October 25, 2005 Lois McClure
Ship's Log


Roger Taylor

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 was captain of Lois McClure on her Inaugural Journey last year. He now resides with his wife Kathleen on their other canal boat in Paris, France.

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Notes From the Captain’s Log Vol. 1
Roger Taylor

The Grand Journey of the Lois McClure began back on June 16th, when the C. L. Churchill and our Honda-outboard-powered inflatable, working together, moved the schooner out of her berth at Burlington’s Perkins Pier. The Churchill pulled on the bow with a short towline, and the inflatable, pushing gently on the schooner’s lee side, moved her a couple of feet up to windward, so she wouldn’t scrape along the pilings that are used to hold her off the pier.

We call this action of moving the schooner sideways just a little, often necessary when maneuvering near a dock, “ooching,” a word you probably won’t find in your nautical dictionary. And so, of course, we call the inflatable the “Oocher.”

The Oocher, with Sarah Lyman at the Honda, was invaluable as we tied up that afternoon at our first port-of-call, North Harbor, LCMM headquarters. At North Harbor, the mooring set-up is the most complicated we have faced on the Journey: we needed many lines to hold the schooner in place across the narrow (and, in this case, submerged) end of a concrete dock. The crew worked smoothly and quietly to make this complex docking, despite the fact that it was our first day working together. What a great crew we have had for the Grand Journey!

Yet only three days later, some of this same crew, led by first mate Erick Tichonuk, turned up as pirates, stormed the schooner with the aid of many small, willing, recruits, and forced Art Cohn, the Admiral himself, to walk the plank! Luckily, Art is also a diver, so he is a rare survivor of the piratical practice.

During our time at North Harbor, we found that our new serving table, planks set up at mealtime on temporary cross-pieces in the hold, proved a great success, providing a focal point for the crew, sitting around it on cargo boxes and cargo-ballast chunks of marble. During the Grand Journey, the table boards held many a fine meal provided by volunteer cooks from ingredients kept in good supply by Kathleen Carney, Barb Batdorf, and Elisa Nelson, with a big assist from Burlington Foodservice. They also heard everything from serious planning sessions to serious laughter.

June 28th found the Lois McClure back at the Steamboat Dock at Basin Harbor after helping Essex, New York, celebrate its 200th anniversary. Essex always gives the Lois McClure an especially warm welcome. The Steamboat Dock provided a good platform for the crane that was to lift off the schooner’s two masts to strike the rig in readiness for our transit of the Champlain Canal, with its 17-foot bridge clearances. The operation of detaching booms, gaffs, sails, and rigging and hoisting the masts out of their tabernacles and then laying the whole rig back on board atop the trestle trees Don Dewees had built went without incident. Whew! That was a relief. During the Grand Journey, we would raise and lower the rig two more times, coincident with our exits and entries at the south end of the canal, with the expert help of the folks and crane at Scarano’s boatyard in Albany. Putting the schooner’s rig up or down takes a couple of hours of crane work and the rest of the day to tidy up. I’m happy to report that we didn’t actually need our hardhats for these operations, except for one recalcitrant turnbuckle pin, and even that first mate Erick Tichonuk, working at the foremast head, was able to pop harmlessly overboard in a graceful arch.

Our new gangway was delivered at Basin Harbor by its fabricator, Dock Doctors of Ferrisburgh. We set up its platform, braced out over the rail, and attached one of the two ramps. Voila. A safe, efficient path for crew and visitors to get on board or go ashore. The system has proved to be versatile in coping with the varieties of docks we have moored to, from low, narrow, floating docks to high ones that don’t go up and down with the schooner as the tide floods and ebbs. Yes, on the Grand Journey, we Lake Champlain sailors have had to learn that there are places where the water goes up and down as much as six feet twice a day! Well, Captain Theodore Bartley had to face the same phenomenon more than a century ago, when he ventured into salt water.

