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Explore New York Harbor by Sail with North River Sailing!

Updated: 5 days ago

Sailing in New York Harbor

Come aboard Tantara for a sail around New York Harbor! One of the largest natural harbors in the world, it’s fed by the waters of the Hudson River.  The Hudson River is also the source of our name, as it was originally called the North River, and still is by many of the captains.

Over the years, NY Harbor has been at the heart of the city.  It was the economic heart of a colony and young state, it’s been the commercial and shipping hub for the region, and now it’s being rediscovered as one of the great outdoor spaces in NYC. 

Our Itinerary:

Brooklyn Bridge

Under the Brooklyn Bridge

As we leave our slip at One°15 Brooklyn Marina, we’ll see the Brooklyn Bridge, an awe-inspiring marriage of engineering and design. When it opened for use on May 24, 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and the first to use steel cables. (Earlier suspension bridges used iron chains for cables.) 

Before the bridge was built, the only way to cross the East River was by ferry. After its completion, the first fixed crossing of the East River provided New Yorkers with an efficient and reliable way to commute between Manhattan and Brooklyn, leading to increased economic opportunities and growth for both cities.

Like the Hudson River, the Brooklyn Bridge was known by earlier names. Originally called the New York and Brooklyn Bridge or East River Bridge, it was officially renamed the Brooklyn Bridge in 1915. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972. 

Governors Island

Governors Island

As we sail into the harbor you’ll see Governors Island on our left. The island served as  a U.S. military installation from the Revolutionary War all the way up until 1996, when It was decommissioned. In 2003 the Federal Government sold Governors Island to the people of New York for the nominal sum of $1, and the island opened for public use in 2005. Today the north end of the island, where the former military fortifications are located, is the Governors Island National Monument, and the remaining 150 acres is a public park.

You can only get to the island by ferry, but once you’re there, it’s a short walk to Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals, where you can rent a bike, pedal car, or surrey to explore the seven miles of car-free paths. In addition to guided tours of Fort Jay and Castle Williams, you can take in public art installations, visit the urban farm, enjoy the bars and restaurants (we particularly like Island Oyster), climb and swing at the Hammock Grove Play Area, and take a breather at the only lavender field in New York City which, come June, blooms into a fragrant, tranquil oasis.

Previous names: In the 1500s the native Lenape called the island Paggank (nut island) due to its abundance of chestnut, hickory, and oak trees. When the Dutch arrived in the 1600s, they adopted the Lenape name, calling it “Noten Eylandt.” In 1664 the English captured the island and adopted Noten Eylandt from the Dutch, mispronouncing it as Nutten Island, though when they took exclusive control of the island in 1699 they renamed it “Governor’s Island”—with an apostrophe—reserving it for the “benefit and accommodation of His Majesty’s Governors.” The current name, sans apostrophe, became official in 1784.

Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty at Sunset

As we sail on past Governors Island, the woman on our right will need no introduction. Recognized the world over as a symbol of freedom and democracy, the Statue of Liberty’s origin can be traced to an after-dinner conversation between Frenchman and abolitionist, Édouard de Laboulaye, and sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi in 1865. Laboulaye proposed the idea of presenting a monumental gift from the people of France to the people of the United States as a way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the perseverance of American democracy and recent abolition of slavery following the Civil War, and the close relationship between the two countries. 

Bartholdi was a fan of the idea and, inspired by Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, designed a monument rich with symbolism. He gave Lady Liberty a torch to light the way toward freedom and justice; a crown with rays like those of the sun to enlighten the world, the seven rays representing the seven continents and seven seas of the world; a tablet to represent the book of law, inscribed with July 4, 1776 in Roman numerals to memorialize American Independence; and a broken shackle and chains around her feet to symbolize the abolition of slavery. Her right leg is raised in mid-stride as though she is marching forward, leading the way toward freedom.

Bartholdi hired Gustave Eiffel—yes, that Eiffel—to create the iron framework for the statue. Construction was completed in France in July 1884. For its voyage across the Atlantic, the statue was reduced to 350 individual pieces and packed in 214 crates. It was reassembled on Bedloe’s Island (now known as Liberty Island), and dedicated on October 28, 1886, in front of thousands of spectators, as “Liberty Enlightening the World”—her official name.

