Whenever the Lois McClure enters the Champlain Canal, I look forward to catching up with Bob Foster at Lock 5, Schuylerville. Bob is a boat guy, who now runs a couple of tour boats. There’s his lovely, little, diesel launch, the Nellie, named after a tugboat he operated a “few” years ago. And there’s the Caldwell Belle.
The Caldwell Belle is different. She was launched in 1973 into the Milwaukee River, which Bob claims is smaller than Otter Creek. Several names, owners, and homeports later, she came under Bob’s tender care. He kept the name Caldwell Belle; after all, Caldwell was a big name on the Champlain Canal, so why change it? The thing that’s different about the Belle is she’s a stern-wheeler, propelled by an honest-to-goodness, diesel-driven paddle wheel mounted on the stern. True, a stern paddle wheel on a tour boat isn’t all that rare; what’s rare is that the Belle’s wheel is her only propulsion; the other boats are driven by propellers and bow thrusters, with the paddle wheel dragging along strictly for decoration.
I love to watch Bob bring the Caldwell Belle in for a landing at his tie-up on the corner
of the approach wall to Lock 5. He comes right in at a pretty big angle at a good rate of
speed. Just when you start to worry, he spins that big paddlewheel backwards, the blades
bite into the water with that characteristic slap-slap-slap sound, and the Belle comes to
a quick stop with her bow so close to the dock that the deckhand just reaches over and
grabs the bow line he left behind. As soon as the hand belays the line on the rail at just
the right distance back from the stem, Bob starts his wheel backing down again. As the
strain comes on the line, the Belle starts moving sideways toward the dock. In she comes,
majestically. Stern line on. “All ashore!” All smiles. It’s always a pleasure to watch Bob
at work and then to walk over and take in his latest story about life along the canal.
The first leg of the trip through the Champlain Canal has been particularly special for me. Not only are we traversing familiar ground in our “home” canal and seeing old acquaintances and friends, but my daughter, Emily, has been able to travel with us. I cherish our time together and being able to share the things I love such as the great communities along the canal and the joy of being on the water.
In addition to our duties aboard, all the crew finds some time for exploration while in port. Today, Emily and I walked to the Schuyler House, a National Park Service site that’s part of the Saratoga park.
This magnificent country house was hastily erected in late fall of 1777 after retreating British forces under General John Burgoyne burned Schuyler’s more elaborate and palatial estate. We had a thoroughly enjoyable tour with Park Ranger Danielle, who showed us all of the incredibly well maintained rooms. I look forward to returning to the Revolution when I go back to LCMM for our Rabble In Arms reenactment.
We are at our berth at the Hudson Crossing Park, Schuylerville and it is great to be back on the canal. It’s different this time as we know the lock keepers and people in all the communities we have been thus far. That will change when we head west out the Erie where we are stopping mostly in communities we haven’t visited before.
I’ve begun re-reading Captain Theodore Bartley’s journals, the most complete picture of life on a canal boat we have encountered. This year I have begun during the 1876 navigation season and find almost each entry providing a gem of knowledge about his life, travels and family. It’s May, 1877 and Captain Bartley has just left Larabee’s Point after unloading the coal he brought up from Newburgh. While there, twelve year old George fell overboard and had to be rescued. They leave Shoreham in tow of the tugboat Reed to St. Johns, Quebec where Captain Bartley has developed relationships with sawmills to haul their lumber to New York City.
The opportunity to travel these same waterways and visit the same communities with Captain Bartley’s 140-years ago perspective has been one of the most extraordinary aspects of this remarkable experience.
One of the great things about returning to ports we’ve visited in the past is that we get to see old friends. Last night in Fort Edward, Darlene DeVoe and her husband, Adam, hosted a super dinner for the crew at Ye Old Fort Diner owned by John Webber. We couldn’t decide which was better—the fries (the old-fashioned, real thing, and heaps of ’em) or the pie (lemon coconut, chocolate cream, butterscotch, apple–all homemade).
Today in Schuylerville, Darren Tracy, a volunteer crew member from the 2005’s Grand Journey to New York City, saw us from across the canal and dropped by to say hello. Later, as the tour boat Caldwell Belle set off for a sunset cruise, there were calls of “Hi, Art!” “How ya’ doin’ Lenny?” and even, “Where’s the guy with the ponytail?”—that would be First Mate Erick, except he somehow knew what a hot summer this was going to be and lopped it off.
All along the way, we’ve traded greetings and good-natured jibes with the lock keepers who’ve helped us along this route so many times. Now, the Lois McClure isn’t just another boat passing through, she’s become a part of the Champlain Canal. That’s really special.
On Monday morning Erick, Emily, Molly and I had the rare opportunity to visit an active archeological dig. We accompanied Neal Orsini, our guide and owner of the Anvil Inn (and also the 30,00th visitor on board the Lois in 2007), to the Sutler’s House site adjacent to old Fort Edward.
All of us were impressed with the size of the project and enjoyed watching the archeologists painstakingly scrape away in the active pits as they uncovered bits of chert(flakes from the
production of projectile points) as they worked. Perhaps the biggest find was by Molly, who found a curious lead object outside a groundhog hole. Site archeologist David Starbuck suggested that it would take hours of research to determine what it could be.
