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.
Anchoring and lowering the topmasts in Delaware Bay
We assigned pairs to a series of one-hour anchor watches for the evening to make sure that our anchor held and to quickly identify any other potential emergencies. At midnight, the wind was really howling and the ship heeled over alarmingly several times, bringing a few others including feline crewmember Mrs. Freeboard up on deck. The anchor held, and by 4:00 AM, the wind subsided and the stars came out.
After a hearty breakfast, we set about the task of lowering our topmasts and topgallant poles so that we could take the ship into Wilmington later in the day. We underestimated the difficulty of accomplishing this at anchor with inexperienced volunteers. Taking each mast in turn, the plan was to attach a line to the topmast heel, pass it over the grooved mast cap and run it aft to a fife rail where a snatch block was rigged to direct the line to the capstan (a big rotating drum turned by handspikes or bars and used for heavy work). The crew would man the bars, take the strain and lift the topmast an inch so that the fid piece securing it could be knocked out. The crew would then gently walk the capstan backward until the crosstrees were in the tops.
It was a sound plan. We began with the foretopmast. As soon as the strain came on the line, the wooden block at the fiferail shattered and the mast jumped down a good distance before the capstan took the shock. A small piece of the block’s wooden shell dropped harmlessly to the deck while the larger chunk whistled off at 100 mph toward New Castle. Fortunately the capstan and the crew held. The mast was lowered the remainder of the way without the block.
The maintopmast proved to be a bigger challenge. We used a modern steel block for this episode. When the bars were manned, Mike knocked out the fid block, and we lowered the topmast down several feet where we discovered that it was unable to drop clear of the main yard. We secured the line and rigged tyes (safety lines) to the yard in preparation for lowering. It would not budge. The yard had not been shifted since installation in Albany, and the necklace, securing it to the mast was now thoroughly infused with varnish. I had to harness up, cut some of the seizings, and then jump on the yard to get it to move. After getting Mike on the yard with me and spraying WD 40 on everything, we were able to work the yard down far enough for the topmast to drop into position well below the point where the topmast would drop.
The next challenge was recovering our anchor so that we could get underway. We motored up to the anchor, pulling in the heavy cable along the way until we were “up-and-down,” that is the cable was now vertical between the hawse hole in the bow and the anchor down below. We attached a messenger line to the cable and led it back to the capstan. We manned the bars but the anchor was apparently buried deep in the mud. Last night’s high winds were surely a factor in burying the anchor so securely. We had to wait for slack tide before we could successfully bring it up. We were going to be late for the grand arrival.
It was dark when we entered the Christiana Creek leading into the Wilmington waterfront and our running lights failed. We sent the first mate out in the dink with a flashlight to find the way to our dock. He returned and led the ship there with his flashlight. We cleared a highway bridge with inches to spare, and had difficulty docking in the dark. The crowd that had planned to greet us was gone and all that remained were a few organizers and some warm beers.
After a day in Wilmington, the Half Moon continued south to Washington, D.C. I had to get back to work and took the next train home to New York. Returning from Washington, tugboat captain Chip Reynolds came aboard. He took command of the ship during the return voyage and began a long and distinguished association with the ship marked by a much needed emphasis on safety. Countless school children sailed with the Half Moon on educational “voyages of discovery” between New York and Albany, and many of the lessons were filmed live to home classrooms by Skype. Reynolds had a crew of schoolchildren aboard the Half Moon in New York harbor when the planes were flown into the two towers of the World Trade Center in 2001. He kept everyone calm, and brought the children safely up the river where they could be reunited with family.
I joined the ship one last time in 2006 at the end of the sailing season to bring the ship to her winter berth in Verplank. We sailed much of that distance before a stiff and cold northwest wind. It was an exhilarating experience as we raced down the river between the Catskills and the Highlands during peak autumn color.
In 2015, the voyages of discovery were suspended, Captain Reynolds was discharged and the Half Moon was sent to the Netherlands, arriving in August. She then proceeded to the Westfries Ship Museum in Hoorn where she was exhibited. There has been discussion about returning the ship to the United States in the near future but to date, no specific plan has been announced.
Building and sailing replica ships offers rare insight into worlds which no longer exist. Design details that at first seem frivolous or impractical are often revealed to make perfect sense as construction proceeds or as experience is gained operating the ship. Replicas help us to understand that our ancestors were not only daring and courageous, but equally ingenious and practical. Getting kids involved in these projects offers lessons in discipline, leadership and self-confidence and is a sure way to cultivate a deep appreciation for our maritime heritage.
Thank you, Muddy Paddle, for sharing these adventures!
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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