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Yankee Classic: The Champ Believer

Yankee Classic: The Champ Believer
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BinocularsHe recognizes that spending a month watching the lake from the front porch is unlikely to provide compelling evidence of Champ’s existence. “What we’re doing is comparable to what was happening at Loch Ness in the 1960s,” he said. “Someday we’ll get a bigger effort going here.”It was Loch Ness’s better-known mystery that got Zarr interested. After graduating from college and taking his teaching position in 1974, he started reading about the Loch Ness investigations. He visited Scotland in 1975, and enthralled by the history and romance of the legendary creature, became attentive to stories he was hearing about something big living in nearby Lake Champlain. He first visited the lake in 1975. By 1978 he was leading a week-long windjammer cruise in search of Champ. In 1979 he teamed up with engineer Jim Kennard, who was interested in underwater archaeology. Zarr swapped his historical research skills for Kennard’s expertise in diving and sonar. He became a certified SCUBA diver (Pat Meaney already was) and began accumulating bits and pieces of monster-detection gear: sonar fish-finders, movie cameras, an inflatable boat that he had to sell last year. But Zarr and Pat have never seen Champ or anything remotely resembling the creature. They’ve had some close calls.

During their stay at the cabin in 1983, they developed a hand-waving acquaintance with a fisherman who passed by every day in his boat. They went to a meeting in Burlington one night — the only night they didn’t spend on the porch — and the next day the fisherman stopped by to say he’d seen a disturbance in the water the previous evening and three great black humps rise from the surface.

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.”

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