20191001 001042 9 minutes
Immigration, Hudson River, Quadricentenial, Clearwater

When I sailed into the mighty Hudson River on the Queen Mary, on August 15, 1961, I felt some of the emotions that Henry must have encountered on that fateful morning in 1609: hope that this would be a beginning – not an ending; hope that it would be a strong building block between the past and the future; hope that it would be a step upwards on the ladder of life, not down; hope (and fear) whether the natives would prove welcoming and friendly.
Life on the river changed a little in those three hundred and fifty years. Then the buildings were small and temporary, the inhabitants largely seasonal. There were no travelogues or maps then, no government agencies to decree who could or couldn’t set foot on their shores. For me there were visas, passports, luggage regulations, currency and health laws and customs officials to obey. What a difference three hundred years makes.

Then there was no Statue of Liberty. Poor Henry. He didn’t have the thrill of his first sight of her, standing there with her flame held high, welcoming the new-comer and proclaiming liberty to the world. There were no skyscrapers, no concrete canyons, no electricity or telephones if he got lost, no chronometers to calculate longitude when out of sight of land when he arrived.

But the river was here. That immense, enormous width of water, with its tidal flow changing every six hours. Its shores covered with trees, the precipitous rocks rising sheer out of the water, haven’t changed. They were just as impressive for me, three hundred and fifty years later, as a scared newcomer, as they would have been for him. His ship was large for its time. Mine also. But he was exploring. He didn’t expect to stay. Conversely, I came like a snail, with my house on my back, my green card in my pocket, and unformulated dreams to carry me through those early years. The traditional wide-eyed optimist!

Now, almost fifty years later, I am still looking forward as well as back. Grateful for the intervening years – filled with happiness and tears, hard work and love, children, family and friends.

I went back and saw the Statue some years ago, on my fortieth anniversary. It was an emotional experience on a beautiful sunny August day. Three weeks’ later was 9/11, made all the more emphatic by my recent visit there. But my Statue is still standing at the entrance to Henry’s harbor, proudly holding her flame aloft for freedom.

And now I am on the Clearwater. It is Sunday, June 7th, 2009, and we are part of the Flotilla sailing up the Hudson River for the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentenniel of Henry’s historic voyage in 1609. the Clearwater is part of it, with the Woody Guthrie and replicas of Henry Hudson’s original boat the Half Moon, the Mystic Whaler, and one of the first Dutch ship built in the New World the Onrust.

It is a gorgeous day. The sun is shining, with a few clouds coming up. We have left Tarrytown on the way to Beacon. There is a slight breeze; and we all pulled and hauled to get the sail up. We are following the Half Moon. All the other boats are behind us.

It is a fabulous experience to see all the little ships and boats around us. The refreshments are magnificent, everything you can imagine.

Cannon announce our arrival to welcome us into Haverstraw. The Half Moon is turning to starboard to go to Croton and we are heading for Haverstraw with the Woody Guthrie, the Mystic Whaler and the Onrust.

There is little wind so we have to use the engine but hopefully we will be able to sail part of the way. Since we have to meet deadlines we have to use modern technology when necessary. The sails are safely stowed and the sun is still very hot, shining brightly from an almost clear sky although the clouds advancing slowly.

I took pictures of the four captains of the boats in the Flotilla being presented awards in Haverstraw and of the fire engines on display.

We are accompanied by about eighty ships and boats in the Flotilla above the Bear Mountain Bridge. And I counted twelve police boats.

We were greeted by cannon at West Point and Garrison, and were accompanied by the John J Harvey fireboat which feted us along the way with welcoming cascades of water.

Dave Conover, a member of the Clearwater staff, told me: “What makes Clearwater special is the fact that she’s a replica of boats on the Hudson River a couple of hundred years ago. They got replaced by trains, and steamboats, and had almost disappeared by the early nineteen hundreds. People forgot the Hudson River which was becoming an industrial canal, a place used only for dumping sewage and industrial waste. People could tell what color cars they were painting at the General Motors plant in Tarrytown by looking at the color of the water. If the water was red they were painting cars red that day. If the water was yellow they were painting cars yellow.

“When the Clearwater was first being thought of by Pete Seeger, Dick Schwartz and some of their friends they thought it would be great to have one of the Hudson River Sloops, captured by the Hudson River School of painters like Thomas Cole, Jasper Cropsey and Frederick Church. They captured their feeling and made an impression on people. The group thought: if we build one of these beautiful and functional boats people will say “Why are you doing this? What is the point of building this beautiful boat to sail on this wretched river that is in really terrible condition?” The Clearwater was unusual, and contra-intuitive.

“Today the boat is used to get people excited about sailing; the environment, and the Hudson River, to make them feel good about helping restore the river. The Clearwater still has a lot of work to do with PCBs, and all the problems facing the watershed here. The fish populations continue to decline, so even though the river has improved since the boat has been sailing.”

And now we are finally under sail, coming up to Newburgh and Beacon. The silence is wonderful, once most of the motorized boats have left us. All the waterfront places are filled with people and the noisy motor-boats are tied up at the marinas. What a day it has been, with memories and dreams to last a lifetime.

Thank you Henry, for putting this mighty river on our map. We will try to look after it so future generations can also enjoy it. Thank you to those who, in the intervening four hundred years, made it possible for me to come to these shores; and to those who have made me welcome ever since, and to my daughters who arranged for me to spend this memorable day on the magnificent river.