Tugboat Roundup 2006
The 2006 Waterford Tugboat Roundup had just ended as the C.L. Churchill began her journey back to Lake Champlain. Our arrival at Mechanicville, just north of Champlain Canal Lock 2, was made memorable and sweeter with the chance encounter with LCMM member and avid canoeist Mike Janus. As we approached the wall provided by the New York State Canal Corporation for boaters to tie up for the night, a voice called out a greeting from a small aluminum canoe. It was Mike and he soon joined us at the harbor wall and proceeded to give us a whole apple pie. It was not just any apple pie, but what Mike described as “the best apple pie in the region”. The Washington County strawberry red pie from Smith’s Orchard Bake Shop was soon the focus of our tired and hungry crew as began to divide and conquer the still-warm desert. We soon all agreed with Mike’s glowing assessment of this wonderful pie which became yet another example of the many spontaneous acts of kindness our travels with Lois and the Churchill have produced.
The morning fog was just rising off the water as we prepared to get underway and travel the canal from Mechanicville to Whitehall. Sandy Jacobs, Charlie Witherall and I heading home from the Tugboat Roundup, an annual gathering of some 20- working or retired tugboats which line the Waterford harbor and give the public rare look at these indispensable but often unsung heroes of our working waterways. The Lois and Churchill attended last year's Roundup for the first time and enjoyed the event so well, that we were immediately made plans to return this year. Happily, with a generous sponsorship from the Vermont Division of Travel and Tourism and our other 2006 sponsors, the C.L. Churchill was taken south by LCMM crewmembers Erick and Kerry in time to join he tugboat parade that began forming at Albany on Friday September 9. I arrived in Waterford, located at the junction of the Champlain and Erie Canals, by car that afternoon just in time to join Sarah who was setting up our LCMM tent. Together Sarah and I saw the tugboats enter the Waterford harbor one by one and get introduced to the thousands of people there to see them.
The next two days were a whirlwind of activity as hundreds of visitors were welcomed aboard our wonderful little (34-feet) tug. More than 20 tugboats participated this year, including the recently restored So uth Street Seaport wooden tugboat WO Decker. The Decker provided an opportunity to take a ride on the river while the other tugs provided the public with rare on-board access to their inner working spaces. Our Waterford hosts led by Chris and John Callahan put on a great show and provided every courtesy to the tugboat crews.
All the LCMM staff took advantage of tours aboard the Day Peckinpaugh, a 260-foot canal vessel built for the canal in 1921. The Peckinpaugh is now part of the New York State Museum collection and was dry- docked at the Erie Lock 3 yard for repairs. On Saturday night the Waterford folks put on an extraordinary fireworks display for thousands of visitors looking on from the dock, while the tugboat crews enjoyed the best viewing. Sunday, the public was treated to more great tugboat events including a tugboat push-off. By 4:00, with more than 25,000 people having attended the event, Erick, Sarah and Kerry headed home by vehicle and Sandy, Charlie and I headed the Churchill north on the Champlain Canal.
The journey along the Champlain Canal was like stepping back in time as we entered the almost 100- year old locks and either rose or fell with the water. The lock-tenders were so accommodating and all were interested how the Roundup had gone this year.
We were hoping to lock into Lake Champlain during daylight and were on schedule when we were informed by the lock-tender at Lock 11 that Comstock’s electricity was out and it would be perhaps three hours before it would be restored. If that prediction held, we would still be there at dark and have to spend the night on the wall. Being somewhat low in food and a long way from restaurants or food stores, this didn’t appeal to us very much. You can image our satisfaction and gratitude when two yellow New York State Canal Corporation trucks pulled up with a generator and tools to work the locks back-up systems to keep the lock functioning. After only a short delay, the southbound boats were sent through and our northbound Churchill was able to continue on her way. We made it through Lock 12 at Whitehall and went out to a fine dinner at the Roma Restaurant, celebrating their 50th year.
We fueled up and overnighted at the Lock 12 Marina. The Churchill burns remarkably little fuel which, given the rise in diesel prices, is just one of her many virtues. Tom, our fellow boater in the next slip offered to transport us to the restaurant and the market, another spontaneous act of kindness. After a good sleep, the crew left Whitehall with the morning fog just beginning to lift. However, as we steamed past the Great South Bay, the fog returned and hung with us for the next two hours. We crept along at "slow ahead", blowing our fog horn every couple of minutes with all eyes on lookout. Traveling in the fog along this wonderful stretch of southern lake felt like entering a time machine with the fog providing a misty backdrop to the historic landscape.
The fog soon lifted and provided us a picture perfect day to make our 73-mile trip to Burlington. Bright, warm September sun and no wind made the trip north a treat for the crew, who took turns piloting the Churchill home. I was able to depart the journey early at Basin Harbor, sending Sandy and Charlie on the last leg of the memorable journey. We had hosted hundreds of people aboard our tug at the Roundup while thousands had an opportunity to take pictures from the town dock wall. But is was time to get the Churchill back to Burlington so that she could get ready for the next journey, the planned Friday departure to St. Albans Bay to begin the fall 2006 Northern Lake Education Tour.
The 2006 Waterford Tugboat Roundup was a great experience for all involved. We are all looking forward to the weeks ahead with Lois and Churchill bringing history to hundreds of school kids before returning to Burlington for the winter. Stay tuned for the next installment of this Ship's Log, coming to you from the northern lake. Our sincere thanks to our 2006 sponsors for making our travel and programs aboard Lois McClure and C.L. Churchill travel possible.