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Burlington - Champlain Canal

Some tips on locking through the Champlain Canal

Some tips on locking through the Champlain Canal

Getting to Lake Champlain takes a little planning. The controlling bridge height through the Champlain Canal is just 15-1/2 feet, so sailors usually drop their masts at marinas in Catskill, N.Y., even though you will see freighters from around the world as far north as the Port of Albany. Power boaters may have to lower antennae or radar towers. Allow two days for the trip through the canal. Controlling depth in the canal is 12 feet.

Two marinas on Catskill Creek step masts. Both also have Travelifts.

Riverview Marine Services, (518) 943-

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5311, handles masts to the 60-foot range. Hop-O-Nose Marina, (518) 943-4640, handles masts up to 100 feet.

Masts are usually secured on the bow and stern pulpits lashed to lumber left at the marina by boats heading in the opposite direction. Some sailors build X-shaped supports. Masts need to be firmly tied because choppy wakes will encourage them to shift around, and having a 50-foot mast come adrift can be scary and dangerous.

On our round trip from Vermont to Cuba we found that a 2-foot-by-6-foot fender board and some cheap cotton gloves are handy accessories for confronting rough and slimy lock walls, and the ropes and pipes you grab to guide your ride up and down.

The Champlain Canal begins just north of the Federal Lock at Troy, N.Y., and, once through the lock, tides end. Before locking through you can tie up at the 1,400-foot face dock at Troy Town Dock and Marina just northeast of the art deco Green Island Bridge.

The Champlain Canal has 11 locks along its 63 miles, the first series on the Hudson River lifting boats 139 feet to Fort Edwards, where cruisers are invited to tie up at the free city dock before entering the lock. Here you leave the Hudson River for the canal itself and begin to descend 44 feet to Lake Champlain. Lock 10 has been removed. Cost of a two-day canal pass for a midsize cruiser is $15.

For details on the canal, call (800) 422-6254 or visit A 150-page cruising guide to the Champlain and Erie Canals is $19.95 plus tax and shipping.

Boats enter the south lake after Lock 12 at Whitehall, N.Y., to find two marinas: Lock 12 Marina, (518) 499-2049, can step masts up to about 50 feet. Sailors with bigger rigs usually continue north to Shelburne Shipyard, (802) 985-3326, just south of Burlington. Whitehall Marina, (518) 499-9700, does not step masts, but has an RV park.

Some favorite anchorages for northbound cruisers:

Cole Bay on the New York shore puts cruisers in 19 feet of water between a small island and the mainland. Camp Dudley is on the shore, so bugles blow and doors slam at 7 a.m. when the young campers are roused.

Westport, also in New York a few miles farther north, is a cruiser-friendly village where boaters can find basic provisions and weekend cookouts.

Partridge Harbor, two miles northwest of Westport, is a hurricane hole in the rocky west shore and easy to miss. A break in the wall of rocks leads to a forest-ringed anchorage that starts to get crowded when a half-dozen boats show up. The technique here is to drop anchor in 30 feet of water near the center and run a stern line to a tree on the shore.

Across the lake on the Vermont side is the busy Basin Harbor Club resort. Around the point to the north is Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. It is easy to spot because the replica of the Philadelphia (one of the boats sunk in the Battle of Valcour) will be docked there. The original was salvaged and is in the Smithsonian. It’s possible to anchor, but there is little protection from the north.

The museum’s latest venture, the 88-foot replica canal schooner Lois McClure, sailed south in the summer of 2005 to New York City — the first canal schooner to make the trip in a hundred years. It is now back on Burlington’s waterfront. For information about the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, call (802) 475-2022.

Kingsland Bay, farther up on the Vermont shore, has access to a state park. Essex, N.Y., has a marina and sometimes has a waterfront restaurant with dock space, but restaurants here come and go. It is a pretty little village to explore.

A car ferry runs across the lake to Charlotte, Vt. Converse Bay is across from Essex and a little north. Anchoring along the northeast side of the bay will provide a view of sunsets so spectacular even the locals are impressed.

Quaker Smith point, north along the Vermont shore, provides shelter from the north or south, but not both at the same time. Cruisers pick a side depending on the weather and consult their charts to make sure they spot the two cans off the point and know which is which.

The next stopping points are the south end of Willsboro Bay on the New York side, or Burlington harbor.