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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 a post I did in early spring 2013. She went to Portland, Maine for the work, and this morning
she returned to South Street Seaport Museum pier, about 36 hours travel out of Gloucester.
The timing was perfect for me . . . as I’m currently reading A Dream of Tall Ships, Peter Stanford’s account of the years from 1965–1974, when as the subtitle of the book has it, a story of “how NYers came together to save the city’s sailing-ship waterfront.” Well . . . round 1, at least.
Lettie looked glorious in the morning sun, nestling back beside Ambrose, but I couldn’t help looking especially closely at the bow. I’d just read this account the day before in Stanford’s book, a recollection about the vessel then-called Caviare in September 1968
“there was one thing that needed replacing, which not vital to the schooner’s structure, mattered a great deal to her appearance. This was the gammon knee, an oak extension of the stem arching forward under the bowsprit, which nicely completes the sweeping curve of the clipper bow. The old schooner’s gammon knee had been chopped back into a stump to allow a heavy rope fender to be slung under the bow when she’d been adapted for work as a tug.”
Wow! That’s one old foto I’d love to see, this vessel, with a rope bow fender, pushing a barge. Anyone have such a foto?
Lettie‘s back, and so is this fleet. Maybe Lettie‘d love to come out fishing with them? Vessel in the distance is Pati R. Moran. Brown fishboat in the foreground is Eastern Welder.
All fotos this morning by Will Van Dorp.
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.
All the fotos I have of Lettie G. Howard were taken five or more years ago. So why am I posting these now . . . reposting some, in fact? Here’s why: April 8, 2013 Rosanne Cash will perform a gala concert to raise funds to restore Lettie, as she is affectionately known, which needs about $250,000 worth of repairs to repair rot and maintain her sailing integrity. Rosanne Cash traces her family to an ancestor who arrived in Salem, MA in 1643 aboard Good Intent. Click here for info on buying tickets.
Right now, Lettie is docked at Pier 17 cloaked in unflattering shrinkwrap. Here’s some history of the unique vessel:
Built in 1893 at Essex, MA, in the yard of Arthur D. Story, Lettie G. Howard is named for the daughter of her first captain, Frederick Howard, Lettie fished out of Gloucester, MA, for her first eight years. In 1901, she was purchased by owners in Pensacola, FL, for use in the red snapper fishery off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. After surviving two major hurricanes, she was thoroughly rebuilt in 1923 by a new owner—Thomas Welles of Mystic, CT—who installed her first auxiliary engine and renamed her Mystic C. She continued to fish under sail for the Welles Company for 43 years, until it disbanded in 1966. That year, she was sold to the Historic Ships Association in Gloucester, and in 1968 she was purchased by the year-old South Street Seaport Museum. She traveled from Gloucester to the Museum’s pier at South Street largely under sail. By then, she had been renamed twice, and her long working life had obscured her origins; research into her background led to a docking book that confirmed her identity as Lettie G. Howard.
Since 1968, Lettie has been a proud and beloved resident of South Street, where scores of fishing schooners like her used to dock to bring their catches to the Fulton Fish Market. She was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989, and between 1991 and 1993 she was completely restored to her 1893 appearance. Lettie has operated as a certified sail training vessel since 1994, taking student crews on trips in New York Harbor and waters further afield—teaching history and ecology along with the skills and crafts of sailing, and celebrating the legacy of the North Atlantic fisheries and the Gloucester fleets.
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.
If you’re not familiar with AIS, click here. Play with this tracking software. Remember that not all vessels . . . especially smaller ones . . . use AIS.
Here are screen shots I’ve taken today. Doubleclick enlarges. In this snapshot from 11 am Saturday, notice the large passenger and cargo vessels like Explorer of the Seas and APL Sardonyx in port here.
By 530 pm, a line of tugs (and likely barges) had moved up to safer anchorage between the George Washington and the Tappan Zee Bridges. So had New Jersey Responder.
Furthermore, Pioneer, Lettie G. Howard, and W. O. Decker (none of which have AIS) had also moved north from the sixth boro to Kingston.
As I was told 21 years ago in the most precarious time of my life, good night and good luck to all the vessels .
I first used this title a bit over two years ago in relation to two museum vessels whose status is currently challenged. Click here for a new blog dedicated to saving the fleet languishing at South Street Seaport; May Day’s not been transmitted there yet.
High and dry,
Urger gets floated this year with a new captain. Type Urger in the search window to see the dozen or so stories I’ve done on her, of which my favorite is probably this.
All fotos were taken last weekend . . . Fotos of Le Papillon by Capt. Justin Zizes, Jr. and Urger by Will Van Dorp . . up in Lyons, NY.
Unrelated: Another fantastic video of Rotterdam harbor by Fred Vloo.
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.”
Boro6 aka the sixth boro or New York harbor sees diverse vessels and and floats in and out staggering amounts of cargo. I’m thrilled by the amount of collaboration this blog can muster. Many eyes see more things. Like Princess Danae, captured last week by John Watson. Princess Danae has long since departed, but John pointed out a secret. Any ideas?
The vessel is operated today by Classic International Cruises. For scale, compare her beside Norwegian Jewel. The secret? Princess Danae began life in 1955 as Port Melbourne, a
tanker general cargo vessel! (Thanks for catching that, Bart!)
A darker story awaiting enlightening here . . . the inimitable Elizabeth Wood took this foto some five or so years back. It’s Lettie G Howard, dormant and in bondage for many months now, and for sale; part of the sad dissolution
and crumbling happening at the museum formerly known as South Street Seaport. Until a new plan for the ships (See these stories by MWA, Old Salt, and Frogma.) even Pioneer will remained fettered. SOS indeed, or given the age of Lettie G and Pioneer . . . should we make that CQD? CQD!! The MWA link has a tribute to Bernie also.
Thanks to John, Justin, and Elizabeth for these fotos and the collaboration. The ones of Thomas J Brown and Pioneer by Will Van Dorp. Type any of these vessel names (except Princess Danae) and you’ll get many previous appearances. And, doubleclick enlarges most.