Burlington, VT – On Monday, August 24, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s schooner Lois McClure leaves her home port on a very important mission – getting ship-shape in anticipation of her twelfth year of operation. Her destination is the New York State Canal Corporation shipyard at Waterford, New York, where a team of shipwrights working with David Short of North Atlantic Shipbuilding and Repair, of West Montville, ME will replace any worn, damaged or rotted planking and timbers and recaulk seams. “We’re especially grateful to the McClure family and to the many donors, volunteers, and friends of the schooner who made her first decade so successful, and whose enlightened support provides for the maintenance essential to her continued operation,” said Michael Smiles, Executive Director of the Maritime Museum. “Schooner Lois McClure has been the most effective outreach program LCMM has ever conducted, and a leader in the world of Maritime Museums. The schooner will be in highly qualified hands for this essential maintenance work, and we are already looking forward to her 2016 season.”
Launched in 2004, the replica 1862 canal schooner Lois McClure embarked on eleven journeys with her faithful sidekick and essential power source, the tug C.L. Churchill. Having logged over 5,200 miles on our interconnected lake, canals and rivers, she has ventured as far south as New York City, as far west as Buffalo, and as far north as Quebec City engaging people in the history and archaeology of their waterways. Over 220,000 visitors have stepped on board in 220 communities, and learned of shipbuilding races, naval battles, lake ecology, shipwreck preservation and invasive species.
“Caring for a wooden boat is an ongoing process, much like owning an automobile,” explains Deputy Director Erick Tichonuk, who oversees schooner operations. “It’s never finished, always an ongoing process. As these boats age, greater maintenance and occasionally a larger project are needed. And with replica vessels, we learn a lot from experience, since the boatyards and crews of the past are long gone.”
Annual maintenance of the schooner includes safety inspection and repairs or replacements of accessible portions of the vessel showing wear or rot. Over the years, sections of decking have been replaced, rigging has been repaired and replaced, and repainting is always part of the program. The biggest project so far was replacing the foremast, in 2011.
What’s different about the ten-year haul out? Every five years, the vessel undergoes a hull inspection which requires haul-out, during which careful scrutiny is given to the vessel, especially areas below the waterline which are inaccessible during normal operations. Any areas needing work are identified, and assessed. Immediate repairs are undertaken and larger repairs, especially any below the waterline, are scheduled. The time in dry dock this fall is our opportunity to tackle any issues below the waterline. Since there is only one facility in the Champlain Valley that could handle this vessel, we had to wait for the availability of a dry dock with facilities to handle this boat, and the availability of skilled shipwrights to converge. “The scale and scope of the dry dock at Waterford is phenomenal,” notes Tichonuk. “When flooded it’s equal to five barge canal locks in scale – we will be in there with other boats at the same time. We will make the most of this opportunity to witness another aspect in the life of a working wooden canal boat. The dry dock is historic in and of itself.” Shipwright David Short of North Atlantic Shipbuilding and Repair has also made his mark in schooner restoration with work on the Lettie G. Howard of South Street Seaport and the Bowdoin, originally built for Arctic exploration.
LCMM is grateful to Lake Champlain Transportation Company and the New York State Canal Corporation, both of whom have provided in-kind services that have greatly reduced the costs of this required work, and have been essential in ensuring the continued operation of schooner Lois McClure. Says Brian Stratton, Director of the NYSCC, “We are delighted to assist this icon of our canal heritage so that she can continue her mission of engaging people with the story of how New York’s canal system was central to the growth and development of the state, the region and the United States.” LCMM also thanks Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront, and the Lake Champlain Basin Program for helping to make the schooner operations possible. The schooner’s 2014/2015 operations were funded in part by an agreement awarded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to the New England Water Pollution Control Commission in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program. NEI WPCC manages LCBP’s personnel, contract, grant and budget tasks and provides input on the program’s activities through a partnership with the LCBP steering committee.
“For tall ship ambassadors around the world, periodic maintenance and renewal assures these messengers continue their mission for years to come,” says Mike Smiles. “We welcome the community to join us in preparing for the next chapter in the schooner’s very own ‘historic story.’ The 2016 season is coming fast, and we are looking ahead to 2017, the Bicentennial of the Northern and Western Canals, when the first shovel went into the ground at Rome, NY, starting construction of the canals that transformed our waterways and ultimately led to the launch of our own canal schooner Lois McClure.”
Once we had the C. L. Churchill’s Tug-of-the-Year gold cup on board, she was ready to tow the Lois McClure from Waterford, where the 2014 Tugboat Roundup was winding down, up the canalized Hudson River. We left at about 4:30 on September 7th in the midst of the closing ceremony, but we had explained that we wanted to get up to Mechanicville before dark, and tugboat people know all about operating schedules.
A canalized river has dams to create navigable pools and locks to get up over the dams. When I had asked John Callaghan of the Canal Corps about locking upstream late in the day, he said, “No problem. The locks won’t close down for the night until right after you go through them.” That’s the sort of help we get from the New York State Canal Corporation. As it turned out, we weren’t bucking much current in the river, so the keeper of the second of the two locks we went through had to stay late only a half hour. And we moored to the long wall at Mechanicville a half hour before sundown.
You’re not supposed to tie up right in front of a pump-out station, but we did at that relatively late hour, knowing that we would be using it early next morning. Which happened, making that satisfying trade of the contents of sanitary tanks for fresh water (in different tanks!).
Then it was on upstream, negotiating the great, Hudson River, clean-up, dredging operation, with its many barges being pushed by tugs. Occasionally, this navigation does require actual negotiating. The tugs pushing big barges, whether loaded or light, negotiate from a position of power, because they are more challenged than smaller vessels, like our 88-foot schooner with her 34-foot tug, when making a corner or passing in a narrow canal. The Rules of the Road require agreement of maneuver from both captains when two vessels meet.
But when the tug Bass met us in mid-afternoon, his radio transmission was so garbled that we couldn’t understand it even after he had repeated it. He seemed to want “our” righthand side of the channel, so we went left. There was a simple reliability in the whistle signals of pre-radio days, which is what we both should have reverted to. Later, after we had passed Lock 7 and left the river to enter the dug Champlain Canal itself, we met another tug-and-barge. On the radio, he asked us to give him as much room as possible as we passed. Such negotiations are quickly concluded: we agreed. And went close enough to the canal bank at dead slow so that the Churchill’s tall stack brushed a few overhanging tree branches, leaving a good six feet (that looked like less, of course) between vessels. By the end of the day, we were through Lock 8 and tied up for the night on its upper approach wall. The dredging operation was astern.
Next morning, we awakened to thick ground fog. You could just barely see a shadow marking the other side of the canal. But then the sun began burning it off, and just at the time we were ready to get underway to go up the canal to Whitehall, the visibility suddenly improved to navigational status. As we arrived at Whitehall in the early afternoon, First Mate Tom Larsen and I (he at the wheel; me, breaking the rule of Don’t Talk to the Helmsman), were in such an involved discussion of desirable qualities of a ship captain that when we started paying more than peripheral attention to navigation, we found that the schooner was already passing the mooring wall. I stopped talking to Tom, and he made a fine recovery, taking way off and landing with a stern approach.
On September 10th, we left the north end of the Champlain Canal at Whitehall and started down Lake Champlain, bound for Crown Point. After descending through Lock 12, the last lock, we approached a narrow turn called The Elbow, where is the home of the late Cora Archambault, the canal-boater whom we honor with a long blast from the tug’s horn as we pass. On this day, Cora got two blasts. A small boat containing two fishermen was anchored in the middle of the narrows. I told Art Cohn, at the Churchill’s wheel (and horn lanyard) that we’d hold up on Cora’s memorial whistle so as not to embarrass the fishermen with what they would take as an unnecessary warning. But they didn’t seem to notice a large vessel bearing down on them, so we did give them a blast. No reaction. We slowed almost to a stop and gave them a second blast. Slowly, they pulled up their anchor, and then fumbled with their outboard motor, as if they’d never seen one before. Finally, they managed to move their boat, just enough so that we could creep by. Now you know, patient reader, why Cora got that extra signal.
As we went up the Lake to Crown Point, the south wind increased. By the time we approached the dock at the end of the afternoon, it was blowing fresh. The Crown Point dock is well located to provide good protection from a southerly, but, perhaps because it is built on openwork, it has always seemed ornery to approach with the wind in that quarter. You come in alongside, and the breeze whistles out from under the dock and blows the boat away. This day was no exception; it took two tries, one from the east and one from the west, before we could get the schooner moored.
Of course, when we left the dock on September 12th, having, the day before, given the locals the experience of exploring a canal schooner of long ago, the wind was blowing smartly from the north. No matter. We rigged the big, blue, towing hawser at the dock, stoppered it off on the side of the schooner, and then towed her bodily off the dock against the wind with the C. L. Churchill’s 120 h.p. diesel. Once clear, we let go the stopper and towed from the bow as usual. We were off, punching into it on a long tow to Plattsburgh, 45 miles down the Lake.
We spent four days at Plattsburgh, which was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the dual battle that took place on its shores and in its bay on September 11, 1814, a battle that stopped the British advance from Canada, thus providing a key to ending the War of 1812. On Saturday, September 13th, both the land and sea battles were reenacted where they had occurred. No warship, the Lois McClure remained in her berth during the reenactment.
