The Revolutionary War soldiers had hoped that the authentic, flat-bottom wooden boats supplied at the last minute by a Philadelphia school program would allow them to overcome this year's low water levels in the Delaware River and repeat history as usual.
But instead, the annual Christmas reenactment of George Washington's crossing was defeated by wind, not water.
After consulting with the National Weather Service, organizers decided around 11 a.m. that the 45- to 50-mph gusts were too intense to risk making the annual voyage to Titusville, N.J., from Washington Crossing Historic Park on the Pennsylvania side. More than 1,000 people had assembled to cheer the reenactors, including Nick Pagon, who founded Philadelphia Waterborne, a nonprofit that teaches boat-building skills to middle- and high-school students.
His group has been teaching boat-building classes in Philadelphia public schools for four years, and has produced about 35 wooden rowboats for use by the Bartram's Garden Community Boating Program. When Pagon heard that the annual reenactment might be canceled because of low water levels in the Delaware, he offered to lend six of the flat-bottom, shallow-draft boats to the reenactors.
Made from fir, oak, cedar and marine plywood, the skiffs had a design that was quite similar to the type used in the colonial period. "Washington would have commandeered any boats he could have found to move horses and canons," said Pagon, "so we were thrilled when we heard they were going to put our boats into service."
Even though the plan had to be abandoned, Pagon is hopeful the boats can be put into service next year. Having gotten to know the reenactors, "we were talking about making this an annual cooperative event."
Andrew Smith, a spokesman for Washington Crossing Historic Park, said the annual event had been canceled before. But the usual cause is high water, not high winds.
Organizers noted that there was historical authenticity to this year's planned change; while the crafts known as Durham boats were used in the original 1776 crossing, historians agree that Washington probably used various types to make his daring move that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War.
Boats ferried 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses, and 18 cannons across the river during the original crossing. Washington's troops marched eight miles downriver before battling Hessian mercenaries in the streets of Trenton. Thirty Hessians were killed, and two Continental soldiers froze to death on the march.