The Captain’s Log, Part 6


On September 7th, the morning after our arrival at Salaberry de Valleyfield, we awoke to a strong southwest breeze. We had intended to squeeze through a narrow bridge, with the tug towing ahead, since she wouldn’t fit through on the hip, and move up the old canal at Salaberry to moor right in the center of town for receiving visitors. But with that much wind on the schooner’s quarter, there would be no way to control such a tight maneuver.

Plan B was to leave our berth and go round a point to docks at Parc Delpha-Sauve that were not far from our original intended mooring. Even to do that was a bit tricky. We backed away from the dock with the Churchill on the windward quarter and the Oocher pulling for all she was worth on the tug’s stern to hold her up to windward. First Mate Tom Larsen controlled a long line to the dock to keep the bow from blowing off. There was an empty dock to leeward that we could use to hold the bow after Tom had to have his bow line cast off. Whew! It worked. The rest of the move was easy.

Salaberry de Valleyfield was one busy place. There was another “tall ship” in port, the Roter Sand, a big, rugged, steel ketch of shallow draft whose bottom was said to have been fashioned from part of the hull of a German U-boat! With plating nearly an inch thick, she was designed to be able to take the bottom without damage to the vessel. With that characteristic and her name, I was sure that she had a connection to the maritime spy novel, The Riddle of the Sands, but it turned out that she was merely named after a Dutch lighthouse.

Car show in Valleyfield (photo: Tom Larsen)

Corvetes in Valleyfield (photo: Tom Larsen)

And in the Parc was a car show whose theme was the Chevrolet Corvette. It seemed that you could oggle every possible year and variation of the popular sports car, along with many other exceptional vehicles.

In two days, we entertained nearly 2,000 boat and car enthusiasts. Fortunately, Jean Belisle, our historian from Montreal, was able to recruit his friends and family to help provide French interpretation.

On September 9th, we were to start back up the St. Lawrence River against the current to visit towns that our much-revised (by the circumstances of weather) schedule had caused us to bypass. Well, that day proved to be another circumstance of weather. The forecast was again for a strong southwest wind. Bucking such a breeze against the current to cross Lac St. Francois would be like rolling a heavy stone uphill. Where the river widens into lakes, there is still a surprising amount of current, sometimes up to 2 knots. We decided to hold in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and wait for the wind to lessen.

The next day was much more reasonable, with a moderate breeze on the beam. Still, it took us about eight hours to tow upstream, back to an anchorage at the mouth of the Raquette River. This time, we went in closer to shore and found a mud bottom for the Schenectady-Dali anchor.

The trip up to Morrisburg on the following day would entail negotiating the strong current that swirls in where the river rejoins the ship channel just below Snell Lock. When Matthew Trego, of the St. Lawrence Seaway, had inspected the McClure and the Churchill and given us permission to navigate on his waterway, he had expressed particular concern about that section of the river and had told us a horror story about a tug (with a lot more horsepower than the Churchill has) that had lost control right there. Now, after further consideration of our maneuvering capability, he reported that the powers that be required that we hire an assist tug to ensure that we could make it through all right.

The arrival of the CALYPSO (photo: Tom Larsen)

The arrival of the CALYPSO (photo: Tom Larsen)

In Clayton, we had met Dick Withington and knew that his sons operated a towing business. Matt recommended them. We were lucky that Dewitt Withington, with his father as deckhand, could come down river next day on such short notice with his 265-h.p. workboat, the Calypso, to provide us with extra towing power.

PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II

PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II (photo: Tom Larsen)

While waiting at anchor for the Calyspo’s arrival, we had the pleasure of watching the Pride of Baltimore II go down by, with her square fore topsail set to help her diesel engine shove her along.

Soon, with the Calypso towing ahead and the Churchill towing on the hip, we made it handsomely not only through the section of heavy current, but also all the way up to Morrisburg in the excellent time of five hours. And that included breaking the extra tow twice to go through the Snell and Eisenhower Locks.

As we approached the entrance channel at Morrisburg, the squall that had been threatening for an hour burst upon us. The big freighter we had seen coming downstream disappeared in a welter of rain. Dewitt, in the Calypso, radioed that he’d keep us “treading water” until things improved. By the time the freighter rumbled past, we could read her name: Atlantic Huron. Then we cast off the extra tow and went in to tie up at the Morrisburg marina.

Lightning in the clouds at Morrisburg (photo: Tom Larsen)

Lightning in the clouds at Morrisburg (photo: Tom Larsen)

That evening we were treated to the most spectacular lightning show that any of us had ever seen. Huge, bulbous clouds would suddenly be backlighted, the sort of single phenomenon that would bring excited oohs and aahs. But the extravaganza repeated itself over and over for half an hour, all in dead silence. Awesome.

Norwegian ship SORLANDET (photo: Tom Larsen)

Norwegian ship SORLANDET (photo: Tom Larsen)

On September 12th, while towing upstream to Ogdensburg, we met the Norwegian fully rigged ship Sorlandet coming down. I had last seen her under full sail (in 1964!) off Bermuda. On this day, she looked very different with her yards all a’cockbill. She was ready to go through the locks, so, rather than have her yards squared at horizontal, they had to be slanted up to near vertical to keep the yardarms from hitting the sides of the locks as they let the vessel down.

We did miss the Calypso that afternoon, as we crept up over the strong current at Cardinal and passed slowly under the high International Bridge. It turned put to be a ten-hour tow up to Ogdensburg, but it was not yet dark when we made the sharp turn around the stern of the cruise boat Grande Caribe and bumped our way into the narrow entrance to the marina across the current. Yes, we did leave a small paint mark behind as a record of an extremely rare miscommunication on our radios between schooner, tug, and inflatable.

On the morning of the 14th, the town officials of Ogdensburg gave the crew a coffee party in their handsome, waterfront reception center. It’s always fun to trade yarns with new friends. And the fun continued as we greeted 400 visitors on board.

An afternoon run next day took us up to Morristown. It breezed up again from the southwest, and we were able to gain a little lee by leaving the ship channel and working our way along the south shore of the river. At one point (literally), I got a bit too ambitious about seeking a lee and got us into shoal water. No matter: we run with the schooner’s centerboard down 2 feet below the flat keel, which not only keeps the vessel from side-slipping, but also serves as the most effective warning device there is that the bottom is near.

