Posts Tagged ‘boating’

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lake George Lake Steward Program Expanding

The 2011 Lake Steward Program on Lake George, managed by the Lake George Association, will significantly expand over last year’s level thanks to new funding provided by the Lake George Park Commission (LGPC).

Lake stewards, posted at several Lake George boat launches throughout the summer, inspect incoming boats for invasive species, remove suspicious specimens, and educate boaters about the threats of invasive species and how to prevent their spread. The Commission’s marine patrol is contacted whenever stewards encounter a boat being launched that has obvious signs of invasive species and is unwilling to be inspected. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Update: Dealing With Flood Waters

This winter’s deep snow pack combined with heavy rains last week and this week continue to leave lakes and ponds brimming, and rivers and streams swollen with cold and fast water. All major rivers are at or above flood stage and flooding continues to occur and is expected to continue through Friday. Except for the Tug Hill Plateau, Flood Warnings continue to be in effect across the region. Roads and trails around the region have been reported closed, several roads and bridges have collapsed, and major flooding has forced evacuations along the Hudson, Schroon, Ausable, Bouquet, Saranac, Moose, Black and Raquette Rivers, and along Lake Champlain and many other water bodies around the Adirondacks.

The NYS Department of Environmetnal Conservation has issued the following announcement about continued flooding and the environmental risks associated with flooding.

Gasoline and Oil Spills

DEC is warning homeowners and building owners with flooded basements to check for sheens or odors from gasoline, oil or substances that may have leaked from fuel oil storage tanks, furnaces or motorized equipment before pumping out water. If a sheen or odor is present, contact the DEC Spills Hotline immediately at 1-800-457-7362.

If pumping is already occurring when sheens or odors are discovered, cease pumping immediately. A mixture of gasoline or oil and water can impact the surface water, ground water and soils when pumped and released into the environment. It is best to collect and remove spilled gasoline and oil while it is still contained in a basement. DEC Spills staff will work with home and building owners to determine the most effective means to address the spill.

Repairing Flood Damaged Streambanks and Lake Shorelines

Property owners who have streams or shorelines which have been eroded or otherwise damaged by flooding should check with the DEC Environmental Permits Office before undertaking repair work to determine if a permit or emergency authorization is required. Depending on the situation, work immediately necessary for the protection of life, health, general welfare, property or natural resources may be authorized under emergency authorization procedures. Projects for the purpose of shoreline restoration and erosion protection are subject to a permit application process.

DEC provides a number of documents on its website to assist in developing a shoreline stabilization project:

Stream Crossings

Stream Crossings: Guidelines and Best Management Practices


Shoreline Stabilization

Shoreline Stabilization Techniques

Applying for a Protection of Waters Permit

Sample General Site Plans for a Protection of Waters Permit

Sample General Project Plans for a Protection of Waters Permit

Locks

Both the Lower Locks, located between First Pond and Oseetah Lake and the Upper Locks, located between Lower Saranac Lake and Middle Saranac Lake, are closed to public usage until further notice. High waters and large amount of debris are still preventing the operation of the locks.

Boat Launch Sites

Most boat launches in the region are flooded, making it risky to launch and retrieve boats. Boaters not familiar with the location of the various structures on around the boat launch (ramps, walkways, docks, posts, etc.) that are now underwater risk damaging trailers and boats when launching or retrieving boats.

Water Recreation

Paddlers and boaters should continue to stay off of rivers and streams. Water levels are high and water temperatures are low, rivers and streams are running swiftly. Cold waters increase the risk of hypothermia and drowning if you should fall into the water.

Waters may contain logs, limbs and other debris. High waters also conceal navigation hazards such as boulders, rock shelves, docks and other structures that normally are easily seen and avoided.

Backcountry Recreation

The previous warning to keep out of the backcountry has been rescinded. However, hikers and campers should be aware of the conditions they can expect to encounter in the backcountry. Streams are still high and extra caution should be used at stream crossings without foot bridges.

Trails are muddy and wet. Hikers should be prepared for these conditions by wearing waterproof footwear and gaiters, and remember to walk through – not around – mud and water on trails. Trails and campsites adjacent to waters may be flooded.

Blowdown may be found on trails, it is expected that large trees may have been blown over due to winds and saturated soils. The danger of landslides on mountain slopes still exists, particularly if the forecasted rain occurs.

Snow is present in elevations above 2900 feet, and snowshoes are required in elevations above 3200 feet.

The full weekly Adirondack Conditions Report will run Thursday afternoon here at the Almanack, and Friday morning on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1) and the stations of North Country Public Radio.

Photo: A snowmobile sits in flood waters on the Schroon River in Chestertown. Photo courtesy John Warren.


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Sinking of the Steamer ‘Sagamore’

Not long ago, a few lakeshore residents commemorated a one hundredth anniversary – that of the launching of the steamboat Sagamore.

The event took place at Pine Point in Lake George Village, and according to contemporary accounts, it drew the largest crowds to the village since the introduction of the trolley in 1901. Local schools were closed for the day so that children and their teachers could attend the great event.

The granddaughter of the Steamboat Company ‘s general manager, George Rushlow, was selected to christen the Sagamore. Someone suggested that the boat be christened with water from the lake – after all, it was said to have been exported to Europe for use as holy water – but that idea was vetoed on the grounds that old sailors believed that it was unlucky to christen a vessel with the same water in which the boat was to sail. Rushlow said that he did not want to “Hoo-doo the boat in the mind of any person.” So the traditional method of cracking a bottle of champagne on the bow was used instead.

Elias Harris was the captain. At 74 years of age, the Sagamore was to be his last boat. (His son, Walter, was the pilot; Walter Harris became one of the first motorboat dealers on the lake; his Fay and Bowen franchise was the largest in the country.) Elias Harris began his career as a fireman on the Mountaineer, the boat that carried James Fenimore Cooper on the journey down the lake that inspired The Last of the Mohicans. He graduated to the post of pilot on the John Jay, which burned in 1856, killing six of the 70 passengers on board. On the deck of the Sagamore that day was a small anchor that had belonged to the John Jay, a memento Harris always kept with him.

