By Evan Wing
Among the familiar sights and sounds of the Burlington waterfront – the bellowing of ferry horns, the stately procession of yachts floating down the lake, the boardwalks crowded with beachgoers, and sunset-watchers – a scene from the city’s past has quietly taken shape out at the end of Perkins Pier; after weeks of preparation the schooner Lois McClure is ready for action.
This year, our tour focuses on Lake Champlain itself, rather than any connecting waterways; while the Lois of last year played the part of a squat canal boat, under tow with masts down for most of the five-month voyage, this year Lois stands tall and flexes those sailing muscles.
On the run south from Burlington to our first tour stop in Westport, New York, the crew let fly every inch of canvas available; in its element on a comfortable broad reach, with the winds whistling out of the northwest over Split Rock, Lois came tantalizingly close to its all-time speed record of eight knots.
After a weekend of public tours, the schooner headed north to Plattsburgh, New York – a push of over forty nautical miles, and the longest leg of this year’s tour. While there, we welcomed visitors as the representative flagship for the International Year of the Salmon. A celebratory capstone to a decades-long ecological mission, the Year of the Salmon focuses both on the factors that drove salmon to the brink of extinction in the Champlain basin, and the reconstructive efforts that have begun to show real results in bringing the fish back.
After a few more days of rest and recuperation, Lois and the crew will make the hop south to Willsboro, the last New York stop on the tour before we head to Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vermont for a month. With the new mainmast broken-in with some rigorous activity and some more miles under the hull, Lois will enjoy a relaxing August dockside before making the trek up to Shelburne Shipyard for a routine haul-out and restoration, closing out the 2019 season with a little TLC from professional shipwright Rob Thompson.
As I worked on the schooner in Plattsburgh, I heard more than a few passers-by refer to Lois as a “floating museum.” I suppose in a sense that’s true – a big part of Lois’s mission is to keep the history of the canals and Lake Champlain alive, reviving a snapshot of the golden age of canal schooners that hauled goods across inland America by the thousands. But the schooner is much more than just a pretty ship on display – like its 19th century predecessors it so faithfully emulates, Lois is a working ship that “pays its way”. Though the replica schooner may be somewhat outclassed in the cargo-hauling department today, the mission as a research and educational platform has taken Lois to remarkable lengths, on some truly extraordinary journeys.
And if you ask anyone who’s sailed on the schooner Lois McClure, they will tell you what a privilege it is to be along for the ride.