The Ship Half Moon
A Replica of the Dutch Ship of Exploration Commanded by Henry Hudson in 1609

William T. (Chip) Reynolds
Captain, Half Moon
1507 Amherst Road
Hyattsville, MD 20783
301/422-2940 voice
301/422-2965 facs


The replica ship Half Moon is a full scale reproduction of the Dutch shi of exploration sailed to North America in 1609 by Henry Hudson. The ship is authentic in appearance, but constructed of modern materials and techniques. The hull is strip planked with WEST SYSTEM(R) epoxy, much of the topside planking is epoxy encapsulated wood, frames and beams are laminated wood, and the rigging is synthetic material. Experience operating the ship substantiates the soundness of the design. Experience with the modern techniques indicates some work well, and others not so well. Particularly suited for modern epoxy based methods are frames, beams and other structural elements. This paper also discusses areas where the use of epoxies may not be so well suited, either due to inherent difficulties or poor craftsmanship. The paper addresses stability and handling of the vessel, predicts ultimate windward ability comparable to the original (between 55 and 70 degrees off the wind), and future operations for the ship.


The replica ship Half Moon is a full scale reproduction of the Dutch ship of exploration commanded by Henry Hudson in 1609. In the original vessel, Hudson sailed from Amsterdam, north and east to Novaya Zemlya at 71degrees latitude in the Barents Sea. From here he sailed westward by way of the Faroe Islands, eventually exploring the North American coastline as far south as Virginia. He entered the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, and explored the Hudson River as far north as Albany. He returned to England, and the Half Moon eventually returned to Netherland. She is thought to have ended her life somewhere in Indonesia a few years later. Hudson lasted no longer, being cast adrift with nine loyal crew members in a ship's boat by the mutineering crew of his 1610-1611 voyage to the bay in Canada that now bears his name.

The replica project is the concept of Andrew Hendricks, MD, who conceived of the ship as providing historic interpretation of the 'Age of Exploration' and the Dutch role in exploring and settling colonial America. The Half Moon was designed and constructed in Albany, NY, by the late Nick Benton. While no original plans of the vessel exist, Hendricks and Benton conducted research from contemporaneous accounts of Dutch shipbuilding techniques, and documented sufficient dimensions to produce a design of close approximation of the original.

Hendricks and Benton developed a plan to build the replica using modern materials and techniques, but keeping all aspects of the vessel to be seen by visitors as near to the appearance of the 1609 vessel as possible. Consequently, the keel, stem, frames, and beams are all of laminated white oak, and WEST SYSTEM(R) epoxy. The hull is strip planked to the deck level, again bonded with WEST SYSTEM(R) epoxy. Planks are bonded to the exterior of the strips to provide the appearance of carvel planking. Above the deck, topside planking is lightweight pine, treated with WEST SYSTEM(R) epoxy. While the spars are not treated with epoxies, the trestle and cross trees, the cheeks, and the tops are all constructed with WEST SYSTEM(R) epoxies. Standing rigging is synthetic rope with stainless steel core. The ship is equipped with a Diesel engine for propulsion and generator for ship's power.

Having dealt with many of the problems of this approach, as well as the benefits of this approach, I have concluded that the use of modern materials to produce a replica sailing vessel has much merit, but must be approached judiciously. In many areas of the ship, the modern materials work very well and are most appropriate. Unfortunately, that is not true with every piece, as we will see later. Further, the use of epoxy is not a panacea for preventing wood deterioration, and must be subject to the same quality control of craftsmanship and materials selection as traditional shipbuilding. But with appropriate design and quality control, I have become convinced that hybrid vessels (combinations of modern materials and traditional designs) can work well together. This conclusion is purely based on function, and does not take into account the economics of shipbuilding, as I have not had the opportunity to study the relative costs of construction. Perhaps that can be addressed in a future session.

Much controversy surrounded the techniques of construction used with this vessel. Some questioned the stability of the design, some questioned the techniques used, others questioned the quality of construction. Prior to my becoming involved with the Half Moon in 1996 I had heard many comments about the poor handling characteristics of the vessel, under power and under sail. Most indicated that the ship would never go to windward. I really wondered about this. Given the route that Hudson sailed, if the ship was even a close approximation of the original I thought it must have windward capability.

I have much yet to learn about the ship's full capabilities, but now having some operating time on her over near coastal routes, I can state definitively that the ship sails and handles quite well. Indeed, during my first near coastal voyage I discovered we could get the ship heading above 90 degrees with very little effort. In later trips we experimented with different combinations of sail and found we could point even better. Robert Juet's log of the original voyage indicates windward abilities of between 50 and 70 degrees off the wind, depending on sea and wind conditions. I look forward to continuing operating tests this year to gain a better understanding of her windward capabilities.

As to stability, prior to operating the Half Moon for the first time I had the opportunity to read a naval architect's stability analysis; the conclusions he formed included the point that the vessel was satisfactorily constructed but needed some additional ballast. When added, the ballast improved the stability characteristics considerably. Due to the open gun ports on the orlop deck, I still had some questions about flooding during a severe heel. Consequently, prior to travel on any but protected waters we caulk the ports closed with oakum and seam compound, in addition to normal dogging. Furthermore, on my first trip with the ship we were hit broadside by a sudden squall on the Hudson River. I later confirmed by checking Doppler RADAR observations that the winds reached 50 knots. We could neither come up into the wind, nor fall off, and took the full force broadside. With the combination of ballast, and the spilling effect of loosing the wind beyond a certain angle of heel, the Half Moon performed quite well.

