Good news! We have arrived safely in Waterford. We were up and on our way at first light, the rain held off, and we made it all the way (approximately 35 miles and eight locks, a descent of 191 feet) to just above Lock E2, at the junction of the Erie Canal and the old Champlain Canal. The projections about howling winds and a deluge from the sky have been so far unfounded, though the weather station still calls for heavy wind and over two inches of rain. The Lois is firmly secured to the dock (the lines are doubled), and the Churchill is tucked snugly around the corner, back in the old Champlain Canal.
After our second breakfast, we traveled through a strange, alternating pattern of rain and calm. The rain didn’t leave much in the way of air—it felt like I was breathing a mist. Then, in 10 or 15 minutes, it would clear again.
We all kept looking at each other when it started again: “Is this it? The big storm?” Thankfully, the big storm never hit us. The weather did take its toll, however. It was pretty stressful, standing on deck in the rain, watching for deadheads and snags, constantly wondering if suddenly the weather would turn viciously against us. Leo Straight, one of our volunteer crew, had the perfect cure: apple cheddar soup. It was a brilliant combination of sweet, spicy, and tart, and absolutely hit the spot. Holding a warm bowl of tasty soup made the afternoon much less dismal and gray.
By 1:30 in the afternoon, we were slipping under the guard gate above Lock E6. As the steel door passed over our heads and the potentially raging Mohawk was left behind us, everyone visibly relaxed. However, we couldn’t be complacent. We still had four more locks to go. Everyone stayed on their toes, and we made it safely to our mooring place on the wall above Lock E2—with no excitement and everything and everyone still in one piece. A major relief!
Thank you to everyone who helped get us here and is continuing to help us sort out the ongoing issues with the tugboat’s driveline. We open on Sunday in conjunction with the Waterford Farmer’s Market, and Monday for school programs in the morning with public hours in the afternoon. Come by and say hi!
We did leave this morning right at first light, thanks to early morning work by the lock keepers. The tug has been holding up well, though we’ve been trying to limit the use of reverse (which has the potential to exacerbate the problem). The Oocher has been brought into service as the brakes, and we’re chugging along steadily. So far the rain has been constant and increasing steadily.
It also had the good taste to hold off until about 7:30am – we’re grateful for every extra minute that gives us a chance to make a good safe port. Kathleen and Barb have been keeping our energy up with hot food and drinks (we just finished second breakfast – ham and eggs!). Our goal is to make it to lock E6 tonight – the top of the Waterford Flight. Once we get to the flight, we are out of the Mohawk River. Guard gates divert the flow of the river over dams when the river floods, and the flight is protected from the force of the water. If we can make it to there, we won’t have to worry about being swept away!
The Churchill is fixed! Erick, Andy, Kerry and Art put in a wrenching frenzy and got it all back together with the machining assistance of Bob Bailey in the Canal Corp’s Waterford machine shop. Thanks to everyone involved in this process! We’re leaving early tomorrow morning and hoping to make it to the top of the Waterford Flight before the flooding begins. Wish us luck!
Due to technical issues, the video of Art Cohn summing up the event is unable to be posted at this time. It will follow in another post soon!
I write as the last light of day is fading to the west and we are temporarily forced to stop in Lock E10 on the Erie Canal. Today has seemed so significant in its adventures, trials, and rewards, that I wanted to share it with you in “real time” (or as close as we can get).
That is, until two hours ago, when I put the Churchill into reverse… and nothing happened.
Our little flotilla got underway from Little Falls, New York, this morning at first light and traveled for ten hours—a much longer day for us than usual—because the weather forecast is for heavy rains and possible flooding beginning at midnight tonight. We wanted to get to the upper side of Lock E9, stop for the night, and get underway again at the crack of dawn Thursday to run to the top of the “Waterford Flight,” (five locks close together on the Waterford end of the Erie Canal). This would take us out of the Mohawk River and behind a Guard Gate that would protect us from any flooding. That was the plan…
We had made it all the way to Lock E10, one short of our goal, and were fortunately already in the lock, almost completely stopped, when this misfortune struck. We looked over the stern to make sure that nothing was lodged in the propeller (we’d been dodging floating debris all day). No problem there. We just had the transmission rebuilt this spring—could it be that something within the transmission case gave way? That would be catastrophic. Andy, Kerry, Erick, and I checked the transmission and found everything okay.
Finally, we found the culprit: a coupling in the drive shaft that is held by a soft brass “key” had worked loose and given way, allowing the shaft to slide aft and out of the drive position. Erick phoned our great friend, John Callaghan, who then phoned another great friend, Canal Corporation Director Carmella Montello, and within minutes, the Canal Corp was gearing up to provide us with extraordinary assistance. The lock tenders, who have always been helpful, are going out of their way to assist us now. Despite our unexpected stay, they have been extremely gracious and left the facilities at the lockhouse available to us.