For the last three years, the McClure has been “Commemorating the War of 1812 and Celebrating the Peace,” as we say in the brochure that we hand to every person who comes up our gangway. She has been travelling the canals that, in part, were born of the war. Both countries, concerned that the conflict might be renewed, built canals so that military forces and supplies could be transported east and west at a safe distance behind their border. Many of the spectators of the “battle” of 2014 celebrated the peace by coming on board our canal schooner and learning that the military reason for building the great canals was secondary to the commercial reason. As we explain to our visitors, canals cut transportation costs by 90 per cent!
At our mooring on a narrow, floating dock at Plattsburgh, we used a tactic of seamanship and battle that Commodore Thomas McDonough had employed on September 11, 1814: we put a spring on our anchor cable. McDonough had anchored in Cumberland Bay, off Plattsburgh, and then attached long lines, spring lines, from his anchor cable to his bow and stern. That gave him a quick and reliable way to turn his vessels, while at anchor, to bring his guns to bear in any direction. We set an anchor out abeam with the cable leading to the bow, then put a spring line on the cable and led it to the stern, so that we could take pressure off the float with the ability to adjust the pressure on both bow and stern. Part of the fun of seamanship is recognizing the long heritage of its elements.
Well, actually, we set what I call a tandem anchor. Experience has shown that two small anchors, set in tandem, will hold as much or more than one big one and are easier to handle. So, from theOocher, there went overboard a small Danforth anchor with a short chain to the ring of a small fisherman anchor, the symbol-of-hope kind. If the fisherman should drag, it would pull on the Danforth, but the Danforth would have “infinite” scope, since its tether would be pulling right along the bottom. And that’s just where the Danforth excels; it will hold a lot with good scope. When we broke out the tandem on September 17th, after two lay days, to head on north to Rouses Point, we found that the fisherman had held; there had been no strain on the Danforth. Belt and suspenders.
It was in Plattsburgh that Blake Grindon joined the crew as a volunteer. She had proved her worth as both deckhand and interpreter on a previous cruise, and this trip proved to be a lucky one for her, because she got word that her application to work at the Brooklyn Historical Society was approved.
The weather forecast indicated only a moderate breeze from the south for September 17th, so we hoped to be able to tow with the tug on the hip. But as we got out into Cumberland Bay, on the way to Rouses Point, we found more than a moderate breeze, and the tug, on the windward hip, began to dance a jig, so we headed up into the waves, rigged the long hawser, and started towing with theChurchill ahead. By the time we rounded the breakwater at Rouses Point, everything had quieted down, so getting the tug back on the hip was simple. Then we threaded our way up into the narrow confines of the Gaines Marina, where Joe Treadwell and his trusty crew met our every need.
After sharing more history of war and peace with the citizens of Rouses Point, we had to thread our way back out of the labyrinth of large, expensive yachts to the freedom of the north end of Lake Champlain. I thought if we pulled the boats back along the dock by hand that there would then be just room to turn them round with the Oocher. Halfway through the turning maneuver, it became obvious that there wasn’t just room. Luckily (so important), it was dead calm, so we had plenty of time to stop, shift the Oocher from the bow of the schooner to the stern of the tug, and begin a long, slow, backwards tow out through the opening between the docked boats. Towing like this, with theOocher pulling on the stern of the tug, gives better directional control than backing with the tug, for the tug on the hip always backs the schooner’s stern away.
It was a short run to the Canadian border, where we anchored off the Customs dock and brought an agent out on board to match passport photos with faces. Thankfully, Elisa Nelson had driven to the border that morning to administer all the necessary paperwork. We were soon in Canadian waters, heading down the Richelieu River for Isle aux Noix, flying the red-and-white Mapleleaf from the starboard side of the Churchill’s smokestack, since we were mastless on the schooner.
Isle aux Noix was a major staging point for the British attempt at invading south in 1814. For two days we reminded Quebecois (and in French, thanks to our volunteer, the intrepid, retired history professor from Montreal, Jean Belisle) of their maritime history, military and commercial. Then, on September 22nd, it was on down the Richelieu to St Jean. The wind was blowing a gale out of the west, which put it on the beam. It seemed strange to be “on a reach” in all that wind but be going only five knots. Had we been sailing, with, say, foresail and three-reefed mainsail, the schooner would have been going almost twice as fast.
The west wind had blown us right off the dock as we got underway from Isle aux Noix, and I worried (G. K. Chesterton said, “Worry is the misuse of imagination”) that when we got to St Jean, it would blow us right off that dock, too, as we tried to land. But by that time, the breeze had eased a little and we were able to work up under the lee of some St. Jean buildings and hug right in to the dock. (Chesterton, as usual, was right.)
Next day, we were to transit the Chambly Canal, twelve miles and six locks, circumventing the Richelieu’s rapids, and call at the town of Chambly itself. As readers of previous Logs may remember, locking through the Chambly takes us back to 1862, for her locks were never enlarged like those of the Champlain and Erie. The Lois McClure can barely squeeze into a Chambly lock, just as we like to describe her ancestors’ maneuvers on all the canals. The Churchill locks through first, while the McClure is held in place just outside. We do have the great convenience of having theOocher to keep the schooner’s stern from swinging, an advantage that would have been much appreciated by a canal boat skipper of the 19th century.
For this trip through the Chambly, we needed another experienced hand on the schooner’s bow to judge when to drop the towline as we approached the lock and to make sure the two bow lines got made fast ashore to hold the bow in place. Erick Tichonuk came up from the Museum, trading a mere shore job for a day of “messing around in boats.” From my spot on the Churchill, I saw that he was grinning all the time. With the rest of our experienced crew, the double-locking procedure went smoothly. And we even got a lunch break, for we discovered that Parcs Canada, the outfit that runs the canal, has adopted the French system of closing down the operation for an hour’s midday meal. Very civilized.
Here’s how I described the landing at Chambly in my log book. (We were towing the schooner on a short hawser astern of the tug, going toward the mooring wall into the wind.) “Gauged the wind wrong, and the schooner didn’t have enough headway to reach the wall. But we got a bow line on from the tug and pulled and Ooched the schooner in. Then pulled her along the wall by hand.” The maneuver would have been familiar to Captain Bartley, except for the Ooching.
We had a good crowd of learners about the canal life at Chambly. To help with interpretation in French, Richard Lemay joined ship. He is Volunteer Jean Belisle’s brother-in-law, also from Montreal, and he was complimented by one visitor who told him that he had pretty good French for an American. So as not to break the spell, Richard said, “Thank you,” in his best English.
That evening, I had the vessel all to myself. Jean invited the crew to a gala dinner at his house, as he does whenever the McClure is within striking distance of Montreal. There was even a cake that modeled every detail of the C. L. Churchill, Tugboat of the Year. I was the designated shipkeeper, so I could do as I pleased on board. What I did mostly was sit on deck so as to be able to answer the questions of evening strollers. Our unique boats attract attention, and people want to know what they are, where they have been, and when is the next time they will be open so that they can come on board and inspect them.
On September 25th, we headed back through the Chambly Canal to St. Jean. Now we were truly homeward bound. Erick Tichonuk had had so much fun with the bow lines on the trip down the canal, that he couldn’t resist rejoining us to lock back up. The day before, when I came up on deck in the morning, I looked around the small basin at Chambly to think how we would turn the schooner around to head south in the canal. Suddenly, the place looked too small. Well, what had we done before? Hang on, we’ve never had to turn around in here before. It dawned on me that on all our previous visits to Chambly, we had been passing through in one direction or the other. Turning around in Chambly would be a new experience. In order to solve this problem, the builders of the canal had dug out a turning basin a quarter of a mile back from the Chambly mooring wall. So, we headed for it, with the schooner going backwards propelled by the tug on the starboard bow instead of on the hip, at the stern. In the old, politically incorrect days, this hook-up used to be known as Chinese fashion. Like Irish pendants, the Chinese hook-up is history. Once we reached the turning basin, we turned in it, shoving the bow round with the Oocher. The rest of the trip to St Jean was merely the mirror image of our recent trip through the Chambly Canal.
Denis Coucher, of St. Jean, along with his son, Michel, had joined us at Lock 7 in the Chambly Canal to ride into their hometown in style. Denis does all sorts of favors for the McClure’s crew whenever the schooner calls at St, Jean. With the help of another son, Francois, we get to experience Canadian Army life at Fort St. Jean, and we have to admit that the soldiers of our ally across the northern border live better than we do on board a canal boat of 1862.
We gave our final history lessons of the 2014 tour in St. Jean. There were plenty of connections to be made to the war of 200 years ago, for St. Jean was an important staging area in support of the attempted British invasion down Lake Champlain. And at St. Jean, three new volunteer crew members joined the schooner. Bob Beach and his son, Dan, came on board. Bob is a co-founder (with Art Cohn) of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and has been a board member throughout the Museum’s thirty-year history. Young Dan is a boat guy. Lea Coggio is always a welcome addition to the crew, for she is a licensed captain who runs ferries for the Lake Champlain Transportation Company.
