WATERFORD – Vessels of all different sizes, colors and propulsion methods gathered along the canals Saturday for Waterford's annual Steamboat Meet, creating a “live-action historical maritime pageant.” Nearly 30 boats turned out for the event, 18 of them powered by steam engines.
“It's growing in popularity every year,” said event founder John Callaghan. “We had a great turnout.” Callaghan said the purpose of the event, which began in 2003, was to celebrate the maritime history of the town and to give the public a chance to interact with the boats and their captains in ways that don't often happen at other steamboat meets.
“There are other tugboat roundups or steamboat meets and those with boats get together and they all know each other, but the public isn't involved at all,” said Callaghan. “We wanted to do the opposite of that.”
Callaghan and his brother, Chris Callaghan, organize the event, which has run every year except for 2006, when a flood caused water levels to rise above the docks and over the concrete barriers. While the flood kept the public away and the official event was canceled, steam boats from all over the Northeast made their way to Waterford.
“People still came out,” said Chris Callaghan. “We had a party on our own.”
Russ Steeves, captain of the 19-foot steam-powered Redbud, has been coming to Waterford for the past six years and has a notch on his boat for every year except the year of the flood. Steeves is from Chelmsford, Mass., and is planning a trip up Otter Creek in Vermont later this summer. Steeves first became interested in steam through locomotives, building his first in 1993.
“From 2004 to 2005 is when I really got into steamboats,” said Steeves. Like many of the captains out on Saturday, Steeves is a member of the North American Steam Boat Association. He's still interested in locomotives, and is currently building a second one at his shop in Massachusetts.
Peter Renzetti from Arden, Del., also started out with steam locomotives, making model engines of all types and model boats, cars, planes, trains and other machinery. He is captain of the Raggedy Annie, named after his wife. For the past for years Renzetti has been owner of the boat, which was originally build in 1984 in the turn-of-the-century style.
Renzetti has made a number of adaptations to the boat to make it useable for longer trips. Renzetti is able to use adjustable slats to set up an air mattress in the boat, and can put up vinyl windows during inclement weather.
Renzetti, along with 23 other boats, made a 3-day trip last year from Whitehall, and plans to to go up the Champlain Canal after leaving Waterford. Renzetti and his wife travel along with their two well-behaved border collie boat dogs, Wallace and Gromit.
The Champlain Canal Tour Boat company, based in Schulyerville, were docked in Waterford offering tours up the canals. Powered by diesel, their tour boat was one of several boats not powered by steam. The Callaghans supervised the event from a tug boat, and a dragon boat used by the Hope in the Boat breast cancer survivors' dragon boating association was also present. The local team, consisting of 32 survivors, was out raising money to purchase equipment for future meets and to raise awareness for breast cancer. For more information, visitwww.hopeintheboat.org or call 458-1518.
In addition to the boats, food and craft vendors were lined up along the canal, offering a variety of goods. Some were historical organizations, selling artisan wares and model steam boats, while others had clothing, jewelry and art available.
Traditional folk singer George Ward also performed, singing a variety of songs from different eras.
“It's boat music,” said Ward. “Some of it is canal music, some of it is traditional and some of it is contemporary.” Ward, a musician for the past 35 years, has more traditional Erie Canal songs than anyone else in the region, and is in the longest-performing Irish band, The Broken String Band, in the Capital District. For more information on Ward, visit www.mulesong.com.
The Waterford area has longstanding ties to steam power. Chris Callaghan said that the steam-powered fire engine was invented by Lysander Button in Waterford in the 1830s.
The Steam Meet finished up Saturday evening with a fireworks display, although some boats will likely stick around until Sunday for the farmer's market, said one captain.