Lang Outdoors Class Tests the Water
Lang students are famously open-minded. Still, many of them may find it strange to see "boat building" on the Lang course list. Not Rob Buchanan, the professor who devised the class and has taught it from the beginning.
“It's the Greek ideal of educating mind and body," Buchanan said. Four years worth of students have built boats under Buchanan’s watch and on May 14 the class will launch its latest vessel.The idea behind the course arose when Buchanan was riding his bike down the West Side Highway seven or eight years ago. He explains the Whitehall Gig as the Water Taxi of the mid-1800s. “It's a very fast, but safe design that still works well today… I knew right away it was the right boat for this harbor, and started volunteering with the group that built them,” said Buchanan.
Buchanan sees the boat building class as a vital component among the Lang courses. His students seem to agree; they show up every Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. to attend class.
Lang student Thomas McPartlon said, “I like the boat building class because it gives me the opportunity to work with my hands.”
He also likes that each person in the class is responsible for themselves because the boat only works when everyone does their part. “I'd say our class has learned how to work together as a team," said McPartlon, "because we need everybody to help build the boat, and everybody to help row."
Over the course of the year, students built the boat and learned how to row, but they also learned the history, ecology and politics of the harbor, and will take the finished product out for a spin. The class,
which takes place at Pier 40, started in the fall semester and carried through the end of the spring semester.
“Making something big and complicated with your hands and getting to know the harbor in an actual, physical way are both valuable complements to the thinking, talking and writing that constitute the
bulk of the liberal arts curriculum,” said Buchanan.
The students practiced rowing, using boats from previous years, and traveled with Buchanan or another skipper from Pier 40 to places like Jersey City, Red Hook, Dumbo and Governor’s Island.
At the end of each year, Lang donates the finished boat to The Village Community Boathouse on Pier 40. To Buchanan, these gifts only augment the yield of the class.
“The mission of the boathouse is basically to expand public access to the great public commons of the harbor,” he said. “By building four boats in the past four years, Lang student have made a big contribution to that cause.”
Anyone is welcome to attend the launch, which will begin at noon and consist of the students taking out another Lang Outdoors class, the oyster gardeners, on the finished boat near Pier 40.
“The most important aspect of the class for me is getting out on the water," said McPartlon, who added that he was eager to continue his explorations around the city. "And the water seemed like a great way to see NYC from a perspective that not many New Yorkers have seen.”