On September 3, 1609, English explorer Henry Hudson and his crew of Dutch and British sailors turned their 85-foot sailboat, the Half Moon, up a great waterway. They thought it might be a new route to the Far East.

The Half Moon had been searching for that route, the Northwest Passage, from Scandinavia to present-day Maine and South Carolina.

They never located a passage slicing across the North American continent to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition did discover a river, rippling with fish, that cut through a wooded land bursting with natural resources. The river would later be named the Hudson River in the explorer’s honor.

William T. “Chip” Reynolds is director of the New Netherland Museum and captain of a replica of the Half Moon. This replica has recreated Hudson’s voyage up the river to Albany, N.Y., every year since 1999. Reynolds says that Hudson must have immediately known the importance of his discovery.

“Here Hudson comes over, and seeing this North America continent through the eyes of a European has to be stunning,” Reynolds says. “You have these expansive natural harbors. You have these shipbuilding timbers that are available right at the river’s edge. You have plentiful fish. You have fur-bearing mammals. This is a veritable Garden of Eden to them.”

Every fall, Reynolds sets sail up the Hudson River with a crew of a dozen 12-year-old students in a replica of the Half Moon and traces Hudson’s journey up the waterway. Though the Half Moon replica is outfitted with modern technology, including a global positioning system (GPS), Reynolds says the students handle the sails like Hudson’s crew and employ the same navigation tools, including a compass to find their way upriver.

In 2009, New York celebrated the 400th anniversary of Hudson’s discovery, which showered more attention on Reynolds and the Half Moon’s annual voyage upriver. The sailboat was accompanied by a handful of Dutch frigates and NATO naval vessels as it left New York Harbor on its way up the Hudson.

 

Changes to the Waterway

Having followed Hudson’s route up the river every fall for the last decade, Reynolds is able to easily reel off a handful of ways the waterway has changed, and stayed the same, since the explorer’s initial explorations of the region.

Reynolds says that even within sight of New York City’s skyline, where skyscrapers rise like jagged crystals, one can take in the magnificent natural scenery that the explorer encountered.

“In virtually an entire section of the Hudson River, we are able to sail and see exactly the same circumstances that Hudson saw, even when we are right in the vicinity of New York City,” he says. “As you are sailing along the Palisades (cliffs along the lower river in New York and New Jersey), you can look to one side and see one of the densest urban areas in the world and look in the other direction and you’ll see a view that is exactly the view that Henry Hudson saw 400 years ago.”

Reynolds also notes that the river is essentially unchanged in the Hudson Highlands, a mountainous region between Newburgh Bay and Haverstraw Bay. Only a few buildings and the Bear Mountain Bridge, which spans the Hudson near Peekskill, N.Y., dot the shore.

“We have charts from the 1630s that provide depths and sailing directions that we can follow to this day,” Reynolds says. “We can take the soundings and the reaches that are described in the log from 1609, as reported and recorded by Robert Juet (one of Hudson’s officers), and sail exactly as he described and precede from Upper Haverstraw Bay right through the Highlands and up into Newburgh Bay with no change.”

Of course, there’s a large section of the Lower Hudson River Valley that has been significantly altered due to its proximity to New York City, the most densely populated city in the United States. Reynolds admits that the Upper Hudson River Valley, a portion of the waterway north of the town of Catskill, N.Y., is also not the same as Hudson initially saw it.

“From the late 19th century to now, that run of shoreline has been heavily stabilized with the dredging of a navigational channel, with stabilization of the shoreline, with the damming of the Upper Hudson River that controls seasonal flooding to reduce it,” he says.

One dramatic alteration of the Hudson River has been caused by the dumping of pollutants in the water since the arrival of the Europeans in the area. The polluting of the Hudson River has contributed to the declining fish population there. From reading Juet’s log from Hudson’s journey, one can observe changes in the local fish and animal populations since the river was first explored. There are many entries that describe the river’s vast reserves of fish and oysters, which have diminished since the area was settled by Europeans and eventually became a part of the United States.

As the Half Moon inched into the mouth of the river 400 years ago, Juet remarked of seeing many salmon, mullets and rays. The next day, Juet wrote: “our boat went on land with our net to fish, and caught 10 great mullets, of a foot and a half long a piece and a ray as great as four men could haul into the ship.”

Recovering Environment

Unfortunately, on his annual trips up the Hudson River, Reynolds has been unable to encounter the natural bounty that Hudson witnessed, even though he says the river has been rebounding since the passage of 1972’s Clean Water Act, which sought to reduce the direct discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waterways.

“Fish populations have dramatically declined from Hudson’s time, but they are resurging,” Reynolds says. “We’ve lost several species that have been really hard hit: sturgeon, shad, stripers, herring.”

Meanwhile, another entry in Juet’s journal describes Hudson’s crew trading beads, knives and hatchets for the native inhabitants’ supplies of beaver and otter skins. Though one species is not as prevalent in the Hudson River Valley as it was in Hudson’s day, Reynolds notes that certain animals have returned to the area in impressive numbers over the last decade and a half.

“We have not observed any otter in the navigable portion of the Hudson River, but we’ve observed beaver,” he says. “We’ve observed muskrat. We’ve seen deer. We’ve seen fox. We’ve seen eagles. We’ve seen ospreys. Fifteen years ago, it was quite a special thing to see an eagle in the Hudson River Valley. Now, it’s unusual if we don’t see an eagle when we are traveling anywhere in the Hudson Valley even for a day.”

New World
The Half Moon was commissioned, or built for, the Dutch East India Company.

