troops poured off, pausing to observe our arrival. When boating
with friends, the docks had normally been modest wooden affairs.
Ahead of us at West Point loomed an industrial pier with posts
slightly smaller than the pillars of the Lincoln Memorial.
A professional dockhand strolled over to meet our painted
canal boat. He took one look at the tulips on our hull, at me on
the bow death-gripping my carefully coiled line, summed up my
level of experience, and barked out the most valuable boating
advice I’ve ever received: “Don’t put your hands between the boat and
the dock!” He expertly tied up our small craft, and we somehow
scrambled off, our red canal boat looking like a child’s toy accidentally dropped into a military diorama. [The U.S. Military Academy at
West Point no longer allows private boats to dock there.]
Now that we’d been boaters for two days, we reconsidered the
overambitious itinerary made at home, and shortened our cruise.
Traveling around Manhattan and through the notorious Hell Gate,
where the converging currents of the Harlem and East Rivers meet
Long Island Sound, would be a splendid trip — another time, on
a boat with a strong engine.
MORE INFORMATION Hudson 400 Celebration of Discovery www.hudson400.com Canal boat rentals in New York State www.nyscanals.gov Erie-Champlain Canal Boating Co. www.eccboating.com Hudson River Sloop Clearwater www.clearwater.org Olana, Frederick Edwin Church Home www.olana.org
Boating Through American History
We departed Garrison on a misty morning, enjoying lingering
views of West Point and nearby Storm King Mountain, the historic
site where the Army of the Revolutionary colonies stretched a huge
chain across the Hudson River to stop a British naval invasion. The
history of the river runs as deep as its waters. Native American
tribes traveled in birch canoes and called it “the river that runs
two ways” because of its ocean tides. The river is actually an estuary, with tides that extend 150 miles northward. Henry Hudson
explored the river in 1609. Last year, celebrations marked the
400th anniversary of his journey. A replica of his ship Half Moon
now sails the river as a floating school and history museum.
Hudson’s voyage was a multi-national affair. Half Moon was
owned by the Dutch East India Company, which commissioned
Hudson, an Englishman, to find a trade route to the Orient. He
sailed up the river just past Albany before turning back. The ship’s
log describes the beauty of the new land, and we found that the
riverbanks still retain much of that beauty. Some housing developments are infringing, but most construction has blessedly retained
green space. We recall the days in the 1960s when a massive
cleanup began of what had been tragically polluted waters. Folk
singer Pete Seeger’s efforts with the ship Clearwater, launched in
1969, focused public attention on the river as a natural treasure.
With our more relaxed schedule, we alternated between anchoring
48 Boat U.S. Magazine AUG/SEPT 2010
out and docking overnight at marinas. I overcame my initial fear
of the boat’s propane stove and began to really enjoy cooking on
board. There’s nothing like the calm of early morning on the water
to enhance a flavorful breakfast of eggs, coffee, and grilled corn
muffins. With several days’ experience behind us, we tied up easily
at the public docks in Kingston at Rondout Creek. Kingston was
New York State’s first capital, and Henry Hudson anchored near
Rondout on his voyage in 1609. No longer a major port, Kingston’s
waterfront is now a festive mix of nautical exhibits — including
the Hudson River Maritime Museum and one of the river’s historic
lighthouses — as well as parks, boutiques, and great restaurants.
Heading back to Albany, we made sure we had time to visit
Olana, the hilltop estate of Frederick Church (1826-1900), the
famed painter of the Hudson River School. Church’s presentation
of light on the river is celebrated, with his paintings hanging in
museums around the world. When Olana went on the market in
the 1960s, funds were raised to preserve not only the house but
most of Church’s eclectic collection of art, furniture, sculpture,
tapestries, and rugs from his many trips abroad, especially to the
Middle East. The house surprised us — a Persian-style mansion
of elegant architecture. Kevin was in the Navy when we married,
and we lived on a military base in Morocco, North Africa. Olana’s
designs were both unexpected and pleasantly familiar to us, its
windows placed to frame selected views of the river.
As we traveled north, a stop on the river was never far away,
with free public docks at most towns. Unexpected company
appeared on a side channel near Athens when we suddenly saw a
seaplane headed towards us. The pilot was clearing the water for
landing with an initial low flyover pass, and, it turns out, this is a
pilot-training area. The town of Athens provided a charming park,
where brilliant flowers lined their docks. Strolling through town,
we took in historic buildings, and a tasty lunch at Ursula’s Diner.
All along the Hudson, the banks are sprinkled with small
beaches, camping areas, marinas, historic homes, and lighthouses.
Schodack Island State Park offered us walking paths and picnic
grounds, the name “Schodack” coming from an Indian word
meaning “the fireplace of the nation,” because the Mohawk tribe’s
council seat was located here. At nearby Staat Point, we passed
one of the oldest remaining homes on the river, dating to the 17th
Century. It was built and is still occupied today by the Staat family;
in fact, Professor Staat was a favorite college teacher of Kevin’s.
As Odysseus, from Homer’s epic The Odyssey, was lured by
the song of the Sirens, we were lured to shore by music on our
last night out. The band at Coeymans Marina spiked a party atmosphere at their outdoor restaurant. No need to puzzle over a menu
at Yannis Too, as the waitstaff all wore shirts shouting, “Try our
famous calamari!” We did, and it was delicious.
As we approached Albany, pastoral scenery gave way to a
modern urban port. Huge cranes bracketed the view of skyscrapers
on the Empire State Plaza, the state capital buildings. Heavy equipment and barges lined the riverbank, then transitioned to graceful
Corning Preserve, the skyline of Albany as a dramatic backdrop.
We returned our canal boat on time — having missed the drama of
Hell Gate and New York City — but learning that it’s the journey
that counts more than the destinations. We knew in our hearts
that more cruising, and even boat ownership, was in our future.
Mary Armao McCarthy is a past president of the Hudson Valley Writers
Guild and has worked in education and public policy. She and her
husband, BoatU.S. members, keep their 26-foot Sea Ray Weekender in
Coeymans, downriver from their home in Albany. Now that he has more
experience, Kevin teaches boating safety for the U.S. Power Squadrons.