The Sagamore was built to succeed the Ticonderoga, which burned at the Rogers Rock Hotel pier in August, 1901. The Ticonderoga was the last steamboat to be constructed entirely of wood, and the 1,25 ton Sagamore was the first steel-hulled steamer on Lake George. She was commonly regarded as the most luxurious boat ever to sail these waters; her saloon was finished in hazel with cherry trimming, corridors were paneled with mirrors and her furnishings were plush.

The Sagamore was almost an exact replica of Lake Champlain’s Chaeaugay and was powered by the same boilers and coal burning engines. (The engines were built by the Fletcher Company, which had a reputation for making engines fine enough to be preserved under glass.) The Chateaugay, which was launched in 1888, was the very first of the iron-hulled vessels. Later she would carry among her passengers a young Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose father, James Roosevelt, served for a time as president of the Champlain Transportation Company and the Lake George Steamboat Company, and become the first boat to ferry automobiles between New York and Vermont.

But whereas the Chateaugay sailed for more than forty years without any alterations, the Sagamore sailed for little more than six months before she was withdrawn from service. The builders of the Sagamore had given the boat more headroom between decks than the Chateaugay possessed, and that additional headroom made the Sagamore top heavy. The boat was put into dry dock and there she was cut in half amidships and lengthened by 200 feet. A set of ballast tanks was also installed forward of the wheelboxes. From then on, steamboatmen praised her for her easy handling. (In 1999 we would see another Lake George steamboat – the MinneHaHa – cut amidships and lengthened by 34 feet.)

The Sagamore could accommodate 1,500 passengers and traveled at a speed of 20 miles per hour. She left Lake George every day at 9:40 am and arrived at Baldwin three hours later, where it met the train for Fort Ticonderoga. She would berth at the Rogers Rock Hotel for three hours, and then return up the lake and deliver passengers to the 7:00 pm train to New York.

The late Dr. Robert Cole of Silver Bay recalled in the pages of the Mirror last summer that the Sagamore ferried the automobiles of travelers to points down the lake.

On July 1, 1927 the Sagamore rammed the point of Anthony’s Nose, and began to sink. The captain, John Washburn of Ticonderoga, ordered that the hole in the hull be stuffed with mattresses. He then sailed her into Glenburnie, where she discharged her passengers, and then beached her in a small cove. After repairs were made, she was refurbished, launched again in May 1928, and sailed for another five years.

Although no one knew it at the time, the early twenties would be the last prosperous years for the steamboats until they were revived as excursion boats for tourists after World War II. As America entered the Depression, operating deficits climbed into the hundreds of thousands.

The Sagamore was withdrawn from service in September 1933 but was not scrapped for another four years. In the meantime, she lay at Baldwin, falling into ruin. The George Loomis, superintendent of the Steamboat Company wrote that he went on board to salvage one of the mirrors but that the quicksilver had flaked off most of them. Karl Abbot, the general manager of the Sagamore resort, thought of tying her up to a wharf and turning her into a restaurant but apparently changed his mind. In the fall of 1937, the Sagamore was stripped of her gold leaf, wood paneling and rich furniture (upholstered arm chairs were sold for $5 a piece) and finally dismantled. With the destruction of the Sagamore, an era came to an end. People would continue to travel the lake on steamboats, but as tourists rather than as passengers bound for one of the great hotels, and never again in such stately luxury. After the Sagamore was scrapped, George Loomis committed suicide. The two events, friends said, were not unrelated.

Photos: The Sagamore after striking a rock at Glenburnie. The Sagamore at Cleverdale.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Adirondack Ice: Iceboating, Hard-Water Sailing

The allure of iceboating (hard-water sailing or ice yachting) in the Adirondacks dates back to the mid-1800s, though its peak surge of popularity was the 1940s to the 1970s. While iceboats have scooted across a variety of lakes, Lake George, Lake Champlain and Great Sacandaga Lake allow for the longest trips while offering the advantage of strong winds which not only propel the boats along at a good clip but also sweep the ice clean of snow.

One can imagine that “flying” across the ice at high speeds is not for the faint of heart. Goggles prevent the eyes from tearing up and protect them from stray ice chips; warm clothing staves off the biting wind. Should the boom suddenly snap across the boat, or the craft capsize on the hard ice, operators will appreciate the advantage of wearing helmets. For an adrenaline rush, this sport rates high on the list.

These craft, riding on three steel blades and propelled by large wind-filled triangular sails plus the additional breeze created by the boat’s forward motion, can travel two to four times the velocity of the wind, some reaching speeds of 120 mph and higher.

Records reveal the names of some earlier Adirondack sailors: around 1900, Lee Palmer built and sailed a boat on Lake George, and Ernest Stowe built and sailed one on Upper Saranac Lake. Charles “Juddy” Peer of Bolton Landing built another one of these early boats in 1936; a bow-steerer which he claimed could reach 100 mph. By the late 1930s, numbers of them began to appear as the sport caught on in the region. Sometimes iceboats were even used for cargo transport.

A large variety of iceboat designs have been seen at one time or another on our Adirondack lakes. Some of these are as follows:

– One Offs: small homemade, mostly rear-steering iceboats built and sailed at the north end of Lake George from 1935 to 1945. Each was a bit different from the other, thus the name.

– Scooters: 300 to 500 pound, shallow, moderately heavy hulls which sprout a sturdy bowsprit. Boats carry mainsail, smaller jib and four shallow keel-like runners which have a rocker shape so that, by shifting his weight, an operator can slide the boat out of the water and up onto the ice, then back into the water if necessary.

– Skeeters: 30 foot long hulls carrying seventy-five square feet of sail and steered by a foot mechanism or wheel.

– DNs: modified versions of the winning entry in a 1937 ice boat contest held by the Detroit News; 12 foot long, thirty-six pound hulls with steeply raked 16′ masts carrying 60 square feet of sail.

