The Little Patrol Boat that Changed the World - Waterkeeper

The Little Patrol Boat that Changed the World

By: Waterkeeper Alliance

The first Riverkeeper boat, a 25-foot wooden outboard, was launched in 1983. Since then, Riverkeeper patrols have resulted in tens of millions of dollars in fines to polluters and led the Hudson River’s remarkable resurgence.
The first Riverkeeper boat, a 25-foot wooden outboard, was launched in 1983. Since then, Riverkeeper patrols have resulted in tens of millions of dollars in fines to polluters and led the Hudson River’s remarkable resurgence.

Hudson Riverkeeper was the world’s first Waterkeeper Organization. Commercial and recreational fishermen founded it as the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association in 1966 in response to massive pollution from several industrial facilities.

In 1983, the association hired former commercial fisherman John Cronin as the first full-time Riverkeeper, and launched a 25-foot wooden outboard boat to patrol the Hudson for polluters. On his first patrol, Cronin discovered Exxon oil tankers rinsing their holds in the river and stealing its water for use in the company’s refinery on the Caribbean island of Aruba. Exxon stopped these practices and paid $2 million in fines. Since then, Riverkeeper patrols have resulted in tens of millions of dollars in fines to polluters and led the Hudson River’s remarkable resurgence. These patrols inspired a global movement that now counts more than 300 Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates on six continents and 44 countries.

John Cronin, the world’s first full-time riverkeeper, on patrol in the Hudson River.
John Cronin, the world’s first full-time riverkeeper, on patrol in the Hudson River. Photo by Don Nice.

The patrols have never stopped. Here are 10 fast facts about Hudson Riverkeeper’s current boat and its remarkable captain, John Lipscomb, who has been at the helm since 2000:

  1. The R. Ian Fletcher is the second Riverkeeper patrol boat. The Hudson River Fishermen’s Association launched the first one from the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, N.Y., on May 14, 1983.
  2. The R. Ian Fletcher was built in 1983 in Bivalve, N.J., to work commercial shellfish beds in Delaware Bay.
  3. It’s built of cedar planking on oak frames.
  4. Hudson Riverkeeper bought the boat in 1990, and it was refurbished and launched as the “R. Ian Fletcher” in 1998.
  5. Her engine is a Volvo Penta six-cylinder diesel installed in ’98 by Captain John Lipscomb and his crew when he was the manager of Petersen’s Boatyard in Upper Nyack, N.Y. The engine was donated by Volvo.
  6. Dr. R. Ian Fletcher was a noted expert in fluid dynamics, oceanography, physical ecology and biomathematics who applied his dedication to science and his great knowledge to benefit the Hudson. He helped Hudson Riverkeeper win many historic cases, such as the battle against Westway, a $2 billion plan to build a highway on pilings in the Hudson River on the west shore of Manhattan.
  7. Since 2000, Captain Lipscomb and the R. Ian Fletcher have patrolled New York Harbor and the Hudson Estuary to Troy, N.Y., 150 miles north. By 2014, its range had expanded to include 120 miles on the Mohawk River to Rome, N.Y., and 35 miles on the Upper Hudson to Fort Edward.
  8. Captain Lipscomb and the R. Ian Fletcher log nearly 1,000 hours and 6,000 river miles a year. Her homeport is Westerly Marina in Ossining, N.Y.
  9. The boat is also the floating lab for Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Testing Program, and a platform for collaborative scientific research by EPA, Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Cornell University, Queens College of the City University of New York, and the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill.
  10. Every winter during layup the Fletcher is modified and improved under the skilled guidance of Chris Brennan of Brennan Boatbuilding, formerly of Ossining, N.Y., now based in Wittman, Md.
Captain John Lipscomb watches as the R. Ian Fletcher is lowered into the water after winter maintenance.
Captain John Lipscomb watches as the R. Ian Fletcher is lowered into the water after winter maintenance. Photo by Hudson Riverkeeper.
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