Captain’s Log, Part 4

When the tug C. L. Churchill moved the Lake Champlain canal schooner Lois McClure out into the outer harbor at Buffalo on August 6th, the scene couldn’t have been more of a contrast to that when the vessels entered on the 2nd: instead of swells heaving in from Lake Erie through the gap in the breakwall, the water was as smooth as a mirror. The trip down the Niagara River toTonawanda was swift and uneventful.

Docked in Tonawanda (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Tonawanda (photo: Tom Larsen)

After arrival, we discovered a nearby pump-out facility, and, to take advantage of it, had to turn the schooner round in the fairly narrow Tonawanda Creek, go back to the sanitary pump, and turn her again, to tie up within reach of its hose. There was heavy traffic in the creek, a parade of motor cruisers in both directions, as well as a number of folks out taking the air in rented kayaks and pedal boats, some, apparently, on their first voyage. No matter. Our two 180-degree turns were made in slow motion, and the fleets made their way cautiously through the narrow gaps left by our bow and stern with casual unconcern. Now, we were the obstacle course.

Next day, we received almost 500 Tonawandans and North Tonawandans on board. We like to think that we present to the folks of these lively, rival towns an opportunity for relaxed comingling in neutral territory. Peace reigned, and many a canal story was exchanged.

On August 8th, we headed back east on the Erie Canal. “Clinton’s Ditch,” some had dubbed it. Without New York Governor DeWitt Clinton’s persistent faith in the idea of the waterway, it wouldn’t have been dug, at least not by 1825. The concept of connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River elicited many reactions. Some foresaw accurately the huge potential for making money; some believed the canal would never be completed and would never be used if it was completed; some, foreshadowing Kipling, simply feared the changes that would be inevitable if east and west did meet.

On board the Lois McClure, we are privileged to immerse ourselves in both such historical musings and in the practical aspects of “if you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal.” We experienced one such practical aspect on the run from Tonawanda to Medina on August 8th.

We were approaching Lock 35 at Lockport, to go down through the deepest lock on the canal. When we checked in by radio with the lock keeper, he told us that he would be bringing a tour boat up in the lock before we could go down. We’d have to wait a few minutes. Fine, but I misjudged the amount of current that would send us toward the lock when the keeper filled it. The deep lock required plenty of water, and it appeared that we would sweep down on its gate before the lock was full. So, we backed into the current, but a cross wind gradually shoved us over to the right bank. Luckily, that bank was steep rock protected by thick bushes. We hove to in the bushes. The shrubbery, tangled in our awning poles, just held us against the current and kept us off the cliff. All we had to do, as we went into the lock after the tour boat went by, was sweep the deck clear of twigs and leaves. Who wouldn’t sell his farm and go to sea?

Art Cohn giving a quick bit of information to a passing tour at E35 as the LOIS locks through (photo: Tom Larsen)

Art Cohn giving a quick bit of information to a passing tour at E35 as the LOIS locks through (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Medina welcoming the crew of the Lois McClure (photo: Tom Larsen)

Our reward for navigating to Medina was to have on board more than 200 visitors in the late afternoon and early evening. We had a fine day combining navigating on the Erie Canal with talking up its history. And, next day, repeated the pleasure, with a quiet trip to Brockport, where we colloquized with another 200 canalers.

Docked in Brockport (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Brockport (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Palmyra (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Palmyra (photo: Tom Larsen)

Steve and Bonnie Hays (photo: Tom Larsen)

Steve and Bonnie Hays (photo: Tom Larsen)

The schooner arrived at Palmyra on August 10th. Our good friends, Steve (the fenderman) and Bonnie Hays, always take good care of us in Palmyra. They not only spread the word of our arrival according to the revised (by flood damage to the canal) schedule we were on so that 200 souls came on board next day, but also fed the crew two dinners at the Coverlet Museum. Art Cohn, the master diver and innovative nautical archaeologist, responded with a fine slide show and lecture on the discovery, cultural use, and management of shipwrecks. (Occasionally, we have to sing for our supper. On August 2nd, when we reached Lake Erie at Buffalo, I had talked to the crew about my distant relative, Oliver Hazard Perry, with emphasis on his role at the Battle of Lake Erie, where he was able to write (for some reason, all these famous words seem to end up on the backs of old envelopes), “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”)

