Educational schooner sets sail for first time
By Sean Treacy
Published August 29, 2005
OSWEGO - Dozens of happy volunteers threw a party on
Lake Ontario Saturday, and it was the ideal time to celebrate,
because their floating classroom had finally set sail
after 17 years of work.
The OMF Ontario, a 19th century-style 85-foot Gaff Topsail
Schooner, set sail into the lake for the first time Saturday.
The ship will teach three hour courses on the history,
heritage and ecology of the Great Lakes through a program
called "Education through Involvement."
Matt Osterhaudt of Fair Haven has been working on the
ship since the beginning. He made molds for its hull plates
before welding even began. He noted that, while it took
17 years of work for the OMF Ontario to be ready to sail,
a commercially built sister ship was built in only four
The ship isn't quite done, said Osterhaudt. The lower
deck still needs to be completed and readied with educational
tools, and that could take another two years. But seeing
the masterpiece of over 100-volunteers afloat still thrilled
"I don't think anybody can fully appreciate what
Hank Spang, who started all this, is feeling right now,"
said Osterhaudt. "If I'm thrilled, and I am, Hank
must be ecstatic to see this come through."
Spang has been the driving force of the project since
the idea was conceived in 1983. He marveled that the sturdy
ship "feels alive" when it sails, and called
the occasion "tremendous."
"It's built entirely by volunteers, all the way
from the architect down to the last piece of wood,"
said Spang, "and that's unusual. Most are built in
shipyards, or in shipyards will some volunteer help."
Bob Monroe, who said Spang talked him into building frames
for the ship's cabin and doing other general utility work,
called the nearly finished project "extremely gratifying."
Dave DeCosa helped lay out the hull's ribs with Spang
"I've worked with Henry since high school. He was
a biology teacher and I was an industrial arts teacher,
and Henry said 'Wanna work on a boat?'" DeCosa recalled,
"and that's kind of how we all got started."
Daryl Yutz of Sodus welded much of the ship, including
the hull, framework, bulkheads and mast hardware.
"It was a lot of work in the dark sometimes because
we were down in the hole and had a lot of out-of-position
welding," remembered Yutz.
Jim Cuson of Schroeppel only recently joined the effort
about a year ago. When he retired, he had the time to
make a hatch cover, paint and do some finishing work.
To Cuson, the OMF Ontario is more than just a ship. He
said its role as an educating tool is the most important
"This thing is going to teach your grandkids' grandkids
what your grandfathers' grandfathers knew," Cuson
said. "I think that's awesome."