It seems far from memory now, but the Rondout waterfront of Kingston, New York was once a working waterfront. What are now walking paths, parks and cultural centers were once shipyards, commercial docks and shipping piers. Situated on a tributary to the Hudson River, the Rondout Creek provides a natural port due to its deep water and sheltered location nearly midway between Albany, the state capital, and New York City. It was home to a once booming shipbuilding industry that seemed to vanish by the mid-twentieth century.
Although the shipbuilding industries on the Hudson declined, the wooden boats remained. The gaff-rigged racing sloop Eleanor, one of the last of her kind, survives from 1903. Built at the B.F. Wood shipyard at City Island, Bronx, Eleanor was designed by Clinton H. Crane, designer of the schooner Endymion (1900), which set the record for the Atlantic crossing in 13 days, 8 hours - a record beaten in 1905 by Atlantic. She was saved by Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration and Sailing, Inc., an all-volunteer organization in Hudson, NY working to restore Eleanor to her former glory.
Eleanor is not the only wooden boat in need of restoration these days. In 2016, the Hudson River Maritime Museum opened the Riverport Wooden Boat School and with it Riverport Wooden Boat Restoration. Since 2016, RWBR has completed restorations of the Clearwater, Woody Guthrie, Commander, Tid Bit, and are completing a scratch build of the 100% solar-powered Solar Sal. These restorations were open to the public, and along with woodworking and boat building classes for youth and adults, the Hudson River Maritime Museum has transformed the Rondout into a working waterfront once again.
To celebrate the success of the Riverport Wooden Boat School and the resurgence of interest in the ships of the River and their restoration, the Hudson River Maritime Museum is proud to present “Keeping History Afloat on the Hudson,” a unique peer-to-peer symposium on the technical aspects of boat restorations in the Hudson Valley, on Saturday, March 24, 2018 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Kingston Home Port & Education Center (affectionately known as “the Barn”).
“Keeping History Afloat” is designed for professional and avocational shipwrights and restorers as well as wooden boat enthusiasts; this symposium will feature presentations from a variety of shipwrights, restoration specialists, and visionaries on the future of boats on the Hudson River. The focus of these presentations will cover the technical details of the restoration and construction work for each vessel as well as the successes and challenges of each project. “Keeping History Afloat” will feature the stories restorations and builds of at least six Hudson River vessels, all of whom kept tradition of wooden boats and shipbuilding alive on the river.
The Rondout’s long history of wooden boatbuilding makes it the perfect location for this unique event. Starting with the opening of the Delaware & Hudson Canal in 1828, Rondout became a center of wooden barge building to serve both the canal and make the larger barges needed to tow goods by steamboat down to New York City. During the major martial conflicts of the early 20th century, shipbuilders of the Rondout assisted the American war effort by building freighters, tugs, submarine chasers, lighters, and barges. To combat the use of magnetic mines, Rondout shipbuilders provided the United States with wooden boats to clear minefields. During the post-war period, however, the old industries left the region and the use of trains, trucks, and planes to transport people and goods became more cost effective.
Today, the spirit of wooden boatbuilding lives on in the original and replica vessels that continue to ply the Hudson River. The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a replica of the original Hudson River sloops that sailed up and down the river in the 18th and 19th centuries, was launched in 1969 and is nearing her 50th birthday. Designed for the variable winds and currents of the Hudson River, Clearwater and her crew continue the legacy of founder Pete Seeger who built the boat to save the river. She became America’s Environmental Flagship and was among the first vessels in the United States to conduct science-based environmental education aboard a sailing ship, creating the template for environmental education programs around the world. More than half a million people have experienced their first real look at the Hudson River estuary’s ecosystem aboard Clearwater. Added to the National Register of Historic Places with special dispensation for historic significance at just 35 years old (rather than the normal 50 year designation), Clearwater has undergone several stages of restoration in the last ten years, completing the last leg of work on the midships’ hull in 2016.
