2011 Junior Winter Apprentice Program

By Samantha McDowell, Winter Crew Member

Students from The School at Columbia University joined the crew of Clearwater again this winter as she rested in her winter dock in Saugerties for a two-day apprentice program. The students camped out overnight on the houseboat, and spent their time learning about the sloop, exploring the woodshop,  participating in science experiments, and getting the hang of knot-tying and the physics of ship handling. 

The afternoon in early March when the students arrived started out with shuffling of feet along the icy ground. The students and Clearwater crewmembers stood in a circle introducing each other and talking about our dreams for adulthood. Surprisingly, we had similar desires to never grow up.

It had been a long winter of maintenance on the sloop, and having children around again brought the meaning of our winter work full circle. Clearwater is about bringing awareness to young people. In addition to environmental education, the program embodies a sense of overall awareness and happiness, lightheartedness and adventure.

Chris and Europa, our winter crewmembers, led the groups on a tour of Lynch’s Marina, the workshop, and the sloop.  Chris explained the importance of the band saw, drill press and other tools. Clearwater’s stained-glass cabin windows of boating history were discussed over the freshly polyurethaned salon sole.

After the tours and a break for lunch, the classroom session began with fun games mixed in to break up the lessons. The first lesson was about ballast and lead by Captain Nick. The students molded tin foil into boats and christened them with names like the S.S. Fugly, to later be filled with mancala beads in a bucket of Esopus Creek water. Bilge weights from the galley, which provide Clearwater with her ballast, were “fire-lined” to shore to clean off corrosion. Masked and gloved, the group hammered away amused by the xylophone-like sounds as crew sang shanties contently to keep hand-tools in tempo.

To reward the hard work, the kids then threw dock-lines and “heavies,” weighted lines that are attached to dock-lines and intended to increase the distance sailors can toss a line. The students practiced in an obstacle course of hula-hoops and buckets, not unlike a game of skiball.


The next lesson was knots, an integral part of any sailor’s repertoire, and a simple race brought the kids to hauling line like the best of us. After spring lines were tensioned up, students mastered several knots and hitches. From old line, the students strung baggy-wrinkles, an essential part of protecting the metal rigging between which the main-sail ascends, and proceeded to celebrate with a limbo underneath.

The day ended with a trip to the historic Saugerties lighthouse. Hot chocolate was served and the folk song sing-a -long commenced.

In the morning,  mate Josh Mayo demonstrated mechanical advantage and how it helps make sailors’ work easier. There is nothing quite like hammering a nail into the floor with a tool ( instead of your fist), and removing it (before the boss shows up) with a crowbar instead of the brute strength of a 5th grade class. Students got the chance to lift their classmates on a platform with, and then without, using a pulley system. This helped them gain an understanding of why pullies, or blocks, are so important to the rigging of a tallship. In the loft they had the chance to then take apart and observe the pieces of our pulley system, while also assisting us in greasing those parts for another sailing season.

Clearwater’s 2011 Junior Winter Apprentice Program was entertaining and educational, not only for the students, but for us all as we enjoyed the chance to work with kids again after a chilly winter.

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