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. Check back each Friday for the next installment.
Sunday. Cedar Hill to Coxsackie.
Out of the Creek. The journey begins.
The plan was to take the bateau, a small sailboat and a war canoe down the river to New York with a group of boys from several local youth organizations in the Albany area as soon as the school year ended. This involved getting the boats ready, asking parks and private land owners for permission to camp, buying and packing provisions and organizing shore support. 23 boys signed up and a few of their sisters joined us on some legs of the trip. The participants rotated to different boats each day and spent a day each on shore patrol in order to evenly distribute opportunities and to avoid complaints that rowing and paddling were too hard when compared with the relative ease of the sailing.
Several weeks before departure, we took the tarp off the bateau and found a bunch of snakes warming themselves on the bottom planks. We oiled and caulked the boat, turned her over and removed a few wasp nests that mud daubers had begun in the bow and stern. The sail rig was carried away in the January flood. The old lug sail rig had proven awkward to use so I designed a simple and smaller square sail with a yard that could be raised and lowered on a halyard. We launched the boat in the creek so that it could “take-up” in advance of the trip. The creek flooded three days later and temporarily sank her. She floated free from the bottom a few days after the flood and we had to bail out about a foot of muddy water and one good-sized sunfish. The planks were nice and tight at that point and she was ready for the trip down the Hudson.
The Sturgeon began the journey on a sunny Sunday morning at the creek with nine kids and parents. The first leg of the trip would carry the bateau about 15 miles down the river to Coxsackie, the rendezvous for meeting up with the other boats. After boarding the boat and casting off our lines, we rowed under a canopy of tree limbs as the creek meandered toward its mouth on the Hudson. We passed a brick house built by the Dutch in the 1730s and then into a small embayment with open sky. Finally, we rowed through a gap in a concrete bulkhead into the Hudson. The tide was just starting to go out and there was a nice breeze out of the north. We shipped our oars and raised our new sail and bowled straight down the river. Everyone was in high spirits. We kidded Gretchen when she squealed as the bateau heeled a little to one side when the wind strengthened. Seth and Brenda looked up in awe as we sailed effortlessly beneath the Castleton Thruway bridge and the adjacent railroad bridge where a mile-long west-bound freight was crossing. We sang songs and ate picnic lunches as the miles rolled under.
At Matthews Point, south of New Baltimore, a county sheriff’s marine patrol approached us with blue lights flashing and we had to strike our sail. The deputies asked us what the passenger capacity of our boat was. There were nine of us but I counted the seats and replied “eleven.” We had been out in the boat before with 11 and she performed well and had plenty of freeboard. Naturally, we required everyone to wear personal flotation devices. They next asked us if they could see the builders plate. I replied that the boat didn’t have one. The patrol asked “Why?” I replied that we built the boat ourselves. The officers then asked how we could determine the boat’s safe carrying capacity. I had to think about the right answer for a moment. I finally replied with one word. “Experience.” The deputies thought about this for a minute, scratched their heads and finally wished us a safe trip. We raised the sail again, and after a few minutes regained our momentum.
We moved to the west side of the river as we approached Coxsackie so as not the miss the somewhat hidden channel that leads to the yacht club north of the village that kindly hosted us overnight. We raced past the foundation of the long lost Coxsackie lighthouse and then made our turn into the shallow channel behind Coxsackie Island. The yacht club was straight ahead. We struck our sail and rowed the remaining distance to the docks.
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.
The next installment of Muddy Paddle's Bateau will return next Friday! 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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