Sailing The Hudson River On The Sloop Clearwater
by Bea Peterson
2009 is the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s journey up the river that bears his name. 2009 is also the year of Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday. When the brochure from Hudson Valley Community College offered, among other things, an opportunity to sail on the tall ship Clearwater, Marilyn Douglas and I signed up. On Tuesday we drove to Poughkeepsie to climb aboard.
The Sloop Clearwater (4th verse)
The ship cut through the sewage lying on the river’s face
and the sloop docked in the garbage that was all around the place
and the crew struck up a hornpipe and the boots rang on the wood
and the sound fell on the river and the river found it good.
Words and Music by Bud Foote (c) 1970 by Bud Foote
The sloop Clearwater is considered the flagship of America’s environmental movement. Envisioned by singer/songwriter/political activist and member of the Environmental Hall of Fame Pete Seeger, the Clearwater is built of traditional plank-on-frame wooden construction. It is 108 feet long; 75 feet in length on deck, 25+ feet in beam and can hold up to 70 tons of cargo. The sloop rig consists of a single mast and fidded topmast which together rise to a height of 108 feet with a 65-foot long main boom and a 28-foot long bowsprit.
Cargo sloops like the Clearwater sailed up and down the clean clear waters of the Hudson two hundred years ago carrying ice, lumber and stone. Years of industrialization and population growth put all kinds of pollutants in the river. Seeger was among the early vocal environmentalists to want to see the Hudson and other waterways cleaned up. He believed one boat on one river could make a difference. In the beginning he passed his banjo around after concerts to collect money to build the sloop. With corporate support it was launched in June 1969.
School kids, the general public, even private parties, have sailed aboard the Clearwater and been educated about the river ever since. The educational programs are always expanding and next year summer camps with kayaking and other outdoor activities will be launched.
On Tuesday we stood dockside with 48 other folks of a similar age for orientation before boarding. We were divided into groups of ten and assigned a Clearwater
volunteer leader. Once aboard the Captain gave us a list of dos and don’ts about where to stand and sit and when to duck. Then several people helped throw out an otter trawl to see what we could haul in for the fish tank. They’ve collected 210 species this way. Next, several volunteers were called to the halyards to help hoist the sails. Information from the website describes best what happened then.
“Ready on the throat? Ready on the peak? The gaff swings gently back and forth. Quieted passengers eagerly await the captain’s words, Haul away the throat! Haul away the peak! The hauling lines surge into action; urging voices join the chantey; arms pull in unison. Overhead the three thousand pound mainsail curls and snaps in the wind. Slowly the sail rises as the weight of the spar and canvas wears away the strength of many arms. Lifting the mighty boom is all that remains; with a few good heaves, and then a few more, it’s hauled up into position. The halyards are made fast and coiled, the motor shut off and Clearwater becomes a white wing on the water.”
We were on the peak side and we really did say “heave, ho!”
Next we handled the tiller. The Clearwater has a crew of 18, but it could be handled by a crew of four. We executed a maneuver called the Hudson River Jybe where we moved the tiller and the crew worked the sails and everyone ducked as the sail swung from one side of the boat to the other. Cool! Then we moved in our groups to learning stations that included discussing what was hauled up in the net (and then returned to the river), water chemistry, ecological principals, navigation and more. We climbed below deck to see the crew’s quarters. They were tight and crowded.
We were told Pete Seeger was aboard the Clearwater two weeks ago with a group of Inuit youngsters from Greenland. They have found PCBs from the Hudson in their waters and came to see what was being done here to clean them up.
We didn’t travel far on the river. We stayed between the Mid Hudson Bridge and the Hudson Pedestrian Bridge that is a former railroad bridge one and a half miles long. Before our three hour learning experience ended we had some quiet time to enjoy the beauty of the scenery and the peacefulness of the river. It was a fun day and we could cross another item off our “to do before…” list.
The Clearwater docks at different spots along the river from April to November. For the rest of this year sails leave from the 79th St. Boat Basin. Call 1-800-67-SLOOP x107, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about booking passage for next year. Heartier souls are welcome to apply to be a volunteer aboard for a week or to work aboard for a season. All the information is available on the internet. Even maintenance apprenticeships, with a weekly stipend, are available during the winter months while the sloop is in drydock.
Limited sails are also available on the Clearwater’s sister tall ship, the schooner Mystic Whaler.