Erick has been taken to a Canal Corp machine shop, with the broken parts in hand, to meet a machinist to fabricate a replacement key and two set screws. We are standing by in the lock, and, presuming he is successful, I soon will be diving in the lock and under the Churchill to push the shaft forward and back into position with its new parts installed. If that operation goes well, we will continue on our way in the morning—probably in the rain—to get into the Waterford Flight so that we can continue our journey, come heck or high water.
Thursday, September 16
We are docked along the wall on the waterfront of Rochester’s Historic District at Corn Hill Landing. This morning at 6 am, a crane arrived and the Lois McClure‘s crew, with Erick Tichonuk (our first mate) having the additional duty of directing the crane operator, began stepping the two masts.
I was especially interested and fascinated watching the whole procedure, which took roughly three hours of hard work. This included the ascent to the top of the foremast by Erick to attach the spring stay (the cable that holds the two masts together) and then his safe descent to the deck. We all were then able to breathe comfortably once again. After the crane left there was another couple hours or so of work to fasten lines down, bowsing the shrouds, and generally make sure everything was secure. By this time, the predicted rain had commenced, so the wet and cold-handed crew was more than happy to come below deck and enjoy hearty bowls of the delicious broccoli-cheddar soup that Kathleen Carney, our Commissary Officer, had prepared.
It is amazing how different passers by have reacted since the masts have been stepped. Before, they would glance at the Lois and then continue walking, thinking it an oddly shaped green and white boat no doubt. Now that the masts are up, people stop and and stare at the impressive majestic sight the Lois has become. Many of those who walk by also question any crewmember on deck about the schooner, how it got here, and what the story behind it is. Photographs have also become a lot more common with the masts rising above the buildings surrounding us.
For me, watching the change take place was a joy! As many times as I have been a volunteer crew member since the Lois was launched in 2004, I have never witnessed this transformation. It certainly made me stop and think of what it must have been like for my great grandfather-in-law, Captain Theodore Bartley, to step the mast aboard his 1862 class canal boat with no diesel powered crane to help – only his brother-in-law [John] Henry Chubb to help, with block and tackle to provide a bit extra power. It is mind boggling.
Saturday, September 18th
This morning at 7:30, the crew set the sails on the Lois McClure. There are no words to describe the awesome sight that emerged as the sun shone through and on the sails. It sent an appreciative shiver down my spine. Anyone who was watching stood in awe, then grabbed their camera and started snapping pictures. Sadly, we could not leave the sails up but had to lower and furl them before 10am, when the public visitation hours began.
Sailing canal boats, with the mast up and the sails up or down, were not an uncommon sight in the 1860s. However, today it is an experience not to be missed.
Barbara Bartley Barbara Bartley is retired from her various employs, including bank secretary, newspaper typist, deputy sheriff, and jail matron. She enjoys camping, hiking, and visits with her grandchildren, and is actively studying her family’s genealogy. She joins the crew of Lois McClure as a volunteer.
Well, we did get to go sailing on Seneca Lake on August 19th. When the tug C. L. Churchill pulled the schooner off the dock in Geneva at 9:15 in the morning, the lake was a mirror; not a breath of air stirred. Keeping the faith, we set full sail, the big mainsail , the foresail amidships, and the little jib, up forward, and cast off the tug.
Visitors often ask us about crew size. We explain that because canal schooners were family affairs, the crew was the family. “Well,” we add, “if there were no children, or the children were too young to work, they might hire one man to help out.” And then we say that we have a crew of up to a dozen, not so much to handle the McClure, Churchill, and Oocher (our outboard-powered, inflatable boat), but more to provide enough interpreters to translate our vessel of 1862 to people of 2010. But I have to say that our big crew makes setting sail relatively easy. Still, it’s a half hour of strenuous hauling on the halyards, rigged with slow-but-sure block-and-tackle, to get our sails set, with the main and fore gaffs peaked up at just the right angle.
On this day, our sailsetting efforts were rewarded by a breeze that could only be described as light and variable. We used all the wind there was to tack and reach back and forth for a few miles in the north end of the Lake. At times we had bare steerageway, moving just enough so that the rudder could make the schooner respond and turn. I think we may have gone at the breathtaking speed of four knots for one ten-minute period.