September 27th was a perfect day for our 44-mile tow from St. Jean to Plattsburgh. It was also a nice day for dozens of sloops to be out on the Lake, their crews enjoying a rare, warm, sunny Saturday late in the season. But while we enjoyed the light and variable breezes and could tow on the hip in the flat water, they were a bit frustrated by the lack of a good sailing breeze.
We got an early start and so, by noon, were waiting out turn to go alongside the U. S. Customs dock at the border, just north of Rouses Point. Our lucky crew of thirteen mustered on the bow for the usual match-up of passport mug shots to the grizzled faces of mariners who have been on deck for the last three months. Then we chugged on up the Lake and tied up at Wilcox dock in Plattsburgh by the end of the afternoon.
The next day was our last day underway on the cruise of 2014, our 40th. As we prepared to get underway, a wall of solid-looking fog blew north into Cumberland Bay. Never mind, the schooner has a good box-compass that we can line up, fore and aft, against the cabin companionway hatch, and almost any member of the crew can pull out a smart phone whose GPS screen will show us just where we are and just where the navigation buoys are. So, out we went into the thick wall of white gossamer, making our stately five knots and sounding our fog signals on the Churchill’s horn. And found our buoys and slid close along the east side of Valcour with just enough visibility to make out the shore line and the boats anchored in the island’s coves. Then, just as we left Valcour, the fog lifted suddenly to reveal the familiar lake shores and mountains. In eleven summers of operating theLois McClure, it was the first time we had run in thick o’ fog. It was a true Maine coast sort of fog, but not as dark a dungeon as can be found along the south shore of Nova Scotia.
By mid-afternoon, we were sliding into North Harbor, the schooner’s haven at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Erick Tichonuk handed up a long mooring line, which we eased off the stern as she coasted in to the Museum’s dock. It didn’t take long to pick up two additional mooring lines, run a stern line ashore with the Oocher, and get the gangway rigged. The old sea chantey, “Johnny, It’s Time To Leave Her,” was running through my head. But before we went ashore, we met briefly as a crew and as a family. Heartfelt thanks all around. Relief that crew, 17,000 visitors, and boats were all safe and sound. Volunteer Hilton Dier reminded us of three comparisons between the 19thcentury and the 21st: In the 19th, a Captain Theodore Bartley sailed in a canal schooner; in the 21st, our volunteer, Barbara Bartley, did the same. In the 19th, running a canal schooner was a financial challenge; so is running a replica canal schooner in the 21st. And in the 19th century, canal schooner crews were families; in the 21st, the crew of the Lois McClure has also been a family.
Ashore we filed and trooped up the hill to the Museum, where we found a giant tent set up and 200 friends of the Museum on hand to welcome us home; to honor co-founder Arthur B. Cohn, and confer upon him the status of Museum Director, Emeritas; to honor Bob Beach, co-founder and current board chairman; and to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Lake Champlain Museum. It was, indeed, a fine celebration.
When the canal schooner Lois McClure, towed by the C. L. Churchill, assisted by the inflatable boat Oocher, did head back out of North Cove into the maelstrom of New York City’s busy harbor on August 26th, she waited until 10:00 o’clock, in order to avoid the intensity of rush hour. The water was still rough with water-taxi wakes, but the seas, running in all directions, were not as high and frequent as they had been on our run down to the Cove from Pier 25. We did notice, however, that a small leak developed halfway down the schooner’s starboard side just above the chine, and about a foot underwater, probably due to the unusual motion to which the vessel had been subjected.
With a strong flood tide in the Hudson River, we made short miles of it back up to Yonkers and were moored to the big-steel-float-with-the-ready-bow-and-stern-lines by early afternoon. Volunteer Don Dewees, who has been involved with the Lois McClure project from its inception, “paid off,” and volunteers Jeff Gorss, our enthusiastic rigger, and Rosemary Zamore joined ship. Kathleen Carney, who keeps the crew fed, had jumped ship in New York, seeking inspiration in the desert (of New Mexico), and Rosemary had gallantly agreed to assume Kathleen’s role.
Next day, we continued upstream, making the most of the flood. We met the tug Amberjack, pushing her barge, the Pacific (appropriate name for a towed barge when you think about it), and since she apparently has a milk run up and down the river, we would meet her again and exchange “intentions” with her “Cap.” On another day, the Amerjack would overtake us, and Channel 13 on the VHF radio would crackle with “What are your intentions, Cap?” He wanted to be sure that as the overtaken vessel with the right of way, we would hold our course and speed, and agree to let him pass us on the side he proposed. “I’m staying well over on the east side of the channel,” I assured him. We also met the tug, Buchanan 12, pushing no fewer than nine barges, in a 3 x 3 formation, all loaded deeply with gravel.
When we arrived at our destination, West Point, the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, Pete Seeger’s inspiration that is still patrolling the river she helped clean up, was on the dock, so we landed across the river at Constitution Island to await her departure.
And when we went back over to West Point, we could see her, having picked up the first of the ebb to help her to windward, tacking back and forth from bank to bank, heading slowly downstream. We were jealous of her less-distance-oriented goals than ours and, as always, admiring of the great work she has accomplished and is still accomplishing after half a century.
I always breathe an involuntary sigh of relief when we leave West Point after another successful visit of sharing maritime history with the Army. As a former destroyer and submarine person, I feel as if I’ve been dropped behind enemy lines when visiting the great citadel; everyone is perfectly friendly, but there are all those big “Beat Navy!” signs. (Somehow, we acquired a couple of folding chairs on the McClure that are marked “Army.” In mild retaliation, I took a marker and wrote “Beat” just ahead of the brand. These chairs, always stowed away, of course, when we convert the schooner into a museum of 1862, remained especially well hidden at West Point.)
August 29th was a lay day for the Lois McClure, and we had the great privilege of spending it back at Constitution Island. That evening, its longtime caretakers, Rod and Deb MacLeod, came on board for supper, and regaled us with the history of the place. The 250-acre island, beautifully wooded, with high, rock outcroppings, was donated to the United States government in 1908 by Mrs. Russell Sage and Miss Anna Bartlett Warner “for the use forever of the United States Military Academy at West Point.” During the American Revolution, Continental Army soldiers built fortifications on the island, as part of their fighting for their rights under the British Constitution. After the war, Constitution Island became a family residence. By 1850, the residents were Anna Warner and her sister, Susan, poverty stricken by the Panic of 1837. They turned to writing novels and before long were known as the Bronte sisters of America. Susan’s The Wide, Wide World sold more than a million copies. Together, they published more than 100 books, but copyright meant little in those days, and most of their readers held pirated editions of their work, so the best-selling authors never got rich. Well, not rich in money, but rich in friendships. Cadets used to row across the river to have tea with the Warner sisters, and some of them were still corresponding with their hostesses as generals. Next day, we had plenty to think about as we explored the island, walking trails through sun-dappled woods, climbing a high rock here and there at a ruined redoubt for a fine view of West Point across the Hudson.
Before we got underway on August 30th to continue up the great river, we sent the Oocher round to Cold Spring to pick up First Mate Tom Larsen, who had been ashore for a couple of days on urgent land business. This was a day of a moderate southerly breeze, fair for us, and the whitecaps had Tom and me looking at each other with one thought in mind: we should be sailing! Alas, we had a good many miles to go to Poughkeepsie. If we rounded up into the wind to make sail, we’d lose time. If the breeze went fitful on us, we’d lose more time, recalling the Churchill alongside and taking in sail. With reluctance, Tom and I reminded each other that our mission is to get our floating museum efficiently from venue to venue, not to maximize our fun on the water. Anyway, we were lucky: the breeze did go fitful on us.
It was another long run from Poughkeepsie up to Catskill, so we got an early start. I had just taken over the wheel from Tom at 9:00, when the first wafts came up from the galley. Yes, it was true: Len Ruth, world’s champion bacon fryer was at work, and Rosemary was scrambling the eggs for a second breakfast! It used to be said of certain naval vessels: “She may not be much of a steamer, but she sure is a feeder.” The Lois McClure is both: we cover the miles and we eat well.
Why, on the run from Catskill to Troy that also required getting underway early, the second breakfast was pancakes! Sights along the river on this day included: a distant view of that Thames barge we had seen coming upstream, now moored in Athens; a most handsome, narrow-straked dory on a mooring; an ancient launch towing five kayaks, escorted by two canoes; and boys swinging out into the river on a long rope suspended from the raised ladder of a fire engine. Mercy.
After we moored to the long wall in Troy, Art Cohn went into the water with his Scuba gear and made an underwater inspection of both the schooner and the tug. We were particularly interested to see if there was any apparent cause of the leak on the starboard side. Nothing obvious, but evidence in one long, horizontal, planking seam and its adjacent, short, vertical seams where the ends of planks butted together that the watertight compound that had covered the caulking was missing, perhaps pulled out by Burlington Harbor ice over the winter. Just for due diligence (Art has “lawyer” on his extensive resume), he put some underwater compound in the butt seam nearest the position of the leak inside the boat. It’s early days, but as I write this, two days later, the leak has stopped! Every boat should have the luxury of a diver in the crew.
