15 Minutes on the Gowanus Canal (PHOTOS)

Recently I tried my hand at canoeing on the Gowanus Canal as part of my research for a Boating Times article. Having never been face-to-face with a Superfund site, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d heard things about smells. And poop in the water.

On a warmish Saturday, Shannon Leigh O’Neil and I ventured down to the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club’s dock at the end of Second Street. At first glance, I felt relieved. It didn’t smell like a latrine, but the surface of the water was dappled with iridescent pools of oil, and clods of unidentifiable garbage floated lazily past the dock. Gingerly I climbed into the canoe for my free 15-minute cruise on one of the most polluted waterways in America.

The breeze freshened, as William Scoresby would say, as I paddled awkwardly up the canal towards the Union Street Bridge. The westerly wind turned around my craft embarrassingly. I almost ran into another canoe (the occupants pushed me off with their oars).

I saw a few house sparrows, mourning doves and a mockingbird fly overhead, but at eye level the Gowanus seemed utterly lifeless. My sources at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy and the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club said there were fish, crabs and invertebrates under the olive-green surface. Maybe the Brooklyn Atlantis, the subject of my Boating Times piece, is better equipped at finding aquatic life.

Having survived my brush with hazardous waste, would I do it again? Yes.

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