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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lois McClure

Lake Champlain is a large lake that separates Vermont from New York up in the northern kingdom. It's a large lake, and steeped in history going all the way back to 1609 and its 'discovery' by Samuel de Champlain.

It's a big lake, and before the railroads, was a major transportation route. The forest is thick up there and the terrain has many changes in elevation - you're constantly climbing up or down. The rivers and lakes provided a much easier path for travel - even in the winter, when frozen solid!

With travel came trade, and for centuries, traders used Lake Champlain, the Richelieu River and the Hudson River to carry goods from the north country to New York City. In the 1800s, New York started digging canals to make that trade even easier. With canals, came canal boats; boats sized as large as possible to fit in the canals, and especially the locks that lifted and lowered boats as the elevation of the canal changed.

Lois McClure is a replica of the canal boats used in 1862. She's sized to just fit into the locks of the canals as they were at that time. She has one feature that makes her very rare - she has a sailing rig. Her sails enable her to travel Lake Champlain faster, and to be able to visit more ports there. Most canal boats were towed by mule team. The canals of that era were far too shallow to sail on - not deep enough for a keel or dagger board. Because Lois McClure was meant to sail the deep Champlain, she has a dagger board that can be dropped down to help steady her when under sail.

I spent a long time talking with the crew. They live aboard! Lois McClure was built and is operated by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Every person I spoke to was a wealth of information. If you're in the area, stop by and touch a piece of history. Ask how they found the plans to build her (scuba divers spent hundreds of hours on wrecks in Lake Champlain!) and the history of the wonderful little tug that accompanies her, C.L. Churchill, also of Burlington, VT.

You can tell I'm excited about this. Underwater archaeology is something I'd really like to do myself!

Oh, I almost forgot the photo! Silly me. The photo is the tiller wheel. This provides mechanical advantage when steering under sail. The wheel is attached to the wooden 'dowel' (for lack of a better term for a 10 inch diameter log); turning the wheel turns the dowel, which turns/pulls the line. The line goes in turn to blocks port and starboard and then to the forward end of the tiller arm which is directly attached to the rudder post. In the calm water where we were, my 7 year-old had no trouble at all moving the rudder from stop to stop with one hand. Simple and elegant.

1 comment:

  1. I love getting a history lesson along with a pretty picture :)


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