Sloop-environmental classroom Clearwater sailing on her charge, the once very dirty Hudson River   -   Internet photo

Sloop-environmental classroom Clearwater sailing on her charge, the once very dirty Hudson River – Internet photo

Water Closet for 2-14-14 Pete Seeger

Last month the body of Pete Seeger, environmentalist and so many other good things, died.  In the Water Closet and elsewhere our hero’s spirit sails on.  In 1966, he, good wife Toshi, and others founded the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. in an effort to clean up their river, the  mighty but then filthy Hudson.  The founders were certainly bucking the political and economic tides of the time.  It was in the decade before President Nixon signed the Clean Water Act.  Others had given up on the Hudson, long an industrial dump.  The environmental group ordered a wooden sloop built in the old way from Harvey Gamage of Maine.  In 1969 his beauty, christened Clearwater, was launched and sailed to her new homeport in Poughkeepsie on the Hudson.

Pete’s story of leading many great causes is almost as well known as his songs.The older Closeteers remember first hearing him as part of the Weavers in the 1950s singing Leadbelly’s ballad “Irene Good Night”.  A Howard Johnson restaurant and ice cream parlor then in Salisbury’s center was an evening hangout for high schoolers.  One Closeteer and friends dropped nickels in the jukebox over and over in hopes of seeing Irene “in their dreams”.  How quaint the words nickel and jukebox sound 60 years later.  Weavers’ songs and thousands of others are now available in many teens’ pockets.

The last few weeks thinking of Pete and his songs while hanging around in our riverside shack “The Water Closet”, we discussed the Clearwater and all the good she and her owners have done.  The sloop has been an environmental rallying point and classroom for a half century.  Pete led many a group in song on her 100 foot long, 25 foot beam, pine deck.  He did so under a clean sail, not a smokestack.  While remembering Pete and the Clearwater, so often featured in the media lately, one old Stream Teamer/Watershedder said, “Why not an Ipswich River boat?”  That led to a lively discussion about type, size, power, etc. The last was easy for river side tree huggers.  It has to travel under sail or oar, perhaps both.  It must be of shallow draft.  Certainly beamy sea going schooners and sloops won’t do.  A Maine lover in the group, who has a hunting-fishing camp on northern paper country land, remembered the simple bateaus the loggers used on river drives right up until water transport of pulp wood was banned in the early 1970s.  These simple, rugged, double-ended workboats were moved by oar, pole, and current.  The latter was often hard and fast.  They ranged in size from 20 to 50 feet long with 4 to 8 foot beams.  While cheap, an important criterion for us, their natural lines of bent pine boards, lapping, are handsome.  A bateau, much like dories once familiar on the Ipswich River, would be right for meandering up and down our shallow river.  With a little packing we might get a class of kids and their banjos aboard.  The Stream Team doesn’t have a banjo player it knows of but we bet the Ipswich River Watershed Association could find us one or two.  A guitar player would do, Pete played both well.  Our vessel would stop town to town, Reading to Ipswich, and receive kids from the schools.  They’d sing Pete’s songs, or better still some of their own.  Singing would be before and after water biology lessons and testing.  In the summer there would be frequent swims.  At times paddlers in small craft would be invited to join us.  Our  annual Source to Sea trips might have fleets of 100 paddlers in the bateau’s wake singing along to old favorites like this one of Peter, Paul and Mary’s, often sung with Pete,  “Michael row the boat ashore, Alleluia, Michael  row the boat ashore, Alleluia.”   Imagine such songs emanating from a quarter mile stretch of river.

The old timers with tin ears, after a few rounds trying to remember songs, excitedly discussed the bateau to be built.  One has a good plan from John Gardner’s famous The Dory Book.2  Another knows of a source of long white pine boards.  He also knows Dan Noyes from Newbury, a young builder who designs and builds fine wooden boats.  Once the simple materials are gathered, she can be built outside where many of the loggers’ bateaus were built.  One enthusiastic Closeteer fondly remembers making good spruce oars by hand with fellow rowing club members3.  Oars are expensive.

What isn’t expensive for a bunch of volunteers is the building.  And Dan if we helped might give us a break.

We’ll leave the fun of planning and ask readers to suggest a name for our floating classroom.  Clearwater, Jr., is out; it doesn’t apply to our relatively clean river thanks to the  Watershed Association and the Massachusetts Wetland and Rivers Protection Acts.  Send us a name.  Compose a song for our river.

Let’s go out with some lines from a Clearwater ditty written while the Hudson was still dirty.  Pete always urged others to sing along.  We hope his spirit is hovering over all rivers.  He well knew that if kept clean and free flowing they sing on their own.

Sailin’ up, sailin’ down –  Down! Up!

Up and down the river,   Sailin’ on

Stopping, along the way.

The river may be dirty now but its getting better everyday.

1  Civil rights  –   “We Shall Overcome”;   Antiwar – “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”, “Where have all he flowers gone”;    “Labor –  “Joe Hill”;   etc. etc.

2  Ch. 7, Gardner, John,  The Dory Book  (International Marine Publishing Company, 1978)

3  The Rings Island Rowing Club made 8 1/2 and 9 foot oars for use powering dories from 2” x 10” x 16’ spruce staging planks in the 1990s. Carved out with drawknives, spoke shaves, and planes they came out almost as good as professionally built oars made with a lathe.  Club members think better.  Money wise, the club oars were much cheaper; time wise much more expensive.  We were in no hurry.



Precipitation Data* for Month of: Nov Dec Jan Feb
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.55 4.12 3.40 3.25
 2013 – 14 Central Watershed Actual 3.35 5.30 3.47 1.10 as of 2/11**

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

For Feb 11, 2014:   Normal . . . 62 CFS           Current Rate . . . 47 CFS


*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Jan. Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.

**Updated Feb precipitation data is from MST gage.

THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: or <> or (978) 777-4584