Isaac Parker

Isaac Parker

Carolyn Kennedy

Carolyn Kennedy

On August 11, Isaac Parker had to leave the crew to go back to school. We had already lost Carolyn Kennedy to academia on the 3rd. These two young shipmates had made a huge difference to our crew. Their enthusiasm, good spirits, and boundless energy (and they are both wicked smart) had given all of us, and me, in particular, as an ancient mariner, an enormous lift. Carolyn is starting a doctorate program in nautical archaeology at Texas A and M; Isaac is combining his senior year of high school with mostly college courses and will be applying to the Webb Institute, one of the country’s top schools for naval architecture and engineering. We miss them both and wish them all success.

On August 12th, we had a double-take arrival at Lyons. We came out of Lock 27, and I somehow failed to recognize that our mooring wall was not just around the corner, but rather (oh no!) right here. As we swung past, first mate Tom Larsen radioed calmly from the bow, “Roger, I think this is our berth.” Yes, it certainly was.

“Art, (at the wheel of the tug) Slow to idling speed.”

“Art, Neutral.”

“Art, Slow astern.

The Oocher had come back onto the schooner’s bow after exiting the lock, so orders to Kerry Batdorf, controlling her outboard motor, to “Give a pull,” or “Give a push,” could help keep things lined up as we gradually stopped, and then backed up, and eased alongside where we were supposed to be. Mercy. How embarrassing. Our rule on board is to keep smiling no matter what in hopes people will think some of our crazy maneuvers are intentional.

Jack McCramels with the peppermint oil box he donated (photo: Kathleen Carney)

Jack McCramels with the peppermint oil box he donated (photo: Kathleen Carney)

Jack McCranels came on board in Lyons. When we called at Lyons in 2007, Jack gave us a wooden shipping box for five 210-ounce bottles of oleum menthae piperitae (peppermint oil) manufactured by the H. G. Hotchkiss Co. in Lyons. We display the box in the schooner’s cargo hold to illustrate a sample cargo. It provides my favorite historic example of the economic effect of the Erie Canal on a canal town like Lyons. The box proclaims that its contents won a “First Prize Medal at the Great Paris Exposition of 1867.” Before the Erie Canal, it would have been ludicrous to imagine the Hotchkiss Co. reaching, with its peppermint oil, a market more than a few miles from Lyons. There could have been no Hotchkiss Co. But with the Erie Canal, H. G. Hotchkiss could suddenly ship his product by water for ten percent of the cost of shipping by corduroy road. Nor would his bottles risk being broken en route. The Erie Canal opened to a business in Lyons, New York, the markets of the world. Hotchkiss and Lyons could prosper. Multiply that sort of prosperity by many thousands and you get fast-growing towns and cities all along the canal. And a chef in Paris could add to his cuisine the finest of Lyons, New York, peppermint oils.

The trip from Lyons to Baldwinsville took two days, with an overnight stop at Weedsport, where Art Cohn, our fearless leader (without whom, it can truly be said, there would be no replica canal schooner) treated the crew to dinner at Devaney’s Riverside Grille, a stone’s throw from the McClure. The schooner’s crew works hard and plays hard, too, if you measure playing by the decibels of laughter. InBaldwinsville, we again shared our two-way history lessons with 200 learner-teachers.

