Dear Clearwater,

My first introduction to Clearwater was a winter maintenance potluck. I was 6 years old and my mom read about it in the paper. By the time I did my first week of volunteering on the boat when I was 10, my mother had become a board member and each one of my three elder siblings had volunteered or worked for Clearwater in some way. In those days, Clearwater wintered in Saugerties and I would catch a ride there with one family member or another. Back then, I just enjoyed being around people who welcomed me and learning how to build things.

My first full winter was 1996-97. I was 14 and Claire Yannacone was the Winter Coordinator and had sailed as the engineer in the Spring of 96. She is still a close family friend! That season was the first I spent many weeks on end filling in for empty volunteer spots, or as it was called back then, I was a “spare part.” That winter, the two assistant coordinators were both small boat builders, and undertook a complete re-framing of the now “old” yawl boat. I was able to help steam bend in new frames and learned to rivet and refasten the old planking. When I wasn’t helping with the yawl boat, I was given a solo project to build a new gangway, something either of the two boat builders could have done in a day or two. It was a huge challenge at the time, as I had not used many power tools before that. That same winter I was asked to help Gioia Blix (soon to be Capt. Blix) rewire the engine and helm control panel. I was told it’s “wiring! That’s good and clean work!” It was neither, but it was fun and I learned a lot about 12 volt boat systems, and how to make proper wiring connections that I still use today.  By the time I was 18, I received a lathe for my birthday to add to an already extensive tool collection. I am not sure it was solidified then, but I knew I was on my way as a career as a boatbuilder.

Throughout my teens and early 20’s I had the pleasure of working on Clearwater (and later other boats/projects) with amazing talented shipwrights Don Taube, David Short, and Jim Kricker. When the 1st phase of the sloop restoration happened in the early 2001-2002, Jim Kricker and crew did the job of laying a fine new yellow pine deck, but when it came to the archaic skill of caulking between the new deck planks, they called a Clearwater hero, Don Taube. I jumped at this opportunity to help and learn the finer points of traditional caulking and work with Don. The next year when Don was working on a project replanking and caulking the bottom of a 30X90’ railroad barge, lead by David short (who also was introduced to boats by winter maintenance on CW in the late 70’s). Don offered my name as another caulker, and even though I was hired, I told David “I really haven’t done a lot of bottom caulking, just on decks.” He said, “It’s just like caulking a deck, except upside down!” I’m still in touch with Jim, good friends with David who lives nearby, and Don’s daughter.

I did all kinds of stuff though between ages 13-22, working in most crew positions on the sloop, from volunteer to 1st Mate (probably the youngest at 17), and did just about every job on-board. I remember, once a group of us were chatting and Erin Hagen said that there are many different jobs on the boat and some are more fun than others. She asked me which job was my least favorite. I thought for a minute and said that it was hard to pin down the worst one, but that all the bad ones usually started with, “Hey, Christian, you’re small…” Something like being lowered down by the ankles to retrieve bilge weights from under the sole of the Captain’s cabin, usually followed.

I first dipped my toes into Clearwater when I was the same age my son is now. Even though I was young, the on-board educator convinced my mom that she would be my chaperone for the week. 30 years later, I still have that same enthusiasm and joy in working with boats as a manager of a boatyard on the coast of Maine. I truly cannot and do not want to imagine where I would be if I had not grown up on Clearwater. It provided a community for Hudson Valley kids, like me and my siblings, to learn invaluable skills and make lifelong friendships that we still carry with us today. 

Christian Zimmerman