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Imagine sailing around New York Harbor in a historic schooner that took to the waters back in 1885, the same year that Mark Twain published “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in the U.S. The skyline of the Big Apple looked much different in the late 19th century than it does today, but an experience aboard Schooner Pioneer could make one feel, well, like an ocean-going pioneer. Guests on the ship today can help the crew hoist the sails and feel the stiff sea breeze as the schooner catches the wind and races across the harbor.


Operated by the South Street Seaport Museum from May to October, the ship sails afternoon as well as sunset cruises, providing an opportunity to watch as the sun inches toward the horizon and the sky, deepens in color, sporting shades of red, orange, and purple, and the twinkling lights of Lower Manhattan begin to dot the skyscrapers, stores and restaurants that abound in the area.

Schooner Pioneer's Past And Present

The Pioneer Iron Foundary, in Chester, Pa., built the ship, which was the first iron sloop constructed in the U.S. In fact, it's the last surviving American-built iron-hulled sailing ship. Originally traversing the Delaware River as a haul boat for the iron industry, the single-masted sloop was converted to a two-masted schooner in the 1890s so that it could carry more sails and be easier to navigate. Rebuilt and fully restored in the 1960s, the schooner was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum by a boat restorer in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Today it's a frequently chosen group activity for families, schools, clubs, and others, with two-hour trips that feature prime views of the Lower Manhattan skyline plus Ellis Island, Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty, and Governors Island. Sailors also can get close-up views of the harbor bridges, including the massive suspension bridge, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and scores of other ships, including cruise ships and cargo tankers, navigating the busy harbor.

Children and young adults can take advantage of several educational programs onboard the ship, including lessons in sailing and navigational chart reading, marine science experiments, and even trawl net fishing on special two- and three-hour sails. Along with its public sailing schedule, the schooner is often used as for corporate and private charters.

Costs And Tips: Getting Aboard Schooner Pioneer

Tickets for Schooner Pioneer are available from the South Street Seaport Museum Wednesday through Sunday. Afternoon trips, offered at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, cost $50 per adult and $20 per child. Sunset sails at 7 p.m. each night and cost $70 per adult and $30 per child. Educational trips for children in grades 3 to 12 are offered in two-, three- and five-hour programs. For educational trip pricing, call the museum at 212-748-8600.

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The South Street Seaport Museum is located at 12 Fulton St., New York, and all schooner trips leave from nearby Pier 11. Fulton Street is accessible by New York City subway and buses and by water on services provided by NYC Ferry, New York Waterway, and Staten Island Ferry. Parking lots are located at Front, John, and Pearl streets.

Admission to the museum is free, and visitors can access all of its indoor galleries and the tall ship Wavertree, which is permanently moored at nearby Pier 16. Entry fees to special programs and exhibits can be selected and paid in advance on the museum website. Founded in 1967, the museum has a vast collection of maritime-related art and artifacts and an authentic 19th-century print shop.

Other Historic Ships At South Street Seaport

The Schooner Pioneer is not the only historic attraction that one can clamber aboard at the South Street Seaport Museum.

Visitors can explore the tall ship Wavertree on self-guided tours and can access the main deck and quarter deck to see how seafarers lived aboard this former cargo vessel. A viewing platform allows visitors to see the ship's main cargo area.

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The 1908 Lightship Ambrose also is moored at Pier 16, and 30-minute guided tours are offered during the museum's open hours. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance.

The Ambrose was the first lightship to guard the Ambrose Channel, the largest shipping channel in and out of the ports of New York and New Jersey. Lightships were used as stationary navigational aids, providing powerful lights to guide mariners in and out of the harbor. During World War I, it was on alert for German U-boats.

The 52-foot-long tugboat W.O. Decker was donated to the museum in 1986, and guests can book 75-minute tours of the harbor aboard this vessel, which was constructed of wood in 1930 and worked in New York Harbor for decades. Originally powered by steam, it now operates on diesel fuel. Tugboat trips are offered from Friday to Sunday and cost $30 per adult and $15 per child.