Editor’s Note: In 1996, our intrepid writer, Muddy Paddle, built a historic wooden bateau and took it and a group of kids down the Hudson River. Accompanied by a war canoe and a modern sailboat, the three vessels had many adventures along the way. This is the final installment of Muddy Paddle's Bateau. We hope you enjoyed the journey!
The bateau is retired.
The bateau returned to the Albany area and was used for a series of river outings and day trips. She survived several floods including one in which a dead tree was carried onto her, temporarily preventing her from floating. But as the kids who helped build her left the area for college or other endeavors, Sturgeon was no longer being used. The grey and weathered boat needed a new home.
Six years after our Hudson River trip, the manager of a historic site in the Mohawk Valley reached out to me about using the boat to interpret eighteenth century bateau travel. The site manager borrowed a beat-up diesel flat bed to carry the bateau to her new home. The truck was delayed by a flat tire. When it arrived, we discovered that a leak in the hydraulic system prevented the bed from tilting or the winch from operating.
The bateau was still on the shore of the Vlomanskill on a site with no road access. She would have to be dragged across a muddy field, under an overhead sewer main, and through a gap in a strings of bee hives to reach the truck. We placed the boat on her bottom, led a chain from an old pick-up truck to the wrought iron ring in the bow and told the pick-up driver to keep going no matter what. Two men got on each side of the boat to help “steer” and push. The ironwork in the bow held and the bateau plowed through the mud and sod on her way to the road.
An amateur historian driving by paused as we were struggling to get the muddy boat up onto the truck bed. He took the license plate number and subsequently called archaeologists at New York State to report the theft of a sunken eighteenth century boat. Frantically, he shouted “they’re getting away with it.” The weathered and mud-caked boat had finally aged and weathered enough to look like the French and Indian War prototypes she was inspired by.
Muddy Paddle grew up near several small muddy streams that lead to the Hudson River near Albany. He developed an affinity for small wooden boats as he explored the river's backwaters with oars and paddles. Muddy aspired to build a wooden boat for long trips but lacked the requisite skills, tools and space to tackle most types. However, building a bateau of the type used in the eighteenth century appeared to him to be a feasible backyard carpentry project. With the help and advice of several friends and teenagers, he built a sturdy and seaworthy open boat for rowing and sailing.
Thank you for joining us as we traveled along with Muddy Paddle on his bateau adventure! To read other adventures by Muddy Paddle, see: Muddle Paddle on the Erie Canal, Muddy Paddle: Able Seaman, about Muddy Paddle's adventures on the replica Half Moon, Muddy Paddle's Excellent Adventure on the Hudson, about his first canoe trip down the Hudson River.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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