– Lockley Skimmers: small steel-framed boats carrying 45 square feet of sail; built for one passenger and good for sailing on smaller lakes.

– Yankee Class: 18 foot long craft with side by side seating; carry 75 square feet of sail. One of these, built in 1950 by the famous ice boat designer and racer John Alden Beals (“Scruffy”), is on display at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Another, “Still Crazy,” is currently owned and sailed by Dr. Dean Cook.

Unfortunately, iceboating is not practiced as much now as in earlier times, perhaps because there are fewer days when ideal ice conditions prevail. If you should spot a sail out on a lake, it will be well worth your time to pause a minute and drink in the sight of these delightful boats gliding across the ice, graceful, swift and beautiful. Thankfully, some folks are still keeping this North Country tradition alive.

Caperton Tissot is the author of Adirondack Ice, a Cultural and Natural History, published by Snowy Owl Press.


Monday, March 7, 2011

2010 Lake Stewards Report Released

The Lake George Association has released a report with findings from the 2010 Lake Steward program. The Association considers the Lake George Lake Steward Program “a critical part of protecting the water quality of Lake George and preventing the spread of invasive species between waterbodies by boaters throughout the Lake Champlain Basin and the Northeast.” Despite the fact that dozens of aquatic invasive species have already made inroads nearby, only four are currently found in Lake George. » Continue Reading.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Lake George, Once Home to World’s Fastest Boat

In August, 1914, following the victory of Baby Speed Demon over Ankle Deep in the first Gold Cup race to be held on Lake George, the Lake George Mirror reported that “C.C. Smith Company has been commissioned to build a hydroplane for a prominent member of the summer colony who is located at the far end of the lake. This boat is very similar to the winner of the Gold Cup.” The Lake George Mirror itself offered the Mirror Cup for hydroplanes in the Lake George Regatta Association’s races later that summer. The winner was a young George Reis, who would bring the Gold Cup races back to Lake George in the 1930s.

The summer of 1914 was Lake George’s first introduction to boats that plane above the water, rather than moving through it. The inventor of the planing hull was Chris Smith, the founder of Chris Craft and the designer of Baby Speed Demon, who, in response to someone’s remark that his boats were not long enough to displace enough water to travel at top speed, said, “Displacement? I don’t care about displacement. All I need is enough water to cool the engines, that’s all.”

From that date forward, all Gold Cup raceboats were constructed with planing hulls.

But before 1914, the fastest boat in the world was a Lake George steamboat, the Ellide; 80 ft long, and eight feet wide in the beam, she was built of mahogany and cost $30,000.

The Ellide was owned by E. Burgess Warren, a Green Island cottager and an investor in the Sagamore. In June, 1897, the Ellide made a trial run on the Hudson River, where she covered a measured mile in forty two and one half seconds. The trial was a preliminary one, and although she achieved a speed of thirty five miles per hour, she was capable of going even faster, and later reached speeds of 40 miles per hour. The engine, boiler, screw and hull of the Ellide were designed by Charles Mosher, one of the foremost designers of the day, and built in Nyack, New York by Samuel Ayres & Son. (Mosher built a number of fast yachts, among them the Arrow, which was 130 ft long.) Warren reportedly paid Mosher a bonus of $6,000 if he could make the Ellide exceed thirty miles per hour. Other reports claim that the Warren’s contract with Mosher specified that the Ellide would cost $15,000 plus $1,000 for every mile-per-hour speed that the boat was able to maintain. If the boat could travel at speeds of 40 miles per hour, the cost would have been $55,000, a remarkable sum for those days.

In July, 1897, the Lake George Mirror published a first-hand account of the Ellide‘s speed:

“If you have ever ridden on the tail of a comet, or fallen from a balloon, you may have thought you knew something about speed; but the effects produced by the above are slow and commonplace in comparison with the sensations experienced by a reporter last week in a trip on E. Burgess Warren’s fast launch Ellide, when she covered a mile in one minute and thirty -five seconds on her trial trip on the Hudson, or at the marvelous rate of thirty-eight miles an hour.

“On the dock looking down at the little flyer, one saw a highly polished hull that rode lightly on the water and the powerful engine ( Mosher’s masterpiece) was covered with a tarpaulin. It did not look formidable, so when the covering was removed, and the engineers and stokers began to get up steam the crowd of spectators , who gazed curiously down at the yacht from the string-piece, were greatly disappointed in the appearance of this highly polished mass of steel and shining brass. It resembled the average marine engine about as much as the finest Waltham watch movement does the old-time Waterbury.

“It took but a few minutes to generate sufficient steam to turn the engine over, and,at the command the mooring lines were cast off and Ellide slipped out into the stream, traveling at what was considered a very slow pace – about twenty-five miles an hour. She was traveling under natural draught, and carrying but sixty pounds of steam: she nevertheless skipped through the water at this remarkable pace without any apparent wave, and leaving a wake scarcely larger than that thrown by a good-sized naptha launch. Making a wide sweep, Captain Packard, who was at the wheel, sounded the signal to increase the speed.

“Designer Mosher, who crouched on the engine room floor, gave the word to his assistant and the throttle was pulled wide open. The second quarter was covered in twenty three seconds, making the time for the first half of the journey just forty eight seconds, a history unprecedented in the history of steam craft. When within one hundred yards of the finish line the sound of the rushing waters was drowned by the roar of hissing steam from the two safety valves, and the the midship section of the boat was hidden in a white cloud. The brass jacket of the reversing gear had become jammed, and an instant before had blown off. The accident was trifling, but the designer thought best to stop the engine to prevent more serious complications. The craft drifted over the last one hundred yards under the momentum she had gained.

During the Spanish-American War, rumors circulated that the Ellide would be sold to the U.S. government for use as a torpedo boat. Plans called for furnishing the vessel with a steel deck and with armor plates for her sides. When refitted, she would have carried a torpedo tube in her bow and a rapid fire gun.

