Sail of the Century

Henry Hudson’s historic voyage is recreated aboard the replica ship Half Moon


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Map of Henry Hudson's Half Moon journeyWestward ho: A map of the 1609 voyage

Juet gives the play by play. Before entering the Hudson on September 3, the crew stopped in present-day New Jersey. The reception by natives was not friendly: A crewman was killed by an arrow through the neck. Things got better in New York. When they entered the Hudson a few days later and headed upriver, natives gifted them with tobacco. Juet called them “very loving people.”

The river journey had its moments. Most likely in the area between Coxsackie and Albany, the ship encountered more friendly natives, and even invited a chief onboard and got him very drunk. (Juet implies they were testing his motives.) In another incident, one of the natives climbed through a cabin window and tried to steal a pillow and two shirts (he was killed).

What were they thinking? “I’m sure the crew was much happier to be in warm weather, calm seas, and a beautiful place like the Hudson than fighting the Bering Sea,” says Sandler. “But I would guess that Hudson was miserable because he did not accomplish his goal.”

Just imagine his emotional roller-coaster when he sees the river get broader around the Tappan Zee Bridge area — Asia would have to be just ahead — then narrow around Bear Mountain and bend at West Point, where it almost looks like it’s coming to an end. Then, the river continues with no more noteworthy broadening and eventually gets shallow. The ship turned around between Coxsackie and Albany in mid-September, and returned to the Atlantic by early October.

Every year, the replica ship Half Moon retraces Hudson’s journey upstream from New York Harbor to Albany (and sometimes back down). “We like to approximate where Hudson landed, but in very few locations can we be reasonably precise,” says Capt. Chip Reynolds. The 100-foot-long floating museum, built in 1989 from 17th-century Dutch ship plans, makes stops up and down the river so visitors can board and tour the vessel — which is so historically accurate it was used in Terrence Malick’s film The New World.

lion's head design on ship
A carved lion’s head feeds rope to the crew aboard the ship

“It is a plank-by-plank replica,” says Tom Wysmuth of the New Netherland Museum, which owns and operates the Half Moon. There are some contemporary features, however. Sail ropes are made of synthetic fiber instead of hemp. There is an engine and, as required by the Coast Guard, radar. The area below decks is similar to the original four-foot-high space, but includes a small well so visitors can view the orlop (lower) deck without bumping their heads. The crew steers with a whipstaff, a giant stick that turns the rudder (the ship’s wheel hadn’t been invented) and flies the flags of the Dutch East India Company, the City of Amsterdam, the South Province of Holland (a flag of the Dutch royal family), and the United Provinces of Holland, as Hudson would have done.

For Capt. Reynolds, being at the helm of the replica has given him a new perspective on Hudson. “Here is this guy who is driven to explore. Every year I sail this ship, and it is a grueling process for me to recruit and equip a crew — and I’ve got telephones, fax, and E-mail. When we do our provisions, we can go to Price Chopper, and we’ve got trucks and cars for support. Hudson had none of that. But year after year he made some of the most extraordinary voyages of exploration of all time.”


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