A Secret Voyage Through the Seven Seas of Central Park


If you see something, say something, we’re often told, although on a recent moonlit night in Central Park, the sight of two men lifting Kevlar canoes overhead the iron fence around the tank didn’t seem to worry anyone. Joggers jogged, walkers walked – and Neil King and Tyler Maroney, self-proclaimed urban rustics, raced down a steep embankment and pushed into what King later called “the epicenter of the void” for an illicit crossing of the greatest mass of fresh water of Manhattan. A hundred yards further on, they hit paddles together, celebrating. Twenty minutes later they were high and dry again, heading south and bearing towards Turtle Pond, in anticipation of an amphibious assault on Belvedere Castle.

Neil KingIllustration by João Fazenda

This lark was King’s idea. An old the wall street journal journalist, he had decided last year, in the midst of what he called “the vagueness” of the formless covid days, walking from his home in Washington, DC, to New York – a hike to the Ramble, as he designed it. While working on a book about the experience, a desire for new adventure took hold. During the winter, he went through a “polar phase”, devouring stories of Antarctic exploration. (“Seriously, shut up about Shackleton,” his wife, Columbia administrator Shailagh Murray, told him.) With spring approaching and the unfortunately existing haziness, he set his sights on something more realistic and truly new – crossing what he calls the seven seas of Central Park, from north to south: the Harlem Meer; the Pool, west of the North Meadow; The reservoir; the turtle pond; Lake; the Conservatoire des Eaux, with its models of sailboats; and the pond, in front of the Plaza. Speaking of his paddling partner Maroney, a Los Angeles-based private detective, King said, “It’s not that Tyler was fourth on my dance card, but I floated him to a few people, and they were , like, ‘No, I already spent a night in a prison in New York, and I don’t want to do it again. ”

A hitch appeared during day reconnaissance: Conservatory Water didn’t have one. It was a mud pit, apparently drained for maintenance. So they replaced the Loch, a stream that descends from the pool under a stone arch. King produced photocopies of old maps showing what was once called Montayne’s Rivulet, which originated on West 101st Street. Neither man was wearing a life jacket. Maroney brought a ziplock bag for his phone – “just in case there was a capsize”, he said. King, courting danger, carried in his backpack a laptop he had forgotten to remove. Twice while attempting to enter the Loch, King took on water and had to turn his canoe over before trying again.

Each boat weighed less than twenty pounds. The lightness proved useful both in preventing fatigue during the long stretches of land and in facilitating the couple’s most triumphant moment: climbing the more than one hundred feet of shale to the castle with canoes perched on their shoulders, and only briefly stumble near the top. “What do you call it when you mix canoeing and free soloing? Maroney said, as King poured restorative hot toddies from a thermos. King called it their “Guns of Navarone” moment, alluding to Gregory Peck’s cliff climb on the Aegean Sea. Nearby, in the courtyard of the castle, there was another kind of blur, emanating from the toy lightsabers of “Star Wars” reenactors, who didn’t care about the invaders.

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Five down, two left. Stopping at the north end of the lake, Maroney paused to take in the “oligarchs view” over Central Park South. Under the Bow Bridge they quickly drifted. Pedestrians were rarer and dozens of ducks worried about the invasion of their usual privacy. Still no sign of cops. “We flattered ourselves that the authorities would care,” King said. “I had worked out all these lines.”

Midnight was approaching as they launched into the pond. The proximity of the skyscrapers created what King called a “Grand Canyon effect” from the water level, like a steep rock face. It had been three hours since they started. Neither captain was quite ready to abandon ship. Surely no one had ever done this before, and they wanted to bask in the moment. After a few victory laps and a few selfies with flash (no more blurring), the two disembarked and hugged. King hailed a cab to pick up his car in Harlem, while Maroney waited with the canoes on Fifth Avenue. ♦


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