The Bridgehouse Brats of Phoenix, NY (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Bridgehouse Brats of Phoenix, NY (photo: Tom Larsen)

At 10:30 a.m. on August 15th, the Lois McClurewas at Three Rivers. As we left the Seneca River to enter the Oswego River, we passed the west end of the Oneida River. This part of New York State is well served by natural waterways, made navigable by “canalization,” with locks, dredging, and channel markers. In another half hour, our docklines were being caught and belayed by the Bridgehouse Brats of Phoenix. This decidedly unbratty group of youngsters is a pure delight to anyone visiting Phoenix in a boat. They will do anything for you: help you tie up or cast off, run errands, help clean your boat (!), and bring you your morning coffee.

Mayor Tony Fratto, Canal Corps Director Brian Stratton, Senator Pattie Richie and the Bridgehouse Brats cutting the ribbon to open a new pavilion on the Phoenix waterfront (photo: Tom Larsen)

Mayor Tony Fratto, Canal Corps Director Brian Stratton, Senator Pattie Richie and the Bridgehouse Brats cutting the ribbon to open a new pavilion on the Phoenix waterfront (photo: Tom Larsen)

We participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a restored pavilion on the Phoenix waterfront (it didn’t actually rise from ashes, just needed rebuilding), and, as well as hearing remarks from dignitaries like Brian Stratton, Director of the New York Canal Corporation, we heard well-deserved praises lavished on twenty-six of the Brats. And then the whole crowd came on board the Lois McClure to experience actually standing on the deck and exploring the cargo hold and cabin of a sailing canal boat of 1862.

The OMF ONTARIO sailing out of Oswego Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

The OMF ONTARIO sailing out of Oswego Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

The MAJOR ELISHA K HENSON in Oswego (photo: Tom Larsen)

The MAJOR ELISHA K HENSON in Oswego (photo: Tom Larsen)

On August 16th, we towed down the pretty Oswego River on a gorgeous day and moored to the big pier in Oswego Harbor, on Lake Ontario. On the pier is the H. Lee White Marine Museum. An adjunct of the museum, tied up just ahead of the schooner, is the ex-Army tug,Major Elisha K. Henson (USAT LT-5). Without any disloyalty to our game little C. L. Churchill, we sometimes drool over towboats that we see along the way. We’ll pass a handsome 70-footer and say, “Wow! Wouldn’t she be fun to run.” But the 110-foot, all-grayHenson, with her service ribbons for action off the Normandy beaches in World War II, is really special, the queen of the tugboat fleet that we see.

A big freighter came in off the Lake fifteen minutes before we got underway on August 18th for the run toSackets Harbor. You recognize a scale of inertia wholly different from that of the McClure when you watch a large ship dock. We try to make slow approaches to docks and locks with the schooner, but this vessel, with no assist tug, really had to creep in alongside.

A large freighter coming to the port of Oswego (photo: Tom Larsen)

A large freighter coming to the port of Oswego (photo: Tom Larsen)

Moonrise in Sackets Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

Moonrise in Sackets Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

Sackets Harbor is 35 miles from Oswego, across the southeast corner of Lake Ontario. The trip is like being in open ocean, no place for a flat-bottomed canal boat, if there’s much wind. We needed a calm day to make the crossing. Well, luckily, the 18th, the first of the two possible days we had allotted for the journey, was about as calm a day as you’d ever find on Lake Ontario. After seven hours of smooth towing on the hawser, we moored in the well-protected cove where the Americans had raced to build warships in the War of 1812.

The next day Ship’s Carpenter Kerry Batdorf fastened a plywood patch (an advantage of a flat-sided canal boat) over a spot at the waterline in the schooner’s planking that had been damaged by last winter’s ice in Burlington harbor. There was no leakage; this was a belt-and-suspenders repair. This schooner (knock on her wood) has never leaked; we claim that since she was built carefully of seasoned woods, instead of being quickly constructed of what was on hand, as were the canal boats of the 19th century, she is the best-built canal boat that has ever existed.

Sackets Harbor is a lively place in summer. The Lois McClure attracted nearly 500 visitors on August 20th, many of them, surely, “from away.”

