Captain Robert L. Foster is a man who sets no limitations on himself. He might just get in his boat one day and head for the ocean, any one of them.
“From this spot, I can jump on my boat and go anywhere in the world I want to go,” said Foster, resting on deck of the Caldwell Belle, the 60-passenger sternwheel riverboat he owns and operates out of Lock 5 on the Champlain Canal just north of the village of Schuylerville. “That’s why this area intrigued me so much. I can head south and reach the Atlantic 200 miles away, I can head north and also reach the Atlantic, or I can head west and go to the Great Lakes, then reach the Mississippi and go down to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.”
Foster has already seen plenty of the world, particularly the Atlantic Ocean. He spent much of his life as a tugboat captain living in the Boston area, skippering his boat all around Massachusetts Bay and other parts of New England and Maine. It was 10 years ago that he retired, purchased the Caldwell Belle and formed Champlain Canal Tours with Lock 5 on the canal serving as his home base.
“People don’t realize how extensive the New York Canal System is,” said Foster. “The Erie Canal and all the stories about it really resonates with people, but they don’t appreciate how great the canal system is. I can go over 1,000 miles through the different canals in New York alone.”
lots to see
For now, Foster and his passengers are content seeing the Hudson River, and there is plenty to see.
“One of the great things about the Hudson in this area is that it’s mostly undeveloped land we’re looking at,” he said. “It’s very pastoral. You feel like you’re up in the mountains.”
Along with the Caldwell Belle, Foster has another boat, a smaller one named Sadie. It carries 18 and takes passengers a half-hour up the river or half-hour down the river, or a combined trip that takes two hours. On the Caldwell Belle, you might end up anywhere along the Upper Hudson.
“We usually take the big boat out every day at 1:30 [p.m.], Tuesday through Saturday, and on Saturday and Sunday we might have two trips,” said Foster. “This being the quadricentennial of Hudson’s first trip up the river there is a lot going on. We have a trip planned to Fort Edward to watch the dredging project, we also take passengers on a special trip all the way to Whitehall and Lake Champlain, and later in the summer we’ll go all the way down to Waterford for the tugboat roundup festival.”
The Caldwell Belle has been a tour boat for all of its 32 years, operating on the Ohio River out of Huntington, W.Va., for much of its existence. It was always named the Caldwell Belle and Foster saw no reason to change that when he bought the boat.
“It’s been a very good boat for us; very easy to maintain,” he said. “I was thinking about another name, but the Caldwell family was very big in this area in steam boating. Lake George was originally called Caldwell, so I thought it would be appropriate to keep the name.”
Despite the poor weather and struggling economy, Foster said his business is doing pretty well.
“It hasn’t been one of better few months lately, but we’re open from Mother’s Day to the end of October, and I expect things to get better,” he said. “Things slow down after Labor Day but then it picks up again at the beginning of foliage season. The canal usually closes down in the middle of November, so we hang on through October.”
For more information on Champlain Canal Tours, visit www.champlaincanaltours.com.
Reach Gazette Reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]