As late as 1904, the Ellide still held world speed records, and Warren was still exhibiting her at local regattas. After Warren’s death, she was sold to a local garage owner for $1500, who operated her as a tour boat. At a much later date she was shipped to Florida where she was also used an excursion boat until she was finally lost on some rocks.

Photo: Ellide, Lake George Mirror files.

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror or visit Lake George Mirror Magazine.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Six Charged in ‘Ethan Allen’ Insurance Fraud Case

A federal prosecutor in Houston, Texas, has charged the owners of an insurance company with committing the fraud that left Shoreline Cruises unprotected when its 40 ft tour boat, the Ethan Allen, capsized on Lake George in 2005, leaving 20 people dead.

United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced on February 18 that Christopher Purser, 49, of Houston, and five other defendants have been charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money.

Jim Quirk, the president of Shoreline Cruises, said he had provided information to the Internal Revenue Service and the US Attorney’s office and had offered to travel to Houston to testify against the defendants.

According to Quirk, he paid premiums on a $2 million policy for approximately two years before the Ethan Allen capsized. Two weeks after the accident, he was told the policy he had purchased did not exist.

The indictment alleges that Purser backdated documents after the Ethan Allen accident to make it appear that Shoreline Cruises had not purchased coverage while the vessel was operating on Lake George when, in fact, Shoreline had purchased exactly that type insurance policy. The indictment also alleges that none of the insurance companies involved in Ethan Allen’s insurance policy had the financial ability to pay the claims.

Quirk said that he was provided documents that purported to show that the insurer had the means to pay any claims. Those documents were false, the indictment alleges.

One of the defendants, Malchus Irvin Boncamper, a Chartered Certified Accountant, allegedly prepared fraudulent financial statements and audit reports that were transmitted to Shoreline Cruises to create the false appearance that its insurers had financial strength.

In 2008, Shoreline Cruises, Quirk’s Marine Rentals and boat captain Richard Paris settled lawsuits filed by the families of those who who died in the accident. The terms of the settlement remain confidential.

The conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction of justice charges each carry a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $250,000.

According to US Attorney Moreno, the charges are the result of an intensive, four year investigation conducted by the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations, the Texas Dept. of Insurance, the New York State Dept. of Insurance, the California Dept. of Insurance and several foreign governments.

Photo: Lake George Mirror files.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror
or visit Lake George Mirror Magazine.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Lake George Park Commission Supports NYS Invasives Law

The Lake George Park Commission has approved a resolution supporting legislation drafted by the state’s Invasive Species Council that would make it illegal to transport an invasive species from one water body to another.

The proposed law would create regulations stronger than any currently in place on Lake George, said Mike White, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission. » Continue Reading.


Friday, December 31, 2010

Early Lake George Traveler’s Birch Bark Canoe Discovered

Lt. John Enys, a British officer who visited Lake George in the 1780s and whose travel journals were published by the Adirondack Museum in 1976, returned to England with an unusual souvenir: a birch bark canoe made by Native Americans.

The 250-year-old canoe not only remained stored in a barn on the family’s ancestral estate and survived; it is to be restored and ultimately returned to North America, the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall has announced

“There is a strong family story that this canoe was brought back to England by Lt. Enys,” said Captain George Hogg, an archivist at the National Maritime Museum. “Once artifacts such as this are collected by a wealthy landed family, they remain on the estate where there is plenty of space to store them and there is no pressure to dispose of them. We believe this is one of the world’s oldest Birch Bark Canoes, a unique survival from the 18th century.”

According to Hogg, the museum was contacted by a descendant of Lt. Enys, Wendy Fowler, who asked the staff to look at a canoe lying in the Estate’s barn.

“The Estate is very special to us and holds many secrets, but I believe this is the most interesting to date. I’m most grateful that my great, great, great, great, great Uncle’s travels have led to such a major chapter of boating history being discovered in Cornwall,” said Fowler.

After receiving little attention for a number of years (it may have been restored in the Victorian era, archivists say), the canoe saw daylight for the first time in decades when it was moved from its shed to its new temporary resting place at the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall.

Andy Wyke, Boat Collections Manager said, “Moving the canoe is the beginning of a whole new journey back to Canada for this incredible find.”

Lt. Enys sailed from Falmouth in a Packet Ship to join his regiment in Canada to relieve the city of Quebec, which was under siege from the Americans. He fought in the Battle of Valcour, on Lake Champlain, in 1776 and in raids against the frontiers of Vermont in 1778 and New York in 1780. Instead of returning to England in 1787, he traveled through Canada and the United States. In 1788, he sailed back to Canada, taking with him the canoe.

“It’s incredible to think its legacy has been resting in a barn in Cornwall all this time,” said Wyke.

The archivist, Captain George Hogg, said, “When we received the call from the Enys family to identify their ‘canoe in a shed’ we had no idea of the importance of the find. But we knew we had something special.”

Prior to her arrival at the Museum, the canoe was digitally recorded by the curatorial team and during the canoe’s time at the Museum, teams will be researching her history, conserving the remaining wood and preserving what’s left as well as preparing her for the trip back home and representing what she might have looked like over 250 years ago.

In September, 2011 the Native American canoe will be repatriated to Canada where the Canadian Canoe Museum will conduct further research to see where the boat may have been built and by which tribe. The canoe will be displayed in Cornwall, England from January through September.

Enys visited Lake George in 1787. According to his journals, Enys set sail for Fort George, at the head of the lake, from Ticonderoga on November 10.

He spent the night in a “House or Rather Hovel” at Sabbath Day Point, where his sleep was disturbed by hunters who were arguing about the best method of collecting honey from the hives of wild bees.

“So very insignificant was their information that altho deprived of my rest I could learn nothing by it,” he wrote.

On November 11, Enys passed through the Narrows, rowing rather than sailing. “Tho the wind was fair it was not in our power to make use of it, the Lake being here very Narrow and enclosed between two high ridges of mountains; the wind striking against them forms so many eddy winds that unless the wind is either in a direct line up or down it never blows five minutes in the same direction,” he wrote.

