The Ship Half Moon A Replica of the Dutch Ship of Exploration Commanded by Henry Hudson
William T. (Chip) Reynolds
Captain, Half Moon
1507 Amherst Road
Hyattsville, MD 20783
The replica ship Half Moon is a full scale reproduction of the Dutch
shi of exploration sailed to North America in 1609 by Henry Hudson. The
ship is authentic in appearance, but constructed of modern materials and
techniques. The hull is strip planked with WEST SYSTEM(R) epoxy, much of
the topside planking is epoxy encapsulated wood, frames and beams are laminated
wood, and the rigging is synthetic material. Experience operating the ship
substantiates the soundness of the design. Experience with the modern techniques
indicates some work well, and others not so well. Particularly suited for
modern epoxy based methods are frames, beams and other structural elements.
This paper also discusses areas where the use of epoxies may not be so
well suited, either due to inherent difficulties or poor craftsmanship.
The paper addresses stability and handling of the vessel, predicts ultimate
windward ability comparable to the original (between 55 and 70 degrees
off the wind), and future operations for the ship.
The replica ship Half Moon is a full scale reproduction of the Dutch
ship of exploration commanded by Henry Hudson in 1609. In the original
vessel, Hudson sailed from Amsterdam, north and east to Novaya Zemlya at
71degrees latitude in the Barents Sea. From here he sailed westward by
way of the Faroe Islands, eventually exploring the North American coastline
as far south as Virginia. He entered the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays,
and explored the Hudson River as far north as Albany. He returned to England,
and the Half Moon eventually returned to Netherland. She is thought
to have ended her life somewhere in Indonesia a few years later. Hudson
lasted no longer, being cast adrift with nine loyal crew members in a ship's
boat by the mutineering crew of his 1610-1611 voyage to the bay in Canada
that now bears his name.
The replica project is the concept of Andrew Hendricks, MD, who conceived
of the ship as providing historic interpretation of the 'Age of Exploration'
and the Dutch role in exploring and settling colonial America. The Half
Moon was designed and constructed in Albany, NY, by the late Nick Benton.
While no original plans of the vessel exist, Hendricks and Benton conducted
research from contemporaneous accounts of Dutch shipbuilding techniques,
and documented sufficient dimensions to produce a design of close approximation
of the original.
Hendricks and Benton developed a plan to build the replica using modern
materials and techniques, but keeping all aspects of the vessel to be seen
by visitors as near to the appearance of the 1609 vessel as possible. Consequently,
the keel, stem, frames, and beams are all of laminated white oak, and WEST
SYSTEM(R) epoxy. The hull is strip planked to the deck level, again bonded
with WEST SYSTEM(R) epoxy. Planks are bonded to the exterior of the strips
to provide the appearance of carvel planking. Above the deck, topside planking
is lightweight pine, treated with WEST SYSTEM(R) epoxy. While the spars
are not treated with epoxies, the trestle and cross trees, the cheeks,
and the tops are all constructed with WEST SYSTEM(R) epoxies. Standing
rigging is synthetic rope with stainless steel core. The ship is equipped
with a Diesel engine for propulsion and generator for ship's power.
Having dealt with many of the problems of this approach, as well as
the benefits of this approach, I have concluded that the use of modern
materials to produce a replica sailing vessel has much merit, but must
be approached judiciously. In many areas of the ship, the modern materials
work very well and are most appropriate. Unfortunately, that is not true
with every piece, as we will see later. Further, the use of epoxy is not
a panacea for preventing wood deterioration, and must be subject to the
same quality control of craftsmanship and materials selection as traditional
shipbuilding. But with appropriate design and quality control, I have become
convinced that hybrid vessels (combinations of modern materials and traditional
designs) can work well together. This conclusion is purely based on function,
and does not take into account the economics of shipbuilding, as I have
not had the opportunity to study the relative costs of construction. Perhaps
that can be addressed in a future session.
Much controversy surrounded the techniques of construction used with
this vessel. Some questioned the stability of the design, some questioned
the techniques used, others questioned the quality of construction. Prior
to my becoming involved with the Half Moon in 1996 I had heard many
comments about the poor handling characteristics of the vessel, under power
and under sail. Most indicated that the ship would never go to windward.
I really wondered about this. Given the route that Hudson sailed, if the
ship was even a close approximation of the original I thought it must have
I have much yet to learn about the ship's full capabilities, but now
having some operating time on her over near coastal routes, I can state
definitively that the ship sails and handles quite well. Indeed, during
my first near coastal voyage I discovered we could get the ship heading
above 90 degrees with very little effort. In later trips we experimented
with different combinations of sail and found we could point even better.
Robert Juet's log of the original voyage indicates windward abilities of
between 50 and 70 degrees off the wind, depending on sea and wind conditions.
I look forward to continuing operating tests this year to gain a better
understanding of her windward capabilities.
As to stability, prior to operating the Half Moon for the first
time I had the opportunity to read a naval architect's stability analysis;
the conclusions he formed included the point that the vessel was satisfactorily
constructed but needed some additional ballast. When added, the ballast
improved the stability characteristics considerably. Due to the open gun
ports on the orlop deck, I still had some questions about flooding during
a severe heel. Consequently, prior to travel on any but protected waters
we caulk the ports closed with oakum and seam compound, in addition to
normal dogging. Furthermore, on my first trip with the ship we were hit
broadside by a sudden squall on the Hudson River. I later confirmed by
checking Doppler RADAR observations that the winds reached 50 knots. We
could neither come up into the wind, nor fall off, and took the full force
broadside. With the combination of ballast, and the spilling effect of
loosing the wind beyond a certain angle of heel, the Half Moon performed
The main engine and shaft are offset to port, with no rudder behind.
