Captain’s Log, Part 8

With the Oocher in an Albany repair shop to have her outboard motor’s carburetor overhauled, we headed north for Waterford on September 28th, again without her services. No matter. We were in tidal water, so that when we got underway from the floating dock at Rensselaer, we could just let the flood tide swing the schooner’s stern off the dock; we didn’t even have to use the tug, much less the Oocher, to get ready to back out into the Hudson River. Heading upstream, we shared the Troy Lock with the big tug Margot, a local vessel that we knew from several Tugboat Roundups at Waterford.

Ian and Kerry preparing the Red Oocher in Waterford (photo: Tom Larsen)
Ian and Kerry preparing the Red Oocher in Waterford (photo: Tom Larsen)

After two days as a floating museum in Waterford, we took delivery of an old friend, the Red Oocher, with her 25-h.p. Johnson outboard. The Red Oocher had been our assist tug and tender back in 2004, the first year of operating the Lois McClure, and here she was back alongside after being launched from the trailer that brought her down from the Museum. As you might be able to guess, she is a red inflatable boat.

When Tom Larsen used the red original to pull the bow round, getting underway for Schuylerville on October 2nd, he kept calling for “More power” on the radio to Ian Montgomery, and though Ian did respond with the throttle, we seemed to be in slow motion. We were just spoiled by the double horsepower of the Oocher; the Red Oocher got the job done, just as she always had. And she assisted so well when Tom landed the schooner just above Lock 5 at Schuylerville, that he only needed one slow backing bell to the Churchill to bring her alongside.

Docked in Schuylerville
Docked in Schuylerville (photo: Tom Larsen)
Art coming up from checking the bottom of the boats (photo: Tom Larsen)
Art coming up from checking the bottom of the boats (photo: Tom Larsen)

Schuylerville is on the south side of the “summit” in the Champlain Canal, the point where you stop going up, heading north, and start down. So this was the best place for Art Cohn to climb into his wet suit, shoulder an air tank, and submerge to inspect the bottoms of the schooner and tug. The point of the inspection is to ensure that the vessels are not giving a free ride to any invasive species, ornery critters like spiny water fleas, not already over the summit and so into Lake Champlain, critters that can change the environment, not necessarily for the better.

Art leading the exchange students down the dock to the Lois (photo: Tom Larsen)
Art leading the exchange students down the dock to the Lois (photo: Tom Larsen)

An asset to Schuylerville is Bob Foster’s stern-wheel tour boat, the Caldwell Belle. I believe I have marveled previously in these pages about how she is a true stern-wheeler, using the big paddlewheel as her sole means of propulsion, rather than as mere decoration as on some “stern-wheelers” you see, and about how skillfully Bob maneuvers her. Well, on the day the Lois McClure was open in Schuylerville, Bob had fifty students on an exchange program from Spain take a trip up and down the Champlain Canal in the Belle, and, when they returned, we got to show them through a replica of the kind of canal boat they would have passed 150 years ago. We had become somewhat inured to stumbling along in French while navigating in Quebec, but most of the crew were not even beginners in Spanish, so pantomime took over.

Dinner at Schuylerville (photo: Tom Larsen)
Dinner at Schuylerville (photo: Tom Larsen)

Another Schuylerville asset is the wonderful park the town has created at Hudson’s Crossing, where we were moored. But Schuylerville’s chief asset is the hospitality of her citizens. At the park’s pavilion, they treated us to another delicious pot-luck dinner.

The Oocher returned to us in Schuylerville, as good as new, on October 4th. We thanked the Red Oocher and made her fast alongside the schooner, just ahead of the tug on the hip, where she could be towed back to the Museum, out of the way.

That afternoon, we made our way up the canal to Fort Edward through the rain. We have had an amazing summer of one fair, sunny day after another. So the rain seemed unfamiliar, though certainly welcome, for we have traveled through lands of severe drought. Throughout this trip, the water levels in the different waterways have been uncommonly low.

We also made our way past and among the many dredges, tugs, and barges associated with the huge dredging operation that is proceeding on the Hudson River to rid it of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). There was considerable trial dredging, then months of monitoring the results in the water column, and now, after seeing improvement, the continuation of carefully removing mud from the bottom of the river. The fouling and unfouling of our waterways has been an expensive lesson.

