On most of the classic cruising grounds of America a family is hardly the ideal crew. First of all, the father has to know something about boats. Second, in places like the Alaska passage or the north shore of Lake Superior, even the best-natured of children is likely to get a touch of cabin fever. But there is one cruise—known prosaically as the Triangle—that has a tremendous advantage over all the other waterways of this continent: near by runs the New York Thruway, plus a network of other highways, and the opportunity for a quick, dry ride home. Last summer, with the pioneer spirit that carried our family in one generation from Texas to Long Island, we decided to tackle the Triangle.
For more than 1,000 miles the course winds from Manhattan to Montreal and back, past meadow and mountain and ports, along rivers, lakes and canals. Around each bend is a reminder that history was made here, often violently, but the old forts and ruins do not look that way now, only peaceful and serene, a part of the lovely countryside. The fishing, camping and swimming are superb. The entire trip, in fact, is twice as delightful—but not nearly so easy—as it sounds.
For one thing, no boat trip is ever so easy as it sounds, especially if it is your first one and you have to do all the driving yourself. The boat we used was a 25-foot Skee-Craft cabin cruiser, built in Intercourse, Pa. and equipped with twin 80-horsepower Volvo-Penta inboard-outboard motors. There were sleeping accommodations for four adults and, converting this into my own particular crew of large and small bodies—two adults, three children and a 6-month-old poodle—I decided that the floor plan would do. However, an old law of the sea was overlooked: three children on shipboard are equal in displacement to six adults any day. As for the dog, everyone knows that a poodle is intelligent, trustworthy, loyal and no more trouble than a Percheron.
May 6, 1962
Still, it was a nice boat. We loaded up, and at 8:30 one August morning sailed on an outgoing tide. Or maybe it was an incoming tide. We never did find out.
At Hell Gate we turned right into the Harlem River and at 9:40 came abreast of Yankee Stadium, WHITE SOX HERE TODAY, the sign said. Scot's 11-year-old eyes gleamed. "Daddy, can we?" "No," I said. "But Maris may hit No. 60 before we get back." "No, he won't," I said. "Ford Frick won't let him."
Across Spuyten Duyvil Creek, where the Harlem flows into the Hudson, stands a swing bridge over which New York Central freight trains clatter. The bridge was closed. From 100 yards it seemed certain that we could pass underneath; at 60 yards it was less certain; at 20 yards the first mate yelled "Stop!" Since the first mate was my wife, Charlyne, I stopped. We all stared at the bridge.
"Are we going to turn around and go home now?" asked Tracy, who is 8. "We're going to the ball game," said Scot. Suddenly David, 13, reached over and pressed the horn button. "Beeep," said the horn. "Squeeek," said the bridge and began to open. We slipped through and shoved the throttles forward.
The Hudson has been called the Rhine of America, probably by someone who never got closer to Ludwigshafen than Teaneck, N.J. It is not the Rhine but it is good enough, a great canyon of a river bordered by steep, wooded hills. It is an unusually deep river, with more than 100 feet of water sometimes extending right up against shore, enabling cowards to cruise within a few yards of dry land.
Past Yonkers we ran and Dobbs Ferry and under the magnificent Tappan Zee Bridge. Sing Sing arose on the hills over Ossining, and the children searched through binoculars for an escaped convict. No luck. We roared through Haverstraw Bay, past Jones Point, where the mothball fleet rusts away, and into a small cove for lunch just beyond the Bear Mountain Bridge. There, attempting to go forward while peeling a hard-boiled egg, David went overboard. He swam back to the cockpit, egg in hand, and we helped him clamber aboard. The two younger children still consider this the high point of the trip.
We passed the U.S. Military Academy at West Point within a few minutes of leaving our noon anchorage, slowing to admire the view but deciding against stopping in. For one thing, we had all been to West Point before; for another, we had neglected to get the required landing permit.
The lower Hudson is a repository of history—New York State's first capital at Kingston, George Washington's last headquarters at Newburgh, FDR's home at Hyde Park—and there are docking facilities minutes away from each site. But, as one who has walked right past Buckingham Palace and the Peppermint Lounge, I refused to interrupt a perfectly good boat trip by stopping to sightsee within an hour's automobile drive of Manhattan. However, we did stop to visit five boys wallowing in the midst of the first recorded crossing of the Hudson River by hen house from Cedarcliff to Wappinger Creek.
