The Ocean of Blood on Newtown Creek

How do you get five “boatercycles” – aka motorcycle-powered pontoon boats – to the Ganges River?

You start off with a party on Newtown Creek, the channel of toxic broth that cleaves Brooklyn from Queens.


On Sunday, some 60 guests plunked down $10 apiece to attend a floating fundraiser for “The Swimming Cities of the Oceans of Blood”, an art project that involves building a flotilla of boatercycles in Brooklyn, shipping them to India and navigating them down the country’s holiest river.

“I love boats and I love India and I like to hang out with my friends and build things with them,” said Orien McNeill, a 30-year-old Manhattan native who is one of the project’s organizers. “We’re creating adventure tourism art.”

Ship's Capt. Haile Selassie

The theme of the fundraiser? West Indian Day Parade. Orien dressed up like Hailie Selassie and sported a chest full of medals, including one he fashioned from a hacked up cookie-cutter.  Partygoers waited at the northern end of Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where they clambered over a seawall and climbed down the ladder into a waiting speedboat.  Using a two-by-four tied to the outboard motor, Orien steered the craft down the creek and under a railroad bridge, which was so close to water that the crew, in their feathered headdresses, had to duck to clear it.

On the other side of the bridge, two small barges and one prototype boatercycle were tethered to a rickety pier.  Revelers dressed like birds of paradise in neon face paint, sequins and feathers danced and cheered as a mooring line was tossed out over the iridescent, oily tide.  The boat pulled up to dock alongside the floating party. Passengers disembarked and were soon drinking umbrella’d cocktails.

The scene looked like “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” enacted on an aquatic landfill. (Note: This is not hyperbole. Newtown Creek is an estuary of “dead water” that holds an estimated 30 million gallons of spilled oil. The result is visible in places as a sludgy layer of so-called “black mayonnaise” on the shoreline.  I could make a joke here  about putting the “superfun” back in “superfund,” but…)

Only two people fell in.


The name “Oceans of Blood” is a reference to the life-giving Hindu goddess Kali. The project is the latest incarnation of Swimming Cities, a series of voyages aboard homemade art rafts that began with the Miss Rockaway Armada on the Mississippi River in 2006.  Other Swimming Cities performances have involved cruising down the Hudson River and crashing the Venice Biennale.

When complete, the five boatercyles will be able to travel independently or connect to form a performance plaform shaped like a five-pointed star. The Ocean of Blood crew hopes to have them done in time to show at next month’s Figment festival.

Diagram of 5 interlocking boatercycles

Photo Gallery: The Ocean of Blood on Newtown Creek

photos by Jessica Bruder

Jessica Bruder
Jessica Bruder