Sloop club offers program at M.C. Smith Intermediate School

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David Lee/Columbia-Greene Media  :    The Hudson Sloop Club, led by Nick Zachos (standing on the raft on the right), brought their various boats to Oakdale Lake last summer to see how they would float.

David Lee/Columbia-Greene Media  :  The Hudson Sloop Club, led by Nick Zachos (standing on the raft on the right), brought their various boats to Oakdale Lake last summer to see how they would float.

Sixth-graders to build boat

Sloop club offers program at M.C. Smith Intermediate School

Posted: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 12:30 am

By John Mason Columbia-Greene Media |1 comment

Practical skill-building and a connection to Hudson’s river-going heritage will be fostered in a new program at M.C. Smith Intermediate School. Over the next nine weeks, a group of sixth-graders will build a traditional wooden boat, and, if all goes well, take it out on Oakdale Lake.

The class, which starts Wednesday, is being taught by members of the Hudson Sloop Club, led by Nick Zachos and Ed Csukas.

The dozen sixth-graders enrolled in the class will develop carpentry and construction skills, while learning about the cultures and histories of the Hudson River Valley, Csukas stated in an email, “from the Native Americans that first set out in dugout canoes to Hudson’s rich history as a maritime port and whaling center to the modern uses of the river.”

The class will meet for a half-hour lunch and hear stories about the history and ecology of the river, Zachos said. Then after school they’ll meet again, for two hours, “to dig into some hands-on construction.”

There will be three volunteers from the sloop club and one volunteer from the Hudson Afterschool Program, making four educators for 12 kids, he said.

The end-product may be a rowboat, or some other type of boat, Zachos said, depending on what the kids want to do. There will probably be “some messing around with materials, doing something new from scratch,” he said.

“Boat-building is a great way of doing educational projects,” he said. Participants get natural lessons in geometry, physics, chemistry and ecology, Csukas stated.

Making a traditional rowboat would be exciting for Zachos because it would involve soaking the wood to curve it, and would bring in some of the geometrical aspects of boat-making.

Another kind of boat that could emerge from the workshop is a flat-bottomed sailboat with a square sail and no keel. These were the boats used by the Vikings and the ancient Greeks, Zachos said; the more flexible Marconi or Bermuda rig sail, most familiar today, wasn’t popularized until the 17th century.

The class will also learn about the four archetypal boats common to every water-going culture: dugout canoes, reed boats, birchbark canoes, and skin boats.

Once the boat, whatever kind it is, is constructed, participants will carry it down the path that leads from M.C. Smith to Oakdale Lake, where it will be tested by adults for seaworthiness before being tested by students. All will be wearing life preservers.

The class got its start at Kite’s Nest last year.

“They gave us an amazing opportunity to teach a class in wooden boat-building,” Zachos said. “We taught the kids in the daytime and the adults in the evening, but we were all working on the same boat.”

A carpenter by trade, Zachos is also a sixth-generation boat builder. His Norwegian ancestors were building boats at least as long ago as the early 1800s.

Eventually the boats, made in Annapolis, Md., became known as Trumpy Yachts. Zachos’ uncle was the last family member to work there. The company is known for its pleasure yachts, but also for wartime vessels like PT boats — John F. Kennedy’s PT 109 may have been one of them.

It was only in the last few years that Zachos, after a boat-building workshop in Maine, turned to the family obsession.

Zachos and Csukas are founding members of the sloop club, a community-based boating organization dedicated to getting people out on the river and educating them about the river.

Although Hudson has a maritime history, there’s not a lot of connection to the river in its daily life, Zachos said. “You don’t see a lot of people out on the river,” he said. “Our idea is to bridge that gap, provide education and access to the river.”

The club is fundraising to restore boats it owns and to support educational programs, including summer camps and adult classes.

Go to to help fund this program and others planned for this year and learn more about the Hudson Sloop Club.


To reach reporter John Mason, call 518-828-1616, ext. 2500, or e-mail