Steady as She Goes
Gotham’s first all-new marina in a generation opens with a wave attenuation system specifically designed for the confused, constant wave patterns of the East River.
As a marine journalist and Brooklyn resident, I was thrilled when the Singapore-based builder ONE°15 announced their initial foray to the west (the company has built marinas in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and manages others elsewhere) with what would be New York City’s first new marina in 50 years at the rezoned, industrial waterfront along the East River within the 1.3-mile Brooklyn Bridge Park.
It would be a formidable challenge. The East River is more of a tidal strait than a river, with little slack tide as likely billions of gallons of water rush back and forth from the Verrazano Narrows to Hell Gate. The Hudson is not much better—I’ve been on vessels within the marinas of Manhattan’s West Side, and their exposure leaves them at the mercy of variable winds, fluctuations in tide and ever-increasing traffic. I figured comfort within the facility would be paramount and a time-consuming challenge.
“Everything about the build was more complicated and took more money and time than we expected,” CEO Estelle Lau told me from Estuary, the marina’s restaurant that overlooks the facility. “It’s been a slog.” Planning and permitting began in 2014, and high-tech studies were done on the grounds to determine how best to combat the unpredictable conditions at the site. At the same time, the city embarked on a program to increase ferries for commuters, adding to the already massive wakes from the Seastreak fast ferry, FDNY and NYPD vessels and commercial traffic. They looked at all types of floating protective shields and, in the end, went with a company with an off-the-shelf system that had a proven track record at a number of facilities.
While the original system did deflect a portion of the wave energy back into the river, the protective shield was simply not up to the task. The wave heights on the lee side made for rough water in the facility. “We were not thrilled with the result,” Lau told me, and consequently ONE°15 broke off with that contractor.
ONE°15 then “doubled down” and took over complete operations of the facility, hiring Shea Thorvaldsen and his team of site engineers at TMS Waterfront to start from scratch. Thorvaldsen was the ideal match for the project: He was part of the original team of engineers that had worked on the site but left early on to hang his own shingle with TMS. A new assessment began, with Thorvaldsen and his team on the hunt for materials. At the same time they discussed how they could repurpose what they already had, and launched a wave study and other modeling tests.
They also had to contend with the MTA. Two subway tunnels run underneath the facility in the East River, so ground tackle that could be used on other projects was not an option. The system would have to span the tunnels.
Nine months later, they had an answer. Thorvaldsen had observed how ferry landings utilize steel barges to calm wave motion, and hired Texas-based builder Sterling Shipyard to construct a trio of gargantuan steel barges—a pair of 185-footers and the pièce de résistance, a 330-footer with a 30-foot beam and 10-foot draft.
After delays caused by Midwest flooding and tariffs on imported steel, the barges were delivered in March, with the installation completed in June. The barges, dubbed Little Bear One and Little Bear Two—the behemoth is called Polaris—are secured to the seabed with a series of pilings. All are ballasted down for a freeboard just over 2 feet.
The team is thrilled with the result: an estimated 70 percent reduction in wave action in the 105-slip marina. And with the largest vessels closest to the river (they can accommodate vessels over 200 feet, with the custom attenuator serving as a dock for boats in this range), the smallest boats closest along the marina’s east side see a small, rolling wave when traffic is at its heaviest. “Our success was due to a large, coordinated effort to create a calm basin and effective recreational space along the harbor,” Thorvaldsen said in a statement.
I was happy to learn that the former attenuation wall was repurposed as the walkway on the marina’s south side—it calms waves that come from beneath the pier—and that its ground tackle and other accessories continue to be reimplemented around the facility.
ONE°15 can now finalize shore power (“We have a much better sense of the flow and use inside the space,” Lau told me) and move forward with plans for a clubhouse within the marina—at the time of this writing, a search was underway for the right vessel to convert for this use. They plan to continue offering a public sailing school and a range of events for various non-profit boating programs.
Along the East River in Brooklyn, huge parks and housing have revitalized an area that only a decade or so back was a rundown mishmash of decrepit docks and crumbling industrial buildings. For the nautical set, ONE°15 now adds a modern facility with some of the best views in the city, steps away from the bustling metropolis.