Hudson Bay
Henry Hudson continued to explore waterways in the New World after exploring the river that bears his name. The largest bay in the world, Hudson Bay, is named for him. It is also where he died. In 1611, after a brutal winter in the ice of the bay, Hudson's crew, including Robert Juet, set him adrift in a small boat with his teenage son and eight other men, most of whom were sick. He was never heard from again.

annual
Adjective

yearly.

beaver
Noun

large, semiaquatic rodent with sharp teeth, a flat tail, and the ability to build dams.

channel
Noun

deepest part of a shallow body of water, often a passageway for ships.

Noun

type of map with information useful to ocean or air navigators.

circumstance
Noun

condition or situation.

Clean Water Act
Noun

(1972) federal law protecting water from pollution.

Noun

instrument used to tell direction.

Noun

one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

crystal
Noun

type of mineral that is clear and, when viewed under a microscope, has a repeating pattern of atoms and molecules.

dam
Verb

to block a flow of water.

deer
Noun

mammal whose male members have antlers.

dense
Adjective

having parts or molecules that are packed closely together.

diminish
Verb

to become smaller or less important.

discharge
Verb

to eject or get rid of.

dozen
Noun

a group of 12.

dramatic
Adjective

very expressive or emotional.

dredge
Verb

to remove sand, silt, or other material from the bottom of a body of water.

Dutch
Adjective

coming from or having to do with the Netherlands (Holland).

eagle
Noun

large, powerful bird of prey.

encounter
Verb

to meet, especially unexpectedly.

English
Adjective

coming from or having to do with England.

expansive
Adjective

vast or very large.

Far East
Noun

vague term for northeast Asia, primarily China and Japan.

fox
Noun

type of mammal related to a dog with a thin muzzle and thick tail.

frigate
Noun

type of armed naval combat vessel.

fur-bearing
Adjective

having fur that can be sold.

Garden of Eden
Noun

paradise, or according to the Christian religion, home to the first human beings, Adam and Eve.

Global Positioning System (GPS)
Noun

system of satellites and receiving devices used to determine the location of something on Earth.

Half Moon
Noun

ship sailed by Henry Hudson and his crew up what is now the Hudson River in 1609.

Noun

part of a body of water deep enough for ships to dock.

hatchet
Noun

small ax.

haul
Verb

to move or transport something heavy.

Henry Hudson
Noun

(died 1611) English explorer and navigator.

immediately
Adverb

at once or quickly.

inch
Verb

to move very slowly.

initial
Adjective

first.

jagged
Adjective

having an uneven edge.

log
Noun

detailed record of a voyage. Also called a logbook.

magnificent
Adjective

very impressive.

maintain
Verb

to continue, keep up, or support.

mammal
Noun

animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.

mountain
Noun

landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

mullet
Noun

type of marine or freshwater fish.

muskrat
Noun

type of mammal (rodent) that lives near water.

NATO
Noun

North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Military alliance of 28 North American and European countries.

natural resource
Noun

a material that humans take from the natural environment to survive, to satisfy their needs, or to trade with others.

Noun

art and science of determining an object's position, course, and distance traveled.

New Netherland Museum
Noun

museum in Albany, New York, that operates a reproduction of the ship Henry Hudson sailed from Holland to America in 1609.

Northwest Passage
Noun

waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

osprey
Noun

type of bird of prey found near bodies of water.

otter
Noun

type of aquatic mammal with very thick fur.

outfit
Verb

to provide gear and equipment.

oyster
Noun

type of marine animal (mollusk).

Palisades
Noun

area of high cliffs along the banks of the Hudson River in the U.S. states of New Jersey and New York.

plentiful
Adjective

abundant or full.

pollutant
Noun

chemical or other substance that harms a natural resource.

population
Noun

total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

precede
Verb

to go before.

ray
Noun

flat-bodied fish with fins that appear to flap like wings.

reach
Noun

angle of the wind to a ship's beam.

rebound
Verb

to bounce back or recover from a downfall.

reduce
Verb

to lower or lessen.

reel off
Verb

to communicate a list or other required information quickly.

Noun

any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

replica
Noun

an exact copy or reproduction.

resurge
Verb

to regain health.

ripple
Verb

to form very small waves.

Robert Juet
Noun

(died 1611) English sailor who kept a journal of Henry Hudson's exploration of the Hudson River.

route
Noun

path or way.

sail
Noun

piece of fabric that harnesses the wind to propel an aquatic vessel.

sailboat
Noun

aquatic vessel that uses wind to maneuver and move.

salmon
Noun

cold-water fish hunted for food and game.

Scandinavia
Noun

region and name for some countries in Northern Europe: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

seasonal flooding
Noun

overflowing of a body of water from its banks, usually predicted by yearly rains or storms.

shad
Noun

type of fish, related to the herring.

shipbuilding timber
Noun

tree wood suitable for building aquatic vessels.

shoreline
Noun

beach, or where a body of water meets land.

skyline
Noun

horizon, including the outlines of natural and manmade features such as buildings.

skyscraper
Noun

very tall building.

sounding
Noun

measurement of the depth of a body of water in a specific area.

striper
Noun

type of fish. Also called a striped bass.

sturgeon
Noun

type of marine or freshwater large, long, bony fish.

technology
Noun

the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

upriver
Adjective

toward or near the source of a river.

Noun

developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

veritable
Adjective

true.

vicinity
Noun

nearby area.

virtually
Adverb

almost or nearly.

voyage
Noun

long journey or trip.

waterway
Noun

body of water that serves as a route for transportation.

witness
Verb

to see and be aware of by personal, first-hand knowledge.