Captain's Log | Midway-- Part 2
by Roger Taylor
We took longer to get the schooner moored at Fisk Point, Isle La Motte, on June 25th, than it took to tow her up there from Rouses Point. The Wind Gods provided a gentle to moderate southerly as we headed south. By noon, when we reached the cove on the south side of the point, it was nearly calm. This was lucky (thank you, WGs) because we were to lie port side to a small float and essentially had to hold the schooner in place without putting much strain on the float itself. The float was moored to the old stone groin at which vessels used to load Isle La Motte black marble from the Fisk Quarry, but the little float was for access to the schooner, not to hold her.
We started by dropping an anchor in a position that would put it out ahead of the schooner, toward open water, when she was moved into her berth at the float. Next we sent a stern line ashore in the Oocher and tied it round a strategically oriented tree. By having a half dozen of the crew heave on this line while the Oocher helped by pushing against the schooner's stern, at the same time slacking out some anchor chain, we moved the Lois into a rough position off the float. To help with the final adjustment, we added another stern line to a tree, a line to an adjacent, vacant mooring and a couple of bow lines to iron posts in a concrete block on the end of the groin. When all was secure and the boat's position was tweaked to a nicety, we ran out another anchor with the Churchill, a sort of God-forbid anchor, out toward the wide-open northwest so that if it blew hard from that direction we would have the proverbial anchor to windward. For this we used the Rose Garden anchor. This a lovely, big, old-fashioned anchor of the symbol-of-hope design that was adorning, until recently, a rose garden at the Museum. We figured that it would be more useful as an ornament on the schooner's bow, one that might hold her off a lee shore in a hard chance.
At Fisk Point, we were treated like royalty. We were invited to sumptuous dinners. All the off-duty crew members slept at Selby Turner's lovely, old farmhouse. Jerry himself was on hand for the free serving of his and Ben's ice cream. We hob-nobbed with famous artists at their gallery showing. (I hadn't realized that Lake Champlain's own Ernie Haas has also captured precisely the maritime auras of Nova Scotia, Maine, Gloucester, and the Chesapeake Bay.)
But the big thrill at Fisk Point was to tie up in the very spot where Captain William Montgomery moored the General Butler to load her final cargo of stone and from which he left on the fateful morning of December 9, 1876. That cargo, of course, is still on board the Butler, on the bottom off the Burlington breakwater. I thought it was perhaps better to remember the many successful deliveries of stone from the Fisk Quarry.
There is a photograph of Fisk Landing, made in about 1890, in Art Cohn's book, Lake Champlain's Sailing Canal Boats (p. 182). It shows four young lads sitting on the rail near the stern of the scow schooner William Montgomery, with Fisk Point in the background. We thought wouldn't it be great to duplicate that photo 120 years later by posing four young lads near the stern of the Lois McClure, with an unchanged Fisk Point in the background? I suggested the idea to Sam Gibson, who, during our visit, had already made and given us many fine photographs of the Lois McClure. He couldn't wait to try it.
Boys at Fisk Landing Sitting on the Scow Schooner Wm. Montgomery, circa 1890. Courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society.
The hitch was that the photographer of 1890 had been standing where there was now a mass of the thick foliage of trees and shrubs. Sam would have to shoot from a different position, on the float's gangway. That meant we'd have to move the schooner off the float fifty feet or so to get the same angle relative to the Point in the background and hold her there while Sam did his work. Well, no problem. Didn't we have lines out in all directions?
After the photography, we retrieved our shore and mooring lines, picked up our two anchors, and were away, towing on the hip, for North Hero. Back through the Grand Isle bridge (thank you ma'am), up the east shore of Isle La Motte, and into City Bay. We knew there would be shallow water at the North Hero floating dock, so we sent the Oocher in to find out just how shallow. Kerry Batdorf and Tom Larsen, the Oocher crew, reported nearly five feet of water if we didn't go any closer to shore than we had to. So we brought the schooner in parallel to the shore and snuggled her bow right up to the outer end of the floating dock. Then ooched the stern gently in toward shore until it was alongside the dock, using you-know-who. We found that the Churchill with her 41/2-foot draft, in her usual spot on the hip, had only a couple of inches between the shoe protecting her propeller and the bottom, so we moved her forward alongside the schooner, out into deep (at least another six inches) water.
Then, in a pattern that was becoming familiar, we sought ways to hold the vessel in place without putting much strain on the floating dock. We sent the Oocher off with our other old-fashioned anchor, an Admiralty-pattern model, to drop it well out off the bow. Sternline to a tree ashore. So far, so good, but we still needed a way to keep her from pulling or pushing sideways on the dock.
