Monday 18 June
Ivor Hughes (volunteer crew member)
Finally the day had arrived for the start of the Grand Canal Journey. The day was perfect with a slight wind from the North - a good sign as we were heading south down the lake.
It was a busy period as our departure time of 11:00 AM crept closer and final stores were loaded. Thirteen people to feed for 100 days do the math!
Capt. Roger Taylor finally gives the command we had all been waiting for: "Cast off" and the Lois McClure edged out from the harbor and into the lake with the tug boat "Churchill" in attendance.
The enthusiastic "send off" spectators along with local TV coverage waved their good-bys as they slowly grew smaller as we headed out into the lake on this historic journey down the lake and into the Champlain Canal and then west on the Erie Canal. What a great send off.
For many of us the first leg down to Fort Ticonderoga was on a familiar part of the lake. We were making about 5 knots powered by the Churchill that was tethered to the Lois McClure's hip. The Schooners sail and rigging had to be stowed for this part of the journey to enable it to navigate under the bridges of the Champlain Canal.
Towards the end of the day we slowed to anchor in the bay just below the spectacular ramparts of Fort Ticonderoga. A perfect evening which prompted a few hearty souls to go over the side for a swim in the lake. We tucked into a hearty supper on deck as the sun set. As we sat around Art Cohn Director of the LCMM talked about the historical significance of the Erie Canal and how it was able to knit together the east and west. How the canal created the communities and cities we see today and how it propelled New York City into a major Commerce center. The tour would visit many of these historic ports and communities along the canal and celebrate with them their contribution to canal culture. We also reviewed who our many sponsors were, and the role they played in making the tour possible.
Up bright and early and another nice day shaping up. A fishing party stopped by to tell us we had been on the TV news the night before and seemed pleased that they were able to locate the boat to see the real thing.
After breakfast we assembled for a crew morning meeting that was to become a regular event. Our captain outlined the rout for the day and what to be on the lookout for as this was to be our first lock of the tour. Duties were assigned for the volunteers and the new permanent crew members. Over the next few days we would be instructed on how to handle lines, maneuvering the boat into position for docking, bow lookout or assisting on the tug "Churchill". Importantly we were reminded on how to maintain the high safety standard that previous tours had set. Our destination was Whitehall at the south end of Lake Champlain. This is where the Champlain canal (opened in 1823) connects Lake Champlain with the Hudson River and the start of the Erie Canal (opened in 1825). This is a pleasant sail as the lake continually narrows down as it approaches Whitehall We spot herons, kingfishers and turtles sunning themselves on exposed logs. We are now settling into "Canal Boat" life getting use to the space above and below decks. Duty rosters were posted for meal preparation and clean up duties. The boat also had to be prepared for its busy schedule when it started its official tour in the Erie Canal. So plenty of scrubbing and cleaning took place today. An 80 foot plus boat is a lot of boat so I think we will be at this for a few more days. The boat actually lives two diverse lives. One that operates in the present day and one that replicates life in the 1860's. The crew of 13 have to live, sleep, eat and operate the boat, while for its official duties all this has to be transparent and hidden away so as the boat historically depicts life aboard in its working life of the 1860's. All this makes for interesting living for the crew. We approached Whitehall lock but first paid our respects to a special person with deep roots with the canal boat community. Cora Archambault a centenarian living in a house on the banks. We make a slow pass by and a blast on the Churchill horn was greeted by waves. The lock comes in site - we have a green light and the gates are open. Slowly we proceed into the cavernous chamber and tie up. The gates close behind us and slowly we rise up 15.3 feet to the level of the Champlain canal and exit to tie up at the dock. This is lock C-12. We have a place of honor reserved for us and a welcome party. We berth along side the tugboat "Urger" operated by the NY State Canal Corp. on tour in its education and promotional role. There is some free time available before dinner and a welcome shower is taken in the facilities in the Visitor Center building in the pleasant Skenesborough Harbor Park. Also next to the dock is the Skenesborough Museum that amongst its exhibits covers the history of Whitehall and its birthplace of the US Navy.
Uh! Uh! The skies are turning black and a few lightning flashes appear followed soon by a downpour, no sleeping on deck tonight.