On the trip south to Whitehall, in preparation for the tidal currents of the Hudson, we measured some towing speeds. The Churchill’s 120-h.p., 6- cylinder, Ford Lehmann diesel gives the schooner a solid 5 knots at a comfortable 1,500 r.p.m. I say “solid,” because her oversize, tugboat propeller means that we don’t slow down much even in a headwind. But what if (perish the thought) the diesel were to break down? We wondered what the Honda could do for us. Well, we found that those 50 horses, quiet though they are, could shove the 50-ton schooner along at 3 knots!

At Whitehall, we went through our first of 26 locks on the Grand Journey. The Lois McClure, with the Churchill towing alongside (“on the hip,” as we say), well fendered, presents a beam of about 26.5 feet, and the locks in the Champlain Canal are 43.5 feet wide, so we have, say, 17 feet of clearance to work with as we enter the lock chamber. (Any time this seems a bit cramped, we need only remember that the Lois, in 1862, would have had all of 6 inches of clearance in the locks of the day, so if you managed to put her right dead center going in, you’d have three inches on each side!) The trick is to come in dead slow, because when the Churchill backs down to stop the schooner, she inevitably shoves the schooner’s stern away from her, twisting the schooner diagonally crossways in the lock. The less backing necessary to stop, the better. Getting crossways in the lock is no real problem, but it does delay tying up alongside the lock wall, and we don’t like to try the patience of either lock keeper or other boat crews locking through with us. Eventually, we learned to put the Oocher ahead of the Churchill and have her push on the bow as we back down to keep the schooner from twisting as we stop. Ahhh.

The biggest lock challenge we faced was approaching Lock 2, above Waterford, from the north. It turns out that a generating plant takes its waterpower from the canal through a not-so-obvious opening at the bottom of the wall just outside the lock. We were making our approach to the lock, fat, dumb, and happy, when the schooner was sucked against the wall by a powerful current. Luckily, we were able to stop our headway before we drifted against the wall, so there was no damage. Then we pulled the bow off with the Oocher and worked free. Life in the canal is seldom boring, nor was it in 1862.

There’s an interesting exercise between Locks 3 and 4, which are only about a quarter mile apart. The Boston and Maine Railroad bridge has a clearance of only 15.5 feet, the one bridge lower than the normal 17-foot minimum clearance. Well, the Churchill’s funnel stands just about 15.5 feet above the water, as does the McClure’s rig, when it’s lying down above the deck on its trestle trees. The drill is you call ahead on the VHF radio and ask the lock keeper at Lock 4 to lower the relatively small pool between Locks 3 and 4 to increase the clearance under the bridge from 15.5 feet to 17 feet. And under we go.

On July 9th, we were in Fort Edward for Heritage Day, which brought a carnival to the riverside park, including evening fireworks, and 420 visitors to the Lois McClure. Our crew is not only good at handling the vessels in their charge as they move from port to port, but also is wonderful at interpreting the canal schooner to every sort of visitor. Some bring their own expert knowledge on board, perhaps gleaned from the stories of canal-boat ancestors; others are stepping onto the deck of their first boat ever. The questions sometimes come thick and fast: “Are those real rocks in the hold?” “What are the rocks for?” “Is this boat really made of just wood?” By the hundredth time we have heard the question about the rocks, we are tempted to say, “You know, we have no idea what the rocks are for. They came with the boat. Any ideas?” But the crew excels in patience as well as knowledge of canal-boat history, and every visitor gets a sensible answer to every question. The other day a 9-year-old asked me what the “hull speed” of the schooner is. I expected this budding naval architect to spout the formula next: a constant, like 1.3, times the square root of the waterline length, but he didn’t go quite that far. The schooner’s hull speed, that is the vessel’s theoretical top speed before she sinks so far into the trough of her own wave that she can’t go any faster (as our 9- year-old undoubtedly knows) is probably 1.3 x square root 86 = 12 knots. At any rate, a vital part of the Grand Journey is answering a wide range of questions about the Lois McClure. It is a great privilege to carry out this educational part of the mission.