On September 2nd, the Canal Corps’ wonderful, old, ex-Army truck-crane arrived early, up on the high wall opposite the McClure. We were to head up into canal country, with its low bridges. The combined crews of schooner and crane made smooth work of lifting sails and spars ashore, setting up the T-braces, and carefully laying the various parts of the rig back on board, the masts now horizontal atop the braces. The exact athwartships position of each of the four crane picks (mainmast, foremast, mainsail with its boom and gaff, and foresail with its boom and gaff), is crucial. We wouldn’t want the vessel to end up with a list.
In the afternoon, we went up through the Troy Lock and entered Waterford harbor. We would be in Waterford for several days, culminating in the annual Tugboat Roundup. Apparently the rumor that the C. L. Churchill was to be named Tug of the Year at the Roundup was true. At least Art Cohn and Jean Belisle believed it, judging by the way they were cleaning and polishing their beloved, 34-foot towboat.
The Lois McClure’s berth would be up through Lock 2, the beginning of the Erie Canal, and round the sharp corner into the small part of the old Champlain Canal that is still navigable. When we came to the sharp corner, we saw, right in the exact center of the narrow bend, a buoy marked “HAZARD.” Its purpose, I suppose, is to discourage small craft from entering a waterway that soon turns into a dead end. The buoy didn’t quite keep us from getting to our berth. We did have to use the Tug- of-the-Year-elect, well fendered by Jean, as a fulcrum against the wall, with the Oocher on the opposite bow, in order to squeeze around the corner without dislodging the buoy. After that, the only hazard, really just a mental one, was to slip past the upper lip of the spillway that sends excess water down the old canal staircase of locks. The reward is that we get to listen to the pleasant plash through the schooner’s stern windows.
We started our sojourn in Waterford with a couple of lay days. Sal Larsen, Rosemary Zamore, and Jeff Gorss left the crew; volunteers Chris McClain and Doug Riley joined ship. Mike Brazinski, whose backyard faces the old Champlain Canal, let us plug in our power cord on his porch. Random acts of kindness are our common experience.
On the wall above Lock 2, we had the chance to examine a miniature Thames sailing barge, theCeres, the vessel that is operated by Vermont Sail Freight, a fledgling organization trying to renew the concept of delivering produce and goods between Vermont and New York City on the water using the wind for at least part of her power, as did the Lake Champlain sailing canal boats that theLois McClure represents. She has a flat, scow hull (unlike the more shapely Thames barge) about 40 feet long, but the identical rig to the English type, which, at small size, is easy to raise and lower. So, if you have cargo to ship (note the term) between Vermont farm country and the Big Apple, or points in between, you know whom to contact.
The Tugboat Roundup went into full swing on the afternoon of September 5th, when the twenty participating towboats (a few were merely yachts) assembled at Albany and proceeded up through the Troy lock to parade into Waterford harbor at 5:00 p.m. The tugs were in the order in which they would dock, so since Tug-of-the-Year C. L. Churchill, run by Art Cohn, Jean Belisle, and Kerry Batdorf, would be docked front and center, their tug was in the middle of the fleet. It wasn’t long before all these handsome vessels were tied up, the small ones, like the Churchill, alongside the long, floating dock, and the big workhorses, like the Cornell, who brought up the rear, nosed in to the wall diagonally. There was plenty of horn-blowing and applause.
On the 6th, in a holiday atmosphere, all these vessels were open to the public. A citizen could not only inspect a variety of fascinating tugs, but also buy a wide variety of articles, including items unrelated to towing, a good many of which were edible. She or he could even go for a boat ride. The stern wheeler, Caldwell Belle, had come down from Schuylerville to sell tickets for cruises, and that “ancient launch” that we had seen in a towboat role for kayaks turned out to be a brand new boat built to an old design, the Sol, from Indian Lake, New York, demonstrating to her passengers silent, planet-friendly, solar-electric power. There was a film on the Witte shipyard on Staten Island, the place where old tugs, and many another vessel, go to die. We saw acres of ships that were mostly memories, waiting their turn for the cutting torch. That night, I watched the fireworks from the top of the east gate of Lock 2, a fine vantage point. It was a spectacular show, but I couldn’t help thinking of how people around the world just then were reacting with terror to very different explosions.
The Roundup continued on the 7th. The Churchill and McClure had to close up shop a bit early in order to keep on schedule, but, even so, the total visitor attendance for the two vessels was more than 2,000. In the early afternoon, the Churchill came up through Lock 2 and made up on the starboard quarter of the schooner, as usual. But our passage out of the narrow, old canal, past the spillway and avoiding damaging the “HAZARD” buoy, was not normal. There is not quite room in there to turn her around, so you just have to back out. We had managed the maneuver on an earlier cruise, and I wanted to try a repeat. So, we put the Oocher to pulling on the stern of the tug, the better to control (was the theory) the direction in which the schooner moved astern. The trick was to avoid the spillway and buoy on one side and the overhanging trees on the other. The method worked again (we intentionally brushed the side of the tug against the buoy to avoid the trees), with one correction of the movement by going ahead a little with the tug’s propeller. Whew! Besides Kerry Batdorf at the Oocher’s controls, we had two good people responding to helm orders, Art Cohn at the Churchill’s wheel, and who else but one Scudder Kelvey, sometime mate on the McClure, who had returned, along with Beth Fuehrer, for a short, nostalgic boat ride, at the schooner’s wheel.
Then, with the Oocher back in her normal place on the schooner’s bow ahead of the tug, we eased down through Lock 2 and went alongside the Canal Corps’ multi-purpose, self-propelled barge, theGrand Erie, to tie up for the closing ceremonies of the Roundup. It was important, of course, that our entire crew be present to see Art Cohn receive a large and heavy golden cup to go in the wheelhouse of the 2014 Tug of the Year, the C. L. Churchill. It never ceases to amaze me how Art, no matter the situation, always knows exactly what to say and how much to say. This occasion was another example: after threatening to speak for an hour and a half, he delivered brief, listener-friendly comments of appreciation for the award and pride in his favorite boat that were, as usual, perfectly matched to his audience.
With the great, gold cup safely on board the Churchill, we were ready to start north on the Champlain Canal, heading back toward our home waters.
The LOIS MCCLURE and C.L. CHURCHILL have left the Tugboat Roundup, with the CHURCHILL being recognized as Tugboat of the Year, and are on their way up through Lake Champlain. Stopping at Plattsburgh for the commemoration of the Battle for Lake Champlain on the 13th and 14th of September, they will continue up into Quebec to share the heritage of the little interpreted War of 1812.
On the morning of July 25th, at the Larrabee’s Point Wharf, Shoreham, the Lake Champlain Canal Schooner Lois McClure was canal-ready, with her masts, booms, gaffs, and their sails stowed horizontally atop the heavy, gray, wooden T-braces that keep the rig up off the deck and out of the way. The schooner, lightly loaded with her ballast stone, has a height above the water of a little less than 15 feet when carrying her rig this way, just matching the funnel height of the C. L. Churchill,with her own masts down on top of her cabin house. Thus the two vessels can squeeze under a “Low bridge—everybody down!” of the canal.
Art Cohn and Jean Belisle on the tug got their anti-thunder-squall anchors on board and stood by to come alongside the schooner and into towing position on the hip, as soon as the Fort Ti ferry left her landing alongside our berth and moved off, dropping back down to the bottom the cables she runs on. We’d have to be well out of our berth before the ferry came back, so Art brought theChurchill in smartly, her four lines were made fast and adjusted for good balance underway, and we backed away from the dock, the Oocher holding the tug, and hence the schooner’s stern, up against the south breeze. Once clear, the Oocher shifted to the schooner’s bow and turned her round to head south. And we accomplished this before the ferry started her return run. Good, good.
The south end of Lake Champlain, more like a river than a lake, lived up to its reputation as perhaps the loveliest part of this lovely body of water, on this summer afternoon. According to the writer Henry James, those words, “summer afternoon,” are the two most beautiful words in the English language. He wouldn’t have found any argument from our crew.
As we approached Whitehall and passed the former home of the late Cora Archambault, she who grew up on a boat like the McClure, we saluted her memory with a long blast of the Churchill’swhistle. Then we slipped into Lock 12, the northernmost lock of the Champlain Canal leading to the Hudson River, were lifted up to the first level of the canal, and tied up to the wall at Whitehall, right near the Skenesboro Museum.
The vessels of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum have a longstanding friendship with Whitehall. In 1991, we brought to Whitehall the Museum’s replica of the Revolutionary Warship Philadelphia,one of the gunboats Benedict Arnold built at Whitehall (then Skenesboro). Those boats delayed the British coming south past Lake Champlain for a full year, thus facilitating the key American victory at the Battle of Saratoga—and giving Whitehall the basis for her claim to be the birthplace of the United States Navy.
After a day of celebrating our friendship with Whitehallians, we pushed on along the Champlain Canal through four more locks and one thunder squall that produced nothing more disturbing than rain. Over the summit of the canal and going back down at Lock 7 (in case you’re doing the math, there is, unaccountably, no Lock 10), at Fort Edward, we found a barge locking down ahead of us. This was part of the huge dredging operation that has been going on for years and will continue in order to remove PCB-laden sludge from the Hudson River. We rested against the lock approach wall for half an hour, waiting our turn. Once through, we Oochered through a 180-degree, tight turn into the Roger’s Island east creek of the Hudson, leading up to the Fort Edward Yacht Basin. There is also a tight S-turn just beyond the highway bridge to the island, a turn that we can just negotiate at slow speed with alternating “Right Full Rudder” and then left, on both schooner and tug. Any tighter, and we’d have to almost stop and bring the Oocher into play.