The rain has passed and we assemble for our morning meeting. Everyone has got to know each other by now and there is more of a feeling of being a crew, Or as Art describes it we are becoming a family just like the families that used to live on these boats. We are headed to Schuylerville and have to pass through 5 locks today but first we must travel up in elevation 43.3 feet to Fort Edward and then we will descend from there 126.8 feet down to Waterford.. This is a historic area, characterized by the names Fort Ann and Fort Edward. There is evidence that we are also in the geological slate producing area that borders Vermont and New York. Here the banks have been constructed with slate debris from the quarries and provide a colorful array of grays, greens and reds. We join the Hudson River just south of Fort Edward. From here the canal alternates from the river to cutting back to a separate canal as it by passes weirs, falls or dams. Before arriving at Schuylerville an exciting point for us less experienced sailors occurred. We rounded a bend in the Hudson where the channel markers in the river made a wide sweep from one side to the other. Just below these markers was a further set of marker buoys alerting boats to a drop off over a falls. Our destination was what looked like a small channel opening on the far side where a canal cut provided safe passage. The fact that this course put us broadside on to the lip of the falls made us glad we did not have to do this in a spring run off where we would be fighting a strong current. We arrived at our dock area in late afternoon just above lock 5 at Schuylerville. This is a significant historic area. The original canal (before it was upgraded) can still be seen and lying in the field besides it is the remnants of the old heavy wooden lock gates complete with their hand operated sluices. A nice stretch of old canal runs into the downtown area Not far away is where the historic battle of Saratoga took place a decisive and important victory. It was the turning point of the American Revolution. In the months prior to October 8, 1777, the British suffered about 2,000 casualties. Burgoyne's forces, now down to about 6,000 men, took refuge in a fortified camp on the heights of Saratoga (today's Schuylerville). There an American force that was approaching 20,000 men surrounded the exhausted British army. For me Lock 5 was to be one of the highlights of the trip. It is here that much of the old lock operating equipment dating from the early 1900's can be seen and the lockkeepers are only too pleased to show you around and explain the operation. While the actual lock gates were replaced in 2002 the actuating mechanism for the gates and water sluices are all original equipment. For a techi like me it was heaven. On view are all the electrical contactors (lots of shinning brass and copper) and sequencing switches, DC motors and gearing. The locks gates are opened and closed by a large rack and pinion and gear assembly. This lock like all the locks on the Champlain Canal are gravity water fed and no pumps are required. Lock 5 has a lift of 19 ft and takes 8 minutes to fill or empty at a water flow of 23,000 gallons per minute. This lock also has another interesting feature in that it has its own hydro generating plant. Again a wonderful example of early 1900's engineering. The generator building houses a DC electrical generator driven from a water turbine. Speed control is through a fly ball governor and hydraulic servo that in turn controls the water flow to the turbine and hence its speed. A separate motor and oil pump provide the necessary hydraulic pressure for the controls. Control of the generating system is from a large electrical switchboard. Here are mounted large knife switches, voltage adjustment and electrical astatic meters for monitoring voltage and current.
The weather stayed pleasant into the evening and looked settled enough to allow sleeping on the deck.
Sleeping on deck makes one an early riser as the sun comes up at 5.00 am and it looked like another pleasant day. First cups of coffee are dispensed and more of the crew drift up onto the deck. Morning meeting and the days briefing, the crew is working better now as us rookies come up to speed after instruction in rope handling and tying off ropes. We have some practice in the correct way to toss a rope to a receiver on the dock without embarrassing ourselves with a short throw (rope never leaves the ship or falls in the water or is looped round your left leg, woops). Our destination is Waterford the start of the Erie Canal and excitement is high as this will be new territory for the boat and the crew. We depart and pass through lock 5 and head down river again passing through canal cuts to by pass weirs. It's a long stretch to the next lock just past Stillwater and I draw the "stove blacking" chore, having unfortunately let drop that I usually do my own stove with the same polish. Back on deck I sit up in the bow on bow watch duty. On to Mechanicville and we arrive to the sounding of the midday signal from the town or nearby factory. Just before lock 3 there is a railroad bridge and as we approach it looks really low clearance. We can also see the lock and it has a red light and the gates are closed. We slow up (or should I say we heave to) to wait for the lock to become free and to check our height clearance (our boat height measurements and the bridge clearance indicate we should be OK, but it looks awfully close). We get a green light from the lockkeeper and pass under the bridge I can feel what hair I have on my head laying absolutely flat as we pass underneath. A good 6 inches to spare? We pass through the lock and drop down a further 19.5 ft and on to lock 2 and down another 18.5 feet. Its only a short distance to the final Champlain Canal lock one and on the dock are some familiar faces. What a surprise when we exit the dock, as there ready and waiting is one of the NY State canal Corp tugboats our escort into Waterford. We make the turn out of the Hudson River leaving the Champlain Cannel section and enter the Erie Canal system and ease into our slip at the Waterford Harbor. This is only a temporary location to take care of empting our waste tanks. As we tie up a welcome party is there. But it is a group of youngsters that stole the show unwinding a banner on which they had written "Welcome Lois McClure". A cheer broke out in appreciation. After we had taken care of business we maneuvered back into the canal channel and moved into our first lock of the Erie Canal and it was big one with a 33.6 feet lift. As we were to stay at Waterford for the night our berth was in a section of the old Champlain Canal. Once we had cleared the lock we started our maneuver that required backing into our berth. It proved tricky as there wasn't a lot of maneuvering room and there was also a cross current as water made its way over a spillway. As we tied up Art made the comment that this was probably the first canal boat in hundred years that had been in this section of the old canal. We started tiding up and making the boat ready for a visit and Press conference in the morning. While we were about all this the Canal Corporation Director Carmella R. Mantello came aboard and was escorted round the boat by Art.
Lucky us; there was again a shower made available to us by the Canal Corporation and we were invited out for a cookout that evening.