Young Women at the Helm 2010

Clearwater kicked off our summer season with the first of many Youth Empowerment Programs aboard our lovely Hudson River Sloop. Young Women at the Helm is a three-day leadership-training program where Clearwater’s crew and volunteers bring 25 young women between the ages of 14 and 18 out on the Hudson River to learn about the ecology, cultural heritage, maritime life and navigation a 106-foot long historic ship.

Girls from all over the Hudson Valley joined the boat in Beacon on the sunny morning of July 6th for the beginning of their great adventure. The first day the participants got to know each other, the boat, the crew and how very hot a Hudson Valley summer can be. Despite temperatures reaching over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit during the afternoon, there were lots of smiles, enthusiastic questions and a budding sense of teamwork. The girls deployed our otter trawl net, set the 3,000 lbs mainsail, learned to handle dock lines and studied the Hudson River. When the boat docked at Constitution Island in the early evening everyone was ready for the delicious dinner our cook provided.

Constitution Island is a new dock for Clearwater’s Youth Empowerment Programs and we were all excited to explore the beautiful island tucked inside World’s End, a sharp bend in the Hudson Highlands over looking West Point Military Academy. The participants explored the revolutionary war site, racing to complete a scavenger hunt and canoeing through Constitution Marsh. After stargazing and grilling hotdogs, everyone climbed into their tents to the soft sound of crickets chirping the woods.

Early on July 7th, all 25 girls climbed out of their sleeping bags to a light breeze carrying away the previous days heat. We ate a hearty breakfast together aboard the boat before the girls got back to work and helped bring the ship off the dock to continue their journey down river. Participants and crew organized themselves into four groups called “watches.” The Ecology Watch, Heritage Watch, Boat Life Watch and Navigation Watch spent hours studying their respective academic areas and practicing their physical skills in preparation for the third day when Clearwater’s crew would turn much of the ships operations over to the young ladies.

Knot tying, coiling lines, studying charts, testing the water and observing plankton under microscopes kept us all busy as miles of the shoreline slipped lazily past. Clearwater made a few gentile tacks in Haverstraw Bay before circling north again to tie up in Verplanck. Each young woman was challenged to row our yawl boat and wade into the Hudson River to seine for fish living along the shoreline. The girls then spent an intimate evening sharing their life dreams s and challenge with each other inside the comforting birch bark walls of an Algonquin wigwam with our special guest Jennifer Lee.

On the third and final day of Young Women at the Helm the girls woke early to a cool windy morning. They helped warm up the diesel engine, flake out the main sheet, pack up tents and ease the ship away from the dock. In an exhilarating final trawl with the fishing net, the girls hauled in a great variety of Hudson River fish and crab. Each watch climbed into the head rig and felt the thrill of water passing below them as they held onto the bowsprit.

These young women made Clearwater’s crew proud as they demonstrated their newly acquired skills handling halyards, the tiller, fishing net and dock lines. Each watch presented lessons, skits or songs to their peers to show what they had been studying throughout the past days. A thrilling display of mechanical advantage sent one participant swinging from the rigging, another watch created a beautiful chart of the river chronicling their adventures as they sailed aboard, the third watch created a sea shanty with lyrics describing the cultural heritage of the Hudson River Valley, and the girls designed t-shirts illustrating the biodiversity of the river’s ecological community.

Every girl left the boat feeling a sense of accomplishment and maybe a little relief coming into port in Yonkers for the last leg of their voyage. They sat together on the bow of the boat for one last muster and a brief awards ceremony before parting ways until next year.

Young Women at the Helm is a staple of Clearwater’s education pipeline and helps inspire, educate and activate the next generation of environmental leaders in the Hudson Valley.

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