it feels like you’re in a different place.”

Mission accomplished. Hockaday and a crew of volunteers spent a month renovating four abandoned fiberglass motorboats at the marina, which are now tied to a floating platform with a frame for an 8-foot-by-12-foot movie screen.

If you’re going to make a boatel, why not throw in a “boat-in” movie theater?

The fifth boat in the boatel, a 1967 houseboat described online as a “down-home love nest,” can sleep up to five and is named after a 19th-century madame named Nancy Boggs, who ran a floating brothel on the Wilamette River in Oregon. The renovated houseboat, which comes with a deer head mounted on an interior wall, goes for $100 a night.

“I did throw around the idea of creating a floating brothel but I don’t know if I’m quite madame material,” Hockaday says with a straight face.

Hockaday grew up in Port Isabel, Tex., and earned a bachelor’s degree in Participatory Community Development in Oregon. When she was 19, Hockaday spent time with the Floating Neutrinos, a bohemian family who sailed a houseboat made of junk around the Northern Hemisphere.

In 1998 the Neutrinos clashed with New York State authorities over their right to anchor the funky floating home in the Hudson River off of Chambers St. That summer they sailed for 60 days from Newfoundland to Castletownbere, Ireland. They were aiming for France.

Four humans, three dogs and a piano survived a Force 9 gale during the transatlantic voyage. Hockaday cites the Neutrinos as a major influence on her worldview.

It’s a worldview with a heavy dose of Do-It-Yourself attitude. Although the hammer-wielding woman is reported to have spent $2,000 on the boatel, she collected lumber in dumpsters around Queens and Brooklyn for the project. Building and decorating supplies were donated by Build It Green NYC and Materials for the Arts, two non-profits who helped, thanks to Flux Factory, a Long Island City-based arts group.

The boatel is part of Seaworthy, Flux Factory’s series of exhibitions, installations and boat trips celebrating the city’s marine heritage.

Flux Factory also introduced Hockaday to the owner of Marina 59, Ari Zablozki, who was eager to donate fiberglass motor boat hulls. The marina, like so many other around the country, is plagued by tenants abandoning their boats, which cost several hundred dollars each to have junked.

“People abandon their boasts very quickly,” says Zablozki. “When I took over a year and a half ago, there was about 90 junk boats piled on top of each other in the back. It’s horrible.”

Zablozki is determined to transform the marina, which is mostly used by working-class fishermen.

A project on the website Kickstarter has raised more than $12,000 for an art gallery and performance space that is being made out of two shipping containers at the marina. A houseboat known as Jerko, which is used for workshops on rainwater harvesting and building solar panels, is anchored within a few yards of the boatel.

The DIY vibe appeals to Rob Bryn, a 34-year-old musician who sublet his apartment in Williamsburg and is spending the summer in one of Zablozki’s abandoned fiberglass hulls. Bryn’s “floating cabin” is on a dock adjacent to the boatel, which he thinks is a worthy concept.

“The economy being what it is, this is a vacation spot that’s a subway ride away,” said Bryn. “I think the fact that people can come down here and get acquainted with this place is great.”

Not everyone in the neighborhood thinks the boatel makes sense. When informed of the project last week, David Giles, who lives eight blocks away, was incredulous.

“All I can say is that something needs to be done about that.”

The marina and Flux Factory have made sure they have a legal life preserver of sorts. 
Boatel guests are required to sign a liability waiver and they get a letter informing them that the boatel is “not a real hotel. This is an adventure at best and an art project at worst.”

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