Story of an Esopus Creek shipwreck

(Photo by David Gordon)

(Photo by David Gordon)

Saugertiesians of a certain age may recall a luxury barge that once floated in a slip on the Esopus off property at the end of Ann St. The 100-by-24-foot barge, first brought to Saugerties over 30 years ago by Ronalda Kleinsmith, boasted a fireplace and a hot tub with two levels of living space.

The property where it was docked is now part of the Cantine’s Island co-housing community, and the barge is slowly-sinking wreckage that no one seems to want to touch. Estimates for its removal have run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars at the high end.

Susan Murphy, who was an organizer of Cantine’s Island, never saw the barge above water but said she heard stories of wild parties.


Its owner said actually there weren’t many parties in Saugerties, though the barge played host to many famous musicians and entertainers when it was docked on Staten Island for about three years. “We lived a quieter life in Saugerties,” said Ronalda Kleinsmith, now Ronalda Whitman.

Her nickname was ‘The Barge Queen,’ recalled her niece, Ariel Dedolph. Though she was only 10 when her aunt sold the barge, she vividly remembered the huge main room on the main floor with its grand piano, with a kitchen in the former wheelhouse. When she visited, Dedolph slept in a bedroom on the lower level. Kleinsmith also had a lot of dogs; five or more, she said. They were mostly rescued animals. To reach the barge, visitors had to walk across a gangplank.

Kleinsmith left for Oregon in the mid ‘80s.

The last owners were Karuna Foudriat and her husband.

“It was wonderful living on the river,” Foudriat recalled. “The barge rose and fell with the tides, and when a large boat went by, you could feel the water moving.”

However, at that point, she said, it was becoming clear that the workmanship on the vessel was not first-rate. “Ronnie paid a lot for it, but it was not well-built.” She described the barge as “funky.”

The couple had originally intended to create an Aikido camp on the property, and a dojo still stands within the walls of the remains of one of the former ironworks buildings. The dojo is now leased by Arm-of-the-Sea Theater for storage of props and puppets.

One weekend, some years later, when Karuna and her husband were away, one of the bilge pumps that kept water from leaking into the boat stopped working. As the hull filled with water, the boat tilted to one side. “The Fire Department tried to pump it out. They had a huge line and the water was pumped over the trees. They had divers trying to fix the pump, but it was too late.”

The barge went down and stayed down. Over the years, it has deteriorated, and is now an eyesore and a potential hazard.

The co-housing community has, at various times, received offers to remove the barge for salvage, but none have succeeded. Legally, the barge is entirely in open water, and is not part of the Cantine’s Island property. Since removing it could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the community has no interest in claiming ownership of this once attractive houseboat. Several meetings with village officials and representatives of various agencies with responsibility for the river have resulted in several tentative plans, but no action to remove the eyesore.