Welcomed in Westport

by Tom Larsen
October 6, 2011

Sunset in Westport
View across the lake from Westport Marina at sunset

We returned to Westport this year for the third time.  It’s a great place to stop, due to the always warm hospitality and wonderful scenery.  Our hosts, the Carroll family who owns and operates Westport Marina, couldn’t have been more gracious.  Despite this spring of record high water leaving a large part of their establishment under the lake, they were back up and running, with smiles on their faces and open arms to visitors.  The docking situation was a little different than usual due to the high water level leaving the dock only barely sticking out from the lake.  We used all of our dock lines to keep the Lois securely in place, and procured some tires to make sure we didn’t collide with the dock, as our usual fenders kept floating on the top of the water instead of protecting the hull.

Working the windlas
Sal Larsen shows a group of students the ins and outs of the windlass

Once we were all secured, the weather rewarded us with a wonderfully clear day for public and school groups.  Though the wind did live up to the predicted forecast, it only did so during the gap between the school program for the 4th and 5th grade of Westport Central School in the morning and the public hours in the evening.  Thus, despite the middle of the day resulting in a more sickening boat roll than the crew was used to, we were able to still welcome eager students and public aboard.  It was a real change to feel the massively stable Lois shifting about underfoot.

Light on the engine
Sunlight shining on the sparkling rocker arms of the Urger's Atlas Imperial diesel engine

It was at Wesport that I got to really explore the Urger for the first time.  Despite having met them in various ports over the last few years and now traveling with them, I had never really explored it.  I was really impressed.  The boat is exceedingly well maintained and still in wonderful shape.  What really blew my mind was the fact that it was only a 50 year gap between boats such as the Urger and the Lois.  There were times when a tow of  boats only slightly bigger than the Lois would have been moved by a tugboat very similar to the Urger.  What a sight that must have been!

Tom Larsen
Crew

Port Henry

by Matt Witten
October 3, 2011

The Urger tucked behind the Lois in Port Henry

Port Henry, former home of blast furnaces, dock wallopers, and most recently, of the Champlain Bridge’s new arch. Port Henry’s massive concrete jetty makes an easy target for docking, and sheltered both the Lois and our companion, the historic New York State Tugboat Urger, from the north waves.

The town dock is only about 200 yards from the Flatiron Company’s site for assembling the Champlain Bridge’s graceful metal arch. Only weeks ago the massive structure was sent south on barges to be raised into the waiting arms of the New York and Vermont bridge approaches that are supported by concrete abutments. Though the arch has departed, the activity at Flatiron’s site has not yet ceased. An immense crane lowers its cable down to wrench out metal sheet pilings that had been pounded in place to create a solid staging platform for the massive construction project. There is a large hammer winch hanging on the end of the cable that pulls out each piling. It intermittently stutters out its harsh metallic sound.

We had a large number of students visit the boat during our stay here. The first day it was Crown Point Central School and then the second day we had school groups from Moriah Central and St. Mary’s of Ticonderoga, ranging from third grade to seventh grade.

Anchor hauling
A group of students finding out first hand why mechanical advantage is a good thing when hauling an anchor up (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

The third-graders were wonderfully curious. Using the windlass to haul up the anchor and turning the ship’s wheel were clearly big thrills for them. The rain held off, but north the wind bit into the kids. To keep them warm on deck, every once in a while we did rapid make-believe exercises including turning a wheel, hauling on a line, and pushing on a boat. It got the blood moving.

Some of these kids returned with their families after school. We always encourage this and let them know that they can guide their families when they come. They take this very seriously. The pride, knowledge and ownership on their beaming faces when they come back to the boats is a joy to behold!  Ahead of their pack, they yank themselves up the gangway as if they are seasoned mariners and excitedly show their parents every nook and cranny of the schooner. One 9-year-old girl’s father said with a wry grin, “When I got home she wouldn’t let me out of my truck.  We had to come right down here.”

