If a look at the 2017 election results didn’t persuade you that Andreassen occupies a very special place in the Saugerties political world, it should have. Four candidates contested two seats: Andreassen got 4302 votes. John Schoonmaker 2302, Don Tucker 2260, and Vince Altieri 2102.
Running as a Democrat with Conservative support, Andreassen would have been expected to do well. Coming close to securing double the votes of each of the other candidates was impressive indeed. He was the leading vote-getter in eleven of the town’s 16 electoral districts, coming in second to Republican Altieri in four districts and tied with Schoonmaker for the lead in one.
You might imagine such a well-known Saugerties personality attending every civic event and shaking every hand. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but you’d be missing a lot if you thought of Andreassen only in that perspective. To balance that vision, you might ask him to put you on his email list (if you aren’t on it already). The photographs he takes from the bow of his kayak of local waterways feature placid creekways and choppy rivers. What you see suggests experiences as solitary as the rest of his life seems social. Kayaking may be the least obtrusive way to traverse the water.
Members of the Malden Yacht Club, a kayaking group to which Andreassen has belonged for 18 years, meet early each Sunday to paddle on the Esopus and the Hudson. They paddle together, quietly, down the river. They call themselves The Greatest Club that Never Existed. Their coat of arms, honoring their meeting spot near the Malden water treatment plant, displays an outhouse backed by crossed paddles.
“It’s very spiritual, [but there’s also] the camaraderie,” explained Pat Wood, a longstanding member of the group over a traditional breakfast at the Andreassens’ rambling 4300-square-foot home in Malden. “Most people go out there and everyone is relaxed, There’s no anger or politics. You might get mad at the wind if it turns your boat around, but for the most part it’s all stress-free. The great equalizer is the Hudson River, especially in the winds. You need each other. We’ve all been blown out of the boats — we’ve all had funny experiences of getting back in or not or whatever.”
The vignettes the group has amassed described seem ordinary: sprigs of vegetation reminiscent of masts, a perfect black devil’s head on an ice floe the size of a table. going down like the captain of a sinking ship. And yet, despite the whimsy of the stories accrued over two decades of kayaking, the group exudes a sense of fierce dedication.
The damaging winds and thick fog one Sunday morning warranted a weather advisory. The group convened at Malden Mini Park per usual to don drysuits and push off into the chilly Esopus. Though I’d had to correct my steering wheel to account for the high-speed winds on the way to the Andreassen house, the kayakers described the day’s paddle nonchalantly. These are not fair-weather kayakers.
“The river was very calm,” said Ken Kleinberg, who was married outside the Saugerties Lighthouse in 2014, as kayakers from the group paddled to the venue by water while officiant Claudia Andreassen walked there in pink polka-dotted rain boots. “It was a little foggy, there were eagles out, a little bit of ice floating in the water, the tide was really moving out.”
At Halloween, the paddlers load small gourds in their boats for their annual Pumpkin Paddle. On Cinco de Mayo they hold a barbecue, and many of their paddles end with craft beers and mimosas. Although they have banded together on Sundays in the past four years, the core group used to meet three times per week.
Each time, an email list of about fifty people get a cache of photos from Andreassen: groups of kayakers bandied together, mountain landscapes, water dappled in various stages of light. At one point, longstanding member Ed Strohshal documented the group misadventures on their since-neglected website. These include a rescue of a sailor whose boat had gone aground in the Hudson, a trip a Lake Champlain, the adventures of members with bestowed nicknames like Bullwinkle, Bonehead and The Bad Idea Guy.
“We solve some problems out there,” said Andreassen, who comes back to shore a father, a husband, a professional musician, a certified building inspector, a town councilman, a county Industrial Development Agency member, and a dedicated advocate for the town where he was born. “By the time we’re back, the problems or the world are all gone.”