The barn effect

The Clearwater Homeport and Rondout Education Center, a.k.a., the sloop barn. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

The Clearwater Homeport and Rondout Education Center, a.k.a., the sloop barn. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Back on Dec. 15, the sloop Clearwater, stripped of its mast, boom, rudder and sails, arrived at the Kingston docks by barge, having been transferred onto the conveyance by giant slings and hydraulics at Scarano’s Boat Yard in Albany. After 30 winters in Saugerties, the sloop has now found a new home in Kingston, following the erection of a barn, officially called the Clearwater Homeport and Rondout Education Center, on the grounds of the Hudson River Maritime Museum in September. Still smelling of new wood, the barn and its historic charge — which remains dockside on the barge, covered in white shrink wrap — has brought a welcome hive of activity to an area of the city that is usually comatose during the winter.

Beth Deal, one of the boat’s two captains, said the winter crew of eight were enjoying the more spacious quarters of the new barn — which is also heated, unlike its predecessor in Saugerties. “The space is what we hoped for, and we’re figuring out how to best utilize it,” she said, noting Clearwater planned to introduce programming for the public next year, including an after-school boat building and carpentry program for middle and high school students.

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Right now the focus is on the ship with a major project underway: the rebuilding of the rear third of the ship. Much of the oak planking has been removed, revealing a heavy timber frame that looks like it had been nibbled by rats. The crew is replacing the pieces of the frame, called futtocks, with new ones, using plywood patterns to replicate and improve upon the original.

Shipwright Wayne Ford, who on a recent morning was crouched beneath the hull holding wooden battens along the its curve to make sure the new futtocks were cut to the proper angle, noted that the original, which dates back to the ship’s launch in 1969, could be corrected in places.

Like an old house, the frame has slumped in placed, said Jim Kricker, the Clearwater’s master shipwright, who just arrived. (A master woodworker who has restored historic barns, watermills, and windmills and was part of a team that built a catapult, Kricker oversaw restoration of the sloop’s bow in 2009.) “We’ll hopefully make it stronger, with better details and joints, so there’ll be less rot.” The challenge is “making sure we don’t take too much apart and change the shape of the boat,” Kricker added.

Inside the barn

The new futtocks are cut from huge slabs of white oak. The slabs, which have been drying for two years, are stored and cut on a portable saw mill in the side yard, then brought into the barn, where they are run through the planer. The wide V-shaped plywood pattern boards for the futtocks, which are about two feet long, are marked with the varying angles of curvature; the pieces are curved on each side, each at a slightly different angle. The pattern is traced on the wood and the futtock double-sawn on the massive ship saw, which has a tilting blade and hence can trace the inside angle curve of each piece.

Upstairs, several enormous loops of rope were hanging from the ceiling, and a shrink-wrap tent had been erected to contain the dust from sanding and varnishing parts of the boat. Chelsea Fisher, a native of Wisconsin who joined Clearwater in 2009 as an apprentice and is now a full-fledged crew member, was sanding a hatch grating, whose small interstices require the hand work.

Deal noted that every piece of the boat is re-varnished or repainted each winter. The rigorous maintenance has its ironies, given that the Hudson sloops of 200 years ago were basically disposed of after 10 or 15 years. “At that point they would be run up on shore and the good wood removed, for rebuilding,” she said. “The cost of labor was low and materials cheap. And there were still large stands of old-growth white oak. It was a different economy.”

Deal added that it might seem more practical to simply sail the sloop to Mystic Seaport or some other historic maritime center for an overhaul. But the Clearwater’s mission is all about being based in the locale of the Hudson River, so the organization has always been committed to using local expertise, a strategy that has served it well, she noted.

While currently the sails and most of the rig are in storage in Saugerties, Deal said eventually all items will be stored in Kingston; the large double doors on the second floor of the barn were designed to enable the crew to better convey the sloop’s massive sails into the storage space. Half the second floor has been reserved for use by the Maritime Museum: the barn is a 50/50 time share between the two organizations, with the Maritime Museum taking over from mid April, when the Clearwater prepares to sail again, until mid-October, when the sloop is brought back to land.

Deal said the Rondout community had been very welcoming and the January potluck, a monthly event that’s open to the public, had been unusually well attended. (The next potluck is on Feb. 22; see Shipping News of the Rondout on page 15 for more details.) The children from the Bruderhof school of Mount Academy, located in Esopus, stopped by the barn while taking a hike to the lighthouse, she said. Clearwater has rented an apartment in the Stockade District for the crew.