What could be more satisfying to a group of interpreters than that? A close second was having the perk of being within striking distance of Erick and Sarah Tichonuk’s house. It is just a mile or two up the hill, so they became hosts to a stream of crew members, both from the Lois and from the Urger. They were very welcoming and accommodating!

Matt Witten

Schuylerville

by Steve Pfanenstiel
September 28, 2011

Erick Tichonuk gives a tour to the Friends of Hudson Crossing Park
Erick Tichonuk gives a tour to the Friends of Hudson Crossing Park

It was the best of times.  In looking back on our time in Schuylerville, docked at the Hudson Crossing Park, I think we had a great experience.  The community really embraced us; from the welcome BBQ on Monday night, to the constant deliveries of ice, food (especially the apple cider donuts!) and well wishes.  We truly felt welcomed.

Dragonfly sculpture
Sculpture of a dragonfly in Hudson Crossing Park

The school children and other visitors to the Lois McClure and Urger seemed to enjoy the experience of seeing two so unique boats together at the same time. The weather was kindly to us and gave us unseasonably warm weather.  Even the tiny insects (the dreaded “m” word) go into the act and welcomed us with much gusto.  Take two days, add over 200 students and visitors, a dose of good weather and a great community, and you end up with a pretty great visit.

Steve Pfanenstiel
A friend of the Lois from Syracuse, Steve returns for his second year volunteering aboard.

School Programs in Whitehall

by Sal Larsen
September 30, 2011

I truly love volunteering on the schooner, so I was delighted to get a chance to return. I was waiting at the dock in Whitehall when Lois and the crew arrived in the late afternoon on September 29th, and so was able to help with the usual flurry of chores that always happen when she docks. It is not just a matter of tying up – there are ramps to be put out, banners to hoist, power lines to be connected. Kerry, Len and Tom make it all look easy, but I can say from first hand experience that it is far from simple, requiring both brains and muscle.

One of the things I was looking forward to in Whitehall was being able to do school groups. I was lucky enough to be able to shadow experienced crew members during a previous school presentation, so I was prepared to jump right in.

The students’ visit is a highly choreographed affair. Because we were working in partnership with the Urger crew, the introduction was given on shore, then the students were divided in half, and while one group toured the historic tug, the rest came on board Lois. Here they were further divided into four smaller groups, and each of us got to take our new friends to our station. Two of us were below deck, one beginning in the hold, and the other interpreting in the cabin. The other two groups started on deck, one at the wheel, and the other manning the windlass to raise the anchor. After ten minutes or so, the ship’s bell would ring, and the groups would move on to the next station.

I was excited and more than a little nervous as my group followed me to the cargo hold. I felt as if had had a real opportunity to make a difference, and I wanted to be sure I did it right. The kids from Whitehall live in a place that is incredibly rich in history, and I wanted to help them to make connections, to see the importance of the place they live, and to help them recognize that the waterways are still a vital part of their lives. Maybe that seems like a large message to be presented in a short field trip, but it happens naturally on board the schooner. The past comes alive as the stories of the canalers are told, and the interconnectedness of commerce, land and water becomes quickly apparent.

Seeing the cabin really drives home what life in the 1860s was like, and raising the anchor gives the students an inkling of how hard people worked. I was impressed at how many insightful questions were asked, and was particularly moved when a young woman, on hearing that the supplies for building the railroad were carried on canal boats, said, “But that’s so sad! They carried the stuff that put them out of business!”

So thank you, Whitehall students. You’ve reinforced my faith in the future. Kids that are that thoughtful and empathetic make me confident that we’ll all continue to work together to find solutions to the issues facing the waterways today.

Sal Larsen

Fort Edward

by Art Cohn
September 23, 2011

We left Mechanicville and headed north to Fort Edward now confident in our ability to combine the Urger and Lois school programs. Fort Edward is one of those important junction points where the cliché about “location, location, location” is well illustrated. Its position on the upper Hudson River and to waterways leading to Lake’s Champlain and George have endowed  this historic “carrying place” with a legacy of  military and commercial history. Today, the river around Fort Edward is a beehive of activity as one of the largest dredging projects ever undertaken is working to restore the Hudson River’s water quality. In conjunction with that project, our LCMM Maritime Research team has spent significant time in the area and we are presently conserving several timbers from the original Fort Edward and have helped identify and document an early version of a Lake Champlain sailing canal boat.