Near Fourteen Mile Island, the boat’s sails were hoisted and Enys sailed on to Fort George, arriving in time for dinner.
He then left for Albany and proceeded to New York, Philadelphia and Mount Vernon, where he visited George Washington.

The American Journals of Lt. John Enys, edited by Elizabeth Cometti and published by the Adirondack Museum and Syracuse University Press in 1976, is out of print but available through rare and used book dealers.

Photos: Lt John Enys; Removing the canoe from a storage shed in Cornwall, England

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Anthony Hall: Another Side of Kenneth Durant

Last week, I posted an article here on the Almanack about Kenneth Durant, best known today for his authoritative history of the Adirondack guide-boat.

But for people with more than a casual interest in things Adirondack, one of the most fascinating things about Durant is his biography. A member of Harvard’s class of 1910, which also included John Reed and T.S. Eliot, he attended the Versailles peace conference as an aide to Woodrow Wilson’s envoy, Colonel House. And before retiring to Jamaica, Vermont, and devoting himself to researching the evolution of the guide-boat, he was the US bureau chief for TASS, the Soviet news agency.

I don’t know whether that was common knowledge before Durant’s death in 1972. I once asked my mother whether it would be a violation of trust to write about that aspect of his career. She advised against publishing anything locally about Kenneth’s time with TASS, on the grounds that it was not something he would have wished discussed in public.

In 2003, however, Amy Godine wrote a meticulously researched article for Adirondack Life titled “The Red Woods,” about leftists with Adirondack associations, Kenneth Durant included.

Godine also wrote about my father, Rob Hall, a Daily Worker editor who left the Communist party in 1956 and moved to the Adirondacks. In last week’s post, I was somewhat disingenuous when implying that my family’s friendship with Kenneth and his wife Helen was based on a shared interest in the history of wood boats.

To be sure, my father was interested in Kenneth’s work on guide-boats, and published excerpts from the work in progress in his weekly newspapers and later in the Conservationist magazine.

Kenneth also solicited my father’s help in publicizing Tom Bissell’s fiberglass guide-boats, which Bissell manufactured in Long Lake in the early 1960s.

But my parents’ relationship with the Durants began well before they moved to the Adirondacks, and it was much more complex than most of their Adirondack friendships.

Genevieve Taggard, a poet and biographer of Emily Dickinson, was a teacher of my mother’s at Sarah Lawrence College in the late 1940s; Taggard was also Kenneth’s second wife.

After my mother graduated from Sarah Lawrence, she went to work for TASS, presumably upon the advice or at least with the consent of Kenneth, who had retired from TASS in 1944.

Kenneth, in fact, became something of a paternal figure in my mother’s life, a substitute, perhaps, for her own father, who publicly disavowed her in the early 1950s.

A Cleveland manufacturer, my grandfather was serving as an assistant to Averell Harriman, Harry Truman’s Secretary of Commerce, when a midwestern Congressman revealed that the daughter of an administration official was working for TASS. My grandfather resigned and returned to Cleveland.

When my parents were married in 1950, they drove to the Durants’ home in southern Vermont for their honeymoon, listening to the Weavers’ ‘Good Night Irene’ on the car radio all the way from Washington. (Reds at the top of the pop charts! Perhaps they were on the right side of history after all.)

Thereafter, my parents spent most, if not all their holidays at the Durants’ house in Vermont, called Gilfeather after the farmer who once owned it, or in a nearby farmhouse called Potter Place, which the Durants also owned.

When, for instance, my father was covering the trial of Emmett Till’s killers in Mississippi for the Communist newspapers, my mother stayed behind at Potter Place.

By then, Genevieve Taggard had died and Kenneth had married Helen Van Dongen, celebrated in her own right as the editor of Joris Ivens’ 1936 Spanish Civil War film, The Spanish Earth.

Written and narrated by Ernest Hemingway, the film remains highly valued as a documentary about war as well as for its innovative technique.

A few years ago, in a book about American writers and the Spanish Civil War (The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos and the Murder of Jose Robles), writer Stephen Koch claimed that Joris Ivens and Helen were not independent film makers with leftist sympathies, as they represented themselves, but, rather, Soviet agents. According to Koch, their assignment was to persuade Hemingway, Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish and others to work, however inadvertently or unknowingly, for the Soviet cause.

I once asked Craig Gilborn, the former director of the Adirondack Museum who had come to know Helen well in her final years (she died in Vermont at the age of 97 in 2006), what he thought of Koch’s claims; fanciful at best, scurrilous at worst, he replied.

Why do I write about these things? In part, because I’ve always been struck by the words of a character in Russell Banks’ Adirondack novel, The Sweet Hereafter: “To love a place, you have to know it.”

Our appreciation of the Adirondacks only deepens the better we come to know the characters who have populated the region, and Kenneth Durant was a true Adirondack character.

As I noted in last week’s post, Kenneth had a legitimate claim upon the Adirondacks.

His father, Frederick C. Durant, was the developer of the Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake, the first luxury hotel in the Adirondacks. To accommodate his own family, Durant built a camp on Forked Lake, a tributary of Racquette Lake, in the style made popular by his father’s cousin, William West Durant, which they called “Camp Cedars.”

Browsing through a Vermont antique shop a few years ago, I saw hanging near the rafters a large photo, badly framed, which the dealer had labeled, “Fisherman in rowboat on Vermont Lake.”

It was, in fact, none of those things. It was a photo of Kenneth, taken by Helen, rowing his guide-boat in Blue Mountain Lake. The photo was taken to commemorate Kenneth’s last row in the boat before donating it to the Adirondack Museum. I recognized it from the book on the guide-boat, and, needless to say, I bought it.

We’ve also had hanging in the house a large embroidered tapestry of a richly imagined Dutch village, which Helen made for us.

These things remind me how profoundly people from the past shaped us, our assumptions, our choices, our aspirations. For me, connections with those long gone are ties that bind me to the Adirondacks today.

