A Mission to Save the Anabas Boat Club

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 Since 1901, the Anabas Boat Club has been a staple in Broad Channel and its maritime history. Photos and plaques on the old nautical walls of the 121-year-old building show the club in action, with past generations gathered on its wrap-around decks, announcements of fishing tournaments and the annual blessing of the fleet. But those memories are in danger of becoming purely things of the past. Down to just 10 members and in desperate need of some renovation, the Club was recently advertised for sale, something that is now on pause due to a lawsuit. But some of its remaining members are trying to preserve the Club and its rich history to sail it into a bright future.

The Anabas Boat Club has survived a lot in its time. After being established in 1901 on the land where the A Train trestle now runs, just a few years later, the Anabas found itself in a new location. The history is unclear, but some say it had to be moved because of a fire, while others claim it was lost in a gambling card game. Either way, around 1907, the entire building was floated across the channel and placed at its current location at 1820 Channel Road.

Much of the club’s history is set in lore, and stories passed on among members. One rumor says actress Mae West would frequently perform there and may have even named the place. A photo near the entrance to the Club explains the Anabas is a fish that can climb trees and survive. “It’s a fish out of water, so it fit,” one Club member with generational ties, John D. said.

Other rumors are that the Anabas played a big role during Prohibition. Trap doors in the ceilings were allegedly used to sneak booze upstairs. A staircase leading to the upstairs rooms ties into that story, only being wide enough for one person to climb slowly. “They said it’s because cops would have to run upstairs single file,” member Peter Heinz said.

Some things are more evident. The Anabas Boat Club is a prime hangout spot on the bay for those who pay the yearly dues to be a member. It has a kitchen, a bar, a party/lounge space and a big back deck offering prime views of Jamaica bay and passing A trains. Shorebirds land on the deck's pilings where members can take a ramp down to a dock where they can launch their own vessels or one of the club's. There are even a dozen or so rooms upstairs, big enough to fit a small bed if a member wants to spend a few nights or use it to store belongings.  It has all utilities including plumbing and electric, which are mostly turned on during the warmer months, when the club is in full use. And it bears a portrait of President William McKinley on the wall, which many say is because he was shot the same year the club was founded.

About four years ago, a friend persuaded Peter Heinz to finally join. “My friend Vinny McGuire’s pitch was ‘join this club, it needs work,’” Heinz said. That wasn’t a big selling point until Heinz found personal use for it. With 50 years of boating experience, in 2018, Heinz decided to share that with others and launched Rockaway Sailing, offering cruises around Jamaica Bay. And he needed a place to dock his 24-foot J-24 sailboat. “I joined the club. The price was right. And it’s grown on me. This place rocks, though it might be in slightly worse shape than it was four years ago,” Heinz said.

So this winter, when the members saw a real estate ad for the club, they felt blindsided. “The commodore put the club up for sale in December and one month later, all the members received a group text saying it was for sale because membership was down too low to pay the bills,” Heinz said.

But there was a problem. As a 501(c)(7) nonprofit Social Organization operating under a deed bearing the Anabas Boat Club’s own name, Heinz and others felt the commodore had no right to sell the building. So they fought back. The members hired an attorney and filed an injunction against the sale. It’s now on pause. According to Heinz, the commodore was recently subpoenaed, and it’s a case he and the other members are confident they’ll win.

That’s why Heinz and other members are now determined to bring new life back to the Anabas. They’re on a mission to ramp up membership and draw in folks who will see the value in preserving the club, to help put the work in to fix it up and make it a place of pride again. As the Club’s bylaws say it can only have 40 members, Heinz believes it was a place that used to have a waiting list to join. He’d like to see it return to that state. And that doesn’t necessarily mean only recruiting members who own boats.

“We’d like to get a lot of members who love the water, who love the outdoors, who want to use kayaks, who want to go sailing, people who will appreciate it who are willing to put in elbow grease into this place, carpentry, painting, people who can feel ownership in the club and bring it back to a place that looks great so it serves as a source of pride,” Heinz said. “We want to save the Anabas.”

After years of neglect and damage from Hurricane Sandy, the Club can use some big renovations. Heinz hopes that by increasing membership, the yearly dues and people with a deep interest in preserving the club, will help bring it back to its prime potential. For only $500 a year, people can become a member. And Heinz and other members are ready to provide perks. Besides having access to the club and all its amenities, Heinz will offer members free sailing excursions around Jamaica Bay. The club also has a few kayaks and paddle boards for members to use. Those with their own boats are welcome to store their vessels on the property in the off-season for a small extra fee.

The members are also in the process of coming up with other ways to help boost the club financially to carry out renovations and give the club the ability to offer more by purchasing more kayaks, paddle boards and small sailboats. Membership will play a big role in that, but Heinz and potential new members recently held a meeting to discuss alternative fundraising efforts. Heinz has also secured VFW Post #260 for a fundraiser on August 13, that will feature a DJ, food, drinks and a 50/50. Heinz also recently launched a GoFundMe to help cover the fees in the legal fight to preserve the club. To make a donation, head to: www.gofundme.com/f/help-us-preserve-the-anabas-boat-club

With a little love, money and membership, the Anabas has potential to be something great again. “It needs a lot of work, but we can do it,” Heinz said.

For more information on the Anabas and to inquire about helping, call 917-488-1171 or send them a message on Instagram at @anabas_boat_club

 By Katie McFadden

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