Fort Edward was a natural crossroads on the busy waterways that provided the area their first transportation corridors. The site was well traveled by Native Peoples and a trading post/fort was the first European establishment here.

The Growler
Greg Betit, Terry Glasier, and Dale Henry take the dory Growler past the Lois to the Roger’s Island encampment

During the Colonial wars, Great Britain built the fort that gives Fort Edward its name and association with Robert Roger’s and his Rangers, the unfortunate Jane McCrea and thousands of rank and file troops provide Fort Edward a strong connection to the national story. The annual 18th Century reenactment weekend took place during the weekend of our visit at the Roger Island Visitors Center and provided a living link to those earlier times and several of our museum crew took part in that event.

During Lois McClure’s travels through the Champlain Canal, it has become my habit to always read and re-read the journals of Captain Theodore Bartley, the memoir’s of Tonawanda canal boatman Richard Garrity and the recollections of Captain Fred Godfrey’s “The Champlain Canal: Mules to Tugboats”. Having these extraordinary written accounts has helped me travel back in time and better visualize what the canal and its villages were like during the days when mules towed Lois McClure-type canal boats through the countryside. The Champlain Canal we see today is actually the third evolution of the engineered waterway from Lake Champlain to the Hudson River and Fort Edward is a wonderful place to examine previous canal episodes. Just a short walk from the current Yacht Basin and you can see the intact masonry locks from the “Enlarged” canal (1862) and the stone arches of an aqueduct that once carried Little Wood Creek over the original Champlain Canal. The Hutchinson 1830 Survey Map, courtesy of New York State Archives, shows the layout of the original canal through Fort Edward, including the aqueduct.  I am pleased to report that LCMM has recently been tasked with creating an inventory of the remaining structural features of the previous canals.

Fort Edward Survey Map
Fort Edward, 1830
Art explaining the windlass
Art Cohn explaining the workings of the windlass

But our current four-day visit to Fort Edward was not to document the canal but to share its story with all the students from Fort Edward’s 4th, 5th and 6th grades on Thursday-Friday and the public on Saturday-Sunday. Now working with our friends from the Urger, we eagerly anticipated the opportunity and it did not disappoint. The students were enthusiastic and well behaved and they circulated from station to station aboard the Lois and on the shore with the Urger crew.

Lock Model
Model of the canal locks

The Urger drew too much water to join us at the wall, so the Canal folks made the effort to bring their exceptional working lock model to the site. Watching the student’s faces as the Urger crew demonstrated the locks workings while moving model boats from one level to another suggested that what we were doing was significant. When more than 20 of the participating students returned to the Lois over the weekend and guided their families through the boat I was convinced.

One highlight of the students visit was having the Elementary School principal come down to see the program. The principal turned out to be John Godfrey, whose family had worked the canal during the towpath and tugboat days and whose grandfather was the same Fred Godfrey who had left us such a rich written record of those times and whose book serves as one of the guides to our interpretation.

I would like to thank the Chamber of Commerce for taking the Lois and Urger crews to dinner at the wonderful Anvil Inn. I would also like to thank the citizens of Fort Edward for their hospitality, warmth and interest.

 Art Cohn

Life Aboard a Tugboat

by Erick Tichonuk

Urger at Schuylerville
The Urger docked at Lock 5, in Schuylerville

Followers of our Ships’ Logs know one amazing benefit of traveling these waterways are the incredible people we meet.  When traversing the New York State Canal System we’re in constant contact with the folks from Canal Corporation.  They’ve made our sometimes arduous travels more enjoyable in countless ways.  We’ve come to know many of them well, from the directors to the lock keepers, and consider them the best of friends.

