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.
A Passage to Delaware Bay
I joined the ship at Jersey City on the first Tuesday of October. The ship had only four volunteers but had gained a cat named Mrs. Freeboard. The Half Moon had more than enough freeboard, but our cat thought otherwise. She earned her “free” board by keeping the “pier ponies” (rats) off the ship. Our first mate went out looking to sign on a few more volunteers while the captain made chili. By this point in the ship’s career, a convenient galley and four berths had been set up in the ship’s forward hold. Historically, cooking was done on a tile hearth on the main deck within the forecastle. Crew had used this hearth previously for making cowboy coffee and boiling stews, but it was a poor substitute for a range and a refrigerator, especially in bad weather. Our food was substantially better than the dried and salted meats and weevilly biscuits served to the seventeenth century sailors. Since water became rank on long voyages, beer was the beverage of choice in 1609. We did not think it was a good idea to stock beer aboard the replica ship. We had plenty of challenges while sober.
Crew members whipped old lines (finished off fraying ends) in the fo’csle and shared tales about previous trips. We ate dinner in the galley down below and watched the sunset from the mast tops. Our first mate was successful in recruiting two college students as volunteers. It was a cool, damp night so we bunked down in the galley for the evening.
Our new recruits came aboard at dawn and we got underway immediately, certainly before they had time to change their minds. Ideally, we should have had a mate and seven crewmembers. We were one short. The students, Mike and Ann, were a couple. Mike was very athletic and proved a quick study aloft. His girlfriend Ann had only come along for the ride, but was cheerful and ready to do her share of the work on board. We passed under the Verrazano Bridge, went by the old Romer Shoal lighthouse along the Ambrose Channel and out into the Atlantic where we paralleled the New Jersey shore. We boiled up a pot of oatmeal for breakfast and cooked chicken for lunch. Seas rose in the afternoon. Mike was the first one to feel ill. He declined our dinner of fried steaks and onions. The smell of the onions probably didn’t help.
We divided the crew into two watches (rotating teams) of three members each. Mike was completely out of commission and had rolled himself into a fetal position amongst coils of rope in the forecastle. Ann paid seemingly little attention to him, so from time-to-time, the others would check on him and make sure he was getting a little water.
As with the original, the replica Half Moon was steered by a traditional whipstaff instead of a wheel. The whipstaff is a vertical pole sliding in and out of a pivoting drum on deck. The lower end of this staff engages a long tiller which rides over a greased beam and connects to the top of the rudder. The whipstaff is housed within a protective hutch in front of the mizzenmast and well behind the mainmast. There is room in this hutch for the helmsman (the crew member steering the ship) an hourglass used for navigation and dictating the change of the watch and a binnacle, the cabinet containing the compass. Our replica also carried radar. The helmsman is protected from bad weather, yet can still see the set of the sails while watching the compass heading of the ship. However, in close maneuvering, the pilot must con (direct) the ship from the deck above, shouting commands to the helmsman below.
It was a stormy night and conditions were deteriorating. Although the helmsman’s hutch was largely enclosed and provided with a modern compass and radar, steering proved to be a very physical challenge. When the stern of the ship lifted up out of the water, the heavy oak rudder wanted to flop one way or the other. That force was transmitted pretty directly by way of the long tiller to the whipstaff. After bruising our chests several times, we rigged up a relieving line whipped around the steering pole that we could use as a shock absorber (maybe this is why it was called a whip-staff). Even so, maintaining a precise compass course was not possible. The best we could do was to keep heading generally south.
Several hours before midnight, I noticed a series of blips on the south side of the radar screen in the general path we were taking. Each time the radar swept the screen, these blips would be slightly reconfigured. Over the next several minutes they became closer and better defined. Not knowing what they represented and visibility being poor, I chose to avoid the cluster and turned the ship west. There was plenty of searoom and I was prepared to return to our original course as soon as we cleared this cluster. As we came around, the ship’s motion over the waves changed. The captain, who had been sleeping in the master’s cabin, sensed the change in course, entered the hutch, looked at the compass, and forced the whipstaff over to port while I tried to explain the situation. He either couldn’t hear me or didn’t believe me and kept swearing that I was trying to wreck the ship on the Jersey shore. Within seconds, our forward lookout ran back and screamed that we were headed into a bunch of oil or gas barges. Now the captain understood, but it was almost too late. I pushed the whipstaff hard over to starboard and we came very close to one of the barges. It appeared that the tug had lost control of her tow. We saw a long towing cable come out of the water nearby and snap taut with a thunderous crack.
I came off watch right after this incident and tried to catch a nap in the galley, but the recent close call and the jumping, corkscrew motion of the ship made sleep impossible. I also realized that in the event of an accident, getting out of the galley and up onto deck required navigating narrow passages, ladders and hatches. This prospect was not all that reassuring.
I went back on watch several hours after midnight. The captain went back to bed. Ann and I shared the steering while the first mate served as lookout. The sky lightened around 6:00 AM. Ann and I came off watch and went below to make a hot breakfast on the galley stove. After putting some coffee on, we started with a large frying pan full of bacon. As that was getting close to being ready, we started making toast and frying eggs in a second pan. At that moment, our generator conked out and we were absolutely blind. The galley was a pretty confined space two decks down in the bow with no natural light. We hit a big roller and the pans skidded off the stove top, revealing the orange glow of the burners. The hot pans and bacon grease were all over the deck, so we jumped up into the bunks to keep from getting burned. Ann felt for a flashlight in one of the bunks and found one on a pillow. Let there be light! Miraculously, the bacon and eggs remained in their pans sunny-side up. The first mate fixed the generator, the lights, stove and toaster came back to life and we were able to serve a passable breakfast. Seasick Mike was better and was able to eat.
A couple of exhausted goldfinches joined us as we approached Cape Henlopen and turned to enter Delaware Bay. A sail training schooner entered the bay well ahead of us but sailing before a favorable wind we eventually caught up with her. The wind increased to the point where it became prudent to trice (gather up) and furl the sails and come to anchor for the night. High winds associated with a dying offshore hurricane were forecast. We buttoned everything down. Ann prepared pasta and turkey meatballs for supper.
Join us again next Friday for the Part 5, the last, 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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