Docked in Morristown (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Morristown (photo: Tom Larsen)

Morristown boasts a handsome, little, natural harbor, and we were glad to get off the boisterous river and into its quiet water. As is usual when we pull into a port, before we can get tied up, we find ourselves answering questions from interested observers of our docking. “What is this boat, anyway?” “When was she built?” How long is she?”

When one Morristown lady got her answers, she said, “This is wonderful. I’m going to have to tell the school about this.” Thus it was that excited students were among the more than 300 visitors next morning. And the students kept coming back, dragging parents, siblings, and friends along. We half expected a few of these worthies to try to stow away.

Art, Roger, and Barbara receive the bottle from Scott (photo: Tom Larsen)

Art, Roger, and Barbara receive the bottle from Scott (photo: Tom Larsen)

On September 17th, just before we got underway to cross the river to Brockville, we experienced one of those amazing, random acts of kindness that the Lois McClure attracts. Scott Ouderkirk arrived on the dock with a gift for the vessel. He had heard on Friday the 13th that the Lois McClure was coming to town. Scott is an artist who specializes in applying his paintings to glassware.

Detail of the bottle created by Scott Ouderkirk (photo: Tom Larsen)

Detail of the bottle created by Scott Ouderkirk [click to enlarge] (photo: Tom Larsen)

He has developed his own method of transferring delicate artwork to glass in such a way that its bond is permanent. He went to work and in four days produced an exquisite rendering of the Lois McClure under full sail on a liquor bottle. And this beautiful piece came with its own mahogany cradle that Scott had fashioned from wood from his retired Luhrs 32-foot powerboat. Mercy. As we got underway, we thanked Scott as best we could, but, really, we felt speechless.

Docked in Brockville (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Brockville (photo: Tom Larsen)

In Brockville, we exchanged history lessons with plenty of teacher-students, and found more kindness headed our way. The Chamber of Commerce treated the crew to an elegant dinner at the Mill restaurant, in a handsome, old stone building that had served as a mill and for many other purposes over the centuries.

When we left Brockville on the 18th, we were happy to be heading back down the river with the current. Funny how the same number of hours underway seem a lot easier when you’re whipping downstream at 7 knots, instead of struggling up at 3. We added an hour to this day’s trip at the level Iroquois Lock due to a traffic jam. While we jilled around out of the way, first the Andean, a big freighter that had overtaken and passed us, had to go through the lock. This takes time, even in a lock with no lift.

The CLIPPER MARI coming out of Iroquois Lock, with the JOHN SPENCE waiting to enter (photo: Tom Larsen)

The CLIPPER MARI coming out of Iroquois Lock, with the JOHN SPENCE waiting to enter (photo: Tom Larsen)

The big vessels can just squeeze in, and they have to go really slowly, for if they touch a lock gate, say, the heavy behemoths have so much momentum that…well, you get the picture. Then a big tanker came up through with her dangerous cargo and huge “NO SMOKING” sign painted all across the forward side of her superstructure. Finally, we went in astern of the tug John Spence pushing a big barge and eased through the lock with both gates open (the big freighters aren’t allowed to do this). Then we towed on downstream back to our berth in Morrisburg, this time to be open to visitors.

The Morrisburg citizens who trod the deck of the canal schooner designed in 1862 included staff members from Upper Canada Village, a nearby, wonderful recreation of a working town of, well, about 1862. Their museum includes its own small canal and horse-drawn canal boat, so they were glad to experience the sort of vessel that would have been used on the larger canals. Kathleen and I had time to return the favor, walking over to the Village and getting a ride on their canal boat and experiencing large, water-powered machinery in operation, among many other land-based activities contemporary with the Lois McClure.

On September 20th, we towed back down to Salaberry de Valleyfield. There were traffic jams of big ships at both Eisenhower and Snell Locks exacerbated by one vessel discovering, while in the lock, a long, heavy wire hanging overboard that had to be removed by a huge crane! We tied up to the locks’ approach walls to wait our turn. Though we had started soon after first light, it was nearly dark by the time we found our way through the channel back into Salaberry.

On the way from Salaberry to LaChine on September 21st, we went down through the Beauharnois Canal, again waiting out turn for big freighters to go through two locks and under two railroad lift bridges. Once these obstacles were astern, we headed across Lac St. Louis. It looked threatening in the northwest, and the lake has plenty of fetch so that if it comes on to blow, the waves will “run high and fas’,” in the words of the poem, “The Wreck of the Julie Plante,” so we decided to tow ahead on the long hawser, instead of on the hip. That ensured a calm passage, and the lack of wind even made it convenient to tow the schooner right onto the dock at LaChine without taking the time to put the tug back on the hip. The only casualty was a dock fisherman’s line caught across the stem of the tug. Since we came in at about the same speed as grass grows, I didn’t feel too badly that he hadn’t reeled his line in.

To many of our visitors, the very concept of a canal schooner is oxymoronic. One of the most frequent questions we get about the McClure is: “Do you ever actually sail this boat?” The simple answer is “Yes.” We sail her as often as we can, but sailing a boat and keeping to a schedule planned in an office months before it is to be carried out are often incompatible. When we agree to call at a port on a specific future date, we always add the words, “weather permitting.” (Readers of this year’s Log will remember that flood damage to the Erie Canal put a five-week crimp in our plans.) But we don’t think it fair to say to a welcoming committee, “Sorry we didn’t make the reception-with-band that you had ready for us, but we were having such a nice sail in yesterday’s light breeze that we didn’t want to spoil it by towing.” And, of course, much of our travel is by canal or river with low bridges.

Once again, as in past years, the St. Lawrence River, with its high bridges, still thwarted any idea we had of sailing. We needed to cover distance on each underway day, and river current, headwinds, and Seaway locks conspired to block that objective under sail.