When our museum duties were over in Fort Edward, Neil Orsini invited the crew to be his guests at his restaurant, the Anvil. Elegant. That night, as at many of our ports-of-call along the Erie, our sleep was interrupted, or perhaps our dreams augmented, by train horns, as one locomotive after another, hauling freight cars, announced its arrival at a crossing. The railroad, like the canal before it, sought the route east-and-west with the least change of elevation. The train whistles were a not altogether unpleasant reminder to us canal-boaters of the competition that did us in.

On October 6th, we traveled down to the north end of the Champlain Canal at Whitehall. But not before extricating the schooner from the narrow confines of Fort Edward harbor. The Hudson River flows gently past Fort Edward, its current split by Roger’s Island. The mooring wall is on the left bank, where the water, moving round the east side of the island, scours out the riverbed to a depth of about 8 feet. But that 8-foot channel is only about 50 feet wide, and the river level was down a couple of feet. We have to swing the schooner’s bow around to point downstream, and you’ll recall the vessel is 38 feet longer than 50 feet. So, the bow swings through shallow water. To make the McClure generally more maneuverable, we lower the centerboard 2 feet, so the forward part of the vessel draws nearly 4 feet, loaded lightly as she is with 11 tons of ballast stone. You guessed it: the centerboard touched bottom as we swung. But we had a few feet to back in even closer to the wall, and that drew the board clear. Getting underway from Fort Edward is always interesting.

The most noteworthy event of our passage to Whitehall was the announcement that Ian Montgomery’s biscuits, sausage gravy, and scrambled eggs were ready as a second breakfast. And to cap off another good day on the Lois McClure, Tom Larsen made a brilliant landing, turning the schooner 180 degrees to come in starboard-side-to, pinning the bow against the wall with the Oocher and a bow line, and working the stern in by going ahead slow on the tug with her rudder hard over. What a crew!

At Whitehall, I had the great pleasure of welcoming on board to join the crew my son Dean. He, of course, has been exposed to boats along the way; like his Dad, he lives on board a small vessel, his Millie Hill being berthed in Seattle’s Lake Union.

Dinner at Whitehall
Dinner at Whitehall (photo: Tom Larsen)

He was able to see how well we live in the Lois McClure on his very first night: the citizens of Whitehall had the crew over to the Old Bridge Theater for a pot-luck dinner. Of course we diners were lucky with every pot; these affairs might better be called all-star-recipe dinners.

The Lois McClure returned to Lake Champlain on October 8th. Bound for Port Henry, we went down through Lock 12 at Whitehall and started south on the narrowest part of the lake. As promised, Art Cohn blew a long memorial blast on the C. L. Churchill’s horn as we negotiated The Elbow and passed the house where Cora Archambault used to live.

Fall foliage on Lake Champlain (photo: Tom Larsen)
Fall foliage on Lake Champlain (photo: Tom Larsen)

On this crisp, fall day, we reveled in the scenery. The twists and turns of our watery road; the marsh grasses, still with their summer green; further off, the steep, high banks, mostly forested, but with the occasional rocky outcropping interrupting the red and yellow foliage: none of it escaped our admiring gaze as the schooner and her tug slid quietly along.

It was crisp enough so that we were glad to have a wood fire going in the “Marine Household” in the cabin. And we were grateful to volunteer Bob Abell, who met us in Port Henry with a welcome gift of 160 pounds of pea-coal, so that we wouldn’t run out of firewood.

Doug and Ian gave an impromptu concert (photo: Tom Larsen)
Doug and Ian gave an impromptu concert (photo: Tom Larsen)

We were also grateful to Erick and Sarah Tichonuk, who invited the whole gang from the Lois McClure up the hill in Port Henry to their house for dinner. It was one of Erick’s multi-main-dish extravaganzas, and it was topped off by some mighty fast fiddling and guitar work by Doug Riley and Ian Montgomery respectively.

Rigging in Port Henry (photo: Tom Larsen)
Rigging in Port Henry (photo: Tom Larsen)

We had moored on the south side of Port Henry’s big pier as a good place to bring a crane to lift the schooner’s masts up into place. Team Kerry [Batdorf] did its usual smooth job of rigging the canal boat so she could go sailing.