It is only human nature for sailors to wish for more wind when it’s light (and less when a gale is blowing). We were satisfied with our tiny breeze, however, because the feeling of the schooner moving quietly under sail at any speed is always delightful. And once again, we could marvel at the canal boat’s amazing maneuverability at slow speed. Few traditional schooners can match the Lois McClure’s ability to turn through the wind from one tack to the other in such conditions. The Seneca Lake pleasure boats that approached for photos carried folks who called over their great appreciation of the chance to see the McClure under sail.
We needed to be back on the dock by mid-afternoon to disembark crew traveling to Basin Harbor to conduct this year’s “Rabble In Arms” spectacular back at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. So of course, no sooner did we round up and shake the wind out of our sails to stop and take the tug alongside, than a fine breeze sprang up from the West, making a perfect reach up and down the lake. Aeolus, the wind god, was certainly being perverse. Never mind; we furled up and towed back to our Geneva dock.
And the citizens of Geneva swarmed on board for the next three days, August 20th through the 22nd. Well, they didn’t exactly swarm on the 22nd; it was more like swimming through that day’s deluge. In the three days, we counted 1,700 visitors!
August 23rd was a lay day. We had bowsed down the shrouds before sailing, tightening the wires that support the masts by pulling hard with a “come-along” (today’s version of the block-and-tackle) on each part of each lanyard in turn, the lanyards being the heavy lines led through the round, wooden deadeyes, the combination connecting the shrouds to the deck. In spite of the light breeze, the lanyards had stretched remarkably during our sail, so on our lay day, we bowsed them all down again, because we were to sail again on the 24th.
One of the reasons sailing is so interesting is that no two sails are alike. There is always a different breeze, in direction and strength and character. Well, almost always. For our second sail on Seneca Lake, my log recorded the breeze as “light and variable.” I’ve never known two days of sailing to be more alike. We got to enjoy the schooner under sail all over again.
August 25th found us back at Stivers Seneca Marine, where we struck the rig, stowing the masts, booms, gaffs, and sails back in their horizontal position atop the T-braces.
Late that afternoon, we towed through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal to Seneca Falls for a repeat visit. We had called at Seneca Falls in 2007, but you’d never have guessed it on August 27th by the great turnout we had this year.
On August 28th, we re-entered the Erie Canal and headed west. When we traversed this section of the Canal in 2007, we had found ourselves, early one evening when it was time to stop for the night, approaching a village called Clyde. There was a wall at which to moor, so we did. We could see a few houses, but the main part of the village was out of sight. We settled in for a quiet night. Or, were just about to, when at least two dozen excited citizens materialized and began exclaiming over our vessel and asking all sorts of questions about her. When these Clyde folks learned what we were about, it took them but little time to extract a promise from us that when next we came out the Erie Canal, we would schedule a stop in Clyde and open the Lois McClure to them. On August 29th, we fulfilled this promise. From this small village, 350 visitors came on board to see at firsthand the sort of life ancestors of many of them had led along the Canal 150 years ago.
We towed on west to Newark on August 30th. This was a town we’d had to bypass in 2007, so it was good to make it a port-of-call this year. Realizing what an asset the Canal can be to a community, Newark has installed a first-rate mooring wall, with fine facilities for the crews of boats. We were treated to a concert and a good crowd of visitors to the McClure, eager to learn her history lessons.
On September 1st, we were getting into Charlie Copeland territory. Charlie loves to ride his bicycle along the Erie towpath, and in 2007, he had followed us for many miles. When he arrived in Newark on this day, we shanghaied him, bike and all, and he “rode” with us to Palmyra, first agreeing that these miles would not count on his yearly total of miles pedaled. In 2007, the citizens of Palmyra had outdone themselves in providing all sorts of hospitality for our crew. I guess that’s just the way they are; in 2010 we couldn’t lift a finger to cook a meal and only had to hint at the need for a ride to get ice to find a vehicle honking, ready to go. Steve and Bonnie Hays, in particular, are indefatigable, and once again, we took Steve “off the streets of Palmyra” to volunteer in our crew.
The trip from Palmyra to Fairport on September 4th challenged us with a headwind out of the West that gusted to 30 knots at times. (Charlie Copeland was with us again; I’m sure he can ride faster into such a wind than we could carry him, but we did save him effort.) The challenge comes mostly when leaving a lock. Once we get good headway, we can steer into a strong breeze okay, but when we start slowly out of a lock, the wind can take charge of the bow and blow it off to whichever side it pleases. We have been reluctant when exiting a lock to have the Oocher tied onto the bow to push or pull it sideways for fear the inflatable, with its two crewmembers, could get squashed between the schooner’s bow and the lock wall. But after having the bow blow off and nearly ashore exiting Lock 29 before we could get the Oocher tied on to pull us safely away, we decided to risk keeping the Oocher right on the bow as we went out of the next lock. In Lock 30, this technique worked beautifully; the Oocher kept the schooner heading where we wanted her to head, by pulling the bow up against the wind as we went slowly ahead on the Churchill’s propeller.