Photos: Kenneth Durant in Vermont; Helen Van Dongen with documentary film maker Robert Flaherty, whose Louisiana Story and The Land she edited.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Boating Before Gasoline: Kenneth Durant and the Naphtha Launch

In the 1880s Frank Ofeldt invented a small engine powered by a petroleum by-product called naphtha, which proved to be a very useful means of water transport when attached to 16 or 18-foot launches. For a while, these naphtha launches flourished on the Adirondack lakes, transporting passengers and freight between camps, hotels and settlements.

By the turn of the century, naphtha launches were common on Lake George. Some were excursion boats, such as those owned and operated by the father os onetime Lake George Supervisor Alden Shaw. The majority, however, belonged to summer residents. Dr. Abraham Jacobi of Bolton Landing owned one. Harry Watrous, the perpetrator of the Hague Monster Hoax, owned two, as did Colonel Mann, the New York magazine editor who was the butt of the hoax. (Mann’s own magazine, by the way, poked fun at the rich for taking the accoutrements of soft living into the Adirondack wilderness, naphtha launches included.)

The Eva B, the launch portrayed here, was owned by Charles Barker, a gentleman who spent one summer on Lake George in 1892. Barker sailed the craft from New York City to Troy and then came up the Champlain Canal through the locks. The launch was brought overland from Glens Falls to Lake George, where it was paraded in the Water Carnival. When Barked departed Lake George at the end of the season, he announced that he would sill down Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence River, then on to Alexandria Bay and the Thousand Islands.

The naphtha launch, unlike the steamboat which it replaced, was light and easy to handle. No special license was required to operate it. Thus, the naphtha launch became popular very quickly. Just as quickly, however, it disappeared, supplanted by the gasoline-powered motorboat, which was much faster than the naphtha launch and, or so it was said, much safer.

“It is eighty years or more since the naphtha launch came into the woods. They are gone and the steamboats with them. Handled with good manners, the launch was no threat to anyone and a pleasing service to many,” Kenneth Durant wrote in his monograph on the naphtha launch, published by the Adirondack Museum in 1976. Durant’s monograph remains the single best source of information on the naphtha launch.

Durant himself is best known for his pioneering studies of the Adirondack guide-boat. He had originally intended to incorporate the material which he had gathered on the naphtha launch into his book on the guide-boat, but then decided that it would be too much of a digression. After his death in 1972, his widow, Helen Durant, edited the manuscript and produced the pamphlet that is still available through the museum.

Durant’s knowledge of the naphtha launch, like his knowledge of the guide-boat, was rooted in his own experience. His father, Frederick C. Durant, was the developer of the Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake, the first luxury hotel in the Adirondacks. To accommodate his own family, Durant built a camp on Forked Lake, a tributary of Racquette Lake, in the style made popular by his relative, William West Durant, which they called “Camp Cedars.” Warren Cole, the Long Lake guide-boat builder, was the family’s guide, and Durant spent much of his youth in the guide-boat that Cole built for him.

The family also maintained a naphtha launch, called the Mugwump. For sport and pleasure, there was always the guide-boat, Durant said. The naphtha launch was essentially a service boat. “It transported busts who might have been timid or clumsy in a guidebook. It towed the scow with loads of lumber from the mill or stone cut from the quarry at the head of the lake. It towed the freight boat with a load of fresh balsam for the open camp, or a string of guide-boats for a fishing party to the far end of the lake. Now and then one might make a leisurely cruise along the evening shore, with engine muted.”

Durant’s interest in the evolution of the guide-boat brought him to Lake George in 1960 to study the bateaux that had just been discovered at the bottom of the lake, and he and Helen visited my family often in Warrensburg, usually when traveling from their home in Vermont to Hamilton County, which Durant always called “the woods” and which he believed was the true Adirondacks.

(He once wrote to his friend, canoe authority Paul Jamieson: “When I was half as old as I am now we could say unctuously, ‘There are no venomous snakes in the Adirondacks,’ reciting a bit of nature lore: ‘Rattlesnakes do not advance beyond the oaks.’ Then, when I was not looking, someone moved the Blue Line around Lake George and took in oaks and rattlesnakes–and worse.”)

While he may have been harsh on Lake George, I remember Kenneth as the gentlest of men. And he managed to impart to many, through his books, his conversation and his example, something of his passionate interest in wooden boats and their history on the lakes of the Adirondacks. Those of us who have learned from him had had richer lives as a consequence.

Photos: The Eva B; Kenneth Durant.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Bolton High School Speedboat Racer Makes History

Johnny Saris, a Bolton Central School Senior, became the youngest speed boat driver in history to win a sanctioned World Championship race when he and Jason Saris competed in the Offshore Powerboat Association’s Orange Beach, Alabama meet in October.

“Johnny raced against the best drivers in the country and he held his own, as the results show,” said Jason Saris, the team’s throttle man and Johnny’s father.

Johnny Saris has been driving powerful offshore boats for years, but usually for recreation or in local poker runs. “There’s nothing like racing; once the green flag is waved, your mind is entirely focused,” said Johnny Saris. “And you never slow down for a wave.”

Racing a new boat custom-built by Performance Marine, the team placed first in their class in the first race, held on Friday, October 15.

To be named the 2010 Offshore Powerboat Association’s World Champions, the Sarises needed only to place third in Sunday’s races, but mechanical problems prevented the team from entering the boat in the second race, said Johnny Saris.

The races, held on an oval course about 150 yards off shore from beachfront hotels, attracted thousands of spectators. 40 boats, including a 50’ boat capable of 200 mile per hour speeds and a Lamborghini-powered 43’ catamaran owned by Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al‐Thani, took part in the event.

Known as “Thunder on the Gulf,” the event was not expected to take place; the Offshore Powerboat Association removed the race from its schedule after last summer’s oil spill.

But according to Jason Saris, Alabama officials, anxious to revitalize tourism along the Gulf coast, persuaded the OPA to re-instate the event. “We didn’t see any ill-effects of the oil spill, and they put on quite a show for us,” said Jason. “Bon Jovi and Brad Paisley played concerts on the beach, there were good crowds and the weather was perfect.” “We had as much fun spending time with the other racers as we did racing,” said Johnny.

