Notes from the Captain’s Log: Part 4

And show off in Rochester for the World Canals Conference we did. On September 18th, at 7:30 a.m., we set full sail (mainsail, foresail, and jib) to a light breeze from the south. Not that we got underway; we were tied securely to the wall. But for the next two hours, early

Sails set in Rochester
Sails set in Rochester (photo: Tom Larsen)

birds, including members of the press, captured the unique photographic image of a sailing canal boat with all her sails set in the Genesee River, a sight never seen before and one that will never be seen again. We lowered the sails and gave them a harbor furl before opening the boat to visitors at 10 o’clock. As 360 people came on board, we explained to each one that most canal boats seen in Rochester 150 years ago didn’t have masts and sails, that the few that did would probably have left them behind when they entered the Erie Canal, and that any that had kept their rigs on board (perhaps to sail on a Finger Lake) would have had them stowed on deck in Rochester because of the Erie Canal’s famous low bridges. (Folks sometimes ask, perhaps having somehow missed out on the song, if the Canal had bridges before the days of the trailer truck. Yes, indeed, and many more than today. One of the caveats when the Erie was first dug was that if the surveyors routed the canal across a farmer’s fields, the engineers and builders had to provide that farmer with a bridge.)

Over the next three days, we explained that our rig was up because of the World Canals Conference to many more citizens and also to school students who came on board. And some of the Lois McClure’s crew participated in the Conference. Museum Executive Director Art Cohn moderated a session on “Ports, Commercial Shipping, and Transport Infrastructure;” Museum Deputy Director Erick Tichonuk gave a thorough presentation on the Lois McClure, including her history, underwater archaeology, construction, the planning of her seven voyages, and her operation as a vessel for the teaching of history; and I demonstrated with pictures and words that the family-owned commercial barges carrying cargoes on the inland waterways of Europe are alive and well, still working much as did the canal boats on which the Lois McClure is based.

On September 22nd, we struck the rig and stowed it back on its T-braces, masts horizontal. For the next nine days we were to travel on the Erie through 31 locks on our way to Waterford, the eastern terminus of the Canal. The trip toward Waterford was uneventful until we got to Oneida Lake on September 27th. At some point during our calm, westbound crossing of Oneida on August 11th, I remember remarking to First Mate Erick Tichonuk, “I wonder what this lake will look like when we come back in late September?” Well, it looked quite different. No sooner had we towed the schooner out of the shelter of the Oswego River onto the lake than the wind that had been gentle breezed right up to fresh. Plenty of whitecaps. The C. L. Churchill, towing the schooner into the wind on the hip, began to dive into two-to-three-foot seas. Time to put her on the 200-foot hawser, towing the schooner astern. I should have turned 180 degrees and run off before the wind to make the switch. Usually, rigging the towline from the stern of the tug to the bow of the schooner and casting off the tug from the schooner’s side is the work of but a few minutes. This day it took longer. So while we were stopped to do it, the schooner’s bow had time to blow off, until the wind­­­­­—and the waves—were abeam. The waves were just the wrong size for her narrow beam and flat bottom. My, but didn’t she roll! Would the big ballast stones stay chained in position? Would the masts, booms, and gaffs stay lashed in place overhead? Could the tug get out from under the lee of the schooner without damage? Well, thanks to fast action by the crew when the spars overhead did start to shift a bit, and thanks to a bold move by Erick, at the controls of the tug, no damage accrued. And thanks to every member of the crew taking care not to slip and fall on the wet, moving decks where they worked with lines to do what had to be done, no one was hurt. What a crew! Had we been running with the wind, the motion would have been far less.

Once the Churchill took a strain on the hawser and began towing the schooner into the wind again, things quieted down. The little tug is a gamer. She towed her much bigger charge against wind and wave at close to 4 knots. As we neared the shelter of the windward shore of the lake, the breeze went down, so putting the tug back on the hip to go into the canal was easy.

One of my objectives as Captain of the Lois McClure has been to give Erick, as first mate, every chance to gain shiphandling experience. In general, what we’ve agreed on has been I’ll do the potentially damaging stuff (like making a landing in a small berth between expensive fiberglass yachts) and Erick will do the less potentially damaging stuff (like landing on an empty wall where the biggest danger is “option paralysis:” where in that big space to put the schooner?). But recently, I‘ve realized I wasn’t challenging Erick enough. (That’s why he ended up in the tough position of getting the tug clear, with both vessels rolling together, when we put the tug out on the hawser on Oneida Lake.)