The fine mooring in Fairport is right in the center of town. It’s a 100-foot walk to good ice cream. Mercy. We’d had a good visit here in 2007; this year was another, with nearly 1,000 people tramping up our gangway ramp!
It was on to Spencerport on September 6th. This was our first visit, and the citizens proved their enthusiasm by coming on board that evening and the next day to the tune of 1,100 souls.
On September 8th, on the trip from Spencerport to Middleport, we passed under eleven lift bridges. These handsome structures are original to the nearly-century-old New York State Barge Canal. The span of a lift bridge clears the water of the canal by only a couple of feet when the bridge is lowered. Vehicles cross the bridge right at street level. When we approach a lift bridge, the drill is to wait for the bridge to come in sight and then radio the operator on Channel 13, just to be sure he or she sees us coming. He or she always does and says, “Just keep on coming. I’ll have the bridge out of your way by the time you get here.” We thank him or her and press on toward the bridge. Our majestic five knots seems to get faster and faster the closer we get to the bridge. Just when we’re about to chicken out and slow down, we hear the bells ringing and the bridge lifts horizontally with time to spare.
These bridges are beautifully designed and engineered. At each end of the lifting span is a heavy counterweight in a tower, so that the electric motor that does the lifting need not be powerful. The bridge span has sidewalks on each side, and pedestrians can mount the towers on stairs and cross the canal with a nice, high view as long as the bridge remains up.
The schools of Middleport are right on the ball. They sent 240 fifth and sixth graders on board the Lois McClure on September 9th, which was the day after their classes started! Erick Tichonuk, the schooner’s First Mate, a man of many hats, is in charge of our school programs. He arranges student visits, coaches our crew of amateur teachers, and organizes a smooth flow of students among six teaching stations on board the Lois McClure. His shoreside introduction to each class, as it arrives, is a marvel. In less than ten minutes, he can transform an excited, noisy mob, jumping out of a yellow bus, into a quiet group of youngsters with an appreciation of just how, and how much, the 19th century canal transformed the region of the country that they call home. With chalk, Erick draws a big map on the pavement, and, before they know it, the students are caught up in an exciting story of canal building, water transport of raw materials and finished products, and the growth of cities and towns from New York to Buffalo. Then they troop on board the schooner to learn details of canal boat operation, specific cargoes carried, and life on board, and also about the historical research, particularly including nautical archaeology, that has made it possible to build a reproduction of a canal schooner of 1862. To Erick and the crew, an immensely satisfying byproduct of our teaching is to witness students bringing their parents and grandparents back on board the schooner and giving them a knowing tour. The Middleport kids came back in dozens. Thank you to the school department of Middleport.
On September 11th, we towed the Lois McClure on to Lockport, our westernmost port-of-call for this year’s Erie trip. We found that the town had just finished celebrating its annual Old Home Week. Well, the Lockporters had had so much fun that they just kept right on celebrating when we arrived. As the Churchill eased the schooner slowly into her berth on the canal wall, a wonderful band welcomed us with a ringing Sousa march. As Museum Director Art Cohn climbed from his pilothouse on the tug over the schooner’s rail, I said to him, “Art, we just have to get our own band!” There’s just something about a band playing as a vessel arrives to tie up. (And we have a good start: our able seaman Tom Larsen is a tuba player!)
Turning the schooner around in the narrow canal at Lockport to start our homeward- bound trip on September 13th presented something of a problem. We could move ahead to a basin at the foot of Lockport’s famous high double locks. Or, we could back down the canal a hundred yards or so to where it widened out a little. Choosing the latter, we went ahead gently against a bow line to swing the stern out into the canal, and backed away from the wall and got the schooner lined up in mid-stream. That seems a funny term to use in a canal, but here there was a knot or so of current caused by the overflow coming down past the high locks. We used the current as well as occasional backing by the tug to work slowly along to where the canal looked wide enough for us to turn around in. Then we used the Oocher to push the schooner’s bow around so that she was heading east. Well, the canal was just barely wide enough for this maneuver. As we turned crosswise, the schooner’s rudder missed one wall by a foot and the bow cleared the other wall by three feet. Mercy.
We were off for Rochester to attend (and be a centerpiece for) the 2010 World Canals Conference. On the way, we made overnight stops at Albion and Spencerport. On September 15th, we turned north from the Erie Canal and went down the twisting Genesee River to moor on the long wall at Corn Hill Landing in the Flour City: Rochester.
