My week on the LOIS MCCLURE ~ Peggy Huckel, September 2017
I’d never been to Phoenix. “Not Arizona, what does it matter?” in the words of the old Three Dog Night song… Last week I got to spend time in Phoenix, New York, in the best possible way – on board the Lake Champlain canal schooner Lois McClure. My week rotation as a volunteer began on Tuesday with lunch at the famed Dinosaur Barbeque in Syracuse, before I was dropped off at at the boat, on a well-maintained dock in Henley Park, in this tiny town on the Oswego Canal. I greeted the crew, most of them old friends – Art and Anne, Erick, Len, Matt, and Barbara, and stowed my bags in my quarters below deck. Free wifi, bathroom facilities (including a coin-op shower), picnic tables, and a neat little museum made our stay very comfortable. Friendly historical society folks kept us company and made us feel welcome all week. Shady streets made for pleasant strolling and we found a diner and a tavern for sustenance and relaxation.
Wednesday was a day of rest, scrubbing the deck and other little chores. I got a ride in the tender when Erick and Matt needed to go over to where the Corning Glass Barge was, in order to take some measurements. The same day, I was very excited to see the large tug Cheyenne (which I’d seen a week earlier at the Tugboat Roundup in Waterford) pass by and go through the lock (Lock 1 of the Oswego Canal) on her way to her new owners and new job in Detroit. And not long afterwards, the cruise ship Grande Mariner sailed by in the other direction, on her way back east after a trip to the Great Lakes. I waved to my friend Will who was on board. The Lois McClure seems big until something bigger goes by!
We spent the day very enjoyably showing several classes of fourth graders the ins and outs of the schooner. They were delightful students, well-prepared, enthusiastic, and well-behaved (although I really think the adorable Josie Wales, the ship’s dog, stole the show). We presented the town with two trees, as part of our forestry mission (see www.lcmm.org ) and were told that one of them will be planted at the school. In the evening, we opened to the public and had a nice stream of visitors who dodged the brief rain showers to come aboard. The rain left us with a sunny evening and one of many beautiful sunsets. I went to sleep to the sound of quacking ducks and squawking geese.
On Friday morning, we got underway, reentered the Erie Canal, passed through Lock 23, and were in Brewerton, on the Oneida River at the edge of Oneida Lake, by lunchtime. Again we had the rest of the day to relax and explore – that is, find food and restrooms – before watching the sunset from the deck. It was different here – Phoenix had been quiet, but here we watched many, many modern recreational lake boats come and go. We were between two bridges, one an interstate, so there was quite a bit of road noise too. Some boats docked by us, but were generally polite and quiet, and interested in our vessel. In the evening there was a deafening roar from a nearby speedway, but luckily they also knocked off at a very decent hour. The good news was, the prime (and pretty much only) feature at this dock was the Waterfront Tavern, which was very busy and had fantastic food! We ate like kings for three nights.
We opened to the public from 10 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday. Both beautiful, sunny, breezy days (after an unusually dense fog on Sunday morning), we enjoyed a steady but manageable crowd who all seemed to enjoy learning about our history and mission. We gave away more trees, and enjoyed a visit from the folks who had donated the oak trees to us. On my lunch break, I took a walk across the road to the shady grounds of Fort Brewerton’s blockhouse, which was closed.
An interesting boat pulled in one evening, to share the dock with us. Farallone, a 61’ U.S. Army Quartermaster boat, almost 100 years old, spent the night and the captain and his wife visited us the next day. They were very interesting people; he is a wooden bucket maker, and made us a gift of one of his great, sturdy buckets. They are from Newport, RI, and it turned out we have some friends in common. You see all kinds of boats on the Canal!
On Monday morning, we pulled out at 8:15, gassed up and pumped out at Winter Harbor, and were on our way, locking back through Lock 23, and proceeding for several peaceful hours filled with views of wildlife (herons, turtles, and the like), picturesque little homes, and a little hint of fall color, until we reached a sign that said “Welcome to Syracuse.” Raising the centerboard and dousing our shady canopies, we headed across windy Onondaga Lake, and an hour later, we were experimenting with ways to get into the shallow channel to the Inner Harbor without the tug. About a half an hour later we had the inflatable lashed on and C.L. Churchill spun away to spend a week in a marina, while Oocher pushed us through Onondaga Creek. Another peaceful (but hot, without our shade) half-hour cruise and we were secured next to a long dock with a huge hotel looming over us.
And there, in the gravel parking lot, was the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum van, with Elisa and our new crew (Kerry and Barbara), loaded with re-supplies and ready to take me and Len back east. The schooner would be spending the whole week in Syracuse complementing the World Canals Conference event, before heading for home. I was very sad to leave, as life aboard suits me fine, but new adventures await! Thanks for the ride, LCMM.