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.
Wednesday. Staatsburgh to Beacon.
Visiting Pete Seeger’s place.
It was sunny and mild at sunrise. Our camp stove valves were missing so we had to settle for cold cereal, Tang and doughnuts for breakfast. After breaking down the tents and packing up, we hit high tide perfectly again. At 9:00 AM the bateau pulled out into the river with the other boats. The wind picked up and all three boats quickly reached Crum Elbow, FDR’s stretch of the river, under sail and with the assist of a strong ebb tide. From here, the river runs straight down the Lange Rack, long reach, for ten miles, past Poughkeepsie to Clinton Point. The wind was directly astern here and the boats made a long and exhilarating run without any effort.
Cliffs define the west shore of the river above Poughkeepsie. They are colorfully painted with the letters and symbols of some of the colleges that have traditionally competed in rowing here. Competitive rowing requires unity of command and a high degree of teamwork. Although the boats making this journey were far different and much more forgiving, the same principles were being learned and applied. The kids were complaining less and taking real pride in successfully completing each leg of the journey.
We reached the two bridges at Poughkeepsie just before noon and ate lunch on the fly around Blue Point. There had been consideration of landing for a rest at a beach and rock outcropping at Van Keurens, but the wind and tide were too good to waste. The Sturgeon led the pack coming into Beacon at 3:15.
We had arranged to stay at the Beacon Sloop Club for the evening. The building was identified from the river by a large pine tree that rose out of and high above the roof near the rotting ruins of the Newburgh-Beacon ferry slip. The boats were tied up at the Sloop Club docks and Pete Seeger welcomed us and unlocked the clubhouse for us. We asked Pete what we could do to help at the club. He asked us to clean out the composting toilet and fill it with sawdust in the morning. The composting toilet was situated level with the roof. Stairs led to the entrance door which featured a ventilation hole cut to resemble the traditional crescent moon. The elevated outhouse sure didn’t smell very sweet, but we were grateful to have a roof over our heads for the evening.
We moved a few tables around to create room for our sleeping bags including one with a model of the club’s sloop Woody Guthrie on it. The ferry sloop herself lay at anchor nearby and from a distance looked a lot like her big sister Clearwater.
I wish I could report that Pete came back in the evening with his banjo for a sing-along, but it didn’t happen on this trip.
A few of us took the sailboat out for a spin in Newburgh Bay around dinnertime. Even with the scars from urban renewal, Newburgh was a compelling sight from the river at this time of day with the broad expanse of water in front of the city. We returned in time for a hearty dinner brought in by friends. We had a restless night in our urban environment listening to the trains coming into the nearby station, sirens in town and laboring tows pushing up the river.
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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