This page describes my sailing trip around Lake Champlain from 6 August to 10 August, 2004. The opinions are those of the author, S. Lott.
This trip report is prepared in the rec.scuba tradition of detailed trip reports. I have found these invaluable in planning vacations and trips, and feel that I owe the sailing community similar detailed trip reports.
After a number of sailing trips with professional skippers, my wife and I felt that it is time to cut the apron strings and venture out on our own. Can we anchor and sleep comfortably at anchor? Can we provision and not run out of gin or tonic? Can we solve problems together? Can we realistically estimate speed and distance and prevent ourselves from being stuck somewhere dangerous? Can we track food, water and fuel so we don’t run out of anything critical? Can we handle health and safety issues on our own? Do we need to bring our own first-aid kit, or does the boat have enough first aid for ordinary accidents? Can we handle stinky weather and missing navigational aids?
We have been sailing in San Diego, Tampa, San Francisco, the Chesapeake, Lake George. It was my opinion that chartering on Lake Champlain would provide outstanding sailing in a low-key, freshwater environment. Navigation would be simple and the conditions would be benign. We’re both trained, competent sailors. My sailing resume is available on-line.
I booked the trip with Winds of Ireland directly. I Sent my sailing resume and filled out the contract. A down payment is required to secure the boat, followed by the balance 90 days before departure. Detailed cost information can be found at Cost Details.
I bought the Waterproof Charts #11 and #12 for Lake Champlain. We hung them in the dining room for a few months so we could look the area over.
I bought the Lake Champlain Cruising Guide. I also downloaded the itineraries from the Winds Of Ireland website and posted those locations on the chart.
Drove to Burlington, VT. The Burlington Community Boat house is located at the foot of College Street, just past the Lake Champlain Basin Science Center (1 College St., Burlington, VT). Don’t park in the lot: pull up on the little traffic circle, get the overnight parking pass from Winds of Ireland, unload, and then go back to the parking lot.
We arrived shortly before our rental was set to start. However, the previous occupants had cleared out and the <i>Leprechaun</i> had been cleaned and was ready to go.
The one complication was the depth gauge. The cockpit display showed an error status; they had hauled the boat recently, replaced the transducer, and the display still showed an error. They had a nice fish-finder as a stand-in depth gauge. I suggested calling the local SCUBA shop to look for a hand-held depth sounder.
We stowed our dunnage while Winds of Ireland scrambled to solve the depth-gauge problem. Since our own boat is a 30-year old treasure, we understand boating as a matter of sailing and fixing, fixing and sailing. We were quite happy to help them repair the boat; it gives us a better working knowledge of the various systems.
Capt. Jeffers arrived a short time later with a simpler depth sounder that included a transducer that could be mounted inside the hull. We hard-wired it directly to the battery bank and duct-taped the transducer inside the port lazarette. We left the display unit on a long wire, sitting in a coil of rope on the cockpit bench. It took a little fooling around to get a good hull-transducer contact. Eventually it said 15.7 feet, and we were ready to go.
Since we would only be able to sail for a few hours, we wouldn’t be able to go too far. We were advised to consider the wind out of the North, and head up into Lone Rock Bay, less than 2 mi north of Burlington. It was a very popular anchorage and very protected.
Our first embarassment came when the ferry gave us a toot. We were passing in front of it, trying to stay close to the sea wall. It turns out, that’s the ferry’s preferred fairway. One toot from them and we turned tail and ran back toward shore.
We sailed out into the broad lake to put the boat through her paces. Sadly, the first thing we learned was that our brand-new depth finder still said 15.7 feet, no matter where we went.
Back in Lone Rock Bay, we motored in slowly, scoping out the locations of the other boats. We opted to stay further out into the lake than any other sailboat. Our plan was to have dinner, and in the morning, drop back in on Winds of Ireland and install the fish finder. The anchorage here is very solid mud, and we stuck like glue.
In the morning, as a joke, I grabbed the depth-finder to tell the wife our current depth was still 15.7 feet. I was shocked to see it slowly flipping back and forth between 35.4 and 35.6. After contemplating its sins during the night, it decided to work correctly. We were elated. We were saved from spending several more hours repairing our depth gauge.
Every bird for miles around was bobbing in the bay with us. There must have been hundreds of loons and cormorants around us. If the birds sleep here, it must be the ideal place for spending the night.
Out into the broad lake, we watched the races from the windward mark. We hove to and ate lunch, and then cruised over to Willsboro Bay. The wind was dying. Wind from the west is blocked by the hills; at 1530 we started the engine motored the remaining 3mi down the bay.
Once at the foot of the bay and away from the cliffs, we had a brisk sailing breeze, but it put us on a lee shore. The weather report told us the wind would be from the South overnight, meaning that the morning would find us sheltered.