Sunset in Little Falls
Sunset in Little Falls (photo: Tom Larsen)

So, on September 28th, when we had to turn the schooner around in the narrow channel to land at Little Falls, Erick was at the conn. His landing was a joy to watch. He tucked the schooner’s bow in close to the wall out of the slow current and just let the movement of the water bring her stern majestically around as he shoved the vessel gently against the wall with the Oocher. Mercy.

By the next day, we were getting weather forecasts of prolonged, heavy rains. There was talk of flooding. We were on the Mohawk River, notorious for flood damage in 2006. We made plans for longer days’ runs, hoping to get off the river in two days, instead of three. So, on September 29th, we got underway from Little Falls soon after first light and made it all the way to Lock 10 at Amsterdam. We were going to go on further, to Lock 9, but when Art Cohn put the tug in gear to go “Slow Ahead” out of Lock 10, nothing happened. The engine’s torque was not being transmitted to the propeller!

I’ve always marveled at what a lucky ship is the Lois McClure. What went through my head at this moment was a conversation between God and the Crew:

God: (loud, deep voice from the sky) “You will break down today.”

Crew (soft voice from down here) “ Do we have to?”

God: “Because you have been good, you get to choose where.”

Crew: (slyly) “Could it be in a lock?”

God: “Oh, all right.”

Broken in Lock 10
Broken in Lock 10 (photo: Tom Larsen)

How lucky can you get? Of all the places we might have lost power this day, inside a lock was the only safe one. What if it had been as we met the Governor Cleveland pushing a big barge? What if it had been when we were entering a lock with no way to stop? Well, we think about such emergencies and plan ways to cope, but still.

Lock 10’s keeper was already working late to get us through, and he stayed on to help us. He lowered the lock and we put the tug on the wall astern by hand, so that a yacht behind us could get by out of the lock and on her way. When he went to refill the lock, nothing happened! (Were we on Candid Camera?) He called in help to deal with an electrical problem. Eventually, up we went.

Art Cohn put on his snorkel mask and, leaning down over the Churchill’s low stern, put his head under to see what he could see. He saw that the propeller shaft had slipped aft against the rudder. A look at the shaft inside showed that the drive coupling had let go. This was not going to be a quick fix. Could we spend the night in the lock? Of course we could. The New York Canal Corporation takes such good care of us.

Erick, Art, Kerry Batdorf (our Ship’s Carpenter and chief fix-it man), and Andy Scott (an experienced licensed Captain who was volunteering) went to work. Four hours and a trip by Erick to the nearest Canal Corporation machine shop later (to convert a bag of broken metal parts from the drive coupling into new ones!), and the team was ready to effect a temporary repair that should put us back in business. Part of the job was to haul the aft end of the propeller shaft back up into position; this took both cranking on a come-along inside the boat and Art’s going underwater in his scuba gear, flashlight taped to his mask, to help it along with a hammer. It was nearly midnight before the crew had everything back together. The temporary fix meant that going ahead on the tug’s propeller should be no problem, because the forward pressure would hold things in place, but that going astern might possibly break it all loose again and leave us without propulsion.

[flickr video=5037707197 secret=83b85a39ac w=400 h=300 show_info=no]

The forecast was now definitely for flooding on the Mohawk on October 1st. So, when we got underway on September 30th, we wanted to get all the way to Waterford, or at least through the guard gate that protects the flight of locks down into Waterford from river flooding. With our shaky drive coupling, we determined to make the trip without ever going astern on the tug. Of course there might be some emergency that would require backing down, but otherwise all we need worry about was getting the schooner stopped when entering the seven locks on the way to Waterford. Our technique was to enter the lock chamber not just at slow speed, as we usually do, but at dead slow. We coasted in with bare headway, the schooner’s long, flat, well-fendered side just clear of the lock wall. Once in the chamber, we used the Oocher to push the schooner right against the wall, using the friction of the vessel’s rubbing along to bring her to a stop. More power from the Oocher was like stepping on the brake pedal a little harder. It worked. After a nine-hour trip, we tied up gratefully at our destination. Perhaps the sharpest sense of relief was when we looked astern and saw that guard gate being lowered into place.

