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 Half Moon came to New York several years later in time to participate in a tall ships festival. Her berth was at Liberty State Park in New Jersey and she was open for visitors during some of her stay there. A few of her original volunteer builders were invited to crew during Operation Sail. Thousands of visitors boarded the ship at Jersey City and at Tarrytown during a celebratory cruise up the river. I proved to be a competent seaman but a lousy docent. I was finally taught the important lesson that it is better to introduce a single, memorable story than to try to download a sea of factoids about Hudson, his crew, the ship, seamanship in the seventeenth century and the Dutch influence on the development of America.
A year or so later, I was invited to sail with the Half Moon to Highlands, New Jersey to exhibit the ship and then to board a film crew planning to use the ship in a film involving Hudson’s 1609 sail. Over the course of a weekend, several thousand visitors boarded and I was able to hone my newly acquired interpretive insights to everyone’s relief.
On Monday morning, we took showers at a nearby office and the captain bought bags of Burger King for breakfast. The film crew came aboard with re-enactor outfits and we cast off lines at 8:30 AM. As we sailed southeast toward open water, our bearded captain was dressed up as Henry Hudson while the rest of us were given loose fitting linen outfits to wear as we climbed aloft, unfurled the sails and got the ship sailing with a 15-knot west wind. The film crew shot footage of all of us going about the work of bracing the yards, trimming the sails and steering the ship inside the helmsman’s hutch while Hudson looked imperiously on. The sea became blue as we sailed farther offshore and well beyond sight of land. It was exhilarating as the ship’s sails bellied out and the bow breasted growing waves. As we mounted each new wave, sparkling foam was thrown ahead and rainbows would momentarily appear. After a few hours, the film crew was confident that it had captured the footage it needed. The conditions could never have been so ideal.
The captain took off his Hudson costume, directed us to launch the “dink,” our small inflatable raft, and took one of the members of the film team out to witness the ship sailing from the rolling sea. After the cameraman got sick, they returned. With the small outboard motor still idling, the captain directed me to get my camera and to take a little trip with him in the “dink.” The captain knew that I was keeping a journal of our sail and believed that I would appreciate this experience more than most. I passed my camera down to the raft on a short line and then climbed down the port main chains before expertly timing my jump into the raft. We motored away from the ship. When we were 500 feet or more out, the captain killed the motor and I took several stunning views of the ship sailing away from us. It was surreal to witness the wooden sailing ship plowing through the ocean from a small boat on the waves. It was easy to imagine a comparable scene in 1609.
The ship was quickly putting distance between us when the captain pulled the cord on the outboard. It did not start. He pulled again, and once again there was no response. The ship was getting smaller and the Atlantic was getting a lot bigger. I recall looking around our raft to see what we had on board. My anxiety rose when I realized we had no radio, no water and no extra fuel. The captain’s worried look suggested that he too had taken the same mental inventory. To make matters worse, the remaining crewmembers were not experienced in the complicated tasks needed to return the ship to our location under sail, or even to furl the sails, turn the engine on, and motor the ship back. I don’t even know if anyone was really aware that there was a problem. Within minutes, we weren’t even going to be visible. The captain had reached the same conclusions. He yanked away at the cord until sweat trickled into his eyes. We took the cover off and tried to troubleshoot the problem as the ship became small on the horizon. After replacing the cover, he made one last heroic pull, and the motor came to life. Immediately, we shifted into gear and began bouncing off the waves in a desperate effort to catch up to the ship. We both wondered if we had enough gas to make it.
No one noticed our return and no one was at the side of the rolling ship to take our line. We tied up to the chains, uttered some obscenities and got some help with our cameras before climbing back aboard.
The captain immediately sent crew to stations. We braced the yards and turned the ship north, but we made too much leeway to make any progress toward Raritan Bay. Giving up, we triced or gathered up the sails, turned the engine on and proceeded northwest under power. A few of us went aloft to furl and gasket the sails, a tricky piece of work without footropes which were unknown in 1609. The motion of the ship as she slows to climb waves and then accelerates as she runs toward each trough is magnified aloft and the yards lurch forward and backward with each phase of the cycle. That was the first and last time I volunteered to furl a sail.
Join us again next Friday for the Part 4 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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