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. 2 of 2
Roger Taylor

August 6th was Peekskill Celebration Day, and the Lois McClure was a prime attraction. We had a record 2,375 people on board! And, spectacular fireworks that night, with our usual ringside seat. We were becoming almost famous.

We made the passage down the last stretch of the Hudson to New York on August 15th. The breeze was fresh from the north as we got underway from Nyack, so we set a single-reefed mainsail and the foresail and ran down the river under sail with a good fair tide to help us. The wind began to drop, though, so at noon, an hour after we had passed under the Tappan Zee Bridge, we shook out the reef and hoisted the full mainsail. The trend continued, unfortunately, and a bit short of the George Washington Bridge, we had to put the Churchill on the hip for towing and furl our sails as the wind died. So our entry to New York, like many of Captain Theodore Bartley’s in his sailing canal boat of so long ago, was made under tow. And, as he often did also, we proceeded to the New Jersey side of the harbor and tied up near the entrance to the Morris Canal, sadly filled in since Bartley’s day.

Never mind that we entered New York under tow. Before six o’clock next morning, the schooner was sailing across New York harbor, out near the Statue of Liberty, towing the Churchill alongside! Now, this was role reversal. And we found that even in the light, easterly breeze, the schooner would tack and drag the Churchill around with her. Talk about maneuverability! Some boat.

Our assignment, that early morning of August 16th, was to pose for the TV cameras on a line between the Statue of Liberty and North Cove, our destination in Manhattan. Pose we did, and even got lucky. As we approached North Cove, sails now furled for our entry, the just-risen sun appeared in one of those Manhattan canyons between the skyscrapers and illuminated the Lois McClure and only the Lois McClure. I claimed to the Admiral that I had made careful calculations last winter to achieve this astronomical phenomenon, but Art Cohn knows me too well to believe such a story. Then, with the Churchill back in her accustomed role and the Oocher standing by for any eventuality, we slid quietly into our berth at North Cove to the applause of an august welcoming committee, headed by Senator Patrick Leahy himself and Lois McClure herself. Now, that was way cool.

We made the first of four passages through Hell Gate in the East River on August 19th, on our way to King’s Point for a visit to the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy. I should label it “the dreaded Hell Gate.” You hear stories. One visitor to the schooner warned me, when he heard where we were going with our 5- knot rig, that he had once faced in Hell Gate a current of 12 knots! Well, Eldridge’s trusty tide tables give, as Hell Gate’s maximum current, 5 knots, scary enough for a 5-knot rig, and the tables tell you when the brief period of slack water occurs. I’m happy to report that all our trips through the Gate were, if not boring (it is called Hell Gate, after all), then at least uneventful.

The merchant mariners at King’s Point opened their every facility to us, and the midshipmen were intensely interested in learning about a merchant vessel that is a unique part of their heritage. Though there were Chesapeake Bay ram schooners (and one is still sailing) that were designed to transit the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, they were simply coasting schooners modified in hull form for the canal, not true canal boats. The Lake Champlain sailing canal boats were the only such American type.

Back up the Hudson River on August 26th, we unstepped the masts again at Scarano’s yard in Albany, and this time left the whole rig ashore, since we would be in the canal for only 17 days, and then would return to restep the masts. Well, the “schooner” certainly did look bare as a standard, mule-pulled canal boat, with no more indication that she had any other means of propulsion than appeared on the wreck of the General Butler. That must have been exciting to dive on the wreck of a canal boat and suddenly find evidence that she had once been under sail.

On September 9th, the Lois McClure and the C. L. Churchill joined a parade of some 25 tugboats going north through the Federal Lock at Troy and proceeding up to Waterford for the annual Tugboat Roundup. This was a great gathering of marine connoisseurs, and it gave us the opportunity of really showing off the Churchill for the first time. Tugboat afficianados to the number of about a thousand peeked into her engine room and stood at the wheel in her pilothouse. And, at Waterford, we saw our third fireworks display of the Grand Journey.

Several nights on board the schooner have been movie nights. We saw “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Master and Commander” projected on deck in an entirely appropriate setting. You could look from one scene of ship’s rigging on the screen to another (real) one on the schooner. There was a scene in “Moby Dick,” which we viewed in the cargo hold, where a hanging knee, part of the construction of the Pequod, appeared on the screen right next to precisely the same size and shape of knee on the schooner. But when we watched “The Blues Brothers” in the hold, it seemed surreal to shift focus from their crazy antics to, say, a cargo box marked Cromptons Laundry Soap, Front St. N. Y.”

By September 21st, we were back down the Hudson and through the East River again to the north shore of Long Island. Bob Hodson, a longtime friend of the Museum, had arranged for the schooner to visit his homeport, Port Washington. School was back in session, so our schedule was a full one, with plenty of fourth and fifth grade students on board during school hours and then citizens of all ages after school. One of our most satisfying experiences is to see a fourth grader return to the schooner, parents in tow, and give them a thorough tour. So, they were listening! Commodore Hodson also opened the Port Washington Yacht Club to our crew, and we enjoyed the most luxurious shoreside facilities of the Grand Journey.

