One important goal of Hudson River Historic Boat’s mission, often overlooked when we are talking about ourselves during this period of intense focus on reconstruction of Eleanor, is to “serve as a resource for the general public who . . . desire to learn how to sail.

Peter Tenerowicz and Kathy Hamm ParchuckMember Pete Tenerowicz on a teaching sail with Hudson resident Kathy Hamm Parchuck

Today there is an article in the New York Times by Maya Jasanoff who is writing a book on Joseph Conrad.

Before Conrad published his first novel in 1895, he spent 20 years working as
a merchant sailor, mostly on sailing ships, and fully half his writing — including
“Heart of Darkness,” “Lord Jim” and “The Secret Sharer” — deals with sailors,
ships and the sea. These loom so large for him that as I have researched a book
about Conrad’s life and times, I have felt it essential to travel by sea myself.

And she did. Maya “hitched” a ride on the 134 foot brigantine Corwith Cramer, a classroom on the sea for students at Sea Education Association, who for over 40 years has offered field-based environmental education through its accredited study abroad program with Boston University.  As a bonus the students learn to sail.

300px-CorwithCramerCorwith Cramer

She spent time with “a row of pallid sailors crouched at the leeward rail.” The 12 students who were on board with Maya were learning the

grueling schedule of round-the-clock watch duty, hauling and heaving lines,
setting and striking sails, scrubbing dishes and floors. They were learning the
ropes just as Conrad did, 140 years ago.

It’s hard to think of a less relevant skill in today’s job market than knowing your
jib halyard from your main sheet.

But by the end of her sea journey and the end of her Opinion piece in the paper Maya knows her arduous journey from Cork to Brittany was well worth those uncomfortable, unpleasant moments, and was much more relevant to our present day life than she ever imagined.

I disembarked from the Corwith Cramer knowing things I had not appreciated
otherwise. I learned that to stay on course at the helm you have to watch the
horizon more than the compass. I learned that sails balance a ship, so much
so that oceangoing steamships carried rigs for stability long after they used
them for auxiliary power. I learned how to steady myself by swinging like the
gimbaled tables in the saloon, which seesawed wildly with the ship’s roll while
plates and glasses didn’t budge.

She gained new insight into Conrad, progress and obsolescence, and of the value and art and ethics of sailing.  But she says it so well that reading her article in full is a must.

We at HRHB aren’t taking to the the oceans in tall ships with novice seamen and seawomen, but we do have our own education program.  Volunteer craftsmen meet every Thursday night where they share skills on shipbuilding, restoration, woodworking and the physics of sail.

102_0021Hard at work/play at the reconstruction site last Thursday

We teach interested persons how to sail while developing a relationship with the Hudson River by gaining an appreciation for the river’s history, an awareness of nature’s forces and the river’s environment while instilling a love for sailing. Pete Tenerowicz, member of HRHB took Kathy Hamm Parchuck of Hudson for a lesson this July.

President Louise Bliss writes:

Parchuck, after returning to shore took time to reflect on her sailing lesson
and experience. Just keeping your head, listening to and following directions
are some of the pieces of wisdom that Parchuck took to heart. Terms such as
apparent wind, tack, stays, jib, come about, hold your course, and main sheet
are now part of Parchuck’s vocabulary. Tenerowicz has been sailing since he
was a kid. His experience of over 30 years makes Tenerowicz a knowledgeable
teacher. Tenerowicz says that anyone can learn to sail if you have time and like
being on the water. Money and fame, Tenerowicz says are not part of the criteria
for learning how to sail.

Our Education Tent is a familiar and popular stop at many Hudson outdoor fairs and gatherings.  This year we demonstrated steaming and shaping white oak into new mast hoops in our home-made steamer at the Mohawk Hudson Council of Yacht Clubs Boating Festival at Henry Hudson Park.  Acquiring the skills to make our own mast hoops and the tools we needed to do it took much experimentation and rethinking and we are still learning and honing our techniques.

Steaming the white oak for mast hoops

The Education Tent also is a place where young are introduced to the possibility that they too can become sailors and hopefully some of them will walk away with the desire to learn how to sail.

Learning the ropes

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Louise Bliss spends her days and nights fulfilling the responsibilities that you normally expect from the leader of a non-profit organization: grantwriting, public speaking, administrative duties…but wait – is that her scraping paint off the hull of an old boat? And is that Bliss wearing a facemask and holding a piece of lumber to steady it during a precision cutting? She knows quite a lot about copper rivets, how to distinguish red from white oak and what green wood is used for, too.

The president of the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration & Sailing Society, Inc. modestly describes herself as “a gopher. If we need lumber, rivets, epoxy, tools, I’ll study it, research pricing, go out and network with people and learn about it. I’m a lifetime learner,” Bliss says simply. Her labors, and those of many volunteers associated with the Hudson-based non-profit, are focused on one goal: restoration of the 1903 Clinton Crane sloop Eleanor.

