Schooner Pioneer, the 19th-century sailing ship that is part of New York’s South Street Seaport Museum, is offering public sails on Saturday, June 22nd, during the North River Historic Ship Festival. Reserved tickets for this vessel are sold out but a limited number have been set aside for walk-up visitors. Viewing and boarding are at Pier 25 at Hudson River Park in Lower Manhattan.
She was originally built as a cargo sloop in 1885, in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. Even though most sloops and schooners were made of wood, Pioneer had an iron hull. She was used to haul sand from the mouth of the Delaware Bay to a factory in Chester, Pennsylvania where cast iron was produced. Ten years later, she was re-rigged as a two-masted schooner and joined many other schooners in delivering goods along the eastern seaboard. Her cargo varied but was often lumber, stone, brick, or oyster shell from Maine, the Hudson River, and the Chesapeake Bay. She is the only American merchant sailing ship still in existence with an iron hull.
By 1930, she had an engine instead of sails, and was relocated from the Delaware River to Massachusetts before eventually being abandoned. Russell Grinnell, Jr., of Gloucester, rescued her in 1966 by purchasing her for use in his dock building business. He restored her as a schooner and rebuilt her hull. Pioneer was donated to South Street Seaport Museum in 1970, following Grinnell’s death that same year, and has been a part of the museum and the New York waterfront since that time.
This ship is not only a floating museum, but a floating classroom. Educational tours for area school students are approved by the New York State Department of Education. Some of those courses are using trawl nets to teach children about marine life in New York Harbor, introducing students to life at sea during the 19th century, knot tying, chart reading, the history of New York as a port and commercial center, and adapting these courses for visually and physically impaired students. Sail training for museum volunteers provides instruction on all aspects of the ship ranging from standing watch to winter maintenance. Those who wish to pursue certification as a licensed captain may fulfill their sea-time requirement aboard Pioneer.
For visitors, the two-hour public sails offer a unique experience, showing a side of New York far removed from the taxis and crowded streets. Tours during the twilight hours provide an unblocked view of the setting sun. From the crisp, early morning to the stillness of late night, there is an unrehearsed silence that comes over her passengers as she nears the dock at the end of the sail.
Written by: Cynthia Collins, Museum Correspondent