Between the Willsboro Bay Marina and the town park is a patch of good-holding mud. However, it shoals up quickly from deeper water. There were other boats there, plus the wreckage of a dock. Too far out meant too much scope and a lot of swinging. Too close in meant we were near potential underwater obstructions. We checked depth in a wide area, and dropped the hook in a couple of places before we were settled comfortably, far from other boats and potential underwater obstructions.
While the marina has a well-liked restaurant, we didn’t eat there.
The sunrise was glorious, lighting the cliffs on the West side of the Bay. The wind had, indeed switched, and the water was flat calm.
The calm made it easy to motor over to the pumpout dock at Willsboro Bay Marina. We had forgotten tonic water, preventing us from having gin and tonics before dinner. The marina had ice, some groceries and piles of nautical hardware. However, they had no tonic water.
We pumped out the holding tank and topped off the water. I had not yet found the gas gauge for the diesel fuel. We didn’t know where we stood at all. We had not carefully recorded engine running times and fuel consumption, nor did we fix the problem and start now.
The wind in the bay had picked up a bit, so we could slowly drift along, admiring the railroad tracks clinging to the cliff. It would have been wonderfully quiet except for the dinghy splashing along behind us. Once we got to the entrance, we could see whitecaps rolling down the lake. Additionally, we could see spectacular clouds and rain squalls north of us.
Out in the broad lake, there was a tempest blowing from SSW. There is considerable fetch and the waves were in the 2-3 foot range, possibly larger. We had some spray over the bow and two instances of white water. We put on foulies and PFD’s as soon as we saw what we were heading into.
Spilling wind, we picked our way 4 mi North into the lee of Schuyler Island. Sailing a tender little racing dinghy like KaDiMa makes us pretty good at under-trimming the sails to keep things nice and flat. It also makes us unwilling to run with the wind too far behind us, so we tend to broad reach back and forth rather than run.
Once we were close to the island, we dropped the sails and motored up into the relative calm and dropped the hook for lunch. The island is low, so the wind kept us pointing SW the whole time we were there.
The VHF was alive with reports of a waterspout seen near Burlington, and a possible mayday. The Coast Guard had heard what sounded like mayday, but had no other information, and we were required to watch for boats in distress. In our case, we began to think that we were in over our heads. However, our boat was well-found, the conditions, while stinky, weren’t really scary. Between reefing and spilling wind, the ride was comfortable. We could keep the helm balanced: everything felt solid and in the groove.
Standing in the companionway, looking at the steep, steep hills marching down from Trembleau Point to the water, I watched the clouds racing along. The top, only 580 feet high, was poking up into the rain clouds, and probably enjoying a good soaking. Within seconds, the clouds dropped down the face of the hill. I closed the top of the hatch just as a blinding downpour started.
We watched the rain and listened to the radio, safe and snug. We had two choices: if the weather cleared, we could head 9mi up to Valcour island. If it didn’t clear, we could motor back to Willsboro Bay.
The weather lifted quickly. Still in foulies, we weighed anchor and sailed up past Point Kent and Ausable Point toward Valcour Island. The VHF started broadcasting a real <i>securité</i> about an actual drowning. It was a man and a horse down in Anderson Bay. From what we could gather, they had fallen off a bridge into a river and been washed into the lake.
By evening, the wind had died almost entirely and we motored the last mile into Spoon Bay on the NE corner of Valcour Island. It is every bit as spectacular as we expected. It was crammed with boats, but we still found good holding and plenty of swinging room.
Our neighbor was a beautiful boat with a flock of children. They were swimming around the boat, having a wonderful time diving from the transom. We knew there were many, many children by the number of towels clothes-pinned around the lifelines. As the sun set, an inflatable motored by with a man and a baby. The baby was clearly at ease on the boat, wedged in and holding on with that casual intensity that children learn from following the examples set by caring parents.
When the baby arrived, the children erupted from below decks, shrieking with joy. When a parent arrived topsides, the baby was carefully handed up, and the brood swarmed back down below. Perhaps 10 minutes later, we heard the familiar strains of Happy Birthday. I would guess that the baby was celebrating birthday number two anchored off Valcour Island.
We had been towing the dinghy for miles. We felt it was time to actually paddle around in it. We paddled over to shore, and in the process of getting out, I managed to stub my toe, ripping the toenail half off. It bled profusely, so we dinghied back to the boat and rooted around for the first aid kit. The kit was out of ordinary adhesive tape, but did have gauze and some goofy little adhesive strips.
Rooting around in the lazarettes, I found the fuel gauge. It was underneath the container of PFD’s. Now we knew how much fuel we had left, but because of poor logging, didn’t know the fuel consumption rate.
The morning had a spectacular sunrise, but within minutes the sun was above the clouds. The wind was, again, from the SSW, and blowing as hard as it had been Sunday morning. Once around the point and heading out of Spoon Bay, we did two accidental gybes. We went all they way around twice – right in front of our neighbors, no less. After our marvellous anchoring job, and quiet night, it was an embarrassing morning.