"Couldn't you have built a better raft?" we asked. "More fun this way," they said. We offered them a tow. "That wouldn't be sporting," said the spokesman, evidently the captain since he occupied the only barrel on board. "Hope you make it," we called back as we moved away. "Tomorrow," the captain answered, "if not today."
The first overnight target of this voyage was Catskill Creek, a psychic choice as it turned out. Five miles away and 110 miles from home, something let go in the starboard motor, and we chugged into Catskill Creek on one engine. There was a jewel of an anchorage. A huge boulder mirrored in a quiet little pool stood just off the stern and there was an even prettier sight off the bow. HOME COOKED MEALS, the sign said.
While I got in the mechanic's way the next morning, the boys went fishing in a borrowed skiff (three catfish, five perch, two eels) and dropped only one rod and reel overboard. Tracy and her mother performed what was to become a daily ritual in civilized ports: grocery shopping, clothes laundering, and exercising Max, the poodle. It was midafternoon before we cast off, too late to attack the barge canals that day but early enough to reach Albany, 32 miles away and a change of scenery for the night.
The Albany Yacht Club did not exceed our expectations. "Well, you can try to sleep on the boat," the manager said, "but a lot of tankers and barges come through here, and we're not very well protected from the swells. Try the Inn Towne Motor Hotel across the bridge." The Inn Towne had a swimming pool and a fine restaurant, a pleasant port of refuge for castaways.
Next morning we encountered our first lock, the Federal Lock in the Hudson at Troy. For pleasure boats it operates on the hour if barge traffic is not too heavy; it sat there, large, dark and threatening while we waited outside, quivering.
Every boatman must enter his first lock with much the same anticipation that a rookie quarterback feels before his first game in the NFL, Unlike pro tackles, however, locks are quite easy to get through. A lock is nothing but an oversize shoebox with a watertight door at either end. You enter from downstream, the door closes at your back. Water is pumped into the lock, and the boat rises until it is level with the stream above the falls or dam. The upstream door opens and out you go, having bypassed rapids and dams while gaining 10 or 20 or 40 feet. Heading downstream, the procedure is reversed. The one complicating factor is that a certain amount of turbulence exists inside a lock when the water depth changes, so you must attach yourself firmly to a wall in order to avoid bashing in the side of the boat.
According to an impressive little volume (Your Key to the Lock, issued by the Army Engineers), the proper procedure for making fast is to break out a line at least 60 feet in length. The line is made fast to a bow cleat, passed around the steel bollards or snubbing posts atop the lock wall, and the loose end held by a crew member in the stern of the boat. As the water level changes, the line is pulled in or paid out.
To further protect the boat, it is fashionable to build a bumper out of a bewildering collection of lines, fenders and a couple of two-by-fours. Less fashionable but much simpler are hay bags, available for $1 apiece at one of the marinas—Albany Yacht Club, Tri-City Yacht Basin—near the Federal Lock. Suspended by ropes, one forward and one aft, they furnish marvelous protection. Old tires, once very popular, are now outlawed since they sometimes fall off the boat, sink and foul up the outlet valves.
Full of such prior knowledge, hay bags in place, boat hook at the ready, two 100-foot lines coiled in our hands, we waited. A green light flashed on top of the lock gate, the gates swung open and we crept in, self-conscious beneath the gaze of the lockkeeper. We aimed for one of the recessed steel ladders that run up the lock walls, but overshot. David, who had caught the ladder with his boat hook, almost went over the side. Charlyne clutched him, and together they pulled the boat into the ladder and grabbed it with their hands. It was slimy. "Quick," I said. "Throw the man a line."
Lockkeepers, having observed all manner of idiots in their time, are tolerant men. "You don't need the ropes," this one said pleasantly. "Just hold on to the ladder with your hand. Then when the water rises you just walk the boat right up alongside the ladder by hand."
