Yankee Classic: The Champ Believer
Even worse was the near-miss a month before my arrival. Zarr and Pat had managed to squeeze in a week at the cabin at the end of June, but gale-force winds and driving rains ruined observations. On their last day — June 29th — Zarr packed up their gear and drove it back to Saratoga Springs, returning to Vermont that evening to give a speech at the Basin Harbor Club, a resort just south of the cabin. He found that his quarry had been seen there that afternoon.
“I was babysitting a dog and cat for Mr. and Mrs. Kerr while they were away for the afternoon,” said Peg McGeoch, a handsome lady in a black and white striped dress who was working at the gift shop at Basin Harbor when we caught up with her. “It was an overcast day. The lake was quiet, and there were no boats around.
“I was facing north in a chair by the window when I saw what I thought were three big fish doing a ballet. Then I realized it was only one. We watched for a while (she was with a friend, Jane Temple, who also works at Basin Harbor) when it was under water, then it surfaced again. The front end came out of the water about five feet, I guess. There were definitely two humps, and we could see space between the water and the bottom of the humps — it was snakelike.”
“Was the head sticking up at an angle, or was it arched?” Zarr asked her.
“It was like a caterpillar going along a table,” McGeoch said, demonstrating the motion with a finger. “And under the water, it was wiggling. Its disturbance was not a wake like a boat makes,” she added, forming a V with two fingers. “It was more like sideways ripples.
“He wasn’t looking around to see what he could see,” she said thoughtfully. “It was more purposeful, like, ‘I’m going down to Ticonderoga for something.’ Heading south.”
The two women watched the creature for seven to ten minutes. “A lot of that time was just watching the disturbance in the water,” she explained. “It was pretty exciting, I’ll tell you! It made a believer out of me.”
“What if you’d been alone when you saw it?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t have talked to you!” she said forcefully.
Later that evening we sought out another eyewitness, Ann Koch of Wilmington, Delaware. Her sighting came on July 2 about noon, while she was opening her lakeside camp, several miles south of Basin Harbor, along with a friend from Wilmington, Rita Shaffer. “We had been cleaning and just sat down for a rest,” she said. “If we’d gone on cleaning for another ten minutes …. ”
Ann had been to Loch Ness and was a believer in lake monsters in general, Champ in particular. Her friend Rita was a skeptic. But it was Rita who first spotted the undulating black hump and screamed for Ann to get a camera. Ann came outside just in time to see the creature submerging, leaving a broad, muddy wake in the shallow water just offshore.
“If I hadn’t seen it myself, I’d have believed Rita was making fun of me,” Ann mused. “And if I’d seen it, but Rita hadn’t, she certainly wouldn’t have believed me.”
We left and started looking for the house of still another recent witness. “We’ve had sightings by a women’s bowling team going into a restaurant, by a lady making a cake — one of my favorites was a young couple on their way to a football game who pulled over to neck,” said Zarro “We had a mass sighting off the Spirit of Ethan Allen last summer — more than 60 people saw it.”
Zarr tries to interview every witness and check to be sure what they saw was not one of the more prosaic inhabitants of the lake. “The first thing I look for is a head sighting,” he explained. “If there’s something sticking four or five feet out of the water, it’s not likely to be a loon. Size is important, too. If it’s 10 to 15 feet long, it’s probably not a sturgeon.” “Do you think there’s more than one Champ?” I asked.
He nodded. “And they have their own territories. You’d have to say that this area, from here up to Basin Harbor, has been a very active area, this year anyway.”