Consequently, the ship has virtually no steerage in close quarters under
her own power. This is an easy matter to resolve, with the easy availability
of inflatable tenders in this day and age. As to authenticity, I strictly
limit myself to using those materials and devices that Hudson would have
used if he had had them.
All in all, I have found the Half Moon to be a pleasure to operate
and I look forward to extending my understanding of her capabilities in
the years ahead.
Now, certainly there is room to criticize the vessel; I will note a
few major points that may prove to be somewhat helpful for others.
First, and most obvious, the vessel suffered during the last several
years from the lack of a regular, thorough maintenance program. This problem
manifested itself in many areas. First, the spars, having been treated
with linseed oils and pine tars, had blackened badly. Many checks in the
spars had been poorly filled with synthetic caulks. The spars had not been
scraped and thoroughly inspected since they were installed. Many blocks
and sheaves had failed. This winter we down-rigged the vessel, and have
now completed scraping and inspecting all the spars. Fortunately, none
show evidence of rot or failure, and will be finished and re-rigged in
the coming weeks.
Second, quality control of some aspects of the vessel was lacking in
certain areas. For example, many laminated knees in the tops had fasteners
penetrating the epoxy encapsulation. Where water could enter on the top,
it would simply gather in the bottom just like a bowl. Ultimately, this
led to rot. A similar situation developed in some of the caps and trees.
All these are being repaired or replaced. In some other areas butt joints
were placed directly over end grain, and a similar situation developed.
These circumstances are all avoidable, but require strict quality control
Third, the use of epoxy encapsulation and laminated materials worked
very well in many areas, such as the frames and beams. However, certain
elements suffer delamination due to the thickness of the laminates and
the forces that may be exerted by white oak (which in some circumstances
are sufficient to overcome the bonding strength of epoxy). I have particularly
noted this in stanchion heads, stem head, and caps. Depending on the situations,
we are remedying this situation by replacing the element, or by filling
the laminate gaps using a proprietary system developed by the Gougeon Brothers
(using a special caulking gun to apply a pre-mixed epoxy deep in the delaminations).
We may chamfer the edges of certain pieces to further reduce the forces
that lead to this delamination.
Fourth, in some instances it simply would have been better to use reliable
traditional techniques instead of supposed technical quick fixes. For example,
the decks are fir planking, but were covered with epoxy saturated fiberglass
cloth. Edges soon lifted, allowing water beneath and starting the inevitable
process of wood deterioration. I began a process of removing this glass,
relying on UV degradation to do most of the work. In this manner we do
not tear up the wood trying to remove the glass. Unfortunately, some of
the decks planks will need to be replaced. In a traditional deck one would
simply remove the coverboard, remove and replace the plank. In this instance,
the coverboard is bonded to the stanchions and hull sides, and removal
will be destructive. We will probably end up routing a cavity to allow
removal of the deck plank, and filling the cavity after replacement.
Fifth, in some areas of the ship inferior materials were used and encapsulated
with epoxy, perhaps in hope that the epoxy would compensate for the inferior
material. This is simply not the case, and should never be considered to
be the case. As a result, some of the topside planking above the deck will
need to be replaced due to early failure. As this is primarily of cosmetic
concern, it is receiving a lower priority in the renovation of the ship.
Other features of the vessel that we are improving, repairing or replacing
tend to be relatively conventional, and so do not warrant explanation here.
Electrical, mechanical, plumbing, navigational systems are as found in
Lessons to be learned from the experience of the Half Moon
Good design and a strong concept are important and can make smaller flaws
Modern materials and techniques can work very well, but must be appropriately
applied. In some instances, the traditional methods are superior, in some
instances modern methods can provide superior safety, reliability or economy.
Modern materials, such as epoxies, are not miracle products and cannot
be used with inferior woods. When epoxies are used, workers must apply
professional levels of craft and work with them appropriately. If you encapsulate
a piece, you cannot then turn around and pierce the encapsulation with
a fastener that allows water to enter.
Modern materials do not take the place of rigorous on-going maintenance
programs. All vessels need continuing maintenance to stay alive.
Provision needs to be made, even with modern materials, for repair and
replacement. It can be very helpful if certain assemblies can be disassembled
for non-destructive repair and replacement.
First, my hat is off to Andrew Hendricks, who has remained stalwart in
keeping this ship alive and operating in the face of daunting obstacles.
Second, I would like to thank Gougeon Brothers, Inc. and especially
J.R. Watson and his team of engineers for providing advice and assistance
above and beyond the call of duty during this past year.
Third, I would like to thank the volunteer crew of the Half Moon,
not just for contributing their time and labor, but for providing much
creative intellectual energy and enthusiasm and just plain enjoyment on
land and sea.
Fourth, I would like to thank Randy King of King Marine in Verplanck,
NY. Any historic vessels traveling in the lower Hudson will find King Marine
to be a most accommodating haven.