Fresh Water Cruising on Lake Champlain
Lake Champlain is a beautiful fresh water in-land sea squeezed between New York, Vermont and Canada. It has countless protected pretty coves to anchor in as well as several towns worth docking at. Cruising this deep water lake offers the beauty of the Adirondack Mountains to the west and Vermont’s Green Mountains to the east. There is never a dull view when plying the waters here. Lake Champlain is very diverse and large. It is 125 miles north to south making it 15 miles longer than the Long Island Sound. Its widest section is 14 miles across yet almost the first third of the lake coming from the south is as thin as a river.
To get to Lake Champlain we took a few leisurely days to cruise up the Hudson River. (See January 2017 Boating World issue). Once you reach Troy you have to pass through the federal lock where you stop in Waterford to provision up. Waterford offers free docking in a marina like environment. The local Hannaford supermarket, a ten minute walk across the river allows you to take and leave their shopping carts at the dock. From Waterford you motor north on the Champlain Hudson Canal for 60 miles passing through 11 locks. Information on the locks and obtaining a pass can be found at (http://www.canals.ny.gov). (My next story will be on the New York State canals in this area). The Champlain Hudson Canal can be done in one day with an early start but it is recommended you make a stop along the way.
Lake Champlain starts at Whitehall, New York. Whitehall has been called the birthplace of the American Navy because of the small fleet that was built here in 1776 in attempt to stop the British from advancing from the north. A highlight to visit in Whitehall is the Skene Manor up the hill from the canal on the east side. (www.skenemanor.org). There is a free docking on the wall before the lock. Once past the lock the lake is narrow for the next 35 miles until you reach the Lake Champlain Bridge. While cruising this area you need to watch your wake in areas where you see docks or the small fishing boats you will encounter. For a good first night stop I recommend dropping the hook below the bluff at Fort Ticonderoga. Here you will find a good hold in 15 to 20 feet of water with plenty of wind protection. To see the fort you need to row your dinghy to shore across the weeds to a path that takes you up. Don’t be surprised to hear fife and drum music from above while having breakfast.
After a leisurely morning under the fort we headed north for an overnight in Vermont’s smallest and oldest chartered city, Vergennes. Cruising here is nothing like any other place on the lake. This is because you have to travel seven miles up the very narrow Otter Creek. Going up the creek is part of the fun as it is very peaceful, curvy and woodsy. Getting into the channel is a small challenge because it is shallow near the mouth of the creek so watch your depth gauge and chart plotter carefully. Once inside you will need to keep the engines at idle speed. In some areas we put one engine in neutral to go a knot or two slower. Do not attempt this creek if you draw more than five feet at normal water. You reach Vergennes where the creek opens up and is stopped by a pretty water falls. Dock on the portside with your stern facing the falls. Doing this will give you a shorter walk to town and nice view. Docks on both sides of the creek are free for 48 hours with very limited power.
While Vergennes calls itself a city, it really a small New England village worth a stop. From the dock it is a 10 minute walk to town where you will find different shops and restaurants. One stand out place worth dining at is the Black Sheep Bistro. (www.blacksheepbistrovt.com). We spent our afternoon walking to the waterfalls before looking at the shops on Main Street that are in old historical buildings. Afterwards we walked a few smaller back streets to look at older homes before having a Champaign toast on the stern looking at the falls. Boaters should note there is no provisioning here.
When on Lake Champlain it is a good idea to mix up your overnights. After being in town for the night we decided our third night to be on anchor. Lake Champlain offers perhaps a hundred safe and pretty places to drop the hook. After carefully leaving Otter Creek we continued just a few miles to Converse Bay. Here we anchored in between Cedar Island and a crescent cove on the back side. This gave us protection from building seas in any direction and wind protection on most sides. This was a quiet place to swim, nap, relax and watch the sunset over the Adirondack Mountains in a quiet setting. The next morning we enjoyed the sun rising over Green Mountains.