In 2009 we were exceedingly fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel with the ambassador of the New York State Canal Corporation, the tug Urger. As fellow canalers and lovers of canal history we naturally hit it off. The great camaraderie came with some playful banter including commentary on Churchill’s less than gleaming brass and the transformation of Urger into “Burger.”

We had planned on seeing our friends on Urger for but one stop this year at the Tugboat Roundup in Waterford, NY.  Hurricane Irene had huge impacts throughout our region with the Mohawk Valley being one of the hardest hit.  Waterford went underwater to unprecedented levels prompting the cancellation of one of our favorite events.  Sections of the Erie Canal were also devastated, trapping boats on both sides of the damaged locks and dams.  Amazingly, thanks to Herculean efforts, Canal Corp predicts the opening of the east end of the Erie Canal in time for boats to head south for the winter.

The Urger had planned to travel to the west end of the system for fall school programs but had to wait it out in the Waterford flight of locks where we had sat out another minor flood event last year.  As both Lois McClure and Urger sat idle, waiting for waters to recede, we made plans to join forces and increase our school programming along the Champlain Canal.  We reviewed both our programs and melded them into one comprehensive program.  Visiting area schools would have a chance to see two historic vessels representing both the 19th and 20th Century.

Captain Wendy
Captain Wendy Marble at the helm of Urger

Wendy Marble is Urger’s new Captain this year, but she’s certainly not new to boats.  Her love of boats started with her first job out of school crewing aboard another canal favorite the Emita II.  She’s worked aboard the HMS Rose and Pioneer at South Street Seaport.  For the past 9 years she’s been working for Canal Corp, most recently aboard tug Tender 6, supporting dredging operations in the Rochester area.

Rick Marcellus and the Atlas Deisel
Rick Marcellus in the engine room

Urger’s Engineer is Rick Marcellus.  His career path is diverse with 30 years as a machinist and stints in off-shore lobstering and freighters.  He started as a deckhand on Urger in ’08 and enjoys learning something new every day he’s on board.  One of the incredible aspects of running Urger is she’s a bell boat.  This means the captain must signal (by bells) down to the engineer to have him start the engine in forward or reverse and control the speed.  Talk about trust!

Mike Byrnes
Mike Byrnes, Bosun

Mike Byrnes serves as Bosun.  Mike got his start on boats in the Coast Guard where he served for eight years.  Boats run deep in Mike’s family blood; his dad operated tugs and his grandfather owned and operated canal boats!  Mike loves sharing his mastery of knots with visitors.

Gary Nelmes
Gary Nelmes, Deckhand

Gary Nelmes loves boats and kids so he figured being a deckhand on Urger is the perfect job!  He too spent time in the Coast Guard and has owned and raced numerous sailboats.  He’s spent lots of time coaching youth sports and enjoys sharing the Urger with kids around the region.

As the tour winds down the last week finds us at the museum at Basin Harbor.  We’ll finish up with a grand weekend at Crown Point to celebrate the old Champlain Bridge and the nearly completed new one.  I invite you to come down and meet the crew of Urger and have them take you on a tour of their incredible 110 year old vessel.  I hear they like fresh baked home goodies almost as much as the crew of McClure

Urger Crew
Crew of the Urger, left to right: Wendy Marble, Rick Marcellus, Mike Byrnes, Gary Nelmes

Mechanicville

by Art Cohn
September 18, 2011

The first stop of our revised “Farm, Forest and Fishery Tour” was Mechanicville, a beautiful waterfront community on the Hudson River-Champlain Canal. Like many other communities along the canal corridor, the towpath canal used to go right through the center of the town just uphill from the river on what is now Central Avenue. As we spoke to our visitors, most were surprised to learn that the river did not always function as the canal and I decided we needed to try and locate a period photo or drawing to present the correct picture. I went by the fire station after an alarm had ended and spoke to the training officer. He reported that he had some old photos and would send me some and we exchanged e-mail addresses. He also suggested I go up to Haney’s Auto shop just a short distance on Central Avenue as they had photos on the wall of the old days that might help. I walked up and spoke to Mrs. Haney who was very willing to let me look at the photographs on the wall, but the key image was a Burleigh lithograph “Birdseye View of Mechanicville” circa 1885 that provided the picture worth 10,000 words.

