August 17, 2007

Ship's Log - Syracuse


Churchill Hindes and his son Jeffrey are 6th and 7th generation Vermonters whose family once owned a standard canal boat out of Vergennes, the J. G. Hindes. Both enjoy boating on Lake Champlain.

Church is the President of the Visiting Nurse Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties.

Jeff teaches middle school social studies at the Shelburne Community School and during the summer is a captain on Lake Champlain Transportation Company's cruise and tour boat Northern Lights.

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Photo by Gary Fischer
Winding thru a narrow channel off Onondaga L. to the Syracuse Inner Harbor.

It began with "Hey, dad, do you want to do another round as crew on the Lois McClure?!" There was no need for discussion and soon our reservations were made with the LCMM. As our scheduled time aboard neared, we extracted ourselves from our work lives and domestic roles to once again head out to what we fondly refer to as "Camp Lois." We are Churchill and Jeffrey Hindes, great grandson and great,great grandson of Vergennes canal boat owner J.G. Hindes. We happily volunteered again after a rewarding time on the Peekskill/Constitution Island rotation two years ago on the Grand Voyage down the Hudson. Similar to the weeks since the Grand Canal Journey began, the Syracuse and Oswego ports of call further reinforced our collective sense of camaraderie and common ties between we "lakers" and our new friends, the "canalers".

THURSDAY, August 16
We met Len Ruth at the museum in Basin Harbor to pack provisions (including a new gas grill) into the LCMM van (a far superior model compared to the 2005 vehicle) and headed out to meet the crew in Syracuse after its transit from Palmyra and Baldwinsville. We arrived at midday and joined the Lois McClure at the dock in Syracuse's "Inner Harbor." It was warm and muggy-the thermometer in van showing 92 degrees as we drove in. We were a bit worried that we might have the same heat that plagued our 2005 stay.

The Inner Harbor represents a substantial investment for the city of Syracuse-extensive recently constructed attractive seawalls, walkways, park space and docks. We were tied up all by ourselves at first and later learned from locals that the city was working hard to put the space to use worthy of the location and cost. Syracuse was welcoming, as the other towns have been, and gave us the keys to the city; well, really the keys to their municipal bathroom facilities!

Shortly after our arrival, Erick, Sarah, Erick's dad John, and Hilton Dyer set off in the van for the return trip. Erick was heading back to the museum to ready the Philadelphia II for launching at the falls in Vergennes.

In addition to the regular crew, on board we found one of the LMCC builder volunteers, Gary Fischer, who had just driven all the way from his new home in Wisconsin to be aboard for a week. Also aboard is Steve Hays, who shared his extensive canal town expertise with us. Steve had signed on in Palmyra for the Syracuse and Oswego rotation. Most of the set up for Syracuse had been taken care of on our arrival.

Later, Art ventured into town for a lecture at a nearby city library branch. (We noted the long time Maritime Museum staff were impressed that Art had employed PowerPoint to augment his remarks!)

Following a brief rain shower and some cooler breezes , we settled in and enjoyed burgers from the dandy new grill for dinner. While not too far away, a large crowd assembled for a multi-band, heavy metal rock concert that ran from about 7:00PM until 10:00PM in the evening. Unlike Peekskill on the Hudson in 2005, the bands' loudspeakers were directed away from the boat so we could still hear ourselves think! Many merry post-concert revelers passed by the dock on way to their cars and looked us over with obvious curiosity. For Greg, Steve, Jeff and Church, the day closed staring into the stars from their bunks out on deck-the air becoming less hazy and seeming cooler.

FRIDAY, August 17
Morning broke clear and cool and per the well established routine, everybody got busy cleaning and readying the boat and retail shop for a 10:00AM opening to the public. A large green and yellow striped tent had been set up for the Erie Canal Museum for the event. They were holding a two day canal heritage appreciation event and fundraiser. Also nearby were tents and trailers for vendors and other participants. Things looked promising for a good day.

The Erie Canal Museum, lent us an antique 5 pound salt bag-representative of Syracuse's best known contribution to the Erie commerce routes-thus its nickname, the "Salt City." Note: the area's briny water springs had been long known to the first peoples of the region. The Inner Harbor area was described by one visitor as a place where salt water was spread out to evaporate during their 19th century salt boom. Many visitors were pleased to see the salt bag-and the canal schooner-both tangible examples of their canal heritage. Over 600 visitors came aboard.