And go sailing we did! We were bound north on the Lake to Essex on October 10th and woke to a light breeze from the south that promised to grow during the day. Perfect.

Casting off from the dock with the Churchill on the hip, we towed into the wind while hoisting mainsail and foresail. Erick had reluctantly left his office desk job, with its phone messages and meetings, to take over the fresh-air duties of First Mate for the day, so it was he who gave orders to the hearties hauling on the halyards: “Haul away throat; hold the peak; now, haul peak and throat together; ‘vast hauling; go to the jig tackles,” etc., etc. When both sails were set to satisfaction, with the gaffs at just the proper angle, we cast off the tug to accompany the schooner and backed the foresail to turn the vessel off the wind. In the light air, she went round so slowly that we had time to drag the jib up out of the fo’c’s’le and set it to help her before we were settled on our course for Barber’s Point.

Full sail (photo: Kerry Batdorf)
Full sail (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

Then we had a fine broad reach in a breeze that that slowly came up from light to moderate. By the time we passed Barber’s Point and headed for Split Rock, we were making 6 knots. By my count, we had six souls on board who were experiencing the schooner under sail for the first time. Volunteers Doug Riley and Jeff Gorse, who had put in towing time during the summer, had returned to the vessel on Lake Champlain hoping to see her under sail; Jean Belisle, our able seaman and academic historian from Montreal, no stranger to the schooner’s decks, had not yet been under sail in her; Dean Taylor, on board for three days, really lucked out; Ian Montgomery, a new crew member this year, had yet to see her canvas aloft; and, for Barbara Bartley, a veteran interpreter on board the Lois McClure, it was not only her first sail in the schooner, but also her first sail in any boat! She really enjoyed it. We were all disappointed that Caroline Kennedy, another new crew member this year, had to miss her first canal schooner sail due to illness. Well, we hope to see her on board again next year.

At Split Rock, it was decision time. Changing course to the left, for Essex, would mean getting the schooner from starboard tack to port tack. Erick and I were both a bit dubious about jibing that big mainsail in a breeze that was giving us some fresh gusts. When that long main boom swings over in a jibe, as the wind suddenly changes sides on the sail, the heavy spar accelerates rapidly with plenty of force. Would it be better to go to all the trouble of bringing her up close-hauled, tacking under good control, and then paying off on the other tack? I wondered about running in under the lee of Gardner’s Island, taking in sail, and then simply towing across to Essex? Dean built on that idea, saying if we went into the lee, why not jibe there? That made sense, so that’s what we did.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/aN5HD0_FPN4]

And then had the best sail yet in the Lois McClure. As we came out of the lee of the island on a course for Essex, we found ourselves on a fine reach with the wind just forward of abeam. Didn’t she like that! She heeled over and just surged along, going like a train of cars. Who said we can’t compete with the railroads? That wonderful leg across the Lake came to an end all too soon, and we rounded up just off the New York shore, took in sail, and Art Cohn brought the Churchill onto the hip to tow the schooner in to the dock at the Essex Shipyard.

At Essex, we had our last school group of the cruise on board. While it is certainly satisfying to share the Lois McClure and her cargo of history with grown-ups, it is even more special to have youngsters troop on board and witness their amazement, as they imagine themselves as part of a canal-boat family in 1862.

Darcey Hale showing the collection from the quarry (photo: Tom Larsen)
Darcey Hale showing the collection from the quarry (photo: Tom Larsen)

Say, the McClure’s supper cooks and wash-up crews seem to have had it mighty easy toward the end of this trip. On October 11th, we had yet another great evening meal ashore, this one at the gorgeous home, on the Willsboro peninsula, just north of Essex, of Chairwoman of the Museum Board Darcy Hale and her husband Bruce. The many culinary delicacies were punctuated by one of Darcy’s famous German chocolate cakes. And, down in the basement, we had a tour of the collection of the recently formed Hale Research Institute, which cares for a multitude of records, photographs, and artifacts of the quarrying, shipbuilding, and farming businesses that used to be conducted on this point of land in Lake Champlain.

As we got underway for Vergennes on October 12th and began towing back up the Lake toward Otter Creek, a northwester began breezing up. We were due to moor in the Creek just below the falls in Vergennes by mid-day so as to be ready by 3 p.m. for a Welcome Home to the Lois McClure. With that schedule, we had to forego sailing to the mouth of the Creek, though we always hate to waste a fair wind.

