by Roger Taylor
The Lois McClure got underway from Perkins Pier, Burlington, Vermont, at 10:15, May 17th, to start her ninth season of delivering cargoes of history to ports-of-call on the waterways of Vermont, New York, and Canada. This first trip of 2012 was to Crown Point, New York, to help celebrate the beautiful, new highway bridge connecting Crown Point with Chimney Point on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain.
Our stalwart crew of the past few years was back together again, with a couple of new faces to keep us on our toes. We began by repeating the familiar mantra: “Safety! Safety! Safety!” Our replica canal schooner, masts stepped, sails bent and neatly furled; our steady tug, the C. L. Churchill; and our faithful, Honda-powered, inflatable boat, the Oocher (so named because we use her to ooch the bow or stern of the McClure this way or that when entering a canal lock or making a landing at a pier) were all shipshape, and the routine of getting underway was perfectly familiar. Yet going on the water is different every time. The wind is so variable and unpredictable that it can and does play a new trick every day. So we make every effort to take nothing for granted, to remember that “Eternal vigilance is the price of safety,” as the U. S. Navy saying has it.
The Churchill crew passed the end of her heavy, 200-foot, towing hawser over to the bow of the schooner; we hove in all but 50 feet of it, made it fast, and, with the tug going gently ahead on the short towline and turning gradually up into the North wind, moved out of the Perkins Pier berth into Burlington Harbor. Two hands with “roving fenders” were ready in case we bumped pilings on the way out, but they weren’t needed this time.
Out on the Lake, a few whitecaps indicated that the breeze, fair for us heading south toward Crown Point, had enough strength to enable us to sail and still keep to schedule! But by the time we got out to where the whitecaps were, they had vanished. So, reluctantly, we shifted the tug to the starboard “hip,” making her up alongside, well aft, and commenced chugging up the Lake at five knots. And that breeze teased us all day. It would come up enough so we thought to set sail, and then die down again. A half mile short of Crown Point, didn’t it breeze right up and tempt us to round up and hoist the mainsail? And then went flat and made us glad it hadn’t fooled us.
As we approached the bridge, we sensed the usual fear that it wasn’t high enough. Standing on the stern of the schooner, sighting the top of the mainmast against the arch of the bridge, it doesn’t look as if the mast could possibly clear the structure. We repeat the facts to ourselves: bridge clearance 75 feet; masthead height 65 feet. And sure, enough, we slip under unscathed, the 10-foot clearance seeming to appear by magic.
We tied up to the fine dock at the lighthouse monument at 4:45. Even the fisherfolk, whose prime spot we had just taken, seemed glad to see us.
May 19th was the big day for the bridge festival. The Lois McClure led a twenty-or-so boat parade under the bridge, crowded with spectators, with much horn-blowing and cheering. The new Champlain Bridge is surely a spectacular achievement, both practically and aesthetically. The wind was fast asleep, so we had to tow to march in the parade, but we did set full sail, mainsail, foresail, and jib, just to show off a little. On this day and the next, we had some 300 visitors on board, and many of them said they were glad to be able to take pictures of the schooner with all her sails up.
On the 21st, we made our way back down to North Harbor, the schooner’s berth at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. This time, the whitecaps, kicked up by a fair south wind, didn’t disappear when we towed over toward Port Henry, so we did round up into the wind, set mainsail and foresail, and cast off the tug.
With the foresail trimmed in to catch the wind and the mainsail eased way out so it wouldn’t keep her from turning, the schooner filled away and headed down the Lake on a broad reach, the wind coming over the quarter. We set the jib. Any sailing boat loves a broad reach, all sails full, going with the wind, water foaming down the lee side. But a schooner seems to be made for reaching, and on this day, the Lois McClure came into her own and gave us as fine a sail as we’ve had in her. She surged along, first at five knots, then at six, her bluff bow shoving its gurgling wave out ahead of her. It’s true the breeze did go light a little before noon as we drew abreast of Barber Point, but it held enough to push us on nicely to North Harbor.
We took in the jib, and rounded up enough so that both foresail and mainsail were luffing, spilling the wind with no driving force. The schooner coasted to a stop and lay waiting for her faithful consort to return to the starboard hip and take her in hand. Which the Churchill did and then guided her to the Museum’s floating dock, in perfectly still water with the wind out of the south. It was a quiet ending to a fine cruise to start the 2012 season.