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.
Tuesday. Saugerties to Staatsburgh.
Day of the cicadas.
We departed Saugerties at high tide a little after 9:00 AM after cleaning and locking up the lighthouse. It was hazy and mild and the river was calm. Several big petroleum barges created wakes, but the bateau’s bottom had fully absorbed water and served as a very stable platform.
The cicadas were deafening today. Millions were attempting to fly across the river but thousands failed, dropping into the water exhausted. A dozen or more landed in our boat, fascinating the crew. Garth asked if they were edible. I replied yes, but that they would go down better without the wings. No one was ready to accept the invitation….yet.
Muddy Paddle Jr. found a dead bass floating upside down in the river just ahead of us. He was in the bow and used a spare paddle to flip the rotting hulk into the middle of the boat where it began a stink that revolted everyone. The rowing abruptly stopped as crew members tried to get away from the carcass and the flies that immediately discovered it. The other boys were not amused and didn’t see any humor in this smelly scene. I used our bailing scoop to try to gather up the rotted fish and swing it overboard, but it broke into pieces, many of which landed on personal gear and food bags. After violently gagging, I got all of it out of the boat and flushed the site generously with river water. Nevertheless, the sharp stink hung around along with a cloud of flies for the remainder of the day. It goes without saying that Jr. was not very popular. When lunch came around, his sandwich was the only one that was flattened and soggy.
A breeze picked up out of the north and the Sturgeon shipped her oars and set her sail. As we approached the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, a Dutch-styled sloop with leeboards came out from the cove behind Astor Point to meet us. Named Skillypot, the Dutch term for turtle, she sailed with us for a few minutes. Her skipper, Roger, built her at Rokeby in the previous year and like our boat, she was oiled with pine tar and linseed oil. Roger made his home aboard the boat. Her maneuverability was very impressive. After sailing several circles around us, Roger and his friend wished us well, hauled their sheets and returned to Barrytown on the eastern shore.
The wind shifted to the northwest and we had drifted too far toward the east to clear Sturgeon Point on our way to Mills-Norrie State Park in Staatsburgh. We hauled down our sail, broke out the oars and pulled toward Kingston, still aided by the ebb tide. Once closer to the west shore, we again shipped the oars and set the sail. The wind had strengthened and our heavy bateau responded sluggishly. The halyard block lashings at the masthead failed and the yard and sail flew forward. We unstepped the mast, cut a length of line, and tied it back in place with a very un-nautical knot. Raised back into place, the sail was set once again and the bateau picked up speed. As the Esopus Meadows lighthouse neared, the whole rig went overboard in a strong gust. The mast step at the bottom of the boat had fractured. The mast, spar and sail were gathered up and we relied on the oars to take us into the park marina. We arrived at about 3:00 PM, about half an hour after the war canoe. The boys set up tents while I made makeshift repairs to the mast step. We later learned that Roger’s Skillypot sank at her berth that afternoon when one of her shell planks squeezed out of position. She was raised and repaired, but some of his personal effects were destroyed.
We had a cool and comfortable night for sleeping. We were excited about meeting Pete Seeger in Beacon tomorrow.
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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