The 1812 Tour Begins

by Art Cohn

Docked at Plattsburgh
Docked at the Wilcox Dock in 2011 (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Bicentennial tour, 1812: Commemorating the War, Celebrating the Peace began, as it should, with a visit to historic Plattsburgh, NY on June 2nd & 3rd. It was Clinton County “Museum Days” weekend, where the public is invited to visit all the museums in the area and with the support of the Lake Champlain Basin Program and Museum Days organizers, we joined in as one of the stops. We returned to our now familiar dockage at Wilcox Dock and got ready to receive visitors. Mr. Wilcox had been an active coal dealer and regularly imported coal shipments via canal boat to provide heat to the North Country. When the “new” New York State Barge Canal was being engineered in the early 20th century, the Wilcox Dock was incorporated into the system as a canal terminal. Today it is a lovely waterside park complete with boat ramp and fishing access.

When we arrived there I decided it was a good time to see if our old friend Captain Theodore Bartley had ever had interaction with Mr. Wilcox and so I went to our new, indexed (thank you Barbara!) edition and examined the record. Not surprisingly, it directed me to an entry when Captain Bartley was delivering a boatload of coal for Mr. Wilcox. On further inspection, I was struck hard when I read that this delivery had taken place on June 2, 1888, exactly 124 years to the day earlier. Captain Barley never disappoints and never ceases to amaze me in how much his experiences and writings enriched our understanding about canal life in the 19th century.

When Saturday morning came, we had a surprise early visitor stop by bearing gifts. It was Mayor Don Kaspersak coming to welcome us and thank us for our participation with a big box of donuts for the crew. Don made us feel very welcome indeed. As the day progressed, visitors began to arrive and over the two days we welcomed hundreds of people aboard. It was great to see many old friends and so many folks who had never been on the boat before. As usual, there were lots of kids with grandparents and parents and that always makes our crew happy.

Morning on the rig
The rig capturing the morning sun in Plattsburgh, 2011 (photo: Tom Larsen)

On Sunday morning I went to the Kent-Delord House Museum, a wonderful early historic home once used by the British as their headquarters during their brief occupation of the town in 1814. Macdonough’s shocking victory and the stiff resistence of Vermont and New York militia made that occupation very short-lived. I had gone to visit my long-time friend, historian John Kruger, who now serves as its director. The historic home contains a wonderful collection of historic materials, among them, a portrait of Commodore Macdonough presented to the Delord’s by Macdonough himself at a post-Lake Champlain victory dinner hosted by them in his honor. It was great seeing John and I was especially touched when he made me a gift of My Duty Is Here, the Civil War Journal and Letters of Rev. Francis B. Hall, a wonderful memoir of letters written to his wife and part of the museum’s collection. It moved to the top of my reading list and has added a greater understanding of the life and times during that National conflict and when the schooner was in operation.

As Sunday afternoon began to wind down and heavy weather predicted our crew prepared to cross the lake and return to Burlington. That one-week stay would be our final week of preparation for the next 4-months of our 1812 journey. In leaving Plattsburgh it seemed only fitting that we should begin this three year commemoration there, the place where the War of 1812 finally pivoted in a decisive way toward the American side, and a community that will feature large in our final chapter of interpretation of the War of 1812.

Special Thanks to:

Art Cohn
Special Projects Developer

The Captain’s Log, 2012, Part 1

by Roger Taylor

The Lois McClure got underway from Perkins Pier, Burlington, Vermont, at 10:15, May 17th, to start her ninth season of delivering cargoes of history to ports-of-call on the waterways of Vermont, New York, and Canada. This first trip of 2012 was to Crown Point, New York, to help celebrate the beautiful, new highway bridge connecting Crown Point with Chimney Point on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain.

