Historic Dutch Ships Visit Kingston Sept. 17

September 29, 2009 at 11:17 am Leave a comment

A fleet of flat-bottomed Dutch sailing ships stopped in Kingston overnight on Sept. 17, as part of a Quad celebration sail up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany. The 18 boats had arrived in New York City on Sept. 3 by cargo ship and sailed around the Statue of Liberty before heading up the Hudson, stopping in Nyack, Peekskill, Constitution Island and Kingston, followed by Catskill, Coxsackie, and Albany, with the voyage ending Sept. 20. The boats will be transported onto a freighter on Oct. 2 for shipment back to Holland.

Dutch_blog1Such a massing of historic sailing boats probably hasn’t been seen at our city docks in at least a century. The boats were something special: their rounded bows and sterns, decorative detailing, and chocolate sails seemed lifted from a fairy tale. Shaped like a genie’s slipper, each boat had a pair of leeboards tucked up along the sides, wooden paddle-like appendages that are lowered when the boat is tacking against the wind, to help keep it from drifting sideways. Designed for navigating the shallow inland lakes and coastlines of Holland, the boats don’t have a keel, which makes them susceptible of capsizing in a strong, gusty wind.

Originally used for fishing or delivering cargos of soil, dung, peat or other raw materials, the ships are popular with hobbyists who race them for fun. The oldest craft dated from 1885, and the boats ran the gamut from fairly spartan craft that preserved their working-class origins to replicas with luxurious cabins. The HZ 108, for example, was an authentic, 1934 botter (type of fishing boat) owned by the city of Huizen, its fish tank intact, while the Sydsulver, a 2008 replica of a cargo boat, had an elaborate carved mahogany cabin, complete with showers, and the latest electronic controls. Most of the boats are privately owned, and the $500,000 cost of transporting them stateside was mostly borne by the crews and owners, according to Jan te Siepe, chairman of a foundation that promotes traditional boats and the event’s organizer.

Dutch_blog2On Friday morning, I hopped a ride to Catskill on the Hoop & Veictrouwen, one of two skutsjes, a type of cargo boat used in Friesland, a province in northern Holland. The five crew members included an electrician, cook, mason, and TV sportswriter, and they were sleeping in the long, low cabin that took up most the length of the ship—somewhat like cargo themselves, given the ceiling height of less than five feet. Built in 1916, the boat had a steel hull measuring 16 meters long and three and half meters wide; to propel the cigar-shaped vessel, 330 square meters of sail fluttered in the breeze.

We left the Kingston dock around 10 am, with the crew turning the winches to raise the massive brown sail. We passed the graveyard of rotting barges in the creek, sad remnants of the Rondout shipping industry, and pivoted left into the broad, glittering Hudson, the peace disturbed only by a cannon blast from the Onrust, a replica of a 1614 Dutch sloop, to our port side. Along the eastern shore, we passed the replica of Hudson’s ship Half Moon, looking surprisingly shrimpy. A blue heron fluttered along the shore, and the only sounds were the squawk of birds, the whoosh of the Amtrak train, and the boisterous singing of Dutch sea chanteys by the crew. They had never been to New York before and were amazed by the scenery. “For us, that’s a mountain,” said Akke Vrymoeth, pointing to the ridgeline overlooking the river.

Dutch_blog3Around 1 pm, the wind died. Swimmers dived from the neighboring boats, and we chugged into Catskill by motor. Once back on shore, I asked te Siepe what surprised him most on his trip up the Hudson. Lack of boats on the river, he said. “Most of the cities were ports 100 years ago, but now you’re completely land focused. You have the treasure, and you don’t realize it.”


Entry filed under: History.

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