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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | When Daniel Goldwyn, an information technology manager from Newark, boarded the South Street Seaport Museum’s schooner Pioneer on Saturday, May 4, the crew applauded. That was probably not the reception that Goldwyn expected when he decided to take a two-hour sail around New York harbor aboard the “nice, antique boat,” as he described it, but the crew, composed of three paid staff and several volunteers, could not contain its joy.
Goldwyn was the first passenger of the Pioneer’s 2013 public sailing season.
Pioneer, built in 1885 to transport sand mined near the mouth of Delaware Bay, is one of the Seaport Museum’s historic vessels. When the museum was forced to close because of financial difficulties in the winter of 2011, Pioneer missed a season. Other than that, she has been a summer fixture in the harbor for years, transporting adults and kids on public sails and groups of school children.
This year, with the museum again facing severe financial difficulties because of damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, the Pioneer’s stalwart presence seemed an omen that the beleaguered museum might yet survive.
Pioneer was built as a one-masted sloop, but 10 years later, acquired a second mast and was re-rigged as a schooner. Most coastal schooners were made of wood. Pioneer has a wrought-iron hull.
“She was the first of only two cargo sloops built of iron in this country, and is the only iron-hulled American merchant sailing vessel still in existence,” according to the museum. “By 1930, when new owners moved her from the Delaware River to Massachusetts, she had been fitted with an engine, and was no longer using sails. In 1966, she was substantially rebuilt and turned into a sailing vessel once again.”
“She’s a very heavy boat,” said Richard Dorfman, captain of the Pioneer since 2006, who was at the helm on opening day. He said the boat was in great shape and “handles like a dream.”
Museum volunteers have helped to maintain Pioneer. Some of them were present on opening day to help passengers board and disembark and to wrestle with the boat’s heavy sails. The passengers are also asked to help to hoist the sails, giving them a taste of what life was like for the mariners who once worked on the Pioneer.
It was a beautiful, sunny day with good winds. “I loved the boat ride,” said Emma Thesiger, a tourist from England. It was her second day in New York City, which she had never visited before. “It gives a different perspective to the city.”
Her friend, Tara Owen-Smith, from England but now living in New York, said the boat ride was “great” and that she would definitely recommend it. “It was fun to pull up the sails,” she said. Goldwyn said he would like to come back for more.
The boat sails two or three times a day through the end of May and then four or five times a day from Tuesdays to Sundays thereafter. Tickets for a two-hour ride are $45 for adults, and $35 for seniors and for children 3 to 12 years old. For a complete schedule and to buy tickets, visit www.nywatertaxi.com/tours/pioneer-tour.