Howard Schwach, a columnist for this newspaper, made some rather
odd statements under his weekly by-line including suggesting that I might not be serious in my efforts to bring Viking replica ships (as part of the New York City Viking Sail 2000 event) to Rockaway. Specifically he suggested that I might, in fact, be engaging in a little Viking extortion because I indicated that the ships' arrival would be contingent on our putting together an event to welcome them. He ended by suggesting I could just be pulling "Viking wool" over Rockaway's eyes.
Frankly I was a little nonplussed by all this and didn't know what to make of these statements, especially in light of the companion news article reporting the decision of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce, a very respectable organization on the peninsula, to join forces with the citywide committee which I head to make this happen here in our own hometown. If Howard is suggesting that I am playing Rockaway false, well then I'm insulted. There's no reason for me to do that. Besides I live here and most animals (even people) don't foul their own nests if they can help it. And I'm as housebroken as the next guy.
If, on the other hand, he is just trying to say that there are still a number of "ifs" in all this and that I am not being frank about these, well then he's just plain wrong. I have, from the beginning, indicated that there are contingencies. That's part of what makes this coordination business so hard. The obvious ones like weather, and acts of the Almighty aside, there are other serious factors which could throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing. For one, the captain of the hand-carved Viking Plym (built in 1912 and the oldest
Viking replica still sailing) is quite reasonably leery of taking his ship
out on open water and has expressed some concern about the safety of the run across New York Harbor and down the length of Brooklyn into Jamaica Bay. We are working with local boaters and the Coast Guard to allay his fears but they are real and need to be addressed.
More seriously, the Skidbladner, the largest Viking replica on the oceans today at 80 plus linear feet (and the flag ship of our little fleet) which is sailing across the North Atlantic to rendezvous in New York Harbor now seems to be in some trouble. Latest news is that, in the face of rough seas, the ship has turned around and returned to port in the Shetlands. If things don't
look up, there's no way I could guarantee their participation. Not even if I stood on my head for a week.
So yes, there are still contingencies. Does this mean that I'm being less
than candid in representing the situation to my fellow Rockawayites? That, I think, is a stretch and an unfair one at that. In fact I have always been up-front about my motives for being involved in this effort (which is taking up a huge amount of my time with no recompense for any of it). I got involved initially because of my desire to promote the novel I wrote about Vikings in the "New World". I figured the Viking ship event would be good for that and was concerned when I learned it might not happen for lack of a New York City coordinator. But, frankly, I've got plenty of other options besides Rockaway
for the ships. We have offers of free dockage at three locations in Manhattan (I am only selecting one) and two in Brooklyn (again I only selected one). I brought Rockaway into this because I live here and know how nice this sort of thing can be for our community. As Carl Norberg, the Plym's captain, has noted, Rockaway is going to be their toughest site to get to, but he's assured me he's prepared to make the attempt, weather and currents permitting.
Certainly one could argue that I would have been better off to leave Rockaway out of the mix entirely, just in case things don't come off as hoped so that I don't end up looking foolish. But I'm reminded of the situation I encountered three months ago when I first stepped into this role. Then no one was willing to step up to the plate for fear they'd be associated with a failure if the thing didn't come off. I was tentative, myself, initially for the same reason. But then I realized that if everyone went on acting that way, nothing at all would ever happen! So I took a shot and here we are today.
Is this a guarantee this will come off for Rockaway? Heck no. Besides the weather, the tides and currents could still scare our captains off. Or an accident could damage one or more of the critical ships (since they don't sit around in drydock waiting until we're ready for them in Rockaway). But that's no reason to be unduly pessimistic or take a negative approach to this. At this juncture I'm figuring we have an 80 percent chance the ships will come which is
better than we would have had if I'd simply ignored Rockaway or been too
nervous to risk getting involved in this at the outset.
But you know what? Suppose they don't come! Given the scope of the event now being developed by the Chamber of Commerce and its supporters, we're set to have one heckuva bash on Labor Day with or without them. I'm betting we get
them. But if not, the mere fact that they have us on their itinerary now has been enough to galvanize a whole slew of Rockaway people to bang together one of the nicest neighborhood events we will have seen out here in a long time, based on the preliminary program which I've had the good fortune to see.
Frankly, I plan to be there, with or without my horned helmet. How about you Howie?
STUART W. MIRSKY