Do you remember Hurricane Floyd?
He passed through the Catskill/Hudson area in September 1999 and caused over
16 million dollars worth of damage in New York alone. The letter below, one of many
written by Louise Bliss to family members, the children of Eleanor’s third captain
Phillip S. Egan, updates them on the journey and expenses generated by Eleanor on
her solo adventure.
There is so little online about Floyd and its effects on the Hudson Valley. If you
have photos, articles, links, or horror stories about sailboat disasters during this
storm, please send them to us in our comments section.
December 3, 1999
Dear Eleanor Owners,
I was feeling that I was late in writing this letter to you, but I see in the files a letter written to all of you on Dec. 3 last year. Interesting is it not, that we are creatures of habit? The pull of the moon and the rise and fall of the tide.
A busy year for Eleanor. She enjoyed several excellent sails with crew on board, and one sail she decided to go it alone, and a fine job she did. Tired of navigating the river by herself (right in the middle of the channel), she chose the north side of Germantown Landing to end her journey. Not on the rocks, not in the mud, but on nice hard ground. People up and down the river had been on the look out for her and called in her location to Joe Kenneally who I called as soon as I saw from Cesternino’s(1) that she was gone. Horrible!! Horrible! What a terrible thing to experience!! Joe Kenneally, Dean Fisher and I made a trip by boat down the river from the Hudson Power Boat Club to ascertain the damage, if any, and to make certain she would be all right until the change in tide, at which time we could pull her, or float her off the hard ground. Julie, Frank, Joe and I returned that evening to her location, and pulled her off with the help of Jerry from the Power Club in his boat. He even put on a high speed power prop for the job. We pulled her North to the Greendale Landing area and anchored her there for the night. The next morning I returned to Catskill and commandeered three muscle men in a good boat to go over to Greendale and tow her back to Cesternino’s
In retrospect, of course, if she had been anchored out at Greendale, all this would have been avoided, but we would have had to leave early on in the afternoon to avoid a run on flood tides. Frank and I checked the lines the evening of the flood and agreed that she would be all right. Little did we, or anyone else know what was to come. She would have been alright had not some powerful dock or boat rammed her, pulling off the cleats, separating the iron rings on the samson post, and actually bending the brass hardware on the standing back stays. The damage to the combing around the cockpit occurred when she hit ground and the boom chock dropped out) later to be recovered by Julie and Joe on the rocks along the shore) which caused the boom to crash down on the combing All in all, it was a stressful time. Thanks to Julie and Frank, Joe, Jerry , Dean, and the three muscle men.
With the help of Mike at Riverview and Jack at Riverview we have a Mr. Glen Neil(4) from Catskill who has agreed to repair the Eleanor. He is very selective in the work he chooses to do, and we are fortunate to have him as our ship’s carpenter. He has watched the Eleanor over the years, and visited with Pop in the spring when Pop would work on the Eleanor, and hs is an old time wooden boat builder.
He has the o.k. from Mike to work in the yard which is another consideration He is now, after two visits to the Eleanor, in the process of compiling an estimate for the insurance company. We can only take the “wait and see approach.”
On Thanksgiving Day in the morning, Mike, Robert, Frank and Joe covered up the Eleanor. I went over yesterday, and everything looks just fine and snug. Thanks to you all for doing that big job. Of course she has to be checked often to be sure the covers do not blow away, so if you go that way, stop and make a check.
I am enclosing a copy of the statement from Mike for the hauling and blocking. Also, a copy of the check to pay the bill is enclosed. The original figure back in the fall that I sent you was $1008. The present bill is for $1123.20. Or a difference of $115.20. I do not know what I left out, but it is o.k. Phyllis, Mike, Frank and Julie each paid the $114 due from each owner. We are very fortunate that Beth and Bob are holding their interest in the Eleanor for one more year.
Mom has contributed a great deal through out the year too. She continues to pay the insurance premium, and she put the Honda in running order. I used the Honda a lot last spring, and in the fall to haul the canvasses over to Catskill.
During Arts Walk in Hudson Joe found an anchor in one of the stores which he purchased as a gift for the Eleanor. It is a big sea anchor, and replaces the deck anchor which was los in the flood. Joe is a member of the Hudson Power Boat Assoc. and has been a power boater for many years. He understands the river and its habits. He was a good friend to Pop, and now to us.
And now, I am off to pay the bill and to put these letters in the mail.
