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Between spring 2004 and summer 2007, I volunteered about 1000 hours at South Street Seaport Museum, or SSSM, mostly on Pioneer but also on W. O. Decker and Lettie G. Howard. The experience was exhilarating—learning the lingo of schooner sailing and the lines and procedures, rustbusting and painting, all good for maintaining youthfulness and toning up aging muscle. Without my time at SSSM, there might never have been this blog called tugster about a place I imagine as the sixth (and primary) boro.
What pulled me away from volunteering was my sprouting curiosity about all the other vessels and projects and careers in the harbor with more tugboats than I could recall without the assistance of my camera. Downloading my photos after a day’s sail would lead to a night’s worth of googling, to learn what I could about the boats, companies, cargoes, and ultimately the crews. Volunteering there felt focused too exclusively on SSSM and their vessels’ tracks from Pier 16 back to Pier 16. This frustration should not have surprised me, given my lifelong wanderlust and curiosity.
SSSM has stayed with me though. One sweet memory I carry of SSSM is of the stories I heard as a volunteer about the time of creation, creation of the museum, that is. But these stories came in fragments, and the gaps between have triggered lots more questions. The more I heard, the less I felt I knew. A Dream of Tall Ships, covering the time period from 1967 until 1974 in 500 pages, is like a vessel loaded deep with memories filtered through the recollections of Peter and Norma Stanford, founders of SSSM. The account is detailed and peopled with legends from a half century ago, a time when nautical giants were feeling the urge to preserve what remained of commercial sail, both coastwise and global. People like Alan Villiers and Karl Kortum, “ship savers” who inhabit this book, strike me as optimists who could imagine second (or “new”) lives for these old vessels built a century or more before. The Stanfords recall their travels to places like Punta Arenas and the old port of Buenos Aires to purchase Wavertree, one of the tall ships that seem in hibernation down at SSSM today. The photo below–taken from among the over 60 images in the the book, shows Wavertree in the condition SSSM acquired her.
The book describes a time in the history of SSSM and New York City when it seemed that only the brightest future could lie ahead. When SSSM sponsored an event, the most powerful, brightest, wealthiest, and most generous of the city rolled up their sleeves and weighed in. In a timeline of SSSM events in the postscript pages of the book, names appearing include Jack Kaplan, Brooke Astor, as well as Laurance and David Rockefeller. Then there are giants like Pete Seeger and Burl Ives. At a January 5, 1968 meeting at the Whitehall Club to launch SSSM’s James Monroe Luncheons, the pantheon of New York’s maritime industry showed up to listen to ocean historian Robert G. Albion speak. NY political elite like Mayor Lindsay were there, as was the famed naval architect Howard Chapelle.
Real estate struggles existed already back at the creation, but it seemed manifest that SSSM would grow into a premier maritime institution, center of the New York State Maritime Museum, and more. Stanford documents the growing membership. New York was heady with the growing fleet of tall ships and other interesting vessels. Exciting happenings like Sea Day seemed to spread a love of the city’s connection with the sea, an event that predates “City of Water” day.
But don’t take my word for all the memories in this book. I hope enough of you read this book—skim quickly through the too-long segments about martinis and such– and maybe if enough of us start to glow again with embers long ignored, maybe new energies will again start up the dream to make SSSM a street of tall ships that will inspire seafarers of the future.
As I stated earlier, the book has over 60 photos, like the one below showing Wavertree first arriving at the museum, and
this one, showing ARA Libertad docked at the SSSM in July 1969 after delivering a portion of the Wavertree‘s topmast, shattered off in 1910 while rounding Cape Horn. Two other interesting notes about the photo below. First, when the Commissioner of Ports and Terminals tried to block Libertad from docking at the SSSM pier, Libertad‘s Captain Vazquez Maiztegui responded, “Libertad will berth in New York at South Street Seaport, no other place.” Second, at around the same time, Pete Seeger and Clearwater put in there to celebrate her first arrival in New york.
I immensely enjoyed this book. My only regret is that it didn’t contain 160 photos or 1600 photos. For example, on September 20, 1968, a Bronx River Towing tug delivered the vessel today known as Lettie G. Howard to Pier 16; I’d love to know more and see a photo. Square Rigger Bar & Grille is repeatedly mentioned; let’s see at least the facade. I’d be thrilled if an electronic addendum of photos from these early years could remedy this.