From Cedar Island we cruised north to Burlington Vermont where we reserved a slip for the next two nights at the Burlington Boat House. Burlington is a city of 43,000 people that has its roots dating back to the late 1700’s. It has a healthy relaxed vibe with art, fitness, culture and restaurants that cater to local ingredients. After tying up and having lunch at one of the micro-breweries nearby we walked to Burlington Segways (www.burlingtonsegways.com) for a tour. Segway’s are good alternative to a walking tour when you want to cover more ground. We opted for the two hour tour that went along the waterfront, through the city and then up the hill to the University. Our loop took us past different points of interest where we stopped, stretched out and took photos. It was a great way to be introduced to the city. Part of the tour was on the bicycle path that runs along the water. If you like to bike, you can rent one and go several miles north on the old rail road tracks. If getting around in a Segway is not your thing than try a historical and snacking tour with the Burlington Edible History Tour (www.burlingtonediblehistory.com). This tour does an easy two mile loop around the city. During the tour you learn about the different ethnic backgrounds, history and food that was served here. The walk is broken down into five tasting places. We were so impressed with our stop at the Church and Main Restaurant that we went back that night for dinner. Another place worth dining is The Farm House. We enjoyed their beer and cider garden before having dinner. Don’t miss out on strolling the pedestrian only Church Street for food and shops and finish off at the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream store. To provision your boat we recommend City Market on Winooski Avenue. This is an upscale and green grocery store you would expect to see in Vermont. (There are 20 different types of milk sold there.) Boaters are allowed to take the carts to the docks so load up here for the rest of your week. Before leaving the city we visited the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain near the docks. (http://www.echovermont.org) This is part science center and part aquarium. While adults find its exhibits and movies interesting, it is also an excellent place to take small children due to a large area set aside for them to play and learn.
With an urge to go from city to nature we left Burlington in the rain and headed north to Burton Island State Park. (http://www.vtstateparks.com/htm/burton.htm). To get there you cruise north keeping South Hero Island to your starboard. Between North Hero and South Hero Islands is a narrow cut. Pay attention to your charts before and after going through this cut to get to The Gut which leads you to a bridge that our 17 foot height squeezed under. (Bridge openings are on the half hour). Once under the bridge it was straight across to Burton Island. Entering this state campground / marina is via the northern side of the island into their little bay and through the narrow channel to get to the docks. Boats with five feet of draft may have a problem so call ahead. Burton Island has no coffee shops and slow internet service near some of the docks but it does have beaches, nature trails, kayaks and canoes. There are lean-tos, primitive cabins and camp sites along with dock space. Many of you have heard to word “Glamping” which is the upscale term for glamorous camping where all your comforts are in a fancy tent. On Burton Island we went what I call “Yahmping” or Yacht-Camping. Our dock space, like a campsite was given a picnic table and fireplace to enjoy during our stay. While it rained most of the day and part of the two nights we were there, we did enjoy the island’s marked nature walk as well as our downtime. At night we shared a camp fire with our Montreal boat neighbors while sipping 12 year old rum. If you have extra time consider bringing your passport and heading north. You are 15 miles to the Canadian border and one and half days journey to Montreal.
After leaving Burton Island it was time to head south. If you are in this area consider a visit to Valcour Island. This small historically significant island offers a quiet cove and nice trails to stroll around. Heading south we detoured to Shelburne Bay for the lower fuel prices than offered on the New York side and then spent a couple of hours watching the annual air show off Burlington. From there we cruised 90 minutes to Westport, New York. Westport has been a regular stop for us when on the lake because of the shows put on by the Depot Theater a little more than mile out of town. (www.depottheatre.org). The live theater here is well worth the cost. We enjoyed a zany crime mystery. Staying in Westport is easy. You can throw the hook in the shallow protected waters and dinghy in, dock at the Westport Marina or do what we did and tie up for free at the primitive concrete docks at Le Bistro du Lac (www.bistrodulac.com). We pulled into the dock late afternoon, floated on our air mattresses for a couple of hours and had a wonderful French meal before the show. We were pleased to have gotten a lift from the restaurant owner to the Depot Theatre so dinner on the patio was not rushed. When in Westport don’t miss this dinner and show combination.
With eight nights behind us on Lake Champlain it was time to push south into the Champlain Canal and continue on with our voyage into the Erie Canal. Lake Champlain offers some of the best boating in the northeast. This is because of the diversity of things you can do or perhaps not do if you want to really getaway. To help you plan your cruise I recommend you pick up the Waterway Guide to the Great Lakes (www.waterwayguide.com). There is a detailed section on the Champlain Canal and Lake Champlain.
Tab and Maureen Hauser’s home port is in Glen Cove, N.Y. Their travel stories can be found at www.tabhauser.com.