Visitors to the South Street Seaport Museum have the opportunity to sail in the waterways of New York Harbor aboard the 19th-century schooner Pioneer from late May through the summer months. Public sails aboard this floating museum go out several times a day, plus sunset and late night, for a view of New York that can only be seen from the water. Members of the crew provide information about New York history during the sail.
History of Schooner Pioneer
Schooner Pioneer was built in 1885 in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, as a cargo sloop. She was different from most sailing ships of the 19th century in that she had an iron hull instead of the usual wooden one. She is the only iron-hulled American-made merchant sailing ship still in existence.
Pioneer started out hauling sand from the mouth of the Delaware Bay to a factory that produced cast iron in Chester, PA. After performing that duty for ten years, she was re-rigged as a schooner and delivered a variety of cargo up and down the eastern seaboard. Her most frequent cargo was lumber, stone, oyster shell, or brick from the Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson River, and Maine.
An engine replaced her sails by 1930 and she was relocated to Massachusetts until she was eventually abandoned. In 1966, Russell Grinnell, Jr., from Gloucester, purchased her to use in his dock building business. He restored her to her former glory as a schooner and rebuilt her hull.
The Role of Pioneer at the South Street Seaport Museum
The schooner was donated to the museum in 1970 following Grinnell’s death that same year. Since that time, she has remained a vital part of the seaport and of New York’s waterfront. Besides giving the public a feel for the ships that were an integral part of New York Harbor in the 19th century, she also serves as a floating classroom in several ways ranging from sail training to history.
Sail training is provided for museum volunteers and covers everything from swabbing the deck to winter maintenance. Safety standards are strictly enforced and volunteers working towards certification as a licensed captain may use their work aboard Pioneer to fulfill their sea-time requirement.
Sail training programs are also for youth at risk and help students develop self-esteem plus providing an environment where they can see results of working together and looking out for each other. They also learn about 19th-century navigation, knot tying, chart reading, and New York’s port and commercial center history.
Educational sails are adapted accordingly for elementary through high school classes and are used to supplement history, science and math. Some of the courses involve teaching children about marine life by using trawl nets.
For more information about the public sails, education programs, or to charter the ship for a private event, the Pioneer link is provided here.
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