Cruising Stories

Lake Champlain - A Mystery

Following the Wake of a Nameless Hero

Great Lakes

In 2015, one chapter of our life closed, and a new chapter opened for my wife Claudia and me. We sold our home, changed course and went all in by moving aboard our new-to-us 1981, 43-foot Viking aft cabin cruiser. Thus, began a grand adventure as full-time cruisers exploring our country from the perspective of her historic waterways. We'd like to share our adventures on Lake Champlain and shed light on a nameless hero who cruised these waters during the Revolutionary War.

Starting Point: Rouses Point, NY

We began our journey on Lake Champlain as a part of a larger adventure cruising the Down East Loop in 2019. We started at the Gaines Marina, a few miles south of the Canadian border. Before taking off, we walked down to Stewart's Gas Station and stocked up on ice cream. Near the convenience store, we found a drug store, dollar store and post office within walking distance.

We were investigating a nameless hero who participated in the assault on Quebec City and lead forces in Montreal in 1775. The British army began to challenge American patriots in Montreal and forced a retreat. Our nameless hero captured several ships during his retreat and made way back to Whitehall, NY. George Washington ordered a fleet of ships to protect Lake Champlain from British control. The gunboats were built under the direction of our nameless hero. In the fall of 1776, he headed to Lake Champlain's north end in the new fleet and met the British at Valcour Island.

Leg 1: Rouses Point, NY to Valcour Island, NY

Estimated Milage: 23.5 NMA short cruise south to Valcour Island brought us to an anchorage off its west side, which is part of the N.Y. State Park System and has few amenities. We dropped the dinghy and landed on the island to hike to Bluff Point Lighthouse and overlook the waters where the Battle of Valcour Island took place. We were anchored right in the middle of ground zero of the battle.

Our nameless hero made a fruitless stand in these waters in October 1776. His fleet of small gunships was no match for the superior British forces. He retreated south and lost all the gunships that were built in Whitehall. However, with winter approaching the Battle of Valcour Island was enough of a delay to prevent the British from advancing south to Fort Ticonderoga until 1777.

Leg 2: Valcour Island, NY to Burlington, VT

Bluff Point Light - cruising itinerary - marinalife
Bluff Point Light on Valcour Island from Wikimedia Commons

Estimated Milage: 13 NMWe stopped at the Burlington Boathouse for a few days to launch our shore excursions into Burlington. Luckily, the town runs a free shuttle bus to overcome the steep hill from the marina to downtown shopping and attractions. The local history was filled with stories of Ethan Allen and the famed Green Mountain Boys. Also, the area is rich with ice cream. Factory tours and the sweetest graveyard of dearly depinted Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream are a short ride outside of town.

About a block from the docks is a French restaurant named The Skinny Pancake that serves up a unique menu of crepes and music. Also near the marina you can enjoy a waterfront park, science museum and a great bicycle trail system.

Leg 3: Burlington, VT to Vergennes, VT

Estimated Milage: 21.7 NMContinuing south, we took a short side trip on Otter Creek. We picked the mouth of the creek in Fields Bay and continued for about seven miles. The reward for this little side trip was a beautiful waterfall that we anchored below the first night. The second night we moved over to the free dock where one 50-amp and several 20-amp hook-ups were available. The waterfall is lit up at night with rotating colors until about midnight. Drop-dead gorgeous! And locals raved about Black Sheep Bistro as a must-do while in town.

Leg 4: Vergennes, VT to Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, VT

Maritime Museum Floating Docks - cruising itinerary - marinalife - Lake Champlain
Maritime Museum Floating Docks

Estimated Milage: 9.6 NMAfter returning to Lake Champlain via Otter Creek, we turned south again for a four-mile run to the mooring balls owned by the Basin Harbor Club. After getting settled, we dropped the dinghy and landed on the floating dock at the Maritime Museum. Also on the dock is a replica of the Philadelphia, one of the gunboats lost during the Battle of Valcour Island.

The museum did a wonderful job of telling the maritime history of Lake Champlain. An entire building was dedicated to our nameless hero and his story of guarding these waters from 1775-1777. About a quarter mile from the museum was Red Mill Restaurant, located on a landing strip where we watched a plane land and the crew come in to eat. Brings a whole new meaning to the idea of dock and dine.

