The Rich History Boating on the Navesink River

December 11, 2015
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Rik van Hemmen, author of “A Chronology of Boating on the

Rik van Hemmen, author of “A Chronology of Boating on the Navesink River.” Photo by Art Petrosemolo

By Art Petrosemolo |

The growth of Monmouth County and its historic river towns is intertwined with the nautical history of Sandy Hook Bay and the area’s two prominent rivers – the Navesink and Shrewsbury.

The nonprofit group – The Navesink Marine Historical Association (NMHA) – celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2015, is at the forefront of uncovering those links and documenting them through educational and environmental programs for the community.

The group recently published the second edition of the area’s nautical history: “A Chronology of Boating on the Navesink River,” written by marine engineer Rik van Hemmen.

Van Hemmen, a Fair Haven resident, is a founding member of NMHA. He also is the principal of Martin Ottaway, Red Bank, a century old marine engineering firm that specializes in disaster recovery.

“As part of NMHA’s educational mission of uncovering the rich nautical history of the two rivers area,” van Hemmen says, “we had populated our website with lots of photos and text about the growth of boating from the pre-Colonial Native Americans through the 20th century. The book was a natural outgrowth of that effort.”

The soft cover book’s first edition, with just under 100 pages, was self-published by NMHA in 2010 and more than 400 copies were sold locally at River Road Books in Fair Haven, Bahrs Landing in Highlands, through marine professional organizations, and online through Amazon and the NMHA’s website.

In discussing the book’s second edition, van Hemmen smiled. “Our research uncovered lots of new materials that didn’t just fit at the end of the book but throughout, ” says the author. “The second edition has an additional 25 pages (120 page total) with new information on the growth of boating in the area.”

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As an example, van Hemmen sites the Colonial (replica) vessel OnRust, from upstate New York, that, with the help of NMHA, spent a week in the area for the 350th anniversary celebration of Monmouth County this past summer. It included stops in Red Bank and Fair Haven where hundreds of visitors toured the vessel. “The Onrust,” van Hemmen says, “is a great example of one of the small trading vessels that would have brought cargo to the two rivers communities during their early growth from the Colonial period right through the late 1700s.”

Other boats added to Chronology are the historic iceboat Rocket restored by the Shrewsbury River Ice Boat Club in Red Bank and featured in a national NBC TV news segment earlier this year, and the new Clearwater Garvey recently built by members of NMHA for New Jersey Friends of Clearwater.

The book describes watercraft with text, photos and drawings from the first boats – dugout canoe built by Native Americans – to a chapter on one-design sailboats that are popular on the rivers for racing out of the local yacht and boat clubs including the 135-year old Monmouth Boat Club in Red Bank.

A glossary of terms to help the nautical neophyte completes the volume.

Chronology also includes information on several NMHA programs for adults and children. NMHA was formed by a small group of nautical enthusiasts with a deep interest in the history of the Two Rivers including Gayle Horvath, Red Bank; Bob Noguiera, Fair Haven; Tom Gibson, Holmdel; Dr. Charles Ladoulis, Locust, and van Hemmen.

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The group’s first programs were six-hour canoe building sessions where, for several years, they mentored youngsters who built and launched canoes over a weekend. The program was first run at the Monmouth Boat Club and continued for years at the Fair Haven Fire House.

The canoe building grew into a River Rangers (a trailer-boat based summer river exploratory program for kids) that involves hundreds of children to age 16. A recently started Sea Scouts co-ed program for teenagers has nine members working on nautical projects.

NMHA holds periodic meetings with nautical speakers at Bahrs Landing in Highlands that are open to the public.

Recently NMHA partnered with the township of Middletown for the rehabilitation of the historic Grover House at the entrance of Stevenson Park on West Front Street. Working with the town and with help from private donations, NMHA will rehabilitate the first floor for offices and meeting space and they hope to construct a separate barn that will serve as a shop and workspace for boat building and repair.

Long-term, NMHA would like to garner support locally for a federal nautical sanctuary designation (similar to national park status) for the area from the Sandy Hook through the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers.

To learn more about NMHA and their programs visit, the group’s website,













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