There’s lots to do in Kingston, and many of the activities right now are centered along the waterfront. From early May to the end of October, Kingston has several tour boats that take people out on sightseeing cruises or can be chartered. The largest is the 300-passenger Rip Van Winkle, owned by Hudson River Cruises, followed by the 80-passenger Teal, owned by North River Cruises. Blue Dolphin Cruises’ 1962 Hatteras cruiser and Hudson Sailing’s trimaran sailboat are both available for private charters, for groups up to six.
The Rip Van Winkle goes out twice a day six days a week for three-hour narrated tours to the Vanderbilt estate, in Hyde Park, and back. When it isn’t being chartered, the Teal takes one-and-a-half hour tours of the Hudson during the weekend. Both boats do weekend evening music cruises, featuring a live band or DJ. The boats of all four companies are available for charter to celebrate a special birthday, anniversary or other event, or to impress a client or reward staff if you’re a business. Some of the companies also partner with local restaurants, which either rent out the boat or cater the food.
Sandy Henne, owner of Hudson River Cruises, has been in the Rondout for 30 years, before there was even a dock. “We tied up to a guard rail at the end of the parking lot,” she said. She purchased the 300-passenger Rip Van Winkle cruise boat in 1986. In July and August it goes out on scheduled tours twice a day six days a week, in addition to a Friday evening cruise with live bands. The company also schedules four murder mystery cruises over the summer, and the boat is available for private charters.
Last week the passengers included people from the Netherlands and Australia. On one music cruise, an Australian Aborigine—he was a friend of a band member—played his didgeridoo during intermission. Henne operates a second boat, the Lark, a launch that’s taking people Thursdays through Sundays to the Rondout Lighthouse for tours (a docent from the Hudson River Maritime Museum, which manages the lighthouse, is onboard). Although she hasn’t done much marketing, the tours are picking up.
Henne also hopes to be operating service on the Lark between Kingston and Rhinecliff soon. She’s waiting to get approval from Rhinecliff two officials. On August 6 there’s a big event with Obama for which she hopes to be transporting dignitaries across the river.
The cross-river service would be mostly geared to tourists. In general, she said the Rondout could use more focus, to maximize its potential. “The new walkway is helping a lot. If you build it, they’ll come,” she said. Parking, however, remains a problem. On a weekend, “between the Teal and our boat and everybody at the restaurants, there’s no place to park. We tell people to come early.”
The Teal, which is owned by Joe Thomas—he and partner John DeForest own parent company North River Charters –does mostly charters, for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, Sweet Sixteen parties, and the like. Businesses also charter the boat, although the economic downturn has led to a falloff in company picnics. The 80-passenger vessel also does sightseeing tours on weekends when it isn’t being chartered and evening music cruises; call 750-6024 for times. The boat has a full bar and serves snacks on the public cruises.
Thomas, who’s owned the boat for five years and worked on it for eight—it’s been docked at the Rondout since 1993—said the walkway has brought a lot more foot traffic to the area (although on the downside, there have also been more incidences of vandalism). Local restaurants such as The Steelhouse and Ship to Shore also on occasion rent out the boat, catering all the food, selling tickets, and conveying customers from their establishment to the boat, benefiting both businesses. “I’d love for the businesses to know we’re down here,” said Thomas. “The restaurant trips are going very well.” One of the biggest challenges is the limited season. “It’s just a matter of bringing more people down there and maximizing those couple of months,” he said.
Scott Herrington, owner of Blue Dolphin Charters, takes up to six people out on the Hudson for private trips on his antique, 34-foot Hatteras Sports Cruiser. It has a small cabin with a galley and a head (toilet), and the boat has been chartered for a special birthday or anniversary celebration. It’s also popular with sightseeing tourists and even book authors. The longest trip was eight hours—down to New York City—though Herrington has taken the boat on his own as far as Montauk and Massachusetts. Sometime a family will bring along fishing rods, though Herrington doesn’t do official fishing trips anymore. Meals can be catered from a local restaurant.
Herrington also charters to businesses, for example an insurance company that’s rewarding a client or staff. “We do lots of trips with the Maple Ridge Bruderhof,” he said.
Herrington also owns the Kingston City Marina. “I believe very strongly in the waterfront,” he said. “We have tried to work with the city to build a park that’s for everyone. People are now coming in much greater numbers.” He’s made improvements to the marina and collectively advertises and markets the area with other businesses. “It’s a very cooperative business group.”
Dan Feldman, owner of Hudson Sailing, does charters on his racing 28-foot trimara, a three-hulled sailing boat that can accommodate up to six passengers. The standard trip is three hours, and clients often enjoy a swim and picnic on the cruise. Because the boat is so light, it can sail even in the slightest breeze. If the weather is bad, he’ll reschedule a trip.
Many of his customers are celebrating a special event, and many are people from the city up for the weekend. He’s listed in a couple of travel guides but many people find him simply by Googling “sailing on the Hudson.” A couple of times he’s picked up people from New York City arriving by train from the dock in Rhinecliff.
Word of mouth is helping spurring his business, which is growing, despite the fact Feldman does little advertising. “Someone who leads a stressful life comes up from city, has a drink, eats, relaxes on the trampoline and goes to sleep. They’re in heaven,” he said. “People have told me it’s like a mini vacation. All you hear is the wind and waves. A family came out this season and e-mailed me to thank me. They said the kids said it was the best thing they did as a family.”