Up the River
Reading the history of Henry Hudson, James Cook and other explorers who were looking for the Northwest Passage across North America, I marvel at the logistics of sailing square-rigged ships up rivers like the Hudson River or the St. Lawrence Seaway. Sailing in narrow corridors with strong currents, questionable winds with the trees and cliffs lining the shores, and no charts to help navigate with, it’s an incredible display of sailing acumen. I’m in awe that they could do it.
I’ve sailed up a couple of rivers, most notably the Merrimack River and the Essex River. In each case I was in a sloop-rigged boat of about 36 feet. We knew where the channel was, and we had a diesel engine to fall back on should we need it. That’s a far cry from the Halve Maen (Half Moon in English), Henry Hudson’s ship, which was a square-rigged and 85 feet long. Hudson sailed up the river that bears his name in September of 1609 with a crew of about 20 men. They sailed as far as present day Albany before turning around. Albany would become a hub of trade with the interior over the next 100 years and the river would become well known, but Hudson was essentially sailing with one hand tied behind his back.
The Basque were exploring North America before Hudson made his voyage into the interior. I’ve documented previously the adventures of one soul who made it all the way to Rochester, New York before he perished. The French were also actively exploring the interior, and of course the Spanish were focused on areas farther south on the continent. All of them exhibited exceptional courage and skill in navigating these waters. As a casual and occasional weekend sailor I’m deeply impressed with what they were able to accomplish. Lost to history of course are the many who failed to make it home from these voyages.