At Fort Edward, we enjoyed a visit from the town’s mayor, as well as many of his citizens; had a firefighting training session put on by Art Cohn, who is a member of the fire department in Ferrisburgh, Vermont; and ate a hearty lunch from the Train Station Restaurant courtesy of the Fort Edward Chamber of Commerce.
Volunteer Steve Pfanenstiel joined the crew in Fort Edward. Cruises in the Lois McClure would be all but impossible without the fresh energy (and new sea stories) of volunteers. Steve gets special credit, because he is way over six feet tall, and none of our sleeping accommodations, whether it be a barely-over-six-foot bunk, a cot in the cargo hold of a similar dimension, or a long, flat, slab of limestone ballast—he’s tried them all— are comfortable for him.
On July 29th, we S-turned our way back out of Fort Edward and entered the Hudson River. This is where the Champlain Canal waterway begins to use the river, canalized with dams and locks to make it navigable. We dropped downstream with the current, maneuvered through Lock 6, and tied up at Lock 5 in Schuylerville.
Our berth was at Hudson Crossing Park, on a floating dock across from the lock approach wall. The place takes its name from the location of a bridge of boats that British General Burgoyne used to cross the Hudson in his unsuccessful attempt to defeat the American Revolutionary Army at Saratoga. The people of Schuylerville have made the area into a lovely park. A few years ago it was a dump. Teenagers played there and decided they’d clean it up. Their action sparked a major effort by volunteers of all ages. Today, Hudson Crossing has lovely trails through the woods with river viewpoints; signs and audio-boxes that explain its wildlife and history; spectacular flower gardens; a picnic pavilion; and a walking bridge across the river at the site of Burgoyne’s bridge of boats. And, as has happened each time we’ve visited Schuylerville, the Hudson Crossing folks treated our crew to an elegant, cook-out dinner at the park’s pavilion.
On the run from Schuylerville to Mechanicville on the last day of July, we shared the waterway with the tugs-and-barges of the dredging operation. They were hauling sludge from the bottom of the river north to be dumped ashore for transportation elsewhere, and hauling dirt and gravel south to cap the areas where the contaminated river silt was too deep for complete removal. Most of the barges had a small, square, but powerful tug at each end for good maneuverability. We enjoyed watching these pros handle their charges with aplomb, whether they were light or deeply loaded. We didn’t quite escape the deluge from a black squall that poured down before we could finish tying up to the wall at Mechanicville.
Besides sharing history with the people of Mechanicville, we took advantage of the town’s excellent facilities: pumped out sanitary tanks, filled water tanks, and made good use of the town’s wonderful showers, installed in a new building right on the waterfront. After closing our floating museum in the afternoon, we towed on down to Waterford, where we ate another great cook-out dinner at the home of John Callaghan. John is the Deputy Director of the New York Canal Corporation and is a great fan of the Lois McClure. He is as knowledgeable as anyone about the history—and, of course, the present operation—of the canal system. Over the years, he has smoothed our way with countless helpful actions.
An early start on August 2nd brought us through the Federal Lock at Troy and down to a berth on the long wall that forms the city’s waterfront. Waiting to take our lines was Erick Tichonuk, our Museum’s Executive Director, who sometimes leaves his desk behind and comes on board the schooner to keep his considerable practical maritime skills well honed. Volunteer Jeff Gorss, also joined us, as this day was rigging day, and Jeff loves to get involved with stepping the masts and getting the schooner all ready to go sailing.
The New York Canal Corporation provided a mobile crane complete with skilled crew, which, combined with our own skilled crew, made short, safe work of lifting the schooner’s heavy masts into place, followed by the mainsail, furled between its boom and gaff, and the foresail, similarly confined. By 1 p.m., we were ready to cast off and go back upstream a couple of hundred yards to a berth at the Troy Downtown Marina’s floating dock.
This move involved passing under a lift bridge that when raised has a vertical clearance of 55 feet at high tide (yes, the Hudson is tidal all the way up to Troy). We stepped the mainmast without its flagstaff on top, thus reducing its height above the water from 65 feet to 55 feet, 7 1/2 inches. (The foremast, even with its flagstaff, stands only 53 feet, 5 inches above the water.) At low tide, the bridge’s clearance would be about 60 feet. So, up we went toward the bridge. As you approach a bridge, looking up at its underside from the deck of a boat, it almost never looks as if you’ll clear. It certainly didn’t look so this time. We stopped with our masts not quite under. Luckily, on this bridge, the tender goes up with the span, so I radioed him and asked, “How do we look?” “Plenty of room, Cap, c’mon through.” From the deck, as we passed under, it looked as if the top of the mainmast came no closer to the bridge than 4 feet. Phew!
Later in the day, I thought to go round checking the shrouds, the wire standing rigging that supports the masts athwartships. The lower end of each shroud is secured to a fitting on the hull with a pair of deadeyes and a lanyard to connect them. The deadeyes are made of dense wood and are drilled with three holes to take three turns of the lanyard. You want the shrouds to be set up as taut as possible, so the trick is to heave on each part of the lanyard, in succession, just as tight as you can. In 1862, this was done with aid of block and tackle, but today we use a “come-along,” a mechanical device that has a lever and gearing so you can pull really hard with it. Still, the result is usually a bit disappointing; the shrouds still have more slack in them than you hoped they would. When I pulled sideways on the shrouds on this day, I found them tighter than ever. When I complimented First Mate Tom Larsen on how well he and his rigging crew had done, he said just two words: “Jeff Gorss.” We were ready to go sailing all right.
The year 2014 includes the Lois McClure’s tenth birthday and the C. L. Churchill’s fiftieth birthday. Mercy. Where does the time go?
In her ten years of replicating the voyages of her ancestors, the Lois McClure has traveled 3,000 miles on the lakes, rivers, and canals of Vermont, New York, Quebec, and Ontario; she has called at 200 ports; she has presented her history lesson to 200,000 visitors. During the past ten years of the tug Churchill’s life—previously, she has been steam yacht, diesel towboat for movie-star vessels, Maine coast cruiser, and boatyard workboat—she has towed the canal schooner for many of those 3,000 miles, enabling our floating museum to maintain an ambitious schedule and to maneuver into and out of tight berths and to enter and exit canal locks with as much grace as the schooner’s shiphandlers could muster.
Before Kathleen Carney and I joined the crew this year, Captain Erick Tichonuk and First Mate Tom Larsen, with a crew that included Art Cohn running the Churchill, took the McClure from her homeport of Burlington to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, at North Harbor. This was a calm tow, on the hawser, on May 24th. (North Harbor, at the Basin Harbor Club, is the location of the main campus of the Museum, the organization that, with the help of many sponsors and volunteers, starting with Lois McClure herself, performed the underwater research on two sailing canal boat wrecks necessary to establish the schooner’s design; built the vessel; maintained her; and sent her off on ten voyages.)
When the same crew moved the Lois McClure from North Harbor to the Point Bay Marina, at Charlotte, on June 27th, the Lake was again calm, so that the tow could be made with the tug on the hip.
Captain Tichonuk’s desk job (something about being the Museum’s Executive Director) kept him ashore the next day, so Tom Larsen, who has his Captain’s license, stepped to the schooner’s wheel for the run across the Lake to Westport, New York. Again, the wind was gentle, the waves mere ripples.
Tom was also at the conn on June 30th, when the schooner returned to her berth at Burlington, but this time a flukey southeast breeze presented more of a challenge for the landing. Tom got what we call a “mooring breeze,” a nasty gust that comes up just at the most awkward moment in a mooring maneuver. The wind wasn’t calm, but Tom was, and he worked his way into the berth between wharf and pilings, with plenty of help from the C. L. Churchill.
And help from a brand new Oocher! An inflatable boat has a shorter lifespan than a wooden boat; our trusty Oocher was simply worn out after eight years of good service. For 2014 and beyond, we have a duplicate boat, the 17-foot Achilles model. Our 50-h.p. Honda four-stroke outboard is still humming quietly but powerfully.
When Kathleen and I came on board the Lois McClure on the Fourth of July, the first thing we noticed was that the schooner was in the process of being painted a different color. Instead of the flat-white topsides to go with her forest green trim on the wales, considerable acreage of a cream color greeted our eyes. The new paint gives the canal schooner a softer, gentler look. All the crew love it. But is it correct, ask the purist historians. Yes, because the new paint is available and cheap, exactly the sort of paint that any canal boat captain would have been looking for.
Kathleen and I spent the next three days moving on board for the summer, working our way around nearly 500 Burlingtonians who were soaking up the story of the waterways with the help of Elisa Nelson and her corps of Museum volunteer interpreters. Other crew members were doing the same, and it was great to have a reunion with our Lois McClure family. Call us crazy, but the same cast of characters seems to gravitate back on board every early summer when Art Cohn, who directs theLois McClure project (as well as running the C. L. Churchill), sings his siren song.
