Adirondack Journal — Rocking the Boat


Recently an innovative Bronx youth program made a lasting impression on the campus of the Adirondack Museum. Sixteen teenagers participating in the non-profit program Rocking the Boat constructed a logging bateau that is a scaled down replica of a 23-foot bateau located in the Adirondack Museum's collection. After building the boat for six weeks this summer, half of the group visited the Adirondacks for the September 16th launch of the "Naomi."

Rocking the Boat is a program based in the southwest Bronx, New York City, that works with disadvantaged youth with the goal of teaching boat building and on-water education through a hands-on alternative approach. This program educates students not only on how to build a traditional wooden boat, but also about environmental issues pertaining to the Bronx River and habitat monitoring and restoration.

Rocking the Boat has partnered with Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. for the past three years. At this site youth are provided the opportunity to spend their summers building traditional wooden boats, work with mid-eighteenth century period hand tools, and act as interpreters, wearing clothing common to the era. All students are also paid a stipend for their work.

The students from Rocking the Boat have constructed two boats that are on display at Philipsburg Manor. A third is moored at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., another historic site. The latest project for the Adirondack Museum was exciting for all involved, especially as there is no more space to display boats at Philipsburg Manor.

The bateau is a flat-bottomed boat commonly used in the northern colonies as early as the 17th century for a number of purposes including transporting goods and people. The logging bateau built by the students of Rocking the Boat is similar to jam boats used by the J&J Rogers Company during log drives down the Ausable River in the Adirondacks.

Logging is an important feature of Adirondack history and the logging bateau played a fundamental role during a log jam. Before trucking became the common method for transporting felled logs to the sawmill, trees would be cut in the fall, and moved to rivers during the winter months. Then in the spring when rivers were running at their highest, logs would be floated to the mill.

Log jams were common and occurred when a log would lodge on a rock. Other logs would catch, quickly forming a jam that could extend itself upstream or from bank to bank. Sometimes dynamite was used to split up the jam, but more commonly the jam would be broken up by men with peavys and pike poles working from the shore or from a logging bateau also known as a jam boat.

Jam boat crews consisted of three men - the bowsman, the oarsman and the sternsman. The oarsman would row to the jam, the bowsman hooked his pike pole into the nearest log and pulled the boat alongside. The oarsman would then jump out and hold the boat as the bowsman and the sternsman exited to attack the pile of logs with their peavys. The jam often broke suddenly, so at the first sign of loosening, the men would run for the boat, jump in, and try to quickly row away from danger.

Now thanks to the hard work of the students from Rocking the Boat, visitors to the Adirondack Museum will also be able to experience a ride in a replica of a jam boat. "Naomi" will be a regular feature of the boat pond at Marion River Carry.