Editor’s Note: The replica ship Half Moon was completed in Albany in 1989 and served as a cultural ambassador celebrating the role of the Dutch in naval architecture, exploration, international trade, and colonization. An earlier replica was built in Amsterdam and presented to the United States during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in 1909. This first replica was not maintained after the celebration and did not survive long as a static exhibit at Bear Mountain and later at Cohoes. The 1989 replica performed well once her characteristics were understood and was exhibited in a number of ports along the Atlantic seaboard. Later, she served as valuable and successful educational platform on the Hudson River through her “Voyages of Discovery” program for school children. The ship is currently in the Netherlands after spending several years as an exhibit in Hoorn.
To read more about the technology and terminology of sailing in the seventeenth century and later, John Harland’s Seamanship in the Age of Sail, 1984 (republished by the Naval Institute Press in 1987) is recommended. For an account of Henry Hudson’s four voyages of exploration, including his trip up the Hudson River in 1609, Donald Johnson’s Charting the Sea of Darkness, International Marine, 1993 is recommended. This latter book is dedicated to the shipwright who designed and built the replica, Nick Benton.
Follow Muddy Paddle, Able Seaman aboard the replica ship Half Moon here.
The Maiden Voyage
It was mentioned earlier that the 1609 Half Moon carried a standard six-sail rig of the period. This means that she carried a foremast and a mainmast, each spreading two square sails to drive the ship as well as a bowsprit and a mizzen spreading smaller sails that helped supplement the rudder to steer the ship, or more accurately position the ship’s angle relative to the wind direction. The foremast and mainmasts are comprised of three connected spars each; a heavy mast rising 30 to 40 feet above the deck; a lighter topmast 20 to 25 feet in length rising up above the circular tops colloquially called “crows’nests” and topgallant poles rising a little less than 20 feet above crosstrees at the top of each topgallant mast. The combined height of the mainmast assembly was approximately 78 feet above the waterline. The mizzenmast at the stern of the ship was shorter and lighter carrying only one sail and comprised of only one large spar and one short pole above that. The bowsprit overhanging the bow of the ship was shaped from a single spar. The replica Half Moon was fitted with an engine to facilitate movement when wind and tide were not favorable. Adding an engine was also intended to add a margin of safety and reliability to the replica’s operations.
The unofficial but actual maiden voyage of the replica Half Moon took place just before sunset early in October, 1989. The ship was docked on her port side where she was held off of the bulkhead by a steel camel or pontoon. The work on this side was complete and it was time to turn the ship around so that the starboard side would be more accessible. After the volunteers arrived, lines were cast off. A paid member of the construction crew took command and the ship proceeded south under her own power. At the Port of Albany, our provisional captain ordered the helmsman to make a hard port turn. The helm was slow to answer, owing to the placement of the propeller on the port side of the ship and the relatively small surface area of our rudder. It took most of the width of the river to turn the ship around and to head back north to our dock. After straightening up, our captain gave the engine more throttle and we found that steering improved. We were sailing with the incoming tide and making rapid progress. A west wind picked up and even with sails furled, our ship heeled gently over.
By now, a few boaters had begun to follow us and snap off photographs of the scene against an atmospheric sunset. We approached our dock and the highway bridge just north of it very quickly. The captain planned to proceed to the bridge, turn, and then dock with the starboard side to the wall. Once again, the ship was very slow to make a port turn. The ship’s momentum and the tide were quickly carrying us to the bridge which had a vertical clearance of less than 70 feet. Our captain shifted to reverse, and revved up the engine, but reverse failed to engage. As our foremast approached the bridge, all of the crew on deck tried to find cover. Some dove into the forecastle or down the main hatch. One dove into the river. The foretopgallant mast struck the bridge, broke off and went into the river. The taller main topmast was next in line to strike the bridge and would have resulted in a lot of falling spars and blocks and cordage. Fortunately, reverse engaged at the last second and the mast was spared. Our captain sheepishly landed at our dock. As a token of humiliation, the broken fore topgallant mast was hooked by one of the boaters and towed to us for presentation while we secured lines. Within hours, a replacement was hastily planed down from a long fir timber and raised into position before the owner of the ship arrived the next day for an inspection.
Several days later, plans were made to send the Half Moon down to New York on a shakedown cruise. An experienced pilot was hired. The crew returned with sea bags in hand for a trip down the river. Once the owner came aboard, we cast off lines, started the engine and moved away from the dock. Cannon fire from the Rensselaer shoreline saluted the ship as she moved into the main channel.
The trouble began almost immediately. Smoke billowed out of the engine compartment and up and out of the main hatch. While a few folks went below for fire extinguishers, our new pilot quickly reviewed the options and decided to run for the docks at the Port of Rensselear and get everyone off the ship. Several of us gathered up lines to secure the ship as soon as we touched. The pilot killed the engine and we hit the dock with a thud, breaking the rampant lion figurehead. After the smoke cleared we learned that the shaft bearings had overheated. The engine and the shaft were misaligned. The trip was cancelled. We all took our gear and departed. A week or so later, a tugboat named Spuyten Duyvil came up the river, attached a towline to the Half Moon’s forward bitts and unceremoniously towed the ship to New York and then to Bridgeport for drydocking. From there, she was taken to North Carolina. Thus ended the first chapter of Half Moon’s Albany story and her association with most of her original volunteers and would-be sailors.
Join us again next Friday for the Part 3 of the "Half Moon" adventure!
Muddy Paddle grew up near the Hudson River and always loved ships and boats. A job change in 1988 brought him to an office near the site where the Half Moon was being built and he became involved as a volunteer. Muddy learned the ways of seventeenth century sailing and accompanied the replica ship on a series of adventures and misadventures on the river, in New York Harbor and even offshore. He maintained a journal, which served as a reference for on-board terminology and operations as well as a place to record a few highlights of his trips. The accounts presented here, and several of the illustrations, were based on this journal and his recollection of these trips.
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