Riverport Wooden Boat School Director and experienced shipwright and millwright Jim Kricker will discuss the most recent major restoration of the 1969 Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. Kricker will focus on the Clearwater’s hull restoration, including the replacement of roughly 50 frames on each side with approximately 250 futtocks, around 2,000 lineal feet of planking, the stem knee, horn timber, stern post, rudder post, some sections of deadwood, the engine beds, keel bolts, and the complete replacement of the centerboard trunk, including a section of the keelson. The first ship to be restored at the Riverport Wooden Boat School, the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater marked the return of wooden boat building to the Rondout waterfront.
The second major restoration project done on the historic Rondout Creek was for the Beacon Sloop Club’s 1978 Hudson River Ferry Sloop Woody Guthrie. Beacon Sloop Club sailors and restoration volunteers Alan Thomas and James Malchow will discuss the major overhaul of the ship by Riverport Wooden Boat Restorations. This project was unique as it offered volunteers from the Beacon Sloop Club and the museum to work alongside professional shipwrights, reducing labor costs for the all-volunteer club and allowing for a full schedule of restoration work.
Louise Bliss, President of the nonprofit Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration and Sailing, Inc. will discuss the ongoing restoration of the historic 1903 raceabout sailing sloop Eleanor. In her presentation, Bliss will discuss the restoration of Eleanor’s spars and the work of HRHBRS volunteers thus far.
Richard Scarano, Vice President of Scarano Boat Building, will discuss the history of Scarano’s restoration services and highlight some of their most recent restoration projects. Founded in 1974, Scarano Boat Building designs and builds period wood, aluminum, composite, and steel boats, Coast Guard certified for public transportation and excursions. Richard Scarano joined his brother in 1986, when Scarano Boat Building incorporated. They are known for the historic replicas of canal and sailboats. Past projects have included the America, a full-scale replica of the famed 19th century racing schooner, Santa Maria, a replica of Columbus’ 15th century carvel, and Friendship of Salem, a replica of a 171-foot three-masted Salem East Indiaman originally built in 1797.
Historic and replica ships play a crucial role in keeping history afloat - and alive - on the Hudson River, but new uses for old boats and new types of boats are also being prototyped and tested on the Rondout waterfront. For two of our presenters, boats represent not the past, but the future of transportation.
Sam Merrett is a marine diesel mechanic, US Coast Guard licensed captain, and alternative fuel business owner. For him, the future of boats on the Hudson includes the revitalization of sail freight. At “Keeping History Afloat,” Merrett will discuss the restoration of the steel-hulled 1945 schooner Apollonia and her conversion to sail freight. Relying on her sails, Apollonia will also use alternative fuel made from recycled cooking oil in her 1953 diesel engine as she plies the Hudson moving freight from place to place. Merrett’s goal is to make Apollonia a reproducible model for sail freight.
For one man, the future of transportation lies not with the wind, but with the sun. PhD physicist and sustainable energy expert David Borton will present the scratch build of the Solar Sal, a 100% solar-powered motor vessel designed to be a US Coast Guard inspected commercial passenger boat. Borton’s design was brought to life by the shipwrights of Riverport Wooden Boat Restorations. At 44 feet long, Solar Sal brings solar energy, electricity, and marine propulsion together to help revolutionize river transportation.
“Keeping History Afloat on the Hudson River” is a day-long event based around 30-40 minute presentations with audience Q&A and will feature a round table discussion- the first of many regional meetings bringing together the diverse interests of members of this community together to discuss not just boat building and restoration, but the logistics of moving freight and passengers in a “post carbon” world when wind and solar power will keep communities connected, provide training and jobs in forest management, solar electric propulsion, woodworking, seafaring, sail making, rigging, and longshore logistics.
This symposium is open to the public. Tickets are $45 for HRMM members and $50 for non-members. Ticket price includes catered lunch. Registration, schedule, and more available at www.hrmm.org/keeping-history-afloat.html.
Today the Rondout Waterfront connects the city of Kingston not only to the River, but to its past. Skilled shipwrights and volunteers train the next generation of wooden boat builders so that these beautiful sailing vessels continue to sail the Hudson River, keeping the romance of sail travel alive. Through woodworking classes, sailing workshops, rowing workshops, lectures, and exhibits, the Hudson River Maritime Museum preserves the tradition of its community and inspires a respect for the river that connects us all.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.