A former captain of "America's Environmental Flagship," Clearwater, and a friend of atheists and others passed away this week

Teresa Nichols
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A former captain of "America's Environmental Flagship," Clearwater, and a friend of atheists and others passed away this week

His name was Donald Taube and he will always be regarded as my surrogate father. A graduate of St. John's College, he went to work for IBM and left the corporate world when he fell in love with boating, joined the Clearwater (http://www.clearwater.org/) crew and eventually became its captain and was befriended by Pete Seeger, whose kind words written and read at the service Thursday night were deeply comforting.

At the time of his death Don Taube was employed as captain of The Pioneer by the South Street Sea Port Museum of New York http://www.southstseaport.org/street/pioneer.shtm

He was a kind, loving and brilliant person who deeply cared about the environment and the creatures with whom he shared it. He was one of the most respectable and decent human beings I have ever known, and at the time of his death, was a devout atheist. His obit: Mr. Donald Taube, age 64, of Wilmington, died July 9, 2007, at his residence. Born in Durham, NC, and raised in Chevy Chase, MD. He graduated from St. John's college in Annapolis where he studied philosophy, attended Columbia Library School, then worked for IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY, where he signed on as a one week volunteer for the Sloop Clearwater owned by folksinger Pete Seeger, to crusade for a non polluted Hudson River. Soon after, at age 28 he left his position at IBM and signed on as a full time Clearwater crew member serving as cook and eventually captain. He married Ola June Clifton (deceased) in 1976. His long career as a sailor, shipwright, carpenter and master blacksmith saw him working with boats up and down the east coast. He was a captain on the Rachel & Ebenezer, sailing between Orient Point, Long Island and Connecticut and at the time of his death , working at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City, where he was a captain of the Pioneer. While living in Wilmington, he supervised the restoration of the teak deck on the Battleship North Carolina. He leaves a daughter, Jessica Taube; sisters, Susan Schwelling (George) and Deborah Hutton (Bruce); and many nieces and nephews; and a large cache of friends and associates from all over the world. A memorial service will be held tonight, Thursday, July 12, 2007, at 6:30 p.m. at the B'Nai Israel Synagogue at 25th and Chestnut Streets by Rabbi Robert Waxman. Friends may call at the family home Wilmington through Saturday evening.

A service of Coble Ward-Smith Funeral and Cremation Service, Oleander Chapel. 910-791-4444.
Published in the Star-News on 7/12/2007.

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Teresa Nichols
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Protecting America’s

Our Hudson River Sloop

Protecting America’s Environmental Flagship:
Clearwater Restoration 2001 to 2008
Hull InspectionThe Clearwater in the middle of being hauled out at Scarano’s Marina in Albany NY. The sloop is regularly taken out of the water for hull inspections and repairs.

New Planking
The Clearwater’s quarterdeck in the midst of being replaced with new planking.

Deck Seams
Clearwater Relief Captain Donald Taube uses a mallet and caulking iron to pound cotton and oakum into new deck seams.

Six years ago, Clearwater embarked on a series of major restoration projects with replacement of the aft deck (2000-2001) and the cabin top (2002-2003) to begin to secure the top of the ship’s “girder”. The mainsail, jib and fittings, as well as the steamed oak mast hoops that attach the mainsail to the mast were replaced (2003-2004), as was the quarterdeck (2004-2005). Last winter, the sloop got a new foredeck, new standing rigging, additional hull planking and upgraded electrical and plumbing systems.
Work on the sloop will continue this winter with replacement of the rub rails on the sides of the sloop, completion of wiring upgrades started last winter, rebuilding of the deteriorated lower edges of the watertight bulkheads, and recaulking the cabin top.
During the maintenance season (from late October to mid-April) we invite you to stop by to see the exciting activity—or to volunteer. Please contact the Clearwater office at 845-454-7673 for schedule details and to learn how you might be able to be a hands-on participant in the restoration of the sloop.

Click here for a good article on the Clearwater Restoration project in The Journal News.
Click here information about our Foredeck restoration in 2005 and 2006.
Click here for pictures and a description of our Mainsail restoration in 2003 and 2004.
Click here for pictures and a description of our Deck restoration in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
Click here for news about a major grant from the Dyson Foundation for Clearwater restoration.

