Troy was a great stop. We were able to reconnect with our friends in this Mohawk-Hudson Industrial Gateway city with a history rich that provided so many connections to Lake Champlain. These days we often say our cargo is the discussion of history we carry aboard Lois. Troy provides a rich menu of topics connected by our study of shipwrecks. The schooner Troy of Westport, lost in a November gale in 1825 with five young men aboard; the Stove Wreck, a very early and later outlawed scow-like canal boat, with its cargo of Troy-made tea pots, kettles and kitchen woodstoves contained within; and the Burlington Horse Ferry (ca. 1830) with its John Langdon patented two-horse power design that was manufactured in Troy. We were treated to old-fashioned hospitality and very much enjoyed enjoyed our stay. I was particularly pleased by the nightly visits to the Snowman, which the crew unanimously declared produced the best ice cream on the planet!
But after the floods of June and the damage to the canal, the crew was really chomping at the bit to begin the travel westward.
With the NYS Canal Corporation crews working hard to restore the canal to operational status and with guidance from our friends at the Canal Corps, we began our westward leg with a stop at Amsterdam’s Riverlink Park. We were welcomed by Bob Kirkham, proprietor of the Riverlink Cafe, and the crew took full advantage of the showers and washing machines available to boaters. After a good day of hosting visitors, there was a concert in the amphitheater – the Grand Slambovians put on quite a show.
The next day we set off for Fort Plain, which had been so hard hit by recent flood waters. We were greeted by our close friend Savim Morawski who welcomed us with the warmth of returning family and accepted our “Proclamation of Friendship” read by our Captain Roger Taylor and presented by the our crew to the Fort Plain community. This proclamation speaks of the enduring friendship felt by our crew and the community of Fort Plain hopes for their speedy recovery and future opportunities for us to visit.
From Fort Plain we continued our westward movement to Little Falls, another canal community hard hit by recent floods. Once again the hospitality of the Rotary Park Canal Facility staff was so far above and beyond. They gave the crew rides to get ice and diesel fuel, and even brought us downtown to explore the famous antique mall before open hours began.
Due to our schedule changes, and our desire to see as many of the ports initially scheduled as possible, we have decided to provide afternoon stops at many of the communities along the canal. After a morning of travel, we arrive in the community and open the boat for a few hours. While this approach gives us less time in the community, we do get to see many more places. We have been consistently impressed with the response of visits like this in the past. Little Falls was the first of these afternoon stops this year and they didn’t disappoint.
We saw a steady stream of visitors during our open hours, including members of a hard-working Canal Corp dredging crew who were staying at the harbor while they worked long-hours to get the canal back into shape. All of this, despite the steady drip of rain! The next morning, the satisfied crew pulled out of the harbor for a long journey westward to Sylvan Beach at the eastern end of Oneida Lake. This was a forty-mile push which brought us through the beautiful Mohawk Valley and to the eastern end of Oneida Lake.
It is from here that I write this blog. We were to leave this morning at 6AM to cross the lake, but high wind caused Captain Roger to postpone the crossing until tomorrow when the wind is predicted decline. “That’s why we schedule weather days” was Canal Corp’s John Callahan’s seasoned response to being updated on our plans to stay put today. As I write this, the crew is occupying the time by talking with many passers by and working on the ever-present maintenance chores presented by our two large hard-working wooden boats.
If all goes well, we will cross Oneida Lake as planned tomorrow AM en route to our weekend program at the Inner Harbor in Syracuse. Stay tuned as we continue our travel westward as far as Buffalo and the shores of Lake Erie.
It seems to me that the theme of this year’s tour has got to be the kindness and generosity of the strangers we meet. While the original schedule has hit a few bumps in the road, what with the flooding and the damage to the locks, the people we’ve met so far have more than made up for the misfortune.
I very much believe that this boat brings out the very best in people, and in a world where all we hear about are negatives, this boat is one of the greatest positives. Coming in to Troy, NY as an unscheduled event has really demonstrated to me how good people are. Upon our arrival on Thursday, July 11, we were greeted by a reception of our hosts at the Troy Downtown Marina, some press and the Mayor himself as well as the Deputy Mayor. The Mayor gave us the official welcome to the city, and soon afterwards we were invited by the city clerk, Karla Guererri, to attend the City Council meeting as part of the ‘good news’ section of the meeting. Art and I did later attend the meeting and we were met with genuine smiles and enthusiasm by the council members. They each wished us well on our visit and were quick to offer any assistance in advertising our stop, as well as any other needs we might need met. We soon took full advantage of their offer, and between Lucy Larner, Secretary to the Troy City Council, Karla Guererri, City Clerk, and Lynne Kopka, Council President, they were able to arrange for us use of facilities in the city building, as well as procuring showers in the homes of some good samaritans. We were offered showers by five different couples, the Chupkas, the Sonolis, the Mullers, the Grahams, and P. Miyamoto and S. Bates, each of whom were incredibly hospitable and welcoming of us ‘dirty sailors’ into their beautiful homes.
