Champlain Canal

You know, the early wars kind of run together in my head…the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

I really need to sort it out because an awful lot of the early history in the communities along the Champlain Canal have to do with one or more of these wars.

60 miles, from Waterford, where the Erie takes off to the west, to Whitehall, at the base of Lake Champlain. The Champlain Canal. We stayed in Mechanicsville, Fort Edward, and Whitehall.

And, come to find out, there was a time when Benedict Arnold was a good guy. He did a lot of good for the Americans in this part of the world. It seems he put together a Navy of sorts and repelled the British from coming down Lake Champlain and down into the Hudson.

A lot of the towns have “Fort” in the name. Fort Edward, Fort Anne, Fort Ticonderoga. Not many of the original forts are still standing, but there are signs all around the towns telling about what happened there.

Fort Edward free wall. With electricity.
Fort Edward Historical Society. We stopped in and discovered it was more a library than a museum. The women there were happy to give is a brief history. Fort Edward is where, pre canal days, people (troops and others) left the Hudson to portage over to Lake George.
Group of loopers at Fort Edward.

Before the Champlain Canal was created, people boated up the Hudson until it turned west at Fort Edward. Then they portaged the boats over to Lake George which runs north and south. When they reached the north end of Lake George, it was a pretty short (although steep) portage over the Lake Champlain, which gets you all the way to Canada and most of the way to the St. Lawrence River.

There was a lot of back and forth between the French and British, and later the British and Americans over these forts. It’s all very interesting.

As you continue north from Waterford on the Hudson, it gets narrower and narrower. There are locks to control the water level, but for much of it, it still feels like a river. Eventually, the river goes west and an actual canal takes off to the north and east. There were places that reminded us of the Dismal Swamp, down in Virginia/North Carolina, only a bit wider.

The towns are all a little sad. They clearly had their boom times, but now are really struggling. The parks along the canal tie-ups are cute and well-kempt, but there are quite a few empty storefronts in the towns.

Whitehall. Lots of empty storefronts.
Whitehall, NY

One thing that is nice to see along the canal is so many kids/teens out fishing. Kids will ride their bikes down to the river/canal with their fishing gear to pass time.

In Whitehall, the canal tie-up is right next to the fire station. The VERY LOUD siren goes off at noon each day. We couldn’t figure out why it was going off at an odd time until we saw cars with little blue lights tearing into the parking lot. It is a volunteer fire department and these were the volunteers. Called there by the siren. (They may have had other communication devices, but the siren is a nice touch.)

The big story on the Champlain Canal, as far as boating is concerned, are the low bridges. You have to be able to get your boat under a 17′ air draft in order to be able to do the Champlain.

We measured the boat a couple of years ago and we are 17’6″ to the top of the anchor light. Once we take off the plug-in anchor light and a twist-on GPS antenna, we are 16’7″. According to our calculations and measurements. Sure hope they were accurate!

There is one highly publicized 15.5″ bridge that would be a show stopper except that the lockmaster/dam master can let extra water out of the “pool” between the locks and get the air draft to 17′. It takes a couple of hours to let the water out, so we called in the evening to request the lowering for the next day. They told us that it should be ready by 10 am, so a couple of us pulled off the dock promptly at 10 and headed for the lock.

There were three boats in the lock that day, two of which – including us – were close to 17′. We let the shortest boat go through first, to see what it looked like. Then we went through and then the boat that was just a bit taller than us. Whew! We all made it.

Great celebration aboard Blessings Flow to safely make it under the bridge.

Then, it turned out there are a number of 17′ bridges along the four day trip. We slowed down for them, calling to each other on the radio whether the clearance looked good. One boat had put together a “cheater pole”. A person would stand on the bow with the carefully measured pole as they slowly, slowly approached. If the pole hit the bridge, they would know they should not continue.

Our friends on a boat slightly taller than ours, coming to one of the low bridges.

We all made it all the way to the end, although at the last bridge, the cheater pole did touch. Happily, they had build some and inch or two leeway into the pole, so the boat made it through unscathed.

Doing some maintenance along the way at one of the town walls. In this case it was replacing duckbill valves in the vacu-flush system.