Although the official departure of the Lois McClure on the 2010 World Canals Tour wasn’t until July 22nd, we did get underway on the 20th in order to shift berth from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s North Harbor to the Steamboat Dock at Basin Harbor.And we took the opportunity to go the long way, crossing the Lake to the Westport Marina so that we could empty sanitary tanks (it’s a term I’ve held over from old Navy days, but why does the Navy call obviously unsanitary tanks sanitary tanks?) and fill water and fuel tanks. That done, we re-crossed the Lake, towing on the hip with the trusty tugboat, C. L. Churchill, made more trusty than ever this year by further re-planking and an overhauled transmission.
That berth at the Steamboat Dock at the Basin Harbor Club has a view made famous by the well-travelled Mark Twain, who, when he gazed back toward Westport from the spot where we moored the schooner, called it the best view he had yet seen in all the world. Well, the purple mountain majesties of the Adirondacks, fading, peak by peak, into the distance are a fine sight. We used the place for prosaic purposes: Curtis arrived with a crane truck from Brown’s Welding of Bristol to do the heavy lifting, as we struck the schooner’s rig and stowed spars and sails overhead on deck on their T-braces. Curtis had to lift everything higher than it had ever been lifted before, up over a tent structure on the dock and a tree, so that he could lay it all out on the grass, while the T-braces were set up. He moved the loads slowly and precisely. The only time he hurried a little was at the first rumble of thunder, when he swung his boom right round, shortened it with the flick of a lever, and housed it, just like that. As we waited out the squall, we knew we were in good hands.
The highlight of our loading day, the 21st, was that we got to exchange a modern, patented anchor of the late 20th Century for a traditional, symbol-of-hope anchor, the type that has held vessels for a good many centuries. We love to take any step that will make our replica sailing canal boat more authentic.
So, the Lois McClure’s World Canals Tour commenced on July 22nd. We were not off on an actual circumnavigation, but we were heading for Rochester, where the schooner would be one of the centerpieces, from September 19th to 24th, for the World Canals Conference, a gathering of canal historians, operators, and promoters to share ideas, research, and experiences focused on canals around the world. We were looking forward to showing them a vessel that holds so much canal history from our part of the world.
Towing south, up the Lake, we looked, from habit, for the towers of the Champlain Bridge showing above the trees of Chimney Point. Instead, we saw the tops of large, floating derricks.
Nowadays, instead of the stately bridge, there is an elaborate construction site for a new bridge, crisscrossed by two ferries, running about every fifteen minutes. We were glad to assure their skippers, on the radio, that we would wait for them to cross our bow before proceeding along the marked channel through the underwater remains of the old bridge. It seemed strange not be looking up at our old friend as we went through.
We broke our trip to Whitehall by anchoring for the night just south of Fort Ticonderoga. And a lovely break it was: a quiet cove; the old Fort, and Mounts Independence and Defiance to lend an aura of history; a welcome dive into the Lake to cool off; a sunset and a moonrise that vied with each other for prizes.
Next day, we completed the tow to Whitehall up the narrow, southern part of the Lake. Saw several weed boats at work, contesting possession of the channel with the water chestnuts. Had two interesting maneuvering situations with pleasure boats to remind us that we are travelling the waterway in high season. Went through Lock 12, the first of many on this Tour, to enter the Champlain Canal. We were pleased that our experienced crew picked right up, on all our various maneuvers, with where we had left off last year, as if we had been practicing all winter. But again, our watchword is: “Avoid complacency.”
Whitehall is always a special place for the Lois McClure. The citizens welcome us with plenty of interested visitors and, after the “Closed” sign goes up, with great dinners. This year was no exception. Of course, as a New Englander, I have to be careful to be politically correct, because I was brought up to believe that Marblehead’s schooner Hannah…well, you know, it’s that whole thing about the birthplace of the U. S. Navy.
On July 25th, we continued south on the canal to Fort Edward.
Last year, the Hudson River, upstream and down from Lock 7, had been a scene of intense activity, as a huge fleet of dredges, barges, and tugs worked to remove PCB-laden mud from the bottom of the River. On this day, as we went through the lock, all was deserted: dredges gone, barges moored out of the channel, and tugs hauled out ashore, parked in a neat row. The dredging is to stop for a year. It will be a year of measuring the effects on the water column of stirring up the bottom, followed by a decision of continuing the process, or not.
Last year’s dredging operation had prevented us from going up the narrow bend in the Hudson beside Lock 7 to the Yacht Basin, so it was nice to renegotiate that passage, squeezing under the railroad and road bridges, dodging the mud bank just upstream, and tying up to the fine wall at the park. Fort Edward welcomed us back with a good crowd of visitors and a memorable dinner at Ye Old Fort Diner.
On south to Schuylerville on the 27th. Leaving Fort Edward required spinning the McClure, tug on hip, in her own length, before heading down through the obstacle course. I love to have the Oocher, our inflatable with the 50-h.p. Honda, tie on to the schooner’s bow and pull her right around. But this morning, I got a bit enthusiastic about the maneuver and had to ask Kerry Batdorf and Tom Larsen, the Oocher crew, to push hard against the bow to stop it from continuing to swing. The Oocher showed that she can shove, as well as ooch.
At Schuylerville, these days, we have the luxury of mooring at a fine, floating dock that has been installed at the big park at Hudson’s Crossing, put in, at least in part, to make our visits as convenient as possible. Mercy. Are we ever spoiled! And the word of our Tour seems to be spreading: in our first three stops, we’ve had more than 400 folks on board. Many are stepping on the schooner’s deck for the first time, but many, also, are familiar with the vessel, and are returning to drink in more of the history lessons she teaches.
Kathleen Carney, our commissary officer, is getting worried. She and Elisa Nelson and Barb Batdorf did a major provisioning before we got underway, and we’ve been fed so well by our hosts—Schuylerville included—that we’re not emptying her food lockers fast enough. Not to worry, we are all most grateful for the hospitality we’ve been receiving. (And the Commissary loves having a night off!)
On to Waterford, where the Champlain and Erie Canals meet. This was a five- lock day, and one during which we needed no particular admonitions against complacency.There was a fluky breeze, with little, unexpected gusts from hither and yon. Erick Tichonuk, the First Mate, and I trade off on taking the conn for locking through. This day, between the two of us, I think we used every one of the many fenders we have hanging on the sides of both schooner and tugboat. Oh well, we remind each other; that’s what they’re for.
John Callaghan, Waterford’s premier canal and tugboat man and a great friend of the Lois McClure, not only met us at the wall, where we tied up just ahead of the big towboats Margot and Chancellor, to make sure we had every possible shore facility, but also invited the crew to a great cookout in his delightful backyard. We’ll never eat our way through our stores at this rate.
I write this on a lay day in Waterford, the 30th of July. Tomorrow, we head west on the Erie Canal.