This was my first trip through the Champlain Canal and down the Hudson River. What a thrill! Besides the great scenery, I loved seeing the considerable commercial traffic that plies between New York and Albany, both a few ocean-going cargo ships and plenty of tugs and tows. If we were fascinated to see the modern counterparts to the Lois McClure, many of their crews seemed equally fascinated to catch a glimpse of how cargo moved on the river 140 years ago. Perhaps the greatest of many compliments paid the schooner was in Albany, where we were tied up to put the rig back up, and the big, powerful tug, Doris Moran, made a special trip down from the port so her skipper could stop his handsome vessel alongside the McClure, drop his pilothouse window, lean out and shoot the breeze with us, learning about our old-fashioned boat and what she was doing on the river.

Our schedule of port visits took us down the Hudson and back twice, and on these transits we stopped overnight at Athens, where there is a fine anchorage out of the main channel in behind an island called Middle Ground Flats. We rarely have the opportunity to anchor out overnight; anchoring is a different experience from tying up to the land. The vessel swings free, reacting to wind and tide. There is a feeling of peace and of isolation from humdrum life ashore. Being at anchor brings the crew closer through sharing precisely the same experience, with no separating shore excursions.

Another favorite stop was Constitution Island, just across the river from West Point. The U. S. Army granted the Lois McClure the privilege of mooring at the island, a secluded, park-like place of exquisite beauty and considerable historic interest. Once, when we were there, we got an eight-water-cannon salute from the restored fireboat John J. Harvey, as she came by.

We had a memorable visit to West Point itself, and on alumni weekend. The academy’s superintendent came on board with fellow Army officers and their families (including our namesake, Lois, whose son-in- law graduated from West Point), and they all demonstrated their versatility by not getting seasick, even when the schooner rolled to a passing wake. It was my first tour of the famous citadel; I liked everything except all the huge “Beat Navy!” signs.

At Poughkeepsie, on July 23rd, we met the Clearwater, the replica Hudson River sloop that has been sailing her river for the last forty years. The two crews had a chance to admire each other’s vessels, and a couple of us took a sail in the Clearwater. We think of the McClure’s mainsail as a big sail, at 1,300 square feet, but the sloop’s mainsail is three times bigger! Impressive.

We are constantly doing odd jobs on board to keep the schooner and her tugboat shipshape, but on July 26th, we lay over in the quiet cove at Beacon and gave over most of the day to maintenance. Second mate Scudder Kelvie, Boatswain Len Ruth, and Ship’s Carpenter Kerry Batdorf all cracked their whips with their usual gentle humor, and out came all the paint pots; we applied gray, white, and green to touch up deck and topsides; yellow, green, and red down below in the cabin.

Our reward was a good sail next day. We needed only to get across the river to Newburgh, but a fine breeze sprang up out of the south, so we decided to stretch the schooner’s sails. It was well we took advantage of that wind, for the Grand Journey has brought us all too few fair winds that would let us sail and still keep to the schedule. The Churchill pushed us to windward, while we lowered the centerboard 6 feet and set mainsail, foresail, and jib; then we cast off the tug and filled away, feeling the schooner heel and move forward quietly. Ahhh. We held her close- hauled and tacked down the river, the fair, ebb tide making us look good in terms of ground gained to windward on each tack. The Lois McClure sails no closer than about 70 degrees off the wind, and she does make leeway despite her 17-foot-long centerboard. No one could accuse her of being fast to windward (hardly the purpose of a sailing canal boat), but she sails with a majestic sure-footedness. This cargo-box of a schooner never ceases to amaze me with her maneuverability under sail. Put the wheel over and she tacks with certainty in any condition of wind we’ve tried. By the time we turned back upstream for Newburgh, the breeze was freshening, and we found ourselves on a broad reach, wind on the quarter, and the schooner going faster than we had ever seen her go; the accompanying Churchill reported 7 knots on the GPS. Now, that was fun! I surmise we could push her to 9 knots under ideal conditions, but I wouldn’t care to try for that theoretical 12.

Due to its length, this log has been divided into two volumes.

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