Safe in Waterford
Safe in Waterford (photo: Tom Larsen)

That night the Mohawk River came up until the water was lapping at the doorstep of the Waterford harbor Visitor Center, about six feet above normal. The current in the river was running at five knots. It was good to be moored safely out of it.

By the end of the day on October 3rd, we had a new, improved drive coupling in place, thanks to professional help supplied by the Van Schaick Marina.

Next day, in Waterford, we had some 200 pupils from the nearby town of Salem on board. With grass instead of pavement, as on September 9th, Erick made his Lake Champlain-Hudson River-Erie Canal map with students instead of chalk. The half-dozen boys and girls assigned to emulate the river began bobbing like channel buoys! I guess he had their attention all right.

On October 5th, we left the Erie Canal and headed north on the canalized Hudson River. There was still extra current coming down, so our passage up to Schuylerville was a slow one, rewarded by another 80 school children on the 6th. On the 7th,we continued up river against the current, leaving the Hudson behind at Fort Edward to enter the Champlain Canal proper at Lock 7. Now, our 5 knots through the water gave us 5 knots “over the ground,” instead of 3.5 to 4.0.

Skene Manor in Whitehall, among the fall foliage
Skene Manor in Whitehall, among the fall foliage (photo: Tom Larsen)

Erick made another beautiful landing at Whitehall that required a 180-degree turn. Next day, he chalked his trademark map on the broad sidewalk along the mooring wall to the delight of 50 more elementary school pupils.

When the last visitor went ashore at 6 p.m. that day, she brought our total for this year’s trip to 11,460. That means that since the Lois McClure started voyaging in 2004, she has welcomed on board about 150,000 people. She has traveled some 5,000 miles and passed through about 300 canal locks.

I am finishing this log as the schooner lies quietly at anchor, tug on hip, off Fort Ticonderoga, on the New York side of Lake Champlain. We just had a beautiful run down the Lake from Whitehall. It has been one of those clear, northwest days, with every hillside, brilliant with autumn reds and yellows among the green, dazzling our eyes. And the weather forecast promises more of the same for tomorrow, when we will continue down the Lake toward home base, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum at Basin Harbor, Vermont.

Whenever I look back on one of these voyages that we are so privileged to make in the canal-boat-that-brings-smiles, I feel a great sense of gratitude to the crew, fine shipmates who take care of each other, of our many visitors, and of the vessels put in our charge. And I say another of many thank you’s to Art Cohn, the inspiration and guiding genius of the creation of the Lois McClure, not to mention the competent Captain of the tug, C. L. Churchill. These people and these boats have become a permanent part of me.

Roger Taylor

Tugboat fix!

Last we left you with the tugboat, the propeller and driveshaft were in a sorry state – they broke in Lock 10, and we managed to piece them back together to get us to Waterford safely.  Now, time to fix the issue correctly.

The problem area
The problem area (photo; Kerry Batdorf)

What happened was the shaft that goes through the hull and drives the propeller became detached at the shaft coupling located between the stuffing box and the thrust/carrying bearing.  Two set screws had sheared off in their dimples and the shaft slid back out of the coupling until the key holding the two shaft sections together fell out and at that point the shaft became completely detached from the engine. The temporary fix for this is detailed in the posts “News Flash,” “Tugboat Update,” “Tugboat End Result,” and “Tugboat Video Summary.”

John Callaghan suggested we contact Ron Bloom at the Van Schaick Marina. Ron recommended we order a set of Clamp-Fit Propeller Shaft Flanges and he would provide someone to install it. The parts were delivered overnight to the Waterford Police Station as we had no address of our own other than “above Erie Lock 2” and we were not about to take any chances with the expedited delivery. This new coupling is massive; it is at least 3 times the weight of the original coupling and it should take more torque than we will ever deliver to it.

Andy Scott, who recently joined our crew for a couple of weeks, disassembled the shaft saver and removed aft coupling in preparation for the new coupling.

