Cruising Lake Champlain by Ed Menegaux

Introduction:

In the early 1970’s, for four years I sailed on Lake Champlain for a month and many weekends with my family.  We kept our boat at the Crown Point Town Marina, Monitor Bay Marina, just above Fort Ticonderoga and each fall and Spring took the Canal back to our home in Fischer Ferry, NY on the Mohawk.

Background Reading:

“Rabble in Arms” by Kenneth Roberts, fictional account of the Revolutionary War on the lake.  Good for getting an idea of sites on the lake.  Also “Last of the Mohicans” By James Fenimore Cooper for the French and Indian War.  Both books will give you an idea of how these lakes were use before roads

History

Lake Champlain has a long story in the history of this country.  It was part of the Great Warpath, the route from the Saint Lawrence to the Hudson when there were no roads.

Discovery – Split Rock point was the Indian border between the Algonquin’s to the North and the Iroquois to the South when Samuel de Champlain was exploring the lake.  He joined an Algonquin war party in attacking the Iroquois on the border and used guns in the battle to route the Iroquois.   Couple of years later when Hendrik Hudson came up the Hudson the Iroquois welcome him because they could get guns.

French and Indian War – Prior to the war the French came down the lake and built forts at Crown Point and Ticonderoga to protect their interests.  The British came North to the Southern end of Lake George and built Fort William Henry.  During the war the British performed numerous invasions of the French territory by Rogers Rangers.  Eventually the French invaded and Last of the Mohicans recounts the taking of Fort William Henry.

Revolutionary War – Prior to the British improved the Fort at Crown Point but a fire just prior to the war burnt it down.  Early in the war the Green Mountain Boys with Benedict Arnold took Ticonderoga from the British.  Many of the cannon at the Fort were taken overland in the winter to the siege of Boston.   Meanwhile, Benedict Arnold built a fleet of rowed gun boats to keep the British from coming down he lake.

They tried on Oct 11 1776 and the Battle of Valcour Island resulted in holding them back.  One of the Gun boats is at the Smithsonian Museum on display.  The next year they came down in force and took Ticonderoga. and went overland to Saratoga where they were defeated.

War of 1812 – Again the Great Warpath route came into play.  The American and British fought numerous small battles on the lake to win control.  That ended up with a major invasion attempt by the British army and Navy on September 11 1814.  The British navy lead ship was the 37 Gun Frigate HMS Confiance with numerous other large vessels.  The Americans had the 26 Gun US Saratoga 143ft, built in 40 days, 16 Gun US Ticonderoga 120ft, and other smaller vessels

With A north wind the British came out of the Richelieu River past the American fleet anchored in Cumberland Bay off Plattsburg.   They had to sail up wind to the American fleet and were pounded.  The American’s defeat of the British fleet stopped the Invasion.

Civil War –  the iron deposits on the Great lakes had not been developed at that time and the mines along Lake Champlain were a major source of iron ore for the union.  It supplied the iron ore for the Monitor.

One of the mines had the second purist iron ore in the world and only closed down in 1971 due to environmental concerns.

 

Sailing on the Lake

One of the first things you may notice is the number of French speaking sailors you will meet on the lake.  They are from Quebec which is just to the North.

We will start out of Plattsburg so I will address parts of the lake from North to South.  The summer winds are usually from the South building during the day and decreasing late in the day.  Since the lake has mountain ranges on both sides the local winds can be a problem.  Strong thunder storms can come out of the mountains with little warning.

South of Plattsburg on the West side is Valcour Island and there are 3 interesting anchorages.  On the Northeast side is Spoon Bay with plenty of water.  It is large and protected from a South wind.  A little further down the East side is Smugglers Harbor only good for a few boats but your own little world.  On the west side Is a cove just below Bluff Point which offers good protection.  It is near the end of the runway of the Plattsburg Airport.

On the Eastern shore there is an interesting feature.  A causeway cut across part of the lake.  Originally it was for a railroad but now is a bike trail.  The cut through it is just South of Providence Island, be careful not to hit Carlton’s Prize a small out island.  Carlton the British Admiral shelled it the day after the Battle of Valcour Island in the fog thinking it was a colonial vessel.  Once past the causeway there are numerous places to anchor and all are protected by the causeway.

Continuing South you have the city of Burlington Vt.  It has a breakwater enclosing the harbor and visiting it is like going to Baltimore, better done by car.  Just South of it is Shelburne Bay and there is a marina, Shelburne Ship Yard, just as you enter the bay.  The one site that is worth spending a day at is Shelburne Museum, but do it by car also. 

On the West side of the lake is Willsboro Bay and at its head is a good protected anchorage off the Boat launching ramps.  Ashore there are minimal facilities.   The marina just to the North, it has a good restaurant.

The next harbor, Kingsland Bay was one we used many times since it had good holding and could be entered at night.  What was open land to let the dog run but is now a VT State Park.  It has a spectacular view of Split rock on the Western Shore.

Just below that is Porter Bay contains the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.  This did not exist when I sailed the lake but it looks very interesting on the web.  They have examples of a variety of vessels recreated from the history of the Lake.  From 1776 there is a Gunboat, Philadelphia II 54ft, an 18 Century Bateau 33ft, a schooner Lois McClure 88ft, Tug Boat Churchill 33ft, and smaller rowing boats.  Might be worth touring.

Below that in the Split Rock cliff is Snake Den Harbor a very small harbor worth seeing, but holds 2-3 boats only.

If you go down the lake further is the town of Port Henry which up to the 1970’s serviced the Iron mines behind it.  They closed down in 1971. There is a marina here.  Back from the town is Ironville one of the first places to use electricity in a manufacturing process.

From Port Henry to the South you can see Crown Point Fort and the Lake Champlain Bridge.  Just below the bridge there is a good anchorage to visit the Fort Ruins.  The French built, Fort St. Frederic here in 1730’s and the British built the Crown Point Fort after the French and Indian War.  It burnt down in 1773, just before the Revolutionary War.

12 miles further down the lake is Fort Ticonderoga, but the channel is narrow, so you might have to motor.  If you do you will go past the Monitor Bay Marina in the town of Crown Point, it was where I kept my boat and named for where the iron ore was shipped from for the Monitor.  Ticonderoga has been rebuilt and is impressive, especially from the water.

Below here the lake narrows and is surrounded by undeveloped land to the first lock on the Lake Champlain Canal at Whitehall, NY.  The Champlain Canal ends in the Hudson River near Troy NY.  The Hudson is navigable from there on.

 

Sites to drive to from Plattsburg:

Lake Placid NY 1 Hr

Montreal Canada 1Hr

Kingston Canada 3 Hr  You go past the Thousand Islands which are worth seeing and a good cruising ground

Lake George NY 1 Hr

Burlington 1 Hr 

Shelburne Museum 1.5 Hr Interesting Museum look it up on the web