(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange agrees with Kenneth Graham: that there’s nothing else so much worth doing as messing about in boats.
(LANGE) Lake Champlain is quiet today, lightly rippled under a sky promising showers. The shore beside the Maritime Museum is lined with small boats – Adirondack guide boats, Whitehalls, kay- aks – each available for a trial spin.
I can never come here without falling in love. Today, at the annual small boat show, is especially bad. Driving in, I spotted a Cundy Harbor peapod. Good shape. Nice trailer. Asking $3500. My mind leaped into fantasy mode. I could visualize us breasting the waves of a Champlain gale. I could see myself trading for a six-cylinder truck. I could imagine Mother’s reaction. I turned regretfully away.
There were others. I fell in love with all of them, but didn’t even come close to taking one home. Better to live with the fantasy.
Lake Champlain is narrow here, bounded on the west by Adiron- dack palisades. White sails plod past in the light breeze, power boats much faster. No one would guess all that’s happened here: that the lake was twice the key to possessing virtually all of North America.
The Adirondacks have been here almost forever, the Champlain Trough only 500 hundred million years. Continental ice sheets left beautiful farming land all along the eastern shore. The land rose after the ice retreated. The outlet of the lake, once the Hudson River, switched to the Richelieu River at the north end. Today, the land at the northern end is rising faster than in the south. When the basin has tipped another half inch, the lake will flow south again.
In early North America, the only efficient way to carry heavy loads was by water. Native Americans traveled light, by canoe. Euro- peans introduced larger boats. During the French and Indian War, Rogers’ Rangers, on their way to raid Quebec, rowed bateaux by night to sneak past the French fleet. Right here, at the mouth of Otter Creek, a keg of their powder exploded, and many had to go back to Crown Point.
Seventeen years later, the British were coming south from Canada. Benedict Arnold and teams of carpenters built the first American navy at the south end of the lake and sailed right past here to meet the British fleet. They were badly beaten, but held the invasion back by a year. In 1777, Burgoyne’s army made it past here, but met disaster at Saratoga.
Forty years later they returned. In a bloody engagement at Plattsburgh that shattered both fleets, the British were defeated, while the Vermont and New York militia ashore drove the British infantry back to Canada.
Each of these quiet bays has seen its share of triumphs and tragedies. For 190 years now they’ve been peaceful, witnesses to passing schooners and steamboats, and now pleasure boats. And old guys falling in love; thinking, “I wonder if he’d take $2000 for it…”
This is Willem Lange at Basin Harbor. I gotta get back to work.
Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.