‘Radical’ ship ‘to save the river’ makes big impact in Brooklyn

July 13, 2022 Mary Frost
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The iconic Hudson River sloop Clearwater, founded 53 years ago by folk musician and eco-activist Pete Seeger, visited ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina on Sunday as part of the marina’s Community Sail Days program. 

In the 1960s, the Hudson River was filthy, and Seeger proposed a “radical” idea. “We’re going to build a boat to save the river,” he said. Seeger modeled his 106 ft. sloop, which was launched in 1969, after the Dutch cargo vessels that once sailed the Hudson River.

“The reason that Pete Seeger founded this organization is because when he looked outside of his window in Beacon, he was very displeased with the state of the river,” Clearwater’s First Mate Fredi Guevara-Prip told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“At that time, the Clean Water Act wasn’t yet passed,” she said. “There were some crazy stories. There was a big car painting factory up north and people would say that you could tell what color the cars were being painted that day by what color the river was.”

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“One of the really big contributors to the pollution in the Hudson River was GE,” she added. “They were dumping a lot of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in the Hudson” at Fort Edward and Hudson Falls.

Clearwater’s First Mate Fredi Guevara-Prip shows visitors a blue crab caught in a net in the East River. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

“So Seeger went all around the Hudson Valley with his musician friends, playing music and fundraising to build the boat to save the river,” she said.

In 1970, the Clearwater set sail from New York City to Washington, D.C. to take part in the very first Earth Day celebration. Seeger’s music accompanied a slideshow which was shown to Congress, comparing images of the pristine 1850s Hudson with the polluted river of 1970. 

“That was a really big turning point,” Guevara-Prip said. The Clearwater’s campaign was a major contributor to the passage of the Clean Water Act. 

“The Hudson is now clean enough to swim in — on most days,” she said. (Marine traffic and heavy current makes swimming in the Hudson a dicey idea, however.)

While many thought that the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate to protect the air and water was settled law, a June 30 Supreme Court decision weakening the EPA has shown that the Clearwater still has an important mission, Guevara-Prip said. 

“This ruling cripples our nation’s ability to climate goals required to stave off the worst impacts of climate change,” the organization said on Twitter.  

Clearwater’s crew from left: Robin Henrikson, Emily Lima, Zoe Newman Sachs, First Mate Fredi Guevara-Prip, Captain Johnny Davenport, Avishai Zinder, Zara Misra Lall (front), Lillian Kiser Taylor (rear).
Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Educating the next generation

Seeger passed away in 2014 at age 94, but Clearwater continues to advocate for the environment and educate the next generation. The organization sponsors environmental research, hosts musicians and sailors and holds a variety of educational workshops up and down the Hudson. Clearwater’s Great Hudson Revival music festival at Croton Point is a yearly highlight.

Many of the crew are college or even high school students. Saint Ann’s rising senior Zoe Newman Sachs, a resident of Prospect Heights, is the social media educational deckhand, which is a paid crew position.

The iconic Hudson River sloop Clearwater, founded by folk musician and eco-activist Pete Seeger, visited ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina on Sunday. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

“This is my second year on board,” she said. “Last year I applied and I got the job, and it’s been great ever since.” The Clearwater was built on social activism, she said. “There’s a humongous artistic and social community here — a lot of rebellion and it’s great.”

Bridget Goldberg, from Cold Spring, New York, is studying biology at the University of Vermont. She joined the crew of the Clearwater for the summer. 

“This was a good opportunity to explore the teaching side of biology,” she said. “I’m crewing for about two months and I’m a sailing trainee. I never sailed before I came to this boat, and they are teaching me basically everything.”

She loves sailing, she told the Eagle. “It’s really nice. Especially on days like today — it’s amazing and it’s beautiful.

Relief Captain Johnny Davenport was on hand for the deck tours and to take the helm for the evening’s sail. 

“The majority of the time we are trying to connect people with the Hudson River, but we want to give people a connection to all of our waterways, so today it’s a little bit more of New York Harbor and the East River,” he said.

“People come as musicians, as environmental educators, they come as scientists, they come as sailors, and it’s a really beautiful melt of people that come work here,” Guevara-Prip said. 

Visitors to the Clearwater learned why this little flatfish is called a “hogchoker.” Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Learning about hogchokers

On Sunday, visitors toured the ship, met the crew and learned about the river’s ecology. The crew had netted a blue crab and a little flatfish known as a “hogchoker” in the waters off the marina. 

“Hogchokers are very abundant in the Hudson River. I like to call them the carpet of the Hudson River because they line the bottom,” Guevara-Prip explained. The little fish have two eyes on the top of their head, like flounders. 

Back in the day, fishermen would sell them to the farmers and the farmers would feed them to their animals, she said. “But the thing about hogchokers is that their scale pattern is rough one way and smooth the other. So when they would feed them to the hogs, if they swallowed them in the wrong way, from tail to head, they would choke. That’s why they call them hogchokers.”

Clearwater’s First Mate Fredi Guevara-Prip. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Community Sail Days at  ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina

The event was part of ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina’s community outreach program, where the marina’s volunteer skippers and crew bring the art of sailing to the community. 

“It’s an honor working with Clearwater and doing our small part in donating the dockage as they carry the legacy of the late great Pete Seeger and fight climate change head on,” ONE15’s Dockmaster Sam Barrett-Cotter told the Eagle.

“Amali [Knobloch] and the Clearwater team were kind enough to let us invite our friends and family down to tour the sloop, including our co-host of our Green Drinks networking series, Ramon Cruz from the Sierra Club, as well as kids from the community, who particularly enjoyed the giant fist carved into the end of the boat’s tiller! So it’s nice to bring people together who care about the environment and we’re just thrilled to be able to have them come to Brooklyn.”

He added, “We’re looking forward to seeing them again in a few months for our Fall Community Sailing Days programming.”

Bridget Goldberg, from Cold Spring, New York, is studying biology at the University of Vermont. She joined the crew of the Clearwater for the summer. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

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