Taking people of all ages sailing on the Hudson River is fundamental to Clearwater’s approach to cultivating interest in and respect for the environment. Every year, we take roughly 10,000 students sailing; Many of them tell us decades later that the experience changed them profoundly. Over the course of fifty years, we’ve given roughly half a million students this opportunity, and we hope to keep doing so indefinitely. There are other sailing education programs, but none have operated as long or as consistently as Clearwater’s.

As you may know, keeping a wooden sailboat in operation is a complex and costly undertaking. It is often said that a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money, and that’s what they say about modern boats with fiberglass hulls and metal spars. The Clearwater was built to be as much like a 18th century cargo vessel as possible.

These wooden sailing vessels were designed to last a few years, and then be scrapped and inexpensively replaced with new ones. Keeping Clearwater sailing essentially every year for fifty years, without significant interruption or change of ownership, is a level of fiscal and practical stewardship unsurpassed in the tall ship industry: Many other tall ships have changed hands, been scrapped, or permanently moored to become restaurants and tourist attractions.

Maintaining the Clearwater is a metaphor for our goals of a healthier, more just and peaceful planet. Just as we must take care of the Earth as long as we want to live on it, the Clearwater crew embraces the task of keeper her sailing as an eternal one, to be passed on to others as time goes by. In one’s time aboard, you will likely learn and care as much or more about carpentry as you do about sailing. And you will likely learn even more about living and working happily with people with widely varying backgrounds in a confined space.

Clearwater crew members also learn to work harmoniously and cost-effectively with government. In addition to maintaining Clearwater with material and methods that minimize her impact on the environment, we work closely with the Coast Guard to ensure the Clearwater exceeds stringent safety standards and operates smoothly in the often-busy waters of the Hudson River. From the beginning, this has involved costly maintenance and upgrades, starting with a pre-construction redesign to increase freeboard to meet new stability standards. Over time, it has involved new radios, fire protection systems and enormous quantities of new wood, paint, caulk and other materials. We strive to always perform maintenance well ahead of Coast Guard requirements, which in turn are designed to keep passengers safer than those anywhere else in the world.

Recent and Upcoming Maintenance

For the past decade clearwater has had a very aggressive maintenance schedule, and these days it is no different. In the winter of 2009-2010 clearwater replaced all the planks below the waterline in the forward third of the vessel. in the winter 2012-2013 the same was done (all the planks and frames below the waterline) in the stern third, and a lot of heavy timbers were replaced at that time too, including the horn timber, the shaft log, the rudderpost, floors, and dead wood.

In the winter of 2015-2016 the middle third of the vessel was similarly renewed: All the planks and frames below the waterline were inspected and repaired where necessary. This also included the centerboard trunk and its bed logs.

A similar major overhaul is scheduled for clearwater during the winter of 2020-2021. we will again be out of the water for over six months replacing a large portion of the hull. The fall/winter 2020-2021 work will concentrate on the parts of the vessel not yet addressed in this the series of projects that started in 2009. The major work will be above the waterline from the chain plates forward. All the planks and frames including the top timbers and stanchions. We estimate this will involve close to 60 planks and 100 futtock frame sections.

The 2020-2021 work will be more extensive in some ways than other overhauls over the last decade, involving removing the mast and rigging to expose additional components that are normally inaccessible. Removing the mast is required in order to allow it to be analyzed by the Coast Guard, which is required every ten years. While this mast has passed every prior test with flying colors, it will need to do so again in order to avoid the Coast Guard requiring its replacement.

Removing the mast will also allow us to inspect and repair planking, framing, bulwarks, and rails will from the stem to aft of the chain plates. At this time we know the planks under the chain plates may be weakened, but a thorough inspection of the frames, which bear the loads carried by the chain plates, have been found to be in more than adequate condition; This has allowed us the time to properly plan for such a large project.

This project is large across many dimensions. We have arranged to reunite the same shipwrights and many of the same crew as has worked on previous projects since 2010. The right materials, including sustainably harvested, properly dried wood of the best and appropriate species. All of the planks above the water line in the forward part of the vessel and the mast will be removed to afford a more thorough inspection of the heavy structural timbers in this area, and replacement as needed. Major heavy 12″ x 14″ timbers have already been ordered for this.

The exact extent of the heavy timber repairs cannot be known until they are properly inspected while they are exposed. But with the vessel is so deeply open, we will take the opportunity to replace any that seem at all likely to require repair in the next decade. in 2010, last time the stem was exposed, it was deemed in good condition and kept. Another area of concentration will be the transom. All of this aft section is above the waterline, and although we have replaced a number of its frames over the years, we want to do the same type of major overhaul back there too, including all the planks and frames adjacent to the transom. Lastly, we take the opportunity to complete the inspection of structural fasteners (e.g. bolts) required by the Coast Guard.

Clearwater’s aggressive approach to maintenance continues to not only keep our sloop sailing and creating the next generation of environmental advocates, but also some of the best shipwrights in the area.

If you’d like to help us with this work, donate now!

Clearwater outreach from Jodie Childers on Vimeo.

Previous Maintenance Projects

The Sloop has been undertaking a steady stream of winter maintenance projects for the last two decades. Read about some of them here.