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Great Lakes Article:

Cast Off
Educational schooner sets sail for first time
By Sean Treacy
Palladium Times
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 months.

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 him.

"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 in 1989.

"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 thing.

"This thing is going to teach your grandkids' grandkids what your grandfathers' grandfathers knew," Cuson said. "I think that's awesome."

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