The group’s tagline is: “Creating the Next Generation of Environmental Leaders.” You can say that again!
Since its maiden voyage in 1969, the 106-foot long Hudson River Sloop Clearwater has welcomed aboard more than half a million young people and hundreds of thousands of adults for its signature environmental education program—“The Classroom of the Waves.” An astonishing total of over 15,000 students and more than 200 teachers, are trained each year by Clearwater’s staff and volunteer educators.
The ship, a replica of the classic 18th and 19th century sloops that once plied the Hudson River regularly, is the grandly realized vision of folk singer Pete Seeger. In 1966, the Hudson had become a dumping ground for industrial and human waste, and Seeger thought that building a glorious sloop as an educational vessel might be a way to dramatize the plight of the river. Thousands of grass-roots volunteers attended Hudson River folk picnics during the 1960’s to help raise money to build the boat, which was finally launched in 1969. Thousands more are required each year to help keep the Clearwater in good condition. The sloop, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, continues to sail regularly each year, through the last week in October. Public sails are available at Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, the premier folk music/environmental festival in the U.S., held each year at Croton Point Park on Father’s Day weekend. The festival is also going strong for over 40 years!
After years of anticipation, I managed to land a choice volunteer slot in June 2010 at the festival’s Working Waterfront area, with my friends from the Sebago Canoe Club. While at the event, I joined Clearwater, filling out an application and selecting several weeks when I’d be able to come aboard as a volunteer. The last week in October looked good—so I ended up on the sloop’s final education voyage of 2010—the Pumpkin Sail.
We launched from the Fairway Supermarket dock in Red Hook, Brooklyn on Monday, October 25, and bid adieu to the last student sailors for the year—a troop of intrepid fourth-grade Girl Scouts from Manhattan’s Spence School—at the 79th Street Boat Basin in New York City, six days later on Sunday, October 31.
We had a week of spectacular weather for sailing, and the ship’s crew and volunteers (about 15 of us) welcomed about 400 visitors aboard for a total of eight educational sails. We also accommodated various Clearwater administrators, supporters and education program funders, plus a sizeable production crew, with equipment, from The Discovery Channel 3D Network. The camera crew filmed “The Classroom of the Waves” on three days of our voyage. The program is slated for broadcast next year.
The vision of Seeger, who is now 91 years old, is being realized. The Hudson River is much cleaner today than it was in 1968. The Clean Water Act now protects waterways throughout the U.S., although some would argue that enforcement needs to be strengthened. If you are a doubter on that point, just check out how the toilet and waste water are disposed of at the 79th Street Boat Basin. It’s an eye-opener, and nose-opener, as well!
Seeger’s legacy will live on in this program, even after the ship reaches the end of its useful life. Many who step aboard will become the next generation of environmental leaders; ALL who visit experience a taste of the river that you cannot get onshore.
I wistfully departed on Sunday afternoon, savoring memories of the adventure as I headed up to the subway, toting an overloaded duffle bag stuffed with a week’s worth of well-worn work clothes, boots moist with Hudson River water, and my sleeping bag and pillow, still redolent of nights adrift, like plankton, in a bunk on the brackish estuary.
Those of you visiting from the blogosphere can now climb aboard The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, view scenes of life on the ship and experience snippets of “The Classroom of the Waves.” You might want to learn more about Seeger and the legendary Clearwater organization at www.clearwater.org. Then consider volunteering or buying a weekend ticket for the festival, at Croton Point Park on Father’s Day weekend, 2011, to help Clearwater continue to “deliver for the river!”