Again, get the book and read it soon.
Click here for some previous reviews I’ve posted.
Here was ASB 2. There might be eight million stories in the naked city, but in its primary boro aka the sixth boro at least half again that number of other stories could be told . . by the collective whoever knows them.
Captain Zeke moves with the diverse stone trade past folks waiting below our very own waving girl and
all those folks waving and taking fotos from the ferry and every other water conveyance.
The 1950 Nantucket‘s back in town . . for the winter.
Yup . . . no one could have predicted these . . .
back when Shearwater was launched in 1929.
A cruise ship shuffles passengers as Peter F. Gellatly bunkers.
Kristy Ann Reinauer stands by a construction barge.
A barge named Progress has returned to South Street Seaport Museum, here between Wavertree and Peking.
Emerald Coast is eastbound on the East River.
Two views of Adirondack, one with WTC1 –or is it 1 WTC or something else–and
another with the Arabian Sea unit.
And Sea Wolf heads north . . . .
All fotos by Will Van Dorp.
. . . well, only one day of it, and she’s been around for over 30,000 days. These fotos, shared by Al Trojanowicz, were likely taken on July 4, 2000. This date should be easy enough to verify, given the sailing vessel along the left side of the foto . . . Wavertree with sail bent on. Anyone know the tug escorting her?
Bertha . . . tied alongside Harvey! I’d first thought this was near Chelsea Piers, but I’ve been corrected . . . it’s at the old fireboat house, Marine Co. 6, at the foot of Grand Street in Manhattan just south of the Williamsburg Bridge. Thanks for the correction, Al. Here’s a link to the fireboat locations in the 1960s. And here are some great vintage fireboat fotos and info.
Bertha underway . . . with a hint of Wavertree on the far side of the NY Waterways vessel.
Might the tug in the distance be Pegasus?
And given the date, the Domino plant just beyond the Williamsburg Bridge might still have been in operation.
I hope to share more of Bertha‘s past, but the indiegogo fund raiser is critical for getting Bertha back into the water and sailing into the future. Click on the “save Bertha” link upper left.
Many thanks to Al Trojanowicz for sharing these fotos.
So after work today, I went looking for evidence that New Yorkers celebrate mardi gras. I saw this instead . . . seal?
Not! Unless seals these days carry flashlights and trail markers and have a support
vessels like Linda Ann, herself supported by W. O. Decker and Peking.
Here is one of a series of six posts I did five years ago about Peking, which moved across the bay that day. And half a year back, here‘s a post I did about W. O. Decker and Helen McAllister‘s last waltz. And Wavertree . . . I regret that in my dozen years wandering the sixth boro, Wavertree has not ONCE left the dock. I know some of you must have fotos . . . and good memories of her moves, but I have none.
BUT . . . click here for a mystery vessel with three masts square-rigged in a foto I was given some years back. Anyone want to take a stab at identifying it? The conclusion a few years back is that the foto is “‘shopped,” although it was done some years ago.
My guess is that someone was inspecting Wavertree‘s wet side.
Later I thought I saw a mermaid . . . but I struck out again.
And for the record, after 1700 hr on the E train I finally saw some mardi gras beads . . . worn by a couple going to a party. I had to ask.
All fotos today by Will Van Dorp.
A year ago I was pessimistic and wrote a bleak post and made this offer. I have now officially passed some benjamins. Last Saturday I went back to the South Street Seaport Museum and the new life excited me. First, there’s this new blog, which I hope continues. My friend John Watson, volunteer at the museum for decades and frequent contributor on tugster, has been responsible for many of the fotos.
Then, of course, volunteer spirit at SSSM has been irrepressible. On Saturday February 18, over two dozen volunteers doing winter maintenance worked on or in four of the vessels at least. A year of idleness has allowed rust to invade everywhere, rust that needs to be busted.
Hammers, chains, power grinders . . . whatever would combine with sweat to prep for rust inhibitor and ultimately new paint was pressed into service. I even set down my camera a few hours and assaulted some areas of rust, just because I enjoyed it.
It’s no simple cliche that rust never sleeps, and big projects like Wavertree require huge infusions of cash and effort to hold off the ravages of time. But the spirit of volunteerism is also indispensible.This googlemap view shows where all the current museum vessels used to park. Can you name them all? Some may still go to better places.