(1) Mr. Cesternino was the owner of the string of docks that lined the south side of the Catskill Creek for a number of years. While the Eleanor was docked there, he kindly kept an eye on her.
(2) coaming – a vertical surface on a ship designed to deflect or prevent entry of water. It usually refers to a raised section of deck plating around an opening, such as a hatch.
(3) chock – A fitting through which anchor or mooring lines are led. Usually U-shaped to reduce chaf.
(4) Glen Neil was working independently at the time when he repaired the planking on Eleanor.
Nat is a Master sailmaker, rigger and sail designer based in East Boothbay, Maine. He is most well known for building sails for large traditional sailing vessels in the United States and abroad. Nat is very excited about designing and building sails for Eleanor as sailboat Eleanor is being restored rather than being replicated. To build the sails for Eleanor, a historical vessel on the New York State and National Registers, is an honor and a privilege. We are pleased to have Nat Wilson and Suzanne Leahy, our spar builder, join in the restoration of Eleanor.
Main Sail & Rigging — 1998
Bliss has been working with Wilson since 2014 on the sail rig which includes, sails, spars, and rigging. Much research was completed by Leahy, Wilson, and Bliss which has been very challenging as there are no plans in existence about the sail rig of Eleanor. Final details and planning are still to be completed and we must raise the funds to Raise the Sails.
Ships that have sails and/or rigging built by Wilson include the U.S.S. Constitution, USC Eagle, Spirit of Massachusetts, American Eagle, and Mayflower 11.
Published in the Register Star, January 27, 2016, p.A11
William Burrows, four year member and volunteer, stands beside the new deadwood for Eleanor. The construction of the deadwood, designed after the 1903 deadwood, was engineered by Burrows and took several months to make. The new deadwood is constructed of four slabs of White Oak. The original cuts were done with a chain saw, roughly shaped, laminated together and then carefully cut and finally shaped by sanding to have the same lines as the original. Deadwood is the part of the boat that fits between the original 2000 lb. lead keel and the new keelson which was also engineered and made by volunteers with Burrows being the lead volunteer. In 2015 the volunteers at the side dedicated 514 and one-half hours to the project.
January 2016 celebrates the fifth year since the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration & Sailing Society Inc. was organized on January 6th, 2011 by people in Columbia and Greene Counties who wanted to save Eleanor, the last remaining gaff rigged sailboat of her design to sail without a motor in the waters off of Catskill, Hudson, Athens and the Hudson River between Albany and New York.
When she sets sail again, she will be powered by the wind and an electric motor keeping her the environmental vessel she has always been. Because of Eleanor’s low freeboard, ability to come about in her own length and sail against the tides and light and variable winds characteristic of the Hudson River, she has spent her entire sailing life only on that river.
The saving of Eleanor is being done by patient and skilled volunteers at the restoration site at 99 South Front Street, Hudson. The Hudson Riverfront Industrial Park building, inside door 19 is where the real Eleanor, not a replica is being repaired. To the casual visitor it may not appear that progress is being made, but to the members volunteers who gather on Thursday nights to share camaraderie, skills, thoughts and experience, a great deal of work has been accomplished. The Eleanor project is the only project of this nature to take place anywhere along the Hudson River (Clearwater and Woodie Guthrie are replicas) It is only happening in the City of Hudson. While work is going on at the site, there is another group of volunteers who are working to raise money, hold events and man education tents to inform residents and visitors about her one-hundred and thirteen year history and the restoration progress.
Aside from Eleanor’s pedigree and history, the original members of the board decided that the restored Eleanor would be for the public’s enjoyment and education. They believed that sailing on Eleanor would bring a new interest in the history of the Hudson River as experienced from the river in an intimate classroom; Eleanor’s cockpit where everyone on board can participate and develop a keen awareness of nature’s unstoppable forces and the river’s environment. And, of course a love for sailing.
To meet the volunteers and to celebrate the onset of the sixth year of this remarkable restoration project please join others on January 28 at 6 p.m. for an evening of pleasure and business at the Hudson Power Boat Club, at the north end of the Hudson Riverfront Park, Hudson. Bring a covered dish with your favorite entrée, dessert, or pre-dinner treat prepared or purchased. If you would like to receive more information, please email email@example.com or call 828 7884 for more information. Volunteers are always welcome on Thursday nights or to help plan events, educate, build membership, or record progress with photography, writing or videos.
