St. Albans | June 21
by Zach Ralph, National Park Service
SUNDAY, JUNE 21, 2009
This is my second voyage and season aboard the sailing canal boat and being the youngest and greenest crew member I have also earned the title of "Head Crew." This very lofty title designates me as cleaner of the head which, for those of you who aren't sailors, is a nautical term for the toilets. While this may not seem like a very luxurious position it is a job that needs to be done and makes someone like me feel more like a member of the crew and is therefore a pleasure. This feeling of pleasure should not be mistaken as a joy of cleaning the toilets, but as feeling a part of a very smart, talented and fun crew.
Having already experienced one voyage aboard the Lois McClure last summer, I had certain expectations as to what this summer's voyage might bring and assumed that it would be very similar to the previous trip. Our trip from Burlington to St Albans was the first indication of how every experience, no matter how similar to another, is unique and different. Instead of storm clouds gathering on both shores of Lake Champlain as they did last year, there were hardly any to be seen at all. The wind was not blowing in our teeth but from the stern, so as soon as we left Burlington we were able to raise the sails and for my first time aboard the Lois McClure we sailed. I was finally able to see Lois in her finest state; she was no longer a box with masts on it but a majestic and graceful sail boat that is surprisingly capable of reaching high speeds. I watched as the boat raced off at its fastest speeds ever reaching 8.25 knots, and as our tugboat the C.L. Churchill was left in her spray. We left Burlington at around 9:30 a.m. after our usual morning meeting. We raced up the lake enjoying the quiet of the lake and muffled creaking of the wooden boat. We watched in awe as the beautiful shores of Vermont and New York slipped by us. When we reached the Gut we lowered our sails so that we could safely go under the draw bridge and attached the tug again, which pulled us under the bridge and the rest of the way to St Albans. We made it to our destination by 4:00 p.m. and Roger docked us with a skill that still impresses me. The men women and children fishing off the dock watched in wonder as the Lois made her way into the same location that nearly 200 years ago had produced one of the first of her kind, the Gleaner, which was also the first to pass through the newly finished Champlain Canal.
The Lois McClure going through the draw bridge at the Gut (Grand Isle). Photo by Kerry Batdorf
The people fishing remained on the docks the entire time that we were docked in St Albans, cleverly catching large fish that enjoy the shadowy water underneath our boat. The fine weather from the first day didn't last as rain and strong winds whipped the boat all day. Unfortunately, the weather dissuaded large numbers of people from coming aboard. The delay between visitors coming aboard led us to all be a little more enthusiastic than normal with the people who did come, two or three of us would rush towards a couple as they stepped on deck in an attempt to be the first one to give them a tour. Our efforts probably startled the visitors as well as impressed them. The free time between visitors allowed me to interact with some of the volunteers, who we're always grateful for. I chatted with Michelle Consejo who is the State Representative for Swanton and Sheldon and the only French born representative in the House of Representatives. Being a Political Science as well as a French major myself we always have much to discuss. Our conversations which bounce between politics, French life, and philosophy in both French and English are always lively and very enlightening to me. The conversations also make me happy to know that there are such smart and involved people who represent the fine people of this great State of Vermont. One of the greatest things about my already fabulous job is meeting and speaking with all the volunteers who come aboard, all of whom have had a unique set of experiences in their lives and so always have something interesting to discuss. Our first day ended with a special moment for the Franco-American Festival; a gala evening event. Sheltered from the weather in a lavishly decorated tent, revelers enjoyed Franco-American folk music, fine food, and good company. Many notable folks attended including Governor Douglas, representatives from Quebec and Senator Patrick Leahy's office. It was a spectacular start to this Quadricentennial Signature Event. Our hats off to festival planners Chris Rottler and Karen Bresnahan, both of whom worked tirelessly and competently to pull it all together.
Friday, June 19th and our second day with visitors was more lively. A steady stream of people throughout the day allowed for all the crew members to get back in the groove of interpreting to several hundred people a day. It's a strange phenomenon that after speaking with several hundred people a day I'll be exhausted but still capable of telling the same history over and over again. I attribute this phenomenon to the actual history I'm passing on. It is so important to the history of Vermont and the United States and is also very relevant to what's going on in today's life. Samuel Champlain's exploration of Lake Champlain as well as the history of sailing canal boats is a great story that people of all ages can enjoy and visualize when they are aboard this magnificent boat. I was pleased to discover that several Quebecois had ventured south across the border to visit our boat. I was able to speak French with them which I had not expected to do much this summer. I just came back from an exchange program to the south of France so it was very interesting to hear the differences between the French-Canadian and French spoken language. While both are the same language there is a very distinct difference between the two which I believe to be a combination of different vocabulary words but also in intonation since the Québécois French often time sounds like someone speaking English just in a different language. The somewhat good weather on Friday increased the number of visitors that day.
The cargo hold of the Lois McClure. Who knew "a cargo ship could be that cool!"
Saturday, June 20th was a wonderful last day open to visitors in St Albans. Large crowds of people and entire families came to see our strangely shaped boat. It was very nice to see that many people who had seen the boat the day before came back to show their friends and family. It is not uncommon to see a young child escorting their parents around the boat explaining everything to them that they remembered from a previous voyage. There were also lots of people who had come aboard the Lois when she was in St Albans in either 2004 or 2006 and had come back to visit her again because they were so impressed the first time. I was on the gangway greeting people and so was able to talk to nearly every person who came on and left the boat while I was there. From this position I was able to observe a general sense of surprise from the visitors leaving the boat who "had no idea a cargo ship could be that cool!" Crowds of people came throughout the entirety of the day and at times filled the deck of the Lois. The end of the day brought an impressive total of over 650 visitors bringing the final number of visitors in St. Albans over 1000. This number is a positive beginning to our voyage and creates optimism for the rest of our "Discover 1609 Tour."
Hannaford Supermarket, South Burlington