We were heading back up the Hudson on September 28th, bound to Constitution Island from Jersey City. The Churchill had her hands full shoving us against a strong ebb tide and a northerly breeze. It took nearly six hours to get up to the Tappan Zee bridge, but then the foul tide began to slacken and, best of all, the wind came in fresh from the south. We took advantage of the fair breeze by setting the foresail. In the wide expanse of Haverstraw Bay we found a following sea that made the Churchill wallow a bit and lifted the schooner along. The two vessels took turns towing each other. Under the lee of Bear Mountain, we lowered the foresail and furled it. We just made it to Constitution Island before dark, which we wouldn’t have done without turning the schooner into a motor-sailer.

The next day’s weather forecast was for a strong cold front to sweep across the Hudson Valley with the possibility of 50-knot squalls. We made arrangements to take shelter at Beacon, six miles up the river. The cove at Beacon provides unusually good protection on the often straight-sided Hudson River. So, in the morning (with the forecast now mentioning the possibility of 70-knot squalls), we got underway early and were off Beacon by eight o’clock. Already, it was blowing a strong, 25-knot breeze from the south. As we approached the entrance to the cove, a narrow channel through moored yachts, we had the wind on the starboard beam, and it was augmented by a 2-knot flood tide. We had to use every one of the Churchill’s 120 horses to sneak through without hitting anything. We were grateful to get our lines on the dock in the calm water of the cove. As we looked back out onto the river, we could see more and more white water; it was evident that the wind had increased to a gale, probably a good 35 to 40 knots, just since we had come in. Whew! We did have a heavy rain squall as the front passed and then a brief 30-knot wind from northwest, but nothing like the dire forecast. Still, it was no day to be out on the river.

Our return, northerly transit of the Champlain Canal started on October 2nd, timed to appeal to teachers in canal communities looking for ways to show young pupils the wide world beyond the classroom. Mechanicville, Schuylerville, Fort Edward, Fort Ann, and Whitehall sent 1,200 curious, excited children, from pre-kindergarten through eighth-graders to learn how freight moved through their towns 140 years ago. Okay, so the seventh and eighth graders weren’t curious and excited, having by that age been everywhere and done everything, but we do have instances where we can prove that they actually did learn a thing or two.

On the canal, we had the great privilege of having Barbara Bartley join the crew. As the great- granddaughter-in-law of Theodore Bartley and compiler of his published journals, Barbara regaled visitors with canal boat stories and lore that are close to being firsthand accounts. In return, the Lois McClure demonstrated her abilities as catalyst for bringing together canal boat people. In Mechanicville, on the deck of the schooner, I was having a casual conversation with a visitor about the old days of sailing canal boats. Out of the blue, he said, “Would you know if there are any Bartleys still alive?” “Why yes, there’s a live Bartley right down below.” A minute later, I was introducing Barbara to Edwin Hanna, great-grandson of John Henry Chubb, brother- in-law and canal-boat partner of Theodore. And before Barbara’s two weeks on board were over, she had met a dozen more canal-boat descendents. What a boat!

The first cold weather of the Grand Journey hit with a bang on October 8th, when balmy, sunny day- after-day turned to a bone-chilling rain. We lighted a wood fire in the “Marine Household” stove in the schooner’s cabin, and Kathleen Carney started cooking up, well, not a storm, but plenty of comfort food against the storm. Walking back to the schooner after dark, rain slanting across everything, it was indeed comforting to see the stern windows lighted and the chimney smoking. Such sights must have warmed Theodore Bartley’s heart many a stormy night.

The most beautiful night of all on the Grand Journey was the last one. We had anchored at Crown Point on the transit from Whitehall back to Burlington. After dark, the wind died, and the water became a huge sheet of burnished pewter on which were reflected with great clarity the lights on the nearby Champlain Bridge and of farther off Port Henry. And the moon! It was nearly full and playing hide-and-go- seek behind puffy, surprisingly fast-moving clouds. It was one of those nights when it was hard to go below and turn in.

And now it is the next day, the last day of the Grand Journey. We have traveled 860 miles in 51 days underway, out of 125 days on the cruise. The most significant number, though, is 22,000, the number of visitors and school children who have come on board the Lois McClure to find wonder, learning, and joy. Thanks be to all who have made those 22,000 experiences possible: to Lois McClure and all the donors of dollars to the Schooner Project. To the Farm Families of Cabot and all the sponsors of the Grand Journey. To Paul Rollins and his boatbuilders, including builders who donated so many hours. To all the crew members who worked so skillfully and hard for those 125 days and to all the crew volunteers who came on board to help and to lift our spirits.

Well, it’s time for me to close this narrative and see about getting the Lois McClure tied up in her old berth at Perkins Pier. Pretty soon, we’ll be belaying dock lines and coiling down.

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