BEACON, NY — The nonprofit Clearwater organization marked two milestones this month — 100 years since the birth of its founder, Pete Seeger, on May 3, and 50 years since the launch of its sloop on May 17.
The sloop was docked in Manhattan for the first anniversary and in Seeger’s hometown of Beacon for the second, alongside the Beacon Sloop Club, which he also founded.
In Beacon, the celebration started with the arrival of the Clearwater, which was crowded with elementary school students. More than 10,000 students sail on the sloop every year.
Soon after the children disembarked, an assortment of adults packed the deck, including past and present members of Clearwater’s board and staff as well as co-founders of the organization. Executive director Greg Williams led the proceedings.
Pete and Toshi Seeger’s daughter, Tinya, was present, along with her daughter, Moraya Seeger DeGeare, and Moraya’s 3-year-old son, Raiden DeGeare. Raiden poured Hudson River water from a glass jar onto the boat’s starboard edge.
Tinya Seeger recalled the pollution in the Hudson at the time the sloop was launched in Maine, where it was constructed. “When you stood in it, you couldn’t see down,” she said of the river. “There was a fear of my mother that if I fell overboard they wouldn’t be able to find me.”
Nevertheless, she emphasized that the river was beautiful, which motivated her father to campaign for its cleanup through his music and through the construction of a 106-foot wooden boat modeled after vessels that carried cargo on the Hudson in the 19th century.
One of his songs, “Sailing Down My Golden River,” was performed by Linda Richards, Clearwater’s former education director and former music director. The song describes “sunlight glancing on the water” and “golden sparkles in the foam.”
Afterward, Betsy Garthwaite, a former captain of the Clearwater and former chair of the organization’s board of directors, referred to the inspiration for the song, which was written before the sloop set sail for the first time.
“I think it’s that kind of inspiration, that kind of Quixotic optimism, that allowed this boat to be built and launched,” Garthwaite said. She shared that Seeger was also inspired by a copy of “Sloops of the Hudson,” a book published in 1908, which he received as a gift from a friend in 1963.
The following evening, the sun shined as the Clearwater set off from Beacon with Captain Aleythea Dolstad at the tiller. Passengers and crew participated in two Clearwater traditions — hoisting the mainsail and observing a moment of silence, which ended with singing. Three hours later, the setting sun illuminated the underside of the clouds that had spread across the river from the west.
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.