The first thing I always do when I come on board is make sure that our ten chunks of quarry stone weighing eleven tons (they are ballast as well as a sample of one cargo that these boats used to carry, as we will explain perhaps 20,000 times this summer) are chained securely in place in the cargo hold. And as part of my general inspection, I always particularly enjoy making sure we have on board all the charts we need for the voyage: this year on Lake Champlain, down the Hudson River to New York City, and back north to Chambly, Quebec, before returning to Burlington. There was a brand new set of Hudson River charts, rolled up tightly in a tube. But you can’t chart a course on a paper that’s trying its best to curl up around your ruler. So, extract them by tightening the roll from the inside and slipping the whole business out of the tube; re-roll the whole batch in the opposite direction to flatten them; quarter-fold each chart, navigation side out, with the title showing. Ahhh. Now, they’re ready. We’re historically correct to use paper charts, when the nautical world seems to be shifting to electronics. Yet Captain Bartley, whose journals have been published asLife on a Canal Boat, doesn’t have much to say about charts; he probably knew more rocks and shoals than they showed.
When, on July 7th, the schooner left her berth at Perkins Pier, backing out into a moderate southerly breeze with the tug on the hip, it didn’t take long to get into a shiphandling “situation.” Intending to go out the south entrance to the harbor, since we were bound up the Lake (south) to Essex, New York, we asked the Oocher to pull the schooner’s bow round into the wind. But, pulling as hard as she could, the 50-h.p. inflatable couldn’t turn the schooner. Oh yes, we happened to have the forward awning up, but the after one stowed. Too much windage up forward on the schooner. Luckily (luck is a powerful force in seamanship), Burlington Harbor has a north entrance as well as a south one, so we went with the flow. Well, we also could have shifted the Oocher from the weather bow to the lee bow, where she could have pushed ahead instead of pulling in reverse, for greater efficiency, but there is a rule in shiphandling that if your vessel won’t turn in one direction, she probably will in the other. Once again, the rule proved true.
Up under the lee of Shelburne Point, we shifted the Churchill from the hip to the hawser, to tow the schooner astern, then proceeded up and across Lake Champlain to Essex, and then went on into Whallen Bay to find a lee for the tug’s transfer back to the hip. And relearned the lesson that it is best to have the schooner running with the wind when bringing the tug back alongside. Otherwise, the flat-bottomed schooner makes a lot of leeway, even though we run with the centerboard down a couple of feet. As I brought the tug in on the schooner’s lee side, there was more of a bump than I wanted. But these are rugged workboats, not fancy yachts.
Whenever the Lois McClure is in Essex, the crew is treated luxuriously by Darcy Hale, who is the Chairwoman of the Board of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and lives in nearby Willsboro. Gourmet meals arrived on board. And, after a day of sharing canal stories with local citizens, we opened the boat to Darcy’s soiree, a fine, unofficial celebration of the start of the 2014 cruise. Darcy always makes us feel special.
The run from Essex to Vergennes, up Otter Creek, on the 9th was lovely. The breeze was fresh out of the south, but the Lake was smooth enough going up past Split Rock to tow with the tug on the hip. The curves of Otter Creek are always interesting. Around the bend we often surprise a great blue heron or a couple of kingfishers. We never know whether or not the turtles, basking in the sun on their logs, notice our passage. One group of five kayakers were startled to see such a big vessel suddenly appear and scattered, like big water beetles.
On July 11th, we shipped the main boom. Rot had been discovered about ten feet from its after end, and volunteer (longtime and faithful volunteer) Don Dewees and crewman Isaac Parker had repaired the spar with a new after section, scarphed on. The boom is heavy and nearly 50 feet long. The floating dock where we tie up on the left bank below the Falls at Vergennes is not accessible by crane-truck. So, we went back to 1862, rigged the fore gaff as a derrick, its fall powered by humans, and, admittedly with a certain amount of awkwardness and trial and error, did manage to swing the big boom into place on the mainmast. We guessed that Captain Bartley could have done it in half the time with a quarter the crew. In the afternoon, we dragged out the mainsail and bent it on. We didn’t trust the ten-year-old mast hoops, so we simply laced the luff of the sail to the mast. And were immodest enough to reckon that Captain Bartley might well have made the same use of materials at hand, and probably finished his task no faster. We hoisted the sail to make sure that all was well, lowered it, and furled it. Ahhh. Now all we need is a fair wind.
July 12th was French Heritage Day in Vergennes, and a good many of the Francophiles drawn to the “Smallest City” for the occasion also came on board the Lois McClure. Although English was the first language of most of them, a few did appreciate the opportunity to hear about the canal schooner in French from Carolyn Kennedy of Montreal, one of our bi-lingual crew members. Carolyn is working on a PhD in Nautical Archaeology, so she is an expert interpreter of all aspects of the McClure story.
We had two days to make the 55-mile run from Vergennes to St. Alban’s Bay, down the Lake to the north. July 14th came and went with hardly a breath of wind, and that breath came out of the northeast. Our sails stayed furled. We anchored in the south cove of Bow and Arrow, the harbor just west of The Gut, the waterway that separates the main part of the Lake from its east bay. Usually, we have this anchorage all to ourselves, but on this mid-summer evening, we found thirteen yachts (plus one late-comer) enjoying the place. No matter. There was plenty of space in the west side of the harbor for us, and we had an unobstructed view of a dramatic sunset.
On the 15th, we towed through the South Hero drawbridge into the east bay and found—could it be?—a light breeze making from the south! Holding our own collective breaths, we made sail, setting mainsail, foresail, and jib. And the breeze seemed to be growing. Sure enough, we cast off the tug, filled away on the starboard tack, and had a grand reach around Burton Island and up St. Albans Bay. Many of our sails in the schooner in the last ten years seem to have been in either very light airs or half a gale. This sail was just perfect. We slid along at 5 knots and then got a quarter of an hour of moderate breeze, whitecaps and all, and she accelerated easily to 7! Who wouldn’t sell the farm and go to sea?
The citizens of St. Albans Bay may be divided into two groups: schooner people and fisher people. Many St. Albanians come down to their fine pier either to visit the Lois McClure when she is in port or to fish, but not to do both. We have never yet been able to entice a fisher person on board, although this year I did catch one fisherwoman sneaking a look at the attractive panels that we always set up to help tell our story. We’ll just have to keep working on it.
On July 17th, Erick, Sarah, and Meg Tichonuk, and Meg’s friend, Sandy James, joined the crew. As did, in an important way, the late, great John Tichonuk. We were bound for Isle La Motte, and on the way, we would commit some of John’s ashes, as he had requested, into Lake Champlain. Erick chose a spot in the lee of Hathaway Point in St. Alban’s Bay, a place where he and his father had often fished together. We shut down the engine in the tug and simply let the wind take the schooner where it would. There was peace, quiet, and a few heartfelt remarks, some of them humorous, about John’s many connections with the Lois McClure and her crew. John was an invaluable crewman, volunteering often at the wheel, both underway and in port, tirelessly explaining the vessel to one and all. He was an outstanding interpreter, always fully engaged with his circle of visitors, always fully sensitive to their personalities. Bon voyage, John.
After another calm tow to Isle La Motte, we moored at Fisk Point. This was the exact berth where canal schooners used to load stone from the Fisk Quarry, the exact berth from which the General Butler left on December 9, 1876 with a load of marble for Burlington. In a surprise blizzard, she made it as far as the Burlington breakwater, but no further. Vessel and cargo lie on the Lake bottom near her destination; this marble was never delivered. The General Butler, however, is one of the two shipwrecks on which the Lois McClure is based, so she has indeed delivered.
We can moor in this historic location thanks to the great generosity of Steve Zonies, who graciously (I use the word with specific intention, for Steve is full of grace) opens the gates of his home, not only welcoming the schooner to his floating dock, but also welcoming the schooner’s visitors to the beauties of Fisk Point so that they can gain access to our deck. The access takes some doing on our part, too: we ended up with two anchors and five additional lines in place to hold the vessel stationary alongside the tree-lined point and just barely up against Steve’s float. After we were all tied up, the locals put on a great barbecue dinner for the crew.
In the next two days, nearly 600 curious people took advantage of our arrangements and did indeed tread our deck. Many of these Isle La Motters are boat people. I found myself discussing some of the fine points of naval architecture and even touching on the name Herreshoff. Selby Turner produced a complete register of the owners of every Herreshoff 12 1/2 –footer, nearly 400 of them! Such knowledgeable folk appreciate the genius in the design of a Lake Champlain Canal Schooner, different though she may be from Nathanael G. Herreshoff’s Buzzards Bay Boys Boat.
On July 20th, we were well fortified for the task of retrieving all our shore lines and weighing our two anchors, because Steve Zonies brought on board huge trays of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage that he had purchased for us at Isle La Motte’s famous Sunday morning, all-you-can-eat, charity breakfast. We towed back to Burlington, on the way to our next “public stop” at Shoreham, on the hawser into a moderate southerly. It being Sunday, and a perfect summer sailing day (unless you happened to be in a canal schooner that had to click off plenty of miles to windward to keep on schedule), there were hundreds of sailing boats out enjoying the breeze. Every one of them had the right of way over our tug and tow. And every one of the dozen or so sloops that were on a collision course saw that we would be inconvenienced by having to slow down or change course to avoid collision and bore off early enough so that we could maintain our course and speed. It was enough to restore one’s faith in humanity!