Leg 5: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, VT to Fort Ticonderoga, NY

Estimated Milage: 23.5 NMAs we continued southbound, we passed by Crown Point State Park and under the Lake Champlain Bridge. There is no dock, but good anchorages abound if you go ashore and explore the battlefields and fort remnants that date back to 1775. The lighthouse on the point honors the lake's namesake, Samuel de Champlain.

After passing under the bridge, the lake narrows and becomes more like a river. Another 15 miles south, we dropped anchor off the shore of Fort Ticonderoga. On the north side of the point where the fort is located is a ferry dock where we landed our dingy and explored the fort. The period re-enactors brought the fort to life with tales of yesteryear.

Our nameless hero participated with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys in 1775 to capture Fort Ticonderoga from the surprised British Army. He also made his way back to the fort in 1776 after abandoning his flagship on Lake Champlain's east shore.

Leg 6: Fort Ticonderoga, NY to Whitehall, NY

Estimated Milage: 20.9 NMAs we continued south, the lake gave way to Champlain Canal at Whitehall. After passing through Lock 12, we landed at the free Whitehall Municipal Dock. Whitehall was originally named Skenesborough in 1759 after its founding father, Phillip Skene.

Skenesborough Museum tells how the town built a fleet of gunboats used in the Battle of Valcour Island. In 1960, New York State declared Whitehall, The Birthplace of the U.S. Navy. Skene Manor awaits across the canal and up the hill. Lunch and tours are provided at the mansion. This section of the canal is 140 feet above sea level. From this highest point, it was downhill all the way to New York City.

Leg 7: Whitehall, NY to Fort Edwards, NY

Estimated Mileage: 21.7 NMThe day's major events entailed negotiating the four locks between Whitehall and Fort Edwards. After completing the locks, we turned up the marked channel to Fort Edwards Yacht Basin. The city provides free dockage and 30-amp power along the concrete wall. We took a short walk to Stumpy's Pizza and strolled five minutes to Stewart's Gas Station to stock up on ice cream. If you are not careful along the way, you might feel the tug of Slickfin Brewing Co. pull you into their craft beer den.

Leg 8: Fort Edwards, NY to Mechanicville, NY

Estimated Mileage: 24.3 NMThis leg of the journey provides one big obstacle for boats trying to enter Lake Champlain. Between Locks 3 and 4 is a railroad bridge (C-5) that is sometimes incorrectly charted as 21 feet. However, the N.Y. Canal System lists this bridge as 15 feet. The good news is that lock operators can lower the pool level down to 17 feet. If you need help getting under this bridge, call the lock operator the day before and request that the pool level be lowered. We have crossed under this bridge three times, and each time they honored our request to lower the pool.

Mechanicville - cruising itinerary - marinalife - Lake Champlain

On the way south we passed Schuylerville. If you wish to stop here, the Schuyler Yacht Basin will accommodate your request. From this location, you can visit historic Saratoga Springs. Just south of the marina, we spotted a large 155-foot stone obelisk. The Saratoga Monument stands where the British Lt. General John Burgoyne camped with his troops before surrendering on October 17, 1777, which is known as the turning point of America's Revolutionary War.

On the monument, bronze statues built into the structure commemorated the leaders and heroes of the battle. General Schuyler faces east toward his estate. Colonel Daniel Morgan faces west where his troops were located during the battle. General Horatio Gates faces north where the British invasion started. All sides of the estate display structures honoring battle heroes, but the south side has no statue paying tribute to the brave man who led the charge that cemented the victory. During this charge, our nameless hero was shot and wounded in the leg. Not far from this site is another nameless statue, The Boot Monument with the inscription, In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army who was desperately wounded on this spot, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution and for himself the rank of Major General.

We arrived at Mechanicville to find free dockage and power, and one more nameless hero memorial south of here on the Hudson River at West Point. A plaque for each general of the Revolutionary War hangs in the Old Cadet Chapel. Surprisingly, you find no plaque honoring our nameless hero, but you discover a nameless plaque with: Major General, Born 1740.

All three memorials commemorate the same nameless hero. I often wonder how many schools, libraries, bridges, buildings, parks, and roads would bear our hero's name if his gunshot wound at the Battle of Saratoga had been fatal on the day of his greatest victory.

Oh, and the name of our nameless hero, you ask? None other than the infamous Benedict Arnold.

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