Clay Risen and Leslie Synn

August 15, 2010

There is one island in New York that I have always read about but never visited.

So when Clay Risen said he wanted to see Shooters Island,

we started to plan a trip,

along with his friend Leslie Synn.

We found a place to launch from Staten Island,

that appeared on maps to be close to Shooters Island.

When we came out of the docks, the island was right in front of us. “Almost too close,” I thought, “where is the adventure in that?”

I had no idea what we would see on the island.

The whole island was once a great shipyard,

and you can see how much bigger the land mass must have been in the early 1900’s when the docks were active.

The tide was extremely low, so we walked the perimeter of the island.

We begin to spot fragments of glass and porcelain in the debris;

small jars,

and old plates.

Every bit seemed to tell a story.

It must have been washed out of landfills along the Arthur Kill Waterway.

This baked enamel AT&T sign must be over 100 years old.

The whole beach was like a time capsule.

As we were looking down at the sand and trash,

a huge barge had slipped up to the island without a sound.

We were treated to a wonderful sight;

two tugboats nudging the massive tanker into a 180 degree turn, like two tiny parents preparing their over-sized child for a transatlantic journey.

We got all of our loot into the boat,

and set off to explore the rest of the island.

In the early 1900s the Townsend-Downey Shipbuilding Company built racing yachts here.

Then the industry changed to cargo vessels,

and I read that during WW I, nine thousand men were employed on the island.

Now it is a refuge for herons, egrets, cormorants, and ibis.

We can see their nests high up in an old crane like a 4 story condo for birds.

The dry-docks themselves are massive, weathered, and worn, but standing upright,

and we climbed aboard to see what they were made of.

It is no wonder these things are still standing while everything else has broken and rotted away;

the docks are braced with solid timber all the way through.

The planks are two feet across in some places and almost as thick.

I think the birds will have a safe home for a long time.

We paddled back around the island,

and headed across the Kills to Staten Island.

We had left Brooklyn before the sun came up,

and I was ready for a nap.

On the way home in the truck, we made a short stop in front of Leslie’s house.

It was time to divide up the loot.

Clay, Leslie and I went through all the glass and shards of porcelain,

each picking out what we wanted to keep.

There were some difficult choices and tough bargaining,

but in the end, we were all very happy with our selections of trash.

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