Young Men at the Helm 2011!


By Tom O’Dowd, Clearwater Onboard Education Specialist

The future of the river and Clearwater is clearly looking bright.  Our Young Men at the Helm Program just finished up its third season. It was an inspirational and fun time!  It’s amazing just how much competence and confidence can be shared in three days, and how quickly young men can coalesce as a team with each other and the crew.

The voyage began behind the scenes. Educators sought the future leaders of our Hudson River towns and cities from Albany to Poughkeepsie and to Peekskill, Haverstraw, and all over New York City, and began planning their lessons.  Every participant had to apply and be interviewed to meet our approval- And we were selective. The geographical diversity the boys brought with them neatly tied together the two ends of the estuary, and some of the young men were able to point out landmarks in their own hometowns as we sailed by! Their high commitment to learning and teamwork made the whole program a breeze.

Day One included the expected hustle and bustle of organizing paperwork, going on tours, meeting new people, and getting the boat underway. Under open blue skies the Young Men broke into four “Watch” groups that focused on some portion of Hudson River information paired with a sailing skill set. The Red Watch, which would soon be known as “Black Pearl,” focused on watershed issues and handling the mainsail. The Gold Watch focused on maritime lifestyles and handling dock lines. The Green Watch, aka “Gang Green,” were the navigators of the boat, learning about triangulation, speed, and using the tiller.  Blue Watch held the Clearwater environmental banner, learning about the ecology of the river and operating the otter trawl net. By the end of the program, we knew these young men would be able to operate every aspect of the vessel under the watchful eyes of our crew,  while demonstrating a vast knowledge of the Hudson River.

Our first day ended with musical entertainment by one of our own Clearwater board members, Stephen Smith, who rocked the boat with some amplified music under the stars!  The participants slept in tents on shore, thanks to the hospitality of Randy King of King Marine in Verplanck.

Day Two included TWO Watch classes onboard Clearwater, TWO skill-learning sessions and lots of time on deck. Onshore, after a long day of fishing and sailing, we played teambuilding games in Alpine, explored the historic 18th century Kearney House by candle light and had a campfire with s’mores next to a trickling stream.


Day Three. This was the first day of tricky wind and weather.  Before lunch, we had plenty of time to explore onshore and climb aloft.

Some guys got to climb to the top of the Palisade cliffs while some explored an unexpected tide pool. Everyone got to fish using a seine net for blue crab, bay anchovies, and jellies; lots of jellies! The Young Men even got to row against a strong flood tide and try their strength and teamwork at the oars of our yawl boat.


Sailing was postponed a few hours to wait out a sudden thunderstorm. It was the perfect time to hole up in the Alpine Boat Basin’s pavilion and prepare the presentations that the participants would be giving to each other at the closing ceremonies. The Young Men worked hard to create posters, model boats, words in maritime alphabet, gather data on bacteria in the river, and rehearse their lines. When we finally sailed it was grey and gusty. The Young Men fished one last time, with fantastic results, and hoisted the jib for a bit.  The guys got to put all their skills to use and have one last great sail.

We arrived in Yonkers to a glorious welcome from two great volunteers from Young Women at the Helm, and the gentlemen began to set up their presentations under the protective covering of the Yonkers pier. This meant they had an audience of more than just their shipmates, crew and family members: There were a couple of passers-by who took interest too. Some wanted to buy our blue crabs!  One man said, “Wait, those are children??” after seeing how well the Young Men presented their findings to each other.

They were truly impressive, and the crew kept asking ourselves how so much had been learned in so little time.

Each participant got an individualized superlative (“Best mad scientist”, “Knot master”, and “Most likely to be captain”), a small shackle necklace, and shout outs from the crowd. The captain and educators said some fine and encouraging words and then it was time to disembark.  Goodbyes always seem too fast and too sudden, but we hurried the Young Men off to their families or to catch the next train.

Impact. The hesitation to actually say goodbye says something about our Youth Empowerment programs:  We make a difference in these young folks’ lives.  Whether they become sailors, environmentalists, musicians or anything else: It does not matter. During this program, we helped to show them a part of themselves that is strong, smart, and sweet so that they can accomplish any of their life goals. We planted a seed and we lit a fire and we might even have recruited some new Clearwater crew. It’s why Young Women at the Helm has been so successful for ten years. Here’s to the day when we’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of Young Men at the Helm!

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