The rebuilding of the stern will cost approximately $350,000. Half the money was provided by a grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, with Clearwater currently raising funds for the match part of the grant.

Other sparks of life

The Rondout comes to life in winter each month with the First Saturday gallery openings, and the crowd was exceptionally large last Feb. 2 at KMOCA, which launched its first fundraiser, a sale of 180 artworks, donated by 26 of its artists, priced at $15 or $30. The event was a raving success, according to co-owner Deborah Degraffenreid. “It was a madhouse. From 3:15 to 4:30, we sold more than half the art.” Contact KMOCA on Facebook to see what remains, or visit the Abeel Street gallery on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

Degraffenreid said while the gallery, which has been operating for seven years, gets a break on the rent from the landlord, she and the two other partners, Michael Asbill and founder Adam Snyder, still end up paying six months’ worth of expenses out of their own pockets. “We never make a profit, and being all starving artists ourselves, it’s harder to pay the rent, so we thought we’d let the community know we need your help and support.” The couple of thousand dollars raised by the sale will enable the gallery to stay in business — and was so successful the owners plan to make the fundraiser an annual February event, she said.

Degraffenreid noted that the mission of KMOCA is to provide a showcase for New York City-based and even international artists, as well as talented local artists who’ve shown little. “We’re not in it to make money but here as a community space,” she said. The gallery takes only 30 percent commission — well below the average — and by focusing on artists, rather than targeting itself as a seller of commodities, KMOCA has been able to be true to its creative vision. The fundraiser confirmed the success of that mission: “I came away that night feeling elated I am part of this amazing community that supports the arts and our gallery. People came out in the hundreds to support us.”

For many Rondout businesses, the winter is a period of retrenchment, a time for doing all the stuff that is impossible during the busy summer months. Mariner’s Harbor, which has been closed for renovations, will reopen on Feb. 19 with a new concept in the front bar: small plates dining, ranging from tapas to dim sum to yakitori. “We’re calling it Social at Mariner’s Harbor,” said co-owner Mark Guido. “We’ll serve moderately priced dishes that are meant to be shared.” The bar, furniture, and glass wall tiles will be new, though the back room will remain the same, he said.

Karen Berelowitz, owner of Karmabee, on lower Broadway, has been reorganizing her store to highlight the original artwork she stocks, including her own striking black-and-white graphic designs, which are printed on cards, T-shirts, baby clothes, wine corks, necklaces and other items. She’s expanding the inventory of items she makes and sells, with a full restocking due by April. Berelowitz said she also represents the work of 30 other artists, more than double the number she started out with when she opened a year ago. “Now I have a waiting list,” she said. “It’s amazing how much talent there is in the area.”

Berelowitz said she uses the back half of her storefront space as a studio and office, which helps justify the rent in the slow months. “Even when there’s not a lot of foot traffic, I still use the space.”

Valentine’s Day brings a small flurry of activity to the Rondout’s restaurants, as well as Flowers by Maria, the charming floral shop located in the historic 19th-century firehouse at 90 Abeel Street. While she’s off the main drag, owner Maria Dijk said her business is flourishing, thanks to her growing repeat business. She also does community outreach, giving away a bouquet each day on local radio station WKNY and donating flowers or a gift certificate when approached by churches and other nonprofit organizations.

Known for the quality and special beauty of her flowers, Dijk said she buys in small quantities to ensure freshness and pays special attention to the harmony of the design of her bouquets. For Valentine’s Day, she offers a dozen medium-size roses for $32 and larger, long-stemmed, longer lasting ones for $42.

Ship to Shore is about to close for a month for remodeling. While temporary closures are a part of the restaurant business, one excellent business has unfortunately closed for good. Don Vito’s pizzeria, located on lower Broadway, which sold delicious, authentic New York-style pizza, bit the dust in January, after opening a year and a half ago. Though the slices sold like hot cakes, sales weren’t enough to cover the increase in rent, which is reportedly the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Given the difficulties many small businesses suffer because of high rents — Rondout Music Lounge is planning to leave its lower Broadway digs for this reason, with plans to purchase and relocate to a building in Midtown — one wonders how Rosita’s, which according to a recent Kingston Times article is in serious debt and in the crosshairs to be closed down by the city because of alleged violations of its special use permit, manages to hang in there. As of early this week, it was still open.

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