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Our Shared Heritage Tour
Notre Patrimoine Le Long des Voies Navigables
Schooner Lois McClure | SHIP'S LOG
Roger Taylor
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 has been captain of Lois McClure since her Inaugural Tour in 2004. He now resides with his wife Kathleen on their other canal boat Water Lily in Paris, France. 

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Captain's Log | Conclusion

The Captain's Log, second half of Canadian voyage

When we left the magic of the Batiscan River on July 10th, we had a new, improved towing method for the Lois McClure. Yes, once again we had a head wind, so the sails had to stay furled. The schooner can work to windward under sail, but it is a slow process, and, against the current of the St. Lawrence River, it would be a losing game. Wanting as much speed through the water as possible to match against the downstream flow, we put the Oocher to work, as well as the Churchill. We lashed her along the opposite side to the Churchill, and, voila! we had a twin-screw set-up. Picked up our anchors (we'd had a stern anchor out to keep the schooner from swinging to the flood tide in the narrow river) and just spun her around to head out by going astern on the tug and ahead on the Oocher, "putting a twist on." Once out in the St. Lawrence channel, we revved up the Churchill to her normal 1,400 r.p.m. cruising speed and cranked up the Oocher's 50 h.p. Honda to about 75 per cent. The Oocher, we found, was giving us nearly a knot of extra speed, which doesn't sound like much, but is well worthwhile when our speed over the ground, even so, was only about 2.5 knots.

At that speed, it took us over seven hours to make the 17 miles up to Trois Rivieres. We needed to empty sanitary tanks and fill water and fuel tanks, so we squeezed into the Trois Rivieres Marina, as tricky and crowded a berth, with strong current across its narrow entrance and a fleet of expensive-looking yachts lining the approach to the fuel dock, as I'd care to try, towing the 88-foot schooner. I was amazed that the owners of all these sleek craft were willing to leave them in harm's way, but, fortunately, we were able to get in and out again without touching anything. Mercy!

In Trois Rivieres, we had about 2,000 folks on board, despite a rainy, southwest gale on the third and last day of our stay. It didn't hurt that we shared the long, river wall with a big attraction: three Canadian Navy corvettes (ex-mine-sweepers from World War II).

On July 14th, we recrossed Lac St. Pierre. The usual head wind and an unusual amount of head current (caused by 36 hours of a fresh-to-gale-force southwester blowing down across the Lac?) slowed us to less than 2 knots. It was too rough on the Lac to tow alongside, so we towed ahead and had to give up the Oocher's boost. The trip from Trois Rivieres up to Sorel, including the crossing of the Lac, took over 12 hours. It seemed like a big exercise in patience, until we remembered that we had just experienced what would have been, for Captain Theodore Bartley, doing this for a living, a comparatively uneventful, easy day.

There aren't many sheltered places to anchor along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, but halfway from Sorel to Montreal, it looked on the chart as if the channel between the little Ile des Prunes and the long Ile Bouchard might serve us well as an overnight berth. The spot lived up to all hopes: straightforward to enter; well enough protected from the wakes of passing ships; excellent holding ground (sticky clay); except for erosion, much as Champlain himself would have seen it, at least as to the immediate surroundings; and we even had the place to ourselves.

