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Ships to Save the Waters 2001

Pete Seeger Pete Seeger has been working for many years on the idea that watercraft of all sizes can be used to inspire people of all ages, especially young people, to protect our waters and our environment.
  Ships to Save the Waters Opening Remarks
June 2, 2001 New Bedford, MA-

Friends, what really started the Clearwater project was a book written in 1907 by two middle-aged gents. One had been a commercial sloop captain carrying bricks to build New York City; the other was a middle-class yachtsman. But their book was called Sloops of the Hudson and they said, "These were the most beautiful boats we ever knew and they will never be seen again." They had seen clipper ships. They had seen America’s Cup races and the schooners. The boat with a huge lot of sail was still their favorite.

Some fifty years later a friend of mine loans me the book and I write him a letter saying, "Why don’t we build a replica of one of these?" They had built a replica of the Mayflower but it just sits at the dock. And the Cutty Sark in London isn’t even in the water. A replica of the Yacht America was built but the owner is the only one who gets to use it.

Neither my friend nor I (my friend’s name was Vic Schwartz - he’s an artist in the little town of Cold Spring on the Hudson)... We really didn’t know what we were doing. All we did was get about 150 people together on the lawn of a local businessman who was interested and raised $160 and set up a steering committee and three years later there was a big arguement when the boat was launched.

Some wanted the boat to be a purely historical project: dress the sailors in costume and, as they said, not get involved in "environmental confrontation." I’m glad to say they lost the vote. It was a vote of the then-200 members of the organization who paid $10 a piece to be members. And they voted to call it Clearwater instead of Heritage.

A few years later they voted to change the charter to specifically say the purpose of the Clearwater was to restore the river and make the shores accessible to everybody.

We didn’t know what we were starting and, of course, we were fitting in to what has been almost a world-wide phenomenon of people using beautiful boats, whether rowboats or schooners or whatever to tell, give some kind of message. It might be an historical message, it might be an environmental message, but it was a message.

You know about the Schooner Amistad built in Mystic. They got funding from the state on the basis that it might be good for Connecticut tourism.

And you probably know that the Schooner Denis Sullivan in Milwaukee got a special place to build their boat right in the middle of downtown thinking it would be good for Milwaukee tourism. Is there anyone from the Denis Sullivan here by chance? "I just got off it." (response from the listeners) Your name? "Daphne Brooke." Well, I’ll get a chance to talk with you, others will, too. Today they are having their big homecoming out in Milwaukee. So they said they wouldn’t be able to make it to New Bedford with us.

Anyway, I look on this conference as an example of another great American phenomenon known as a convention. Conventions were literally impossible until the railroads were invented and then we had church conventions and union conventions and business conventions and so on. And this is carrying it a step further.

We’re all doing something similar but, face it, we’re quite different. Some of us are non-profits with 501c3 status, some are businesses and maybe take kids out for few months during the school season but take tourists out for hopefully as much money as possible in the rest of the year in order to take the kids out. Some projects are owned by the government, in what extent and in what way, lets find out, this is our chance.

Some of us are relatively small but in some ways most exciting. Is anybody here from Tacoma, WA by chance? Or that knows about the 38’ row boat called the Verite? (Nancy Richardson remarked she had just recently seen the Verite)

Well, the mother of one of the apprentices in the Maine Apprenticeshop in Rockland sees a picture of this boat. She said, "Oh, so beautiful, send me the plans!" She takes it over to a local boatbuilder. He says, "Oh, yes. I can build this for $20 or $30 thousand dollars. She says, "I don’t want you to build it, I want you to show us how to build it." She wanted to build an organization.

She sent quite a funny long letter to me. A few things to watch out for (she states): Make sure that women and children don’t get given all the boring jobs like sweeping up and the men take all the exciting skilled jobs. And remember that people are even more important than boats.

Finally after two years the boat was built. Now it is out on Tacoma Bay and she gets a telephone call, "We are the Citizens for a Safe Bay. Can we borrow your Bantry?"

[It is nicknamed the Bantry because 203 years ago it was captured on Bantry Bay. It was a French Admiral’s gig. Now it sits in the Dublin Marine Museum. They built 40 more like it in Europe as part of the Atlantic Challenge organization and 10 more like it in this country.]

Well, she says on the phone, we’d love for you to use it but you must train 13 people: a bow watch to see you don’t run into a log, ten strong people at the oars and don’t make them all men, a navigator who knows just exactly what the problems are with the rules of the road and where you are and so on, and a coxwain to steer. And when you’ve trained those 13 people, we’d love it if you used the boat every week.

So it now has taken people out every week on Tacoma Bay. Takes the mayor out there and the City Councilors, the head of Central Trades Union, head of the Chamber of Commerce, the president of the graduating class is saving Tacoma Bay with a 38’ rowboat.

And, I believe if we do our job right here today, ten years from now there are going to be people, not just throughout the USA and Canada and Europe, but in Mexico and Argentina and Uraguay and Chile and, who knows, in parts of Europe and maybe on the Ganges or where ever. Where people see the beauty of a boat and see the magic. Nobody can explain it in words what the magic is, in water and wind, and they will be saving the waters where they are. And they will be carrying a message that may be a combination of historical message and environmental message. Maybe more of one than the other. But it’s going to be a message.

If we all do our job right, do you realize we are part of a world-wide phenomenon of small organizations which are going to save the world if it is going to be saved?

Big organizations attract power-hungry people and pretty soon they are doing things that most people realize should not be done. But small organizations we can bounce against each other. We’ll argue, but we’ll agree on one or two important things. And when words fail we’ll use many things not just boats: the arts, pictures, melodies, rythym, dancing, acting, puppets, and food: the greatest part of all. z

-Pete Seeger-

Ships to Save the Waters
Conference 2001

Schooner Ernestina
Sloop Clearwater