"The book says that we have to secure ourselves fore and aft by lines," I told him. "We bought two back in Albany. You have to—"
"Just walk the boat up the ladder by hand," he said and went back into the little pump house.
In a moment the pumps began to pound, the water began to rise—and we walked the boat up the ladder by hand. Before the day was out, each member of the family had walked the boat up a ladder by hand—all except Max, the poodle, who cowered in the cabin, under the forward bunk, for the first three days of the trip.
Just beyond the Federal Lock a sign appeared on the riverbank with an arrow pointing to the right and another to the left. Champlain, says the starboard arrow. Erie, says the port. Turning left, we came almost immediately upon the first of a spectacular series of five locks that lift the boat 169 feet within 1½ miles. The lockkeeper, a short, happy man, asked for our permit number.
"We don't have one," I said.
"That's O.K." he said. "Come inside, I'll write you one out."
Before nightfall we had climbed through seven locks, the average passage requiring 30 minutes, and gained 210 feet. Between locks we cruised grandly along the land cuts at the regulated speed of six miles an hour, speeding up to 10 when entering the Mohawk River, which forms a part of the canal system. Cultivated fields stretched away on either side. The children went forward to lie on the deck, lazing in the afternoon sun. Charlyne relieved me at the wheel in the more open stretches of the river. Water skiers skimmed past us in Crescent Bay. Fishermen looked up from their corks and waved. We anchored for a swim below Lock 7, near Vischers Ferry, and went on into the Schenectady Yacht Club for the night. This is a cooperative-type club, where the members themselves come down to help the visiting yachtsmen feel at home. The atmosphere is pleasant; the mosquitoes are not.
The most enjoyable way to travel the canals is to join forces with another boat, an arrangement that furnishes mutual assistance in the unlikely event of trouble, conversation during locking and, at lunchtime, a choice of sandwiches. We discovered our companions the next morning at the first gas pump, a pleasant family of four with a 31-foot sport fisherman and an ancient English setter named Queenie.
Alternating the lead with them we traveled 50 miles that day, ascending eight locks. For a while we were stuck behind a tug and a barge; then a considerate lockkeeper told us it would be all right to speed up and go around. Another lockkeeper watched Charlyne battling the alcohol stove, a compact demon that plagued her for all three weeks, alternately refusing to start, then flaring so spectacularly that it threatened to turn the boat into a Viking funeral pyre. "Do you have any peanut butter and jelly?" the keeper asked. Charlyne nodded. "Feed 'em peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," he said. "Doctor told my daughter to give her kids that. Healthiest thing there is. Full of vitamins." Charlyne thanked the nice man and turned off the stove. The children smiled; Max and I growled.
We moved on through the Erie Canal, climbing the locks, gliding past creeks with lyrical Indian names—Chuctanunda, Otsquago, Canajoharie—and a few that owed more to the Anglo-Saxon influence—Flat, Mother, Washout. Beginning at Schenectady, the country bordering the Erie is full of landmarks from early America. In the town itself a group of beautiful 18th century homes has been preserved; and, just west of Fonda, they have excavated the site of Caughnawaga, a Mohawk Indian village. The canal through here has few marinas; we spent the night tied up alongside the town dock at St. Johnsville, where the Chamber of Commerce has improved the old canal terminal, installed gas pumps and electric plugs. There were no showers near by, but the children bathed in the river, stirring up a bubble bath of foam.
With an early start, 82 miles were covered the next day, including the passage of seven more locks and Lake Oneida. Since the Erie locks do not run on schedule, you can stop for sightseeing without facing a long delay later on. The best places are at Mohawk, where the Fort Herkimer Church, used as a fort during the French and Indian Wars, still stands, and at Rome, where on August 6, 1777 a Continental Army stopped the British advance through the Mohawk Valley in one of the bloodiest of Revolutionary battles. A tall granite monument marks the spot. It rained the day we glided past the monument, but it was a warm, gentle rain. We put up the Navy top, snapped on the side curtains—and out came the sun. The countryside, refreshed, sparkled like Tiffany's window. Off to one side, out of sight, we could occasionally hear motorists roaring along the Thruway. We passed a score of tugs and barges; sometimes the crew members would wave back, sometimes they only regarded us in amused wonder, unable to figure out why anyone who could stay at home, watching a ball game on TV with a cold bottle of beer in hand, would choose to travel this silly canal.
