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

A Connecticut Yankee In The Northwest Part II: A Cross-Country Ski Adventure, Of Sorts, At Oregon’s Crater Lake

Lugging back-country skis and poles on our shoulders, my son Tom and I trudged along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway at Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, searching for a section of road that had not been plowed.

A Connecticut Yankee In The Northwest: Stunning Views, Adventures On Land And Water (Part I)

As I clambered toward the crest of the Mist Trail in California’s Yosemite National Park a couple weeks ago, spray from the thunderous Nevada Fall washed over me, but I was already soaked, with sweat, after gaining nearly 2,000 feet of...

Vacations From Hell: At Least They’re Memorable

Just between us, don’t you hate it when friends or coworkers post photos on Facebook of awesome journeys to exotic destinations – or if they’re really old-school, send postcards depicting glorious sunsets, sparkling lakes,...

In Stride With Women Runners: Amby Burfoot Celebrates Their History In A New Book

Back in the Dark Ages when I was growing up, one of the worst insults an adolescent male could hurl at one of his buddies was, "You run like a girl!"

Danger, Swan Attack! Quick, Wring Its Neck!

It’s difficult to imagine a more outrageous example of idiotic government overreaction than this week’s incident involving a mute swan on Five Mile Pond in Danielson, which would almost be laughable if the outcome weren’t so...

The Parable Of The Rope: An Icy Mountain Drama In New Hampshire's Carter Notch

With a blustery breeze making the 8-degree temperature feel as if were a few notches below zero, our group didn’t intend to dawdle while scrambling back to civilization. The mountain hut where we spent the night had been so frigid my boots...

Over The Falls! A Salmon River Adventure

You know that feeling when you’re about to attempt something adventurous that at first seemed it would be fun, but then doubts about your safety and sanity crept in? Oh no! Too late!

There's No Such Thing As Too Much Garlic

A few years ago, while visiting relatives in Canada, I noticed a giant basket of produce in a corner of the kitchen. "Wow! Where’d you get all that garlic?" I asked.

Plenty Of Mudslinging On The Trail

Well, we’ve made it through another winter, though for snow and ice fans it was pretty pitiful – but we’re not quite out of the woods when it comes to challenging hiking conditions.

Hey, Shaddup Out There! At Least Can You Tone Down All That Screeching, Snorting, Squawking, Croaking, Buzzing And Howling?

OK, I get it. It’s mating season, when all the furry, feathered and slimy critters are desperate for a little action, using the only pickup technique they know: make loud noises.

'Life Is Full of Roadblocks, But You Have to Drive Through Them' – Dirk Vlieks' Inspiring Recovery

After having swum the 1.2-mile leg of Hawaii’s Rohto Half-Ironman triathlon Dirk Vlieks of Mystic was 22 miles into the 56-mile bike section, already thinking ahead to the 13.1-mile run to the finish line, when he began to feel...

My Acute Case of OCWD (Obsessive Compulsive Wood Disorder)

You’d think that those of us who heat with wood can relax this time of year when we no longer must make 10 trips a day to the woodshed, stumble out of bed at 3 a.m. to stoke the stove, continuously shovel ashes and forage the forest for...