sailboat racing




March 1996 Lake Champlain's Newspaper Volume 5 Number 2

Sports Features News Editorial

"Last Day of the Year"

By Halleck Cummings

The last day of the year for the Charlotte, VT to Essex, NY ferry came on January 7, 1996. This crossing will reopen in April. The timing was about perfect. It had been cold. A record low for the date, minus 23F, was recorded for Burlington beating the old record by minus 6 degrees. McNeil cove, the ferry landing on the Vermont side, was iced up to where the ferry had been breaking through to get to the slip. Another day or so of the predicted cold would close the cove for the winter. (The only crossing that stays open year round is the Grand Isle, VT to Cumberland Head, NY. This is the northern most crossing but is also the shortest. The Lake Champlain Transportation Company has several boats reinforced for ice breaking.

The morning was still cold, somewhere around minus 10 or so. Fog was boiling off the Lake into the cold air adding to the quiet sound of winter settling in. The boat crews call this fog effect "sea smoke". There was almost no wind and the water was flat where it wasn't frozen. The ferry slip had a barrier of piles of plowed snow around its edges. The sun was poking weakly through a high cloud cover, giving a little light but no warmth.

The 132 feet of the Govenor George D. Aikin, with Captain Dan Landry at the wheel, came ghosting out of the sea smoke. The two deck crew, Allen Wood and Peter Hieneger, were dressed for the weather in parkas and heavy jackets. A total of 8 vehicles from Essex got off, including a Jeep station wagon under tow, and a couple on foot with a leashed Husky. Only two other vehicles boarded for the trip to Essex, a sedan with New York tags and a van with Vermont registration. The pilot house was a warm and welcome relief from the cold of the dock. Captain Dan Landry loves his job and he knows why. He loves to be on the water. He can't imagine not working on the water and with boats. His family moved to Grand Isle when he was two weeks old so he grew up around water. He did agree, however, that the time had come to close the Charlotte to Essex crossing. He said that on Wednesday of that week the had 3 to 4 inches of ice, a strong north wind and a blinding snow storm to contend with.

Plus, the winter is the time for preventative maintenance on the boats. The regular season schedule keeps the boats too busy to allow much more that just what is necessary and. of course, any emergency repairs. The Govenor Aiken needs to have some of her concrete ballast replaced. Water leaking around her shaft seals, a fairly normal problem, has seeped into part of the ballast and softened some of the concrete and it need to be replaced. This means that she will spend part of the winter in dry dock and come back down to McNeil cove for the rest of the winter.

Despite the very limited visibility, because of the sea smoke, Captain Landry made the trip seem effortless. He steered by memory and compass with an occasional glance at the radar screen. Although there is not much other traffic out on this part of the Lake, this time of the year, he had noticed that a Rhodes 19 sailboat was missing from its mooring over in Essex. He assumed that it had broken loose in Wednesday's storm and was adrift somewhere out there. It did not show up on this trip.

The small village of Essex, NY, was very quiet this Sunday morning. It was snow covered and a light snow was falling. Many of the shops and the two marinas were closed. There was one car in front of the Inn. Nobody was walking the sidewalks and there weren't many cars on the street. Four other vehicles made the return trip to Vermont.

As we came up to the slip in McNeil Cove, pushing through chunks of floating ice, a small flight of ducks went overhead.

Halleck Cummings passed away before to finishing this last Scenes From the Lake, he will be missed.



Website Admin / Owner: Stuart Morris
Alton, NH 03809
Phone: 603-828-8700  

Site Maintained by SARubin                                                                       HarborWatch Publishing 1998 - 2009