Towing the Lois McClure up Otter Creek is a delight. It seems so amazing to be able to take the big schooner into such a narrow waterway through mostly wild woods, even though she was built for narrower canal locks. It astounds me that the steamboat Reindeer, more than twice as long as the McClure, used to negotiate these tight turns.

Entering Vergennes (photo: Kris Jarrett)
Entering Vergennes (photo: Kris Jarrett)

We were indeed Welcomed Home at Vergennes. There was a band to play the anthems of the United States and Canada as their respective flags were hoisted to the mastheads of the schooner. There were speeches to congratulate the crew for a safe and productive voyage and to thank the Museum’s board and staff for their support. Many sponsors were recognized for making the voyage possible. Among others, we heard from the mayor of Vergennes; the governor of Vermont; a representative of Senator Patrick Leahy; the U. S. Consul General to Montreal; and a member of the Consulate General of Canada in Boston. Art Cohn delivered an outstanding summary of the War of 1812, whose 200th anniversary we had been commemorating. Erick Tichonuk reminded the assembly of the 2012 achievements of the Lois McClure, citing statistics: we had traveled in 2 states and 2 provinces in 2 countries, calling at 40 ports; we had passed through 104 locks on a journey of 800 miles; we had welcomed aboard more than 20,000 visitors. Perhaps our French-speaking Canadian crewman, Jean Belisle, should have the last word. One day he said, “When you see the smile on their face, it’s worth all the trouble.”

Roger Taylor
Captain

Vergennes: 1812: Welcome Home

by Art Cohn

As we planned the 2012 -1812 interpretive program and refined the ambitious tour schedule designed to bring the causes of the War of 1812 and the first season’s story to communities around the region, we realized we had an opportunity to conclude the program with a “Welcome Home” event at Vergennes. Vergennes is one of our “homeport” communities and Vergennes has an intimate connection to the War of 1812. It was here during the winter of 1814 that the resourceful Commodore Macdonough and master New York City shipwrights Adam and Noah Brown created the principal vessels of the American fleet that would do battle with its British counterpart for control of Lake Champlain. We saw an opportunity to utilize our final public stop at Vergennes to provide the perfect ending to 1812 and a way to look ahead to the conflicts next two years.

Everyone we spoke to loved the idea of doing the “Welcome Home” program in Vergennes and as we worked to maximize the impact of the whole tour, we continued to refine the way we might bring it all together at the end. The combination of a stop in Essex, New York followed by a final stop at Vergennes was the opportunity to focus on the wooden ships utilized to secure Lake Champlain. In 1812, when Lt. Macdonough arrived on the lake, he had two older gunboats supplemented by a force composed of converted lake sloops, many of whom had been built in Essex, NY.

A detailed view of a painting by Ernie Hass depicting the shipyard at Vergennes in 1812
A detailed view of a painting by Ernie Hass depicting the shipyard at Vergennes in 1812

As the war progressed and it became more likely that 1814 would bring a contest for the lake’s control, Macdonough’s shipbuilding efforts at Vergennes took center stage. The Battle of Lake Champlain at Plattsburgh took place on September 11, 1814 where these Vergennes built ships saw intense action and won the battle that helped end the war. Being able to tell that story in two communities directly connected to the vessels of the fleet would serve our mission in a profound way.

Full sail (photo: Kerry Batdorf)
Full sail (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

Upon arriving back on the lake after four months away, we put Lois’s  sailing rig up at Port Henry for the hoped for sailed to Essex. I am pleased to report that for once, the wind did not disappoint. The sail north was pronounced by our experienced crew as the best ever. As always, I had the best seat aboard the tugboat CL Churchill and with crewman Kerry Batdorf we had a great viewing and photography platform as the schooner made her way north. We always love returning to Essex, the community that still reflects its 19th century commercial heritage in its remarkably preserved architecture. We were able to host an enthusiastic school program from Willsboro and visit with many good friends during our stay. On Friday morning, so pleased with our stay in Essex, we were joined by LCMM Board Chair and veteran crewperson Darcey Hale.  We left the dock at Essex and headed southeast to the entrance of the Otter Creek that leads to Vergennes.