On the 22nd, we left LaChine bucking a fresh breeze and a couple of knots of current out across Lac St. Louis. And when we turned east into the Seaway’s ship channel, now with a fair wind and current, we had a vivid demonstration of why sailing is not allowed in the narrower parts of the Seaway. In the approach to the Canal de Rive Sud, between islands, we saw a freighter overtaking us in the distance. The Seaway radio crackled with a request to let him pass us before we got into the Canal. Even at slow speed, we would have beaten him to the Canal, so we turned back and headed up into the wind and current to let him pass. The maneuver was tricky enough in the breeze, now strong, under tow; it would not have been possible under sail.

The Kaministiqua, with whose pilot we had coordinated our meeting, went on by. Out in the open, at the schooner’s wheel, we always wave up to the skilled professional, high inside his big wheelhouse, and, if he isn’t too busy, he may pop out on the bridge wing to give a hearty wave back.

At Cote-St-Catherine Lock, we tied up to the approach wall while waiting for the Kaministiqua to go down through (commercial vessels always have the right of way at locks). And did the same at St. Lambert Lock, this time waiting an extra hour, because a train was stuck on the bridge across the lock! Between wires hanging overboard and stopped trains, we were starting to feel like lock Jonahs. It was a relief to hurtle down the River below Montreal with the strong current, slide into the placid, little harbor formed between the Isle aux Prunes and its much bigger neighbors, the Iles de Vercheres, and come to anchor. This delightful haven makes an ideal stopping place between Montreal and Sorel, yet we have never had to share it with another vessel. The anchorage seemed lovelier than ever on this evening, with one of those 360-degree sunsets.

Sunset at Isle-aux-Prune (photo: Tom Larsen)

Sunset at Isle-aux-Prune (photo: Tom Larsen)

The PHOENIX SUN in Sorel (photo: Tom Larsen)

The PHOENIX SUN in Sorel (photo: Tom Larsen)

The next morning, we dropped down the river to Sorel, entered the Richelieu River and moored at the commercial dock just ahead of the Phoenix Sun, a big freighter made huge by being apparently completely empty. Her bow was as high as our masts, its thruster a good ten feet out of water.

On the 24th, we took down the schooner’s masts and stowed them above the deck on their support braces. We were ready to go up the Richelieu and bypass its rapids on the Chambly Canal.

On the way up to Mount St. Hilaire, we stopped, as we often do when passing this way, at the Parc Bellerive marina to fill fuel and water tanks and pump out sanitaries. That chore done, we put the boats through Lock St. Ours and went on up to the dock at Mount St. Hilaire, where we found new volunteer crew members Sal Larsen (First Mate Tom’s mother, one able deckhand) and Laura Hollowell (who would be joining Kerry Batdorf as bow person in the Oocher). They had been driven north in the Museum’s van by Elisa Nelson, who is our indispensable shoreside logistics person.

On the morning of the 26th, we had to wait an hour for the “vapor” to burn off before we could get underway. At least that’s what we call it in Maine, when air just above the warm water surface gets thoroughly chilled and condenses the moisture in the air into an opaqueness that’s thicker than mere fog. When we could see where we were going, the Churchill towed the schooner right off the dock and up the river to the Pont Beloeil. That’s the railroad bridge where the horizontal opening is so narrow that we have to tow ahead through it and where the opening is out of sight for boats coming downstream until they are upon it. We send the Oocher out ahead to warn boats coming down that we will soon be filling the bridge opening right up! On this day, there were no boats coming down for the Oocher to warn, although as soon as we were clear of the opening a guy came whipping up through from astern.

The locktender at Chambly warned us on the radio that boats were coming down the flight of three into the Chambly Basin, so we killed some time by crossing that body of water at a crawl. Then we tied up to the dock just below the flight to wait our turn.

Readers may remember that the Chambly Canal was never enlarged, as were the Champlain and Erie Canals, so we have to lock the tug and schooner through separately. The Churchill climbed up the flight first, and then stood by to pull the schooner to the dock above, after that vessel had gone up the staircase, being pulled into each lock by hand. This operation is a good historical exercise for us, for this is how it was done in 1862, with the substitution of mules in the days before small steam tugs that could work the canals were available.

Docked in Chambly (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Chambly (photo: Tom Larsen)

Chambly is a place where we often meet Lois McClure veterans coming up the gangway, folks who have trod her decks before and already know the ropes. We show them our new bunkroom, disguised from the cargo hold to look like stacked lumber, and we point out the new starboard bower anchor and tell how its artistic shape was created. There are people who simply won’t miss a chance to come on board an authentic replica of a Lake Champlain canal schooner.

Jean Belisle locking through with the CHURCHILL in the Chambly Canal (photo: Tom Larsen)

Jean Belisle locking through with the CHURCHILL in the Chambly Canal (photo: Tom Larsen)

On September 28th, we locked through the upper six of the Chambly Canal. Again, it was practicing history, as we held the Lois McClure outside the lock gates while the tug went through, and then pulled the schooner in by hauling on two long bow lines. Well, we did cheat a bit by using the Oocher to hold the schooner’s stern in position while the Churchill was locking through. How Captain Theodore Bartley would have loved the Oocher!

It was nearly dark by the time the tug pulled the schooner out of the last lock, eased her through a couple of open bridges, and landed her on the dock at St. Jean. Whew! That was not only the last lock of the Chambly, but also the last of more than 100 locks for the Lois McClure in 2013.

The CACHALOT, docked in St Jean (photo: Tom Larsen)

The CACHALOT, docked in St Jean (photo: Tom Larsen)

The next day, the final one on this cruise of welcoming people aboard to tour the schooner, we welcomed about 600 inspectors. The last one was Captain Guy, who arrived, singlehanded, in command of his own vessel. The Cachalot was Guy’s invention. She had a long, narrow hull, with surfboard sponsons that could slide athwartships as they might be needed to aid stability. The rig was that of a three-masted yawl! She had a powerful, four-sided, lug-rigged mainsail, a tiny triangular mizzen at the stern, and just forward of that a sort of mizzen staysail with its own mast and well-lifted boom. Mercy.

Captain Guy joined our reception on board, with a fine spread provided by Denis Couture, who never can do enough for us when we are in St. Jean. It is through his auspices and the kindness of the staff, including his son Major Francois Couture, at the Royal Military College, St. Jean that we crew members get to experience life in the school’s quarters and mess hall, a welcome break ashore for us sailors.