With the 1903 addition of a plaque on the pedestal bearing Emma Lazarus’ famous sonnet, “The New Colossus,” the Statue of Liberty became an inspiration to immigrants—those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—as they sailed past her on their way to America.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island at Sunset

Which brings us, of course, to Ellis Island. For those of us descended from immigrants who came to the U.S. between 1892 and 1954, this is where our family’s American story begins. 

Before 1890, immigration into the U.S. was regulated by the states. Castle Garden (now Castle Clinton) in the Battery of Manhattan served as New York’s immigration station. But the rate of immigration grew throughout the 1800s as more and more people came to the U.S. to escape political and religious persecution, and in search of economic opportunity. In response to this mass influx, the federal government assumed control of immigration in early 1890 and constructed a new immigration station on Ellis Island. This new structure began receiving immigrants on January 1, 1892.

Over the next 62 years, more than 12 million immigrants would arrive in the United States via Ellis Island. Most of these immigrants entered the U.S. through New York Harbor aboard great steamships. First and second class passengers received a cursory inspection aboard the ship, but third class passengers, commonly referred to as “steerage,” had a far different experience, traveling in crowded and often unsanitary conditions near the bottom of steamships during the rough Atlantic Ocean crossings. Upon arriving in New York Harbor, they were required to board a ferry to Ellis Island for their detailed inspection.

When the era of mass immigration ended Ellis Island was downgraded from a primary inspection center to a detention center for only those immigrants who were to be detained or deported. Over the following three decades Ellis Island served many purposes, including, during World War II, as a detention center for suspected enemy combatants, and a treatment center for wounded American soldiers. In November of 1954 the last remaining detainee on Ellis Island was released, and Ellis Island officially closed.

Previous names: The native Mohegan name for the island was "Kioshk", meaning "Gull Island,” since the island was home to a large population of seagulls. When the Dutch settled the area, they called the three islands in Upper New York Bay—Liberty, Black Tom, and Ellis Islands—the Oyster Islands, in reference to the large oyster population in the bay, and Ellis Island was known as "Little Oyster Island.” The current name derives from Samuel Ellis, a Welshman who bought the island in 1774. 

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan from the water

As we sail back toward the marina, we’ll see Lower Manhattan right in front of us. The historical birthplace of New York City, Lower Manhattan is home to Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, as well as many of the city’s most iconic structures.  

One World Trade Center, sometimes incorrectly called the Freedom Tower, is the gleaming, faceted tower that’s visible from the harbor. Designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, One World Trade Center fills the void left by the destruction of the Twin Towers—both formally and symbolically. The tower’s cubic base is the same size as the footprint of the Twin Towers, and the upper and lower elevations of the 6-foot-tall steel band at its roof mark the two heights of those towers.

As it rises from the base, the tower’s edges are chamfered back to form eight isosceles triangles. At 104 stories and measuring 1,776 feet tall—thanks, in part, to the 408 foot spire at the top of the building—it’s the tallest building in the United States, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the seventh tallest in the world. On floors 100-103 you’ll find One World Observatory, featuring panoramic views from the highest point in New York City.

In contrast, the U.S. Custom House, also visible from the harbor, stands just seven stories tall. But what it lacks in vertical stature it more than makes up for with historical and cultural significance. The 1907 Beaux-Arts style building was designed by Cass Gilbert, who envisioned it as a tribute to the maritime trade.  

The stone facade is decorated with nautical motifs, massive Corinthian colonnades, and sculptures by twelve artists. The main entrance consists of a grand staircase flanked by a set of four statues by Daniel Chester French. Collectively named Four Continents, they depict personifications of Asia, America, Europe, and Africa. The interior of the building features a three-story oval rotunda with a skylight and murals by New York artist Reginald Marsh.

Today, in addition to the New York branch of the National Archives, the building houses the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Free to the public and open daily, it holds one of the most extensive collections of Native American arts and artifacts in the world. 

One of the earliest designations of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the U.S. Custom House is on the National Register of Historic Places and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

We hope you’ll enjoy sailing in New York Harbor aboard Tantara!

Our boat at the dock at sunset


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