It is a thrilling to watch as the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration and Sailing Society community volunteers steadily restore Eleanor to her former self. When she sails again on the Hudson River she will be there for the general public’s enjoyment and education: an intimate class room on the water where people will learn to sail, communicate and work together as a team, and gain both an appreciation of the River’s history and environment and a keen awareness of nature’s unstoppable forces.
This year, as illustrated by the contributions and grants received both locally and on a state level, HRHB can proudly declare that we are recognized and trusted to be an organization managed with integrity.
After much research and evaluation beginning in the summer of 2014, we placed the money received by grants and contributions for the building of our mast, boom and gaff into the capable hands of the Beetle Boat Shop in Wareham, Massachusetts. Our spars look great.
Progress during 2015 was impressive. Our volunteers installed the new keelson, scarffing the bow and stern sections together. They cut, steamed and shaped elm for mast hoops.
At the last Thursday restoration session only four of the 40 floors which are shaped out of White Oak still remained to be fitted and installed. We still have a chance!
Our goals for 2016 include completing projects begun this year: finalizing the design of and building the new deadwood, completing the transom rebuild, beginning the deck repair and installing new ribs made of White Oak purchased from Newport Nautical Timbers in Rhode Island. This last job is a difficult project requiring steaming and bending wood, and it requires a great deal of our volunteers’ time.
We worked with Nat Wilson, Master sailmaker from East Boothbay Harbor, Maine on the design of the sails. Eleanor will join a long list of boats and ships that have Wilson sails and rigging, including the U.S.S. Constitution, Clearwater, and Mayflower II. We had no drawings and Nat worked closely with our members who had sailed Eleanor and were familiar with her sails and how she maneuvered, and with Beetle Boat, so that the sails and the spars will work together and will perform as in the past. We anticipate that this next major expense will be about $6000, and 2016 fundraising will be to “Raise the Sails!”
While she is being restored, community volunteers learn, hands-on or through discussion, how boats like Eleanor were built back in 1903, using the materials and craftsmanship of boatbuilders at the turn of the century.
We encourage organizations and classrooms to schedule visits to our restoration site to see what we are all about. To schedule a visit or inquire about volunteering as a woodworker or a crewmember on our unofficial committees write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
View the complete timeline of Restoration Progress
See you down by the riverside — with your deck shoes on!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mark Clarke, a friend and sometime sailor on the Eleanor, wrote about Captain Phil Egan
in this tribute published in the Register Star in August 1998.
Mark was an English teacher at Taconic Hills Central School District
and crewed on one of Eleanor’s OpSail adventures.
Recently, when we were in Washington D.C., my wife and I heard about Phil Egan’s passing. Although Phil was 95 years old and recently not enjoying the best of health, the news came painfully. Obituaries, however informative they may be, always seem inadequate when trying to form a complete picture of a person’s life. The leave so many holes. Like intricate puzzles, they always seem to be missing significant pieces.
Phil had what we call in the Adirondacks “character.” Simply, he had a colorful personality, stood by his convictions, and possessed some peculiarity. For Phil, that peculiarity was his unusual passion for sailing.
Phil had a kind of love affair with sailing in which the poet John Masefield fervently writes in his poem entitled “Sea-fever.”
I must down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.”
At the beginning of this century, Phil’s love for sailing would lure him from the family farm in Columbia County and direct hit to the Maritime College in New York. As part of his naval training, he sailed to the Azores and back on a tall ship. it was quite an adventure as he told it. it was required of him to identify and name every part of the ship. (Several years ago, I was amazed when he recounted the name of every component of a tall ship from South America which was berthed in the port of Albany. He was late in his eighties!) Another part of his training was to climb up one side of the rigging and down the other. Hardly a simple task given the pitch and roll of a tall ship at sea. Grinning, Phillip admitted to me that he acquired a fondness for this activity.
But sailing came with its perils. On a more serious note, he recalled one cadet who fell from aloft and was killed. Because a land burial was not practical, the cadet was sewn in canvas, given a proper Christian service and the buried at sea. It was a reminder, Phil recounted, that the sea had her ways and that she was unforgiving for even the slightest error.
Upon his graduation it was necessary for him to return to the farm and manage the family’s affairs. Years would come and year would pass but he retained his youthful love for the sea.
