I first met Clearwater in 2009 when I started as a month-long winter maintenance apprentice. The stories I have about Clearwater and her people are many. The impact that the boat and the people surrounding it have had on my life in the subsequent years is hard to describe. I couldn’t stay away – returning year after year with new skills and new perspectives. I filled nearly all onboard positions over time, and worked as a shipwright during many winters. These are just a few glimpses back into my Clearwater memories of the last 13 years – for all those folks out there who think it may be boring to sail on a river.
The first memory took place up north during a transit with Captain Nick Rogers at the helm, with only crew on board. We were, of course, under full sail. The storm came on fast and without warning. Nick commanded the crew quickly and directly, focusing, as any wise captain would, on getting the mains’l down first and as smartly as possible. While most of the crew worked on this effort, I stood at the jib sheets trying to keep them somewhat controlled and from whipping the folks at the main halyards. Once the main was down, it was all hands to the jib. In the 40 knot winds, the jib hanks were fouled on the stay and even with the whole crew hauling on the downhaul, we couldn’t get her to budge. Nick came forward from the helm and with the right amount of easing the sheets and a quick heave in unison we set her free and quickly brought the jib down safely into the bow net.
The second, a squall came through with 40 students on board! But with Captain Samantha Heyman at command and seasoned sailor-Educator Maija Niemisto in charge of passengers, you wouldn’t have known anything even went awry. Samantha knew the ship and her crew well and while we quickly worked in sheets of rain to bring down and secure both of the sails, Maija ever so calmly led each passenger into the main cabin to stay safe, warm, and dry – then proceeded to pull out her mandolin and lead everyone in songs about the Hudson River!
The last happened just a few years ago – I was working on replacing the port caprail and the covering board right at the break in the deck. Longtime crew member and shipwright Dylan Kane worked behind me replacing a number of deck planks back aft. A strange noise came on quick and vengeful. We think it was a microburst. Before we knew it the entire winter shed was being lifted off the boat. In a state of shock I tried to hold it down quickly realizing I was no match for this. Dylan and I exchanged eyes and swiftly ran from the deck across the winter gangway which was nearly ripped from the bulkhead. After some adrenaline fueled exclamations, repairs to the shed began.
Even a boat that sits idly by, waiting for her winter facelift and spring uprig, never stops experiencing the weather. Through the years I leaned more towards the restoration and building aspect of wooden boats. I’d come back winter after winter to show my love for that old wooden sloop. I love that boat and the person she’s helped me become. And for those of you that think you need the sea to be a true sailor, I’ll tell you this, weather does not discriminate!
I was welcomed into the Clearwater life and community, learning from folks who had been there before – and after a while, I was able to pass down my skills, welcoming younger folks into the fold, and continuing to grow the community that nurtured me. Clearwater always felt like home and I always knew that I would be surrounded by people who felt the same.