Past Rome, the Erie reaches its high point of 420 feet above sea level and begins to descend. After locks 21 and 22, there is a 24-mile run across Lake Oneida, which is shallow and can kick up a nasty chop when the wind blows more than 15 mph. But at Brewerton on the western end of the lake there is a snug marina with a restaurant that serves some of the best fried chicken in the world.
Early the next morning we left the Erie Canal and turned right into the Oswego River. The Erie goes all the way to Buffalo, but we had long ago decided to turn into the Oswego and head directly for Lake Ontario. For one thing, the trip to Buffalo involves almost 200 additional miles of canal cruising; the Erie had been a charming interlude, but we had no intention of adopting it as a way of life. And from Buffalo there is also the matter of a 220-mile run down the entire length of Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence. In a small boat this is an unwise gamble. According to ship captains regularly traveling the route, Lake Ontario in a blow, because of its shallow bottom, can be rougher than the Atlantic Ocean.
On the Oswego, there is a great deal of boating activity, and we picked up several other cruisers and wound along like a destroyer flotilla on the way to battle. In each lock, rather than fight for position at the four ladders—a rather brutal sport usually reserved for holiday weekends—spare boats become parasites, tying up alongside someone else. This is called nesting. It is very pleasant for the parasite, and your hands don't get slimy from the ladders.
If, upon popping out of the last lock at Oswego, Lake Ontario is too rough even for the short hop across its tip, a visit to Fort Ontario and Battle Island State Park will help pass the time. When we arrived, however, Ontario lay glistening and quiet. We slipped through the seawall and took off for the Galloo Island Light, 28 miles to the north. For the first time in days the motors roared, and then the roar turned into a howl and a song. The boat climbed on top of the water and fled. A long wake curved astern. The wind whipped through our hair and tugged at our clothes. Soon we were out of sight of land. The leisure pace of the canals had been fun. Now it was fun to race again.
We soon passed Galloo Island, and in an hour we were in the Thousand Islands. Between Carleton and Wolfe islands we anchored for cocktails and dinner in water unlike any we had seen, cold and crystal-green. The nylon anchor line shimmered, magnified until it disappeared from sight some 20 feet below. The children dived in for a swim, yelling and splashing, and Max went in after them. We hauled him out with a long-handled landing net, and he shook himself dry, transferring several gallons of the St. Lawrence from his person to ours and weakening the Martinis quite a bit.
That night, under a lovely moon, we continued up the well-marked American channel, under the great, soaring arc of the Thousand Islands Bridge. Opposite Alexandria Bay we turned left across the river and checked in with Canadian customs at the little town of Rock-port. We docked at the marina run by Howard Huck, a stout, jovial man who escorted rum across the St. Lawrence during Prohibition, and there we remained for the better part of four days.
The Thousand Islands—actually there are 1,792 of them—form one of the great aquatic playgrounds of America. Some of the islands are mere rocks jutting from the water; others, seven miles long, have excellent camping and picnic facilities, especially those on the Canadian side, where firewood is neatly stacked and tables and campsites are already prepared.
Each day we swam, we canoed, we water-skied. The boys broke out their flippers and masks and snorkels, pursuing perch and carp with homemade spears. We picnicked on the islands. And we fished, early and late, throwing red-and-white striped daredevil lures after pickerel and pike. In between times we loafed along as slowly as we cared to, cruising the endless channels that weave and twist between the islands.
Whenever we felt like a little touch of civilization, we put back into Alexandria Bay, a resort area with good public docks, hotels, motels, golf courses, tennis courts and a number of good restaurants—the Canadian green corn is delicious. Perhaps we would have remained in the Thousand Islands until the river froze up if I hadn't made the mistake of buying a newspaper one day. The news was good—the Reds still led the National League—but the date was a shock: Saturday, August 26. More than half the distance to travel but less than half our allotted three weeks remained. We took one last swim, made one final cast for pike and set off again.