Map of Mechanicville
Map of Mechanicville, circa 1885
Detail of map
Detail view showing canal boats being towed, stiff legged cranes, and proximity of railroad (click to enlarge)

Here was Mechanicville when at least 4-sash and blind factories, a cotton and wool factory and other businesses thrived along the Champlain Canal and railroad center. The Hudson River was the town’s waterfront, but besides an aerial cable ferry to the other side, all the maritime traffic was two blocks up on the Champlain Canal, what is today Central Avenue. Wooden canal boats were depicted being pulled by horses on the towpath and a line of stiff-leg cranes was strategically positioned next to the canal and connected to the main railroad by a siding. I only wish I had seen the picture sooner so that I could share it with the 200 school kids who had come down to see us during the two days we had been open in Mechanicville.

Docked in Mechanicville
The Urger docked in Mechanicville

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene we adapted our schedule and realized that we had an opportunity to develop a new program that involves our Lois McClure and New York State Canal Corporation’s historic tugboat Urger. The Urger, celebrating her 110th birthday this year, was scheduled to travel to the western side of the Erie system when the Irene intervened. We are now combining our two school programs to offer a perspective of the towpath canal era (Lois) and the present Barge Canal era (Urger). The Urger crew is experienced and eager to work with us.  A series of planning discussions got the program prototype ready for launching. We each provide learning stations for small groups of students and with 7th graders on Monday and 4th graders on Tuesday you might have thought we had been doing this for years…which of course we have, but not together.

Combining the programs in Mechanicville has proved to be a huge success and feedback from the kids, teachers and chaperons was very positive. We were able to provide a richer experience using the two boats and the two crews worked as one to provide a very special field-trip experience for the kids. We are looking forward to seeing more students as fort Edward, Schuylerville and Whitehall before returning to Lake Champlain with stops at Port Henry, Westport, Kingsland Bay State Park, our homeport Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and Crown Point.

Hurricane Irene has impacted the region in many profound ways, but when the students arrive at the boats, it’s all about these floating learning platforms and their ability to engage students in history, archaeology, life-aboard, commerce, and water quality. I’ll look forward to letting you know how it goes as we begin to work our way north and to home.

Art Cohn

Whitehall

by Tom Larsen
September 6, 2011

A bald eagle taking off on the Southern Lake
A bald eagle taking off on the Southern Lake

The trip from Shoreham to Whitehall was an experience in opposites.  The weather threatened to be seriously stormy the whole trip, but despite this we saw some of the most variety of birds so far in the season – osprey, cormorants, bald eagles, kingfishers, the ever present gulls.  Signs of Irene abounded as well – hay bales alongside the channel, large pieces of debris pulled to the side, sections of the shore slumping into the lake.  We even came across a cruiser working as a tug, pulling a section of floating dock that had escaped!

An unlikely tug
A cruiser retrieving a section of floating dock

Once we arrived at Whitehall, we were able to lock through into the canal and tie up at our usual place, right alongside the Skenesborough Museum.  We have now been open in Whitehall 5 years out of 7 that the Lois has been touring, and it’s always nice to come back to such a historic place.  Home of the construction site of the first American fleet on Lake Champlain, the resting place of much of the American fleet from the war of 1812, the start of the canal system, home of Cora Archambault (a woman whom has told us a large amount about firsthand life aboard canal boats, having grown up on one – she is 107 this year); the history in this area runs deep.  Being able to dock in an area so steeped in history is wonderful.

