The soothing pocketa-pocketa-pocketa inner workings of these steam vessels are a meditation on 19th-century technology-maybe ornate, but a heck of a lot fun.
Capt. Steeves was joined by other steamboaters including John Crockett of Andover, N.H. and skipper of the S.L. Jabberwock; Charles Roth of Glen Gardner, N.J. and skipper of Adamey III; Doug Pyatt of Bethlehem, Pa., and several others including a network television producer. A few came to the unusual hobby through steam railroading or an interest in maritime history.
Roth said today's steam launches are registered as gas boats because states simply don't have a category for steamboats.
Most steamboats run between 25-30 feet in length. Most can navigate in shallow water, down to 22 inches deep.
With a full firebox, the S.L. Redbud can cruise up to 15 miles with stoking required, maybe, every 10-20 minutes. And at a top speed of between 5 mph and 6 mph, this vessel won't get you to the church on time. But then, who cares? Steamboating is not about speed or competition. It's about community and enjoying river travel at its own pace.
While staying at River's Edge Cottages and Campground, steamboaters enjoyed day trips-via Otter Creek-to downtown Vergennes for shopping; they also included mini cruises along the shore of Lake Champlain, although some of the skippers dislike the lake's big swells when the weather gets dicey. A few have ventured as far south as Whitehall, N.Y.
"We were on the water when the big thunderstorm hit July 21," said Steeves. "We got back to the River's Edge dock in a hurry."
In the old days, steam launches came in a variety of lengths and were used to ferry passengers on rivers and lakes. Similar launches were a common sight on Lake Champlain and Lake George up until World War I.
Steamboaters planned to wrap up their get together July 25. But there was an opportunity for one more cruise on Otter Creek.
Looking at his steam gauge, Capt. Roth of the Adamey III said, "I need about 100 psi on the gauge, then, I am ready to go.
"Oh," he slyly made an aside, "I should mention that our unofficial cocktail is the gin and tonic-in honor of Bogart and Hepburn and The African Queen.
Well, here's to you, steamboaters! Bon voyages. There is nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.