The Floating Dock is Dead! Long Live the Floating Dock!

Approximately a year ago, ICC replaced its old floating dock with a shiny new one that volunteer Turtles built themselves. The decommissioning of the old dock raised a few questions. First and foremost, “What does one do with a 16 foot by 30 foot floating dock after it is disconnected from the pilings?” As large as it was, and weighing an unknown number of tons due to its waterlogged condition, it had become a ponderous, waterlogged, sinking, failing structure. We kept it around last summer partly out of nostalgia. And over the winter out of inertia.

After the swap, the old floating dock was anchored in the cove to our north between ICC and La Marina. In those protected waters, it survived a summer, all and winter secured by three anchoring lines. It hosted numbers of geese and accumulated their leavings, and also was a place where flotsam would simply accumulate, an inanimate collector of river trash.

With time, however, her structural integrity failed, and in mid-winter it began to come apart at the seams, some parts floating out to sea and other parts sinking to the bottom. On Sunday, February 28, we held a well-attended workday and began the process of disassembling our beloved behemoth. At low tide,Turtles swarmed over the dock to end its days. Despite the wetness, the mud and the slime and barnacles and sharp rusted metal and splintering wood and cold, cold water, the Turtles persevered. From above, we had a team of Turtles on the unsteady float, unbolting, unscrewing and levering with crowbars to take the dock apart. From below, we had a brave crew of volunteers in shoulder-high waders in the frigid Hudson River chipping away at the dock using a variety of hand powered tools including sledgehammers and our massive six foot “persuader” pry bars.

Out with the old? Not entirely. The decking wood was harvested for future use. Waterlogged timbers were arrayed on the shoreline to help break waves. Usable metal hardware was salvaged, while the rusted pieces were sent to metal recycling. Multiple generations of flotation were removed and directed either to the landfill or to our storage for future use. In shipyard terms, we “broke up” the dock.

While several Turtles of yore recall working to repair or reattach the old dock, no one so far can say when it was actually built. The process of taking it apart had the feel of an archaeology survey. There were several generations of wood additions, of hardware and of flotation types, each offering clues about its history.The most impressive feature was the framework (or skeleton), composed of two MASSIVE hardwood timbers, 30 feet long and approximately nine inches wide by 20 inches high. These timbers were most likely hewn from tall old-growth oak trees, relics of a bygone era. Despite having been in the water for decades, we feel fairly sure that the species was white oak (Quercus alba). White oaks are indigenous to the northeastern United States and can grow to majestic proportions. White oak are not only beautiful, but also water- and rot-resistant. Useful for land and maritime construction, these trees were almost logged out of our landscape for their utility. White oak along with live oak (Quercus virginiana) a.k.a. “green oak” or “evergreen oak” were the principal building materials during the United States golden age of wooden-hulled frigates such as the U.S.S. Constitution and U.S.S. Constellation. It seems our old floating dock was of noble provenance.

For those who witnessed or participated in the building of the new dock and the breaking up of the old one, the contrast in design could not be more obvious. The old dock’s structure relied on the strength of its timbers, which were connected in a massive way at very few points. The new dock is much lighter and is a composite of many smaller planks bound together at multiple points. The old dock relied on the wooden components as part of the flotation, and on the natural rot-resistance of the old-growth species. The new dock uses modern flotation canisters, and is designed to maintain most hardware and wood components out of the water. Naturally rot-resistant lumber is no longer available for this type of purpose, and what is available today, mostly plantation-grown pine, must be chemically treated to retard the decomposition that is inevitable in our marine environment. 

The lighter structure rides over most waves,allowing the kinetic energy to pass harmlessly underneath. Maintenance is another area where the new design has its benefits. The old dock was buoyed by flotation that was attached to the bottom of the decking, constantly pressing upwards. If there were wakes and waves while deck boards were removed to conduct maintenance, the workday became an extremely tricky and dangerous affair. With the new design, decking can be freely removed for replacement or periodic maintenance underneath without compromising the structure as a whole and with far less risk of injury to our volunteer Turtles.

Overall, both designs have their merits and their shortcomings. Each is a product of the era in which it was constructed. Hopefully, the new dock, despite the difference in design and materials, will be able to serve our club as well and as enduringly as did the old dock. We will remember the old dock fondly, and we will be reminded of her as we observe salvaged pieces of her serving other purposes around our club such as landscaping timbers in the garden and buttressing segments of our seawall.

With gladness in my heart at her demise, I still say, “Long live the old dock!”