The St. Lawrence River, forming the boundary between New York and Ontario, drains Lake Ontario from a point (actually the source of the river is spread along the lake shore for a dozen miles) north of Sackets Harbor. Our next port-of-call was Cape Vincent, the first town down the river on the New York side. Although we would be going alongshore, rather than out in open water, we would still be exposed to the full fetch of the lake if the wind was in the west quadrant. Sure enough, the forecast for the 21st was for a southwest breeze, increasing during the day from 10 knots to as much as 20 knots. But an early start ought to get us off the lake and into the river by noon, before things got too rough-and-tumble out there.

And it did, although there was enough swell starting to build to make both tug and schooner take some pretty good rolls, as we towed on the long hawser. Jean Belisle, our Canadian volunteer, shot a video from the stern deck of the Churchill that I believe is more conducive to seasickness than was the actual motion.Docked safely in Cape Vincent (photo: Tom Larsen)

And so, we have entered the upper St. Lawrence River, new waters for the Lois McClure. We are about to go down through The Thousand Islands; we will be navigating among the ocean freighters of the St. Lawrence Seaway; and we will be calling at new ports and meeting citizens on both the U. S. and Canadian sides of the stream.

Roger Taylor
Captain

The Captain’s Log, Part 3

On July 11th, the tug C. L. Churchill towed the replica canal schooner Lois McClure down the Hudson River from Waterford to Troy. We were supposed to be heading west rather than south, out the Erie Canal toward Buffalo, but creeks, like the Schoharie, had turned into raging rivers and caused so much water to roar down the Mohawk that lock gates and dams had been wrenched and holed. The New York Canal Corporation’s construction crews were still repairing and rebuilding for all they were worth. Meanwhile, we would go to Troy and take the city’s waterfront back 150 years.

There was plenty of current, too, in the Hudson. We were down to the Federal Lock before we knew it, and coming out of the lock, saw that the green buoy marking the shoal to starboard was being towed almost under. Luckily (that ever-present factor in this enterprise), all that current was right on our stern, so steering through it to the more quiet water beyond, was easy. And when we turned into the current to land on the floating dock at Troy, we could angle the schooner into the flow and, by changing the angle as needed, use it to slide the vessel sideways right in where we wanted her. Love it.

Bacon Alley at the Troy Pig Out (photo: Tom Larsen)
Bacon Alley at the Troy Pig Out (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Trojans were to have a Pig-Out during our visit, an event that was forecast to bring in 30,000 hungry souls. We were moored at some little distance from the succulent goings-on, and so could entice only about 400 of the gourmets on board for an extra course of history. But it was like dessert for them, and for us. We continually relearn the old adage that the teacher learns more than the student. In any event, the comfortable pace of visitors coming up the gangway led to many an interesting, unhurried conversation.

After a day of show-and-tell with youth groups on July 16th, we headed back up the river to Waterford. It was a nice, early-evening run; the current had eased and the Hudson was glassy calm. And the news from the New York Canal Corporation was good; repairs were being completed, and the canal would reopen in three or four days! So, next day, we ran back up to Lock 7 and, this time, with a lot less water coming down the Mohawk, moored above the lock, rather than below it. The weather had turned from rainy and cold to sunny and hot; at the schooner’s wheel, in the shade of the stern awning, a thermometer registered 99 degrees. The heat was somewhat relieved by a headwind on the 18th for the tow up to Amsterdam, and our speed of 5 knots added to it. Mercy.

The crew had a lay day in Amsterdam and then converted the vessel from traveling (and living-on-board) mode to 1862-museum mode in order to receive on board Amsterdam’s eager, history students, young and old.

On July 21st, we travelled to Fort Plain. Again, there was plenty of wind. The hardest part of maneuvering the schooner with the tug on the hip is when a strong breeze catches her high bow. A sudden gust from one side or the other will swing the vessel off course. You can see it coming from the dark patches of racing ripples on the water, but you can’t turn the vessel into it quickly enough to meet the swing. We did test the strength of our fenders on some of the lock walls between Amsterdam and Fort Plain.

