Row House

Row House

It’s a great time to take your boat out on the harbor, and thanks to the Canal Dock Boathouse’s fleet of kayaks, single shells, double shells, a four-seater, an eight-seater and a 10-person dragon boat that calls to mind a Viking ship, you don’t even have to own the boat.

Most of the city’s residents have little connection to the water, observes executive director Hollis Martens, who grew up swimming at Lighthouse Point Park, but Canal Dock is trying to change that. “We’re a community boating club. We want everybody who wants to access… the water to be able to do so affordably.” A Basic Annual Membership option includes boat storage (if you have one) as well as yoga and dry land rowing classes for $125. Those who want to use Canal Dock’s vessels pay more—$250 a year for rowing only or $300 for paddling too, with discounts for members under 30. New Haven public or charter high school students and any New Haven resident living below the area median income of $42,000 per household or $24,000 per individual can use the boats free of charge. Before being allowed to row or paddle unsupervised, members have to complete a lesson or a paddle with one of the boathouse’s experienced members, and even after that, “all outings must include at least two shells on the water.”

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Monthly community days offer New Haveners a chance to try out the boats, and this summer marks the start of Crew Haven, a nonprofit at Canal Dock offering a summer rowing camp and after-school rowing, tutoring and enrichment activities free of charge for city high school students and their families. Crew Haven founder Lawrence Lopez-Menzies wants to give kids the same opportunity he had. Lopez-Menzies grew up in Shelton and went to Yale athletic camps as a boy. “One day they took us down to the basement of Payne Whitney Gym, where the rowing tanks are,” Lopez-Menzies recalls. “That was like the first time I ever got to touch an oar.” He all but forgot about the experience until he joined his high school rowing team—and then was recruited to row for Yale. Getting back in those tanks was “very surreal and emotional in many ways,” he says.

It’s a unique story, Lopez-Menzies says, “but I don’t want it to be anymore. I want to have other kids have that experience.” He tells about a recent morning when the harbor was smooth and calm. He rowed with a freshman camper under the Q Bridge. The camper noted he’d driven over the bridge many times, but he’d never been on the water below it. “It’s really cool when you can see a space that you know so well from a whole new perspective,” Lopez-Menzies says.

Rowing skills translate to many other aspects of life, he notes. “The discipline, teamwork, perseverance, the process of training and then having a race day… Learning about those things on the water is a beautiful thing.” That said, New Haven Harbor can be treacherous. The wind can kick up sizable waves, and big ships frequent the port, though motorboat traffic is light. “Safety first, always,” Lopez-Menzies says. On a chart posted on the boathouse wall, he and Martens point out some of their favorite sheltered paddling spots along the shore, up the Quinnipiac River and out to the Shag Bank sandbar near West Haven.

We’re standing near one of the boathouse’s open bays, looking across the harbor. A summer breeze is chopping the water, and the sun cuts a sharp shadow of the building’s angles on the rear deck. Behind us, boats are stacked and waiting for someone to take them for a spin.

Canal Dock Boathouse
475 Long Wharf Dr, New Haven (map)
Member hours: Daily 6am-7:30pm
Next Community Day: July 10, 8am-noon

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1, featuring Hollis Martens and Lawrence Lopez-Menzies, photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 2 photographed by Dan Mims.

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