This year in late September, I visited New York City together with my oldest daughter Rebecca. It was my first visit to the city after exactly 25 years. We stood at the Hudson River promenade on the NJ side and when my eyes were wandering around New York Harbour I glimpsed a sailboat in the distance. With a more careful sight I could identify the silhouette of a sloop. A sloop?! A quick check with Marine Traffic confirmed what I assumed: It was the Clearwater!
Back in September 1997, I spent two weeks as a volunteer aboard the Clearwater. I was attracted by the idea of providing environmental education on a historic sailboat and the opportunity to get a hands-on experience by being part of the extended crew.
These two weeks left me with very valuable and lasting impressions, vivid, even today:
The boat, rebuilt in its historical state, a natural beauty with its huge mast and mainsail, equipped with woodfired stove, ice block-cooled fridge, and sawdust toilets, questioning our modern day lifestyle.
The river, carrying the boat on its constantly moving current, presenting ever varying factettes on its banks and unveiling the wonders of life within its abundant waters merging the salty ocean with the fresh waters born from the land.
The crew’s welcoming hospitality made me feel part of the small boat community from the first day, impressing me with their enthusiasm, professionalism, creativity and musical talent.
My own experience of being able to contribute something, even though I never ever had been in touch before with active sailing or had to gain the attention of school kids for topics like plankton or navigation.
During the two weeks I learned a lot about the long lasting struggle the Clearwater organization was and is engaged in, leading to remarkable achievements in the preservation of the natural resources of the Hudson River. When asking myself about what drives the devotion and support of so many people this scene from the boat came to my mind:
When on a sail, after having set the huge mainsail the motor stopped and all aboard gathered around the mast. The Captain or the educator thanked everybody for their effort and drew the attention to the river, emphasizing in quite poetic words (at least in my remembrance) its natural beauty. Then the ship bell rang, followed by one minute of silence, giving way to hear the slight natural sound of wind and water. As always everybody was quiet, and you could feel how in this one minute people were touched by what they saw and heard. They – and I – have been caught on the emotional level. Thus even one short minute will stay in your memory and can be able to evoke these feelings again and again. That’s what builds some of the strongest ties, creating lasting motivation for an enduring commitment.
After having spotted the Clearwater I contacted the office and was glad to get the chance to step by and have once again my feet on the planks of this wonderful boat, this time together with my daughter. I was delighted to hear from Captain Nick that the educational program today is provided as I experienced it once before. And yes, the ship bell still rings, opening the hearts and feelings towards the nature around us.
Best wishes to all at Clearwater.org and thank you for your ongoing and impressive engagement!