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Northern Star

Northern Star
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Sailing north toward Canada
Photo/Art by Julia Shipley
Sailing north toward Canada


“Please take out your passports and have them ready for inspection,” Captain Andy Scott announces over the boat’s loudspeaker as we glide right into Canada’s waters on Lake Memphremagog, a 28 -mile lake extending between the state of Vermont and the province of Quebec, Canada. Captain Andy is of course joking, (no passports needed), much as I jokingly told my sweetheart that the special “surprise” I’d planned for us was a 24 –hour- poetry read –a- thon at a nearby library. In truth, I had booked a one and a half hour sunset hamburger cook -out cruise on The Northern Star, a 65’ shallow draft boat that began offering trips this past June. My sweetheart smiled broadly as we strolled right past the library, down to the ticket office by the Newport town dock. Soon we were ensconced on the upper deck of the handsome teak railed boat, feasting on scenery—the wide basin of blue-grey waters, backed by blunt green mountains. While the boat with its 49 passengers plowed north, Chris Johansen, whose dream was to put a tour boat on this picturesque lake, smacked hamburger patties down on a grill the size of a banquet table. Classic hits (some George Thorogood, Rush, Jimmy Buffet) played out on the speakers between bouts of Captain Andy’s informative and humorous narration. When deck hand Jade Jarvis eased by with a tray of drinks –it seemed not only were we in some sanctuary between the nations, but that we had also entered the sweet spot of the day, gold light suffusing afternoon, and the sweet spot of the season, Chris calling us to come fill up our plates with baked beans and corn on the cob. We were having cheeseburgers in paradise. But like so many apparently effortless moments: our romantic evening was built from impossibly dark days. In the ticket office I’d spotted a photo on the wall, two men standing on what looks like a barge in ominous grey weather. “That’s the boat,” ticket agent Emma Shattuck, said cheerfully, “Well, half of it. In order to get it here, it had to travel on the interstate, and in order to get it on the interstate, and under their bridges they had to take the upper half off the boat.”

Thank you to everyone who has ever told me I can’t, you’re just another reason why I will” is printed on the photograph with the date: 11/26/2012

“The boat was built in Florida,” Andy told us, as we sat on a padded bench in the wheelhouse and watched him steer around the lake’s islands. “She traveled by water routes all the way up to Lake Champlain, but in order to bring her the final 200 miles, they had to take her apart.” They filleted her in late November, loaded her 44 ½ ton hull onto a flatbed truck, and left Burlington at midnight on December 2, followed by eight truckloads containing the rest of her. Andy said, “If you look you’ll see there’s a blue stripe along the hull to cover the seam.” A crew worked throughout the winter, into early spring to make this vessel  (which feels more like a private yacht than a public tour boat,) lake-worthy. Finally, in June she was ready and, thanks to sponsorship from a Newport born real estate developer, Tony Pomerleau, every third grader in Orleans County got to ride on the Northern Star. They got to see the 20 foot “slash” through the forest demarcating the boundary between countries, and they got to cross the invisible 45th parallel, the halfway mark between the equator and the north pole, and they could observe the loons bobbing and herons flying about the water, and gaze at the forests and fields of either shore, and the tidy cottages nestled in the islands. And after boat returned to the dock and they stumbled off and plodded up the boardwalk back to the bus, back home, blasting through the front door into the kitchen to let everybody in the family know what they had seen and done today, I think my sweetheart and I know how they felt—it was like a whole other world!

Julia Shipley


Julia Shipley


Contributing editor, Julia Shipley's stories celebrate New Englanders' enduring connection to place. She digs up facts and stats for each issue's "By The Numbers" feature; she's also the author of Yankee's "Vermont Rural Life" blog, as well the Yankee Plus column, "The Farmer's Life." An award winning poet, her long-form lyric essay, Adam's Mark was selected as one of the Boston Globe's Best New England Books of 2014.
Updated Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

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One Response to Northern Star

  1. Mary Ellen Cyr August 14, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

    I am so excited for Chris Johansen and the success of The Northern Star! Enjoy!

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