On a river known for legends, an icon marked a milestone on Oct. 18.
Fifty years earlier, the keel was put in place for the 106-foot sloop that was later christened the Clearwater. The keel is the backbone of the boat’s forest green hull.
The Clearwater was built at the Harvey Gamage Shipyard in Maine, then launched on May 17, 1969. Since then, it has served as a floating classroom for students and as a symbol of success for the environmental movement.
Three years after its launch, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 was amended into the Clean Water Act, which helped put a stop to the pollution that had turned the Hudson River into a sewer.
Folk singer and activist Pete Seeger conceived the idea for the Clearwater, which is a replica of the cargo ships that sailed the Hudson River in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 2004, the sloop was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Clearwater is also the name of the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the sloop. That nonprofit is one of three dedicated to protecting the Hudson River, along with Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson.
On Oct. 18, Clearwater’s new executive director, Greg Williams, led an anniversary event on the sloop in Yonkers, where it was docked at the Science Barge. He was joined by the sloop’s senior caption, Nick Rogers, and a former president of Clearwater’s board of directors, Sandy Saunders Jr., who attended the keel laying ceremony in 1968.
In 2019, Clearwater plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the sloop’s launch as well as the 100th birthday of Seeger, who passed away in 2014 at age 94.
In preparation, the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston is collecting items and personal stories related to the founding of the Clearwater for an exhibition titled “Rescuing the River: Over 50 Years of Environmental Activism on the Hudson.” The exhibition will open on Earth Day, April 22, then remain on view for two years.
In addition to students, the Clearwater hosts sails for the public during the spring, summer, and fall. The 2018 season ends with Halloween sails on Oct. 26 and Oct. 28 in Kingston.
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent almost two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.