George fitting the coupling
George fitting the coupling (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

George and Mel from the Marina came out to the C.L. Churchill, and cut off the stubborn forward coupling.  They then installed the new coupling and adjusted the shaft alignment. We started up the engine and exercised forward and reverse gears several times up to 1000 RPM while still tied up to the cedar trees and bollards on shore. The engine vibration that had recently developed was gone and the new coupling held tight. Now, to test it out on the way to Schuylerville!

Kerry Batdorf
Ship’s Carpenter

Flooding in Waterford

Safely docked in Waterford on Thursday, we had two lay days before our public hours to recover from our tense trip down the Mohawk.  The rain didn’t lessen, remaining fairly steady through much of the weekend.  We watched the lower docks near the Visitor’s Center slowly disappear as the Mohawk continued to dump out into the Hudson.  The level rose steadily from the 16 feet we experienced when we came through in July, up to 21′ 8″, sending some water into the Visitor’s Center and covering the concrete dock.


Cleat with a wake
Cleat with a wake (photo: Tom Larsen)


It was quite the sight.  There was a current in the water over the pier, with cleats and bollards having a wake.  The normally placid water at the foot of the Mohawk was roiling and foaming as the river dumped out the rain.  The Old Champlain Canal locks, now utilized as a spillway for the modern locks, constantly was roaring as the Canal Corporation dumped the excess water out of the system.


Chancellor at the flooded dock
Chancellor at the flooded dock (photo: Tom Larsen)


Through all this, the Lois remained safe and sound above Lock 2.  We had a good day on Sunday, with visitors braving the weather to come learn about how boats such as the schooner traversed through the old canal locks still visible.  Monday saw school programs in the morning, eager school children acting out a living map of the canal system under the expert direction of Erick Tichonuk.  Monday afternoon, some of the kids brought their parents back during our public hours, despite the continued questionable weather.  Overall, Waterford once again provided us with a fantastic visit.  We’re looking forward to coming back again!

Tom Larsen
AB Crew

Exploring the Old Champlain Canal in Waterford

After a scrubdown of the Lois McClure and some drying of the awnings, some of the crew went for a walk along the old Champlain Canal.


Russ explaining a portion of the Champlain Canal
Russ explaining a portion of the Champlain Canal (photo: Kathleen Carney)


Russ VanDervoort (author of Canal Canaries and Other Tough Old Birds) guided us and we stopped at various points of interest as he narrated the history, along with excerpts from Theodore Bartley’s journals.  You can really visualize the scenes in his journals when you are standing and looking at the spot where it happened.

The towpath is currently being spruced up. The trees and brush that has grown up on the water’s edge are being cut to restore the towpath more to its original look.  If you are in Waterford, it’s worth taking a walk along the old towpath and imagining it and the canal in its heyday. Thank you Russ for your time and the information that made the walk a great experience.

Leo Straight
Born in Keene Valley, NY, Leo moved to Marshfield, Vermont in 1994. He has been fascinated with sailing vessels for most of his life and sails regularly on the windjammer fleet from Camden, Maine. He has helped with the winter maintenance, and is a regular volunteer aboard the Lois.

Dream fulfilled

by Sal Larsen


Sal all smiles on the Churchill
Sal all smiles on the Churchill (photo: Tom Larsen)

Today was a red letter day for me: I got to stand watch on the tugboat.  Standing behind the wheel, I was so excited I thought I’d burst.  Remember the absolute joy you felt as a kid when you got to do something you had only dreamed of?  Well, multiply that feeling by a thousand and you’ll have some idea of how thrilled I was.  It was impossible to stop smiling.

So thank you Roger, Art, Erick and Kerry for teaching me what I needed to know, and for giving me the thrill of a lifetime.  Your generosity embodies the spirit of the whole tour and I am deeply grateful.

Sal Larsen
A graduate of Weslyan University, Sal has been a member of the museum for many years.  This is her first time as a volunteer aboard the Lois, and she has fulfilled a lifelong dream of helping crew on a tugboat.

Generosity and good will

by Sal Larsen

An amazing and wonderful aspect of traveling on the Lois McClure is the generosity and friendliness of the people we meet along the way.  This is my second time volunteering on the boat on this tour, and I have been pleasantly surprised, town after town, by the open and friendly attitudes of the local residents.  It is clear that on the 2007 Grand Canal Journey, the Lois made many strong connections and that the friendships have endured and blossomed.

