In 2005 the Lois McClure embarked on her first extensive outreach tour to the Hudson River and New York City. It was all so new and exciting, passing through the narrows to Whitehall, transiting the Champlain Canal for the first time and emerging on the historic, tidal and beautiful Hudson River. Every twist, turn and community provides a new landscape and it is easy to see how the 19th century Hudson River school of painters got drawn into the physical grandeur of the place.
During the 2005 Grand Journey, we had incredible visits at so many wonderful places but my memories of Cold Spring just across the river and north of West Point are very special. After stopping over at a number of urban waterfronts the dock provided at Constitution Island, directly across from West Point on the “World’s End” turn in the river was all our own. Constitution Island lies adjacent to Cold Springs and during the outbreak of the American Revolution had been fortified earlier that West Point. Our dock was in close proximity to where one end of the iron chain boom connected to this northern shore. With West Point as the backdrop and fleets of tug drawn barges making the difficult passage past us, it was truly like traveling back in time.
Constitution Island was such a good dockage that through the courtesy of West Point, we actually stayed there several times during our extended tour and got to know and enjoyed the hospitality of many people at Cold Spring. With these fond memories in mind, when the Putnam County Historical Society, located in Cold Spring, asked if I would be willing to provide a lecture on “What Lies Beneath: the archaeology of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River” I immediately and enthusiastically agreed.
On December 3rd, my wife Anne and I traveled to Cold Spring to provide the lecture at the historical society’s Foundry School Museum. The society is housed one of the few remaining buildings from the West Point Foundry which operated in Cold Spring throughout most of the 19th century. What a treat. I was greeted by many familiar faces and friends from our 2005 visit and the warmth of the crowd made it feel like I was coming home. The room was filled to capacity and the lecture concluded with a long and enthusiastic discussion period. One positive reflection of the lecture was repeated invitations to host the Lois McClure when we come back to the Hudson, and several requests to do this lecture at neighboring communities in the Hudson Valley.
Just like our time at Cold Spring in 2005, the community was interested in our story and so gracious in their hospitality. I do look forward to an opportunity to return to the Hudson River and Cold Spring in the near future.
This fall I had the exciting experience of diving for spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) in Lake Champlain’s Missisquoi Bay. No, not for eating, these turtles are a threatened species in Vermont. We worked for McFarland Johnson, Inc., an environmental consulting firm, under contract to VTrans to study the turtle’s behavior. The goal was to determine whether constructing the new Route 78 Bridge between Swanton and Alburgh had affected the turtles. Over the last several years a number of these turtles were tagged with radio transmitters to track their movements. As the batteries inside the transmitters wore down, it came time to re-capture the turtles and switch out the transmitters, lest the turtles become untraceable. Here at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum we have lots of tools for working underwater, including, although not by design, useful equipment for capturing turtles.
Here’s the really amazing thing about these creatures: they hibernate underwater! Yes, they take a few big breaths in the fall, go the bottom of the lake, bury themselves, and come up sometime in the spring. The turtles are able to absorb oxygen through their skin and shell while hibernating. How do you find a buried turtle on the bottom of Lake Champlain? First, their transmitters get you to within ten or twenty feet of where the reptile is slumbering. Mark that spot and then send a diver into the water with a metal detector to find the metal in the transmitter. Once the diver has found the transmitter (i.e. the turtle), then comes the tricky part of digging up the turtle and bringing it to the surface. Tricky because the formerly sleeping turtle quickly becomes unhappy about being dug up and being held onto by a strange creature. Once onboard the research boat, the turtles are weighed, measured, and fitted with a fresh transmitter. After this relatively short bad dream, the turtle is returned to the lake to continue its long nap.
This past Wednesday, LCMM’s educators Rich Isenberg and Tom Larsen went to Ludlow Elementary School to present a Lake Sailor program. This classroom program simulates canal boat shipping activities on Lake Champlain in the 19th century. Students are put in teams of four, each with a boat to direct. They get to choose what types of cargo they carry to which ports, and do their best to make a profit. Then there’s the weather variable – will they get great weather? High winds or perhaps no wind at all? Usually, the results are similar to those historically – about half of the boats make a profit, and the other half owe money. The 6th grade of Ludlow broke that trend with all crews coming out ahead. Great job!
You can check out photos of the program on the website of the Ludlow 6th grade HERE.
Want to book your program? LCMM has money available to partially or fully subsidize a program in your school! Read about our programs, then call (802) 475-2022 to book it!
While crewing aboard Lois McClure for her four-month Erie Canal tour, I heard about a wonderful opportunity. While the boat was in Rochester at the World Canals Conference, I spoke to Wendy Marble, one of the tugboat captains of the NYS Canal Corporation. She mentioned that she knew of a ship, the Gazela, that was going on a trip in October, and that they were looking for volunteer crew. I gave her my email address and hoped for the best. About a week from the end of the Erie tour, I got an email from the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild (the organization that runs the Gazela), and a short flurry of emails later, I was slated to join them in Philadelphia the day after the Lois returned home.
