6/6 – 13/2016 Summary: With Kathy aboard, we were all set to get going and make the 8 miles to the start of the Erie Canal. After passing through Kathy’s first lock while still on the Hudson, we stopped at the Erie Canal Visitors Center and took a walk up and “toured” the first of 31 locks we would do on the Erie and Oswego Canals over the next week. The canal locks were narrower than most of the locks we had done in the past, and generally had more current, making it harder to control the 44,000 lbs. of boat we have called home for the last 23 days since leaving Norfolk, VA.
After a whopping 12 miles, 5 locks and 169’ lift in elevation, we called it a day on a free dock in Crescent. We were really on the Mohawk River, which the canal system used for much of the first part as it headed west towards Buffalo, NY. But we would only be doing 160 miles of the Erie Canal before turning north on the Oswego Canal towards Lake Ontario due to low bridges west of that.
Over the next few days we navigated the canal, passed through locks that took us both up and down, went miles without seeing another soul and through towns which generally started due to the trade the Erie Canal brought to the region. Some of them seemed to be doing well, while others are obviously failing. In Canajoharie we took a short hike to large boiling pots (“Canajoharie” is the Mohawk name for “the pot that washes itself”) and along the way ate ice cream to make us happy.
Having Kathy with us was a real blessing, especially when working our way through the locks. It was fun to have her as part of the crew (and she likes chocolate almost as much as Tom does!).
We used free docks on the canal all the way to Oswego where we were stopped by the wind kicking up waves on Lake Ontario. They were blowing out of the west, building up waves so high they broke over the seawall just a 1/4 mile from the marina. So we got Kathy a cab to take her to Syracuse for her flight home while we spent the next 3 days waiting for good crossing weather, exploring Oswego and catching up on the list. While not our favorite place, Oswego was a small friendly town. But we looked forward to getting across Lake Ontario to see what Canada had to offer.
As we turned off the Hudson River into the Erie Canal, we reflected that the Hudson has some of the coolest lighthouses we have seen. A few examples are below (click to enlarge).
From Kathy – I had so much fun this week on your boat. Each day was a new adventure, from sunny days to cold, windy, rainy days. I got to go through 31 locks on 2 different canals. The scenery was beautiful, so serene at times. I was amazed at the wildlife I saw along the way. My 2 favorites were the white-tailed deer crossing the river and the ducklings with their Momma.
I was welcomed and put to work as a crewmember. I really enjoyed being a part of the crew and learn how to go through the locks, tie up and drive the boat, and help in the kitchen. Thank you Tom and Paula!
You are now to the place where you can stop reading unless you are a glutton for all the details. Thanks for joining us on our journey. (Reminder, all of the pictures in the blog are clickable for a better look.)
Details – On June 6th we turned in the rental car, did some necessary readying of the boat and prepared to leave Albany under clear skies. Before leaving we got to talk with the crew of the 1939 83’ schooner “When and If” originally owned by General Patton. Prior to the war he disappeared with the boat, leaving some to think he had been lost at sea. Patton reappeared, however, 2 weeks later saying the boat had sunk. After the war, Patton once again disappeared for about 2 weeks, then reappeared with the boat. Rumor had it Patton hid the boat in the Chesapeake Bay so it would not be commissioned into the war (being a wooden boat not easily detected by radar). The “When and If” name was a promise from Patton to his wife that if he survived the war, they would sail it around the world. (Unfortunately Patton was killed in a car accident shortly after the war.)
We pulled away from Albany, motoring the 8 miles north to Troy, where we went through our first lock since VA, the Federal Lock on the Hudson. (From this point on, we would be on non-tidal fresh water until above Mobile Bay in AL.) Shortly, we made the west turn into the Erie Canal. After a quick stop at the Waterford Harbor Visitors Center, we walked to Waterford Lock 2 and talked with the lockmaster about the process and showed our paperwork (a 10-day pass bought for $50, which included many free dock walls along the way). The first 5 locks on the Erie Canal, Locks 2-6 (the first lock on the Hudson became a Federal lock and they didn’t want to renumber them all) are known as Waterford Flight of Five, which raised the boat 169’ in 1.5 miles! Though the paperwork said to plan on 90 minutes for processing at the first lock and 30 minutes per lock on the remainder of locks on the Erie, we got through the Waterford Flight in 2:15, as we gratefully had each lock totally to ourselves. It was bit of a learning curve as well as a handful for all of us. Paula drove and tried to maintain position along the wall while Kathy and Tom used ropes to keep the boat close to the lock wall. These were the biggest locks we had ever encountered. Kathy was a tremendous help; Paula wasn’t sure how we’d have managed without an extra crew hand on board!