A great example was our reception in Lyons.  We had barely docked when we were met by the mayor, Corinne Kleisle who is a big fan of the Lois (she even came to visit us in VT, and became a member of the museum!)  She lead us to the fire station, where we were warmly greeted and treated to snacks and drinks.  The fire station here has new facilities for boaters and they are beautiful.  Spotless and bright, they were very much appreciated.  The volunteer firemen were fun, friendly and extremely accommodating.

On a brief walk about Lyons, we were met with the same friendly enthusiasm.  Everyone was genuinely interested in the boat, and their goodwill was infectious. That night, three enormous pizzas were delivered for us (gluttony reigned!) and first thing in the morning, we were treated to a bag of warm apple fritters, fresh from the Farmer’s Market.  What a send off!

This is one of the joys of volunteering on the Lois – the sense of community and continuity.  Friendships are forged and alliances formed.  I am deeply grateful to be part of the process.  Thank you all.

Sal Larsen
A graduate of Weslyan University, Sal has been a member of the museum for many years.  This is her first time as a volunteer aboard the Lois, and she has fulfilled a lifelong dream of helping crew on a tugboat.

The World Canals Conference 2010

The World Canals Conference (WCC), a gathering focused on canal planning, economics and operations, was held in Rochester this September and made 2010 the ideal time for the Lois McClure to return to the Erie Canal. The 2007 Grand Canal Journey had been so well received that we had been looking for an opportunity to return and visit communities that scheduling limitations had forced us to bypass. In addition, the WCC would be a wonderful opportunity to interact with canal enthusiasts from all over the world. Working with our sponsors—the National Park Service, Cabot Creameries, the NYS Canal Corporation—and the WCC planners, we reached a consensus for a trip that would visit 20 communities, 10 of which we had not visited before. The WCC at Rochester would provide the opportunity to host the public, canal delegates from around the world, and arguably most important, school children.

Once we arrived at Rochester, we set up Lois’s sailing rig for to showcase the unique features of these once-forgotten Lake Champlain watercraft. With the assistance of the Rivers Organization and Brett Costello, we were put in touch with Ramar Steel Erectors, owned by Tony Randall. They brought their “small” 40-ton crane to the Corn Hill Landing dock, with Jack Lingle at the controls.

Sails set on the Lois McClure, with Rochester in the background
Sails set on the Lois McClure, with Rochester in the background (photo: Tom Larsen)

Together, we were able to put up the rig smoothly. On Sunday, September 19th, with the rig in place, Lois was authentic and wonderfully photogenic.Meanwhile, her trusty companion, the C.L. Churchill, joined the parade of working vessels from the Canal Corporation’s “navy,” canal charter boats, and private boats for a flotilla, officially starting the conference. The Rochester waterfront was alive with citizens and delegates from other canal states and 17 countries. Over 1200 people boarded the Lois McClure that day to share a rare piece of canal history and learn about a canal boat that was designed to sail to and from the canal.

Erick Tichonuk introducing a school group to the Lois McClure
Erick Tichonuk introducing a school group to the Lois McClure (photo: Tom Larsen)

On board the schooner, the museum crew interpreted canal history to delegates, citizens and school kids in our traditional way. Some crew members also presented formal lectures to the Conference. Roger Taylor, our captain, gave a talk on European Canals from his perspective of living and traveling the systems. Erick Tichonuk, the first mate, delivered a paper about the projects, research, and programs that have created and comprised the Lois McClure’s six years of educational outreach. I was asked to moderate two sessions on the canal technology, planning, and economics, which included sessions on the feasibility of future commercial traffic on the New York State canal system. I must say I learned a tremendous amount about the possibilities of a canal network that could be incorporated into a “multi-modal” system that would move freight on the canal, while continuing to support recreational use. This concept left me optimistic and excited.

As the Conference wound down, so did we. The sailing rig came down for the last time this season, and we prepared for our easterly run home. We left Rochester for a nine-day run to Waterford and the eastern end of the Erie Canal and southern end of the Champlain Canal. We are looking forward to doing school programs in Waterford, Schuylerville, and Whitehall before returning home to Basin Harbor.