Roger presenting the Proclamation of Friendship to Sevim (photo: Tom Larsen)
Roger presenting the Proclamation of Friendship to Sevim (photo: Tom Larsen)

We can always count on a warm welcome at Fort Plain. We knew that this community had been especially hard-hit by the floods that had merely caused us a delay. We wanted to express our empathy in some way, perhaps bring some sort of gift. We decided that maybe it would be best simply to give to the citizens of Fort Plain more of something that they already had—our friendship. So we concocted an official Proclamation of Friendship, framed it, and read it aloud as we presented it to the town’s unofficial welcoming committee, our good friend, Sevim Moraski. And then nothing would do but her treating the whole crew to an elegant breakfast next morning. As we left, well fed, for Little Falls, we wished Sevim and all her neighbors smooth sailing in the days and weeks ahead.

Proceeding west up through a few more of the Erie Canal’s thirty-four locks, we had a not- uncommon experience, a half-hour’s wait, in the approach to a lock. We often liken navigating on a canal to overcoming an obstacle course. And so, I got to play one of my favorite games with the schooner: seeing how long I can let her drift without a nudge from either the Churchill or the Oocher. On this occasion, we had a light breeze from astern giving us a little headway through the water against a slow head current. I believe I did set a new record of 27 minutes.

Visitors brave the rain in Little Falls (photo: Tom Larsen)
Visitors brave the rain in Little Falls (photo: Tom Larsen)

In the evening, at Little Falls, we turned the McClure back into a museum and welcomed aboard a number of her fans. Well, I suppose that in a way they are the crew’s fans too, which is very satisfying.

On July 23rd, we had a long run to Sylvan Beach, at the east end of Oneida Lake. According to my ship’s log, we got underway at 6:20 a.m. Sure enough, at our second of four locks to be negotiated that day, the old obstacle course manifested itself: the lock-keeper radioed that one of the downstream gates was out of order and wouldn’t open. Would we be able to squeeze through with only half the usual width? Well, yes, but not with the tug on the hip. So, we towed through the narrow opening very slowly with the tug ahead on a short hawser and the Oocher on the schooner’s stern for a brake. Whew. The Oocher needed only 25% power to stop her mother ship, and we didn’t even test a fender.

A calm Oneida Lake (photo: Tom Larsen)
A calm Oneida Lake (photo: Tom Larsen)

Longtime readers of these logs may remember the warning given us by Cora Archambeault, who grew up on a canal boat: “Be careful crossing Oneida.” We heeded her warning on the 24th. The northwest breeze was fresh. It was calm enough in the harbor, but when I walked over to the beach early in the morning to take a look at the lake, I saw plenty of white horses prancing towards me. It would be a rough-and-tumble tow out there. We had been smart enough to build an extra day into our revised schedule for crossing the lake, so now, I reasoned, we should be smart enough to use it. It worked. When we towed across to Brewerton on the long hawser next day, the lake was calm as a clock.

We made the run from Brewerton to Syracuse on July 26th. On the way, we stopped at the Winter Harbor marina to fill water tanks and empty sanitaries. Art Cohn had brought the C. L. Churchill up to the marina the previous afternoon to top off his fuel tank. Thank goodness for marinas.

Docked in Syracuse (photo: Tom Larsen)
Docked in Syracuse (photo: Tom Larsen)

I remembered the entrance to the Inner Harbor at Syracuse as being challenging. There’s a narrow railroad bridge opening made narrower by shoaling. When we tried it in 2007, a fresh breeze on the beam had twisted the schooner round just as we made our approach and I had bounced the luckily (!) well-fendered bow off the bridge abutment pretty hard. (No wait, that wasn’t luck; it was volunteer Steve Hayes’s skillful fast work with a fender.) This time, the only challenge was finding our way through a confusing-looking mass of buoys set out by the dredgers who are working on cleaning up the lake. Kerry Batdorf and Carolyn Kennedy scouted ahead in the Oocher, and their radio reports made the passage easy.