We flew 50 miles down the St. Lawrence to the Iroquois Lock, first of seven in the great Seaway system. The Iroquois, though smaller than the Snell and Eisenhower locks that lay ahead, seemed monstrous after the Erie. We pulled over to one of the huge walls that fan out from the lock entrance. Max tried to follow me when I went up to the ladder to check with the lockmaster. But like most dogs, he is ill-equipped to climb ladders. Charlyne took the net and fished him out again. We went through the lock and on down the river to anchor in a deep cove near the Massena Town Beach for the night.
The decision whether to anchor alone and enjoy the solitude of a boat on the water on a summer night or to dock at a marina and enjoy the benefits of civilization is one that faces the Triangle Cruise traveler at the end of almost every day. This time, with the new Massena Marina just downstream, we made the wrong choice. A savage squall struck at 4:30 in the morning; the rain came down in sheets and the waves threatened to send us pounding against the rocks on shore. Throwing on foul-weather gear, I went topside to start the motors, just in case, while David played a flashlight beam on the beach. Fortunately the anchor held; we continued to swing and pitch violently, but in half an hour the storm passed, the waves smoothed out and we all went back to bed.
When we awoke, the sky was sunny and bright. We went through the Eisenhower Lock and moved on ahead to the Snell. There, waiting, was what looked like the largest tanker ever built—and the lockmaster called her in first. She almost scraped the sides. We were trying to decide how long a wait this meant when the lock-master's megaphone sounded: "Get that boat in here." We crept inside.
He waved us forward and forward until the tanker's massive stern loomed over our heads like the cliffs of Navarone. "Is this safe?" I shouted. No answer. We tied up to one of the ingenious floating bollards recessed in vertical slots in the lock walls. The pumps forced the water out, and we settled, 20, 30, 40 feet. The downstream gates swung open. I could see the huge propellers ahead begin to turn. Weeks before, a St. Lawrence veteran had warned us that turbulence from big props could tear up a small boat like ours. I clutched the line holding us to the lock wall like a drowning man.
Whirling eddies were forming in the tanker's wake and I could see one of them sucking us down, but the little boat only bobbed slightly. "Start your motors and cast off," the lockmaster called. Keeping our distance, we followed the tanker out of the lock with a collective sigh. It hadn't been bad at all. Later we found out that it never is.
Sunday is a bad day to travel in Canada. Leaving the channel just beyond the Snell Lock, we headed for the city of Cornwall. This is normally a bustling town, with fine woolens for sale, and china and a variety of English goods; naturally, all the shops were closed. So were the marinas. Lake St. Francis, an opening in the St. Lawrence 30 miles long and five miles wide, lay ahead. We checked the weather report: some thundershowers in the area but all clear at the moment. Anxious to get to Montreal, we left.
We were to get nowhere near Montreal that day. Great clumps of seaweed floated on the surface of Lake St. Francis, the long tentacles stretching everywhere. Some we could see and dodge, some we hit. Occasionally a heavy cluster would foul the props so that I had to reverse the motors to throw it off. And then, in the middle of the lake, a squall overtook us. The seas came up behind us, lifting and shaking the little boat. The wind rattled the canvas curtains and drove rain into the cockpit. Visibility dropped until we could hardly locate the next channel marker. At home it would have been a summer rainstorm, good for the roses. In a small boat in the middle of a shallow lake it was a rough hour. But as quickly as the storm had come upon us it passed. The sky lightened, followed by the sun. Land appeared on every side.
We went into Le Club Nautique de Valleyfield on the eastern shore of the lake. The manager greeted us graciously. "Storm?" he said. "Oh, there was a little rain. Seaweed? Yes, it is very bad this time of year when the water is low. Sometimes even the fishermen do not go out." We caught a taxi to the first hotel we could find. It wasn't much of a hotel. The beds pitched.
Montreal is a marvelous repair station for a storm-weary or cruise-weary family. But Montreal Harbor, with its strong current, difficult approach from the eastern side and virtual absence of small-boat facilities, is a good place to avoid. It is much better, particularly when going downstream, to turn off west of the city and dock the boat at Lachine. There are several excellent marinas in this Montreal suburb, which is only a short taxi ride from downtown.