The 12-meter racing sloop is entered in the US National Register of Historic Places (1982) and the New York State Register of Historic Places (1983), and is the last known example of a “raceabout”: a class of boats designed for speed. As such, Eleanor offers sailing enthusiasts, master craftsmen, history buffs and boat designers a rare opportunity to observe an important chapter in the evolution of sailing and sailboat design. Once restoration of the nine-passenger sloop designed by Clinton Crane in 1903 is complete, it will become what Bliss calls “an intimate classroom.”

P.S. Egan, the third sailor to own (1952-1998) the sloop Eleanor.

P.S. Egan, the third sailor to own (1952-1998) the sloop Eleanor.

“The Eleanor is small enough that passengers are part of a team. On this boat, you’re involved in sailing. You don’t just sit and watch someone else haul the lines; you’re part of the crew. We may allow a few more people on board if the weather is good, but nine would be the limit in stormy weather,” says Bliss.

The restoration began in earnest when ownership of the Eleanor was transferred to the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration & Sailing Society in 2011. One of the many challenges inherent in restoring Eleanor has been that when Clinton Crane died in 1957, all plans for the boat that he created were burned. Restoration plans had to be created from existing boats such as Crane’s Idem Class racing sloop the Water Witch, on display at the Adirondack Museum.

Shortly after bringing Eleanor to Hudson, the organization invited Jim Kricker of Rondout Woodworking in Saugerties to take a look at the boat. “His help has been extremely important for us,” says Bliss. Kricker wrote a complete plan for the ambitious boat restoration, from setting up shop to outlining materials and projecting costs and time estimates. “We’ve been following Jim’s plan and refer to his suggestions often. Just the other day, we needed some copper nails, and I called him, because copper is so expensive.”

Volunteers Joe Kenneally, Bill Burrows and Guy Hazelton shaping the transom for the Eleanor

Volunteers Joe Kenneally, Bill Burrows and Guy Hazelton shaping the transom for the Eleanor

In March of this year, volunteers finally turned their attention from the painstaking process of taking Eleanor apart to begin the reconstruction process. A new keelson was installed to support the sloop’s new floor, new ribs and reconstruction of the transom. Mast hoops were cut this month, and new white oak flooring is being laid.

Bliss, who has lived by the Hudson River and worked around boats since she was 12 years old, acknowledges that wooden boat restoration requires an abundance of patience. “We volunteers work together on Thursday evenings, and it’s a cohesive, fun group of people. We’ve established an informal boat school ourselves here in Hudson,” she says, adding, “We’re not licensed, but we’ve learned a great deal about how boats are made.”

This learning curve took a slight turn when workers uncovered a little secret:Eleanor’s floors were asymmetrical. “Eleanor has a rustic, very strong assembly, and she was in very good condition for her age. Often boats this old are sitting in a field somewhere with grass growing up through their hull,” says Bliss. “She’s not symmetrical, but she was built the way she would be strongest. And at about 6,000 pounds, she’s a very lightweight boat, built for racing.”

Part of Bliss’s job is ensuring that US government standards for historic preservation are followed. “The Eleanor is an important part of the history of the Hudson River and the Catskills. Her home port was Catskill from 1927 to 1998, and a lot of people in the area sailed on her and learned to sail on her. We wanted to see her on the water again. We’re doing all of this work for public enjoyment, and because of our love for sailing and education about boating and the Hudson River,” she says.

016 (2)“The Hudson is a great river for boating because when you’re out on the water, you’re close enough to both shores to see many interesting and beautiful things. Sailing is a great vehicle for learning about yourself, who you are and how to work with other people. Eleanor belongs to the public and to the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration & Sailing Society, not to just a few people. She was deeded over to our organization, and we take the responsibility very seriously.”

On May 31, an Edwardian Great Lawn and Porch Party – and a silent auction – will be held at the Rokeby Estate to raise funds needed to restore the Eleanor. The afternoon event features a 4 p.m. talk by noted sailor, bowman, tactician and navigator Halsey Herreshoff. The octogenarian is well-known and respected in sailing circles for four successful America’s Cup defenses. “Our speaker also designed boats for speed – bigger ones, classified as yachts – and he was a competitor of Clinton Crane. This is our first major fundraiser,” continues Bliss, “and we hope to raise a significant amount of funding.”

Guests are welcome to stroll the grounds of Rokeby, built in 1815 and one of the Hudson Valley’s premier estates. The Grand Hall, library, parlor and dining room will also be open for viewing. Bruno Café in Hudson will provide Edwardian picnic fare and sparkling beverages, and the Blackiston Twins will perform keyboard duets of what Bliss calls “good-time music of the 1920s and ’30s. It’s listening and dancing music and, in honor of our special occasion, they have even added a tune from 1903 to their repertoire. And of course, people are encouraged to dress up in Edwardian style – even if they just wear a bowler hat.”


Edwardian Great Lawn & Porch Party, Sunday, May 31, 3-6 p.m. (rain or shine), $75 (reservations by May 20), Rokeby Estate, 845 River Road, Barrytown; (518) 828-7884,