After hearing about Flux Factory artist Constance Hockaday's floating art project/ boat hotel in the Rockaways last month, we decided to take a little staycation and check out the Boatel for a night. The once-abandoned boats, tethered at the end of fisherman's favorite Pier 59, are by no means luxury accommodations, and Hockaday is quick to stress that this isn't a real hotel. Instead, it's a gathering place for creative types to pontificate and play music at the Floating Theater, take rowboats out on Jamaica Bay, and stay up all night drinking whiskey. Here's a look at what to expect, and our talk with Hockaday about the floating project, which will be up through Labor Day.
Artist and Boatel founder Constance Hockaday (Jamie Feldmar/Gothamist)
Where did idea for this whole thing come from? I named the Boatel for Nancy Boggs, who ran a floating brothel in Portland. I didn't want to do a brothel, ethically, because I'm not a sex worker, so it just didn't feel right. But I did want to do a boat hotel. I've been building on the water for ten years, I was involved with Swimming Cities a few years back. My dad is a marine biologist, I've always loved the water. I used to write poems to the ocean. I've always had a fascination with the water.
How long did it take to put the Boatel together? Flux Factory picked up my proposal in March. In June, I met Ari, the marina owner, and he also wanted a Boatel. He donated all the boats.
What were the boats before? They were just abandoned boats, trash boats really.
What did you have to do to boats to turn them into a Boatel? Basically I had to rip out the interiors, put in paneling, seal up the leaks so they would float. [Laughs.] Most of them, I had to strip the entire insides. Then I got to decorate [motions toward the assorted nautical knicknacks.]
How did you promote the Boatel? Did you do any advertising or was it more word of mouth?No, none. Flux Factory has a really dedicated group of artists who follow them. And then when the New York Times picked us up things got a little crazy. Now it's getting huge. BBC was here shooting earlier today, some Chinese television station is coming tonight...it's pretty nuts.
Who are most of the people who stay here? It's mainly other artists. But it varies, too, we've been selling out pretty much right from the get-go.
The programming at the Floating Theater—was that always a part of your idea? [Ed note: The night we visited, artist Jeff Stark came aboard the floating theater to discuss Moby Dick backed by a live stand-up bass and video projections.] Absolutely. We've shown videos, documentaries about water, heard from people who are doing political or scientific things with water, all sorts of stuff. We didn't just want it to be this bar scene full of drunk people-- even though sometimes it can turn into that, at least there was some smart stuff beforehand.
What happens at the end of the season? On Labor Day, we'll pull the boats out, and tear them down. I'm sure the marina will do something with them.
Will there be a Boatel next year? I'm sure. I think the marina definitely wants to do something again. I'll probably help them get it set up, but I'm kind of hoping that I'll get called to some other part of the planet to do a Boatel there.