On September 30th, we continued our homeward-bound passage with a tow up the Richelieu into our home waters: Lake Champlain. We tied up at the U. S. Customs dock at the border, presented our passports, and lined up at the rail to be matched with their photos. It seems amazing that we are all still recognizable after four months of adventuring in the Lois McClure. And tied up again at the end of the day on the big dock at Plattsburgh, a familiar berth.

On the last day of this cruise of 2013, we proceeded up Lake Champlain to our home port of Burlington. We have had beautiful, clear, calm days for our travels lately, and October 1st was no exception, except that it did breeze up to moderate out of the south (enough to make us tow ahead with the tug). The Lake just reminding us that it was still boss. But by the time we landed at Perkins Pier in the early afternoon, the water was a mirror. It is always a relief to me to tie up at the end of the trip with our crew intact and our three vessels still floating high.

Roger Taylor
Captain

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Video Blog 7: Diving in Chambly


Diving for zebra mussels in Chambly.

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Captain’s Blog, part 5


Setting the foremast (photo: Kent Strobel)

Setting the foremast (photo: Kent Strobel)

At Cape Vincent, at the upper end of the St. Lawrence River, on August 22nd, we converted the Lois McClure from a “standard canal boat,” one that has no propulsion of its own, to a sailing canal boat. With the help of a crane truck (courtesy of Rick Evans and Evans Crane) on the dock, we lifted the six spars of her schooner rig ashore: two masts, two booms, and two gaffs. Next went the braces that had kept the big sticks up off the deck. Then we stepped the foremast and set up its stays and shrouds to keep it upright. Ditto the mainmast. Now, the crane lifted First Mate Tom Larsen aloft in a basket to secure the springstay, the wire that runs between the two mastheads. Booms and gaffs were lifted back on board and put in position, held by their jaws, topping lifts, halyards, sheets, and lazyjacks. There. We were ready to bend sail.

Bending sail (photo: Tom Larsen)

Bending sail (photo: Tom Larsen)

Bending sail on the schooner is always satisfying. The mainsail and foresail are four sided sails. First the foot of the sail is stretched out along the boom and hauled taut by the outhaul. The sail is lashed to the boom with many robands. Next, the head is similarly secured to the gaff. Then each masthoop is lashed to the luff of the sail. The masthoops run up the mast when the sail is hoisted to hold its leading edge to the mast. Ahh. We were ready to set sail.

All these tasks were completed safely and smoothly by Team Kerry (Batdorf, Ship’s Carpenter): Tom Larsen, Art Cohn, Jeff Gorss, Don Dewees, Jean Belisle, and Leo Straight. Kent Strobel and Bill Balling kept the interested onlookers out of harm’s way and explained to them what was happening. Kathleen Carney, Barbara Bartley, and Chris McClain kept the cold drinks and sandwiches coming.

But will we be able to set sail? We have traveled the St. Lawrence River in previous years for a dozen days without making sail. It is always difficult to sail and still maintain our schedule of port visits. We have managed it at times on Lake Champlain, the Hudson River, and the Finger Lakes, but the St. Lawrence has been particularly perverse in presenting head winds or calms, combined with contrary current when heading upstream. Well, we will hope for the best this year.

LA REVENANTE (left) and the ST LAWRENCE II heading out from Cape Vincent (photo: Tom Larsen)

LA REVENANTE (left) and the ST LAWRENCE II heading out from Cape Vincent (photo: Tom Larsen)

At least, now that our rig was up, we could participate in a “Tall Ships” festival at Cape Vincent. We were joined by the steel brigantine St. Lawrence II, a sail-training vessel, and the Essex (sharp-bow) pinky schooner La Revenante, both based in Kingston, Ontario. The promoters of such events stretch the truth a mite when they claim that such ships as these three are “tall.” When John Masefield, the British Poet Laureate, coined the expression “tall ship” in his poem “Sea Fever,” he wasn’t thinking of a canal schooner, or a pinky schooner, or even of a small brigantine, but rather of a big, square-rigged ocean freighter with masts three or four times as tall as ours. Never mind; it worked. On August 23rd, 24th, and 25th, more than a thousand tall-ship enthusiasts came on board to gaze up at our 65-foot mainmast.

The schooner docked at the Antique Boat Museum (photo: Tom Larsen)

The schooner docked at the Antique Boat Museum (photo: Tom Larsen)

We made the three-hour tow downstream to Clayton late in the day on the 25th. We squeezed into a good berth at the Antique Boat Museum, peeling off the Churchill from the schooner’s hip into her own spot in an adjacent slip so that the schooner would fit in alongside the dock. We “boat people” were in for a lot of treats at the Museum.

First of all, many of our 300 visitors would be boat people, with an unusually high level of interest and background for a great appreciation of the unique vessel that is the Lois McClure. And, thanks to the generosity of the Museum staff, our crew would gain an appreciation of the complex waterways among the Thousand Islands and of the region’s own unique boat-type, the St. Lawrence River skiff.

The Antique Boat Museum has an impressive array of speedboats. There are both old and more recent holders of speed records, as well as boats branded Chris Craft or Gar Wood, for example, famous names in motor boating. Several of these little vessels are in the Museum’s livery fleet; they are in commission and take visitors out to explore the Thousand Islands with quick bursts of speed between islands of particular interest. Six of us in the crew started the morning of August 28th with such a ride.

The MISS THOUSAND ISLANDS II (photo: Tom Larsen)

The MISS THOUSAND ISLANDS II (photo: Tom Larsen)

Captain Pat Sheldon brought the Miss Thousand Islands II, a reproduction Hackercraft, out of the Museum’s big, covered boathouse and over to a nearby dock, her twin exhausts rumbling to promise plenty of power.

Enjoying the speed of the Hackercraft (photo: Tom Larsen)

Enjoying the speed of the Hackercraft (photo: Tom Larsen)

Yes, there was power to spare, for, as we left the harbor, Pat needed only about half throttle to bring the varnished mahogany beauty up to 30+ knots. Pat suddenly went vague when asked about the top speed of the boat. But on our 45-minute tour, he related plenty of details about a number of the Thousand Islands. He told us that the actual number is 1,855 and that to qualify as an island, a rocky outcrop has to stay above normal high water and have a minimum of two trees. As we passed one that barely qualified, though it did have a small house on it, Pat said that in many years of passing it, he had only seen people there twice. We were amazed that so many tiny islets had cottages. And we marveled at the smooth, fast ride that the Hackercraft delivered, a real thrill for us boat people.