It was a beautiful early winter day with a cold chill in the air that reminded us how tough the mariners of yesterday had to be to work the lake often into December. Traveling the lake, canal and river in November and December added the intensive effort of fighting the cold and reinforced the necessity of the wood/coal stoves that we find in each canal boat shipwrecks cabin. It also re-connected us to our Captain Theodore Bartley who was forever reporting in his fall journal how much ice had been made in the pail overnight. For us, knowing we were approaching the end of our journey, our good memories of people and places we had come to know combined with our cabin stove, provided a warmth and satisfaction that encouraged us in this final leg.

As we approached Vergennes, the excitement and satisfaction of concluding the 2012 program here while setting the stage for the next two years felt just right. The lake and Otter Creek were in full color as we passed Fort Cassin, the fortified entrance to the creek. It was here that a battery of (7) -12 pounder cannons mounted in an earthwork was able to turn back a British raid on May, 14th, 1814. The British had hoped to destroy Macdonough’s fleet before it could leave the river, but were repulsed by the determined fire of the battery and strong showing of the Vermont militia. The British objective to weaken or destroy Macdonough’s fleet or sink vessels to obstruct the entrance to Otter Creek failed and the British returned to their base at Isle aux Noix. In light of the complete American success that soon followed at Plattsburgh Bay, the British raid was right to try to attempt to pre-empt the American fleet. The American naval victory was decisive and brought the war to a negotiated close. This great legacy of history combined with the days extraordinary beauty treated the crew to a memorable trip down this beautiful waterway to Vergennes.

The falls at Vergennes (photo: Kris Jarrett)
The falls at Vergennes (photo: Kris Jarrett)

Arriving just below the magnificent Vergennes falls, we were greeted at the dock by a small crowd of LCMM staff and folks from the community who were there to help welcome us home. Jim Larrow, Vergennes Public Works director, was one of the first to come aboard.  It was Jim and his crew who had taken such great care of us and all the boaters at the Falls Basin during 2011’s Hurricane Irene. Jim was at the dock to welcome us back and make sure we had power, secure docks and everything else we needed to support our 3-day stay, our 41st community program since spring. With the schooner secured to the dock, our ramps set out to shore, our banners placed on the walking path that leads from the parking lot to the schooner, we all began to focus on the dynamic “Welcome Home” event that had begun with an idea so many months and miles ago. The event had been organized by Representative Diane Lanpher with assistance from Megan Smith, Commissioner of Vermont Tourism and Marketing and Erick Tichonuk, Co-Director of LCMM. We had great support from Mayor Mike Daniels, Cabot, Dakin Farms, and the Addison County Chamber of Commerce.

The Honorable Andrew Parker giving his remarks at the Welcome Home event (photo: Kris Jarrett)
The Honorable Andrew Parker giving his remarks at the Welcome Home event (photo: Kris Jarrett)

Despite the cold temperatures, as the appointed hour got closer the dignitaries and crowd began to arrive. The Honorable Aaron Annable would be representing the Government of Canada and the Honorable Andrew Parker the Government of the United States. Our own Governor Peter Shumlin was there representing Vermont, along with Representatives Michele Consejo, Dave Sharpe and Diane Lamphaer all who had done so much to help make our program happen, Diane Derby representing our Senator Patrick Leahy and Mayor Mike Daniels hosting us from Vergennes added their warm welcome to the crew and the crowd. Erick hosted the event as MC and at 1:00, a series of wonderful remarks about our trip and War of 1812 history and the impact of that conflict were presented. I was pleased to talk about 1812 and the Vergennes role in 1814 as the place where McDonough’s American fleet was built.

I must admit, I had been hoping for one of those Indian Summer days when the warm temperatures and golden colors combine to bless the earth, but instead we got the coldest day yet this fall. However, despite the cold temperatures, the event met all my expectations and exceeded many. The gathering of people coming together to remember the events of the War of 1812 and the peace that we have enjoyed since, was truly the perfect conclusion to this wonderful journey.

