Three Half Moons

Originally published in the Newsletter of the Rhinebeck Historical Society

By David Miller, Rhinebeck Historical Society

If you look at the magnificent replica of the Half Moon ship when it sails by on the Hudson, it looks quite large compared to the modern-day sail and power boats accompanying it. But if you try to imagine Henry Hudson and 20 brave Dutch and English sailors venturing out on the Arctic and then Atlantic Ocean in such a small ship 400 years ago, it was an amazing feat.

The First Half Moon
The first Half Moon (Halve Maen) was commissioned by the Dutch East India Company on March 25, 1609, to find a route to the Spice Islands in Asia. It was a small ship measuring just 85 feet long and 78 feet high at the top of the main mast, but it was state of the art for the time.

The crew departed Amsterdam during the first week of April in 1609, sailing north past Norway towards the islands of Novaya Zemlyn and Spitsbergen. Blizzards and ice storms hampered their progress. After several futile attempts to sail east, Hudson and his crew made a u-turn in June and sailed west to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and finally the East Coast. The tiny ship sailed up and down both the Chesapeake and the Delaware Bays at the end of August before figuring out that they weren’t on the correct path to the Spice Islands.

A turn north and a few more weeks of sailing, and Hudson arrived in New York harbor on Sept. 12, 1609. He spent the rest of that month sailing up to Albany and back down to the harbor– on the river that would one day bear his name. The ship’s log details encounters with the natives that were both hostile and friendly, and the trade between them and the crew would foretell the development of Dutch trade in the new world in the years that followed.

When the river started to get shallow north of Albany, small boats were sent out to take soundings of the depth of the river. After several days, the captain determined that, once again, he had failed to find the way to the East Indies. The ship’s log indicates that they were somewhere off what is now the town of Catskill on Sept. 18 on the way up, and near Peekskill on Sept. 30 on the way back down.

Even though he did not find the Spice Islands, Hudson’s voyage was a success for the Dutch. In the succeeding years, Dutch ships followed Hudson’s route and began setting up colonies along the river and trading with the natives.

The Second Half Moon
Three hundred years later, residents along the Hudson decided to celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of the river. The keel was laid for the second Half Moon in Amsterdam on Dec. 29, 1908. It was commissioned by the Hudson Ter-Centenary Commission in New York, to be built for $40,000. It was constructed out of 100-year-old oak that had been submerged in the water of the harbor, was slightly smaller than the original, only 63 feet in length, and was completed on April 15, 1809.

Because of the small size of the ship and the time it would take to sail to New York, the second Half Moon was loaded onto a steamship and transported to New York Harbor, arriving on July 23, 1909, just in time for the celebration. It was lifted by crane and placed back into the water.

A fleet of two dozen ships was assembled, including a full-scale replica of Robert Fulton’s 150-foot-long steamboat, the Clermont, which was built in New York to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its invention.

The State of New York decided to merge the two celebrations and changed the name to the Hudson Fulton celebration. Important landmarks in all five city boroughs were lit up by electric lights; there were fireworks and parades with elaborate floats. The fleet spent the next month sailing up the river to Albany following Henry Hudson’s route. They stopped in Newburgh and Kingston, but they did not stop in Rhinecliff. The committee decided that all of upper Dutchess County would be represented at a celebration in Poughkeepsie Oct. 2-4. The fleet arrived, they brought up the floats by barge from the city for use in the parade and they too had fireworks and many celebrations.

The second Half Moon spent many years docked on the west side of the Hudson in Palisades Interstate Park. It was eventually given to the town of Cohoes because it was in this area of the river that Henry Hudson abandoned his search for the Spice Islands and sailed south. The ship was placed in a park but, due to the Great Depression, was never renovated. On Dec. 30, 1932, vandals set a fire that burned it to the ground.

The Third Half Moon
In 1987, construction began on the current Half Moon, this time a full-scale replica, at Snow Dock in Albany at the site of the New Netherland Museum. The cost was considerably more than its 1909 cousin, over $1 million.

Although there were no plans from the original 1609 ship, the new one was built using plans and techniques from that era. A team of 15 Boatwright’s and carpenters, including some volunteers from the Netherlands, built the ship out of modern materials, including laminated beams, epoxy and synthetic material used for the sails.

The Half Moon replica has six sails on three masts, sporting 2,757 square feet of canvas. It’s equipped with six cannon and four anchors. Its captain is William (Chip) Reynolds and it has a volunteer crew of 15.

It also has something the original Half Moon did not have — and Henry Hudson surely could have used — an engine! The ship has been sailing around the area for over 15 years and underwent a major renovation in the winter of 2008 in preparation for the 2009 celebration that marked 400 years of remarkable exploration.


About today’s Half Moon (from the staff of the New Netherland Museum)

The Half Moon currently runs interdisciplinary educational programs for students and the public. Run by a largely volunteer crew, the Half Moon sails in what was the colony of New Netherland, along the Hudson, Connecticut and Delaware Rivers. In the cornerstone Voyage of Discovery program, middle school students live aboard the ship for a week at a time and complete a rigorous academic program, in addition to operating the ship as Hudson’s crew did in 1609. This hands-on program addresses history, science, math and leadership skills and many students leave with an increased sense of self and community awareness.

Volunteers of all ages, backgrounds, abilities and interest levels work together aboard the Half Moon to create a rich environment that mirrors the culture and community of the colony of New Netherland. Those interested in more information about volunteering with the Half Moon can contact the ship’s office by email at: or by phone at: (518) 443-1609

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