A St Lawrence skiff (photo: Tom Larsen)

A St Lawrence skiff (photo: Tom Larsen)

But the special boat in the Thousand Islands is the St. Lawrence River skiff. She is a guideboat, that is a boat designed specifically for the use of a professional fishing guide to take out a “sport,” to try his luck with, say, muskalunge. The skiff is a long, narrow, lightly-built, usually lapstrake-planked double-ender of breathtaking beauty, a piece of exquisite sculpture. Because the guide must be able to drop his oars in a hurry to help land the fish, the oars are worked on a vertical pin that doesn’t allow feathering, but does prevent the oars from getting adrift. Sometimes, these skiffs are raced under sail; steering is by shifting one’s weight fore and aft, no rudder allowed! I got to play guide in one of the Museum’s skiffs, taking Kathleen out to explore French Creek, at the head of the harbor. Despite the non-feathering oars, rowing the St. Lawrence River skiff was a great pleasure.

Don DeWees taking a skiff for a spin (photo: Tom Larsen)

Don DeWees taking a skiff for a spin (photo: Tom Larsen)

On August 29th, we crossed the River to Canada, entering at Gananoque, Ontario. The 15-mile trip took us back up the River in the main ship channel and then through the Wolfe Island Cut and across to the narrow, crooked channel that starts between Aubrey and Mermaid Islands. There is not much straight-line navigation among the Thousand Islands.

Out in the ship channel, we met the big, Great Lakes freighter Algo Lake coming down. She and the Lois McClure were expecting each other, because every sizable vessel in the St. Lawrence Seaway reports its movements to a traffic control center, which then warns each vessel of coming ships. The traffic controller has the authority to request a captain to slow his vessel in order to avoid meeting another in a narrow part of the channel.

There are not many natural harbors on the St. Lawrence. The marina at Gananoque is protected by a breakwater that makes a quiet cove alongside a point of land. We eased in behind the breakwater and moored to a long dock to receive, next day, nearly 400 Canadian citizens.

In discussions of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 with our neighbors across the border, we sometimes have to agree to disagree about who “won.” There were victories and defeats on both sides. The Canadians defended their country from invasion and the Americans let it be known that their new country was to be taken seriously.

On August 31st, we went back through the Wolfe Island Cut and then downstream past Clayton and through the American Narrows to Alexandria Bay. When I had scanned the charts of the St. Lawrence River, the upper part of which was new to me, I had certainly noticed the American Narrows. This is the name given to a six-mile-long, straight cut between the New York shore and Wellesley Island. I could visualize most of the water in the mighty river being funneled though the American Narrows on its way to the sea. Many of the locals we had consulted about river currents had warned us about the American Narrows. Well, we were pleasantly surprised to find no more than 2 knots shooting us along through, certainly significant, but not dangerous.

The town of Alexandria Bay boasts two natural harbors, the Upper Bay and the Lower Bay. And right across the River is Heart Island, with the famous Boldt Castle crowning it. We tied up across the end of the long, town dock in the Upper Bay on the last day of August. It was Saturday of Labor Day Weekend; the place was a miniature version of New York Harbor at the commuter hour; boats of all shapes and sizes were speeding all over, kicking up wakes that kept the schooner, tug, and inflatable surging, rolling, and bucking. On the dock, it was standing room only. Next day, more than 500 holiday-makers came on board to mix history into their celebrations.

For those of us in the crew who visited Boldt Castle, the highpoint was the Yacht House. When I first heard that there was a yacht house, I thought the name was a bit pretentious. Wouldn’t boathouse do?

The Boldt Yacht house, viewed from the water (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Boldt Yacht house, viewed from the water (photo: Tom Larsen)

It wouldn’t. The gorgeous, shingled structure was 160 feet long and 115 feet wide. It stood 65 feet tall. There were three huge doors opening slips to the water. If we had taken down the short “topmasts” on the schooner, we could have slid the Lois McClure right inside with her rig up.

Inside the Boldt Yacht House (photo: Tom Larsen)

Inside the Boldt Yacht House (photo: Tom Larsen)

Nobody knows how many boats Mr. Boldt owned in his lifetime, but, when it ended, he had forty-seven. A good representation of his fleet is in the Yacht House, headed by a pair of big power yachts designed by George Lawley of Boston and J. Murray Watts of Philadelphia, names to reckon with in the field of yacht design a hundred years ago.

According to my log, we delayed getting underway from Alexandria Bay for the run to Prescott on September 2nd until 10:20 a.m. This was on the instruction of Seaway Traffic Control so that we would not meet the tug Victorious, pushing a big barge, in the Brockville Narrows. We met her at 1235 p.m. where there was plenty of room in the ship channel, then entered Brockville Narrows at 1:15 p.m. The channel was narrow, with about 2 knots of current; we were grateful not to have to share the place with more than the occasional, small powerboat.

Freighter running before the storm (photo: Tom Larsen)

Freighter running before the storm (photo: Tom Larsen)

The marina at Prescott is formed by two breakwaters with a narrow, curving entrance between them. Since we wanted a berth with protection from the sizable waves that big freighters pull up as they pass by in the ship channel, we went inside the breakwaters and tied up at a long, unoccupied floating dock. I was concentrating on accomplishing the maneuver without hitting anything, and so was only vaguely aware that sundry citizens were vociferous in their objections to our entry in the apparent belief that an 88-foot canal boat with a tug on her hip simply wouldn’t fit. We did, but it was soon explained to us that we were expected to moor outside on a wall. Now, we demonstrated to the skeptics that we could not only fit in, but also that we could fit back out. It was close, but, fortunately, we made it. And got secured in our assigned berth on the outside wall just in time to witness a fierce thunder squall that briefly reduced visibility to near zero. That was lucky.

Docked in Prescott (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Prescott (photo: Tom Larsen)

One ship wake convinced us to send the C. L. Churchill back into the security of the marina. And the people of Prescott who came on board next day had the rare experience of feeling the vessel actually roll a little after a ship went by.

