by Matt Witten
October 3, 2011
Port Henry, former home of blast furnaces, dock wallopers, and most recently, of the Champlain Bridge’s new arch. Port Henry’s massive concrete jetty makes an easy target for docking, and sheltered both the Lois and our companion, the historic New York State Tugboat Urger, from the north waves.
The town dock is only about 200 yards from the Flatiron Company’s site for assembling the Champlain Bridge’s graceful metal arch. Only weeks ago the massive structure was sent south on barges to be raised into the waiting arms of the New York and Vermont bridge approaches that are supported by concrete abutments. Though the arch has departed, the activity at Flatiron’s site has not yet ceased. An immense crane lowers its cable down to wrench out metal sheet pilings that had been pounded in place to create a solid staging platform for the massive construction project. There is a large hammer winch hanging on the end of the cable that pulls out each piling. It intermittently stutters out its harsh metallic sound.
We had a large number of students visit the boat during our stay here. The first day it was Crown Point Central School and then the second day we had school groups from Moriah Central and St. Mary’s of Ticonderoga, ranging from third grade to seventh grade.
The third-graders were wonderfully curious. Using the windlass to haul up the anchor and turning the ship’s wheel were clearly big thrills for them. The rain held off, but north the wind bit into the kids. To keep them warm on deck, every once in a while we did rapid make-believe exercises including turning a wheel, hauling on a line, and pushing on a boat. It got the blood moving.
Some of these kids returned with their families after school. We always encourage this and let them know that they can guide their families when they come. They take this very seriously. The pride, knowledge and ownership on their beaming faces when they come back to the boats is a joy to behold! Ahead of their pack, they yank themselves up the gangway as if they are seasoned mariners and excitedly show their parents every nook and cranny of the schooner. One 9-year-old girl’s father said with a wry grin, “When I got home she wouldn’t let me out of my truck. We had to come right down here.”
What could be more satisfying to a group of interpreters than that? A close second was having the perk of being within striking distance of Erick and Sarah Tichonuk’s house. It is just a mile or two up the hill, so they became hosts to a stream of crew members, both from the Lois and from the Urger. They were very welcoming and accommodating!