It was at Syracuse where our longtime boatswain, Len Ruth, went ashore to take a temporary land assignment back at the Museum. We missed him immediately. His knowledgable, whimsical, sometimes sardonic comments from his station on the bow during maneuvers are not only informative, but also hilarious. Someday, we must persuade him to wear a microphone for the sake of posterity.

When we left the Syracuse Inner Harbor on July 29th, the obstacle course was in full operation. Just past the bottleneck of the railroad bridge, there appeared to be a string of small floats right across the narrow channel! We brought the schooner to a stop with no deep-enough water to spare around her and sent the Oocher out to tow a long string of little buoys out of the way. Apparently they had been blown adrift from their usual position, perhaps marking a dredged area. Thanks goodness for the Oocher and her competent crew. After a passage with no further obstructions, we moored for the night on the upper approach wall to Lock 26 at Clyde.

Docked in Pittsford (photo: Tom Larsen)
Docked in Pittsford (photo: Tom Larsen)

On the 30th, we had a lovely, quiet day out on the water for our trip from Clyde to Pittsford. It was punctuated by a pleasant meeting with the New York Canal Corporation tug Urger, under the command of our good friend Wendy Marble, who joined us later for supper on board, gave us all the latest canal news, and kindly, with her son, Noah, who has been one of our crew volunteers, drove us to available showers. The crew of the Lois McClure bathes ashore, and we owe many people many thanks for their help in keeping us presentable.

The chart of the Erie Canal from Pittsford to Albion looks like a drawing of an obstacle course. There are seven bridges with a clearance above the water of maybe three feet. Hmmm. Well, they are lift bridges, each with an operator who has a radio and controls with which to ring warning bells, lower gates to stop road traffic, and raise the bridge so that we can pass under it. As we approach a bridge, we call it on Channel 13, “Eagle Road Bridge, this is the Lois McClure westbound, over.”

This is Eagle Bridge. Keep on comin,’ Cap. I’ll have the bridge right out of your way by the time you get here.”

Sounds good. Thank you.”

It does sound good, but then starts a game of “Chicken,” not for the experienced bridge tender, who knows exactly when to stop the cars and trucks, but for us, for whom it always seems impossible that mere land traffic is still using the bridge even as we seem to be closing it at what now seems to be terrific speed. Rarely do I have the nerve to just keep her comin’. Anyway, thanks to the skill and attentiveness of the canal’s bridge tenders, what looks like an obstacle course on the chart, turns out to be an unobstructed passage.

The view of the LOIS and CHURCHILL docked in Lockport (photo: Tom Larsen)
The view of the LOIS and CHURCHILL docked in Lockport (photo: Tom Larsen)

The run from Albion to Lockport on August 1st was short enough that we arrived to tie up at Canalway park by 2 p.m. We were to open our floating museum at 5 p.m. This would be the McClure’s third visit to Lockport, and, though it would be short, we knew it would be fully engaging. For the citizens of Lockport, a visit of the Lois McClure is important. Sure enough, an enthusiastic crowd, led by the mayor and supported by plenty of lively music including that of a bagpiper, was anxious to come on board as soon as we unfurled the “Open” flag. There was even a table of party food and drink. We love calling at Lockport.

The tug PITTSFORD, locking through with the LOIS in Lockport (photo: Tom Larsen)
The tug PITTSFORD, locking through with the LOIS in Lockport (photo: Tom Larsen)

The New York Canal Corporation tug Pittsford, was awaiting us at Lockport, and the next morning, before getting underway for Buffalo, we met with her skipper, Harry Marquart. The Pittsford had been assigned to give us a tow up the Niagara River, where the current is always strong. So, we talked with Harry about where, when, and how we would be hooking up with his vessel.

