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Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson School Some Boaters on Water Ways TV

Two words sum up the entire journey that found me floating on a 1994 Monterey between Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty with world-famous astrophysicist, best-selling author, and one of the internet’s favourite people, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Those words are: “Why not?”

At the end of Season 1 of Water Ways, I thought it would be a good idea to have a narrative throughline that would last a few episodes in Season 2. A few ideas percolated in my noggin, but I ultimately landed on picking up a “pocket cruiser," a powerboat under 30-feet but with full liveaboard amenities – sleeping quarters, head (toilet), and cooking facilities.

Why not?

Then the decision was what to do with it. I could keep it local and do a bunch of DIY projects. That would be good, but not great, content (in my opinion). Instead, what would move the needle would be using my new “prop” to demonstrate a deep-rooted belief that boating is accessible for all and you don’t actually need a massive budget to join the yachting crowd living it up on the water. So I decided I should undertake a massive journey on what could best be considered a “starter boat."

Why not?

But what destination? Toronto to Montreal would take me through Prince Edward County’s beautiful Bay of Quinte and then through the Thousand Islands. On the other hand, crossing Lake Ontario to Oswego, New York would get me into the Erie Canal and to New York City. So in a moment of strategic consideration (note: heavy sarcasm!) I thought, maybe I could combine both.

Why not?

So, the idea was to take my 1994 Monterey 265 SEL from Toronto to Montreal, and then from Montreal to New York City, via Lake Champlain. Why not?

The first run of the journey was solo, from Toronto to Cobourg, Cobourg to Picton, and then Picton to Brockville. There, my father-in-law (and well-known friend of the show to loyal viewers) joined me as you need at least two people to tackle the locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

With “Gramps” on board, and a very jealous 7-year old at home, we worked our way from Brockville through the three Canadian and two American locks that weave through the Seaway from Iroquois, Ontario, dipping into northern New York, and around the southern shore of Grande-Île, Quebec along the Beauharnois Canal. From here we detoured north to Oka, Quebec where I had a SideShift stern thruster and a swim platform extension from Quebec-based Swim Platform-Ultra installed to make the remaining two dozen-ish locks much easier – and safer! – to navigate.

With the ultimate destination being one of the most famous cities in the world, I thought I should get a local on board who could share some insights. If you happen to know any of my teachers from high school, you will know that I didn’t win any awards for Academic of the Year. However, I would say there were a handful of teachers who recognized that there was an inquisitive student buried deep below the nonsense.

That's the the kind of intellectual sweet spot that Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is the master of hitting. Himself a Harvard-educated scientist with a PhD in Astrophysics from Columbia, he operates in intellectual spheres most of us can’t comprehend. Yet he’s perfected the art of making complex concepts more understandable. In other words, he's the best at turning the grandiosity of the universe into bite-sized chunks that your average citizen can understand.

Why not?

I figured I’d reach out. When not heading up the Hayden Planetarium or writing best-selling books, he appears on shows like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or the Joe Rogan podcast, so what are the odds he would agree to be a guest on a brand-new show about boating based out of Canada? As it turns out, pretty good.

I contacted his team and pitched an idea. I wanted him to help explain the science of boating that we all take for granted. How do big ships float? How can a small propellor move a big boat so fast? Can we use hydrogen in the water to power boats? Stuff like that.

Turns out, Dr. Tyson also thought “Why not?” He was on his lecture tour of Australia when I reached out. His assistant forwarded the request, along with my suggested questions, and I was pleasantly surprised when I got a rather quick response in the affirmative. Why not spend a few hours and talk to boaters, via this new show.

Logistically that complicated things. I had initially planned on a bit of a 'turn-and-burn' from New York Harbour to avoid paying the hefty marina rates. But Dr. Tyson agreed to not only be a guest, but join me on the pocket cruiser and do our chat on the water. That meant keeping the boat nearby for a few weeks.

Hoboken would be my temporary home and I had a few opportunities to explore what was Frank Sinatra’s hometown. It’s got a funky vibe with lots of young families and restaurants and, importantly, had the lowest marina rates I could find. Although, it also meant unprotected docks that got rocked constantly by ferry traffic, so staying aboard wasn’t really an option for any extended period of time.

The day of our shoot was picture perfect. Clear sunny skies and very low wind.

The two-person camera crew joined me in New Jersey and we crossed over to Lower Manhattan to do a “touch-and-go” pick-up which you can pay for. The rates are a little different based on each marina, but it’s essentially the same as paying for parking in a garage for an hour or two. Not free but not bank-breaking.

All of these efforts and pushing through the “why nots” ended up with a world-famous scientist and celebrity laughing with me – and roasting me for a good chunk of it – as we floated between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Sure it became an episode of Season 2 of Water Ways, but more than that, it was one of the coolest days on the water I’ve ever had.

As our day ended with me walking him back to his ride from the docks of North Cove Marina, I thanked him for taking time out of his busy schedule to “have some fun with my little boat show."

He didn’t miss a beat. “There are no little shows. Just new ways to reach people. And I hadn’t done anything like this before. Hopefully we can share some knowledge and reach some boaters.”

Based on what I heard at the Toronto and Vancouver Boat Shows, we did just that. And if you missed it, give the episode a watch. But be careful, you might just learn something!

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