STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Some people trying to escape the summer heat will be able to do it in the waters off New York City. That's where a woman created - we'll let Jon Kalish tell you.
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JON KALISH: Using lumber found in dumpsters, donated building supplies and some of her own funds, a 29-year-old woman named Constance Hockaday has transformed five abandoned vessels into a boat hotel that includes a floating platform with a movie screen on it. Hockaday actually makes no secret of the fact that she's inspired by a 19th Century madam who presided over a floating bordello in Oregon.
CONSTANCE HOCKADAY: I did throw around the idea of creating a floating brothel, but I don't know if I'm quite madam material.
KALISH: Hockaday decided to create a floating hotel instead and she found a willing collaborator in Ari Zablozki. The owner of Marina 59 gave her an old houseboat and the hulls of four fiberglass motor boats that had been abandoned by their owners.
ARI ZABLOZKI: People abandon their boasts very quickly. Once the engine is gone, they're basically worthless, so whoever owns them usually just dumps them on the marina.
KALISH: Zablozki's marina is a fitting location for an unconventional project like a boat hotel. He has a couple of goats on the premises that roam around in lieu of a lawn mower, and one of his tenants live in an off-the-grid houseboat with a composting toilet on a raft.
Constance Hockaday and her crew of DIY volunteers worked for a month making the long-abandoned boats habitable.
HOCKADAY: Some of the biggest work that we did was actually just getting them to float. Putting them on cranes, lowering them in the water, finding out that they leak like all hell, plugging them up, sealing them. This and that. I mean, that was probably the bulk of the work.
KALISH: Boatel guests pay $50 a night and must sign a liability waver. There are no bathrooms or electricity on the boats. But what a view they have from this inlet off of Jamaica Bay - a public housing project on one side and a school bus parking lot on the other.
GRETA GERTLER: It's just so beautiful out here. There are so many interesting things to look at all around this whole area. Like that houseboat next door.
KALISH: Yeah, that houseboat with the composting toilet on a raft. That's Greta Gertler, a Brooklynite celebrating her third anniversary with her boyfriend by spending a night at the boatel. They sat on the deck of a 30-foot boat drinking beer as the sun set on this rustic maritime getaway.
Ok, so it's not totally rustic. A steady stream of jumbo jets taking off from Kennedy Airport headed east over the Atlantic.
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GERTLER: I didn't realize how much I actually really enjoy watching planes take off. It's just a matter of stopping for a while and watching what's around and New York is generally a great place to do that, but this takes it to another level, I mean...
KALISH: There were five couples staying at the boatel and barbecuing their dinner on tiny grills.
The evening was not without its drama. A miniature dog named Tootsie fell overboard in pursuit of a hamburger. Luckily, Tootsie was wearing a life jacket.
Meanwhile, one dock away was Rob Bryn, a musician who's spending the summer in his own abandoned boat. He thinks the boatel is a great idea.
ROB BRYN: The economy being what it is, this is a vacation spot that's a subway ride away. The fact that people can come down here and get acquainted with this place, I think is great.
KALISH: The boatel is so popular that it's sold out through Labor Day when it's scheduled to close.
For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.
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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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