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Nessmuk's Adirondack Letters

By George Washington Sears ("Nessmuk") (1821-1890), 1880-3

Cruise of the Susan Nipper, 1

Forest and Stream, Dec. 8, 1881

SHE met me by appointment at Boonville. With praiseworthy punctuality--considering her sex--she had arrived several hours before me. The express agent assured me that her conduct had been most exemplary.

The tourists, male and female, were just then thronging into the Wilderness from either side. Everything on the Northern road brought its quota of seekers for pleasure, recreation or health. The Nipper was interviewed remorselessly. Well dressed ladies, neat young girls, and even children approached her irreverently. They examined her graceful lines. They made comments on her unknown owner, and invariably ended with lifting her gently by the nose, with exclamations quite irrelevant. No gentleman tourist passed her by without critical examination and comments. As they raised her carefully, they said if they were worldlings--"Holy Moses! who's going to paddle that eggshell?" Clergymen said: "I do declare! Is that intended to go on the lakes?" The ladies remarked, "Oh, my!" "Did you ever?" "Dear me!" "What a beauty!" etc.

None noticed the little gray-haired fellow who, dressed in coarse blue flannels, smoking a clay pipe, dangling his short legs off the platform, and reading the last number of Forest and Stream was quietly taking in the thing until the agent pointed him out as the Skipper of the light craft they were admiring. He was immediately interviewed, and questions were frequent and fast.

"Do you expect to live in her on Raquette Lake?"

"Can you stand rough water?"

"Can you throw a line from her, and handle a good sized fish?"

"Isn't she too frail?"

"And what is that little green canoe in the corner? She looks still smaller."

The Skipper answered the last question first. The little green canoe is the Nessmuk that was paddled last summer over 550 miles, came out tight and staunch, was taken 230 miles to northern Pennsylvania by rail, paddled on the rocky affluents of the upper Susquehanna, and is going back to the Wilderness, still tight and seaworthy. The second question. Yes, she is frail. She is intended, both by her owner and builder, to be the lightest canoe of her dimensions ever built of oak, elm and cedar, with light spruce gunwale. (Here the Skipper showed a letter from her maker, Rushton, expressing doubts as to her strength, and giving pen and ink diagrams of the way she might be strengthened by bracing, thwarts, etc.)

"But," said the Skipper, growing enthusiastic, "she don't need strengthening. The two pairs of strips nearest the keel are of full thickness--three-sixteenths of an inch. The third pair taper a little toward the gunwale, and the three upper pairs run light, very light. Her weight is sixteen pounds; length, ten feet, six inches; beam, twenty-eight inches; rise at center, eight inches; at stem, thirteen inches; ribs, forty-five inches. Gentlemen, if any of you are canoeists, you know that you have no business to put weight on the upper strips or the gunwale. All weight in a light canoe must come on the keelson, and the first two, possibly three, pairs of strips. The Nipper is strong enough for me. As to throwing a line from her, she is the very best possible craft for fly fishing. You can make a ten-ounce trout tow you in any direction you please until he floats helpless. I have done it in the Nessmuck.

"As to rough waters and squalls, I expect to stay as long as the average guide boat of the Adirondacks and ride more steadily in a short, sharp sea."

With expressions of sympathy and hopes that they might see the light canoe and her Skipper on the lakes, the tourists went off on the inevitable buckboards, and the Skipper began to organize for a cruise. It was necessary to make the first twelve miles of it overland, and the route was not pleasant. Hills, hollows, sand up to the hub, boulders, and six miles of corduroy road. Such was the first twelve miles--as every man knows who has made the route from Boonville to Moose River.

The trip was made in and on a lumber wagon, with the canoes packed in straw and guyed with heavy twine, the Skipper kneeling on the port side and keeping a death-grip on the gunwale of the Nipper, unmindful of the hemlock lee-board that was steadily abrading his spinal column. The charge for the tow was four dollars, with a stipulation that the horses should walk all the way. When the latter clause of the contract was enforced by the Skipper, the disgusted driver relieved his feelings by a twelve-mile string of oaths that would have struck a Missouri Bullwhacker with paralysis.

It is a weary trip, that road from Boonville to the "Tannery." But it has an end; and both driver and canoeist felt better when the two canoes made a landing on Tom Nightingale's porch without crack or scratch. A double nip of whiskey quieted the driver, while the hearty greeting of Jolly Tom, Si Holliday, Charley Phelps, Colonel Claskin, and a dozen others made the Skipper feel as though he had got home.

Moose River is not by any means a bad place to stop at. The hotel is well kept, family very pleasant, and charges reasonable, let alone that pretty fair trout fishing may be had in several spring brooks easily reached in an hour's walk. It took four days to work these brooks and a few spring-holes in the river, the result being a reasonable supply of fine brook trout, saving none under six inches.

The road from the "Tannery" to the foot of the Fulton Chain is so rough that no prudent tourist will send a light canoe in by the buckboards, and boats are usually sent in from the west side, via Jones' camp, on the shoulders of guides. And even in this way they do not always get through safe. There was a fine new boat sent in that way last July in which the guide contrived to knock an ugly hole. So the Skipper decided to send his duffle by buck-board to the Forge House, make the nine-mile carry through the woods to Jones', and paddle the twelve-mile stillwater to the lakes, which he did.

In fact, he overdid it by taking the right-hand trail when within three miles of Jones' and carrying the Nipper over to Little Cull Lake. This lengthened the carry to twelve miles, but the visit to this lonely, beautiful lake almost compensated for the extra labor. It was late in the afternoon when Jones' camp was finally reached and the Skipper learned that the camp was bare of trout. Pork, potatoes and tea were indulged in to a moderate extent, and the night's rest which followed was of the soundest.

