Lois McClure moves from lock into Whitehall

07/18/05 12:00AM By Lynne McCrea
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(Host) An 1860's replica sailing vessel has reached a milestone in its journey from Lake Champlain to New York City. The 88-foot Lois McClure has made its way through a series of locks in the Champlain Canal and is now on the Hudson River.

VPR's Lynne McCrea was on board when the canal schooner first started traveling through the locks, and she has this report.

(McCrea) It's been more than 100 years since a boat like this has made its way through the Champlain Canal. The replica Lois McClure is tracing what used to be a busy trade route for freight vessels in the late 19th century.

(Captain Roger Taylor) "Never been through the Champlain Canal, never been down the Hudson River."

(McCrea) The captain of the 88-foot boat is Roger Taylor. Along with about a dozen crew members he's trying to anticipate the unknown as he guides this carefully constructed schooner toward its first lock the northern most lock in the canal.

(Taylor) "These locks are user-friendly. The walls are smooth. The lock keepers are friendly, which lock keepers aren't always all over the world. But these lock keepers are friendly and helpful. So, the biggest challenge will be in maneuvering the boat, particularly if the wind is blowing across the lock. That's the challenge."

(McCrea) The wind is blowing at about 20 knots as the boat heads south past Chipman's Point and Orwell Bluff, on into the narrow part of Lake Champlain. It's so narrow it looks more like a river, with shallow marshes and rocky bluffs in the distance. Here, it's easy to imagine the year 1823, when the Champlain Canal first opened, giving entry to a whole new world of trade and prosperity for western Vermont.

(Walkie-talkie) "Lock 12, this is the Lois McClure" Response:" This is lock 12. It's going to be a few minutes. We have to dump the chamber."

(McCrea) Four hours after leaving Ticonderoga, the Lois McClure approaches "Lock 12" in Whitehall New York. For this leg of the journey, the schooner is being powered by a tugboat which is anchored at its side, so the two vessels will go into the lock together. First Mate Erick Tichonuk describes what is just ahead:

(Tichonuk) "Basically what you have is an enormous set of steel doors, painted yellow in this case, bigger than any barn doors you've ever seen! Ah, these gates swing open slowly and then we're gonna go ahead and enter into what is basically a large container. Since we need to go uphill first, we're starting low, and then we'll be climbing, going up and into the town of Whitehall."

(doors closing and water lapping)

"Slow astern" "Neutral"

(McCrea) The schooner makes it way into the 300 foot long "container", which is far bigger than the original locks that boats like this once had to navigate.

(Tichonuk ) "It's an amazing volume of water that's coming in to here."

(McCrea) As water pours in and the Lois McClure quickly rises, the crew negotiates ropes and makes sure wooden boards protect the boat as it's held snug inside the concrete space.

(Creaking of boards against a concrete wall)

(McCrea) In less than half an hour, and with seemingly little effort, the Lois McClure quietly slips out of Lock 12 and into Whitehall, looking stately in the midst of the modern day pleasure craft that now travel here.

(Tichonuk) "Foredeck, prepare a starboard bow line!"

(McCrea) And as the crew prepares to dock for the night, the town signals its welcome of the Lois McClure.

(Bell ringing in the distance)

(McCrea) For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Lynne McCrea.

(Tichonuk) "And now we're up in the canal finally."
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