We had, unfortunately, made no hotel reservations, and the city seemed to be full of conventions. Sorry, they said at the Laurentien. Sorry, said the Mt. Royal. Full up, said the Ritz-Carlton. Finally we were accepted at the new Skyline Hotel near the airport. We arrived dressed in sneakers and shorts, our clothing in duffel bags, the captain bearded and holding a rather travel-worn poodle on leash. The Skyline turned out to be a gleaming, modern place full of deep carpets, indoor shrubbery and well-dressed guests. I called the troops to attention. "If they try to turn us away," I said, "we fight." Instead the desk man smiled.
"Welcome ashore," he said and handed a bellboy our key. Apparently yachtsmen are accepted anywhere.
Montreal is an island created by the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers, and there is about it the cosmopolitan atmosphere of a great seaport which, of course, Montreal is, although this particular seaport is located 800 miles from the sea. In the old waterfront section of town, where Jacques Cartier first stepped ashore in 1535 and where Champlain followed 68 years later, many of the old buildings are still standing. Near the famous French market is Bonsecours Church, built in 1657 as a sailors' chapel. The Chateau de Ramezay was headquarters for Continental troops for seven months during 1775-1776, and here Benjamin Franklin preached revolution to a not altogether attentive Canadian audience. In this same vicinity General Richard Montgomery planned his attack on Quebec.
Richelieu Park raceway was running, a magnet for Tracy, who will take a horse any day in preference to an entire fleet of boats. There were free band concerts at night in one of the parks, and enough great restaurants to please even a traveler from New York: Mother Martin's, Chez Pierre, Desjardins, Chez Ernest, the Mt. Royal, the Ritz. And we rode through the vast parks that hug the sides of Mount Royal, an extinct volcano in the center of the city.
From Mount Royal you can almost see St. Jean, the next night's stopover from Montreal, but by boat St. Jean lies 110 miles and 11 locks away. In the morning we headed back to the St. Lawrence, its waters no longer green but muddied by association with the Ottawa River. Dozens of tankers and freighters passed, standing upstream, strewing egg cartons and banana peels in their wake. Past the little towns with the French names we ran: Varennes, Vercheres, St. Sulpice, Contrecoeur, Lanoraie, any one of which can supply a wonderful French meal. At Sorel we threaded through the protecting rocks into an excellent harbor and took on ice and fuel and groceries for the run up the Richelieu River.
The Richelieu is delightful cruising country, sparsely settled and open. Occasionally a French-Canadian youngster in an outboard would dart out from his dock to race us, waving and shouting greetings that we could not always understand. We locked upstream at St. Ours and then, crossing the Chambly Basin, entered the Chambly Canal.
After the St. Lawrence Seaway the Chambly locks are microscopic. Two boats like ours fill them to the brim. The gates are opened and closed by hand. Water leaks through the doors, and small dead frogs float on the surface. But the cottages alongside are neat and clean, the gardens full of flowers, and in the Chambly locks you are never lonesome. Everyone in town comes down to watch the boats go through. Except on Sunday, of course, when all the locks shut down for the day.
In the canal we cruised drowsily along, looking out on vegetable gardens and pigs and clothes flapping on the line. It was 8:30 p.m. before we pulled into a slip at the fine marina in St. Jean, two weeks since we had left home.
Next morning we made a leisurely stop at He aux Noix to see beautifully restored Fort Lennox, which dates back to early French battles with the Iroquois. It later served as a strategic river-blockade point for French, British and American troops, who spent a great deal of time throwing one another out. You can close your eyes and almost hear the howls of the Indians and the shouts of the troops. We tried it and it worked, only the shouts came not from Iroquois but a large encampment of boy scouts. Under willow trees that covered the grassy banks we took a swim in a still pool and broke out water skis.
Ten miles below the fort we came to the U.S. border. After checking with the Canadian customs officers we passed old Fort Blunder, built by American troops by slight error on Canadian soil—it took a treaty to straighten things out—and into a dock at Rouses Point to clear U.S. customs. Below us, for 107 miles, stretched Lake Champlain.