Ambrose and Lettie G. Howard often docked in the open space here; they are off-site for repair and refurbishing before they return.What really impressed me was inside Schermerhorn Row. Floor 3 has “Super Models,” ship replicas from the collection, smartly displayed.
On the way back down, stop again on Floor 3 for a set of Edward Burtynsky‘s stunning fotos of shipbreaking in Bangladesh.
But don’t take my word for any of this. There’s more than I describe here. And more to come . . . like the re-opening of some form of research library . . . . Become a member. Come and visit. Stop by and bust rust. The barge name here describes what’s happening at the Museum.
Just a quick update: I’ve heard from 11 people–some on email–willing to put up some money. I intended this as pledging a la Public Radio/Television. I had imagined that once a sizeable amount of money was pledged and a goal for the money was agreed upon, we could collect the money. May Day–the seasonal one–arrives soon. The dire one I hope never arrives. To fuel the discussion, I’m putting up fotos never before (I think) never posted here. Like Peking,
I’m offering to give away a Benjamin Franklin, or a half dozen. And I’ll do it before May Day!! See the end of the post.
The foto below–never posted here before–comes from 2005 and shows “the schooners,” a handsome Pioneer (1885) and elegant Lettie G. Howard (1893), 244 years of sailing between them. On a personal note, I logged in over 600 hours as a volunteer on these two boats as well as on W. O. Decker between 2004–2006. That means winter maintenance as well as summer sailing.
Such nautical treasures are these vessels (left to right: Marion M, Wavertree, W. O. Decker, and Peking) and so many fine folks, volunteers as well as professional crew, did I meet during this time . . that
When word on the street says Museum administration is looking to ”send its working ships to ports elsewhere for long-term storage” and otherwise declining comment on the crumbling state of affairs, I hope to hear that these same administrators abdicate their positions. These vessels are no white elephants. These are no “floating paperweights.”
During my years as an active volunteer, I knew this place could be much more than a red barn with seven masts sticking up above it.
Conditions of giving away my Benjamins: current Museum president Mary Pelzer resign effective immediately and a committee focused on the vessels be installed forthwith. And, I’d like 1000 people (former volunteers, boat fans, former professional crew members, just plain fans of these vessels, or friends and friends of friends of any of the above) to pledge at least a Benjamin each to be deposited with a trustworthy and maricentric steward by May 1, 2011. This could be the “seaport spring.” Let’s not let this go to May Day.
See the selection below from yesterday’s New York Post. Here’s info on a “Save our Ships” meeting for April 28. All fotos above by Will Van Dorp.
“Abandoning ships: City’s old vessels lost in fog of debt, neglect,” New York Post, April 25. “Rotting wood covers their decks, their masts are flaked with rust, and their hulls are corroding.
New York’s last tall ships — once-proud symbols of the Big Apple’s rise to greatness — are in a shameful state of disrepair as the museum that’s supposed to care for them sinks in a Bermuda Triangle of debt and bad management. Seaport Museum New York has closed its landside galleries and is looking to send its working ships to ports elsewhere for long-term storage.
The museum’s stationary ships — Peking, one of the biggest sailing ships ever built, Wavertree, a three-masted cargo ship, and Ambrose, a lightship that a century ago guided sailors into New York harbor — face an unknown fate. ‘Those ships, which are emblematic of our heritage on the waterfront, are almost being left to rot,’ said Roland Lewis, president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit groups. . . . The museum declined comment, except to say it is ‘exploring various options’ to maintain its vessels.”
I guess I’ll have to make my way up to the East (non) River
to find a real ship. And what a ship she is: when Karl Kortum located her on the River Platte, 80 years old and converted into a scow for transporting dredge spoils, the locals refered to her as “el gran velero,” i.e., the great sailboat. As a sailing ship, she once called in the New York harbor . . . Erie Basin, to be exact . . . in January 14 1895, arriving in exactly three months from Taltal, Chile. Yup, that was pre-Panamax of any sort. She stayed in the sixth boro, albeit the Bayonne side of it, until March 21, 1895, when she sailed for Calcutta . . . making a passage of just over four months. As to cargo, I’d wager nitrates to New York, and petroleum product (kerosene) to Calcutta.
All fotos here by Will Van Dorp. The info on the ship Wavertree aka el gran velero comes from the fine book called The Wavertree, published by South Street Seaport in 1969, the year she arrived in NYC.