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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 9.
It seems that sailing just gets better as summer turns into fall. Like Pioneer. Click here for bookings via Water Taxi.
There are also those sailing vessels I’d like to see under sail. Like Angel’s Share with its twin helms, here
a close-up of the port helm.
with its Marshall Islands flag
Heron . . . which I’ve seen as far south as Puerto Rico.
I’d love to find the time and invitations to sail on all those wind vessels. But I actually did sail on Pioneer the other day. Come with the vessel and crew as we leave the pier,
ride the wind in a busy harbor for a few hours, and
then lower sail before returning to the pier.
All fotos taken this week by Will Van Dorp. Time’s now for me to head out and enjoy more of this autumn air.
Here was the first post. Today spring has sprung and may Lettie,
with such graceful toughness
like a crocus, burst forth. Support the fundraiser.
All fotos by Will Van Dorp.
Is Marion M (Greenport, NY 1932) on her own power projecting that potentially gorgeous deck before her? Might she be?
I’ll be straightforward for once: Marion M has been moved away from South Street because the museum needs space. She is for sale. You/your organization can get information on purchasing her by contacting Captain Jonathan Boulware, Waterfront Director, South Street Seaport Museum. His tele and email are: 212.748.8772 email@example.com.
Some specifics on her history accompany bowsprite’s rendering here. Wooden tugboat W. O. Decker (1930) demonstrates that she has the stuff still in her. Decker stays at South Street Seaport Museum. Here and here are two of my many favorite bowsprite illustrations of Decker.
Again, Marion M can be yours. Contact Jonathan Boulware, Waterfront Director, South Street Seaport Museum 212.748.8772 firstname.lastname@example.org I’m told she’s listed in WoodenBoat‘s “Save a Classic” section, but I haven’t seen that yet.
I’d love to see her gussied up to 1932 standards. I’d even put greenbacks and sweat equity in the project. I’m reminded of what the “crazy farmers of Villiersdorp” managed to do . . . or the Onrust project in Rotterdam Junction.
Unrelated but NYTimes article about resurgence: Cross-harbor rail about to expand exponentially on the sixth boro!!
… of course with boats, the number of “second lives” can astonish you, and (as for “last,”) see the note at the end of the post. Helen’s tenure as “tryin ta be” museum artifact at South Street was more like a fourth life* already!
Anyhow, we knew departure would happen, just not when the day was. But when I happened by minutes after nine this morning and I saw this . . . my plans for the next few hours vanished . . . .
0923 hr . . . Decker heads out to confer with Responder, who has often moved South Street vessels, including Peking four + years ago.
And I’d really enjoy hearing your comments on any experiences you’ve had in the long life of the beautiful Helen (ex-Georgetown, ex-Admiral Dewey). Does anyone have fotos to share of Helen docking vessels during 1992 OpSail?
“Last” . . . well, many boats have second, third, etc lives. Helen is headed back to the McAllister yard; SSS Museum needs to focus on fewer vessels. What comes next is as unknown as . . . tomorrow.
Related: Here was a previous significant day in SSSM involving major passages with the McAllisters.
* As to Helen’s previous lives, she was built in Port Richmond, Staten Island as Admiral Dewey for Berwind-White Coal; see p. 8 of Erin Urban’s Caddell Dry Dock: 100 Years Harborside for a foto of Admiral Dewey.
I offer these as fotos in search of a story . . . midday yesterday it was Bruce A. McAllister who appeared first on the ConHook Range with an unmistakeable
As I pondered that, I noticed a follower . . . a McAllister tug I’ve not seen before . . . Michael J. McAllister, built at Halter in the state of LA as well in 1971, 109′ and 4100 hp . . . with another
All fotos here by Will Van Dorp. For a foto of Crowley Pathfinder I took a few years back near Seattle, click here . . . 8th foto down.
January 1912, a mere 1202 months ago. Ambrose at work with White Star Olympic passing in background. Olympic at this time was less than a year on the job and already suffered one collision. Four months later, of course, her younger sister ship would begin its ill-fated maiden voyage to New York.
I recall seeing this foto before I moved to New York and imagined that “channel 87″ was the means to contact the vessel. Oh well . . . live and learn, eh?
March 2012. Ambrose in her 46th year post-decommissioning after having served the USCG (and precursors) 59 years. Photo by Birk Thomas. In lower right hand corner, that’s Atlantic Salt’s Richmond Terrace mountain.
St. Peter’s neo-Romanesque sanctuary has dominated the east end of the KVK for over a century.
Structure just forward of Ambrose here is Sono’s “postcards,” a 9/11 memorial.
Many thanks to Birk for these fotos.
The first 11 fotos here come compliments of bowsprite, who was so eager to get fotos of Ambrose‘ return that she admits to running out to the East River to get these shots … in her pyjamas …! Now THAT would have been a sight to see. As evidenced by her posts here and here, she IS a devotee of lightships.
I leave most of the narrative here to her fotos, which begin here are a parade processed past the heliport along the East River.
traveling on the hip of Charles D. McAllister, whom I foto’d from seagull perspective recently.
Et voila! Guess who’s back in town . . . Ms. O, Alice . . . my first love!
The final foto above comes thanks to Mike Cohen . . . who snapped it from Brooklyn Heights.
So here’s a matter to speculate about: Ambrose‘ return attracted some of the mainstream media. Is it possible that these media are starting to pay more attention to folks’ attention paid to water and harbor and sixth boro events?
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.