We were officially welcomed by the mayor, his wife, and five, armed re-enactors, militiamen from the War of 1812. We often read in the history books about how ragtag were some of the militiamen. This group was out to prove it. Some deliberately faced left when others faced right. The suggestion to shoulder arms produced panic. But there was nothing ragtag about the fruit-filled watermelon ship that was presented to us by Raymond Martin, a retired Canadian Coast Guard cook. The fruit is now long gone, but we still have the vessel’s mast and sails as a memento of our call at Prescott.

The run downstream from Prescott to Salaberry de Valleyfield on September 5th was long enough, even with the push of the river current, so that we decided to break it with an overnight stop. There was no convenient dockage, so we would anchor for the night. Looking at the chart, I found, at about the halfway point, a cove at the mouth of the Raquette River that seemed indented enough to get us out of the St. Lawrence flow.

Roger at the helm, leaving Eisenhower Lock (photo: Tom Larsen)

Roger at the helm, leaving Eisenhower Lock (photo: Tom Larsen)

On the way down, we went through three of the huge Seaway locks. The first one we came to, the Iroquois Lock, has no drop, unless the river is in spate; it’s really more like a guard gate to control the current in the ship channel if necessary. So, we went in, the upstream gates shut behind us, and then the downstream gates opened, and we went right through without tying up. We got word that the Jan S, a big freighter, was coming up through the Eisenhower Lock, so we waited for her to go by, drifting, well out of the channel, under the lee of Croil Island. Then we went on down through the Eisenhower and Snell Locks. The Lois McClure seemed very small, as she was let down in their caverns.

At our cove at the Raquette River, the new anchor that we had acquired from the Schenectady Yacht Club bounced along on stones, instead of settling into the mud indicated on the chart for the type of bottom. We were out of the worst of the current, but there was enough so that when the anchor did catch hold the schooner pulled hard on its heavy chain and nearly straightened out its catenary. Because of the rocky bottom, we laid out a second anchor, the big Danforth from its new place on board the Churchill.

We had crossed the U. S.-Canandian border several times coming down the St. Lawrence River. The Raquette River runs through the Mohawk territory of the Akwasasne. After dark, we were visited by one of their patrol boats, and, not to be outdone, the U. S. Border Patrol also came by to check us out. All passports were in order.

Dawn on the Raquette River (photo: Tom Larsen)

Dawn on the Raquette River (photo: Tom Larsen)

Next morning, when we weighed anchor, our new starboard bower came up well bent. Mercy. When it caught and held the schooner with a fluke under a rock, the strain was enough to bend both shank and fluke. It now has such a crazy look to it that we dubbed it the Salvadore Dali anchor. Despite its appearance, it’s still serviceable, one of the best anchors in our collection.

By afternoon, we were moored at Salaberry de Valleyfield, Quebec, having traveled the length of Baie St. Francois. The Quebecois have plenty of provincial pride; we were careful to hoist our Quebec courtesy flag to the head of the schooner’s foremast.

Roger Taylor
Captain

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Video Blog 6: Salaberry-de-Valleyfield


The Lois McClure docked in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, and saw over 1800 people!

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Video Blog 5: St Lawrence


The Lois McClure has begun her travels through the St Lawrence.

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Rigging in Cape Vincent


by Kent Strobel

Setting the foremast (photo: Kent Strobel)

Setting the foremast (photo: Kent Strobel)

A common question posed by visitors upon stepping aboard the Lois McClure is “How does she sail in the canal?” This is a great opening for a discussion about different modes of transport and how economics often drive the development of something. A few of the canal boats produced on Lake Champlain with the advent of the canal systems were made with sail rigging, due to the fact that steam tugs on the lake were not moving regularly enough for the canalers. These masts would then taken down at the canal entrances prior to entering the canals.  Overhead canal clearances of course would not allow anything that high. Having sail rigging freed those canal boats to choose to move on their own rather than have to wait for a steamboat to get enough boats to tow.

Aboard the Lois McClure, we had just crossed Lake Ontario from Sackets Harbor to Cape Vincent, and on the morning of August 22, the heavy sail rigging was raised at the DEC Fisheries Research dock with the help of a crane from Evans Crane Service of Jordan, NY. That operation was performed much as it would have been done in the 19th century, though using diesel power instead of block and tackle. The masts are of Vermont white spruce and weigh about a half ton each.

The MCCLURE as a sailboat again, with a freighter in the background (photo: Kent Strobel)

The MCCLURE as a sailboat again, with a freighter in the background (photo: Kent Strobel)

Sunset on rigging day (photo: Tom Larsen)

Sunset on rigging day (photo: Tom Larsen)

After a full day of work, the canal boat had transformed into a sailing vessel. Just in time too, for the La Revenante (another schooner) and the St Lawrence II (a brigantine) joined us for the 1812 event over the weekend. While the Lois wasn’t able to set sail, the others put on a great show for us as they left the harbor on Sunday.

LA REVENANTE (left) and the ST LAWRENCE II heading out from Cape Vincent (photo: Tom Larsen)

LA REVENANTE (left) and the ST LAWRENCE II heading out from Cape Vincent (photo: Tom Larsen)

From Cape Vincent, the Lois heads to Clayton to open at the Antique Boat Museum, in all new territory for her.

Kent Strobel
A returning volunteer on the Lois, Kent is happy that the schooner has finally come to the Thousand Islands, where he spends his summers.

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Captain’s Log, Part 4


Leaving Buffalo Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

Leaving Buffalo Harbor, in company of tug PITTSFORD (photo: Tom Larsen)

When the tug C. L. Churchill moved the Lake Champlain canal schooner Lois McClure out into the outer harbor at Buffalo on August 6th, the scene couldn’t have been more of a contrast to that when the vessels entered on the 2nd: instead of swells heaving in from Lake Erie through the gap in the breakwall, the water was as smooth as a mirror. The trip down the Niagara River to Tonawanda was swift and uneventful.