Eventually, the passion became too much for him and he purchased the “Eleanor”, a wonderful old sailing sloop. She had a sleek wooden hull which sailed low in the water. As Phil told it, she had at one time been owned by the Livingston family. She had a lead keel which could be lowered beneath the hull to give it balance should the wind wish to lay her on her side. The mainsail was attached to wooden hoops which were manually hoisted to the top of the mast. An additional large triangular sail, the spinnaker, could be set on a long light pole at the bow of the ship to increase speed when “running before the wind.”
This is how I got to know Phil. I imagine that is how most people got to know him. He might start a conversation with, “Do you like to sail?” and then somewhere in the conversation extend an invitation to go sailing on The Eleanor. Phil’s friendships always seem to share the common denominator of sailing. One thing that was so unique about The Eleanor was that there was no auxiliary power. Translation: everywhere that The Eleanor sailed, she would have to advance under sail. This left little room for error. Very little.
Once when we were sailing up river (destination the Port of Albany) we happened upon a sudden squall. We quickly donned our oil skins (rain gear) and headed for the nearest marina. In order to make a safe an timely berth we would have had to “come about” 180 degrees and sail against the current and into the wind. The skipper let loose a blast from the fog horn, informing the marina of our impending berthing, then brought The Eleanor around and into the wind. Several people scrambled to the dock and yelled “Lower your sailed and come in under power.” He yelled back, “We have no power. We’re sailing her in.” The look on their faces was similar to what I expect classed across the faces of those who witnessed the 1937 Hindenburg Disaster. Undaunted, the skipper brought her in skillfully, against wind and tide, amid torrential down pour.
Sailing was not always a pleasant experience because it required simple living and we were always at the mercy of the elements. I can vividly remember sitting in mid-channel of the Hudson River just beyond the opening of the Catskill Creek: the cruel August sun beating down. Suffering, we waited patiently for a favorable change in the tide or hoped for an agreeable wind to come and fill our sails. When the elements worked against us, the skipper would suggest for someone to lightly scratch the mast with their nails while whistling a soothing tune. This, he explained, had the magic to say the forces of nature and bring favorable winds our way.
But when our sails were full and we cut a fine line in the water, it was truly a sight to behold. The Eleanor would majestically slice through the water; her mast tilted, the boom extended and the sails gorged with wind. Never was their [sic] such grace, neve was their such bliss.
Phil didn’t quite capture the image of the seasoned sailor. You know the kind, hardened men who use rough language. The kind of person you might find down a cobblestone street drinking in a sea-side tavern. A leather faced man with a patch drawn over one eye and a parrot perched on the opposite shoulder. Sitting alone [sic] with a cold pint tightly fisted in his hand, he would occasionally mumble something about having served with Lord Nelson at Trafalgar.
To the contrary, Phil was very different. He had gentle eyes and a wide warm smile. He never drank, swore and had a deep unshakable faith in God. Periodically he would take someone sailing up the Hudson River for a nominal fee, which he would then donate to charity. He had the curious habit of whistling without carrying any discernible tune. It must have been a generational peculiarity for I have found this unique only to my grandparents.
Phil was an anachronism. He held all of the characteristics of a 19th century sailor. That was a time when ships were made of wood and men were made of steel. Today, the ships are made of steel and the the men are made of wood. Phil held the oldest sailing license on the river. Phil was a steel of a man.
Bit the most remarkable aspect of Phil was not his love of sailing. No, it was far greater than that. His greatest attribute is that he never had a bad word about anyone and conversely, I never head anyone say a bad word about anyone and conversely, I never head anyone say a bad word about him. Imagine, living a lifetime and when it comes to a close, no one can find an unkind thing to say about you! That is remarkable.
Having just returned from Washington it has given me time to pause and reflect. Washington, known as the city of monuments, pays tribute to many great Americans: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. . . But I don’t suspect that there will be any monuments erected to the Phil Egans of the world too soon, and I’m sure that he wouldn’t want it any other way. Yes, as people, there is something here for us to learn. Phil’s passing reminds us of the wonderment and the preciousness of life. Anyone who knew Phil would agree that life wasn’t meant to be lived; on the contrary, it was meant to be celebrated.
The poet, Edgar Lee Master, wrote a poem entitled “Fiddler Jones.” It is about the reflection of a man on his past life.
I ended up with 40 acres, a broken fiddle,
a broken laugh, a thousand memories,
and not one regret.
Phil Egan reminded me of Fiddler Jones. He will be missed.