Special Thanks to:

  • Mayor Mike Daniels
  • Jim Larrow
  • Sam Cutting
  • Diane Lanpher
  • Michel Consejo
  • Dave Sharpe
  • Megan Smith, Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing
  • Addison County Chamber of Commerce

Art Cohn
Captain, C.L. Churchill

Essex

by Tom Larsen

Docked in Essex (photo: Catherine Seidenberg)
Docked in Essex (photo: Catherine Seidenberg)
A look at the docks of Essex NY, in the late 1800s
A look at the docks of Essex NY, in the late 1800s

Bringing the Lois McClure to Essex helps reconnect with the shipwrecks she was constructed from. The General Butler was built in Essex, and whenever we dock at the Essex Shipyard, it’s easy to imagine what it looked like 150 years ago. Canal boats and lake schooners lined up on the wharves, getting filled with cargo headed around the lake and headed off across the state on the canal system. The old photographs always help the imagination too.

Darcey Hale showing the collection from the quarry (photo: Tom Larsen)
Darcey Hale showing the collection from the quarry (photo: Tom Larsen)

One of the treats of being at Essex, aside from the historical connection, is being hosted by the Chairperson of the Board of Directors for LCMM, Darcey Hale. She always brings us to her house just up the road in Westport, and treats us to a fantastic dinner. This time was particularly special, as she gave us a tour of the work she has been doing on the records and artifacts from the old quarry site on her property. The sheer amount of material involved is mind boggling, and she has done an amazing job getting it all organized.

After our last school groups of the season and an afternoon with the public, we were ready to head to Vergennes for our final stop of the 2012 season.

Special Thanks to:

  • Nick Muller
  • Essex Shipyard
  • Darcey Hale

Tom Larsen
First Mate

Sailing, sailing

by Tom Larsen

Leaving Whitehall, we headed for Port Henry with the anticipation of re-rigging the Lois for her final few ports on the lake. The southern lake is a beautiful place to travel through, more river than lake, and we were graced with great weather to enjoy it in. Wildlife was everywhere – heron, osprey, even a few eagles! Cameras were clicking left and right as we all took in the sights.

Ian Montgomery and Jean Belilse working hard raising the foresail
Ian Montgomery and Jean Belilse working hard raising the foresail (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

By now, on our 9th rigging operation of the season, we were getting pretty smooth at it. Brown’s Crane Service of Bristol, Vermont, came to provide the heavy lifting help, and in no time at all, the Lois was looking like a sailboat again. In celebration, Co-Director Erick Tichonuk had the crew over to his house for dinner, providing a veritable feast, while Ian Montgomery and Doug Riley entertained the crew with music.

The next morning, we all had our fingers crossed – opportunities to actually sail the Lois are few and far between. As is often said to the public “Sailing and schedules don’t mix well.” Thankfully, on our last day that we would be able to sail, the winds cooperated.

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While it started out slow, the wind kept building, until we were rolling right along. The sound of the boat under sail is so different than our usual method of movement. No engine noise, no smell of diesel, no vibration from the tug next to us. It is very serene.

Full sail (photo: Kerry Batdorf)
Full sail (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

The wind kept building through the day, slowly picking up until we were really moving along. Sailing the Lois is often an exercise in patience, as we usually get “sailable” days that are fairly mild in terms of weather. This one started that way, and after a few hours decided to give us a bit of excitement. Shortly after we sailed passed North Harbor (waving to LCMM’s campus, the Philidelphia, and the staff on the dock), the rain joined us as the wind kept rising. Coming up to Essex with the wind behind us, Roger took us over to the lee of Gardner Island so we could gybe over with as little drama as possible. Gybing can be a tense moment as there is no gradual fill of the sails as with tacking – the booms can come whipping across the deck, the sails fill with a bang, and the boat really moves.

Dousing sail outside of Essex (photo: Catherine Seidenberg)
Dousing sail outside of Essex (photo: Catherine Seidenberg)

Gybing in a lee makes it much more controlled. Even so, on this sail once the sails were shifted over, the Lois heeled over a bit, and took off like a locomotive. It’s rare that we are given a chance to really let the boat stretch her legs a bit, and experiences like this one are truly exciting. All too quickly, we were coming up on Essex, and had to dowse sail and bring the tug alongside. It was a major treat to be able to have such a sail on the last possible day for it.

Special Thanks to:

  • Brown’s Crane Service
  • Tom Scozzafava

Tom Larsen
First Mate