Now, six years later, the group, which goes by the name of the Weehawken Rowers, or "Wee Row" for short, owns two boats of their own that are kept in a container near Arthur's Landing Restaurant, and head to the waters twice a week (Wednesdays and Saturdays) to experience the majesty of the Manhattan skyline from a much different perspective.
"It's definitely the most unique view of New York," said Sam Jordan, who joined "Wee Row" last year. "You get to see it all from ground level. It can be a little intimidating, with all the boats going by. But there's the sense of history that comes out, like the folks who traveled hundreds of years ago on the water."
A wreck on the water
In recent weeks, the Weehawken Rowers have had their share of close calls.
Two weeks ago, the rowers had just completed a jaunt across the river to Pier 84 in Manhattan, to celebrate the grand re-opening of the New York launching point. Jim Dette, one of the original Weehawken Rowers from the early days, said that the group was enjoying a barbecue on the New York side when the group heard a loud booming noise.
"It was a helicopter hitting the water," Dette said. "I didn't see it hit the water, but one of our rowers [Robert DeZeeau] was out on the pier and just happened to be taking pictures when it hit."
When it came time for the rowers to head back to Weehawken, they received some resistance.
"The police tried to shoo us away and told us that we couldn't continue," Dette said. "But we told them that it was the only way we could get home, that it's where we live."
Once the rowers returned to shore, there were several news gathering organizations, like WABC-TV Channel 7 Eyewitness News, awaiting them to be interviewed as witnesses. DeZeeau's pictures of the crash were purchased by some wire services like Associated Press. Frank Cervi was also interviewed for his take on the incident.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in the crash.
An impromptu race
Then, last Wednesday, the rowers had another harrowing experience.
The rowers encountered a tugboat that was pushing four barges of gravel down the river and the rowers had to make their way across.
"We knew we couldn't cross in front of the tug," Dette said. "We knew the tug couldn't stop and if it hit us, it would break us in half."
So the rowers went parallel with the tugboat.
"We decided to give it a run," Dette said.
Sure enough, the eager rowers not only caught up to the tugboat, but they actually went ahead of it for a brief stint.
"We still could not cross in front, so we slowed and passed over its wake, which was very turbulent," Dette said. "We thought it was pretty good that we could keep up with the tugboat, considering the water was choppy. We had four strong rowers that night."
A good crew
Dette, who organizes the efforts, said that there are about 20 people who regularly row on the Hudson.
"Some of go back to day one," Dette said, mentioning names like Smiljana Peros and Rich Sabogal.
Another original is Mark Gould, the vice-chairman of the Weehawken Planning Board and a member of the Board of Adjustment.
"I saw them building the boats where I was working and became intrigued," Gould said. "They said that they needed help rowing the boat over to Weehawken, so I offered to volunteer. I got hooked. It's a fantastic way to enjoy the river. There's good camaraderie and it's a good experience. I think it's a great way to help bring people back to the waterfront and rowing has such a great educational value as well."
Added Gould, "I still get all charged up every time I do it and it's different every time. There are different people, different groups of people, with newcomers combined with veterans. The current is different each time. So is the water traffic. It's just a great time."
Jordan read about the Weehawken Rowers in The Weehawken Reporter and decided with his wife to give it a try.
"We thought it might be fun and it was," Jordan said. "It draws people from all walks of life. We met some nice people while we're getting out and exercising. It's just a great experience. I wish other folks would get out there and give it a try. If we had more people committed to the waterways, then we would protect it more and use it for fishing, boating. It really is a way of reclaiming the past and gives you a valued perspective of how truly wonderful the area is."
Dette, who in 2004, helped to participate in the reenactment of the Hamilton-Burr duel and was able to secure a second boat for Weehawken in the process, believes that he's taken more than 100 trips across the Hudson over the last seven years.
"We average one trip a week and if we're fortunate, we get to go twice," Dette said. "There's a lot of work involved, getting enough people to come to the row, checking the weather forecast all the time. I always have to look at the weather and that's how we decide whether we're going to give it a go. If the forecast isn't good, we don't go." Dette said that he eventually would like to pass the organizer's torch to someone else.
"I'd like to see someone else take over the organizing part," Dette said. "But I still love to get out on the water."
Searching for a boathouse
Dette said that the group is still searching for a permanent home for their boat container. There has been space set aside for a boathouse in the new Weehawken recreational waterfront park, but that space is not accessible as of yet.
There was also talk of using space in the historic Weehawken Water Tower as a home to build more boats - except for one obstacle.
"We looked at it and realized that we could build the boats there," Dette said. "But we wouldn't be able to get them out. It was an impossibility."
Dette said that the two boats that the Weehawken Rowers use are in decent shape, only needing minor repairs from time to time.
There has also been hope of new members. Since the last time "Wee Row" was featured in The Weehawken Reporter, the group received five new rowers.
"They said that they never knew we were doing this," Dette said. "They read it in the paper and decided to join."
So if there are any people who are interested in giving the Weehawken Rowers a try, contact Dette at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"It really is worthwhile," Dette said. "We get out on the water, head to New York, have our usual libation and head back home. There's nothing like it."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com