The southerly wind continued next day, so again we towed on the hawser, to Crown Point. As we passed Barber’s Point the breeze died, so the rest of the trip was made in a slick calm. The only advantage to the same breeze on the 22nd was that it blew us nicely off the dock when we got underway for Shoreham. And right onto the south side of Paul Sanger’s wharf at Larrabee’s Point, Shoreham, when we had to squeeze the schooner-and-tug in between the dock and the Ticonderoga cable ferry landing, and, quick, cast off the tug and move her round to the north side of the dock so the ferry wouldn’t hit her as it came in from across the Lake.
Next day, our Shoreham visitors were treated to a squall on board at the end of the afternoon. Then the wind shifted around into the north and blew some. We had put out a couple of anchors to the north to hold the tug off the dock, so the weather change didn’t inconvenience us.
Not until the following morning, when the north wind really blew. This was our day to strike the rig in preparation for ducking under the bridges of the Champlain Canal, on our way down to the Hudson River. Could we do it in a 25-knot breeze? Well, between Brown’s (outstanding) Crane Service from Bristol, Vermont, and First Mate Tom Larsen’s excellent handling of his first foreman’s job on this complicated rigging task, yes we could. We do indeed have a talented, resourceful crew!
On September 7th 2013, the morning after our arrival at Salaberry de Valleyfield, we awoke to a strong southwest breeze. We had intended to squeeze through a narrow bridge, with the tug towing ahead, since she wouldn’t fit through on the hip, and move up the old canal at Salaberry to moor right in the center of town for receiving visitors. But with that much wind on the schooner’s quarter, there would be no way to control such a tight maneuver.
Plan B was to leave our berth and go round a point to docks at Parc Delpha-Sauve that were not far from our original intended mooring. Even to do that was a bit tricky. We backed away from the dock with the Churchill on the windward quarter and theOocher pulling for all she was worth on the tug’s stern to hold her up to windward. First Mate Tom Larsen controlled a long line to the dock to keep the bow from blowing off. There was an empty dock to leeward that we could use to hold the bow after Tom had to have his bow line cast off. Whew! It worked. The rest of the move was easy.
Salaberry de Valleyfield was one busy place. There was another “tall ship” in port, the Roter Sand, a big, rugged, steel ketch of shallow draft whose bottom was said to have been fashioned from part of the hull of a German U-boat! With plating nearly an inch thick, she was designed to be able to take the bottom without damage to the vessel. With that characteristic and her name, I was sure that she had a connection to the maritime spy novel, The Riddle of the Sands, but it turned out that she was merely named after a Dutch lighthouse.
And in the Parc was a car show whose theme was the Chevrolet Corvette. It seemed that you could oggle every possible year and variation of the popular sports car, along with many other exceptional vehicles.
In two days, we entertained nearly 2,000 boat and car enthusiasts. Fortunately, Jean Belisle, our historian from Montreal, was able to recruit his friends and family to help provide French interpretation.
On September 9th, we were to start back up the St. Lawrence River against the current to visit towns that our much-revised (by the circumstances of weather) schedule had caused us to bypass. Well, that day proved to be another circumstance of weather. The forecast was again for a strong southwest wind. Bucking such a breeze against the current to cross Lac St. Francois would be like rolling a heavy stone uphill. Where the river widens into lakes, there is still a surprising amount of current, sometimes up to 2 knots. We decided to hold in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and wait for the wind to lessen.
The next day was much more reasonable, with a moderate breeze on the beam. Still, it took us about eight hours to tow upstream, back to an anchorage at the mouth of the Raquette River. This time, we went in closer to shore and found a mud bottom for the Schenectady-Dali anchor.
The trip up to Morrisburg on the following day would entail negotiating the strong current that swirls in where the river rejoins the ship channel just below Snell Lock. When Matthew Trego, of the St. Lawrence Seaway, had inspected the McClure and the Churchill and given us permission to navigate on his waterway, he had expressed particular concern about that section of the river and had told us a horror story about a tug (with a lot more horsepower than the Churchill has) that had lost control right there. Now, after further consideration of our maneuvering capability, he reported that the powers that be required that we hire an assist tug to ensure that we could make it through all right.
In Clayton, we had met Dick Withington and knew that his sons operated a towing business. Matt recommended them. We were lucky that Dewitt Withington, with his father as deckhand, could come down river next day on such short notice with his 265-h.p. workboat, the Calypso, to provide us with extra towing power.
While waiting at anchor for the Calyspo’s arrival, we had the pleasure of watching the Pride of Baltimore II go down by, with her square fore topsail set to help her diesel engine shove her along.
Soon, with the Calypso towing ahead and the Churchill towing on the hip, we made it handsomely not only through the section of heavy current, but also all the way up to Morrisburg in the excellent time of five hours. And that included breaking the extra tow twice to go through the Snell and Eisenhower Locks.
As we approached the entrance channel at Morrisburg, the squall that had been threatening for an hour burst upon us. The big freighter we had seen coming downstream disappeared in a welter of rain. Dewitt, in the Calypso, radioed that he’d keep us “treading water” until things improved. By the time the freighter rumbled past, we could read her name: Atlantic Huron. Then we cast off the extra tow and went in to tie up at the Morrisburg marina.
That evening we were treated to the most spectacular lightning show that any of us had ever seen. Huge, bulbous clouds would suddenly be backlighted, the sort of single phenomenon that would bring excited oohs and aahs. But the extravaganza repeated itself over and over for half an hour, all in dead silence. Awesome.
On September 12th, while towing upstream to Ogdensburg, we met the Norwegian fully rigged ship Sorlandet coming down. I had last seen her under full sail (in 1964!) off Bermuda. On this day, she looked very different with her yards all a’cockbill. She was ready to go through the locks, so, rather than have her yards squared at horizontal, they had to be slanted up to near vertical to keep the yardarms from hitting the sides of the locks as they let the vessel down.
We did miss the Calypso that afternoon, as we crept up over the strong current at Cardinal and passed slowly under the high International Bridge. It turned put to be a ten-hour tow up to Ogdensburg, but it was not yet dark when we made the sharp turn around the stern of the cruise boat Grande Caribe and bumped our way into the narrow entrance to the marina across the current. Yes, we did leave a small paint mark behind as a record of an extremely rare miscommunication on our radios between schooner, tug, and inflatable.
On the morning of the 14th, the town officials of Ogdensburg gave the crew a coffee party in their handsome, waterfront reception center. It’s always fun to trade yarns with new friends. And the fun continued as we greeted 400 visitors on board.
An afternoon run next day took us up to Morristown. It breezed up again from the southwest, and we were able to gain a little lee by leaving the ship channel and working our way along the south shore of the river. At one point (literally), I got a bit too ambitious about seeking a lee and got us into shoal water. No matter: we run with the schooner’s centerboard down 2 feet below the flat keel, which not only keeps the vessel from side-slipping, but also serves as the most effective warning device there is that the bottom is near.
Morristown boasts a handsome, little, natural harbor, and we were glad to get off the boisterous river and into its quiet water. As is usual when we pull into a port, before we can get tied up, we find ourselves answering questions from interested observers of our docking. “What is this boat, anyway?” “When was she built?” How long is she?”
When one Morristown lady got her answers, she said, “This is wonderful. I’m going to have to tell the school about this.” Thus it was that excited students were among the more than 300 visitors next morning. And the students kept coming back, dragging parents, siblings, and friends along. We half expected a few of these worthies to try to stow away.
On September 17th, just before we got underway to cross the river to Brockville, we experienced one of those amazing, random acts of kindness that the Lois McClureattracts. Scott Ouderkirk arrived on the dock with a gift for the vessel. He had heard on Friday the 13th that theLois McClure was coming to town. Scott is an artist who specializes in applying his paintings to glassware.
He has developed his own method of transferring delicate artwork to glass in such a way that its bond is permanent. He went to work and in four days produced an exquisite rendering of the Lois McClure under full sail on a liquor bottle. And this beautiful piece came with its own mahogany cradle that Scott had fashioned from wood from his retired Luhrs 32-foot powerboat. Mercy. As we got underway, we thanked Scott as best we could, but, really, we felt speechless.
In Brockville, we exchanged history lessons with plenty of teacher-students, and found more kindness headed our way. The Chamber of Commerce treated the crew to an elegant dinner at the Mill restaurant, in a handsome, old stone building that had served as a mill and for many other purposes over the centuries.
When we left Brockville on the 18th, we were happy to be heading back down the river with the current. Funny how the same number of hours underway seem a lot easier when you’re whipping downstream at 7 knots, instead of struggling up at 3. We added an hour to this day’s trip at the level Iroquois Lock due to a traffic jam. While we jilled around out of the way, first the Andean, a big freighter that had overtaken and passed us, had to go through the lock. This takes time, even in a lock with no lift.
The big vessels can just squeeze in, and they have to go really slowly, for if they touch a lock gate, say, the heavy behemoths have so much momentum that…well, you get the picture. Then a big tanker came up through with her dangerous cargo and huge “NO SMOKING” sign painted all across the forward side of her superstructure. Finally, we went in astern of the tug John Spence pushing a big barge and eased through the lock with both gates open (the big freighters aren’t allowed to do this). Then we towed on downstream back to our berth in Morrisburg, this time to be open to visitors.