From the first inklings of thinking about this trip to Canada, one navigational item that had stood out was the knowledge that the final approach up the river to Montreal would be against a current of 5 knots. That would stop us dead in our tracks; we knew we'd need to pick up some towing help. Erick Tichonuk made contact with Gresco, and that worthy organization, so helpful to us in many ways up and down the St. Lawrence, arranged for a Montreal pilot boat (1,000 h.p.!) to give us a pull. She met us at 12:30 on July 16th as we started up past the docks of the huge, commercial port of Montreal and took our towline out ahead to add her power to that of the Churchill and Oocher, towing on the schooner's sides. The docks, with their moored ships loading and unloading, started to drop astern with unaccustomed rapidity. When we reached what I call the photogenic buoys, the channel markers that look like the top parts of speeding, submerged submarines (in the winter, I'd sent Erick a photo of one as a potent reminder that we'd need a tow, like sending ice to Hudson's Bay at that season), the pilot boat started using quite a few of those horses. Our speed through the water crept up to something more than eight knots. Whoa! The Churchill, with a waterline length of about 32 feet, was being dragged along at more than her "hull speed." Hull speed is as fast as a boat can go, because she is making such a big wave that she sinks down into its trough and can't climb up and out. But the poor Churchill had been converted from towboat to towed boat, and she was going so fast she was sinking down into the too-long wave she was making. The smooth water was halfway up her high bow. The strain on the short line holding her bow in against the schooner's side was immense. Would it hold? If it parted, the tug was a goner; she'd sheer out, maybe be dragged over and under. But the line was oversize Dacron with, in theory, plenty of extra strength. The situation looked, and proved to be, stable. But if we ever have to do that again, we'll double up on the tug's lines.

We had a fine berth in Montreal at the Jacques Cartier pier in the heart of the Old Port. Plenty of visitors, even if not the record-breaking numbers who had been celebrating the 400th at Quebec City. We opened our gangway for six days and were rewarded with many fine conversations in which French and English met in infinite ways and the maritime history and heritage of neighbors was shared. The Lois McClure continues to bring out the best in people.

We were looking forward to riding with the river current, instead of having to fight against it. Towing alongside, now with just the Churchill, we came out of the still water of the Montreal basin and edged over into the fast-moving stream ripping down from the Lachine Rapids (being a long way from the fabled riches of the Orient, a perfect example of ironic humor in a name). Well, the ride wasn't quite as thrilling as that on the nearby roller coaster at La Ronde on the 1967 World's Fair grounds, but, at 9.5 knots, it was all right. And we hustled back down to Sorel in a mere six hours.

Not without drama, however. As we approached Sorel, the sky, back toward Montreal, became a thick, gray mass. The mist and rain of this mass gained on us. Low-lying, dark clouds formed along its leading edge, and then the bottoms of these clouds grew ragged, with tentacles reaching down. Dangerous. We started preparing the schooner's deck for the eventuality of a strong thunder squall. Awnings came down, the herb garden was sent below, the chart was moved from top of cabin house to cabin table. The washtub and washboard, 1862 props that could become missiles if it blew fifty, went down. The weather radio bleeped a warning, and we heard the word, "tornado." Sure enough, a couple of miles astern, one of the ragged tentacles was ragged no longer, but had formed into a tall, black funnel, reaching to the water. Mercy! As we watched, fascinated, the funnel turned gray. Evidently, the tornado had sucked up river and was now a waterspout. Fifty? In the middle of that thing, it could be blowing twice that. I sent all but four of the crew below to the cargo hold. In spare seconds, I found that snippets of various video tapes were playing in my head, all disastrous. Any vessel caught out in such a maelstrom (we later had an eyewitness report of extreme damage ashore that afternoon from a different twister) would suffer. But the Lois McClure is a lucky ship. Within fifteen minutes, our waterspout had drifted over land and dissipated. We were very grateful that our preparations, meager enough in the circumstances, had not been tested. All we got out of it was a heavy downpour that shut down visibility, forcing the rare use of a compass on the river.  

This time in Sorel, we were open for visiting, and the local citizenry took full advantage of the opportunity. We have to give Sorel highest marks for sheer generosity. Our crew was given many a treat, up to and including a wonderful boat trip (!) through the myriad of islands and channels along the southwest shore of Lac St. Pierre, a beautiful marshland, filled with wildfowl, that on our own passage of the Lac we had only been able to glimpse from afar.

On July 28th, we struck the rig. We struck the rig without ever having unfurled the sails! The St. Lawrence River was certainly coy, if not actually unkind, to us. We were underway in her currents and tides for ten days. She gave us one day of calm and nine days of head winds, no matter in which direction we headed. Was she saying "You must come back!" or "Don't bother!"? I like to think the former.

