For 62 years, Michael Doraby was content to live out his life without ever setting foot on a sailboat.
He went once. That was enough.
But now, after two weeks aboard the Dutch ship he helped build, he can’t imagine life without a sail.
“I love it. This is fantastic,” the retiree said as he stood lookout on the Onrust, a historic replica of the first European ship ever built in this country.
-- Boats arrive around 12:30 p.m. Saturday to a cannon welcome at the Albany and Rensselaer piers.
-- Daylong celebrations will include the Blessing of the Fleet at the Albany Yacht Club, Dutch exhibits and cuisine at the Crailo State Historic Site in Rensselaer and ship tours at Riverfront Park in Rensselaer.
-- The Half Moon, a replica of Henry Hudson’s ship, will dock at the Albany Yacht Club.
--The Onrust, the Clearwater and the Woody Guthrie will dock at Riverfront Park. The Clearwater and Woody Guthrie are replica sloops built 30 years ago at the urging of folk singer and environmentalist Pete Seeger.
“At this point, if I could buy a sailboat tomorrow, I think I would,” he said.
Doraby and hundreds of other amateur boat-builders constructed the replica using 17th century techniques, even to the point of steaming planks over a fire to bend them into place. Some modern tools were used also.
The finished product is so impressive that it has become the centerpiece of this week’s quadricentennial, celebrating Henry Hudson’s voyage.
In the last 10 days, the amateur builders from Schenectady County have sailed their vessel from Rotterdam to New York City to join a flotilla of ships demonstrating every advancement in watercraft over the last 400 years.
On Saturday, they will return triumphantly at the head of the fleet to kick off the local quadricentennial celebrations.
They were, of course, eager to sail the ship they had spent three years building. And none of them admitted to any serious concerns about learning to sail, even though none of them had done
anything like that before and they shipped out with just two experienced sailors — one of whom could only instruct them for a week.
Doraby argued that the confidence he gained from building a ship without experience would easily translate to sailing it without experience.
“I’m not a sailor. Then again, I wasn’t a builder either,” he said.
But he didn’t expect the trip to transform him into a sailor, much less a sailor who couldn’t be parted from the water. He isn’t even a good swimmer.
Now he can’t get enough of it.
“The thing I love the most is when the motor goes off, it’s gliding through the water. It’s just like flying,” he said. He wants one of his own — but he’d rather buy a kit and put it together himself than buy one pre-assembled. Apparently the Onrust has seduced him into more than just sailing.
“I used to come into the project intermittently. It sort of captures you. And you realize you’re becoming part of something very special. You throw your soul into it,” he said. “And then to actually stand on the deck and be under sail and you cut the motor — there’s no feeling like it.”
He’s not the only one who has fallen in love with sailing.
“I was more of a kayaker, myself,” Aaron Bobar said. “But I helped build it, so of course I love it.”
He even loves the bad weather.
Last Friday night, in the New York City harbor, it poured, and the water seeped through the deck to rain on the exhausted sailors below.
Bobar woke up at 2 a.m. to find a river running over him.
“I just put my foul weather gear on, laid in the puddle and went back to sleep,” he said, adding eagerly, “We’re very much living the way the early Dutch lived.”
Although they have brought along modern sleeping bags and mats, they don’t have bunks or hammocks. When the Onrust was originally built, in 1614, sailors slept on the floor of the open hold.
Not every amateur builder has embraced the experience. Linda Porter said grimly that she was having fun “of a sort,” but compared the ordeal to a war.
“It’s been sort of like trial by combat,” she said.
Looking for a silver lining, she said she connected deeply with the other budding sailors.
“We’re like trench buddies. War buddies,” she said.
Her husband Tom is much more enthusiastic — although he, too, doesn’t plan to become a sailor.
“I’m an armchair admiral. I just read all the sailing books,” he said. “This has been a lot of fun.”
County Historian Don Rittner, on the other hand, wants to spend the next two years on the boat. He’s hoping to convince National Geographic to sponsor a trip following the path of the original Onrust from Delaware to Cape Cod. It took Capt. Adriaen Block a year and a half to take that journey.
“I want to do a comparison with what it was like in the 1600s and today, make a documentary, do the whole thing,” he said.
He might earn his captaincy beforehand, so that he can re-enact the journey precisely.
And then he wants to develop a sailing curriculum to teach children about Dutch history while aboard the vessel.
All in all, he may spend a very long time living on the Onrust.
“I’d love to,” he said. “After all this? It’s in the blood now.”