Check in, swim out: A floating hotel as art

July 2011 News Melena Ryzik -
As boat christenings go, this one was rollicking. In lieu of a Champagne bottle smashed against a hull, there was late-night bourbon and diving off the roof of the Queen Zenobia into dark waters lighted with natural phosphorescence. Nine strangers in bathing suits floated on an overwhelmed inflatable raft; a couple held hands on a pair of deck chairs; a moose head in a houseboat was decorated with a headlamp and a bra. Though the official ceremony would come later, on Friday night the Boggsville Boatel and Boat-In Theater, New York City's newest and perhaps loopiest tourist outpost, was open for business.

Toting overnight bags and beer through a pounding rainstorm, guests arrived by A train or car at Marina 59, a working-class pier used by fishermen and pleasure boaters in an inlet off Jamaica Bay in Far Rockaway, Queens. Their home for the night was a floating hotel, a motley assortment of decades-old watercraft - four refurbished pleasure boats and a houseboat - moored around a jury-rigged floating platform. In calmer weather it will be the site of movies and lectures; for now it served as a midnight party space.

"It's kind of a post-apocalyptic adventure," said Katie McKay, 34, a designer from Brooklyn who was staying aboard the houseboat with four friends. "It doesn't feel like you're in New York at all."

The Boatel is the work of an artist, Constance Hockaday, who said she hopes to attract the romantic and the adventurous - and amid them, the marina's neighbors - to this unlikely getaway. Under the auspices of Flux Factory, a Queens gallery, it will be open for reservations Thursday through Saturday all summer long, an experiment in urban vacationing and D.I.Y. ingenuity. July is nearly sold out already.

"When you think about it, the water is the last remaining open public space," said Jean Barberis, the artistic director of Flux Factory. "As artists and creative people venture more and more into the outer boroughs, there's less and less unclaimed territory on land. But the water is still completely open." Mr. Barberis said he sees the Boatel as part of a recent movement of artists exploring New York's waterways, like Duke Riley, who staged a naval battle in a reflecting pool in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and Swoon, the street artist behind the wide-ranging flotilla of paddle- and steam-powered junk rafts known as Swimming Cities.

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