Our 2022 Road Trip #15: Behind the Boathouse

Boats on Lake Champlain!

Lake Champlain once again, but up close this time.,

Our next stop appealed to us on two levels: we thought it would offer easy access to something we wanted to see; and admission was free. Fans of boats and boat accessories might’ve gotten more out of it than we did, but when it’s free, we’re willing to live and learn a little.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Since 1999 Anne and I have taken one road trip each year to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. After years of contenting ourselves with everyday life in Indianapolis and any surrounding areas that also had comics and toy shops, we chucked some of our self-imposed limitations and resolved as a team to leave the comforts of home for annual chances to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between. We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

For 2022 we wanted the opposite of Yellowstone. Last year’s vacation was an unforgettable experience, but those nine days and 3500 miles were daunting and grueling. Vermont was closer, smaller, greener, cozier, and slightly cooler. Thus we set aside eight days to venture through the four states that separate us from the Green Mountain State, dawdle there for a bit, and backtrack home…

We drove northwest from the Waybury Inn toward Lake Champlain once more. The morning rains followed us for a bit, then slowly let up as we passed through Middlebury and pressed on toward the coast. Our objective was the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, which had come up in our research and made it onto our itinerary as a backup option. I hadn’t looked deeply into it and was expecting something more like an aquarium. My line of reasoning for adding it to the list at the last minute was that a museum about Lake Champlain ought to give us a fantastic view of said lake.

At first sight we couldn’t help feeling cheated. All that pervasive Vermont greenery seemed cool when we first crossed state lines, but now it was in our way. We saw no water unless you counted the weakened clouds above or the mud at our feet.

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum!

Don’t get me wrong: museums are cool, too.

The museum opened in 1985 with a dedicated mission to present local maritime life in general, as it pertains to Lake Champlain in particular — its watercraft, history, battle scenes, shipwrecks, ecology, and so on. “Maritime life” is not a synonym for “marine life” here — we saw no fish, nary a fish tank, no dolphin stunts, and no petting pool for tiny, codependent manta rays. The museum is all about boating careers and fandom, about objects on the water rather than lifeforms in the water…and a selection of objects that were supposed to be on the water until someone broke them and they ended up in the water.

We arrived a few minutes before they opened and soon encountered summer camp teens preparing for their morning activities. We saw two divided groups — one making a kayak, the other gearing up for an archaeology exercise. For folks who don’t have teens to spare or don’t live in the area, they also post learning resources online for adjacent topics of interest — e.g., “Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley”, apropos of our traipsing around Seneca Park two days prior.

As a pair of lifelong landlubbers whose experiences atop bodies of water have been few and infrequent (mind you, that one time off Cape Cod was extraordinary), we didn’t even try posing as fake boat geeks. But we were here and admission’s been free since 2021. We availed ourselves of some of the exhibits at hand.

Navy Mark V diving helmet!

A U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet.

boat building!

After the visitor center, the first dedicated exhibit building sported a quote from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows: “…there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

boat racks!

Inside, racks were filled with boats of all sizes that would fit within a building. In case anyone among you is genuinely a boat aficionado, we now present some examples by name:

Storm King ice yacht!

The tallest of all was Storm King, an ice yacht built circa 1895-1903 and found in the early ’50s well preserved in someone’s apple barn.

1940s child's skiff!

A 1940s child’s skiff.

yacht tender!

We’d never heard of a “yacht tender” because yachts are an alien extravagance to us, but apparently yachts can have li’l sidekick boats, and this is their name. This 1895 specimen served a 100-foot steam yacht called the Washita.

Neva the sharpie!

Neva is a sharpie, a sort of mid-1900s work boat.

decked sailing canoe!

When you cross a kayak and a canoe, it isn’t called a “kayoe” or a “canak”, but rather a decked canoe.

Marl Pond Dugout!

The Marl Pond Dugout was an old, old Native American canoe found in 1997, half of it rotted away.

wooden ducks!

Friends of the wooden ducks we saw back at the Waybury Inn.

Revolutionary War boating exhibit!

Next building was their Revolutionary War exhibit, featuring a surprising number of artifacts well over two centuries old.

New York stern!

What’s left of the stern of the New York, the only American gunboat to survive the Battle of Valfour Island. It was later burned in 1777 and unearthed in 1910 in the Champlain Barge Canal.

Townsend Document!

Though hard to read today (especially for the cursive-averse), the Townsend Document tracked America’s fleet vessel statuses as of October 1776.

Philadelphia III model!

A 1:6 scale model of a 1776 gunboat called the Philadelphia III.

The remaining buildings looked more like they had specific uses not necessarily in exhibition format, especially the ones with the campers hanging around them. But behind the northernmost one, we found a paved trail that led into the woods. Curiosity led us down the right path.

tiny waterfall!

A wee forest waterfall implies a nearby water source.

lake shadowed!

The trickle led to the water body we’d been looking for.

Lake Champlain walkway!

A walkway led outward toward boats in active use.

boats on water!

Some boats were right within reach, but we’re no trespassers.

forested shoreline!

Neighbors across the way.

Lois McClure!

The flagship of the museum’s replica fleet is the Lois McClure. a full-scale replica of an 1862 canal schooner that’s welcomed field trips for years but will be retired in Oct 2023. Visitors would be allowed to board later in the day.

Lake Champlain!

Jackpot. Lake Champlain after the rains.

The morning mists grayed the vista all around us. We didn’t mind. We hung out for some moments amid the peaceful ambiance we’d been hoping to find in Vermont. The dimming of the greenery somehow made it feel all the more real, not just a holodeck simulation of an impossibly lush state.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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