By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Rik van Hemmen has been all over the world and seen just about every major body of water worth experiencing, from his native Rotterdam, Holland to the shores of Newport, Rhode Island the long way and the short.
None has come close to the diversity of the Navesink River, he said, where one can drop a line in the water, hunt for ducks, spot an eagle, boat out to the Atlantic or jaunt up to New York City.
“I found out that the Navesink is really a unique piece of water,” said van Hemmen. “The core of it is it allows so much to be done that you can’t find anywhere else.”
Steeped in all things nautical, to say the least marine consultant, engineer, boat builder and vice president of the Navesink Maritime Heritage Association 51-year-old van Hemmen has an appreciation for the Navesink that’s unrivaled.
And he wants others to share his love for what he calls our area’s “zen garden.” So he wrote a book about it.
“A Chronology of Boating on the Navesink River,” released last month, is van Hemmen’s tribute to the waterway in words and tons of pictures, culled from the archives of the NMHA and other local groups and businesses, including Dorn’s Classic Images, the successor to longtime Red Bank fixture Dorn’s Photography.
It is his baby, a personal endeavor he said was always in him, but wasn’t conceived until the association floated the idea for a special project. That’s when he found an opportunity to crack into the rich history of the river.
“There is no book like it,” van Hemmen said. “There are books that talk about the river in different periods, but they don’t talk about the connection.”
The connection is what van Hemmen is all about, and wants to convey that to readers so they have an appreciation for all the river has to offer.
The Navesink, he says, is a gem of diversity, rife with history and opportunities for the saltiest sailor down to the nautical neophyte. Van Hemmen’s goal is to educate.
Through the book’s 10,000-year timeline, van Hemmen explains how people adapted to the river. He also suggests ways of experiencing the waterway that might put one in the shoes of a Native American or early settler.
“If you take a kid and put them in a 30-foot paddle boat down the river, they won’t have as much fun if you put them in a canoe,” he said. “The best boat for the job is the smallest boat for the job.”
What some people fail to realize, van Hemmen said, is that there’s little reason to leave the Red Bank area for an all-encompassing maritime experience.
“When you put Newport and Red Bank side by side, Red Bank has everything, plus better schools and less tourism,” he said. “So you’re on the winning side.”
Van Hemmen, who lives in Fair Haven and has written a handful of books, said this project posed a particular challenge. The reason he loves the river so much is because “it’s all complex, it’s complicated,” and he found it daunting to untangle thousands of years of history into comprehensive chunks.
After months of work outlining possibilities, he figured it out.
“I didn’t know what it is I was going to get,” van Hemmen said, “but I realized it is possible to communicate to people that we’re siting on a real great asset and there are many different ways to enjoy it.”
Van Hemmen’s book is currently available for purchase online only, but he intends to sell it in local museums and bookshelves soon. It sells for $35, with proceeds to the nonprofit NMHA.