Years after the Onrust was lowered into the Mohawk River, it’s still moored at a dock, unused.
Hundreds of local volunteers worked for three years to build the wooden ship using only the techniques used 400 years ago by the Dutch. They replicated the first decked ship ever built in the Americas.
The original Onrust was built near what is now Manhattan by stranded Dutch sailors after their ship burned. The replica was intended to be a floating museum that would teach children how the Dutch influenced the development of the American ideals of freedom and democracy.
But in the four years since its first voyage, not a single paying passenger has come aboard.
There are still no classrooms on the ship.
The museum has not been built.
And worst of all, it’s still not Coast Guard certified, which is required for operation. The Coast Guard requires a variety of safety features, including bulkheads and a fire suppression system near the engine.
The volunteers who worked so hard to build the boat said they are deeply disappointed.
“It’s really sad. We gave years of ourselves,” said Debbie Bowdish, who was one of the first volunteers, along with her husband. “We gave the better part of three years of our lives.”
Now she gets together with other volunteers, friends she met through the project, and they can’t help but reminisce about the boat.
“We get together once a month. We do discuss the Onrust to some degree. We’re not happy,” she said.
Others are angry.
“It’s just sitting there, doing nothing,” said one volunteer, who asked not to be named.
Project organizers Greta Wagle and Don Rittner are still working on the boat with a handful of volunteers. They’re committed to getting it done, they said.
Wagle added that the volunteers shouldn’t lose hope.
“The volunteers have been our salvation,” she said. “We’re almost there. You can still continue a project like this as long as you have the volunteers. We were so lucky that all the right people showed up at the right time.”
They’re now trying to build walls and doors to finish the interior. They’re hoping to get more volunteers to help on workdays: every Tuesday and Saturday.
They must also raise another $30,000 to fulfill the Coast Guard requirements, and it’s been tough going. Their latest effort has been to start an online auction at biddingforgood.com/onrust/. The auction ends July 28.
“It’s really taking us longer than we expected,” Wagle said. “Everyone was kind of surprised by the extra work that is needed.”
Wagle had to design her own plans for the interior, which she based off her research of a similar Dutch boat. Rittner has already begun designed the curriculum for the classes, and they have gathered some of the museum items already.
“We just have to finish the boat,” Rittner said. “We can’t do any of this without money. And we’re really low on money.”
For now, it’s docked in Waterford, and visitors can tour it during festivals and other events. It’s been a real hit among children, Rittner said.
“I can’t wait until it’s done,” he said. “It’s going to be such a great museum and classroom.”