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Sailing model boats on Conservatory Water in Central Park

Conservatory Water looking north Looking across Conservatory Water sailboat rental at Conservatory Water remote control at Conservatory Water Conservatory Water with New York skyline sailboat on Conservatory Water

My daughter began attending preschool earlier this fall, and to help celebrate this milestone I took her for a special outing on one of the last days before the school year started. She had admired the model boats sailing on Conservatory Water during past trips to Central Park, so we decided to try our hand and rent one to sail ourselves. It’s such a classic New York activity — boats have been sailed in the little pool along the east side of the park for more than 140 years — and it seemed the perfect way to spend a beautiful late summer morning.

Original plans for Central Park called for a reflecting pool alongside a glass conservatory, but cost overruns and budget cuts meant the Conservatory was never constructed and the little pond instead became a popular model boating spot modeled on similar ones seen in Paris by the park’s designers. The pond and its wind-driven boats feature in the beloved children’s book, Stuart Little, which I remember fondly from my childhood. The boating is serious business for adults too, however: members of the Central Park Model Yacht Club hold races on the pond every Saturday from 10am-1pm, with competition boats stored inside the Kerbs Boathouse during the week.

skyline reflected on Conservatory Water sailing boats on Conservatory Water watching boats on Conservatory Water ducks on Conservatory Water Conservatory Water Central Park Conservatory Water looking south with skyline

We rented a boat from the little kiosk just outside Kerbs Boathouse (currently $11 plus tax for 30 minutes) and received a brief lesson on the functions of the accompanying remote control. I was surprised to learn the boats don’t have motors and are powered solely by wind; the remote control allows you to manipulate the position of the rudder and the sail. Moving the boat so the sail was positioned to catch the slight breeze turned out to be a little challenging, especially for a 3-year-old, but she had fun holding the remote and toggling the controls, and was kind enough to give me a few turns. When we did manage to line everything up to ensure a good run (due more to luck than anything else!), it was exhilarating to watch our boat sprint across the water. We walked around the far side of the pond to meet it, pointing out the ducks who share the space and even finding a solitary turtle floating in the warm water at the pond’s surface. We turned the boat back around, on course for the boathouse once more. The view of the boathouse and the skyline along the east side of the park reflecting over the water made for one of those moments where New York seems irresistibly lovely, and I fell a little more in love with this amazing city. We celebrated with an ice cream after returning our boat, full of plans to come back and further hone our skills next summer.

A few further details:

  • Weather permitting, the boating season runs from April-November. If the weather is questionable on the day you hope to go, it might be worth calling ahead (917-522-0054) to ensure the boats are still sailing.
  • A cafe, run by the chain Le Pain Quotidien, can be found on the east side of the pond, with patio seating available. A second kiosk alongside the south side of the pond has ice cream.
  • Restrooms can be found in the Kerbs Boathouse.
  • Don’t miss the statue of Alice in Wonderland just north of the pond and the one of Hans Christian Andersen to the west of the pond, where fairy and folk tales from around the world are read each Saturday from 11-12 during the summer months (June-September).

 


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