Replica schooner sits in anything-but-dry-dock in Fort Plain
FORT PLAIN The crew of the Lois McClure huddled under hoods and canvas tarps as the rain fell Tuesday afternoon.
“The deck leaks,” said Tom Larsen, “so there are quite a few puddles down below.”
The 88-foot vessel was tied up along Lock 15 with the C.L. Churchill, a small tugboat, lashed to her starboard side.
“I tried to stop the leaks,” said Ian Montgomery, whose father is a shipwright, “but it’s just a never-ending chase.”
The boat is a replica of two 1862-class canal schooners sunk in Lake Champlain. It was launched by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in 2004, but with 1800s designs come 1800s problems — like leaky decks.
“With today’s materials, we could make sure this thing never leaked again,” Larsen said, motioning to the quarter-acre of pine decking, “but that wouldn’t be period.”
A group of fourth-graders from Fort Plain Central School had planned on touring the ship Tuesday morning, but the outing was put off for a day so the weather could clear. The boat did open as planned for the public at 3 p.m.
Art Cohn, project director and historian in charge, emerged from the tug in bright yellow foul-weather gear as guests started to arrive.
“I think it’s clearing up,” he said. “Watch your step.”
He chatted with Julian and Marti Shoemaker, who drove all the way from Burlington, Vt., where the boat is usually kept, to see it in action.
“We can go on crazy adventures like this whenever we want,” Marti Shoemaker said.
Cohn filled in several people on the War of 1812, which is the educational focus of this year’s “Commemorating the War, Celebrating the Peace” voyage through Canada and along the Erie Canal.
“For a lot of people, this is their dose of history,” he said.
But the few who braved the dank weather were more interested in how the trip was going than the history.
“We’ve had some great adventures,” Cohn said, knocking on the great beam holding the mast lashed above the deck, “without any really hard knocks.”
Down below, despite the leaks, the boat was pretty homey. The 141⁄2 feet are crammed with living quarters for the 12 men who operate the vessel.
Larsen has a berth, but he’s been there for seven years and has seniority. Montgomery got on the boat three weeks ago and sleeps on one of the huge, flat ballast rocks chained to the sides of the hull.
“It’s not too bad. I can stretch out,” he explained.
The schooner’s cargo heritage is in every inch of the hull.
Along the center of the interior floor runs an 18-inch-wide, oak spine. The inside of the hull is braced by thick diagonal boards bolted through the frame, and the deck is held up by gently arching beams.
“The design is meant to carry 100,000 pounds of freight easily,” Montgomery said, “so we have the advantage of a sturdy boat.”
It might be strong, but it is pretty wet, and the dozen-man crew were pretty anxious to catch a ride into town to the home of Sevim Morawski, who stopped by to offer a homemade Turkish dinner.
“We haven’t been able the cook a meal in this town,” Cohn said. “The hospitality is extraordinary.”
The school kids will get their tour this morning, then the Lois McClure will be off to Canajoharie, then Amsterdam, where it will be available for tours Saturday and Sunday in Riverlink Park, just over the walking bridge from the Riverfront Center.
For additonal information, visit www.lcmm.org.