Docked in Tonawanda (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Tonawanda (photo: Tom Larsen)

After arrival, we discovered a nearby pump-out facility, and, to take advantage of it, had to turn the schooner round in the fairly narrow Tonawanda Creek, go back to the sanitary pump, and turn her again, to tie up within reach of its hose. There was heavy traffic in the creek, a parade of motor cruisers in both directions, as well as a number of folks out taking the air in rented kayaks and pedal boats, some, apparently, on their first voyage. No matter. Our two 180-degree turns were made in slow motion, and the fleets made their way cautiously through the narrow gaps left by our bow and stern with casual unconcern. Now, we were the obstacle course.

Next day, we received almost 500 Tonawandans and North Tonawandans on board. We like to think that we present to the folks of these lively, rival towns an opportunity for relaxed comingling in neutral territory. Peace reigned, and many a canal story was exchanged.

On August 8th, we headed back east on the Erie Canal. “Clinton’s Ditch,” some had dubbed it. Without New York Governor DeWitt Clinton’s persistent faith in the idea of the waterway, it wouldn’t have been dug, at least not by 1825. The concept of connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River elicited many reactions. Some foresaw accurately the huge potential for making money; some believed the canal would never be completed and would never be used if it was completed; some, foreshadowing Kipling, simply feared the changes that would be inevitable if east and west did meet.

On board the Lois McClure, we are privileged to immerse ourselves in both such historical musings and in the practical aspects of “if you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal.” We experienced one such practical aspect on the run from Tonawanda to Medina on August 8th.

We were approaching Lock 35 at Lockport, to go down through the deepest lock on the canal. When we checked in by radio with the lock keeper, he told us that he would be bringing a tour boat up in the lock before we could go down. We’d have to wait a few minutes. Fine, but I misjudged the amount of current that would send us toward the lock when the keeper filled it. The deep lock required plenty of water, and it appeared that we would sweep down on its gate before the lock was full. So, we backed into the current, but a cross wind gradually shoved us over to the right bank. Luckily, that bank was steep rock protected by thick bushes. We hove to in the bushes. The shrubbery, tangled in our awning poles, just held us against the current and kept us off the cliff. All we had to do, as we went into the lock after the tour boat went by, was sweep the deck clear of twigs and leaves. Who wouldn’t sell his farm and go to sea?

Art Cohn giving a quick bit of information to a passing tour at E35 as the LOIS locks through (photo: Tom Larsen)

Art Cohn giving a quick bit of information to a passing tour at E35 as the LOIS locks through (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Medina welcoming the crew of the Lois McClure (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Medina welcoming the crew of the Lois McClure (photo: Tom Larsen)

Our reward for navigating to Medina was to have on board more than 200 visitors in the late afternoon and early evening. We had a fine day combining navigating on the Erie Canal with talking up its history. And, next day, repeated the pleasure, with a quiet trip to Brockport, where we colloquized with another 200 canalers. 

Docked in Brockport (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Brockport (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Palmyra (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked in Palmyra (photo: Tom Larsen)

Steve and Bonnie Hays (photo: Tom Larsen)

Steve and Bonnie Hays (photo: Tom Larsen)

The schooner arrived at Palmyra on August 10th. Our good friends, Steve (the fenderman) and Bonnie Hays, always take good care of us in Palmyra. They not only spread the word of our arrival according to the revised (by flood damage to the canal) schedule we were on so that 200 souls came on board next day, but also fed the crew two dinners at the Coverlet Museum. Art Cohn, the master diver and innovative nautical archaeologist, responded with a fine slide show and lecture on the discovery, cultural use, and management of shipwrecks. (Occasionally, we have to sing for our supper. On August 2nd, when we reached Lake Erie at Buffalo, I had talked to the crew about my distant relative, Oliver Hazard Perry, with emphasis on his role at the Battle of Lake Erie, where he was able to write (for some reason, all these famous words seem to end up on the backs of old envelopes), “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”)

Isaac Parker

Isaac Parker

Carolyn Kennedy

Carolyn Kennedy

On August 11, Isaac Parker had to leave the crew to go back to school. We had already lost Carolyn Kennedy to academia on the 3rd. These two young shipmates had made a huge difference to our crew. Their enthusiasm, good spirits, and boundless energy (and they are both wicked smart) had given all of us, and me, in particular, as an ancient mariner, an enormous lift. Carolyn is starting a doctorate program in nautical archaeology at Texas A and M; Isaac is combining his senior year of high school with mostly college courses and will be applying to the Webb Institute, one of the country’s top schools for naval architecture and engineering. We miss them both and wish them all success.

On August 12th, we had a double-take arrival at Lyons. We came out of Lock 27, and I somehow failed to recognize that our mooring wall was not just around the corner, but rather (oh no!) right here. As we swung past, first mate Tom Larsen radioed calmly from the bow, “Roger, I think this is our berth.” Yes, it certainly was.

Art, (at the wheel of the tug) Slow to idling speed.”

Art, Neutral.”

Art, Slow astern.

The Oocher had come back onto the schooner’s bow after exiting the lock, so orders to Kerry Batdorf, controlling her outboard motor, to “Give a pull,” or “Give a push,” could help keep things lined up as we gradually stopped, and then backed up, and eased alongside where we were supposed to be. Mercy. How embarrassing. Our rule on board is to keep smiling no matter what in hopes people will think some of our crazy maneuvers are intentional.

Jack McCramels with the peppermint oil box he donated (photo: Kathleen Carney)

Jack McCramels with the peppermint oil box he donated (photo: Kathleen Carney)

Jack McCranels came on board in Lyons. When we called at Lyons in 2007, Jack gave us a wooden shipping box for five 210-ounce bottles of oleum menthae piperitae (peppermint oil) manufactured by the H. G. Hotchkiss Co. in Lyons. We display the box in the schooner’s cargo hold to illustrate a sample cargo. It provides my favorite historic example of the economic effect of the Erie Canal on a canal town like Lyons. The box proclaims that its contents won a “First Prize Medal at the Great Paris Exposition of 1867.” Before the Erie Canal, it would have been ludicrous to imagine the Hotchkiss Co. reaching, with its peppermint oil, a market more than a few miles from Lyons. There could have been no Hotchkiss Co. But with the Erie Canal, H. G. Hotchkiss could suddenly ship his product by water for ten percent of the cost of shipping by corduroy road. Nor would his bottles risk being broken en route. The Erie Canal opened to a business in Lyons, New York, the markets of the world. Hotchkiss and Lyons could prosper. Multiply that sort of prosperity by many thousands and you get fast-growing towns and cities all along the canal. And a chef in Paris could add to his cuisine the finest of Lyons, New York, peppermint oils.