The Champlain Bridge at Night
The Champlain Bridge at night

Our stalwart crew of the past few years was back together again, with a couple of new faces to keep us on our toes. We began by repeating the familiar mantra: “Safety! Safety! Safety!” Our replica canal schooner, masts stepped, sails bent and neatly furled; our steady tug, the C. L. Churchill; and our faithful, Honda-powered, inflatable boat, the Oocher (so named because we use her to ooch the bow or stern of the McClure this way or that when entering a canal lock or making a landing at a pier) were all shipshape, and the routine of getting underway was perfectly familiar. Yet going on the water is different every time. The wind is so variable and unpredictable that it can and does play a new trick every day. So we make every effort to take nothing for granted, to remember that “Eternal vigilance is the price of safety,” as the U. S. Navy saying has it.

The Churchill crew passed the end of her heavy, 200-foot, towing hawser over to the bow of the schooner; we hove in all but 50 feet of it, made it fast, and, with the tug going gently ahead on the short towline and turning gradually up into the North wind, moved out of the Perkins Pier berth into Burlington Harbor. Two hands with “roving fenders” were ready in case we bumped pilings on the way out, but they weren’t needed this time.

Out on the Lake, a few whitecaps indicated that the breeze, fair for us heading south toward Crown Point, had enough strength to enable us to sail and still keep to schedule! But by the time we got out to where the whitecaps were, they had vanished. So, reluctantly, we shifted the tug to the starboard “hip,” making her up alongside, well aft, and commenced chugging up the Lake at five knots. And that breeze teased us all day. It would come up enough so we thought to set sail, and then die down again. A half mile short of Crown Point, didn’t it breeze right up and tempt us to round up and hoist the mainsail? And then went flat and made us glad it hadn’t fooled us.

As we approached the bridge, we sensed the usual fear that it wasn’t high enough. Standing on the stern of the schooner, sighting the top of the mainmast against the arch of the bridge, it doesn’t look as if the mast could possibly clear the structure. We repeat the facts to ourselves: bridge clearance 75 feet; masthead height 65 feet. And sure, enough, we slip under unscathed, the 10-foot clearance seeming to appear by magic.

We tied up to the fine dock at the lighthouse monument at 4:45. Even the fisherfolk, whose prime spot we had just taken, seemed glad to see us.

Lois McClure at the head of the flotilla for the Champlain Bridge Celebration

May 19th was the big day for the bridge festival. The Lois McClure led a twenty-or-so boat parade under the bridge, crowded with spectators, with much horn-blowing and cheering. The new Champlain Bridge is surely a spectacular achievement, both practically and aesthetically. The wind was fast asleep, so we had to tow to march in the parade, but we did set full sail, mainsail, foresail, and jib, just to show off a little. On this day and the next, we had some 300 visitors on board, and many of them said they were glad to be able to take pictures of the schooner with all her sails up.

On the 21st, we made our way back down to North Harbor, the schooner’s berth at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. This time, the whitecaps, kicked up by a fair south wind, didn’t disappear when we towed over toward Port Henry, so we did round up into the wind, set mainsail and foresail, and cast off the tug.

Under sail
The Lois McClure under sail, headed North from Crown Point (photo: Tom Larsen)

With the foresail trimmed in to catch the wind and the mainsail eased way out so it wouldn’t keep her from turning, the schooner filled away and headed down the Lake on a broad reach, the wind coming over the quarter. We set the jib. Any sailing boat loves a broad reach, all sails full, going with the wind, water foaming down the lee side. But a schooner seems to be made for reaching, and on this day, the Lois McClure came into her own and gave us as fine a sail as we’ve had in her. She surged along, first at five knots, then at six, her bluff bow shoving its gurgling wave out ahead of her. It’s true the breeze did go light a little before noon as we drew abreast of Barber Point, but it held enough to push us on nicely to North Harbor.

We took in the jib, and rounded up enough so that both foresail and mainsail were luffing, spilling the wind with no driving force. The schooner coasted to a stop and lay waiting for her faithful consort to return to the starboard hip and take her in hand. Which the Churchill did and then guided her to the Museum’s floating dock, in perfectly still water with the wind out of the south. It was a quiet ending to a fine cruise to start the 2012 season.

Roger Taylor