Dear Clearwater,

The first time I set foot on a sailboat was when I joined the Winter maintenance crew in Feb. 1999. Saugerties? Never heard of it, but there I went anyway. I could find my way around a basic toolbox, but was suddenly surrounded with completely unfamiliar implements like caulking mallets and fids. It was a steep learning curve, but as one of the Captains used to say, “Just make it happen!”

Becky and Carrie (the experienced Winter crew) introduced me to the finer points of heating up pitch to touch up the deck seams and showed me how to properly refurbish the components of a block (which is NOT a pulley!). The barn housed a huge array of tools and rigging, so looking for the right one was a great excuse to warm up by the wood-burning stove. It was also a great spot to make baggy wrinkles with volunteers on the monthly potluck nights. And back at the crew apartment, Becky played a mean penny whistle.

Soon I knew how to check on the bubbler system that kept the hull from getting iced in, while occasionally dodging an angry swan. As Winter wore on, I started hearing mention of “boom day.” The boom had been laying across a  series of saw-horses so it could be sanded and painted. On “boom day”, a huge crowd of awesome volunteers materialized to shoulder the immense spar from the sawhorses onto the boat. What an operation!

Rigging ensued and somehow that Spring I became (a very green) deckhand.  It was disorienting to me as we veered away from the dock for the first sail.  “It’s moving!”, I thankfully did not say out loud.

That Spring I frantically absorbed as much as I could about sailing and used my experience to get a chance to spend the Fall working on a boat in the Pacific. Gratefully, I returned to Clearwater for the next Winter maintenance period. For the first part of that Winter, we were hauled out at a boatyard in the Port of Albany and lived aboard. From the ground we could scrape barnacles off the hull, since haul-out allowed access to parts of the boat I’d never seen before.

When we finished haul-out, we transited to Saugerties for the rest of the Winter. 

One morning as we started our work day, Captain JC Parker announced that it was a day off!  He wouldn’t tell us where we were going, but we piled into vehicles and headed north.  We arrived at a small body of water that was frozen solid—with what looked like small, wooden sailboats darting across it at unbelievably high speeds. Ice boating! I’d never seen anything like it.  After a long while of staring at the boats longingly, some of the owners let us try a quick ride. Amazing! 

Later, I became the Onboard Educator and it was incredible to help introduce thousands of students to the estuary in their own backyard. And each week, a group of volunteers from all walks of life used vacation time or part of their summer break to live aboard. They took that leap and the program thrived as a result. I’m so grateful for all the incredible volunteers and crew members I met. Clearwater hooked me on sailing and now I sail (usually smaller boats) any chance I get, sometimes with former Clearwater shipmates. It was an honor to have a turn aboard and it’s so fun to see the dynamic ideas new crews bring to the program. 

Maybe most importantly, I know a caulking mallet when I see one.

Shelley Berlincourt