Seaport Museum volunteers go back to work

[media-credit name=”Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer ” align=”alignleft” width=”600″][/media-credit]
After not having been able to work on the South Street Seaport Museum’s boats for more than seven months, 45 volunteers set to work on Dec. 3, moving spars and cleaning out debris.
BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  |  The sun was shining on the East River waterfront on Dec. 3 — one of those blue-sky days of late fall that put a smile on the face for no reason at all — but the 45 people who assembled on Pier 16 that morning had plenty of reason to smile. In fact, they cheered.

After a hiatus of more than seven months, it was the first day back for a group of volunteers who not only had dedicated themselves to helping maintain the South Street Seaport Museum’s historic ships in the past, but who had fought to keep their condition in the public eye during the long period when the museum’s future was in doubt.

“I’m extremely excited to be back,” said Mike Cohen, one of the volunteers. “We feel it’s indicative of a turnaround.”

Jonathan Boulware, waterfront director for the South Street Seaport Museum, who has been with the museum for around a month, said, “Today the biggest project is to clean up the waterfront. It’s a chance to get trash out and sweep and mop – all the things you do in a fall or spring cleaning in your house.”

One of the volunteers pointed out a dumpster that they hoped to fill by the end of the day with trash from the 11 floating objects — ships and barges — owned by the museum.

“I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that some of the boats are in some stage of disrepair,” said Boulware. “We’re still assessing where we are relative to the fleet and looking at how we’re going to move forward. No decisions have been made as yet.”

Boulware added that a plan for what the waterfront should be would guide decisions about the ships. “It’s less related to the condition of the vessels and more related to what the vision is for the seaport of the future,” he said.

“The Wavertree obviously needs a lot of work,” he commented, “but in terms of assessing the condition of a vessel, there’s a lot of ways to look at it. She is stable for the moment but in terms of getting her where we want her to be, there’s a lot to be done.”

Boulware, 39, worked with sailing ships and antique vessels before accepting his current job. He also has experience in shipyard project management and staff management.

“Prior to this I was running my own business of marine consultancy, principally, and shipyard project management but my career has been in sailing ships,” said Boulware. “There was no arm-twisting at all to get me to come here. I am super excited to be here. It is a really good match, I think, between what the Seaport needs and the challenge that it presents to me. It’s a welcome challenge.”

Boulware also noted the Seaport Museum’s passenger-carrying vessels — the Pioneer, the Lettie G. Howard and the W.O Decker — are “being moved toward a state of operation. Particularly Pioneer will be sailing by spring. Lettie G. Howard has gone to Mystic Seaport to get worked on this winter. She’ll be back with us in the springtime.”

“Ships need constant maintenance, even if they’re not in use,” said Jesse Schaffer, who first volunteered at the museum in 1995 and who went on to become a professional mariner. “They’ll always be worn away by the elements and you need to keep on top of that.” Schaffer said he had stopped volunteering for a while, but added, “there’s now a new administration that I’m happy about, and I’m happy to be back.”

When he works on the museum’s vessels, he said, he feels that he is preserving part of maritime history. “A 19th-century British sailor could see us at work and know exactly what we’re doing. He would have been doing the same things in the same way.”

Boulware said that the volunteers “are a critical part of keeping up the waterfront. We need unskilled help, we need carpentry, we need metalwork. There’s hardly a skill you can think of that wouldn’t advance the purposes of the waterfront.”

To volunteer, contact the museum’s volunteer coordinator, Beth Childs, at volunteercoordinator@seany.org. The next volunteer day will be Saturday, Dec. 10.