I first stepped on board the Sloop in 2013. I was 18 and my older brother Rory was a crew member at the time. I had been out of high school for a few months and was quite unsure as to how I might spend the next chapter of my life. It took some coaxing but he finally convinced me to volunteer.
From the first few moments on day one, I realized that I had never met people quite like the ones I would now be spending the next week with. I was shocked to see women with lots of armpit and leg hair and tattoos. Although I was awkward and shy, the onboard educator Isaac took me under his wing and taught me about the Hudson and the ship and how to teach children about these things. I found that line handling, knot-tying, and coiling the halyards came naturally to me but gathering a group of fourth graders around a fish tank was not my strong suit. Even though the education felt like torture I stuck it out and found that I really enjoyed life on the boat.
Waking up early and washing the deck barefoot, gathering in the main cabin to eat meals and talk about the day, and finally furling the jib as the sun fell below the palisades was the kind of structure that had been missing from my life. Even though the crew were all much older than me they were all very welcoming and I felt at ease around them. My favorite part of that week was the nights after all the work was finished and the air became brisk, the crew would sit on the quarter deck and sing songs together. At the end of the week I felt that I had stayed long enough and called my father to come pick me up. Riding home that afternoon I was quiet and really wasn’t sure how I felt about this new experience. But that night back in my bed I had the strange sensation that I was still laying in the transom, waves rocking me back and forth. And in the ensuing days I found myself telling my friends all about the people I had met on this old boat on the Hudson River. I realized in the following months how special that experience was, but I had no Idea how the Clearwater would change and shape my life in the years to come.
Two years later I returned, and the Sloop was in a very different state from when I had sailed aboard her. This time she was hauled out of the water onto a barge on the Rondout Creek in the throes of a major Restoration. I had been hired as a winter intern that included a very modest stipend and a very crowded room with four other people where I lived in a bunk bed built inside of a closet! I soon found that tearing the boat apart and learning to put it back together was the most engaging and exciting work I had ever done. The special community that I had briefly felt a part of a few years earlier had returned to me. By the end of that winter I had made lifelong friends and I’d also learned many skills in wooden boat restoration.
I then went on to work on a whole bunch of ships, from Maine to Philadelphia, and though I loved fixing those boats and learning new things, I always returned to Clearwater because of the unique community on the boat. Every time I’ve returned, I’ve seen myself in the many young people who come to the boat unsure of their place in the world who find Clearwater a safe and nurturing place for them to grow into adults. I’m very proud to be part of that community and to help teach the next generation of people to care for this amazing boat.
The memories in the Generations Story Archive share why grassroots generosity and community action are powerful forces for good. We need your help to create lasting memories like these.