VOLUNTEERS HELP the crew get the bateau over the dam into the Chain of Ponds.

VOLUNTEERS HELP the crew get the bateau over the dam into the Chain of Ponds.

BATH

Safely back at his usual stomping ground at Maine’s

First Ship on the Bath waterfront, Rob Stevens reflects on his recent expedition to Quebec City.

“It was really fun. You meet all these people and share it. It’s like this,” said Stevens, pointing to where he and a number of other people are constructing a replication of the 17th century ship, the Virginia. “The best thing about this is all the people you share it with.”

In September, Stevens joined adventurer Hodding Carter and a couple of other people in embarking on a 350-mile trip up the Kennebec, across the border and into Quebec City to recreate the Arnold Expedition of 1775. The original expedition, lead by then loyal colonist Benedict Arnold, sought to capture Quebec City from the British by sending 1,100 men up the Kennebec River and into Canada in a surprise attack.

ROB STEVENS is shown caulking the bottom of the bateau at Natanis Campground at the north end of Chain of Ponds.

ROB STEVENS is shown caulking the bottom of the bateau at Natanis Campground at the north end of Chain of Ponds.

Minus the firearms and a few other details, Carter and Stevens wanted to recreate the expedition as closely as possible. Based on information of the time, they built a bateau — a light boat — like the ones used by Arnold’s men in less than a week’s time on the Bath waterfront. They started their journey in Pittston in late September and, during the next five to six weeks, they paddled, lined, dragged, rolled, poled and even drove the bateau all the way to Quebec City.

THE ADVENTURERS had to portage the bateau in many places, as seen here, where they are using rollers to move the boat down Carrying Place Road on the Arnold portage trail. From left, are Ben Schott, John Abbott, Rob Stevens and Hodding Carter.

THE ADVENTURERS had to portage the bateau in many places, as seen here, where they are using rollers to move the boat down Carrying Place Road on the Arnold portage trail. From left, are Ben Schott, John Abbott, Rob Stevens and Hodding Carter.

And while all of the bateaux in the original expedition were smashed or lost before ever reaching Quebec City, Carter’s crew was able to keep theirs together for the duration. Stevens, a boat builder by trade, said that with a number of repairs and quick fixes along the way, they were able to keep it afloat. One such fix, he gleefully recalled, was using Hodding’s cotton underwear to caulk a small section.

“I said to Hodding, ‘I need your underwear.’ I said, ‘You’ve got 100 percent cotton underwear?’ He said yeah, and I said, ‘OK, I need that,’” said Stevens with a smile. “Now, whether I really needed 100 percent I don’t know, but mine was only 50/50.

“(Afterward) I realized that we had bits and pieces of wool to patch our clothes that we could have used,” he added. “But Hodding’s underwear is what kept the boat from sinking.”

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The fact that Stevens and his colleagues had some experience with rapids also differentiated their experience from the 1775 expedition, and no doubt helped keep the boat intact.

“I think Benedict Arnold complained, rightfully so, that they didn’t have the skills for poling. You can have a guy who could sail a ship around the world,” Stevens said, but to try to use poles to navigate rapids is an entirely different scenario. “So they were smashing boats right and left. God knows how many they smashed before they even got to the Dead River.”

But even with some experience with rapids, the trip wasn’t exactly a dry affair in Stevens’ telling. The boat had “surprising little” freeboard, he said, meaning that if the boat hit an object the wrong way, water would come pouring in.

“A little bit of advice is: Don’t go out in rapids with people who know how to swim. I don’t know how to swim, and five days in a row we were broaching, filling the boat with water, getting thrown out of the boat,” he said. “One of the guys was a fish — he thinks nothing of swimming through rapids. I’m like, ‘If I let go of this boat, I’ll drown!’

“There were a lot of times of getting dumped,” he continued. “There were a couple nights, I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t get my bag packed right … and I spent the night sleeping in wet clothes and a wet sleeping bag.”

The trip wasn’t entirely absent of modern-day comforts. A number of friends and folks interested in the expedition offered lodging for a night or hot food at the end of a long day.

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“We had a lot of comforts that the original guys didn’t have. On the other side, those guys were all 20-something years old,” said Stevens. “There were maybe only about two people on the expedition older than (35) on the original expedition. Hodding is 55 and I’m 62, and hell, I’ve had a heart attack.”

One challenge Arnold’s forces didn’t have to face? Modern border security. Fortunately, a friend jury-rigged a boat trailer with a wheel on the front, and the crew painstakingly wheeled it down old logging roads to the border.

“Since there are logging trucks just bombing up and down this road, I’d sit there (in the back) waving an orange hat,” said Stevens.

The crew, in character with period clothing and tri-cornered hats, caused quite the scene at the normally quiet and orderly border station, with some of the guards posing for pictures, said Stevens. But despite the commotion, they were allowed to cross the border without incident.

From there, they continued rolling the bateau until they reached the Chaudière River in Quebec.

“I think we rolled it about five miles,” said Stevens. “We rolled it right through a small town, and occasionally somebody would come running out and take a picture.”

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In his limited interactions with French speakers in Quebec, he enjoyed staying in character.

“If I found one, I’d tell them that we were going to attack Quebec, and not to tell anyone,” said Stevens. “I said: ‘You can tell people who speak French, but not English speakers. We’re going to give it back to you guys.’”

They continued along the Chaudière River until they reached Saint-Georges. Only two bateaux from the Arnold expedition survived to that point, and it’s unclear if they made it any further. Rolling their bateau through downtown Saint-Georges didn’t seem particularly appropriate to the adventurers, so they opted for the only natural alternative.

“We rented a U-Haul, rather than rolling it through the downtown,” said Stevens. “It was pouring rain, so by the time it was done we just slept in the U-Haul.”

The U-Haul got the bateau to Levis, directly across from Quebec City, where the expedition would cross to launch their final attack. With the remaining unbroken paddles and oars, and one held together with just duct tape, the crew entered the boat again and crossed the last river, where they were surprised to find an old nemesis: the Pierre Radisson.

A coast guard ice breaker, the Pierre Radisson had intervened on another of Carter and Stevens’ adventures, when the two and several others attempted to recreate the voyage of Viking Leif Ericsson from Greenland to Newfoundland. After their wooden boat had become rudderless, the Pierre Radisson picked them up and brought them safely back to shore — effectively ending that voyage.

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“Three of us on the boat had been on the Viking boat, and the Pierre Radisson rescued us against our will, so we had a beef with them,” said Stevens. “I do have to say that they did the right thing, but it still was against our will.

“So Hodding took his oar and banged on the hull, and nobody came out. Nobody said a word,” he added triumphantly. “So we figured we’ve seized the Pierre Radisson!”

A little further up the river they finally found a place to land, right near a series of stairs leading up to the Plains of Abraham — the end goal. In full colonial garb, the invaders climbed the stairs and marched out onto the plains, and waved their flag in front of presumably confused tourists.

And with that, their 350- mile journey had come to an end — far more successfully than the original. When Arnold’s forces joined with a separate American force and finally attacked, they were soundly defeated, and Arnold was wounded.

Hodding and company, however, returned home triumphantly. The bateau, said Stevens, was hidden in some bushes by the St. Lawrence, with Hodding to retrieve it at a future date. Stevens even said he’d be interested in going again, although not everyone was so enthusiastic.

“I kept saying to the guys: ‘Same time next year!’ And I wasn’t getting a ‘Yeah, I’ll be there’ response from them,” he said.

Still, Stevens hopes he gets a chance to do it again, and he’s already talking of how he’ll design the boat differently next time.

[email protected]timesrecord.com


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