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A Vision On The Hudson

March 2023
1min read

“Sailing is like dancing, see, and I love to dance.” The boat that Captain Allan Aunapu likes most to dance with is the Clearwater (above)—the first Hudson River sloop built in this century.

The Clearivater ’s ancestry goes back to the days when the Dutch traded on the Hudson in their flat-bottomed sloops. After the British took over in 1664 a blend of English and Dutch design to handle the river’s fluky winds and mean currents produced the famed nineteenth-century Hudson River sloop— broad in the beam, high in the stern, with an enormous mainsail. The boats averaged sixty to ninety feet in length and had masts over a hundred feet tall. At one time as many as eight hundred carried passengers and cargo between Albany and Manhattan. But steam— locomotives as well as boats—began to take over along the Hudson Valley in the early 1800’s, and by the end of the century the sloops were gone. With steam came industry, large centers of population, and pollution. Today the river is a receptacle for more than 200,000,000 gallons of raw sewage a day.

Four years ago a number of Hudson Valley residents, including folk singer Pete Seeger, decided that a return of the old sloop might help spark a sense of pride in the river and its heritage. They formed the Hudson River Sloop Restoration, Inc., and raised $175,000 to have the Gamage Shipyard in Maine build a seventy-six-foot replica, which they christened Clearwater . Last summer she sailed the river with a cargo of singers, including Seeger, and put on seven festivals with a message—care about your river and help clean it up. At the sloop’s helm was twenty-eight-year-old Captain Aunapu, who though no musician, can be decidedly lyrical when talking about the Clearwater on the Hudson: “When you’re running with a good wind up the river with that sixty-six-foot boom swung out over the water and maybe a full moon hanging off the end, or you’re sailing through the Highlands and you have to tack right up close to the brow of the land and the wind comes down hard from between the mountains, you’re dancing, dancing with the wind and the tides and the land in the most magnificent machine man ever invented. We want always to keep her under sail, never turn on her engine. We don’t want people to look up and just see a mast being pushed through the water; we want their eyes to light up with a vision of what a beautiful part of his environment man can be.”

This spring the Clearwater is sailing south to Washington, D. C., where she will lend her special grace to the national environmental teach-in on April 22.

“We get richer and richer in filthier and filthier communities until we reach a final state of affluent misery—Croesus on a garbage heap.” —John W. Gardner, head of the Urban Coalition.

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