Shortly after we arrived at Whitehall, the Champlain Canal was closed at Lock 12 (the one we had just gone through) and from Lock 7 to Lock 2 – the entire Hudson Valley side of the canal.  This was in preparation for the upcoming rain event.  After our public day in Whitehall (coinciding with the Farmer’s Market), we moved down to just below Lock 8 on the canal by Fort Edward.  The canal then closed for three days straight as yet more water came down from the sky onto already saturated ground.  Lock 8Communities that were already reeling from Irene were hammered with weather yet again.  Safe at Lock 8, we rode things out thankfully without incident.  After the weather passed, we started hearing about how hard the Upper Hudson and Mohawk Valley got hit.  Consultation with the NYS Canal Corporation showed that us leaving the Champlain Canal was not an option.  We decided to make the best of it, and the schedule underwent a major change.

Tom Larsen
Crew

Coming home to Shoreham

by Art Cohn

Shoreham, the beautiful town of rolling hills, orchards and farms was another great destination for our Farm, Forest and Fishery Tour. Having ridden out Hurricane Irene at anchor in Vergennes, we left Otter Creek on a swift current and headed for Shoreham.  The YouTube video of this is well worth the watch.  On the way to Shoreham we had the experience of being the first non-construction vessel to pass under the new center arch of the new Champlain Bridge. That evening, we spent a comfortable night at the Crown Point Reservation dock reflecting that the high center arch of the 1929 bridge had been designed to accommodate the steamboats and few commercial sailboats still operating on the lake at that time, while the new arch had been designed, in part, to accommodate the sailing rig of the Lois McClure.

The Champlain Bridge
A view of the new Champlain Bridge (photo: Art Cohn)

The next day we continued on to Shoreham, a community we love to visit. I have been coming to Shoreham for nautical projects for more than 30 years and I have many fond memories and good friends from previous dive projects staged out of this place. The greater Shoreham-Ticonderoga area has a rich history and therefore an extraordinary collection of submerged cultural resources. Previous surveys have allowed me to attain the status of “temporary” Shoreham resident and over the year’s I have made many closed friends in this neighborhood. For this year’s visit our goods hosts were Paul and Renee Saenger, proprietors of the historic Larrabee’s Point dock and operators of the Carillon, “the Best Boat Ride in America.”

1983 dive Crew for the Great Bridge Project
1983 dive crew for the Boscawen and Great Bridge Project

I first came to Shoreham in the early 1980’s for one of our first dive projects. Colonel John Williams introduced me to Shoreham historians Bob Maguire and Sanford Witherall. Through these three knowledgeable mentors our dive team was able discover the 1759 British sloop-of-war HMS Boscawen and the American made 1777 “Great Bridge”, one of the lake’s most important submerged historic sites and perhaps my favorite. We spent two summers excavating the Boscawenin partnership with the venerable Fort Ticonderoga, where the conserved artifact collection is housed.

A historical map of the Great Bridge between Ticonderoga and Mount Independence
A historical map of the Great Bridge between Ticonderoga and Mount Independence (click to enlarge)

The  “Great Bridge” had been built by American forces during the winter of 1777 using the ice as a platform. At Mount Independence we also located an extensive artifact collection that had been thrown into the lake during the British retreat to Canada after John Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga. This collection was recovered 10-years later after an out-of-state diver was caught pillaging it. The collection was conserved at LCMM and today much of this material is on exhibition at the State of Vermont’s Mount Independence Visitors Center. Both Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence are great destinations for anyone interested in American history.

Mahlon Teachout painting
Mahlon Teachout painting the Lois at Larrabee's Point (photo: Art Cohn)

Today, this extraordinary story of Colonial, American and regional history is is brought to life almost every day by our hosts the Saengers. They operate of Carillon Cruises and anyone who has not yet experienced a Captain Paul narrated historical cruise is “missing the boat.” Paul and Renee’s passionate commitment to telling the story of this important place is total and it was great to be back at the historic landing. We had timed our visit to participate in Shoreham Festival Days, the 250th Anniversary of the community. Upon our arrival, I discovered that Mahlon and Gina Teachout had returned to Shoreham for the summer. Mahlon and Gina had begun the Carillon Cruise operation and had been part of the community support that had made working out of Shoreham such a positive experience. Visiting with Paul, Renee, Mahlon and Gina and a host of other friends just added to my sense of homecoming.