The trip from Lyons to Baldwinsville took two days, with an overnight stop at Weedsport, where Art Cohn, our fearless leader (without whom, it can truly be said, there would be no replica canal schooner) treated the crew to dinner at Devaney’s Riverside Grille, a stone’s throw from the McClure. The schooner’s crew works hard and plays hard, too, if you measure playing by the decibels of laughter. In Baldwinsville, we again shared our two-way history lessons with 200 learner-teachers.

The Bridgehouse Brats of Phoenix, NY (photo: Tom Larsen)

The Bridgehouse Brats of Phoenix, NY (photo: Tom Larsen)

At 10:30 a.m. on August 15th, the Lois McClure was at Three Rivers. As we left the Seneca River to enter the Oswego River, we passed the west end of the Oneida River. This part of New York State is well served by natural waterways, made navigable by “canalization,” with locks, dredging, and channel markers. In another half hour, our docklines were being caught and belayed by the Bridgehouse Brats of Phoenix. This decidedly unbratty group of youngsters is a pure delight to anyone visiting Phoenix in a boat. They will do anything for you: help you tie up or cast off, run errands, help clean your boat (!), and bring you your morning coffee.

Mayor Tony Fratto, Canal Corps Director Brian Stratton, Senator Pattie Richie and the Bridgehouse Brats cutting the ribbon to open a new pavilion on the Phoenix waterfront (photo: Tom Larsen)

Mayor Tony Fratto, Canal Corps Director Brian Stratton, Senator Pattie Richie and the Bridgehouse Brats cutting the ribbon to open a new pavilion on the Phoenix waterfront (photo: Tom Larsen)

We participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a restored pavilion on the Phoenix waterfront (it didn’t actually rise from ashes, just needed rebuilding), and, as well as hearing remarks from dignitaries like Brian Stratton, Director of the New York Canal Corporation, we heard well-deserved praises lavished on twenty-six of the Brats. And then the whole crowd came on board the Lois McClure to experience actually standing on the deck and exploring the cargo hold and cabin of a sailing canal boat of 1862.

The OMF ONTARIO sailing out of Oswego Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

The OMF ONTARIO sailing out of Oswego Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

The MAJOR ELISHA K HENSON in Oswego (photo: Tom Larsen)

The MAJOR ELISHA K HENSON in Oswego (photo: Tom Larsen)

On August 16th, we towed down the pretty Oswego River on a gorgeous day and moored to the big pier in Oswego Harbor, on Lake Ontario. On the pier is the H. Lee White Marine Museum. An adjunct of the museum, tied up just ahead of the schooner, is the ex-Army tug, Major Elisha K. Henson (USAT LT-5). Without any disloyalty to our game little C. L. Churchill, we sometimes drool over towboats that we see along the way. We’ll pass a handsome 70-footer and say, “Wow! Wouldn’t she be fun to run.” But the 110-foot, all-gray Henson, with her service ribbons for action off the Normandy beaches in World War II, is really special, the queen of the tugboat fleet that we see.

A big freighter came in off the Lake fifteen minutes before we got underway on August 18th for the run to Sackets Harbor. You recognize a scale of inertia wholly different from that of the McClure when you watch a large ship dock. We try to make slow approaches to docks and locks with the schooner, but this vessel, with no assist tug, really had to creep in alongside.

A large freighter coming to the port of Oswego (photo: Tom Larsen)

A large freighter coming to the port of Oswego (photo: Tom Larsen)

Moonrise in Sackets Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

Moonrise in Sackets Harbor (photo: Tom Larsen)

Sackets Harbor is 35 miles from Oswego, across the southeast corner of Lake Ontario. The trip is like being in open ocean, no place for a flat-bottomed canal boat, if there’s much wind. We needed a calm day to make the crossing. Well, luckily, the 18th, the first of the two possible days we had allotted for the journey, was about as calm a day as you’d ever find on Lake Ontario. After seven hours of smooth towing on the hawser, we moored in the well-protected cove where the Americans had raced to build warships in the War of 1812.

The next day Ship’s Carpenter Kerry Batdorf fastened a plywood patch (an advantage of a flat-sided canal boat) over a spot at the waterline in the schooner’s planking that had been damaged by last winter’s ice in Burlington harbor. There was no leakage; this was a belt-and-suspenders repair. This schooner (knock on her wood) has never leaked; we claim that since she was built carefully of seasoned woods, instead of being quickly constructed of what was on hand, as were the canal boats of the 19th century, she is the best-built canal boat that has ever existed.

Sackets Harbor is a lively place in summer. The Lois McClure attracted nearly 500 visitors on August 20th, many of them, surely, “from away.”

The St. Lawrence River, forming the boundary between New York and Ontario, drains Lake Ontario from a point (actually the source of the river is spread along the lake shore for a dozen miles) north of Sackets Harbor. Our next port-of-call was Cape Vincent, the first town down the river on the New York side. Although we would be going alongshore, rather than out in open water, we would still be exposed to the full fetch of the lake if the wind was in the west quadrant. Sure enough, the forecast for the 21st was for a southwest breeze, increasing during the day from 10 knots to as much as 20 knots. But an early start ought to get us off the lake and into the river by noon, before things got too rough-and-tumble out there.

And it did, although there was enough swell starting to build to make both tug and schooner take some pretty good rolls, as we towed on the long hawser. Jean Belisle, our Canadian volunteer, shot a video from the stern deck of the Churchill that I believe is more conducive to seasickness than was the actual motion.

Docked safely in Cape Vincent (photo: Tom Larsen)

Docked safely in Cape Vincent (photo: Tom Larsen)

And so, we have entered the upper St. Lawrence River, new waters for the Lois McClure. We are about to go down through The Thousand Islands; we will be navigating among the ocean freighters of the St. Lawrence Seaway; and we will be calling at new ports and meeting citizens on both the U. S. and Canadian sides of the stream.

Roger Taylor
Captain

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