It started, as dreams always do, with a deep longing. Kelli Farwell missed Millanocket, her hometown, buried deep in rural, Northern Maine. She missed the outdoors, the lakes and the rivers, and the sense of calm she felt outside the big city. Having spent the past several years in the top ranks at some of New York’s finest dining establishments, Farwell was burnt out, and ready to reconnect to the natural world.
Then one day, while taking the East River ferry with her girlfriend Sue Walsh, the idea hit her: Farwell was going to open a dinner boat.
The dream boat would be a refurbished 49-passenger tugboat replica, docked in North Brooklyn, and able to cruise around New York City’s waterways while passengers dined on traditional New England fare in a cozy tavern setting befitting the aesthetic of Williamsburg/Greenpoint’s more elegant establishments.
And so Farwell began looking into it, and took the necessary steps. She got her Commercial Boating License and is now a Master Captain, with a license to operate a 100 gross-ton passenger vessel. Walsh, who is a graphic designer by trade, began branding the place. First, she came up with the name: the Water Table. Then, she began drawing logos and designing the website. Together, the couple had embarked on a journey to make Captain Farwell’s dream a reality.
“It’s funny, I never thought I’d want to work with a significant other,” admitted Walsh. “But it’s been really so much fun. And in a way, it’s brought us a lot closer.”
Given their workaholic tendencies, that makes sense. For several years, Farwell was the wine director for three restaurants (DuMont, Dressler, and DuMont Burger). Walsh, meanwhile, works full-time as a graphic designer for Milton Glaser, Inc., and spends her nights and weekends as an independent practitioner. By taking on the Water Table project on together, the two women are finding one common outlet for their unrelenting work ethic.
Even so, the couple still find themselves leading lives that can’t always intersect. Farwell is currently working two full-time jobs: one in wholesale wine distribution, the other setting up her dinner boat. Come late March, she’ll fly to Chicago and purchase her vessel – the Stanley C – in nearby St. Joseph, Michigan. After making sure it’s water-worthy, she’ll take it through the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal on a ten-day voyage that will finish in New York Harbor. Walsh, however, won’t be helping lead the maiden voyage. Besides her full-time job, she’s preparing to run the Boston Marathon in April. Still, they plan to meet up on the last day or two, and bring the boat into harbor together.
Much of the funding for the new boat comes from IndieGoGo, a fundraising website for smaller companies trying to get off the ground. That’s inspired Farwell to realize her dream in a way an ordinary bank loan never would have done. Moreover, both Farwell and Walsh are driven by the urgency of a novel idea. Nothing like this really exists in the city yet (and no, booze cruises do not count). If all goes according to plan, they’ll be running dinners on the water for up to 35 patrons at a time come this summer.
“It has to happen this year. Just for Kelli’s sake. Because if you don’t do it in the summer, you have to wait another year,” said Walsh. “Also, we want to have a rehearsal dinner on it for our wedding. And that’s June 21. So we have to get it going for our own sake, too.”