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Memories of Pete Seeger on the Clearwater by Marilyn Ravina (formerly Marilyn Haslam)
Everyone who knew Pete Seeger, learned about his dream to clean up the Hudson River with a replica of the sloops that sailed in the 1800’s on the Hudson. His concerts raised money for this dream and soon the Sloop Clearwater was built.
My father, Reed Haslam, worked on the Clearwater in the early days of her Hudson River sails, in the 1970’s. He became the sailing master on board and by 1973 the Clearwater hired me as the cook and deck hand. I was thrilled to be on board hearing Pete play his banjo and sing for the passengers. Once while cooking down below in the galley, I heard him stomping over my head as he played “Abbey Yo Yo”. I ran up on deck to discover a large group of children in awe of Pete as he danced the story of a giant who eats cows whole. He was so charismatic in his humble and powerful way.
Another day Pete was on a sail with us and took on the job of being first on the throat halyard. The sloop has a throat and a peak halyard to raise the sail at two ends and on this day we had about ten people on each halyard. It was a large crew helping us hauls up the sails.
Pete began to lead the chantey our crew always used to raise sail. “In South Australia I was born heave away haul away, South Australia round Cape Horn and we’re bound for South Australia…” As he led the chantey, the crew vigorously pulled the line behind him. His job was to pull downward vertically on the throat halyard as it was guided through a block and then pulled by the crew horizontally down the deck. It was an important job that only an experienced sailor could do right—since they had to hold the line, tie it with a holding knot and secure it without losing an inch of line.
Suddenly the captain yelled out, “Slack the peak halyard.” The peak halyard had to be guided through stays and it was missing the mark. However our eager team on the throat heard him say “Slack” and the newcomers had just learned that term minutes earlier. In their excitement, they gave the line slack and Pete started rising up the mast by about ten feet. As he rose he never missed a beat in his chantey. Haul away you rolling Kings and bring me down, bring me down, Haul away you’ll hear me sing, we’re bound for South Australia.
I always knew I admired Pete, but here was an example of a man who never lost a beat, never left his post untended, and always had a song in his heart.
Scott Alarik tells the story of when Pete was banned from singing at a concert in Barcelona, Spain in the 1970's under Franco's dictatorship.