The acts of spontaneous generosity did not end there, however. On Friday evening during our public hours, a very kind couple presented Captain Roger with a bag of corn for the crew. We all shook our heads with wonder at how people with such big hearts always seem drawn to us. Furthermore, our RiverSpark Heritage connection, Michael Barrett, was a key proponent in alerting the press to our unscheduled visit, and our excellent reception at our arrival was likely due in large to him. Barrett also had sent us a reporter from the Troy Record earlier in the week to write an excellent story on our behalf. Not only did Barrett alert the press to our visit, but decided to donate, from his own personal collection, an iron kettle made from Foxell & Jones, Troy, NY.
Along with the city of Troy and its residents, the Troy Downtown Marina has been beyond hospitable of our stay. Almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Irene in 2011, the Marina has been transferred to new management. The dockmasters, Eric and Kevin, have been working tirelessly to arrange a safe and comfortable stop for the Lois McClure. They have been most generous in welcoming us to their dock and ensuring our every need is met, including driving Kerry back to Waterford to pick up our van. The hospitality continued with Karla Guererri offering us a room in her house. Air conditioning, a shower, and wireless? Heaven! Acts of kindness like this are what make our travels so special. While the newspapers are often highlighting the terrors of the world, we get to see the joys first hand.
The last Captain’s Log ended on June 12th, when we had been delayed for two days in Waterford at the east end of the Erie Canal due to high water. Well, here it is July 8th, and we are still delayed in Waterford due to high water, or, at least, the effects of high water. It rained and rained (we’ve heard all too many Noah’s Ark jokes on board the Lois McClure in the last month), and two floods, literally one right on top of the other, have damaged Erie Canal lock gates and dams to the point where New York Canal Corporation work crews have been struggling round the clock making repairs. There is an end in sight—light at the end of the Canal, so to speak—but it is still a couple of weeks away. Mercy. If John Callaghan, the Canal’s number two man, who makes sure the schooner is safe and well cared for while she is in his domain, had hair long enough to tear out…. No, that’s not an accurate picture: John, good seaman that he is, somehow remains calm, cool, and collected through every emergency.
We have actually moved the schooner during this sojourn, and we have opened our floating museum to more than 1,500 visitors in Waterford. On June 24th, in hopes the Canal could reopen to the west, we went up through the flight of five locks and one lock more and tied up to the long floating dock at the Schenectady Yacht Club. Its members have been most welcoming to the schooner and her tug on more than one occasion, but on this visit, they and the operators of the marina at Rexford, downstream and across the Mohawk from the city of Schenectady, where the Club makes its headquarters, outdid themselves. They gave us an anchor!
We don’t anchor the schooner often, but readers of past logs may recall the use of anchors, sometimes of many anchors, to hold the vessel in position without putting pressure on lightweight floats giving access to the shore. We have, on the schooner, a big, modern, Danforth anchor and three old-fashioned, fisherman anchors, one of which stays on the stern as an emergency brake. On the tug, we have two additional Danforths. When we anchor the schooner out in the stream or lake, we use the big Danforth on a heavy chain.
I have to admit to being prejudiced against the Danforth anchor. I was brought up to respect and admire the old-fashioned, symbol-of-hope anchor. And I am old enough that I had depended on that sort of anchor in many boats in many situations by the time the Danforth received its patent and came into general use. The big claim for the Danforth was that it could achieve greater holding power per pound than the old-fashioned anchor. You could handle, raise, and stow a lighter anchor on your boat if you used a Danforth. But it turns out that this was true only if the anchoring conditions were ideal: good holding ground, enough swinging room to be able to veer plenty of scope, and no pesky, big wind shifts to give major changes of direction of pull. Also, making an object lighter that you must depend on to dig into the bottom and hold your boat through thick and thin defies common sense. I could tell you a horror story or two about being on a boat that had only Danforth anchors. Furthermore, our Danforth anchor (through no fault of its own) looks out of place resting on the bow of our replica of an 1862-class canal boat.
