Historic schooner replica Lois McClure heads in to drylock
FERRISBURGH — On Aug. 24, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s schooner Lois McClure left her home port on a very important mission — getting ship-shape in anticipation of her 12th year of operation.
Her destination was the New York State Canal Corporation shipyard at Waterford, N.Y., where a team of shipwrights working with David Short of North Atlantic Shipbuilding and Repair, of West Montville, Maine, will replace any worn, damaged or rotted planking and timbers and recaulk seams.
“We’re especially grateful to the McClure family and to the many donors, volunteers, and friends of the schooner who made her first decade so successful, and whose enlightened support provides for the maintenance essential to her continued operation,” said Michael Smiles, executive director of the LCMM. “Schooner Lois McClure has been the most effective outreach program LCMM has ever conducted, and a leader in the world of maritime museums. The schooner will be in highly qualified hands for this essential maintenance work, and we are already looking forward to her 2016 season.”
Launched in 2004, the replica 1862 canal schooner Lois McClure embarked on 11 journeys with her faithful sidekick and essential power source, the tug C.L. Churchill. Having logged over 5,200 miles on our interconnected lake, canals and rivers, she has ventured as far south as New York City, as far west as Buffalo, and as far north as Quebec City engaging people in the history and archaeology of their waterways. Over 220,000 visitors have stepped on board in 220 communities, and learned of shipbuilding races, naval battles, lake ecology, shipwreck preservation and invasive species.
“Caring for a wooden boat is an ongoing process, much like owning an automobile,” explains Deputy Director Erick Tichonuk, who oversees schooner operations. “It’s never finished, always an ongoing process. As these boats age, greater maintenance and occasionally a larger project are needed. And with replica vessels, we learn a lot from experience, since the boatyards and crews of the past are long gone.”
Annual maintenance of the schooner includes safety inspection and repairs or replacements of accessible portions of the vessel showing wear or rot. Over the years, sections of decking have been replaced, rigging has been repaired and replaced, and repainting is always part of the program. The biggest project so far was replacing the foremast, in 2011.
What’s different about the 10-year haul out? Every five years, the vessel undergoes a hull inspection which requires haul-out, during which careful scrutiny is given to the vessel, especially areas below the waterline which are inaccessible during normal operations. Any areas needing work are identified, and assessed. Immediate repairs are undertaken and larger repairs, especially any below the waterline, are scheduled.
The time in dry dock this fall is the opportunity to tackle any issues below the waterline. Since there is only one facility in the Champlain Valley that could handle this vessel, the museum had to wait for the availability of a dry dock with facilities to handle this boat, and the availability of skilled shipwrights to converge.
“The scale and scope of the dry dock at Waterford is phenomenal,” notes Tichonuk. “When flooded it’s equal to five barge canal locks in scale — we will be in there with other boats at the same time. We will make the most of this opportunity to witness another aspect in the life of a working wooden canal boat. The dry dock is historic in and of itself.”
Shipwright David Short of North Atlantic Shipbuilding and Repair has also made his mark in schooner restoration with work on the Lettie G. Howard of South Street Seaport and the Bowdoin, originally built for Arctic exploration.
LCMM is grateful to Lake Champlain Transportation Company and the New York State Canal Corporation, both of whom have provided in-kind services that have greatly reduced the costs of this required work, and have been essential in ensuring the continued operation of schooner Lois McClure.
“We are delighted to assist this icon of our canal heritage so that she can continue her mission of engaging people with the story of how New York’s canal system was central to the growth and development of the state, the region and the United States,” said Brian Stratton, director of the NYSCC.
LCMM also thanks Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront, and the Lake Champlain Basin Program for helping to make the schooner operations possible. The schooner’s 2014/2015 operations were funded in part by an agreement awarded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to the New England Water Pollution Control Commission in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program. NEI WPCC manages LCBP’s personnel, contract, grant and budget tasks and provides input on the program’s activities through a partnership with the LCBP steering committee.
“For tall ship ambassadors around the world, periodic maintenance and renewal assures these messengers continue their mission for years to come,” says Mike Smiles. “We welcome the community to join us in preparing for the next chapter in the schooner’s very own ‘historic story.’ The 2016 season is coming fast, and we are looking ahead to 2017, the Bicentennial of the Northern and Western Canals, when the first shovel went into the ground at Rome, NY, starting construction of the canals that transformed our waterways and ultimately led to the launch of our own canal schooner Lois McClure.”