It was standing room only in the back room of Wunderbar on Thursday night where people gathered to learn about the historic Hudson River sloop Eleanor and the new not-for-profit that's being organized to achieve her restoration. Called the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration and Sailing Society, the group has aspirations beyond restoring Eleanor and returning her to the waters of the Hudson. Those aspirations include teaching and encouraging sailing on the Hudson and restoring other historic vessels. The Society has already created a website where you can learn more about the 108-year-old sloop, which has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1982, and the plans for her restoration.
The project is the brainchild of Casson Kennedy, a ship restorer who learned his craft on Martha's Vineyard, and Louise Bliss, whose father, the late Philip Egan, acquired Eleanor in 1951. Last night, Kennedy noted that "even boats that are well-maintained rarely stick around for a hundred years" and explained that it was time for major work on Eleanor. He outlined the plans for her restoration. The first step is to build a pole barn over the sloop, which is now being stored at Joe Kenneally's Clay Pond Farms property in Greenport. The cost for the building is estimated at $20,000. The second step is to create a construction drawing, called a "lines drawing," to document the boat, which was built by prominent naval architect Clinton Crane, and preserve it on paper. This careful documentation will also guide the reconstruction of the sloop--the third step in the process. The reconstruction phase begins with determining what needs to be repaired and what needs to be replaced. According to Kennedy, every part of Eleanor needs some level of attention, but it is hoped that the reconstruction will be complete by 2013--to coincide with Eleanor's 110th birthday.
Kennedy made the point that "what we do with the boat once it's back on the water is just as important as restoring the boat," and to this end, Joe Rapp, himself a sailor and sailboat owner, explained the organizational structure of the not-for-profit. He identified four committees, tasked with specific responsibilities: a Development Committee, to undertake fundraising, identify grant sources, and write grant applications; a Public Relations Committee, to get the word out about the project; a Program Committee, to conceptualize how the sloop will be used after it's been restored; a Building/Construction Committee, to identify and organize tasks that can be done by volunteers. Anyone who is interested in volunteering for a committee should contact Louise Bliss at (518) 828-7884.
The restoration of the sloop Eleanor and its potential to revive sailing on the Hudson and be a catalyst for something greater--a boat-building academy, a sailing school, a historic boat festival all were suggested--are enormously exciting. Bliss expressed her hope that "Eleanor will be a star at Hudson's waterfront" and encouraged people to visit Eleanor "because boats have souls." This is definitely a project that can and should engage the whole community, but it seems regrettable that the restoration of Eleanor can't take place on the waterfront, in a building that already exists, where people--particularly local kids, commuters, visitors to Hudson--can easily stop in and see what's going on, instead of having to invest the first $20,000 raised to construct a new building fairly far from the river, in a location accessible only by car. The synergy of the restoration of a historic boat occurring on a waterfront rediscovering its maritime history and experiencing revitalization would be very powerful, and it would facilitate fundraising if the project could be seen in the context of a larger waterfront revitalization effort.