‘Rescued at Sea’: Rockaway Residents Make Best of Ferry Flop

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“Now we can all say we’ve been rescued at sea,” Belle Harbor resident Leslie Mahoney, who was on the 5:15 p.m. Rockaway-bound ferry that got stuck shortly after departing Pier 11 on Monday, November 27.

Getting stuck on a ferry may seem like no laughing matter, but according to Mahoney, one of the approximately 114 passengers on board, “in true Rockaway fashion,” the riders kept in good spirits during their unique trip home, in which the boat stopped shortly after departure.

“It was a very interesting evening,” Mahoney said in a phone call to The Rockaway Times on Tuesday. After a failed mission to get a lobster dinner at Lower Manhattan’s Ulysses’ Folk House, which had a kitchen fire earlier that day, Mahoney and her friends caught an early ferry in hopes of grabbing dinner at Sheepshead Bay. However, their plans were once again set afloat when the boat suddenly stopped moving.

“It wasn’t a jarring first stop,” Rockaway resident Joe Keenan, who was also on board said. The stop was so subtle, that Mahoney didn’t realize at first. “I was trying to do something on my phone, which requires my complete attention, so I didn’t even realize we weren’t moving.  Then the guy next to me says, ‘We’re stuck on a sandbar,’” Mahoney recalled.

Instead of panic, Mahoney says the feeling on board was rather, “fun.” “Everybody is laughing, somebody starts playing music from the Titanic movie on their phone, as only Rockaway can do. Another guy goes, ‘shit, the 6:15 p.m. just left. Now we’re hysterically laughing,” Mahoney said.

Passengers said the announcements on board were minimal, but at some point, they were asked to move toward the back of the boat and put on life jackets as a precaution. “We look at each other and say, are you kidding me? We realized we were about 100 feet from the pier, and figure we’re from Rockaway, most of us can swim.” Despite the irony, the passengers obliged. “Everybody is trying to help everyone put their the life jackets on. They were these tiny little things that we were trying to fit over our chests. We kept laughing and all I could think, instead of being scared was, I wonder if there are any potato chips on this boat. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast in anticipation of having lobster. I was starving,” Mahoney joked.

Mahoney didn’t get potato chips, but did get another treat. “We were rescued by the cutest police and firemen in the world. I thought it was my lucky day,” she said. NYPD and FDNY marine units showed up on scene to help transfer passengers on to smaller rescue boats so that they could be brought back to Pier 11. “The police and firemen did a good job. They got us off the boat fast,” Keenan said. By 7 p.m. the 120 people on board, including six crewmembers, disembarked. The passengers were put on the next ferry and made it back to Rockaway by 8:15 p.m. “I never got my lobster dinner,” Mahoney joked. However, the passengers didn’t go empty-handed. “On the boat back, they opened up the bar and told everyone to help themselves. A real party took place. It was a fun time,” Mahoney said. Other passengers agreed that there was no panic on board, but they were inconvenienced by the mishap. “I was never panicked, more like annoyed, “ Rockaway resident Marta Roginski said. A paper was passed around for passengers to put down their contact info so that NYC Ferry could send everyone a free 30-day ferry pass for their troubles.

It wasn’t until later in the evening that passengers learned what happened. “We were told we were stuck in the mud,” Keenan said. “We didn’t hear anything about a pylon.” 

“It turns out we weren’t on a sandbar after all. While waiting to disembark, a guy in a yellow suit comes on, soaking wet and I said ‘where’ve you been?’ He said, ‘Under the boat, trying to see how bad the hole is.’ I said, ‘well I’m getting off, so I’m not worried’ and we laughed. There was a hole in the boat? Nobody told us that,” Mahoney said.

NYC Ferry officials said the boat hit a submerged object, which was likely a pylon from an old pier. Passengers were unaware that the pylon had ripped open two holes in the MV Zelinsky, the boat the passengers were on that evening, and that the boat was taking on water. The MV Zelinsky is not one of the new boats created for the citywide ferry service. It is an older vessel used by operator Hornblower as a spare. Spares are currently being used as six of the new ferry boats were recently taken out of service to undergo repairs and inspections. Despite so many boats being out of service, NYC Ferry says service and schedules will not be impacted as these inspections and repairs are being done in the off season. NYC Ferry is continuing to investigate how Monday’s incident occurred.

Despite Monday’s mishap, Mahoney says she’ll be back on board. “This doesn’t intimidate us. We survived a hurricane. This is nothing. This was an adventure. When I write my memoir, I can say I was saved at sea by a bunch of good-looking cops and firemen,” Mahoney said. “You get lemons and make lemonade. I’ll be back on the ferry.”

Photos by Marta Roginski.

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