How ironic is it that the island of Manhattan, with 8 million people, offers no easy way for escaping, refreshing, and rejuvenating out on the water?
Aside from renting a kayak or a touristy schooner ride, there's no service that provides you the ability to enjoy the water. The closest I came to it was becoming a member of the Manhattan Yacht Club, which operates a two story clubhouse - The Willy Wall - on a barge in the middle of the Hudson. I would spend 3 nights a week having drinks out on it during the summer, but all that ended in 2015, when they were kicked out of North Cove Marina in Battery Park City and forced to relocate to New Jersey. And with that, went the only real opportunity for a local to regularly go out on the water.
I grew up sailing on and off as my father was a yacht designer. As an adult, I escaped Manhattan for sailing vacations in the British Virgin Islands and other locations, renting sailboats for a week to recharge my batteries. Nothing beats the sense of healing and rejuvenation you get from being on the water, it's the combination of being one with nature, of fresh open air, of the sun glistening off the water with wildlife all around you.
Fast forward to summer 2020 — month 4 of Covid lockdown — holed up in my Lower East Side apartment I was desperate to escape to the "outdoors". With limited options in the city, I booked a week at a much more remote island — Martha's Vineyard. One option for getting out on the water stood out — a tour of an oyster farm in the middle of Katama Bay.
Upon arriving at the designated water's edge parking lot, I was picked up by Ryan, founder of Signature Oysters, on his strange looking boat, really more of a long dock with an outboard engine mounted on the back. And even more surprising, a table-clothed dining table and chairs.
What I didn't realize was that I was about to experience one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating boat rides I'd ever been on. As we glided around the bay, just a foot or two above the water, Ryan grilled oysters for us on a small hibachi, and took me on an unforgettable tour.
The feeling of oneness and wellness with nature was intense. And I realized the open deck boat design was really a blank canvas enabling a broad range of activities never before done on the water... a new way to experience and appreciate the water. That's how Haven was born.
As a product manager of website and mobile apps, I yearned for a personal app that would let me summon a boat as easily as summoning an Uber. And I wanted that boat to allow me to do anything out on the water I wanted, from a romantic dinner, to a full-body workout.
Around the same time, I was introduced to a new tech accelerator called Day One. I pitched the idea to them, and within a matter of days I was jumping into an 8 week accelerator program, hashing out the idea with the prerequisite child-like enthusiasm of no-idea-too-crazy.
One of the most profound aspects of the oyster farm boat was its stability. It was built heavy, to sit solid like a barge, immune to the swells that rock many smaller boats back and forth. Indeed, not once during the whole trip did I have to hold a railing or fear spilling my wine. That kind of sturdiness inspired my confidence in fashioning a vessel that could support the stability needed for a range of activities, from the absolute zen of yoga and mindfulness, or hobbies like painting, all the way to fitness and dining, or a work meeting on the water. Further upgrading to a catamaran, trimaran, or even swath hull would bring even more comfort.
With such a broad range of activities to choose from, it's only natural that you'd want to optimize the deck for each.
As a city dweller, I'm used to transforming small spaces (like my NYC apartment) for different use cases. There are even some innovative companies, most notably Ori Living, that are taking this to the max with modular furniture units that roll out on rails and transform a room in seconds from bedroom to office to living room. The same design thinking can be brought to our flat-decked boat, optimizing it for a variety of activities.
So what was missing? The noisy, smelly, gas guzzling outboard engine was not going to make for a relaxing yoga experience. Luckily, electric engines for boats are just starting to come to market, and with them a near silent, clean, eco-friendly ride.
This new vessel design... with high stability, silent and clean engines, and a modular deck, is what we're having built.
And then we'll be launching our service. So that everyone, with or without boating experience, can enjoy the untapped real estate of our urban waterways, in a safe and secure experience. Whether you want to get out on the water with friends, hire a trainer for a fitness session, take your children out to play, or even enjoy a sunset drink with your dog by your side, you can seamlessly reserve a boat in our app and just show up. There'll be some basic safety training and protocols, but nothing too onerous, you'll get the gist of it. We'll also be launching an app marketplace enabling an inspired community of hosts to create their own experiences for you to join.
As I worked to maximize the experience, I discovered one more key innovation — new maritime autonomy tech — which is about to disrupt the maritime industry in a big and positive way. This technology is primed to help elevate the potential of Haven to deliver a really incredible experience.
Autonomy tech enables remote piloting of vessels — literally a captain with a laptop operating the vessel from an onshore control station or mothership — with real-time video, audio, location feeds, sensors, and additional assists like anti-collision software.
So I started learning about the startups building these technologies, assessing their feasibility, and developing relationships with them.
My discussions with Sailplan and Sea Machines, two of the companies I'm working with to supply autonomy and fleet management solutions, have given me confidence that maritime autonomy is going to be realized (it's already being deployed), and both companies have very exciting visions for the future of the maritime space.
Armed with these new innovations, I’m now in the second cohort at Day One, continuing to evolve all aspects of the business while I build the company, design the products and service, recruit advisors, talent, investors, etc.
It’s a grueling, complex project. But after having built a large membership organization in the past, I feel a level of comfort in building a new service that's going to enable easy, accessible fun, health and well-being for the public. It combines my passion for the water, love for experiences, and my professional skills developing mobile and web apps for consumer audiences.
This service is community minded. As we develop our vessels, app, private and hosted experiences, and technology, we'll be sharing much of that development publicly with our users and soliciting feedback along the way.
You'll hear more about this in our next post.
We have the beginnings of a terrific team, all of whom bring invaluable experience across a wide range of areas, and we're continuing to recruit, so please give us a shout if you're interested!