Positioning the boat on the marine railway

Ship’s Log: How to get Lois McClure out of the water

By Elisa Nelson, Schooner Tour and Volunteer Coordinator

On the calm morning of September 3, the crew of the Lois McClure took a short trip to Shelburne Shipyard for our Coast Guard-required haul-out and hull inspection. This meant, of course, that Lois had to come out of the water, so we had an exciting (but actually quite slow) morning maneuvering the schooner onto the Lake Champlain Transportation Company’s marine railway to get it out of the water.

The process of moving a 45-ton, 88-foot long boat out of the water is very interesting. Most boats can be removed from the water via a travel lift. In a travel lift a boat moves into a boat slip and a large four-wheeled crane rolls out on tracks – over and on either side of the boat – and straps are placed under the boat. When the straps are lifted, the boat is lifted out of the water. The cranes then rolls back on its tracks towards land, and lowers the boat either onto a trailer, or onto a cradle for storage.

There is no travel lift on Lake Champlain, however, that can handle the Lois McClure. Instead, we use the marine railway at Lake Champlain Transportation Company (LCT). The marine railway itself is a significant artifact of Lake Champlain history. Much of the machinery in the winch house, which pulls the platform in and out, dates back to the late 1920s. This marine railway has been in regular operation hauling the ferries of the LCT fleet out of the water since the 1920s.

Collage of four images showing the boat approaching the railway and being lifted out of the water

The railway works by sliding a large work platform down a set of rails into the lake until it is submerged. Once the platform is deep enough, the boat can be brought in and aligned with the wooden blocking on the platform. Scuba divers work in the water around the boat to make sure it is in position so that weight will be properly distributed. Once everything is set, the machinery clanks to life and the platform is slowly pulled up the rails and to the maintenance buildings.

Lois in the middle of the work platform

While we always think of Lois McClure as a large boat, and Lois is the largest sailboat on Lake Champlain, when the schooner is on the work platform, it looks quite small! In comparison, the LCT ferries that the platform usually holds are about three times wider than the Lois and two or three times as long.

While Lois is out of the water for inspection, we are also taking this opportunity to do a few repairs below the waterline. Shipwrights Rob Thompson and Garret Eisele have removed some of the 15-year-old pine planking and replaced it with white oak. Volunteers have been scraping bottom paint, puttying seams, setting bungs, and are getting ready to apply a few coats of new bottom paint. This work will add a few years of good service to the Lois so the schooner can continue its job as ambassador of Lake Champlain history, culture, and ecological awareness around the lake and around our interconnected regional waterways.

In less than two weeks, the schooner will be back in the water just in time to have masts removed and to head into the winter berth. Plans are underway for next year’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment for Women’s Suffrage. We will be celebrating Women Leaders of Lake Champlain, past, present and future. Stay tuned for more about that soon – make sure you are signed up for emails from us to be the first to know Lois’s tour schedule and more: http://eepurl.com/gllqZz

We would like to express our sincere thanks to the Lake Champlain Transportation Company (LCT), for generously donating the use of their marine railway, again.  Ever since the idea of building the Lois came forward in 2000, LCT has been a committed partner in our efforts. Our thanks to LCT for their generous donation and continued support.