Art Cohn
Executive Director

Community Connections: Rochester

Corn Hill Landing in Rochester is a great venue for vessels like the Lois McClure.  It has a sound wall for mooring, power and lots of amenities nearby.  Corn Hill Navigation offers excellent tours of the Genesse River and surrounding environs.  Upon our arrival, the folks of Corn Hill Navigation suggested I speak with the owner of the recently opened iTastea to see about access to his bathroom facility.

Gabrielle O'Melia and Yuke Wu
Gabrielle O'Melia, waitress and Yuke Wu, proprietor (photo: Tom Larsen)

Yuke Wu had just opened his new tea and noodle shop a week before we arrived.  Full of energy, enthusiasm and smiles, he couldn’t have been more helpful.  He not only offered us access to his bathroom, he also encouraged us to sit in his warm restaurant on cool, raw days and enjoy free internet access.  We of course sampled great fare.  Simply put, his creative tea concoctions, both hot and cold, are the best I’ve ever had.  He often gave me samples of delicious foods and teas in a show of wonderful hospitality.  The next time you’re in Rochester, do yourself a favor and and visit our new friend Yuke at iTastea.  You won’t be disappointed.

Erick Tichonuk
First Mate

Exploring Rochester

by Laura Hollowell

One thing is clear – Rochester was far from sleepy when canal boats like Lois McClure passed through downtown on the original Erie Canal.  The city is woven of old and new, an intricate mix of historic and modern buildings.

Erick drawing a chalk map for a schoolgroup
Erick drawing a chalk map for a schoolgroup (photo: Tom Larsen)

For several days, the Lois docked on the Genesee River at Corn Hill Landing, the waterfront for the beautiful Corn Hill neighborhood.  We hosted residents, tourists and students from the Rochester City schools.  Among the visitors were many attendees of the 2010 World Canals Conference.  Here was a seasoned audience for touring our replica canal boat!  I learned from these canal enthusiasts the story of the nearby aqueduct, under what is now Broad Street.  Literally a bridge filled with water that spanned the steep banks of the Genesee, now the aqueduct is covered by Broad Street.  It is still accessible by foot and there is talk of re-watering it, lead by Tom Grasso, a local college professor and canal enthusiast.

The locals recommend a visit to High Falls.  From a tall pedestrian bridge, the view includes the spectacular waterfall and dramatic signs of early industries.  A raceway once ran along the rim of the steep gorge, providing water power to the mills in the area.  Subterranean channels are cut into the gorge from the buildings above, resembling a labyrinth of passageways suitable for trolls.

Old homes in the Historic District of Rochester
Old homes in the Historic District of Rochester (photo: Tom Larsen)

The historic downtown and beautifully preserved homes of Corn Hill are a reminder that the Erie Canal brought trade and oftentimes wealth.  Fortunes were made moving goods such as the famously soft Genesee Valley Flour, milled in Rochester.

It took some rambling through Rochester’s streets and museums to understand that the canal brought more than raw materials and supplies – it brought new ideas.  A few blocks from our dockage at Corn Hill, the great abolitionist, Fredrick Douglas published the anti-slavery newspaper The North Star.  Early Erie Canal boats also passed by the residence of Susan B. Anthony, stalwart activist for womens’ rights.

Rochester was a great stage for nineteenth century history, complete with speeches, marches, even riots.  Today, it is beautiful, gritty, innovative, idealistic, still fighting for a better future – truly an American city.

Laura Hollowell
Laura works for the Lake Champlain Basin Program, a federal, state and local partnership that is implementing a management plan for Lake Champlain and its watershed. Laura works with the public in the Resource Room at the ECHO Aquarium and Science Center on the Burlington waterfront.  Twenty years ago, in October, she was employed as an interpreter in the museum’s stone schoolhouse, then the only building at the new museum!

And now, back to our scheduled broadcast

Now that we are safely docked in Waterford, we’ll be resuming catching up on events already past.  We had a great time in Rochester, as well as a wonderful long travel back east.  With the events of the tugboat, we tried “real time” updates.  While the writing quality may have suffered a bit, we wanted to keep everyone in the loop as events unfolded.  Feedback on this style of blog update would be much appreciated!

Thank you all for reading, and the support you showed us as we traversed the Mohawk.