Full Restoration Sequence
Decks, Hull Planking, Frames and Ceiling
Clearwater has about 4,000 linear feet of hull planking. Each row of planking, or strake, extends from the bow to the stern, and there are approximately 30 such strakes on each side. Each strake is not one single full-length piece, but is comprised of 3-6 actual planks. We estimate that over 1,200 linear feet of planking will be replaced, a third of Clearwater’s planking.
Hull planking is fastened upon the outer face of a system of heavy sawn frames, not unlike the ribs of an animal extending from its backbone. Gaining access to frames can be frustrating because they are sandwiched between runs of long, expensive planks and long, expensive ceiling. Therefore, when a frame is replaced we usually replace many others only marginally suspect, in order to make the structural incursion a cost-effective long-term fix.
The inner face of the frames is covered by a second skin of inner planks called ceiling and while there is generally little deterioration found in ceiling planks, they must sometimes be removed to allow the shipwrights to clamp certain very difficult planks to the frames as they are being fitted, steamed, twisted or otherwise persuaded into position. The ceiling provides an essential structural component that greatly augments the stiffness and strength of the vessel and promotes both passenger safety and protection of the historic resource.

Mast and Rigging
Completely exposed to wind and weather, the mast is one of a boat’s most vulnerable components. It is an enormous lever capable of exerting hundreds of thousands of pounds of heeling force when pushed by the wind in the sails—more than the weight of the boat itself. Clearwater’s mast is just under two feet in diameter at the deck, tapering to 18" at the crosstrees, perfectly straight, and almost 90 feet long. Once cut the mast is turned and tapered on a massive spar lathe and trucked east.
Clearwater’s standing rigging is composed of shrouds and stays that hold up the mast and support other spars, such as the bowsprit and topmast, which despite their size would easily fracture without support. A technique called serving protects the wire rope, but also renders it invisible to inspection. The serving may conceal impending failure that would otherwise be detected by raised broken strands of wire or obvious wear at the ends where shackles and eyes are attached.
The shrouds and stays are made of 19 strands of wire, either galvanized steel or stainless steel. Each material has its strengths and weaknesses, and Clearwater has traditionally used galvanized. Riggers measure, cut and splice the wire, and then worm, parcel and serve it with, respectively, marline, friction tape, and more marline soaked in pine tar and wrapped around the entire shroud with special tools such as the serving mallet. These tools have remained unchanged for two hundred years.

Horn Timber, Parts of Transom & Rudder Trunk
The horn timber is a massive timber that extends the backbone out to the transom, over the propeller aperture and rudder. It was seen to be rot-damaged in 1975, but was not replaced because the rot was limited, as were the funds, and instead a program of rot prevention treatments was instituted. The treatments preserved the timber, and extended the working life of the vessel, but in the context of a restoration it is not good practice to encase old, damaged wood within a matrix of new, sound work.
Most of the transom is believed to be sound, but we are concerned about the lower 12" or so, which is showing signs of decay. It is rarely possible to replace just a foot or two of a much more extensive timber or system, however, and we must anticipate rebuilding up to half of the transom to maintain structural integrity.
The rudder trunk similarly is showing early signs of decay. It has been the site of a persistent leak, which may not imminently threaten the vessel but does cause anxiety and increased vigilance. We would be negligent to leave it unrestored amid all the new work being done.

Keel, Stem, Centerboard Trunk, Other Heavy Timbers
Even if the keel is deemed fit for another twenty years, it would be structurally advantageous to replace the entire outer keel, the section of timbers that extends below the hull of the boat running full-length fore and aft, to regain lost strength and stiffness.
Because the sloop’s backbone is built up of numerous smaller, more manageable timbers, a pocket of rot in the keel will not necessarily require replacement of the entire keel or stem (where the keel curves upward to form the bow). We expect that removal of the garboards and other planks will force replacement of at least some backbone components.
Clearwater, owing to its ancestry, is a shallow-draft centerboard vessel. The original sloops arrived in the 1600s on the decks of oceangoing Dutch ships, and were soon being built on these shores to the lines of the sloops used to navigate the shoal waters of the Dutch coast. Wide beam and a shallow draft made for a stable boat that could skim over the many shoals of the upper Hudson in search of furs, timber, and other trade commodities. A movable centerboard was mounted on a pivot inside a watertight trunk either on top of or alongside the keel. When sailing into the wind the centerboard was lowered and prevented the vessel from drifting sideways and losing ground.
The centerboard trunk is a difficult area to maintain and prevent leakage. Even on a vessel the size of Clearwater, the trunk is too narrow for a caulker to reach up inside. We have been experiencing increasing leakage around the centerboard trunk, and anticipate the need to replace a number of timbers and planks in that area.