There are basically 3 types of locks. One has a pipe running down the side of the lock, which you position midship and secure a line from your boat around it; the rope slides up or down the pipe as the water level changes. The second has steel cables anchored top and bottom along the walls and the same procedure is used. The third (most common and least desirable, dirty and occasionally slimy) has ropes hanging down the lock walls; one crewmember takes a forward rope and one an aft rope, holding the boat an appropriate distance at the wall.
By the 4th lock, we had it pretty much figured out, although sometimes the water got a bit rougher than others as entering water created swirling turbulence, causing it to be harder to keep the boat parallel and still. Tom decided he liked the midship technique the best (with Kathy keeping the wall at the appropriate distance by pushing with a boat hook if the bow got too close), so when we could, we did that. By the time we had done 6 locks, plus passing under 2 guard gates (for flood and debris control), Paula was spent, though we had only gone 12 miles the entire day. With the next lock 10 miles away, we motored to the first free concrete wall in the town of Crescent, named for the shape of the Mohawk River at that point, and tied up for the night. After getting everything secure, we took a walk on the towpath along the side of the canal; the entire 365-mile trail from Buffalo to Albany can be cycled or walked.
Construction of the 524-mile long NY State Canal System started in 1817 and today consists of the Erie, Oswego, Cayuga-Senecca and Champlain Canals. (We only did the first 160 miles of the Erie and then turned north up the 24-mile Oswego.) The Erie Canal was the inspiration of Gov. DeWitt Clinton who took much abuse from opponents who called it “The Big Ditch Folly.” However, soon after it opened, the Erie Canal was such a success everyone jumped on the bandwagon to support it. It was built in an incredibly short 7 years, with 18 aqueducts and 83 locks that transported vessels 363 miles and elevated them 568’ from Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie. The canal, originally 4’ deep and 40’ wide where mules on the towpath beside the canal pulled boats along, has been enlarged 3 times to accommodate larger boats and more traffic. It was memorialized in the song,“15 Miles on the Erie Canal.”
The next day, we completed Locks 7-13, all rising, for a total of 102’. In Lock 8, the lockmaster asked us to switch walls due to a mechanical difficulty, which went OK. Shortly afterward, muddy water poured into the lock. Then, upon opening the lock doors, only 1 door would open. He asked if we had enough room to get out, otherwise, we would have to wait until he could fix the problem. We assessed the opening and decided we thought it would be doable. We did not assess the current! Upon driving out, the turbulence slammed us into the starboard wall and we drug off 1 bumper and its nice $100 handrail bumper mounts, which broke away from the bumper ball to the bottom of the lock. We asked the lockmaster to give the ball to the next boat to drive through to return to us, but never got it back. We found out later that if a boat is delayed in a lock more than 15 minutes due to lock difficulties, the lockmaster has to fill out paperwork. Next time, we’ll wait!
There were a wide variety of boats along the way, including large tugs and small workboats which looked like mini tugs not to mention the mix of recreational vessels.
Lock 13 and 14 were navigated in the rain. Tom and Kathy got soaked from the bottom of their rain jackets down, while Miss Priss (Paula) drove from the flybridge high and dry. (She defends herself by claiming she worked harder mentally!) One treat of the day was watching a white-tailed deer swim across the Mohawk River at quite a wide span.
Oddly, nothing we had read on upcoming potential stops had particularly peaked our interest, so what won out was the stop that had Stewart’s ice cream, as we had been told by numerous Gold Loopers (people who have completed the Loop) about how good it was and Canajoharie had one. After we tied up at the free floating town dock, we walked to town and had a not-too-good dinner at the local Village Restaurant, and then a nice short hike to the boiling pots/kettle holes at Wintergreen Park. Along the way, we passed by the very large but now empty Beech-nut Packing Company building. The founder of Beech-nut had been quite influential in the town, also establishing the library and art gallery. We finished the evening with Stewart’s ice cream, all of us very pleased with our choice of flavor and the free toppings offered. It was a well-deserved treat after a hard day’s work of 56 miles and a hike.
In the morning, Tom walked to Big Lots in an unsuccessful attempt to replace our exercise ball while Paula and Kathy did some route planning. We then walked to the library and Arkell Museum but decided not to tour as part of it was closed but still full-price. We did take advantage of the library’s free Internet though.
