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Historic Schooner Sets Sail After Much-Needed Repairs

Volunteers help run the Pioneer, an 1885 schooner owned by the South Street Seaport Museum.
Volunteers help run the Pioneer, an 1885 schooner owned by the South Street Seaport Museum.
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SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — The historic schooner Pioneer is cruising New York Harbor once again, after some much-needed repairs.

The South Street Seaport Museum spent $57,000 overhauling the 127-year-old boat this winter, adding two new sails and installing a new transmission, ballast, foredeck hatch and more, the museum said.

The repairs enabled the Pioneer to set sail on a tour of the harbor Saturday for the first time in more than a year. The vessel was stuck at its Seaport dock all last year while the museum coped with financial struggles.

"It just makes my heart sing, and I'm not alone in that," said David Sheldon, a member of Save Our Seaport who volunteers on the Pioneer and advocated for the museum to preserve its historic boats. "It's a beautiful thing."

To get the Pioneer back out on the water, the Seaport Museum is working with New York Water Taxi to run two-hour sails for the public six days a week. Tickets cost $40 for adults and $30 for seniors and children ages 3 to 12. The boat is also available for private charters.

One of the most interesting new features of the Pioneer is its ballast, the lead weight that keeps the ship from bobbing uncontrollably. The Pioneer's new ballast came from a yacht that once belonged to George P. Putnam, husband of pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart, the museum and Sheldon said.

"It's funny how this stuff moves through [ship] yards," Sheldon said. "It's always wonderful to pass on history."

The Pioneer also has its own lengthy history. The boat was built in Pennsylvania in 1885 to carry sand to an iron foundry and later also worked in Massachusetts before being donated to the Seaport Museum in 1970, the museum said.

Today, the 102-foot-long schooner is the "only iron-hulled American merchant sailing vessel still in existence," the museum said.

For more information about sailing on the Pioneer, visit New York Water Taxi's website.