Yesterday, the 16th, we stepped the masts and set up the rigging. It’s true that there is a scant quarter mile of open water for us in the river between bridges, but we just couldn’t resist showing off the schooner for the assemblage of canal experts from around the world.
Lockport, “one of the creations of the Erie Canal” [from H.G. Spafford, A Gazetteer of the State of New York, 1824], is dominated in its history and the present time by the “Flight of Five” – a series of five locks which were designed and built to lift boats over the Niagara Escarpment. The construction of the “Flight” and the “Deep Cut” just west of the locks were two of the many wonders of engineering that made the original Erie Canal possible. During the canal’s first expansion, the original flight of five was replaced by two sets of enlarged, side-by-side masonry locks able to accommodate boats of Lois McClure’s size and larger. One set of these five combined locks is still preserved next to the two modern locks, E 34 and E35, which are in service today.
Approaching Lockport from the east is like stepping back in time. Historic buildings speak to the wealth and commerce that the early canal generated, lift bridges rise vertically to allow you to pass under and the New York State Canal Corporations operations center and dry dock reminds you that the system is still vibrant, alive and being maintained by a new generation of caretakers. We stopped at Upson Park just west of the Canal Corps facility where we were greeted by a band and speeches of welcome and appreciation. That evening and all the next day the music and visitors continued as the Lois McClure was presented as one of Lockport’s “Old Home Week” events.
The docking site at Upson Park was the perfect place to greet the public and also to explore Lockport’s canal and industrial history. The mountainside on the north-side of the canal was filled with archaeological remnants of the industrial buildings that once utilized the abundant power of falling water. Today, guided tours and even a boat ride into the inner workings of the facility offer a view at the many ways water was harnessed to create power. On top of Flight of Five is the Erie Canal Discovery Center, run by Douglas Farley (who was the organizer behind our visit to Lockport and did a fantastic job), a modern visitor’s center, museum shop and wonderful multi-media presentation about the origins of Lockport and the canal engineers and creative engineering that made it famous.
On my walk back to the schooner I took the path past the old “Flight of Five” and the new canal locks where I remembered that there was an old power station building which had been converted into a historical presentation. As I made my way through the collection of objects, photographs and canal memorabilia I was drawn to an object I had never seen before.It was a long pole with an iron strap wrapped around the blunt end and I was immediately excited. Having been a devoted reader and re-reader of Captain Theodore Bartley’s Journals, I have been struck by how often he indicates that he is poling his boat. He even describes making a pole, using it to travel from place to place within a harbor or up some creek that a tug can’t go. But Captain Bartley fails to provide any detailed information about what the pole looked like. He must have thought anybody interested enough to read his journal would certainly know what a pole was. I have enclosed a photo of the “pole” like object and would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions about whether this might be the elusive pole that all canaler’s used for short distance moving or something else.
This year’s voyage has been divided into ten parts. Volunteers have requested/been granted a specific slot on the voyage. It’s my job to make sure they know when to be at the main campus of LCMM, what they should pack, let them know how much space they will get for all the stuff they bring (including sleeping bags), and to get them directions as to where to meet with the schooner. In addition, I get requests for restocking the retail store and a shopping list of bulk items to go shopping for to keep the crew fed. There are also the requests from the crew of items they have forgotten, need replaced, or didn’t originally think they would need.
The actual vehicle used for the rotation has changed throughout the years. Space is definitely a consideration, and the Grand Journey in 2005 included the purchase of a full size van as a chase vehicle. However, after dealing with many breakdowns, the decision was made to rent a vehicle instead and Grand Canal Journey of 2007 saw a minivan as the volunteer chariot. This year, we are renting a small SUV from Enterprise Rental, and while the cargo capacity isn’t as massive as a full size van, it has done well hauling batches of volunteers and all of their gear back and forth from the schooner.
At least one day before the van leaves, I get everything together and go to the museum to pack it all all into the van. Chris McClain helps out by making sure the van is gassed up and ready for its trip across New York state. There’s an art to getting all the supplies packed into a small SUV, while still leaving room for 4 people and all of their gear that they bring for a week on the Lois. So far, there’s still been room for them to breathe on the trip out!
Elisa has been with the schooner from the beginning in 2001. She worked throughout the construction of Lois McClure in Burlington as lead interpreter and volunteer coordinator. She resides with her husband, who is also involved with the schooner as a volunteer, in Burlington, VT. She rejoins the Lois again this year as Volunteer Coordinator and Home Port Logistics Officer.