The Saturday event was wonderful, made more so when Linda Welsh of Sunnyside Farms provided apple donuts, mums and handmade stuffed animals for sale (I got a stuffed moose for my wife Anne). Champlain Orchards brought down apples to sell and the historic dock came alive with visitors and friends swopping stories with our crew and each other throughout the day. The coming and going of the Shoreham-Ticonderoga cable ferry just added to the wonderful rhythm of the day. A historic lakeshore landing, memories of dive-projects past, a communities 250th anniversary, a vibrant farm community with Mount Independence, Mount Defiance and Fort Ticonderoga serving as the backdrop. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Art Cohn

Past and Present Meet on the Lois McClure in Shoreham

by Dawn Saunders
September 3, 2011

My experiences with Otter Creek have, up to now, been limited to kayaking and canoeing the placid and lightly traveled waterway between Cornwall and Middlebury, far above the falls.  Those paddles have always recharged me, providing in certain bends away from fields and roads a sense of near-instant transportation in time or place to an almost tropically lush place of the spirit. Thus, I was delighted last week when I learned I would be able to join the crew of the Lois McClure in her passage from Vergennes to Shoreham, passing through the meeting of my two favorite Vermont waterways.

Lois at Vergennes
The Lois during the flooding at Vergennes

But on arrival below the falls at Vergennes, I was taken aback:  where was the Lois?  Falls Park was seriously flooded, and no boat in site.  Had she gone without me?  Had the high water been too much for her, had she been swept downstream in the aftermath of Irene?  Sure she was around somewhere, I trudged through the mucky paths downstream, and there she was, along the southern shore with no dock in site, appearing to be attached only to trees.  Closer inspection found there was a dock, sort of, obscured by river foam.  In fact, Lois was surrounded by foam as if sitting in a rather muddy and bubbly jaccuzi, as were her companions, the C. L. Churchill and the inflatable dinghy, the Oocher. 

Once the passage crew was assembled, skippers Erick (Lois) and Art (Churchill) discussed the predicament:  Lois was held primarily by a massive 95-pound Danforth at the bow, dug in by now against the pressure of record flooding, facing upstream.  The stern anchor was also a challenge, placed well out into the creek’s churning channel. Across on the other shore a large pleasure craft was tied up at a dock.  We were facing the seriously daunting task of coordinating the work of the three vessels’ crews in turning the Lois while maintaining control against the current, and being at the ready to continue her turn at the first sharp bend downstream, and many more thereafter along the creek.  After checking and repositioning the dock lines to the trees and the flooded dock, the Oocher, manned by Erick, Tom, and Kerry, tackled the stern anchor first:  heaving, hauling, back and forth against the current, and with great effort pulling the anchor up enough to drag it to the Lois bow to haul up with her burton tackle (a block run to the top of the foremast, used as a hoist).  That was exhausting enough, but without a break the Oocher headed upstream to drag up the Danforth.  The three took turns tugging at the 95-pound anchorto those of us on deck of the Lois, it looked painful.  Once they had the anchor in the water, again it was brought up to the boat to haul up 200 feet of chain by the hand-cranked (make that every-muscle-in-one’s-body-cranked) windlass by the crew in turns on deck.

Once the anchor was onboard, the Lois was dependent on the quick-turn plan to bring her about, tug and dinghy working in tandem on the port side to position her as she swiveled in the current out into the channel and around, neatly missing our neighbor across the river, and an upstream dock, smoothly, quickly, beautifully.  The yacht’s crew had come out with cameras to watch along their dock:  “WooHOO!” exclaimed their skipper as the tricky turn was mastered.  Lois continued in the same circular motion into the first river bend, and we were under way.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv-4J2TxGoY&feature=colike]

Concern for the downstream run focused on keeping ahead of the current to manage those continuing sharp curves, while watching for the huge logs that had been washing over the falls for days within the foamy creek – one which we watched float by us as we were preparing to shove off.  Fortunately, all went well, and while Len and I on bow watch continued to watch for logs and other obstructions, eventually the foam cleared away and all went smoothly, as we sped along at 7 knots on the swollen creek, flushing out the occasional heron and kingfisher.  The weather was beautiful.  Finally, the Otter’s brown water mixed with the blue of the lake, and we turned to pass by our museum home and on to the south.  There would be no sailing on this passage, as the wind was from the south and we were taking short hops:  to Crown Point the first night, then on to Shoreham for our public viewing on Saturday.