So, I have always been on the lookout for an old-fashioned, fisherman anchor to replace it. My heart rate went up when I saw a real beauty leaning up against the back of the Schenectady Yacht Clubhouse on June 25th. I made bold to ask Clark Farnsworth, longtime owner and operator of the marina, the status of this heart-throb anchor. He said its status is vague!! I go up to my target heart rate. And before I get halfway through my psychopathic tale of anchors and schooners, Mr. Farnsworth says, “Just take it.” Of course we checked with Dick Mason, the Commodore of the Yacht Club, who checked with many of its senior members. With the result that a handful of said members loaded a 75-pound, genuine Wilcox and Crittenden “Yachtsman” model fisherman anchor into a pickup truck and delivered it dockside!
All it needed was a new key to lock the stock in position; Ship’s Carpenter Kerry Batdorf designed one, and, back at the Museum, Blacksmith Dale Henry made one. The new anchor is in position on the schooner’s bow, where it is anchor number one, our Starboard Bower. The big Danforth has a new position, stowed atop the C. L. Churchill’s deckhouse, and a new job description that fits its design perfectly. If the schooner is ever in a hard-chance situation where she needs that “anchor to windward,” the tug will take the Danforth out and drop it with a long scope and a predictable direction of pull, and it will perform admirably.
By June 27th, it became apparent that the high-water conditions on the Erie Canal were going to get worse before they got better. It was time to retreat. We went back down to and through Lock 7 and moored to the approach wall. This downstream side of Lock 7 is well protected from the Mohawk River by a long breakwater wall. Turbulence from thousands of tons of water thundering over the dam beside the lock couldn’t reach the schooner.
But of course even in that snug harbor, the river level could rise. And it did. With the schooner safely moored, we had released several of the crew. On the 28th, Kathleen and I were driving south to Long Island for a visit with her family.
In this era of instant communication, we got a message that described the water coming up over the wall to which the boat was moored and the crew (Art Cohn, Carolyn Kennedy, and volunteer Jeff Gorss) laying out no less than three Danforth anchors from the tug and running a line across to the opposite wall to keep the schooner from drifting in over the mooring wall, on which she otherwise could have grounded when the water receded. The big Danforth, in its new role, was in the center position of the three anchors. The trio stood anchor watches that night, but their handling of the situation needed no further action. By the time the rest of the crew returned on July 1st, the river had gone back down, the trio had retrieved the Danforths, all the anchor lines were neatly coiled, and they had even washed away all the mud.
But the receding river level revealed more structural damage to lock gates and dams than was expected. Because water is fluid, rather than solid, it is sometimes hard to realize how much damage it can inflict when moving fast. At sea, a wave breaking over the side of a ship can bend heavy steel railings. On the canal, fast flowing river water can wreak havoc with heavy steel structures. Carry two large buckets of water and feel their weight. Multiply by, say, a million…. We would not be heading west on the Erie Canal toward Buffalo any time soon.
On July 3rd, we retreated further, back to the flight of five locks and down to Waterford. This was a fast trip, with from two to three knots of current helping us along. We passed plenty of cruising yachts moored in the basins between locks in the flight, sheltering from the potential violence of a Mohawk River in flood. On our approach to the last lock in the flight, we noticed that the yacht tied up closest to the lock gate made the approach channel quite narrow. It looked, though, as if we could just squeeze through. We coasted in at dead slow speed and just made it, the yacht’s and tug’s fenders just kissing. Whew!
For the next four days, we went into Museum mode, and our unscheduled stop at Waterford resulted in all those visitors. It didn’t hurt that we were open on the Fourth of July and that Saturday the 6th was the day of the annual steamboat meet. A dozen steam launches were the centerpieces of a real Waterford festival. It was great to see these lovely little vessels parading past, perfectly quiet except for their gentle huffs and puffs, until their skippers pulled their whistle cords.
It is now July 10th. We hope to resume our journey west on the Erie Canal in about ten days. But, in the meantime, the city of Troy wants to see us, so tomorrow, we will head down the Hudson River for a four-day visit in the town which used to see canal boats by the hundreds, bringing in the raw materials that the famous Troy factories converted into stoves, flat irons, and, yes, symbol- of-hope anchors.