A Circle Line Cruise of Manhattan is a touristy experience. well, of course it is. If you weren’t a tourist, you wouldn’t be doing it. Its whole raison d’etre is to give visitors a snapshot history of the city, and allow them to take their own snapshots of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
We expected all that, but it did have one element that pleasantly surprised us.
At Pier 83 at the west end of 42nd Street, a couple of hundred of us took turns posing for the photo of ourselves with the boat behind us, then shuffled up the gangplank and took our seats. ‘And please ladies and gentlemen, we ask you not to stand and obstruct the view of others.’
Our onboard guide’s sing-song commentary was often gabbled into the microphone with the speed and spontaneity normally reserved for the disclosures at the end of political TV commercials. He certainly knew his stuff. Off by heart. Which gave the impression that he’d done the tour for years, too many times each week.
We did however get the required information; the dates, real estate prices and the names of the rich and famous residents of the Manhattan waterfront apartments.
The close encounter with the New York icon came twenty-five minutes into the trip. The excitement was palpable, and I was not immune.
After that, there were two and half hours to fill. Many of our fellow passengers escaped from the icy wind back into the shelter of the cabin. A few of us hardy photographers had the bow of the boat to ourselves. That suited me fine, because it turned out the best was yet to come.
The bridges over the Harlem River, connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, are not particularly graceful. The tangle of steel of Williamsburg Bridge is stark and functional, like something built with a giant Meccano set.
What I loved about these feats of engineering was that I could feel the labour that had gone into their construction. Most date from the 19th or early 20th century. Thousands of immigrant workers, Irish, German, Polish and countless others, would have worked year after year, in all seasons, presumably being poorly paid and with minimal safety standards.
The fruits of their labour have a compelling hand-made quality, especially when viewed from below.
A full three-hour cruise of Manhattan costs $38. See www.circleline42.com
The writer was the guest of Circle Line Cruises.