Following our brief tour of the dig we went to the Rodgers Island Visitors Center where we were able to see their fine exhibits and visit the conservation lab. In the lab we viewed many objects recovered from the dig. This special opportunity to get a first hand look at the 18th century history of Ft. Edward made our stop here very memorable.
Jeff is a history teacher at Champlain Valley Union High School during the school season. He has worked as a captain for the Lake Champlain Transportation Company, as well as volunteered for many years at LCMM. He joins the crew of the Lois this year as second mate.
On Sunday after we docked in Fort Edward, several members of the crew (Erick, Molly, Jeff and I) chose to go for a stroll to visit an abandoned lock from the old Champlain Canal.
The lock was really cool, with a river flowing down the middle. A fully intact tow path sat on one side. After a bit of exploring, we headed down the towpath to see how far we could follow the old canal. The path continued down Canal Street, where we encountered much evidence that the street had once been a canal. There were many large buildings and homes built at the time of the canal. We also came across a great graveyard that contained graves primarily from the 1800s (the earliest was from 1800!). The old canal continued over train tracks. There we found two more old locks. They were slightly crumbling, but still in pretty good shape. Because we were still convinced there was more to discover, we continued following the feeder canal. Soon, we figured out that this stretched further than we were willing to walk. The path, however, was alive with wildlife. Among what we saw was a heron, several rabbits, frogs and a muskrat. It was a really cool experience.
Emily Tichonuk is a 8th grade student at Vergennes Union High School. As the daughter of Erick Tichonuk, she has been around the museum many years and has spent quite a lot of time aboard the Lois.
An elderly couple came aboard the Lois McClure in Whitehall. The gentleman said he was a lifelong farmer. He talked in glowing terms about his life, how devoted he was to his land. After making a few rounds, on deck and below, he realized he realized that our life in a canal schooner has its own glow and its own devotees. He had a good time realizing that people who follow the water can be as wrapped up in their environment and lifestyle as he is, in a different environment and lifestyle.
And so it has been throughout history: farmers and sailors living on one planet, absorbed with land or absorbed with water. On that day, the Lois McClure brought us together.
The captain of Lois McClure, Roger Taylor comes to us as a twenty-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, former Editorial Director of the U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD, and founder of the International Marine Publishing Co. in Camden, ME. He is the author of seven books and many articles on boat design and seamanship. In 1991 he skippered the museum’s first large replica, the Revolutionary War Gunboat Philadelphia II, and has been captain of Lois McClure since her Inaugural Tour in 2004. He now resides with his wife Kathleen on their other canal boat Water Lily in Paris, France.
I first came to Whitehall about 30-years ago when our dive team began studying the War of 1812 wrecks sunk in the vicinity. I fell in love with Whitehall then, its location on lake and canal, its special history and its people. This year’s visit didn’t disappoint. This was our first public stop and had a great group of interesting visitors. Particularly special for me was that I was able to visit my friend Cora, who at 106 can still transport me back to the days when she was a girl living and traveling on her father’s canal boats.
On Saturday night, our friends in Whitehall treated us to an old-fashioned pot-luck picnic and made us feel so welcomed. A new conversation was begun about the feasibility of stabilizing the wreckage of the War of 1812 schooner, Ticonderoga, built in Vergennes, Vermont and raised from the lake in 1958 and currently exhibited near the Skenesborough Museum. We’re looking forward to passing through on our way back home in October.
Art Cohn is the Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. He is a professional diver and has coordinated and participated in Lake Champlain’s archaeological projects for the past twenty years. He serves aboard Lois McClure as a tugboat operator and able-bodied crew member.
We anchored off of Fort Ticonderoga at about 4:30. It was pretty hot. It’s my first time on the boat and so far it’s been really fun! Emily and I thought that Ticonderoga was the perfect spot to go swimming.
We were right. A lot of us spent a good hour jumping off the bow and stern. It was about 20 feet to the bottom and the water was the perfect temperature. While having a race around the boat, I got a great idea. Why not try to climb up the side of the boat using the big rope fenders? So we spent the next hour and a half doing our best to get up to the deck. We tried climbing up the rope, hooking our legs over the fenders, using our life jackets to give ourselves a boost, and even lowering a rope from deck to use as an extra hand hold. Despite never quite getting up to the deck, we had a lot of fun and had a really great evening on the lake.
Molly is a 9th grade student at CVU High School. She has been volunteering at LCMM for two years, and this is her first trip on the Lois.
Can’t believe it’s been four days since we left Basin Harbor. The Commissary (me) thanks all who have been so generous with goodies–Don for the fresh-picked blackberries (gone); Cindy for the blondies (gone); Sam for the very decadent chocolate cake (gone); Adam for the garlic and tomatoes (just ripe–BLT’s for lunch); Paul for the BEEF; and the folks at Whitehall for last night’s fantastic potluck dinner and for sending us home with the leftovers AND a batch of homemade oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies (three left).
Kathleen and her husband Roger Taylor have been associated with the museum since sailing with Philadelphia II in 1992, and spend the rest of the year aboard a Dutch motor cruiser in France. Kathleen serves aboard Lois McClure as Commissary Officer.