Propeller, Shaft
The ship’s propeller is a vulnerable component because it is sensitive to balance but is exposed to wrenching impact damage from floating trees, buoys, rocks, and other hazards. If the propeller is damaged or lost, the vessel’s safety is severely compromised. Clearwater can be sailed, of course, but during much of the summer winds are light and fluky on the river and cannot be depended on for evading commercial traffic, docking safely in Hudson currents, or riding out a violent thunderstorm.
Experience has shown us that we need to replace the propeller shaft after eight years of service, because both shafts that have broken in the past did so in their ninth years of service. A broken propeller shaft constitutes a significant risk to safe operations, as described above, and must be avoided.

Systems Upgrade, Ballast
Over the years, Clearwater has become a patchwork of improvised systems. An obsolete 24-volt house system and inadequate house battery reserve supplies power for lights and refrigeration, and an ancient generator creates a noble racket and clouds of acrid smoke, while discharging only a feeble trickle of electricity into the system. The principal risk from this system is fire, and although Clearwater passes Coast Guard wiring inspections annually, the age, character and provenance of the systems prompt a lingering sense of unease. To mitigate the threat of fire, we plan to re-wire the vessel from stem to stern with new wire, new fittings, and new system appliances, with the help of a professional marine electrical contractor.
Click here for a good article on the Clearwater Restoration project in The Journal News.
Click here for information about our Foredeck restoration in 2005 and 2006.
Click here for pictures and a description of our Mainsail restoration in 2003 and 2004.
Click here for pictures and a description of our Deck restoration in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
Click here for news about a major grant from the Dyson Foundation for Clearwater restoration.
Clearwater’s plumbing, principally dedicated to pumping water from the bilges and fighting fires, is for the most part intact and sound, but the firefighting pump on deck is ancient, anemic and barely passes annual inspection. More reliable and stronger firefighting capacity both on deck and on the main engine would be of clear benefit and will be furnished both on deck and on the main engine through installation of a new pump and upgraded pipes.
 To save money during original construction, the builders installed thousands of old scrap cast-iron window sash weights as internal ballast. These sash weights could shift in a severe wind event, such as the one that caused the loss of the first Pride of Baltimore. The Pride had been built to rigorous historical specifications, including traditional bluestone ballast, which shifted in a microburst and contributed directly to the rapid sinking and loss of life that ensued. Ballast instability will be addressed through installation of coated lead ingots as internal ballast. Lead is denser than iron, and therefore requires less space pound for pound—allowing us to install a holding tank in the bilges and creating more normal sanitary facilities. We will construct bracing to hold the lead ingots in place in the event of a knockdown.

Thank you for supporting America’s Environmental Flagship!


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Hambydammit's picture
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Thank you for posting

Thank you for posting this.  I'm sure I speak for many in the community when I say our condolences, and best wishes go to the many family and friends.


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Teresa Nichols
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Thank you, Hamby. We have lost a true gem of a human being in Don Taube.

He made a difference in many lives and touched many people with his intelligent understanding of all things scientific and mechanical, and all things human.

He will be deeply missed. I wish that everyone here could have gotten to know him.

If anyone wants to know more about what he did, just google up Donald Taube or Clearwater or South Street Sea Port Museum or the South Carolina Maritime Museum.

He was not only an accomplished boatwright, specializing in antique boats, he also was an educator, both casually and professionally because of his association with the Clearwater and other boat tours, which have helped educate at least a million kids over the years.

Here in Wilmington, when he had time, he participated in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship's many programs, and was especially involved in the skeptics group (the name of which I can't recall).

He and his deceased and beloved wife, June, were very active in many political, social and do-gooder causes over the years, and Don was the elite among the elite of intellectuals in this community. I met them at the UUFW while wrapping Christmas gifts with the Quakers for the local prisoners.

At times Don did not fit in because so many judge by apperance; and Don was usually not concerned with the cosmetic aspects of things and usually did not dress like a Mormon.

There was not a narcissistic or pretentious bone in his body.

He was a deep thinker who could seriously piss off stupid, bigoted people, especially regarding issues of peace, war and patriotism.

His strength and dignity in the face of bigotry and in the face of enormous challenges during the past several years is something all human beings should emulate.

What a gift he and his family have been in our lives.

Thanks again, Hamby!