Enjoying the Champlain Canal Aboard the Caldwell Belle

Monday, July 31, 2017
As my regular readers know by now, I'm a lover of water and boats and beautiful scenery.  We were lucky enough to enjoy all three yesterday when we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and went cruising on the Caldwell Belle.

Like many of the places and attractions I've featured here on the blog, I didn't even realize this existed.  I had no idea there was such a vessel or cruise until I saw a Facebook post that Pete Bardunias, President of the Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, made a while back.  I've since figured out that if you're looking for anything that's happening in these parts....all you need to do is follow Pete on Facebook. Pete attends every opening, every event.....he's the eyes and ears about what's going on in Southern Saratoga County.  I've been waiting eagerly to check out the Mohawk Maiden Cruises since seeing that post and wow,  it was worth the wait!!

I knew from checking out their website that Mohawk Maiden Cruises offer a number of different cruise options.  Cruise lengths vary from 1.25 hours to 3 hours, and although I'd initially planned on checking out their Lock and Waterfall Cruise, due to our spontaneous decision yesterday to take advantage of the beautiful day, we ended up on the Captain's Choice Cruise.  This particular cruise is a 1.25 hours cruise that takes passengers north on the Champlain Canal.  We'd purchased our tickets online beforehand but some passengers were walk-ons purchasing when they arrived.  I'd definitely recommend booking in advance, especially on a weekend - unless of course you are already in the area.  The Caldwell Belle holds 40 passengers plus crew and although we were probably only at half capacity, I wouldn't take a chance.

The Caldwell Belle is an authentic chain-driven sternwheel paddle boat that originally came from Wisconsin.  Bob Foster originally bought the boat and brought it to Schuylerville.  He ran cruises on it for 12 years before Marla and Maria purchased it.  This is Marla and Maria's fifth season, and together with their son, Jose, they are the perfect Captains and Crew for this relaxing experience. Both Marla and Maria are friendly and entertaining, down to earth and welcoming.  If you're looking for starched shirts and formality, this might not be the cruise for you.  But if you're looking for a cruise that's relaxing and informative, where you'll laugh and learn, then I recommend you check out the river/canal cruise on the Caldwell Belle.

The scenery along the canal and Hudson River is just beautiful.  It didn't hurt that the sky was crystal clear and azure blue or that Maria has eyes like a hawk and pointed out a number of bald eagles, osprey, comarants and a great blue heron.  I feel sure none of the passengers would have noticed any of these without her pointing them out.  Jose even spotted a parachuter which, even with his direction, was almost impossible to see.  Along the way, Marla and Maria both narrated bits of history of the area along with the history of the vessel and some education about traveling on the canal.   It was obvious from beginning to end that these two enjoy their roles as Captain and enjoy sharing their love of boating and the area with their passengers.  That results in a boat full of happy and satisfied (and relaxed) passengers.
Barge coming through with gravel to deliver

Barriers placed to prevent boats from accidentally going down the falls.

Captain Marla introducing the 'skeleton crew' Aarrrgyle.

Bald Eagle

What was really lovely about the paddle boat was the option passengers have when it comes to seating.  The upper deck provides both shade and sun, so passengers can be sheltered from the sun and still be in the open air, but for those passengers not wanting to climb stairs or those not so fond of the open, the lower deck provides tables and chairs and is enclosed with plenty of windows for viewing.  All of the passengers on our trip opted for the upper deck.

Captain Maria behind the wheel!

The Caldwell Belle is docked in Schuylerville at Lock C5.  They offer four regular cruises most days except Mondays, as well as a number of special events.  Ticket prices range from $25 (for a 3-hr. cruise) to $15 for the 1.25 hr cruise.  Seniors and children under 12 are less.  I felt our cruise at $14 (senior price) was well worth it.  I'd recommend it to anyone.   The cruise was calm and smooth and perfect for even the least adventurous of boaters.  Groups are also welcome as well as private charters, parties, corporate events and more.  I don't know how I didn't know about Mohawk Maiden Cruises all these years, but if you didn't either, now you have no excuse!!  Check it out soon!

Crew member, Jose

Waterfall on the left

River on the left - Canal on the right

Caldwell Bell docked on the canal.
If these pictures haven't convinced you, well, I give up!   New York state is so rich in history and beauty - so much of it we haven't even seen.  And this place is right in our backyard!  For more information and to book a cruise:

If you enjoy this cruise and want to see more of the canal, you should consider the Erie Canal Cruise.  Leaving from the Mohawk Valley Visitor Center in Herkimer, the Lil' Diamond vessels offer another beautiful, educational cruise opportunity.

To read my earlier post about the Erie Canal cruise:
Thanks for reading and thank you Marla, Maria and Jose for a perfectly wonderful afternoon on your beautiful boat.  I think I can speak for all the passengers when I say there was nowhere we could have better enjoyed such a beautiful day!

An Afternoon of Sailing and Storytelling Aboard the Pinky Schooner ARDELLE

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dance with the waves, move with the sea, let the rhythm of the water set your soul free.
                                                                                     -Christy Ann Martine

Having grown up spending my summers on a lake, it's not surprising that I'm at home when I'm on or near the water.  It's been quite a few years since I've lived on the lake, so whenever I get the chance to be on a water vessel of any size, I jump at the opportunity.  When we went on a mini getaway to Rockport and Gloucester this week, I knew I had to stretch my sea legs and we found the perfect sail aboard the beautiful Pinky schooner, ARDELLE.