We wanted to go west and stop at one of the marinas for first-aid supplies and fuel. However, the wind swirling around the point made it difficult to set a down-wind course, since almost any direction that got us closer to New York also lead to a gybe. Also, the long fetch from the South makes the sailing at this part of the lake very boisterous.
Since we needed to go south, we elected to cross the lake and pick our way down the Vermont side. First, it might have some shelter from the wind. Second, it wouldn’t be a lee shore. The first 2.5 mi into the lee of Providence Island was done under reefed main and jib. Even with one reef, we still spilled some wind and took it very slowly.
Another 2 mi further south is Stave Island. The guide book remarks that this is a working floatplane base, and cautions boaters not to anchor in their bay. During a storm, a sailboat dragged anchor and there was considerable damage to both the boat and the floatplane.
We were puzzled as to why anyone would have an active floatplane base in the middle of Lake Champlain. We assumed that after James Bond busted up Doctor No’s operation, the Doctor had relocated to this secret island in Vermont. My wife took the guide book advice seriously, and didn’t want to enter their bay. However, it was picture-perfect with a small granite cliff, overhanging pine trees, a concrete dock, a patch of well-kept lawn, a pretty house, and a floatplane. We discussed it thoroughly; I won out because we needed to rest and eat lunch before venturing out into the tempest again.
We motored only a tiny distance into the bay, checked our depth and dropped the anchor. As we were checking it, to be sure we had good holding, a woman walked down to the end of the dock, waving and shouting. My wife knew that she was here to chase us away. I had my answer ready: we were only staying for a quick lunch break.
I killed the motor so I could hear her. "The bottom’s rocky and your anchor might get stuck," she shouted. We didn’t have an answer ready for that situation. Then she shouted, "Use the mooring". Mooring? There were two coffee-can sized floats in the bay. They were tiny floats for mooring lines. After a quick discussion, we pulled up our anchor, motored over the mooring and had a very relaxed lunch. While we never saw Dr. No, we did see someone out in a kayak, braving the waves in the lake. We assumed that was James Bond, trying to sneaking up on Dr. No.
While we rested, a couple of other boats pulled into the lee of Stave Island to adjust their sails. We decided to switch our sail plan: we struck the main entirely and used just the jib.
We picked our way out, sticking to the east side, between the island and the causeway. With our wonderful, trustworthy depth gauge, we could sail right up until the water reached 20 feet and then tack, making use of the entire 5/8 mi-wide channel. South of Stave Island we passed close to the Stave Island ledge and Jones rock.
By the time we got down to Colchester Reef, 2 mi further south, the wind was starting to die. The water was flat, and we could hoist the main. The marks between the Reef and the Shoal include a ball marking a good dive site. However, as first timers, it was hard to be sure of our location, so we opted not to pass between them, but tack back out into the lake.
By 1600, we were close to Burlington. We expected the wind to say in the S, making Lone Rock point exposed to the wind. However, we were running out of daylight, and didn’t know how much fuel we had. Rather than risk a 4 mi motor down to the more protected Shelbourne Bay, we opted for Lone Rock point.
Because of the wind, and it being a Monday night, there were few boats in the bay. At first, we were apprehensive, thinking that this was so undesirable that only the most foolish were anchored here. But as darkness closed in, several more boats joined us. We assumed they were locals who had raced down to the marina after work to enjoy one more precious summer evening at anchor.
We had been concerned anchoring in Willsboro Bay, but we were confident the wind would die off. There, we checked our position a few times, but when the wind died we slept soundly. Here, we expected the wind to pick up by morning, so we checked the anchor many times, and jumped out of bed at every clunk or knock.
The wind was howling down onto us in the morning. Since there we few other boats, and a good wind, we elected to try and sail off the anchor. Our plan was to break it free from the mud, pull out the jib, and sail away under jib alone.
To raise the anchor, my wife would wait for the bow to dip, and pull in the slack. The bow would rise on a wave, pulling us forward slightly, and when the bow dipped, she would pull in some more slack. I stood by with the engine idling, hoping to snap out the jib and sail off. Once we were free of the bottom, though, we still had many feet of anchor line. I put the boat in gear and motored into the wind while she retrieved the hook.
Down at the town dock, we found the pump out station. Furtunately, with the wind from the south, the southernmost pier is easy to dock against. We just motored to about 10 feet away, stopped our forward progress, and the wind blew us down into the dock. It took two of the dockside workers to push us back off the pier.
We didn’t find the fuel dock and didn’t top of the diesel. Indeed, we still don’t know where the fuel dock is.
The following is an estimate of the direct cost items for this trip.
|pump out||Willsboro Bay Marina||10|
|pump out||Burlingon Town Dock||10|
|sailing||Winds Of Ireland||1240|
|date:||June 01, 2015|