The directions were simple: drive north on The New York State Thruway to Albany, exit onto Route 787 toward the Empire State Plaza, and then take exit 4. Drive north along the Hudson until you see the Mayan temples; turn right into the courtyard. As I drove slowly across the cobbled yard, I got my first glimpse of the De Halve Maen, the rigging at least. Captain William “Chip” Reynolds and crew member Steve Weiss appeared a short time later to welcome me aboard.
Built in 1989 by Dr. Andrew Hendricks, The Replica Ship The Half Moon is a working, full-scale model of the vessel that brought Henry Hudson to North America nearly 400 years ago—with a small engine and other amenities hidden deep in what would have been its historic hold. Dr. Hendricks envisioned it as a physical tool for interpreting the history and legacy of the New Netherlands, and its captain and crew today are doing just that. As the New Netherland Museum (NNM), they divide their time between Albany, New York City, and excursions on the Hudson and other historic waters of New Netherland—from the Connecticut to the Delaware Rivers.
The New Netherland Museum interprets its history using a combination of techniques—tours; sails; living history reenactments; classroom visits; teacher workshops; and “history kits,” which teachers may borrow. They even plan on constructing a “ship’s boat” as a hands-on teachers’ workshop. Their annual Voyage of Discovery is a weeklong expedition from Manhattan to Albany manned by a crew of seventh and eighth graders. The lesson plans they’ve developed in this and other exercises are currently available for purchase on their Web site.
They have important allies in this work, too. The New Netherland Project, housed and sponsored by the New York State Museum, has steadily contributed to the understanding of New York’s Dutch Heritage since the 1980s. Together, they dream of a waterfront facility in Albany that could host living history reenactments, as well as house archives, research facilities, and The Half Moon itself. Such a facility could also further the crew’s efforts to convey the history of the Albany area—the Dutch Fort Orange and Beverwyck. Such a facility would be an alternative to Sturbridge Village and Jamestown, celebrating a different and contemporary history that is specific to our region.
But today I am visiting them at the Albany Water Treatment Plant; the “Mayan temples” conceal the works in their novel architecture. This has been the New Netherland Museum’s temporary home in the capital while they plan their permanent port. A crew of two volunteers is painting the new beak, which was rebuilt in 2003. Maintenance such as this is a constant necessity with the ship, and more major work takes place in dry dock over the winter.
Steve Weiss is a wonderful example of the power of the ship and its programming. After his daughter first sailed on it on a field trip, his wife began volunteering, and finally he became a volunteer educator on board and occasionally in the classroom.
There is no question you can ask Steve or any of the crew that doesn’t lead to a dozen more (and their answers, of course). We climb into the hold to escape a short shower and look at some of the replicas onboard, which include cooking pots and utensils, rhinish ware, a cannon (known as a falcon, which shoots a twenty-one pound ball about the size of a baseball), and more.
By the time we are done inspecting their traveling kits and cannon, my eyes had adjusted to the gloom of the “between decks,” or orlop deck. We stand above the hold, bent over to keep our heads from hitting the bottom of the deck above. The captain points aft. “This would have been the top deck in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.” But when the voyages began getting longer—rounding Cape Horn and exploring the Arctic—and the trade networks grew to include new territories in these remote locations, the ships required more storage. So they added the deck above, leaving the orlop deck with no more than five feet of headroom. Sailors would have bunked here or slept on deck; everything below was cargo space. It was during this same time that the fore and stern castles were added to the top deck—each raised another five feet at either end of the ship.
These were where the armed crew would have assembled to ward off pirates, or alternately, would have assembled a boarding party as privateers—state endorsed piracy practiced on vessels belonging to countries with which Holland was not on favorable terms. The galley of De Haelve Maen is in the forecastle, and the pilot house, with the captain’s quarters behind, is located in the stern castle, below the poop deck.
And way back in the gloom to the aft of the between decks is the “whipstaff.” At the original height, in the 1400s sailors would have stood here “manning” the helm, but once the upper decks were added, this original position was buried below. The “staff” was added as a simple modification that allowed the helmsman to steer from above—still 100 years before the use of block and tackle that allowed the “ship’s wheel.” Captain Reynolds’ eyes gleamed as he finished the lesson, and he grinned as he reminded me once again that the entire ship was a working replica and a teaching tool.
During the New Netherland Museum’s Voyage of Discovery, the students work with adults as the full crew of the ship—manning the watch, etc. In addition to performing scientific experiments and learning how the ship works, they use replica equipment to navigate the river, including a cross-staff and a quadrangle, chip line, lead line, and Travers Board. The New Netherland Museum’s curriculum also brings this experience into the schools. The Voyage of Discovery began keeping an online ship’s log in 2005. This allows children in classrooms—and adults—to follow the adventure. There are also travel trunks full of replicas that teachers may borrow.
It is difficult to convey the experience of stepping aboard The Half Moon in a few pages, but suffice it to say that any opportunity to do so is well worth it. In addition to participants in their formal programming, they welcome visitors and volunteers. And work is underway to ensure that they can come to you, even if you are unable to come to them.
For more info on the New Netherland Museum, visit them online at www.halfmoon.mus.ny.us/index.html, or in person during May, June, and October in Albany. (It’sadvisable to check their web site or call ahead before making the trip.) Additionalinformation and samples of their curriculum is available at www.halfmoon.mus. ny.us/curriculum.htm, while the 2005 Voyage of Discover is online at www.halfmoon.mus.ny.us/2005sepvod/2005sepvodhome.htm. For information on the New Netherland Project (whose work the crew of The Half Moon shares with the public),visit www.nnp.org/index.shtml.