The Morrisburg citizens who trod the deck of the canal schooner designed in 1862 included staff members from Upper Canada Village, a nearby, wonderful recreation of a working town of, well, about 1862. Their museum includes its own small canal and horse-drawn canal boat, so they were glad to experience the sort of vessel that would have been used on the larger canals. Kathleen and I had time to return the favor, walking over to the Village and getting a ride on their canal boat and experiencing large, water-powered machinery in operation, among many other land-based activities contemporary with the Lois McClure.
On September 20th, we towed back down to Salaberry de Valleyfield. There were traffic jams of big ships at both Eisenhower and Snell Locks exacerbated by one vessel discovering, while in the lock, a long, heavy wire hanging overboard that had to be removed by a huge crane! We tied up to the locks’ approach walls to wait our turn. Though we had started soon after first light, it was nearly dark by the time we found our way through the channel back into Salaberry.
On the way from Salaberry to LaChine on September 21st, we went down through the Beauharnois Canal, again waiting out turn for big freighters to go through two locks and under two railroad lift bridges. Once these obstacles were astern, we headed across Lac St. Louis. It looked threatening in the northwest, and the lake has plenty of fetch so that if it comes on to blow, the waves will “run high and fas’,” in the words of the poem, “The Wreck of the Julie Plante,” so we decided to tow ahead on the long hawser, instead of on the hip. That ensured a calm passage, and the lack of wind even made it convenient to tow the schooner right onto the dock at LaChine without taking the time to put the tug back on the hip. The only casualty was a dock fisherman’s line caught across the stem of the tug. Since we came in at about the same speed as grass grows, I didn’t feel too badly that he hadn’t reeled his line in.
To many of our visitors, the very concept of a canal schooner is oxymoronic. One of the most frequent questions we get about the McClure is: “Do you ever actually sail this boat?” The simple answer is “Yes.” We sail her as often as we can, but sailing a boat and keeping to a schedule planned in an office months before it is to be carried out are often incompatible. When we agree to call at a port on a specific future date, we always add the words, “weather permitting.” (Readers of this year’s Log will remember that flood damage to the Erie Canal put a five-week crimp in our plans.) But we don’t think it fair to say to a welcoming committee, “Sorry we didn’t make the reception-with-band that you had ready for us, but we were having such a nice sail in yesterday’s light breeze that we didn’t want to spoil it by towing.” And, of course, much of our travel is by canal or river with low bridges.
Once again, as in past years, the St. Lawrence River, with its high bridges, still thwarted any idea we had of sailing. We needed to cover distance on each underway day, and river current, headwinds, and Seaway locks conspired to block that objective under sail.
On the 22nd, we left LaChine bucking a fresh breeze and a couple of knots of current out across Lac St. Louis. And when we turned east into the Seaway’s ship channel, now with a fair wind and current, we had a vivid demonstration of why sailing is not allowed in the narrower parts of the Seaway. In the approach to the Canal de Rive Sud, between islands, we saw a freighter overtaking us in the distance. The Seaway radio crackled with a request to let him pass us before we got into the Canal. Even at slow speed, we would have beaten him to the Canal, so we turned back and headed up into the wind and current to let him pass. The maneuver was tricky enough in the breeze, now strong, under tow; it would not have been possible under sail.
The Kaministiqua, with whose pilot we had coordinated our meeting, went on by. Out in the open, at the schooner’s wheel, we always wave up to the skilled professional, high inside his big wheelhouse, and, if he isn’t too busy, he may pop out on the bridge wing to give a hearty wave back.
At Cote-St-Catherine Lock, we tied up to the approach wall while waiting for theKaministiqua to go down through (commercial vessels always have the right of way at locks). And did the same at St. Lambert Lock, this time waiting an extra hour, because a train was stuck on the bridge across the lock! Between wires hanging overboard and stopped trains, we were starting to feel like lock Jonahs. It was a relief to hurtle down the River below Montreal with the strong current, slide into the placid, little harbor formed between the Isle aux Prunes and its much bigger neighbors, the Iles de Vercheres, and come to anchor. This delightful haven makes an ideal stopping place between Montreal and Sorel, yet we have never had to share it with another vessel. The anchorage seemed lovelier than ever on this evening, with one of those 360-degree sunsets.
The next morning, we dropped down the river to Sorel, entered the Richelieu River and moored at the commercial dock just ahead of the Phoenix Sun, a big freighter made huge by being apparently completely empty. Her bow was as high as our masts, its thruster a good ten feet out of water.
On the 24th, we took down the schooner’s masts and stowed them above the deck on their support braces. We were ready to go up the Richelieu and bypass its rapids on the Chambly Canal.
On the way up to Mount St. Hilaire, we stopped, as we often do when passing this way, at the Parc Bellerive marina to fill fuel and water tanks and pump out sanitaries. That chore done, we put the boats through Lock St. Ours and went on up to the dock at Mount St. Hilaire, where we found new volunteer crew members Sal Larsen (First Mate Tom’s mother, one able deckhand) and Laura Hollowell (who would be joining Kerry Batdorf as bow person in the Oocher). They had been driven north in the Museum’s van by Elisa Nelson, who is our indispensable shoreside logistics person.
On the morning of the 26th, we had to wait an hour for the “vapor” to burn off before we could get underway. At least that’s what we call it in Maine, when air just above the warm water surface gets thoroughly chilled and condenses the moisture in the air into an opaqueness that’s thicker than mere fog. When we could see where we were going, the Churchill towed the schooner right off the dock and up the river to the Pont Beloeil. That’s the railroad bridge where the horizontal opening is so narrow that we have to tow ahead through it and where the opening is out of sight for boats coming downstream until they are upon it. We send the Oocher out ahead to warn boats coming down that we will soon be filling the bridge opening right up! On this day, there were no boats coming down for the Oocher to warn, although as soon as we were clear of the opening a guy came whipping up through from astern.
The locktender at Chambly warned us on the radio that boats were coming down the flight of three into the Chambly Basin, so we killed some time by crossing that body of water at a crawl. Then we tied up to the dock just below the flight to wait our turn.
Readers may remember that the Chambly Canal was never enlarged, as were the Champlain and Erie Canals, so we have to lock the tug and schooner through separately. The Churchill climbed up the flight first, and then stood by to pull the schooner to the dock above, after that vessel had gone up the staircase, being pulled into each lock by hand. This operation is a good historical exercise for us, for this is how it was done in 1862, with the substitution of mules in the days before small steam tugs that could work the canals were available.
Chambly is a place where we often meet Lois McClure veterans coming up the gangway, folks who have trod her decks before and already know the ropes. We show them our new bunkroom, disguised from the cargo hold to look like stacked lumber, and we point out the new starboard bower anchor and tell how its artistic shape was created. There are people who simply won’t miss a chance to come on board an authentic replica of a Lake Champlain canal schooner.
On September 28th, we locked through the upper six of the Chambly Canal. Again, it
was practicing history, as we held the Lois McClure outside the lock gates while the tug went through, and then pulled the schooner in by hauling on two long bow lines. Well, we did cheat a bit by using the Oocher to hold the schooner’s stern in position while the Churchill was locking through. How Captain Theodore Bartley would have loved the Oocher!
It was nearly dark by the time the tug pulled the schooner out of the last lock, eased her through a couple of open bridges, and landed her on the dock at St. Jean. Whew! That was not only the last lock of the Chambly, but also the last of more than 100 locks for the Lois McClure in 2013.
The next day, the final one on this cruise of welcoming people aboard to tour the schooner, we welcomed about 600 inspectors. The last one was Captain Guy, who arrived, singlehanded, in command of his own vessel. The Cachalot was Guy’s invention. She had a long, narrow hull, with surfboard sponsons that could slide athwartships as they might be needed to aid stability. The rig was that of a three-masted yawl! She had a powerful, four-sided, lug-rigged mainsail, a tiny triangular mizzen at the stern, and just forward of that a sort of mizzen staysail with its own mast and well-lifted boom. Mercy.
Captain Guy joined our reception on board, with a fine spread provided by Denis Couture, who never can do enough for us when we are in St. Jean. It is through his auspices and the kindness of the staff, including his son Major Francois Couture, at the Royal Military College, St. Jean that we crew members get to experience life in the school’s quarters and mess hall, a welcome break ashore for us sailors.
On September 30th, we continued our homeward-bound passage with a tow up the Richelieu into our home waters: Lake Champlain. We tied up at the U. S. Customs dock at the border, presented our passports, and lined up at the rail to be matched with their photos. It seems amazing that we are all still recognizable after four months of adventuring in the Lois McClure. And tied up again at the end of the day on the big dock at Plattsburgh, a familiar berth.
On the last day of this cruise of 2013, we proceeded up Lake Champlain to our home port of Burlington. We have had beautiful, clear, calm days for our travels lately, and October 1st was no exception, except that it did breeze up to moderate out of the south (enough to make us tow ahead with the tug). The Lake just reminding us that it was still boss. But by the time we landed at Perkins Pier in the early afternoon, the water was a mirror. It is always a relief to me to tie up at the end of the trip with our crew intact and our three vessels still floating high.