Posted By Brian on September 13, 2011
This past weekend we traveled with the Merganser to participate in the annual reenactment of the Battle of Plattsburgh. As always, this was a wonderful event and we had a blast.
On the way up, I managed to take a few snapshots of the Heron’s progress. She’s starting to look like a boat already. Ekk is making some really impressive progress and I can’t wait till work allows me some time to travel up to Vermont to help out in the process.
The lines of the sharp bow and the wineglass transom are beginning to show.
Friday evening we piled in the tow vehicle for the Merganser and headed to Plattsburgh. We arrived a little later than anticipated and set up camp, opting to put the boat in the water in the morning.
Saturday morning we raced to get Merganser rigged, but complications made the going slow and we ended up putting her in the water… just as the batteau race concluded. While sad we were unable to participate in this race, at least we were spared the indignity of finishing close to last. You see, Merganser is a beautiful, stable vessel. The stability comes at the price of speed though. Compared to the fur trade batteau and other designs similar to more modern dories, we aren’t even close in terms of speed. Heron will likely reverse that situation, but we often joke that Merganser has all the speed she needs to sneak up on clam beds and occasionally beat them in a race.
So, missing the race, we did manage to participate in the impromptu battle on the water. Officially the naval battle was scheduled for Sunday, but none of the reenactors could resist. We dropped anchor and manned the cannon while being assaulted by field artillery on shore and swivel guns afloat.
When the guns got quiet, and the rowing batteaux returned to shore, a few of us decided it was time to sail a bit. The wind was perfect. There was a light chop to the water and quickly, the Gunboat General Arnold was sailing off into Lake Champlain while we set sail to cruise around Cumberland Bay. We tacked up into the heard of the bay, slowly making a little progress. After getting a bit bored of the routine, we turned downwind and flew back into the mouth of the Saranac. It was a most glorious sight as Merganser made good time and actually kicked up a wake. We saw many cameras pointed in our direction as we passed the Champlain Monument. I can only imagine the sight we must have been, as I’ve never seen Merganser go this fast under her own power, let alone from shore.
We kept sailing up the river almost to the foot bridge then dropped the sails and grabbed the oars to dock at the lovely seawall up river from the rest of the boats. With a nice grassy area next to us, Merganser became quite the spectacle, even while docked.
Sunday, just before the battle, we headed up to the Kent Delord House Museum which served as the British Headquarters during the original battle.
Sunday’s battle was, again fantastic. We anchored Merganser off the southern shore of the mouth of the Saranac and played the part of a defending American ship, this time firing both the main cannon and the swivel at the attacking British forces.
The naval engagement ended with a moment of silence to commemorate the lives lost both on September 11, 1814 as well as all those innocent lives lost on September 11, 2001. It always amazes me to be able to put some perspective to history. I recently learned that the Battle of Plattsburgh was much more significant to the War of 1812 than previously thought. It seems that the combined British attacks on the Great Lakes, New Orleans, and Baltimore were a series of diversions to get American troops out of the way for the main invasion force coming down along the New York side of Lake Champlain. The rouse worked, and American commanders sent most of the troops based at Plattsburgh to repel the diversion to the west, leaving only a scant few regulars and local militia units to defend the town.
Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough’s naval victory ended the naval support the main attacking force was to rely upon and sent the veteran British troops back to Canada. Without this naval victory, the 3,400 American troops (including militia units from New York and Vermont) would have been thoroughly routed by the 10,000+ hardened British troops. Lacking naval support (including both the guns on the ships and transport of supplies along Lake Champlain), the British had no choice but to retreat.
Later in the afternoon, we sailed around the bay once again, but this time the winds were more powerful, and we cut our escapade short, returning to the boat launch to put Merganser back on her trailer.
In all, it was another awesome time. Hopefully, if you haven’t seen the festivities at Plattsburgh, you’ll come visit next year. In two years time, we’ll celebrate the 200th anniversary of the original battle. You do NOT want to miss that one.