Before we started this cruise, I had remarked to Art and Erick, both master divers, what a comfort it was to me to have such talent as theirs available. Underwater problems often occur in this business, and it is wonderful to have in the crew the skill (and the equipment) to solve them. At North Hero, we had underwater opportunities. Our divers, always more aware of what is beneath the surface than are we mere sailors, spotted a couple of mooring blocks on the bottom, one just off the bow near the dock, and the other just off the outboard side of the schooner. If only we could get lines through the bails on those mooring blocks, we'd have a perfect way of keeping the schooner where we wanted her. This took Erick about twenty minutes, most of which was spent wrapping the lines with chafing gear where they bore on the rusty bails. Well, all right!
Despite two out of three rainy days at North Hero, more than 1,000 people came on board. What a privilege to be able to cause more than 1,000 smiles! And the rain brought us three more inches of water at the dock.
On July 3rd, we towed back through the Grand Isle bridge one more time and went south around Providence Island. We were headed for the cut in the causeway that was the old railroad route, the break in the causeway being our route into the outer bay at Malletts Bay. "Not so fast," said the Wind Gods. We had been watching a huge pile of black cloud gradually overtake us from the West. Before we could get to the cut, the squall burst on us. We headed into it and the lee of Stave Island. It only blew hard (maybe 30 knots) for a few minutes, but the rain blotted out everything but the shadow of Stave, and we witnessed a half dozen nearby lightning bolts. How near? Too close to guess the distance by counting seconds between lightning and thunderclap; there were no seconds. A visual estimate would be two or three boat-lengths, but it's hard to tell. Close enough to make you realize that it's just a matter of luck out there in a squall like that. We had our chains overboard, connecting wire standing rigging to the water in hopes that the rig might act as a big lightning rod, but with that much voltage, you never know. Anyway, the Lois McClure's good luck held.
Stormy skies on the way to Malletts Bay. Photo by Kathleen Carney.
After the squall passed, we entered as pretty a part of Samuel de Champlain's lake as any, and we had on board a local pilot, Tom Raub. Malletts Bay is a landlocked harbor that would take the whole U.S. Atlantic Fleet, if you could get it there. High, wooded islands in the southwest corner give added protection from the north for small craft (smaller than the Fleet).
At Malletts Bay, we faced another extra-complicated mooring situation. I won't bore you with the details of this one: suffice it to say that the schooner ended up in three feet of water, so we had to get her in there and back out again next day without the Churchill. After taking the schooner in as far as she could, the tug cast off and was welcomed at The Moorings Marina, alongshore a way.
The Glorious Fourth brought us more than 1,000 visitors, just in the one day. They were entertained by music and dancing, as well as being informed about a canal schooner of 1862 by a crew that is becoming more and more expert on both the history involved and good ways of explaining it, always guided and inspired by Art Cohn.
The fireworks were to be set off from the beach a stone's throw from the schooner's mooring, so we wasted no time getting her out to an anchor in deep water so the Churchill could come onto the hip. The tug towed her out to an unobstructed berth beyond the spectator fleet, where we again dropped anchor, for the night. The fireworks were like a three-ring circus, the main act being at Bayside Park, with auxiliary displays around the circumference of the bay. The finale brought a standing ovation of boat horns.
When we set sail outside Malletts Bay next day, we left the reef tied into the mainsail, because the forecast was for a NW wind of up to 25 knots. Well, the Wind Gods didn't give us another Famous Shove (the northerly never blew more than about 15 knots),
but we had a very pleasant sail. The breeze took its time coming up; we kept the tug on the hip after making sail and towed up to Colchester Reef. Then we saw the ripples start to just begin to roll over a little and make bubbles, not real whitecaps yet, but just enough action to let us know that the schooner had a sailing breeze. The Churchill cast off to keep station astern, and we shaped a course to the south, toward The Brothers, on a broad reach. Even with our weather-forecast reef, the schooner slipped along easily, first at three, then four, and then five knots, as the breeze made a little. It's always amazing how little power it takes to move this vessel displacing some 50 tons (carrying a small cargo of 11 tons of stone) but drawing less than two feet. That physical equation is, of course, the reason why water transport was (and still is) practical.
We put the schooner on the other tack and had a fine reach in toward Burlington, wind abeam. Reaching the breakwater at about 1 p.m., we ran off outside it, down past the Burlington waterfront. If you had been on Perkins Pier, looking out, you'd have seen a microcosm of Lake Champlain in 1862.
The Churchill met us and took the schooner in tow while she folded her wings. We landed at Perkins Pier at 3 p.m. The Wind Gods, having been so kind to us all day, were not able to resist a little teasing. Just as we approached our slot in the calm harbor, they puffed their cheeks for a moment and sent a gust to shove us sideways. Well, we won't hold that against them. The Oocher was on station at the bow and gave it a good push to pivot the Lois around a piling and get her lined up again; the Lois McClure's faithful roving-fender patrol, Barb Batdorf and Kathleen Carney, made sure the schooner's paint was well protected.
A good crowd was on hand to welcome home the Lois McClure. They were serenaded by the Atlantic Crossing band. And, as she so often does, the lady for whom the vessel is named was on the dock to make sure all was well with her namesake. It is wonderful to have her continued support.
So ended the first leg of this voyage of discovery.