As one of the youngest racers on the OPA circuit, Johnny Saris attracted some of the limelight, said Jason . “When an event is covered as widely as this was, some extra attention is expected,” said Jason. “There’s another racer close in age to Johnny, and people like to play up a rivalry.”

The Sarises began racing as a team in May, 2009, when they converted a recreational powerboat and competed in the first in a series of off shore races throughout the country. “Until 2008, no one under 18 was eligible to compete,” said Jason, himself a national offshore champion racer not so many years ago. “But fortunately for us, the OPA Racing Organization, changed the rules so that someone as young as 14 can compete as long as he’s accompanied by a parent or guardian. ”

Johnny Saris’s skills as a driver have increased exponentially during his first two seasons as a professional racer, said Jason. “He has a confidence that he’s earned through experience; that makes him a smoother, better racer; he’s not apprehensive, he knows what to expect,” said Jason. And he’s won the respect of the other racers.

“They take racing very seriously, and initially they were apprehensive about racing 80 miles per hour with someone who, for all they knew, was an inexperienced amateur,” said Jason. “Now, they treat him like a colleague.”

“The racing circuit is like family; once you’re in, you’re in,” said Johnny.

For Jason Saris, the pleasure in returning to the racing circuit lies largely in the fact that’s now able to race with his son. “We’re both enthusiasts and we’ve always wanted to do this together. A father and son who enjoy the same thing, getting to do it together: it doesn’t get any better than that. By the time most kids are sixteen, they’re out of their families’ lives. Even the time spent in the truck trailering the boat to races is quality time, as far as I’m concerned,” said Jason.

Racing may be a father and son activity for the Sarises, but it’s also good for Performance Marine, the business Jason established twenty years ago with his partner, Rick Gage. Tucked between the lake and Bolton Landing’s Main Street, Performance Marine is the place where racers from all over the country come to have custom built engines and drive systems made.

“If nothing else, the race circuit is a venue where we can demonstrate our competence, ” Jason says. “Customers are confident that we know our business.” Performance Marine also builds power systems for recreational boats and maintains boats for local customers. It’s a business that Johnny Saris hopes to run himself one day. “I’ll be going to college next year, and that may cut into racing. But a good education will allow me to continue what my father started. That would be even better than racing,” he said.

Photos courtesy of Saris Racing.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Ankle Deep: Lake George’s First Gold Cup Race Boat

After the Gold Cup races of 1914, the Ankle Deep was loaded onto a horse-drawn farm wagon and taken up the road to a corner of Count Casimir Mankowski’s estate on Northwest Bay – a humiliating end for a splendid boat, but then again, she had just suffered a humiliating defeat.

On the final day of the races, her propeller shaft had snapped. Mankowski let go of the wheel, and was sent overboard, right in front of the Sagamore. Her rival, the Baby Speed Demon II owned by Paula Brackton of New York City, went on to establish a world’s record. The Count, apparently, was too depressed to even remove the boat from the wagon. “Just leave the wagon where it is,” he told the drover. “Send me a bill for it.”

And that, more or less, was the end of both the Ankle Deep and Count Mankowski himself. The Ankle Deep caught fire and burned in a race held later that summer in Buffalo. The Count left Bolton Landing and never returned.

Nevertheless, the Gold Cup races of 1914 were a critical moment in the history of boating on Lake George. Gasoline powered boats had come to Lake George only a few years earlier. Competitive motorboating began in 1906, when the Lake George Regatta sponsored a race between boats owned by LeGrand C.Cramer, W.K.Bixby and Herman Broesel. Flat bottomed, sloping gradually toward the stern, the boats traveled at speeds of 20 miles per hour or more.

The 1914 race was the largest power boating event ever to be held in the United States; the field of starters was the largest, the boats were faster than any that had competed in previous races. The crowds too were the largest that had ever assembled in one place to watch speedboat races. Some of the spectators came by a special train from Albany. The Horicon met them at the station and took them to Bolton Landing. There, the Horicon anchored inside the race course, a 6 nautical mile ellipse that stretched from Montcalm Point to a point south of Dome Island. Throughout the races, cars lined the road from Glens Falls to the Sagamore.

The Ankle Deep was the first long distance speed boat ever built. Thirty-two feet long, she had two 150 horsepower engines, and was capable of a speed of 50 miles or more per hour. After winning the Gold Cup races on the St. Lawrence River in 1913, Mankowski brought the cup – which was made by Louis Comfort Tiffany and displayed at the Sagamore – and the races to Lake George.

The first race was scheduled for July 29th, but a northwest gale forced it to be postponed until the following day. On Thursday ,at 5:00 PM, the races began. The Ankle Deep was late getting to the starting line, and finished behind the Baby Speed Demon and two other boats.

The Count made certain that he would not repeat that mistake. Here’s how the Lake George Mirror reported the Ankle Deep’s start on the second day of the races: “But a few feet back of the line and going at almost full speed she jumped like a thing of life as the Count yanked the throttle wide open, and crossed the line a shimmering streak of mahogany, soon distancing all her rivals.” By the end of the second day of racing, however, it must have been obvious that the Ankle Deep was no longer the fastest boat in the field. The Baby Speed Demon II passed her on the second lap, retaining the lead that she had established the previous day.

The Ankle Deep now had no chance of victory unless the leaders were removed from the competition by some accident or by mechanical failures. Frank Schneider, the retired industrial arts teacher who restored boats at the Pilot Knob boat shop, wrote an account of the third day of the races for the Lake George Mirror in 1964.

“I saw this race from a small motor launch. Beecher Howe of Glens Falls and I, from Pilot Knob, proceeded to go diagonally across the lake to where we could see. As we got past Dome Island, going at a speed of approximately five miles per hour, our engine stopped and we found ourselves plumb on the regatta course, stalled, while two of the contestants, Baby Speed Demon II, and the Buffalo Enquirer were bearing down on us. One of those speedsters passed us on one side and the other on the other side, and after they had long gone by us, a patrol boat approached us and hollered, ‘Get off the course!’ We finally got the engine started again, and headed for the Sagamore dock, to watch the rest of the race. We did not see the Ankle Deep in action as it had broken down at the beginning of the third heat.”

