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.
Monday. Coxsackie to Saugerties.
The flotilla is formed.
This morning, the bateau was joined by a 26-foot strip-planked war canoe and an 18-foot sailboat. All of the participants were ready and packed.
The Sturgeon and her consorts left Coxsackie a little after 9:00 AM at high tide, ensuring the advantage of the ebb tide for six hours or so. This was an essential consideration. If a boat departs on a high tide and covers 25 or 30 miles south, it will again have a high tide at the same time the next day even though that tide will reach the original point of departure about an hour later. This makes a big difference in planning a southbound rowing or paddling trip. Rowing or paddling against an adverse tide is possible, but it is exhausting as we found out later in the day. I had seven teenage boys and one very young brother with me for this leg of the trip.
The weather was fair and cool in the morning and although a few new rowers ”caught crabs” in the beginning, the flotilla made good progress south. Gradually, a breeze came up from the south and set up a chop which slowed all of the boats down. At Athens, we followed the more direct but shallower west channel toward Catskill. We passed beneath the Rip Van Winkle Bridge with its little Dutch bridge keeper’s house and immediately felt more wind. We took a shore break at Dutchman’s Park in Catskill where we ate our picnic lunches supplemented by a few food truck selections. The fries were an unfortunate choice for crew members who felt logy after lunch. I warned everyone not to try napping. Rip Van Winkle would see to it himself that they would not wake up for 20 years. Nevertheless, it was difficult to motivate everyone to return to the bateau. A light rain further discouraged some of the crew members.
The rain didn’t last but the adverse wind increased. It took us two hours to reach the huge silos at Cementon (now Smith’s Landing) and morale was flagging. Matt, the young brother, was green from too many French fries and a touch of seasickness. Unluckily, his hat blew overboard and superstition dictated that we return to retrieve it. Fortunately, we got to it just as it was about to sink, but the river gods were unimpressed. As if on cue, the tide turned at 3:30 led by a detectable tidal bore. Now we had our work cut out for us. Fortunately, the wind died down. We heard the roar of millions of cicadas on shore.
We arrived at the Saugerties Lighthouse at 5:00 PM where we had made arrangements to stay overnight. The 1869 lighthouse had recently been stabilized, but unlike today, no creature comforts had yet been provided. There was a jar in the foyer where cash contributions could be deposited. The boys were particularly fascinated with the grills in the second story floor intended to distribute stove heat upstairs. They began dropping small things through the holes onto the boys sleeping below and it was a while before everyone settled down. It rained overnight and I for one was grateful to be in a dry building.
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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