By JEFF MEYERS
PLATTSBURGH — It was one of those perfect days — bright sunshine, gentle breeze and temperatures in the mid-70s.
Roger Taylor, captain of the Lois McClure, uttered commands into his portable two-way radio as the sailing canal boat inched away from the Essex Marina dock shortly after 9 a.m.
Powered by the tugboat C.L. Churchill and a smaller inflatable power boat — affectionately named "Oocher" by the McClure crew — the Lois McClure headed toward open water and its next port of call at Port Henry.
The historic replica of vessels that sailed Lake Champlain 150 years ago and its 16-person crew were beginning another voyage in a summer-long series of visits to Lake Champlain ports in honor of the quadricentennial celebration of Samuel de Champlain's arrival on the lake in 1609.
"It is absolutely joyous to bring this boat to communities and to share this history with the public," said Arthur Cohn, director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and captain of the tugboat.
"We're so very fortunate to be able to bring history to people in such an enjoyable and pleasurable fashion."
SAILING SINCE 2004
He said the Lois McClure has been to 100 ports and opened its decks to 150,000 visitors since setting sail in 2004.
The Lois McClure, constructed at Burlington Ship Yard, was modeled after two 1862-class canal schooners, including the General Butler, which was built in Essex, N.Y., and sank in Burlington Harbor during a winter gale in 1876.
"We have come full circle," Cohn said to the crew, comprising both Maritime Museum staff members and volunteers, as they prepared for the five-hour trip to Port Henry.
"Essex is one of those very special places. It really is the 19th century."
LINK TO PAST
Before embarking, 1st Mate and education specialist for the Maritime Museum Erick Tichonuk reviewed safety measures with the crew, reminding them to move slowly while on deck and to repeat orders when requested to do something.
With a final blast of its horn, the vessel said goodbye to Essex as it entered open water. The day offered scant wind blowing from the south, so the McClure did not raise its sails, relying on the steady chug of the Churchill at its side.
"The great thing about this boat is that it helps remind us of our connection to the past," volunteer crew member Jeff Hindes said as he manned the ship's wheel early in the voyage. "I've been boating all my life, but spending time on this boat every year is special."
Hindes, a history teacher in Hinesburg, Vt., has a personal connection with the Lois McClure. His great-grandfather captained a canal boat from Vergennes in the 1890s.
The crew settled into the day at sea, focusing on their individual duties or relaxing on or below deck as the boat moved along at about five knots per hour.
The forested terrain of New York's shoreline slipped by, reminding those aboard what it must have been like for the original crew members as they hauled loads of materials to and from the Champlain Valley when the lake was a major commercial route.
Other boaters on the lake would often turn to gaze at the McClure, waving to the crew members as they waved back with warm greetings.
"I feel very privileged to be a part of this historic vessel," said Taylor, who has been with the Maritime Museum since 1991 and has captained the McClure for five straight years.
LIVING ON BOARD
For boatswain Len Ruth, the McClure is much more than a summer excursion. Ruth lives aboard the vessel year-round, making sure the boat is safe and secure during the winter months when the frozen lake surrounds it.
"A day like today is wonderful," he said of Monday's voyage. "When it's blowing and raining it can get old, but that's all part of the job."
Following a lunch of salad and sandwiches, the crew prepared for its arrival at Port Henry.
There, the crew prepared for trips to Westport today and Saturday and then Plattsburgh next week, so others can discover the history of Lake Champlain commerce and heritage.
The Day Peckinpaugh, a replica 1862 canal boat, will also be in Plattsburgh and available for public tours along with the Lois McClure.
The boat is traveling the Champlain and Hudson Corridor on its 500-mile Quadricentennial Legacy Voyage.
The 259-foot canal boat, built in 1921, will join the Lois McClure and 1901 Tug Urger at the Wilcox Dock in Plattsburgh Monday and Tuesday.
The Day Peckinpaugh was the first canal motorship ever built and is the only one that remains. Rescued from the scrap yard in 2005, it is now the largest single item in the collection of the New York State Museum.
The tour marks its first voyage in its new role as a traveling museum.
The voyage is organized by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, in conjunction with Saratoga National Historical Park, the New York State Museum, the New York State Canal Corp. and community partners.
E-mail Jeff Meyers at: firstname.lastname@example.org