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History on the Water

The Connecticut River Museum is proud to host the Onrust, a meticulous facsimile of the vessel that Captain Adriaen Block built back in 1614.  Constructed over the course of several years in upstate New York, the ship, now in its third year at the CRM, is undoubtedly one of the museum’s most spectacular highlights.

     The story of the Onrust, which in Dutch means “Unrest” or “Restlessness,” is rife with the types of characters and adventures one might find in a Robert Louis Stevenson novel.  According to Dutch archives, Captain Block, whose namesake christened Block Island, undertook four voyages to the Northeast between 1611 and 1613. His purpose was to work in concert with the Natives on solidifying a fur trading network; additionally, Block wished to chart the coastal waters of the same region Henry Hudson had surveyed for the Dutch a few years earlier in 1609.  It was while wintering in New York Bay around 1613-1614 that Block’s original vessel, the Tyger, caught fire and was ultimately beached. Using some salvageable remnants from the Tyger, Block, working vigorously through an unrelenting winter with the assistance of shipwright Herman Hillebrantsen and carpenter Lolle Reijner, was able to construct a new ship in just four months. He would dub it the Onrust.

     One of the ship’s earliest recorded voyages was into upper New York Bay in April of 1614.  Considered by historians as America’s first yacht, the Onrust explored the coastal waterways in and around New York, and sailed through the perilous passage that today is known as the East River, but was known in Block’s time as ‘Hellegat,” which is Dutch for Hell’s Hole.  A seasoned ship, the Onrust made its way through the harbors of Long Island, Connecticut – it discovered the Housatonic and Thames Rivers – as well as Narragansett, Buzzards Bay, and Cape Cod. Its final expedition was was in 1616 and was reportedly to explore the Delaware River under the command of Captain Cornelius Hendrickson.

     The vessel has the distinction of being not only the first yacht built in the New World, but also the first overseen by Europeans in New York State.  According to archives, the Onrust was a “small yacht of about eight lasts (16-ton burden)” and measured 44 ½ feet in length, with a beam of 11 ½ feet, and a keel of 38 feet in length.  The present day iteration of the ship – its construction began in 2006 and was modeled on historic Dutch building techniques guided by recent marine archaeology – is 10% larger than its original.  Measuring at 52 feet in length and a beam of 14 feet, the ship’s new specifications are to accommodate a 10% growth in height over the last four centuries. With room for upwards of thirty passengers and four to seven crew members, the ship is replete with sails, working cannons, pine decking, and metal fittings and rivets fashioned by blacksmiths.

     The indefatigable Captain Block, also credited as being the first European to enter Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River, as well as the one to assert that Long Island and Manhattan are in fact islands, would likely be pleased today to see the Onrust on proud display at the CRM.  The ship is enjoying its standing as a major attraction for locals and tourists alike. Whether one’s interest lies in learning about early colonial history or in a leisurely river cruise, the Onrust is available to the public.

Visit the Connecticut River Museum at 67 Main Street in Essex, Connecticut, to view and tour this splendid ship, or go online at www.theonrust.com to learn about its storied triumphs and tribulations.

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