Tucked between the Adirondacks of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont, Champlain has a shoreline that runs for almost 1,200 miles. It is a spectacularly beautiful area; the water is clear, the fishing good, there are long sand beaches, and a boatman can spend an entire summer cruising here without growing tired of the place. The weather can be treacherous and the lake is large enough to be dangerous in a blow, but there is little reason to be caught in an unprotected spot. Both the New York and Vermont shorelines are dotted with fascinating creeks and harbors as well as some of the finest freshwater marinas in the East. Shelburne Bay, with every manner of boat-handling facility, is perhaps the best, but the land-locked harbor in Malletts Bay, entered through a drawbridge, and the protected marina at Plattsburg are almost equally good. And no one should miss the nine-mile trip up Otter Creek to the lovely little Vermont village of Vergennes.
Champlain seems an unlikely spot for naval history, but it happened here nevertheless. South of Plattsburg, between Valcour Island—which has five lovely harbors—and the New York mainland, Benedict Arnold engaged a superior British fleet in 1776. After terrible losses General Arnold retreated under cover of night. British General Carleton pursued, firing away at what he thought was an American ship; the island he riddled still bears his name, Carleton Prize.
Originally we had planned extensive exploration of Lake Champlain, but now we had run out of time. We spent our last night in Champlain at Chipman's Point and the next morning made a quick amphibious assault on Fort Ticonderoga at the southern tip of the lake.
Fort Ti fell early in the day, and then we stormed the Champlain Canal. The most northerly lock, No. 12, opens on a two-hour schedule; we arrived in the middle of a blistering late-summer day to discover that the two-hour schedule had become a four-hour schedule because of a rainfall shortage and low-water conditions. Deciding to pass up one of the highly recommended meals at Skene Manor on the hills above town in favor of ice-cream sodas, we tied up alongside an approach wall and waited in an air-conditioned drugstore for the lock to open. At the first bridge below Whitehall we were attacked by natives, two small ones who threw rocks onto the boat and then ran laughing in quest of more fun. For the first time I was sorry that we carried no firearms aboard.
Rushing south through the canal, we regretfully passed by the town of Schuylerville, where Tracy and her father could cheerfully have spent a week: just 12 miles away at Saratoga Springs they improve the Thoroughbreds through the month of August, and the standardbreds up into October. Instead, we kept moving along until we came, once again, to the Hudson River. At the Tri-City Yacht Basin, below Troy, we bestowed upon another cruiser, heading upstream, the ugly old hay bags that had served us so well. By 6 p.m. we were angling into the large, spacious marina at Norrie State Park, between Kingston and Poughkeepsie. There are facilities here for many boats—and most of the slips were already full. "What in the world is happening?" we asked the harried dock master. He looked at us in amazement. "Where have you been?" he asked. "Tomorrow's Labor Day."
At 6 o'clock the next morning, while others slept, we eased out of our berth and into the Hudson, hoping to beat the rush. Instead we ran into a fog so thick we could hardly see the bow. Creeping over to shore we anchored for two hours until the fog lifted. By then the rush had begun.
Cruise ships, packed to the gunwales, slid by. Small boats were everywhere, their wakes jarring us as they crossed our path. We probably did some jarring ourselves, for by now we were eager to get home. Past West Point we ran and under the Bear Mountain Bridge. Through Haverstraw Bay, past Ossining and Yonkers. As before, we beeped at Spuyten Duyvil Creek and moved into the Harlem River, now a bedlam of motorboats where three weeks ago we had cruised alone. We passed Yankee Stadium. WASHINGTON HERE TODAY, TWO GAMES, the sign said. I looked at Scot. He shook his head.
In Manhasset Bay we turned and skidded up the marina. For the last time David took the forward line and Scot the stern; I slowed and reversed and brought the boat, so expertly now, alongside the dock, and they jumped ashore. Overboard went the fenders, out went the lines and I cut the motors.
A man was polishing brass on his boat near by.
"Say," he said, "didn't I see you folks leave out of here one morning a few weeks ago?"
"Nice trip?" he asked.
We looked at each other for a moment. Charlyne smiled, just a little smile, and the boys grinned. I looked at Tracy. She nodded her head, hard.
"Yes," I said, "it was a very nice trip."
ST. LAWRENCE RIVER