After only 18 hours at home (a few quick loads of laundry and a repack of essential gear), I was on the road to Philadelphia.
A bit of an overview of the Gazela – built in 1901 in Portugal, as a commercial cod fishing vessel, she had 68 years of almost continual use. Her last voyage was in 1969, when she returned with only half her hold full. That was the nail in her coffin, and she was decommissioned after that. She was bought in 1971 by a wealthy American philanthropist, William Wikoff Smith, for the Philadelphia Maritime Museum. In 1985, she was transferred to the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild, who now maintains and operates her. She is 177’ overall, 130’ on the waterline. Her masts stand 94’ from the deck, and she draws about 17’. Her weight is currently approximately 650 tons.
Coming into Philadelphia, I was expecting the Gazela to be easy to find. With the masts over 100 feet off the water, how tough could it be to find such a ship? Surprisingly, there were bigger ones there – the Moshulu, a 4 masted steel hulled barque designed to carry cargo around Cape Horn, was on the waterfront, as well as a steel hulled Spanish American War flagship, the USS Olympia. Both of these vessels have rather tall masts (the Moshulu especially!). The Gazela seemed rather dwarfed by them.
This trip was from Philadelphia out to Oyster Bay, Long Island, for the big oyster festival there. I was going to be on board for the full round trip – 10 days. It was my first time out on the ocean in anything other than a small sailboat, and I was super excited for it. Standing on board the ship was an amazing feeling.
The trip to Oyster Bay was pretty uneventful. It was fairly choppy and windy the first day, though we stayed about 8 miles off shore. We could still see the lights of the cities we passed. Feeling the ship porpoising about was interesting. I was a little nervous at first, being used to the total stability of the Lois, but I kept reminding myself that the ship was designed for this, and soon began to enjoy it. The second day of travel, we came into New York Harbor. As we entered, one of the experienced crew members took me and another newer volunteer up the foremast. We went all the way to the top, and entered New York City standing in the rigging. It was an experience I’ll remember for a very long time.
Due to the wind, we were not able to sail for the first few days of the trip. We made it all the way to Oyster Bay before the wind started to switch around a bit. Thankfully, we were a day early, and so we headed past Oyster Bay, and at about 8 in the evening, set sail for the first time. Sail setting in the dark is a really tough thing when you don’t know where any of the lines are. We sailed through the night, and coming up on watch first thing in the morning to see the sails glowing in the sun was another sight that will stay with me for a long time.
We sailed all of Thursday, slowing down through out the day to make sure we hit the right tide to come into Oyster Bay. It was a really cool feeling to be on a sailing ship on the ocean.
We came into Oyster Bay on Thursday evening. In preparation for high winds and the storm that was slated to come through, all lines were doubled, and the bow and stern lines were tripled. The ship wasn’t going to go anywhere. Friday was spent tidying the ship up and getting it ready for the festival on Saturday and Sunday. Those two days saw 6500 people over the deck of the ship. It was a madhouse.
The trip back saw a lot of the crew rotate. The Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild is a volunteer organization, and so the members use their vacation time to be able to work on the ship and go on the voyages. Many of them cannot take more than a handful of days off at a time. Having the crew switch up was nice, as it helped me go over the practices on the Gazela that were different than those we do on the Lois.
The trip home saw us sailing most of the way. The captain checked before we left about scheduling and decided to go ahead and just meander our way back to Philadelphia. The wind was pretty finicky, and so we spent a lot of time shifting sails around (tacking and jibing/wearing). After two days of barely making steerage, the captain decided to motorsail the rest of the way, and we ended up actually sailing for a bit coming up the Delaware River back to Philadelphia.
This was a fantastic experience for me, and I want to thank all those who made it possible: Wendy Marble, for that first contact; Patrick Flynn, for actually letting me come on board; Erick Tichonuk and Art Cohn, for letting me go; and the crew of Gazela, for making it a wonderful learning experience. I hope to be back again.
This dime-sized newcomer to Lake George has the potential, if unchecked, to cloud the legendary clear lake waters by feeding algae blooms with nutrients that this clam excretes. For example, the Asian clam was found in Lake Tahoe in 2002 and now has reached a population there averaging over 2,000 per square meter, significantly changing that lake’s water quality.
LCMM will spread out acres of benthic mats in Lake George early in the spring while the water is cold. These mats will smother the species before they begin spawning, and hopefully eradicate them while their numbers are still small.
The Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea) is native to South East Asia, and was first documented on the west coast of the United States in 1938. It is an extremely hardy freshwater bivalve that is hermaphroditic and therefore capable of self-fertilization.