It's funny how things work out sometimes - the order of things, I mean.  We've been visiting Rockport and Gloucester since our kids were tweens and over the years I think we've visited about 7 times. Back in 2013 while visiting the Maritime Heritage Center where the ARDELLE is docked, I took this photograph....
While researching before our trip last week trying to buy tickets for a cruise, among the crew of the ARDELLE was this same kitty, Stubby.  Seems Stubby's been around Maritime Gloucester for many years, in fact, he's about 20 years old now.  As soon as I saw Stubby on the ARDELLE's website, I knew in my heart this was the place we were meant to be!  And boy, was I right!

Last year when we visited Rockport, you may remember I wrote a blog about our cruise on the Thomas E. Lannon Schooner.  http://www.lifeasiseeitphotography.net/2016/07/sailing-on-seas-on-thomas-e-lannon.html 
The Schooner Thomas E. Lannon as we sailed past it on the ARDELLE.

Well, here's where things get interesting.  In 1997, Thomas Ellis commissioned Harold Burnham to design and help build the Thomas E. Lannon Schooner.  Harold was 29 years old.  We met Captain Harold prior to boarding for our cruise when he was busy doing a last minute dive (for fun, certification hours and a last minute sprucing up of the underside of his vessel).

Captain Harold Burnham explaining the art of mackerel fishing.
What I loved (and who wouldn't) about Captain Harold was his easy disposition, his sense of humor, his humility and his genuine love of his trade.  And believe me, there's no mistaking that shipbuilding is in Harold's blood.  According to a 2012 article in the Washington Post, it's said that 'the first boat constructed in Essex was built by a Burnham sometime before 1668.'  Eleven generations of Burnhams have lived in Essex, MA.  Harold is an 11th generation boatbuilder, a master shipwright, designer and mariner. He is the 28th Burnham to operate a shipyard in Essex since 1819.  In 2012 Harold received a National Heritage Fellowship award - the nation's highest honor for accomplishment in folk and traditional arts.  While it may be impressive that Harold was commissioned to design and help build the Thomas E. Lannon when he was only 29 years old, even more impressive is that he has built six boats in 20 years.  To meet him, you'd never have a clue of how accomplished he is, or well known.  Just Google him and you'll find article after article about his contributions to the industry, especially when it comes to passing down the history and culture of shipbuilding in  and around Essex, MA.  To meet him, he's just a regular guy with a passion for something he believes in.   Shipbuilding runs in his veins and being able to continue that craft and educate the public about it is what motivates him, and that is clear every moment one is in his company.
Pinky Schooner ARDELLE

After decades of building boats for others, Harold finally got around to building a schooner for himself. Named after Harold's grandmother, the ARDELLE is a Pinky schooner - a type of boat that's smaller than some schooners but known for it's seaworthiness.  Instead of carrying dories (small, flat-bottomed boats) that fishermen launch from a larger schooner, on a Pinky schooner the crew fishes off the sides of the schooner.  The ARDELLE is constructed of white oak, locust and white pine that was all cut from wood from other projects.  It's design was inspired by the Pinky MAINE built in 1845 by Ebenezer Burnham in Essex, MA. There was no paid labor on the ARDELLE project.  Hundreds of family, friends and neighbors, like neighbors helping neighbors to raise a barn, all volunteered their time and labor.  The same was the case in the building of the Thomas E. Lannon.  The ARDELLE was launched on July 9, 2011.  It weighs 45 ton, is 72 feet long (overall) and can carry 49 passengers. However Harold prefers to carry half that number so that everyone has ample room to move around and enjoy the full experience of the boat.

John and Elena helping to raise the sails.

The Thomas E. Lannon up ahead of us.

Another member of the crew is a seagull named Mooch.  Really.....if you look at the website, he is an official member of the crew.  Mooch has been visiting the Ardelle and its passengers since 2011.  He has a soft spot for cheese puffs and if you're wondering how they know it's Mooch - he's missing a toe.  He also is known to visit the Thomas E. Lannon.

Mooch has his eyes on our granddaughter's cheese puffs, but Harold has things under control!

Captain Harold adjusting our sails.

Captain Heath Ellis doing a 'sail-by'!

We had a gorgeous day for our sail.  The breeze and wake in Gloucester Bay at times made the ride a little rocky but never scary.  Along the way Harold explained to some younger crew wannabes techniques for adjusting the sails and such.  Throughout our 90 minute sail, Harold moved about the boat chatting with guests, answering questions, telling stories and sharing the history and culture of the Cape Ann heritage.  There was plenty of room for passengers to move about the boat for a different vantage point and there was so much to see from every angle, both on land and sea.  There were cold beverages for sale and bags of chips and cheese puffs, of course.  If you're visiting Gloucester or Rockport, I highly recommend a sail on the Ardelle, especially if you are interested in learning more about the area and the history of this famous fishing port.  Did you know Gloucester is the home of Gorton Fish Company?   The Ardelle is docked at the Maritime Gloucester on Harbor Loop, http://maritimegloucester.org/.  To book a trip on the Ardelle: http://schoonerardelle.com/ . You won't be disappointed.   To watch some really cool videos about Harold and the building of schooners:
There's many, many more!
 To learn more about the area and read my previous posts about Gloucester and Rockport, you can use these links:
Thank you Captain Harold and crew for a fun afternoon on Gloucester Bay.  If you're looking for more information about the building of ARDELLE, you can purchase "The Shipwright and the Schooner" by Harold Burnham on Amazon.com.   Thanks for reading!  Don't forget to share this post with your sea-loving friends using the links below.  Come back soon for my next post featuring Wingaersheek Beach and other views of Life As I See It!

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