Photo by Kerry Batdorf
Storm Damaged Tent

All activities proceeded routinely as the late afternoon skies gradually went from clear to puffy white clouds, to low grey ones scudding low overhead, to a featureless black wall bearing down on us from the west. The crowd had pretty much trickled down to a few participants from the Erie Canal Museum event on shore. The museum's special clambake fundraiser was getting underway with speeches-including remarks from our Captain Roger and lively music from a young jazz combo as a few raindrops, a freshening breeze, and then all heck broke out. We were hit by a sudden microburst with very high wind, driving rain and small hail. The canvas over our helm tore in two and flapped uncontrollably. Next door, as the band played on, the circus-style tent was tearing apart in the wild wind. When it was over, only our Ship's Store tent was unscathed-other tents on shore were either down or shredded. The aluminum supports for several of our attractive, informative, display panels were bent over and the entire display was in danger of being destroyed. Quick action by the crew got canvas and displays under control and minimized further damage. Calm returned bringing chilly wind from the west and a magnificent double rainbow. It was over in less than 15 minutes. The Lois fared well. Our decks got a good "pressure washing" but the big affair on shore was totally washed and blown away-chafing dishes of food thrown everywhere together with the tables they had been on. The storm was a great disappointment for the event organizers.

Photo by Kerry Batdorf
Rainbow over Syracuse after the storm.

The Erie Canal Museum staff had promised us a grand meal and after the storm soon appeared with the salvageable trays and platters of food with far more wieners (alas no clams survived the calamity), spuds and salads than we could eat. Much of the leftovers were taken to the local homeless shelter, other items graced our rustic dining table in the days to come. No one slept on deck that night with thunder still rumbling and rain threatening as we settled in.

SATURDAY, August 18
The day after broke damp, cool and partly cloudy. Autumn had come to Syracuse on a Saturday! As soon as breakfast had been cleared, Len and Gary led the work-getting repairs made so we could open as scheduled at 10:00. As the Ship's Store tent was made ready for business, it was clear that the chilly weather would mean a big day for sweatshirt sales. A steady flow of visitors, 683 in all, meant plenty of time to answer questions from the curious and appreciative crowd. There was no need to explain to visitors about what they were seeing-many shared bits of their own canal connections. Those connections were reinforced by the music and storytelling taking place in the replacement tent that had been erected for the Erie Canal Museum. The music included the lively folk opera, "Never Tickle a Mule"!

The otherwise routine day ended with Kathleen flying in after being with her family, and Art returning from a short day back in Vermont. The regulars were back on deck for the night.

Photo by Gary Fischer
Oswego Canal Lock 1 at Phoenix

SUNDAY, August 19
After the usual "all hands on deck" briefing with Captain Roger, we headed out for Fulton at 9:15AM. As we cleared the very narrow channel onto Onondaga Lake, small green herons and their great blue cousins were everywhere we looked. The Lois crossed the large, empty lake and we said farewell to the Syracuse skyline in the background. From there it was back onto the Erie Canal for a short run, and then we started up the Oswego canal at Three Rivers. The Oswego is more a canalized natural river than a manmade waterway. We passed town recreational parks, quaint summer cottages, neat suburban homes and large estates along the way to the first lock at Phoenix. People there were especially friendly and enthused with our passing through their town. Travel continued-at times with Jeff at the wheel and Churchill on bow watch. It had been 100 years or more since our forebears may have done the same. We eased into Lock two in Fulton in mid-afternoon, and a very short distance later, we tied up for the night just above Lock Three. Evidently we were something of a small attraction. Townspeople had noted our arrival and began stopping by to greet us and chat. Among them was Bill Mason, age 94. He told us some of the stories his grandmother shared about her days on a canal boat and how much he was enjoying reading the Bartley journals. He shared his grandmother's recalling a wait for cargo in New York City that led to a walk into the city to watch a torch-light parade celebrating the election of Lincoln. Hearing his enthusiastic story, Art welcomed him on board for a short tour and he was nearly overcome with gladness for our allowing him to visit a boat similar to those his grandmother-and Bartley-would have known. All agreed that "this is what it is all about"- reconnecting old and young to their canaler past and the vital roles played by these little vessels.

As evening settled in, fish were jumping everywhere in this short space between the locks. Once again, some were wishing we had fishing gear on board! The lockmaster made the showers and bathrooms available to us. Another friendly Fulton visitor provisioned a welcome "country club" set up on shore- and several crew members sat about as dusk turned to darkness sharing tales of time on boats and waters far and near. As night crept in, the young lock tender from number 3 visited with us and let us in on some behind the scenes perspectives of the life of an Oswego Canal lockmaster. A chilly night with few clouds and many stars overhead said "good night" to the sleepers on deck.

Photo by Gary Fischer
Sunset from Syracuse Inner Harbor

Generosity Abounds!

Thank you!

Rebecca Klossner, Eric Weber and The Syracuse Lakefront Development Corporation for all your help and efforts to make our visit a great success.

Erie Canal Museum

CrestHill Suites for the 2 very compfortable suites for 2 nights of our stay.

The Central New York Community Foundation

WaterBanks Event Company

The Edgewater Group

Nojaim Brothers Supermarket for the very generous gift certificates.

Senator John DeFanncisco

Phone: 802-475-2022