This kayak was used by Robert F. Kennedy in May 1967 on the Hudson River near North Creek.
Plenty of visitors take advantage of New York state’s wilderness and mix business with pleasure during working vacations in the Adirondacks. Yet, when it comes to the annual Hudson River White Water Derby, you’ll find more pleasure than business in North Creek, North River and Riparius.
In May 1967, U.S. Sen. Robert Francis Kennedy, D-NY, traveled to the North Creek region to take part in the 10th Annual White Water Derby and sample the wilder side of the upper Hudson River. He and his wife, Ethel, and most of his children stayed at the Garnet Hill Lodge in North River for the weekend of May 6-7. His entourage included two nephews, niece Caroline Kennedy, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall and Freckles, the family dog.
On the business side, the senator was interested in research and marketing. At the time, he was supporting a river conservation bill in the U.S. Congress (the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act) and headed north to the Adirondacks to check out the wildest sections of the Hudson River for himself. His visit would also help publicize the proposed legislation; the popular Hudson River White Water Derby was a perfect stage for Kennedy’s political views on the environment.
On the pleasure side of his trip, Robert Kennedy and his active family members climbed into watercraft and sampled the Hudson River rapids in rafts, canoes and kayaks. By all accounts, it was a successful weekend getaway, which included several trips down the river.
“Secretary Udall wanted to dramatize river sports, water pollution control, and the pending Wild Rivers bill (kind of a corollary to the Wilderness Bill) which had hung up in the House Interior Committee last year,” William G. Prime wrote in the Autumn 1967 issue of American WHITE WATER (reprinted from the KCCNY News).
Prime, a member of the 1963 U.S. World Championship Kayak Team, helped guide the senator through the Hudson River Gorge on Saturday, May 6, 1967, from the Gooley Landing to North River.
“My job was to lead a group of five kayaks, provide Senator Kennedy with a boat and the latest safety equipment, and to ‘bring him back alive,’” Prime wrote.
The boat Robert Kennedy used was a kayak owned by David Binger, of Mount Kisco. It is artifact No. 1968.224.1 in the Adirondack Museum’s collection in Blue Mountain Lake. In 1968, Prime was the agent who sold Binger’s kayak to the museum, according to the artifact’s accession file.
Binger, in another kayak, made the trip down the Hudson with Prime and Robert Kennedy. His detailed account of the trip was published as a sidebar to Prime’s article in the Autumn 1967 issue of American WHITE WATER. It is written in log format and explains that there were about 60 people in the party, which was divided into four groups.
Binger was in Group 3. The trip leader and organizer of the expedition was Bob Harrigan, a former national canoe champion from Washington, D.C. Ethel Kennedy and several children piled into a raft and were in Group 4 with members of the press. (The media covered the trip from all angles: on the river, on the shore and in a helicopter.)
“1045 hrs.: We’re off. The day is sparkling, warm and beautiful,” Binger wrote. “I am a bit nervous, as I always am before going down the gorge, but console myself with the knowledge that the water level is low, and that the Senator undoubtedly has worse butterflies than I do, or should have.”
The party stopped at 1 p.m. for lunch at the O.K. Slip.
“1410 hrs.: Harris Rift upsets Senator R.F. Kennedy, D., N.Y. No wonder; it’s rough! Rubber raft pins his kayak to a rock during rescue operation. Nothing serious. On we go.”
At 1830 hrs., Robert Kennedy invited Binger and other guests to cocktails at the Garnet Hill Lodge.
“Martinis galore, dancing. No politics. Lots of heart...we all love each other, and exit happy, tired, exhilarated, in direction of the fleshpots of North Creek.”
That’s how Binger ended his log of the Hudson River Gorge trip.
Underneath his final words in American WHITE WATER is an advertisement for Hauthaway Kayaks, 640 Boston Post Road, Weston, Mass., specializing in touring, slalom and downriver models, as well as kayak accessories. Bart Hauthaway, of Hauthaway Kayaks, designed, built and sold kayaks from his residence in Weston. He also made Adirondack-style pack canoes, according to the Jan./Feb. 2000 issue of Paddler magazine.
In 1967, Hauthaway was the executive secretary of the American Whitewater Affiliation, which published American WHITE WATER. A world-class slalom kayaker, he provided photographs of kayaking competitions to the magazine. In 1972, he coached the U.S. Olympic kayak team.
Hauthaway played a major role in the story of the Kennedy kayak; he constructed it in 1965 for David Binger.
The kayak is 13 feet, 2 inches long, 26 inches at its widest point, and weighs 32 pounds. Hauthaway first used this model in the 1965 world championships, according to Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks, written by Adirondack Museum Curator Hallie Bond. It is significant because it is one of the first all-fiberglass kayaks. Kayak builders had long struggled with ways to connect fiberglass hulls to fiberglass decks, choosing instead to attach cloth decks to the fiberglass hulls.
“Hauthaway solved the problem in the deck of this kayak by fastening it to the hull with pop rivets,” Bond wrote.
Robert Kennedy never used the Hauthaway kayak in the Hudson River White Water Derby. On Sunday, May 7, he raced down the river in a separate boat, from the North Creek train station to Riparius, with William Bickham, of College Park, Pa., according to Mark Frost’s May 2, 1985 article about the 1967 trip in The Chronicle. Ethel Kennedy raced in the Derby with mountaineer James Whittaker and capsized several times along the 7.5-mile trip.
The best time of the May 7, 1967 Derby race was 1:03:15, by kayaker Emil Mascheck, of Toronto. Robert Kennedy finished in 1:11:29, taking third place in his class. Hauthaway finished in 1:04:24, the fourth best time of the day, in his one-man kayak.
Hauthaway died at his home on Oct. 22, 2002 at the age of 77, according to his obituary.
Robert Kennedy died from an assassin’s bullet on June 6, 1968 in Los Angeles. A U.S. senator representing New York from 1965 to 1968, he helped pass the Senate’s version of the Wild and Scenic Rivers bill in August 1967. He was on the Senate Interior Committee at the time. The vote was 84-0. The senator never saw President Lyndon B. Johnson sign the bill on Oct. 2, 1968; the U.S. House of Representatives didn’t pass its version until Sept. 12, 1968.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 instituted a National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to help protect the environment. These rivers can be found in 39 states and in Puerto Rico, and they are divided into three categories: wild, scenic and recreational.
There is only one New York state river in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and it is not the Hudson River. In 1978, 73.4 miles of the Delaware River along the New York-Pennsylvania border were added to the System and are now protected as the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, according to the National Park Service.
Many portions of the Upper Hudson River are now protected by New York state as part of the Forest Preserve, including the 17,200- acre Hudson Gorge Primitive Area.
This story was previously published in “New York State’s Mountain Heritage: Adirondack Attic, Volume 3,” by Andy Flynn.