Article originally posted Jun 30, 2017 by Bryant Jones
Brookline’s Neil Gordon voyages on the Tall Ship Clearwater to educate the next generation on how to keep a cleaner planet
As the day began, Neil Gordon was up at 7am swabbing the deck on the old-wooden hulled tall ship, the Clearwater. He felt a slight crick in his back from the intense labor and spartan sleeping quarters and his hands were sore from turning the nine foot tiller to steer this sloop. But this wasn’t a scene from 1717, but rather 2017. So what would make a successful and accomplished businessman forgo his comfortable life in Brookline to spend two weeks every year for the past six years in such rough living arrangements? Passion. Neil is passionate to pass knowledge on to the next generation of the importance of keeping our planet healthy and our rivers clean. (Neil is pictured above aboard the Clearwater teaching “water quality” to a group of young aspiring Environmental Scientists.)
Neil is well known in town as a member of the Brookline Advisory Committee as well as a Precinct One Town Meeting Member. He is also the President of Brookline based N.R. Gordon & Company which offers a broad range of value-added, peer-to-peer, financial advisory and strategy consulting services.
This June, Neil completed his eleventh volunteer week on board Clearwater. That’s over two and a half months of roughing it for a cause. Neil’s recent voyage covered about sixty miles of river, from 79th street in New York City to Cold Spring, just north of West Point. The following weekend was the Clearwater Festival, in Croton. The Sloop was there and open for deck tours and public sails. The plan after that was to carry clean water letters and petitions, the “cargo of concern,” to D.C., but weather caused the Captains to make the difficult decision to stay in the protected waters of the Hudson. (Programs scheduled in D.C. go on as scheduled, with or without the Sloop.) The Clearwater has been repeating these voyages since it was launched in 1969 and is a well-recognized icon of the environmental movement. The mission of educating the next generation of environmental leaders never ends.
Neil described what first got him involved with protecting our planet as a “passive activism” until he became actively involved with the Clearwater. It took a combination of factors, but most important was that he gained time and flexibility to take off and spend two weeks on board. Since he’s his own boss, he was able to sacrifice these seventy seven days for this cause. Neil’s most important daily activity on the Clearwater is teaching courses in Environmental Studies and Activism to the young students aboard. Every year the Clearwater take on 10,000 young students to hear its message of environmental justice, music and local history of the river. When asked what is the best part of his volunteer experience on the Clearwater, Neil replied, “The best part is the balance between being an environmental educator and crewing a tall ship, being on Clearwater’s board of directors on the one hand, and being a deck hand on the other.” Neil shared with me a special video that was taken aboard the Clearwater by drone during the transit from Verplank to Cold Spring (that’s Neil at the tiller steering): https://www.instagram.com/p/BVI5cB9lDRg/?taken-by=mrduran207
Directly from their websie, the mission of Clearwater is: “The centerpiece of Clearwater’s education program is the Sailing Classroom Program. The deck of a traditional sailing ship is a uniquely powerful platform for students to learn about the river’s natural wonders and cultural significance. For many, this is the introduction to the Hudson River and environmental education that can forge a connection with nature to last a lifetime.”
The Sloop Clearwater was inspired by Musician Pete Seeger’s vision and continues to strive to be guided by his principles. Peter was an American folk singer and social activist. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of the Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene”, which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950. As Pete famously said in 1966, “Build A Boat To Save The River.” Hear Pete’s “My Dirty Stream” (The Hudson River Song): https://youtu.be/FzyYCuY161E
I posed the question to Neil how others can get involved with Clearwater for a cleaner planet. He explained that their website, www.Clearwater.org, is a good place to start. It contains information about membership, donating, volunteer opportunities, and more. On YouTube you can watch a video about Clearwater: