August 26, 2007

Ship's Log - Rome


Mary Ellen Manock has been associated with the Lois McClure since the keel was laid in Burlington. Her husband Jerry was a three year volunteer in the building process especially as the assistant to the rigger and Mary Ellen sewed the curtains for the cabin. She and Jerry crewed on The Grand Journey from Lake Champlain to New York Harbor in 2005. Returning to crew again this year on the Grand Canal Journey, she has also helped with painting the deck of the Churchill.

She returns to life in Burlington contributing to community building efforts at ECHO, Art's Alive, Burlington City Arts, and at the Chittenden Emergency Foodshelf.

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Photo by Hilton Dyer
Oswego Canal Lift Bridge

We: Elisa, Lauren, Hilton, Jerry, and I, the replacement crew, arrived in Oswego on Wednesday, midday, to jump into the second day of interpretation for the public. I was happy to carry on with random conversations as they developed, answering questions with my memory from two years ago about life aboard, what these boats did, and what they carried. I met a woman, her husband and two boys who were experiencing the canal with parents/grandparents from Skaneateles. They were carrying bicycles aboard a hired boat. I had childhood friends from Skaneateles so, I enjoyed the "do you know?" game.

Oswego lies at the mouth of the Oswego River at Lake Ontario. The breakwater protecting the harbor is reminiscent of our own in Burlington Harbor only larger and the backdrop in this case to the north is "never ending water" as Oswego's motto, "Where the water never ends" suggests.

Photo by Jerry Manock
Erie Canal Pier

We got underway at 8 AM the next morning and headed south, up the Oswego Canal. At the first lock it was the Lois and the people from Skaneateles. The others sped out of the lock when we reached the upper level and, we didn't see them or any other boat for the rest of the day. It was overcast and warm; we didn't get the rain 'til after lunch. We had pulled into Lock E23, the first of the Erie Canal locks I was to encounter, at 6 PM. There was a sweet woman on the starboard side in a blue poncho holding a paper sign saying, "Hi, I am from Charlotte, Vermont" Soon she was close enough to carry on a conversation and, I learned that she had been waiting for us at that quiet, remote lock since 2:30PM. She was on her way to join a day boating excursion out of Oswego the next day and would see us in Rome on her way back in a few days. We tied up and we went ashore needing to stretch our legs.

After a dinner of grilled pork chops, broccoli, sauerkraut and mac and cheese we waited for the large barge due to come through @8:30PM. We toured the old power house with the lock keeper. The machinery was freshly painted and the brass polished to a high luster, to the level of Sir Joseph Porter. The gentleman was previously a large machinery mechanic and we decided he certainly qualifies to be the "Leader of the Queen's Navy." The place was spotless and every piece of metal grating, covering, railing (red), as well as the old machinery (green), was freshly painted in rich enamel.

Photo by Kerry Batdorf
Tug Benjamin Elliott

Finally the barge arrived. It was being pushed by the tug Benjamin Elliot, a familiar sight from the Waterford Tugboat Roundup. Just as the canal barges of the 1860's were built larger to fit the new locks, so this barge was built exactly within inches of the dimensions of the lock. Benjamin Elliot eased her into the lock and out again in silence without a bump or squeak.

Bedtime at 10:30 PM and a good sleep in that quiet place with only a ten minute interruption at 3:30 AM when someone threw a very large bowling ball onto the deck and it rolled all the way to the stern. Then, there was a floodlight flash and several more bowling balls, Thunder, lightning and rain came hard and fast and then stopped just as abruptly.

Dawn in the mist was muggy, buggy, and green; we slipped out on very flat water at 6:40 AM, heading for Winter Harbor to pick up a guest who was to ride aboard across Lake Oneida. We were at the dock at 7:30 AM on the nose; Russ Andrews arrived and was aboard within minutes and we were off. Our guest was a commissioner of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. He had missed coming aboard at a previous stop so he jumped at the offer. Russ made the effort to talk to everyone aboard and we all had a sunny crossing, past Sylvan Beach and into the canal. He was off at lock 21.

Photo by Kerry Batdorf
Mules pulling a Packet Boat at the Erie Canal Village

We made it down the 18 mile straight stretch to Rome by afternoon. The sky was changing; the clouds were moving and rumbling. The lightning hit hard nearby on a water tower. It did clear for supper and allowed for the exhibit panel set up but the Ship's Store tent was left for the next day. With some of the crew in motel rooms for the night those of us on board were awakened three times with knock-down-drag-out thunder claps and ensuing downpours. The nice wet deck was helpful in the deck scrubbing process the next morning. After chores were done, we all took off to visit the Erie Canal Village.

Melody Meliwski met and welcomed us, and gave us a short intro. We were at the spot where the Erie was first dug (1817-1825) to connect the Mohawk River to the Wood Creek across the high ground known to the native tribes here as "The Great Carry" or portage. In 1790 this rudimentary water route was guarded by Fort Stanwix in the middle of what is now Rome and Fort Bull, near Three Rivers. We toured the village, attended Michael Milewski's black smith presentation and later watched him hitch the mules and tow the packet boat on one of the four original sections of the canal. The village is situated there for the purpose of raising that awareness. School children are a large part of their business. We were impressed with their dedication both of them having worked there for 18-26 years, respectively, and from our observation are responsible for it's success.

They and Melody's parents arrived to tour Lois on Sunday. The mayor came aboard to kick off the Rome visit with an introduction and welcome the captain and the crew at 10 AM. The day was filled with 340 visitors with curious and enthusiastic questions and we all responded with new and creative answers. The evening brought a steady flow from the mayor of Rome's fundraiser taking place under a tent on the knoll above the canal. We were treated to people in black tie & coctail dresses carrying wineglasses and cheerful martini drinkers until 8 PM.

Photo by Kerry Batdorf
Susan Jones, NPS Ranger at Ft. Stanwix

Monday was another public day with 227 visitors. Most all of our crew had visited Fort Stanwix on Saturday to hear Susan Jones, the ranger. She visited us for a few hours, listening to our story on board Sunday. I think she was flattered and pleased that Jerry and I (we had missed it on Saturday) appeared at the Fort, although late in the day, Monday to catch her tour. She was dressed in period dress of 1777 as a US Army private, delighting us with facts, anecdotes and stories revealing her knowledge, talents, and sense of humor. We said "Good bye to Rome" early Tuesday. Three hours and 10-12 miles later we entered Lock 20 "high" and rode the water "down" starting the decent toward Waterford.

Having just arrived in Utica as I write this, there will be a public day tomorrow, Wednesday, with fireworks at dusk. Five of us will leave and be replaced by fresh volunteers and staff back from R&R. Tom will leave to go back to school but, has promised to return to Waterford not to miss the festivities and fireworks there. From my short week aboard I can tell he has done a "yeoman's job" , has enjoyed the summer, and will be missed.

Generosity Abounds!

Thank You!

Mayor James Brown and the City of Rome, NY for the ice and Dippin' Donuts and for the hotel room.

Phone: 802-475-2022