Another Place on the List

The Zartman family heads south from Canada and realizes how much more of the world there is still to see.

Our last day in Canadian waters began with a bang; a series of bangs actually, as the first grey light of dawn was hailed by duck hunters firing shotguns into the mist. How they could see what they were shooting at in the thick fog was beyond me: I could barely see as far as Ganymede’s bows. After a quick peek outside I went back to bed. There was no hurry today, no need to go blundering about in the mist and get mistaken for a big duck and shot. We were less than five miles from the border, and could afford the untold luxury of a late start. Even the crackling of gunfire, sounding sometimes pretty close by, did not diminish from the pleasure of lying in bed staring at the deckhead. After all, it would take something considerably heavier than birdshot to put a dent in Ganymede’s sturdy hull.

Border bouyIt was midmorning before the fog lifted enough to allow us to get well underway, and then, perversely, it socked back in thick as flannel. Antigone kept watch from the bows while I steered carefully plotted compass courses from one buoy to the next. I’m often asked whether I don’t think I’d like to have a radar for these sort of fog events, but the fact is, in this portion of the river a radar would have been little help. The buoys were mostly the light-duty plastic spar sort, and would have given as little radar return as the low marshy land bordering the river. I don’t deny that radar has its uses, but it would have been a mere tease here, where a careful compass course and keen lookout were the order of the day.

It was less than two hours after we got underway that the fog lifted, and then a worse evil was made manifest: speedboaters, taking advantage of the last fine weather before winter, came out in droves as soon as the visibility improved. Soon the quiet river became a crashing maelstrom as phalanxes of Sea Rays and all their ilk charged senselessly here and there as fast as ever they could. It was unimaginably vexing, and in no time we were wishing again for thick fog as heartily as we had wished it gone before.

Rouses PointThings mellowed out at the border crossing, where all boats were required to stop and clear customs. We had been relishing, after clearing customs ourselves, finding a good, old fashined, American grocery store: one full of all the good things we’d been longing for since, well, since leaving Cape Cod six months before. Our last grocery shopping had been done way back in Quebec City, hundreds of miles away, and we had absolutely nothing fresh or pleasant left to eat. But our welcome back to the US was to be more meager than that. At Rouse’s Point, the border crossing, there was nothing but a dollar store stocked with canned food and a few loaves of bread. The only restaurant in town had almost anything you could want, as long as you wanted it fried.

BurlingtonThe lateness of the season didn’t help; with the closing of the Chambly Canal, most of the marinas along the shores of the lake were closing as well, along with their associated restaurants, convenience stores and fuel docks. Even at Burlington, Vermont, where we arrived after sitting out two days of strong contrary winds and rain in a lonely northern bight of the lake, the only grocery store we could find was a hyper-expensive market aimed at people with food issues and big wallets. Almost everything was “organic” or “artisan”, which are just two gimmicks to charge more money for bad food. We bought what we could stand to from the sinner’s rack (the one labeled loudly “Inorganic”), and hurried home to make a few more miles of southing before nightfall.

Lake ChamplainOne decided advantage of cruising at end-of-season is that any available wharf space is fair game, and moorings galore sit empty, waiting to be used. It’s convenient, especially in a narrow waterway where anchoring may not be an option. It was certainly not an option once the lake narrowed to a river with very shallow banks, and the brightly colored trees closed in, stooping far enough over the water to have touched Ganymede’s spreaders—if her mast had been up. It was just after that point, where it seemed like the river could get no shallower nor narrower, that we arrived in Whitehall, yet another off-season ghost town, and made fast to a conveninent floating dock in the lengthening shadows.

WhitehallThis was another milestone: here was the first lock of the Champlain Canal, a twelve-lock system that joins the Hudson River to Lake Champlain. A quick walk ashore among forlorn three-storey brick buildings, some of them caving in at the sides, revealed no supplies of any kind. With barge traffic no longer of huge commercial importance, many of the small towns along the canal have fallen on hard times. Still, we found it a pity that we had not more time to spend exploring that and other quiet towns along the wateway, nor to poke about Lake Champlain, which though resplendent in glorious fall colors as we went by, would also be a grand place to spend a few weeks in the height of summer.

Fall leavesBut time, as it had been for over a month now, was still pressing, and as we left Lake Champlain behind we added it to the list of places to which we’d love one day to return. That list is almost as long as that of the places we’ve been, since almost each one has had something pleasant and lovely to anchor fond memories to. Neither of those lists, however, is as big as the list of places we’s still like to go—a list that only gets longer the further we cruise and realize how much more of the world there is still to see.