The Richelieu River, as we ascended it to St. Ours and Chambly, seemed tame, compared to the St. Lawrence. Partly, it was because, as we went up on July 29th and 30th, summer finally arrived in Quebec! Of course the Richelieu did provide one outstanding obstacle, an obstacle we had all been thinking of ever since we had miraculously passed it unscathed on June 19th: the dreaded Beloil railroad bridge. We had hurtled down through its narrow opening, unexpectedly narrow to us, towing alongside, and had narrowly missed disaster. Well, going back up, we would have the great advantage that now we knew exactly what we were up against. And going against current, it is always easier to maneuver than going with it. Still. We were towing ahead to minimize our beam going through the slot. And Erick came up with the invaluable idea of sending the Oocher through to the other side and around the dog-leg to warn and, hopefully, stop, boats coming down that wouldn't be able to see us until it was too late. Indeed, the Oocher crew, Kerry Batdorf and Tom Larsen, with Zach Ralph along to do the talking in French, did stop three boats while we negotiated the pass. All it took was careful steering on tug and tow. Another hurdle passed. Boat travel on rivers and canals, while inherently safer than ocean-crossing passages, seems to be more of an obstacle course than going to sea.

At the Chambly Canal, late in the day on the 30th, we went back into our routine of locking the Churchill through, then pulling the schooner, tended on the stern by the Oocher, into the locks by hand on two long bow lines. We went up the "staircase" of Locks 1, 2, and 3 this way, with Lock 1 filling from 2, 2 from 3, and 3 from the pool above. Before we knew it, almost, we were moored to the wall above Lock 3.

During our three-day stay in Chambly, we could feel the excitement building. Visitors would say, "Is it really true that when you leave, you are going to be pulled by a horse?" C'est vrai. When Captain Bartley went through the Chambly Canal, he was towed by horses, so why not? On this relatively short canal, the custom was to use horses rather than mules. Our horse was big, black, and beautiful. He was well-named: Titan.

When Titan took the strain on our long towline, the schooner went from zero to four in two seconds. The Lois McClure never accelerates faster than when she is towed by an animal. It's a miraculous feeling, achieved in silence. Titan pulled us smoothly the half-mile to Lock 4, and when we coasted in, the word-of-mouth crowd of a couple of hundred early risers was moved to applaud his work. These days, it's easy to appreciate cheap, quiet, non-polluting transportation. Hmmm. Just how far have we advanced since 1862?
In order to go back a century and a half, we had sent the Churchill and Oocher ahead, out of view, and everyone on board the canal schooner was dressed as of mid-Nineteenth Century. The man chiefly responsible for moving from two wrecked canal schooners to a new, working one, Art Cohn, happened to have missed last year's mule tow into Medina on the Erie, so we were determined he would be on board for this one. Art runs the Churchill, so he had to get a ride back to the schooner, and he had to be in checked shirt and straw hat. It seemed to be worth it, because when he arrived at Lock 4 on the bow of a canal schooner beautifully towed by animal power, he had a grin that wouldn't go away.

We went through the rest of the Chambly Canal to St. Jean-sur-Richelieu in our single-file mode. The citizens of St. Jean who came on board take the prize, I think, for being the most fascinated with this replica of a canal schooner of 1862. Many of them stayed for hours, just soaking up history in the flesh. One man, approaching the century mark, had sharp memories to share about his father's work as a farrier for the horses, like Titan, who had hauled barges on the Chambly. One lady turned out to be our 25,000th visitor!

As I write this, on the last day of the 2008 voyage of the Lois McClure, the rains have stopped, as least temporarily, and there is the prospect of fair weather for our run up Lake Champlain to Burlington. I do believe we deserve it; it seems as if we have been working against various forms of adverse conditions for much of this trip. But we have no cause to complain. We are privileged to follow in the footsteps of such canal boat people as Captain Theodore Bartley and his wife Mary (never a complaint from them!) and take this new canal boat over the routes they followed. It is our honor and pleasure to open this vessel to the people of river and canal communities and bring smiles of understanding.


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