The next day was spent in a faithful but vain attempt to inveigle a mess of speckled trout from their old haunts in the Moose; and it was remembered with regret that these same haunts gave a daily supply of trout on the previous season. Everywhere, so far, trout had been found less plenty than in the summer of '80.

A second night of sound sleep at Jones' camp, and the Nipper was put afloat for the first time, her owner boarding her rather cautiously for a canoeist who has faith in himself and his craft. She proved marvelously steady, however, and a paddle up-stream of three and a half miles in one hour brought her to the carry around the flood-raft and gave the Skipper confidence in her steadiness. The Forge House landing was easily made inside of four hours, and, once in the boat-house at Barrett's, the cruise of the Fulton Chain was fairly commenced.

And here let us drop the third person singular and pick up the Eternal Ego, that I am as sadly weary of as my readers possibly can be.

At the Forge I met very many whom I knew last season; also, many who were visiting Brown's Tract for the first time. Among the latter were invalids of the Lung Disorder type, who did not seem very favorably affected by the damp, chilly weather which prevailed during July and well into August of the past summer. As to the brigade of consumptives who came to the Northern Wilderness last summer in search of health, which they were destined not to find, I shall have something to say further on. Many were induced to come through reading a magazine article entitled "Camp Lou," and the disappointment felt by most of them was sad and bitter.

It was 4 p.m. on the 16th of July when I paddled out from the Forge House for a rather extended cruise through the Fulton Chain, Raquette Lake, Forked and Long Lakes, the Raquette River, Tupper Lakes, and, by a circuitous route, back to the Fulton Chain. It was a very pretty program, destined to be carried out only in part.

The afternoon was gusty and stormy. Black, wind-laden clouds went whirling across the sky with ominous speed, and I heard a guide remark, "Uncle Nessmuk ain't anxious to take this in." So I made my gum coat into a cushion and struck out. For a mile and a half up the channel the canoe flew along smoothly with the wind dead aft. Then came the open water of First Lake, white and spumy, with short, sharp seas, that I must take fairly abeam to the inlet, where I could see the waves dashing white over the large boulder at its mouth. I hesitated for a minute about trying for the inlet. But it was the trial trip of the Nipper. If she would swamp in a blow, better do it on one of the smaller lakes, and I pulled out. When fairly out of the roughest water her behavior surprised and delighted me exceedingly. She rose and settled on an even keel with a steadiness I should have scarcely looked for in a boat of twice her size and threw off the steep, sharp seas like a duck. I thought then, and still think, that for a light, comfortable cruising canoe, under paddle, her model cannot be improved.

When about half way across the lake a low, ugly looking black cloud came up from the southwest, and when just over the lake let go a torrent of water that drenched me to the skin in three minutes. It was no time nor place for struggling into a gum coat, and I wanted both hands on the paddle, so I took it as philosophically as possible. It ceased as I rounded the rock at the inlet, and I went flying up Second Lake with the wind astern, only dipping the paddle for steerage way; and again there came a thunder gust with a down-pour of rain. But, as I could be no wetter, I rather enjoyed it.

Rounding the Eagle's Nest, I ran under the lee of the forest-crowned point and sponged out the canoe, for she was getting logy with the water that had fallen into her, and then paddled across to Third Lake camp. Perrie, with several old acquaintances, met me at the landing and gave me a woodland welcome, besides lending me dry clothes that I greatly needed.

I found the camp enlarged to thrice its former capacity and filled to overflowing with boarders and tourists. Four of the inmates were suffering with pulmonary troubles and did not seem to be getting much benefit from "balsamic breezes" or "ozone." Each one had his or her peculiar cough; the season had been wet and cold, and the bright, open-air fire that should be inseparable from a camp in the wilderness was, for the most part, lacking.

On the night of my arrival the wind shifted to northeast with a cold drizzling rain, and in less than forty-eight hours after landing I had joined the little band of coughers, coughing oftener and louder than any of them. As I had made the trip to the woods for health mainly, this was most provoking. I thought it was only a surface cough, so to speak, but it was constant, hard and irritating. There were plenty of cough remedies in the house, and I tried them all, with little or no effect until I resorted to balsam, taken directly from the little blisters on the balsam fir, soaked into sugar and allowed to percolate slowly down the throat. This gave relief, and I mention it for the benefit of any future tourists who may get landed upon a cruise by a cough and cold.

By the 22nd I was sufficiently recovered to assist at a dinner given at Dunakin's camp, on Fourth Lake, by Messrs. F. J. Nott, S. F. Fish, and M. M. Crowell. The dinner was entrusted to Sam Dunakin as cook and purveyor, and it was a neat affair. The guests, estimated at six, turned out thirteen strong at the table, State Game Constable Dodge being one of the number, and I thought he looked a little glum as he tasted the "mutton," which had a rather gamy flavor, as though it "had lain in the roses, and fed on the lilies of life" (or of the lakes). Whatever he thought, he said nothing, and the dinner was one of the pleasant episodes one never forgets. Our hosts were capable of good red wine, with a bottle of Martel at the finish. The trout were excellent and well cooked, and all three of our hosts sang glees in capital voice and good taste, aided by the game constable, who, by the way, struck me as being the right man in the right place. Just at dark I paddled leisurely down to Third Lake with the impression that the 22nd of July, 1881, would be a good day to mark with a white stone.

Next day I tried salmon trout at the buoys and brook trout at all the spring holes, with no success. In fact, the fishing on Third Lake after the first of July was not worth the trouble of putting a rod together or wetting a buoy-line.

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