The Lois heading under the new Crown Point Bridge
The Lois heading under the new Crown Point Bridge

The lake is always beautiful, but never more than on the water.  While still keeping watch for storm-tossed debris, we could now take in some scenery as we churned through some choppy waters: farms, forests, mountains, and finally, as we came near Crown Point, the beautiful new Champlain Bridge, arching at last on the southern horizon.  Officials and work crews on the bridge had kindly coordinated their schedule to allow us to pass safely below, and we spent the afternoon and evening as the guests of Crown Point State Park, rewarded with hot showers after the morning’s strenuous start.  I spent the afternoon touring the ruins, which I had never really explored before.  Of course, I wondered what took me so long?  How amazing, to see this history so open and so tactile:  the old French Fort St. Frederic and its successor, the British Fort Crown Point, mostly destroyed by accidental fire just before the Revolution, but leaving standing today the haunting twin two-story barracks, monuments to a world at war in the 18th century.  The soldier’s barracks are particularly striking, with their first and second floor fireplaces stacked on top of one another:  I could picture the tired and often sickly English soldiers seeking some comfort on a cold night there, or even the men that served with Benedict Arnold in 1776 prior to setting out to meet the British, maybe lighting up a fire in that fireplace.

The next day we were on our way under changing skies:  clouds piling up and melting away and forming all sorts of patterns and shapes along the way.  To those of us who live inland between mountains and surrounded by forest, as I do in East Middlebury, the skies on the lake seem very big.  Towards Shoreham, the skies opened up even more as the land became more rounded and open, revealing the area’s prime agricultural real estate.  This, I thought, was how most of Vermont was in the 18th century when boats like the Lois crowded the lake with commerce.  Even the woods that surround me in East Middlebury were mostly pasture back then, and are still dotted with stone fences and at least one cellar hole for a surprisingly large barn, as farmers pushed productive  land to its limit up our slopes to meet the demand for butter, cheese, and wool down south.

A view of the Carillon and Churchill
A view of the Carillon and Churchill from the deck of Lois

The afternoon in Shoreham was spent readying the boat to receive visitors for Shoreham Day the next morning.  We were now the guests of Captain Paul Saenger and his wife Renee, proprietors of the tour boat Carillon, and the beautiful early-19th century stone house that once served commercial customers at the site in the canal-boom days, right next door to the Ticonderoga cable ferry.  After the Lois was ship-shape, I took my camera for a long walk up Route 74, enjoying the late-summer golden hues of the rolling landscape, and making good friends of a herd of cows along the way.

Dock at Larrabee's Point
Docked a Larrabee's Point (photo: Art Cohn)

We shared the Carillon’s dock and grounds, along with the good people of Champlain Orchards and Sunnyside Farms to meet the public on Saturday.  We had a good mix of people who came specially to see our schooner, and many others who were surprised and delighted to find us at the ready as they came to meet or disembark the ferry.  One lady from the Midwest, touring with her family in New England, was also named Lois McClure!  She had known about the boat from its visits up the Erie Canal, and was delighted to have her picture taken next to her “namesake.” Everyone I spoke to, young and old, were fascinated by the boat as a lesson in history and place.  And place is important to our voyage’s theme, of the relationship between the waterways and lives and communities on shore, our past, our present, our future.  All were very present in Shoreham that day.

Dawn Saunders
Dawn teaches Economic History at Castleton College and has volunteered as an interpreter aboard the Philadelphia II.  She is going to be teaching at Killington Mountain School this fall.