Which turned out to be just after passing through Tonawanda, or rather between the Tonawandas, for there is a North Tonawanda; at about 1 p.m.; and with two relatively short towlines that his crew would pass over from his stern to our bow. The Churchill remained towing on the hip as the Pittsford took a strain on the schooner’s bow. We had put a long headrope on the Churchill, because, to some extent, the schooner would be towing her.

The PITTSFORD helping the LOIS get to Buffalo (photo: Tom Larsen)
The PITTSFORD helping the LOIS get to Buffalo (photo: Tom Larsen)

As Harry went up almost to “full boat,” as a tug master describes the position of his throttle, and our speed through the water approached 9 knots, the Churchill also went up almost to full boat, to ease the strain on her headrope and help with the tow. With this welcome combination, we went right up the river at about 5 knots over the bottom, so the current against us was about 4 knots. It’s always good to have a significant margin over the Niagara River current, what with the Falls astern.

When we reached the shelter (from the current) of the approach wall to Black Rock lock, we dropped the tow from the Pittsford, and the two vessels proceeded in company through the lock and on up the channel to Buffalo harbor. The wind was in the west, blowing the length of Lake Erie down onto Buffalo at the lake’s east end. As we approached the harbor, it breezed right up to strong, about 20 knots with higher gusts.

The breakwaters—they call them “breakwalls” out here—that form the harbor, giving protection from the open lake, naturally have a good-sized entrance gap, because a few big, Great Lakes freighters still bring grain into Buffalo. Waves were building out on the lake, and some of them made their way through the main entrance gap to make a significant surge, which was right on our beam as we approached the entrance to the Buffalo River. The schooner started to roll and the tug started to roll, pitch, and scend up and down in the commotion. Just what we don’t like with the tug on the hip. Luckily (there’s that again), the tug was on the lee side of the schooner, which helped. Even so, before we could turn into the quiet water of the river, our biggest fender, the one we call The Egg (from a dinosaur?), simply exploded from the impact the two vessels gave it. Harry, following astern in the Pittsford, said that at one point, his steering stool simply went right out from under him.

Docked in Buffalo (photo: Tom Larsen)
Docked in Buffalo (photo: Tom Larsen)

We were both glad to tie up on the new (to us), long, floating dock at Canalside Park in Buffalo. When we visited Buffalo in the McClure in 2007, this waterfront was moribund. On August 2nd, 2013, it seemed like the place to be, where everything was happening.

The EDWARD M COTTER, the oldest working fireboat in the United States (built 1900) passing in front of the grain silos on the Buffalo River (photo: Tom Larsen)
The EDWARD M COTTER, the oldest working fireboat in the United States (built 1900) passing in front of the grain silos on the Buffalo River (photo: Tom Larsen)

The rejuvenation of the Buffalo waterfront is delightful. There is as much life here now as there was 150 years ago, when instead of one canal boat arriving, there would have been scores, along with an equal number of Great Lakes vessels. True, the activity now is recreational rather than commercial. On a day off, Kathleen and I were able to sample both a launch trip far up the Buffalo River and Ship Canal with excellent narration of the history of the port and grand views of the many huge grain elevators still standing, a few of them still in use, as well as a fine sail six miles down the harbor behind the long breakwall and back in the topsail schooner Spirit of Buffalo. And since Buffalo boasts the country’s most extensive collection of U. S. naval vessels, I even got to wax nostalgic about my navy days by going on board near sisterships of the destroyer and submarine in which I served.

Sunset on the USS LITTLE ROCK in Buffalo Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)
Sunset on the USS LITTLE ROCK in Buffalo Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

In such a setting, we expected to host a good many visitors on board our floating museum. We were not disappointed: during our visit, we showed more than 2,000 people through this replica canal schooner, and helped the city of Buffalo explain to her citizens something of their history, for it was the Erie Canal and boats similar to the Lois McClure that made this town.

Roger Taylor
Captain