Clearwater never sailed as far as Denmark, nevertheless she steered me on a course that linked me forever to a Viking ship from a small town on a small island in that small country.
My family had been Clearwater people since the early days. A few years prior to Operation Sail in 1976 Pete Seeger wrote to Carl-Otto Larsen in Augustenborg, who spearheaded the construction of Sebbe Als, a Viking warship replica, constructed entirely with traditional methods, launched in 1969, the same year Clearwater. Pete invited them to bring their ship to New York for the US Bicentennial celebration, thus a lifelong partnership was born.
Two years later, in 1978, Sebbe Als invited Clearwater people to sail with them on their waters. My mom, Rhoda Cohen, planned to go, but a few weeks before the trip she asked me, a Marine Geology student at Southampton College, if I wanted to go instead. Back then a plane ticket was rather like a bus ticket, so I took that ticket and, along with 25 other Clearwater folks, traveled to Augustenborg for two weeks of sailing on their fjord.
While there, I met a lovely young Viking woman named Lene. Eventually (12 years later, actually) we married. We don’t live near the Hudson so don’t get to sail on Clearwater these days, but we do go back to Augustenborg almost every year to sail on Sebbe Als and their little Faroe Islands boat, Ottar Als.
Even in Illinois we are steeped in Viking ships. In 1893 a Viking replica was built and sailed to New York then eventually to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition. We are among a group of caretakers of that ship, now in Geneva, Illinois, near where we live. Following Viking tradition (maybe), our daughter, Linnea, has her origin saga tattooed on her leg: Clearwater and Sebbe sailing past the Brooklyn Bridge.
Clearwater, and the movement she helped build, also had a profound impact on my professional life. I became a professor and researcher dedicated to global climate and environmental change, with extended field studies in Antarctica and all around the world. In my freshman Ocean Science class I regularly ask my students the following question; “Are America’s waterways more polluted or less polluted than they were 50 years ago?” My students regularly get this question wrong, by more than 90%. They assume that things only get worse. Clearwater folks know better. I lived in the world when Pete Seeger sang, “One day, though maybe not this year, my Hudson River will once again run clear.” While still far from pristine, she runs far clearer now than she did then. Thank you, Clearwater. Thank you, Pete. Thank you, EPA. And thanks to all who care.
Mom was an active Brooklyn Sloop Club member from the early days to well into her 90s. We lost her earlier this year, but she remained passionate to the end about all that Clearwater stood for. Caring for our Earth and caring for each other remain critical to a promising future. We must not relax those hard-earned regulations and we must keep reaffirming our commitment to justice. The battle to protect our world for now and the future continues. Keep on sailing and keep on caring for the only home we have!
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.