The main engine and shaft are offset to port, with no rudder behind. Consequently, the ship has virtually no steerage in close quarters under her own power. This is an easy matter to resolve, with the easy availability of inflatable tenders in this day and age. As to authenticity, I strictly limit myself to using those materials and devices that Hudson would have used if he had had them.

All in all, I have found the Half Moon to be a pleasure to operate and I look forward to extending my understanding of her capabilities in the years ahead.

Now, certainly there is room to criticize the vessel; I will note a few major points that may prove to be somewhat helpful for others.

First, and most obvious, the vessel suffered during the last several years from the lack of a regular, thorough maintenance program. This problem manifested itself in many areas. First, the spars, having been treated with linseed oils and pine tars, had blackened badly. Many checks in the spars had been poorly filled with synthetic caulks. The spars had not been scraped and thoroughly inspected since they were installed. Many blocks and sheaves had failed. This winter we down-rigged the vessel, and have now completed scraping and inspecting all the spars. Fortunately, none show evidence of rot or failure, and will be finished and re-rigged in the coming weeks.

Second, quality control of some aspects of the vessel was lacking in certain areas. For example, many laminated knees in the tops had fasteners penetrating the epoxy encapsulation. Where water could enter on the top, it would simply gather in the bottom just like a bowl. Ultimately, this led to rot. A similar situation developed in some of the caps and trees. All these are being repaired or replaced. In some other areas butt joints were placed directly over end grain, and a similar situation developed. These circumstances are all avoidable, but require strict quality control in construction.

Third, the use of epoxy encapsulation and laminated materials worked very well in many areas, such as the frames and beams. However, certain elements suffer delamination due to the thickness of the laminates and the forces that may be exerted by white oak (which in some circumstances are sufficient to overcome the bonding strength of epoxy). I have particularly noted this in stanchion heads, stem head, and caps. Depending on the situations, we are remedying this situation by replacing the element, or by filling the laminate gaps using a proprietary system developed by the Gougeon Brothers (using a special caulking gun to apply a pre-mixed epoxy deep in the delaminations). We may chamfer the edges of certain pieces to further reduce the forces that lead to this delamination.

Fourth, in some instances it simply would have been better to use reliable traditional techniques instead of supposed technical quick fixes. For example, the decks are fir planking, but were covered with epoxy saturated fiberglass cloth. Edges soon lifted, allowing water beneath and starting the inevitable process of wood deterioration. I began a process of removing this glass, relying on UV degradation to do most of the work. In this manner we do not tear up the wood trying to remove the glass. Unfortunately, some of the decks planks will need to be replaced. In a traditional deck one would simply remove the coverboard, remove and replace the plank. In this instance, the coverboard is bonded to the stanchions and hull sides, and removal will be destructive. We will probably end up routing a cavity to allow removal of the deck plank, and filling the cavity after replacement.

Fifth, in some areas of the ship inferior materials were used and encapsulated with epoxy, perhaps in hope that the epoxy would compensate for the inferior material. This is simply not the case, and should never be considered to be the case. As a result, some of the topside planking above the deck will need to be replaced due to early failure. As this is primarily of cosmetic concern, it is receiving a lower priority in the renovation of the ship.

Other features of the vessel that we are improving, repairing or replacing tend to be relatively conventional, and so do not warrant explanation here. Electrical, mechanical, plumbing, navigational systems are as found in other vessels.

Lessons to be learned from the experience of the Half Moon include:

  1. Good design and a strong concept are important and can make smaller flaws tolerable.
  2. Modern materials and techniques can work very well, but must be appropriately applied. In some instances, the traditional methods are superior, in some instances modern methods can provide superior safety, reliability or economy.
  3. Modern materials, such as epoxies, are not miracle products and cannot be used with inferior woods. When epoxies are used, workers must apply professional levels of craft and work with them appropriately. If you encapsulate a piece, you cannot then turn around and pierce the encapsulation with a fastener that allows water to enter.
  4. Modern materials do not take the place of rigorous on-going maintenance programs. All vessels need continuing maintenance to stay alive.
  5. Provision needs to be made, even with modern materials, for repair and replacement. It can be very helpful if certain assemblies can be disassembled for non-destructive repair and replacement.


First, my hat is off to Andrew Hendricks, who has remained stalwart in keeping this ship alive and operating in the face of daunting obstacles.

Second, I would like to thank Gougeon Brothers, Inc. and especially J.R. Watson and his team of engineers for providing advice and assistance above and beyond the call of duty during this past year.

Third, I would like to thank the volunteer crew of the Half Moon, not just for contributing their time and labor, but for providing much creative intellectual energy and enthusiasm and just plain enjoyment on land and sea.

Fourth, I would like to thank Randy King of King Marine in Verplanck, NY. Any historic vessels traveling in the lower Hudson will find King Marine to be a most accommodating haven.

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