Sailing With Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, who died Monday at the age of 94, was not just an iconic folksinger whose songs, including "If I Had a Hammer," ''Turn, Turn, Turn," and ''Where Have All the Flowers Gone," have for generations led a rallying cry against war, racism and injustice – he was a champion conservationist dedicated to protecting his beloved Hudson River and other waterways from sea to shining sea.

As a reporter I met Seeger and spend a memorable day sailing aboard the sloop Clearwater whose construction and mission he inspired, when the boat sailed into Mystic years ago.

It was a blustery, raw, overcast autumn morning when we boarded the 106-foot wooden vessel at Mystic Seaport Museum, and by the time we cleared Noank at the mouth of the Mystic River and headed out into Fishers Island Sound, rain pelted the deck.

Most of the crew and passengers scrambled below, but Seeger – or simply Pete, as he insisted everyone call him – donned a yellow slicker and remained at the helm. I joined him.

"Getting nasty," I said.

"But it's always good to be out on the water," he replied.

"Amen."

I pointed out local landmarks – Ram Island, Mouse Island, Fishers Island, Groton Long Point, Palmer Cove, Mumford Cove …

"What's that piece of land?" Pete asked, pointing to an expanse of beach and forest, resplendent in fall colors.

"Bluff Point," I said, and then rather immodestly described my own modest role in protecting the 800-acre peninsula, having served on a state-appointed committee that helped draft legislation to create the state's first and only coastal preserve. That impressed him, and he went on to talk about the Clearwater, built by volunteers in 1969 to serve as a floating classroom and to spread his message of environmental activism.

On that fall day the Clearwater also carried a huge load of pumpkins.

"We sell them whenever we pull into port to raise money for the movement," Pete explained.

By this time the squall had passed and a few passengers and crew members – mostly young volunteers – climbed back up on deck.

"Most of these kids work for nothing or for room and board," Pete said, shaking his head. Then he chuckled.

"When I think of all those union songs I've sung …"

At this point someone – I can't recall if it was a crew member or a passenger – decided to climb up the gaff-rigged Clearwater's 108-foot-tall topmast. About halfway up he had a change of heart and clung to a spar.

The boat pitched and yawed, but we couldn't come about or jibe without knocking the climber off with the boom. Soon we were "in irons," or blown backwards.

A handful of other crew members assembled below and began shouting instructions and encouragement to the wayward climber. Eventually he made it back down, a bit sheepishly, and the Clearwater's sails luffed in a steady breeze.

All too soon we were scudding back up the river.

Pete and I shook hands, and he thanked my for serving as his tour guide.

I thanked him for allowing me aboard, and for his passionate dedication to so many causes I embrace.

Bon voyage, Pete. The Clearwater, and your voice, sail on.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Ringling Bros., SeaWorld and the Columbus Zoo: Pitfalls of Keeping Elephants, Orcas and Gorillas in Captivity

Large, wild animals belong in the wild, not in a circus, aquarium or zoo – a point reinforced by events involving three prominent, unrelated institutions in the last couple weeks.

Our Debt of Gratitude to President Obama, the Environmentalist-in-Chief

As we prepare to inaugurate a president who has repeatedly called climate change a "hoax," appointed as Environmental Protection Agency administrator an Oklahoma attorney general who is suing that agency, named the CEO of ExxonMobil as secretary...

Call of the Wild: A Clash Over Cellphones in The Great Outdoors

"Yeah, I’m standing on the summit now! … The view is incredible – I can’t believe I’m getting a signal up here!"

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Plunging into Icy Fishers Island Sound at the Annual New Year's Day Run-Swim

Look, I’m not going to lie: While some longtime participants in one of southeastern Connecticut’s most enduring, challenging and madcap traditions insist that plunging into icy water after a run on Jan. 1 is a refreshing and...

No Such Thing as Too Much Fun: A Great 2016; Hopes for an Even Better 2017

When it comes to adventurous fun my philosophy has always been too much is never enough, so when I look back at the highlights of the past 12 months, as I typically do when the calendar is about to flip, I can honestly say that 2016 was a...

Hey, Has Anybody Else Noticed It's Gotten A Little Chilly?

I guess I first realized the temperature had dropped a few degrees when I went out for a 5-mile run this morning and noticed that my eyelids had started to freeze shut, which loyal readers will recognize as Level IV on the Fagin Frigidity Index,...

Granola Munchers Vs. Snickers Gobblers: Conflict Over Plans for a Hotel on New Hampshire's Mount Washington

The first time friends and I trudged up New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in winter the frozen peak might as well have been Antarctica – hurricane-force winds and blinding snow battered us, the only climbers that day atop the highest...

How to Build a Stone Wall in 14,863 Easy Steps

I realized long ago that you’re never really finished building a stone wall, even after you’ve dragged and hefted into place what seemed like the final boulder, exhaled mightily and stepped back to admire your work.

Just in Time for the Holidays: Fagin's Annual Gift Catalogue for the Discerning Outdoorsman and Outdoorswoman

How often does this happen to you: You’re merrily tearing through the woods in your four-wheeler and come to what looks like a shallow stream but turns out to be a deep, water-filled ditch, so your beloved machine sinks like a stone beneath...

Arduous Autumn

In spring we crawl out of our cocoons and celebrate bursting rejuvenation; in summer we play outside from dawn to dusk; during the dark, frigid winter we hunker down like hibernating bears – which leaves fall, when we try to set aside time...

Chain Saw? We Don't Need No Stinking Chain Saw…

So, did you hear that doctors have developed a new method of performing an appendectomy without using anesthesia? It’s exactly like the old operation, except it hurts like a son of a b.

You CAN Go Home Again: A Run Through My Old West Haven Stomping Grounds

Although for decades I’ve been living in a home surrounded by trees that is heated primarily by wood stoves, and I enjoy kayaking, mountain climbing, building stone walls, growing organic vegetables and many other active outdoor pursuits,...

Utah Rocks Part II: Kayaking Down The Colorado River

Propelled by a swift current on the Colorado River earlier this month, my son, Tom, and I gazed at red rock cliffs gleaming against an azure, near cloudless sky. The rustle of aspen and cottonwoods in a gentle breeze mingled with the rush of...