Dear Clearwater,

 This August, I finished my second summer living, working, and sailing on the Sloop Clearwater, and I couldn’t be more grateful. If you told me in June of 2021 that a month later I would not only be using a glorified bucket as a bathroom, but also cleaning and sharing it with eleven strangers, I would never have shown up for my first day of work. 

My first week, I avoided calling home at night. I was miserable and scared that I was going to break down and ask my parents to come get me. Whenever I was alone, I would cry into an old hand-me-down Star Wars t-shirt in my bunk, which lined up head to toe with nine other crew bunks that encircled a small dining table. Rabid homesickness, grueling manual labor, fourteen-hour work days, continuously failing, and the summer heat of the Hudson Valley almost pushed me to quit.

While the second week challenged me almost as much, I was learning. I got less frustrated with myself when I had to redo easy jobs, like putting a piece of chafe gear on a line. I didn’t waste time being unkind to myself for not knowing how to do unfamiliar tasks. Instead, I picked up new skills by simply trying my best and allowing myself to grow. I also bonded with my crew members. We sang through chores, tasted ice cream at different ports and played Dungeons and Dragons below deck. Their unwavering support that month is still a constant reminder to me that it’s okay to ask for help sometimes, and that it’s important to make mistakes.

By the third week, the once annoying sound of waves hitting the stern keeping me up all night now gently rocked me to sleep. Waking up at dawn, I was captivated by the glow of the sunrise illuminating dew drops that clung to the deck. Catching glimpses of swooping ospreys while on bow watch, sailing through sunsets that painted the river gold, transiting past rocky islands dusted in mist, and walking along firefly lined docks transformed me. I gained a completely new perspective of the Hudson that strengthened my sense of belonging and focused my clarity of purpose. I have lived less than 100 yards from the river my entire life, but I never dreamed that there was such beauty hidden in it. 

With every passing day, I took more pride in my work as an educator deckhand and began to better understand the significance of it. The mission of the Clearwater is to protect the Hudson through advocacy and education. Working on it is unique as every day you see the impact of your work –in the excitement of children petting fish they caught, in teaching inquisitive grad students, or even just in the cleanliness of the river. It was always distinctly rewarding and it made me so happy to see the difference I was making in how the hundreds of people who came on the Sloop for both educational and public sails viewed the river.


On my last day, it was my turn to clean the head, a bucket of sawdust that serves as the toilet aboard the Sloop. The popularity of this job had plummeted even more since we found maggots in it earlier in the summer, but as I knelt scrubbing the floorboards I reflected on the past month. I looked down at the sponge falling apart in my hands and realized that what would have horrified me a month earlier barely fazed me now. Now I know why no one mentioned head buckets when they asked me to join the crew OR when they convinced my parents it was a good idea. I really do think it was fate that I ended up going on that first sail with my Girl Scout Troop two summers ago, and I could not be more grateful that I did. 

Working on Clearwater was so influential in helping me develop my passion and my self confidence. I cannot stress enough how important I think it is that other young women have the same opportunity that I did; to live on the river and to play an active role in protecting it; to learn new skills and engage with a diverse group of people. Growing up and staring at the waves of the river washing up against the New York skyline was completely different from feeling those same waves rock me to sleep every night.

This August, hearing Amali ring the bell to start the moment of silence in Alpine transported me to the first time I heard her ring the bell, back by the 79th St. Boat Basin in 2021. Except this time, I wasn’t surrounded by my Girl Scout troop, but instead a different group of young women who were participating in the Clearwater’s Young Women at the Helm program. And, instead of sitting on the deck with the participants, I was sitting on a grey-top deck box with the rest of the crew. It was in this moment of deja vu that the impact of Clearwater truly hit me.

As I work on my applications to embark on my next chapter to college, I chose to use my journey with Clearwater that demonstrates all of me as my personal statement. In one year I had gone from someone who couldn’t tell you which side was port and which was starboard to an experienced sailor applying to colleges as an Environmental Studies major and hoping to land a career in Environmental Policy. 

I hope Clearwater will be a part of my life forever. I’ve learned so much about myself, I can do hard things, I want a career that has meaningful purpose and hands-on work to influence change. Working with the environment opened up an entirely new world to me–a special experience rarely available to women of color, and I’m very appreciative of the Clearwater’s dedication to inclusivity and accessibility. It is so crucial that the Clearwater keeps sailing so that other women and girls of color can have this life changing experience and have the chance to become a part of the Hudson Valley world too.

Zara Lall