When the scores of each boat were calculated after three days of racing, the Ankle Deep was in third place, behind Baby Speed Demon II and Buffalo Enquirer.

Gold Cup boats did not disappear from Lake George, of course. Albert Judson of Bolton Landing, a president of the American Power Boat Association, which sponsored the Gold Cup Races, owned the Whipporwhill Jr. That boat raced in Minneapolis, the Thousand Islands, Detroit, Lake Ontario, and in 1920, in England, where it competed for the Harmsworth Trophy. The driver in that race was George Reis. Reis himself brought the Gold Cup races to Lake George in 1934 ,35 and 36. Melvin Crook had the Betty IV built as a Gold Cup boat, but did not race her, although she achieved a speed of 111 miles per hour in a qualifying trial for the Hundred Mile Per Hour Club.

The Ankle Deep, however, retains pride of place as our first Gold Cup boat. As the editor of the Lake George Mirror noted after it was learned that she had been destroyed by fire on the Niagra River, “To Count Mankowski and the Ankle Deep belongs the honor of creating a new epoch in motor boatdom, and no matter how fast the boats may go in the years to come,Lake George will always remember with pride the name of the beautiful queen that carried her flag to victory on the St. Lawrence.”

Photo: Count Casimir Mankowski, center, on Lake George in 1914.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Fee Hikes to Pay for LG Island Trash Collection

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation appears willing to give way on its plan to discontinue the collection of campers’ garbage from the islands of Lake George.

After meeting on September 17 in Bolton Landing with state legislators, county supervisors, the Lake George Park Commission and the heads of lake protection organizations, DEC staff agreed to seek an increase in camping fees large enough to cover the costs of collecting garbage from three locations and transporting it to Glen Island.

State Senator Betty Little and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, who proposed the alternative to the state’s planned “Carry in/Carry Out” policy at the meeting in Bolton, said they would sponsor an item in next year’s state budget designating the new revenues as fees for removing garbage from the Lake George islands.

The agreement, however, must win the endorsement of DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis.
According to Doug Bernhard, DEC”s general manager of Forest Parks, approximately $50,000 would need to be raised every year to maintain the policy of picking up garbage and recycleables from three locations in the Lake George Narrows, Glen Island and Long Island campsite groups.

Last year, DEC issued 6,680 permits for 387 campsites on 44 islands, said Gary West of DEC’s Warrensburg office. By raising the fee for a daily camping permit by as much as $5, Senator Little said, enough funds would be raised to pay for garbage collection. “It will be understood that it is an increase in fees to keep the lake beautiful,” said Little.

If the fee hike is approved, the cost of a permit could rise to $30 for New York State residents and $35 for non-residents. “These campers have expensive boats; they won’t object to a few extra dollars for a permit, and it’s still an incredible deal,” said Bill Van Ness, a Warren County supervisor and a Lake George Park Commission marine patrol officer.

“There’s broad support from business owners, environmentalists and local governments for this fee hike,” said Peter Bauer, the excutive director of the Fund for Lake George.

The decision to abandon the policy of collecting garbage and to rely instead upon campers to carry their garbage with them when they leave was made after the DEC’s budget for non-personnel expenses was cut by 40%, said Bernhard.

“Asking campers to take their garbage to the recycling centers was a highly successful program, winning 90% compliance, but we no longer have the resources to support it,” said Bernhard, who added that other popular campground programs, such as nature education activities, had also been abolished.

Opposition to the plan to terminate garbage collection services, however, surfaced almost as soon as it was announced. The Towns of Bolton, Hague and Lake George, as well as the Warren County Board of Supervisors, adopted resolutions opposing the plan. “The end result will be garbage in the roadway and in the lake,” said Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover, who organized the meeting. “If we fail the lake, we fail ourselves.”

Members of the Lake George Park Commission also opposed the plan, said chairman Bruce Young, who argued that discontinuing the collection service would diminish the experience of camping on the islands, thus costing the state in revenues and harming the local economy. “This is the goose that lays the golden egg,” said Young. “The Lake George Island campsites generate $700,000 a year in revenues to DEC. I hate to see you shortchange this asset in order to take care of others.”

While a carry in/carry out policy is used at other island campsites in the Adirondack Forest Preserve, Young and others argued that it could not be successfully applied to Lake George. “Not picking it up is not an option, it won’t work,” said Young. “Lake George island campers are not backpackers.”

The Lake George Association’s executive director, Walt Lender, said, “While we agree the campers should be responsible for their own garbage, we know that island camping is not wilderness camping; these boats are floating Winnebagos.”

“Their coolers, their children, their barbecues, they boat it in as though they were going to a land-based campsite,” said Ron Conover. According to DEC officials, 231 tons of garbage was removed from the islands last year.

The Lake George Island Campers Association supports the recommendation, with some reservations, said Cindy Baxter, a New Hampshire resident who helped establish the advocacy group. “We would prefer to see all the funds generated by the Lake George islands be returned to Lake George for the care and maintenance of the campsites. But if that’s not possible, a fee increase is a price we’re willing to bear if that’s what it takes to protect Lake George,” said Baxter.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spiny Water Flea Confirmed in Sacandaga Lake

Spiny water fleas, an aquatic invasive species, have been found in Sacandaga Lake in the southern region of the Adirondack Park near Speculator, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today. It was previously confirmed in the Great Sacandaga in 2008, Peck Lake in 2009 and Stewarts Bridge Reservoir earlier this year.

Native to Eurasia, the spiny water flea feeds on tiny crustaceans and other zooplankton that are foods for fish and other native aquatic organisms, putting them in direct competition for this important food source. The tail spines of the spiny water flea hook on fishing lines and foul fishing gear. » Continue Reading.


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