We completed Locks 14-18 in the cold and wind. All of us had on at least 4 layers (thermals, long-sleeve T’s, fleeces, windbreakers). A stop for fuel and head pumpout at St. Johnsonville provided a small warm-up break. We decided to scout Lock 17 before entering it. At 40.5′ it had the largest rise with a lift gate (rather than doors) on the Erie Canal. It also had a 21’ entrance opening (arrow in picture below, which also shows the red light/green light indicating when to enter), and the boat is 20.5′. It intimidated Paula a bit, but Lockmaster Mark promised he’d give her a “kitten” ride. It was only as she was walking away he said, “I didn’t say whether it would be an angry kitten.” Paula asked for the “happy kitten” ride, which Mark provided by filling the lock slowly, taking about 20 minutes to fill it for our upride [click to watch a Youtube video someone made].
We barely made it through Lock 18, entering at 5:40 (the lock closed at 6:00) before docking at Herkimer behind some Erie Canal Cruise boats and a restaurant. That evening, Tom worked on a generator, as he had not been able to get either of them started earlier in the day. Fortunately, he got one working by replacing the radiator hose.
Paula walked out on the aft deck just as 2 people walked down to our boat and she heard one say, “Look, it’s from Phoenix, AZ.” Turned out Mary Patton, there with her son Ken, was from Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix. After a friendly conversation during which Paula found out Ken was planning to do the loop next year, she invited them aboard. Ken is “eat up” with Looping. He reads numerous blogs, plans his driving between MI where he lives and Boston, where he and his wife are having to go for cancer treatments every 3 weeks for her (please pray for her – she is tumor-free right now, praise God!) and is already “living the dream” in his head. We had a great time talking and Tom took Ken, a recently retired automotive engine designer, down to show him the engine room. Ken offered a ride anywhere we needed to go (the most welcome words any Looper can hear) and even returned later that evening to see if he could be of some service. His wife told him if he wasn’t back to the hotel by 11:00 PM, she was calling the police to tell them he’d been kidnapped. He told her, “It will be fine. They’re Loopers!”
Thursday morning, we walked the short distance to Walmart to trade in our leaking bumper ball and buy a spare. Pushing off, we did Locks 19-22, the last uplocks, followed by 21 and 22, our first downlocks, which were much easier. Forty-two miles later, we could see the wild whitecaps on the 30-mile long east-west Oneida Lake and pulled up short at the concrete wall for the night. Other boats had already been there for several days waiting for winds out of the west to subside, as they could build up waves to 6’ on the east side of the lake. We walked to Sylvan Beach, a 1950s-era town complete with old car show and what was once the largest roller coaster in the US, right at the edge of the lake. It seemed the only 2 people happy about the weather were 2 kite-surfers getting lots of airtime when a wave would rocket them into the air. Back to the warmth of the boat, we finished off the evening with chicken foot, a mindless dominos game.
The weather forecast for Lake Oneida hadn’t been good when we went to bed but when we awoke at 5:30 and checked again, we saw a window of opportunity. We were off the wall by 6:20 and navigated mainly smooth waters across the lake to Brewerton, then finished the last downlock, Lock 23, our easiest on the Erie. (That one would not have been difficult even with just 2 people.) Arriving at Three Rivers and the Oswego Canal junction, 31 miles from the east side of the lake, we turned north on the Oswego Canal, rode down Locks 1-3 before stopping on a floating dock in Minetto for the night, just short of Lock 5. (Lock 4 was never built.) Along the way, we saw sunning turtles and some nice houses and experienced a much more relaxing day, with miles between locks. Though the power didn’t work on the dock, we were placated with Stewart’s ice cream a short walk away after our 49-mile day.
We departed Saturday morning in time for the 8:00 opening of Lock #5. Waiting in front of us were a medium-sized tug and 2 other MVs (motor vessels). Eek. It was our first time not alone except for 1 lock we had locked through with 1 other small MV. The tug went in first and took up the whole lock wall-to-wall. Paula communicated with the other 2 boats captains who decided they would take the starboard wall, so we took ropes in between them on the port wall. Driving out the other side, we were told we would be locking together through the final 3 locks into Oswego. As we drove along, the first 2 boats passed the tug, but our speeds were matched and we had to follow behind, which actually was a good thing since a bit of fog rolled in. The tug let us pass just before the next lock, so the 3 of us were in front of the tug in the lock. Locks 5-7 were done in the pouring rain accompanied by thunder and lightning, finishing with Lock 8 (the last 3 locks occurring in about 1.5 miles) just short of Lake Ontario in Oswego. Once again, wind stopped us at Oswego as the conditions were not good for crossing Lake Ontario. We had hoped to rent a car and drive with Kathy to Syracuse for her return flight to Phoenix and do some sightseeing, but no rental cars were available on the weekend and Kathy had to take a taxi the 40 miles south to the airport.
Kathy was a terrific crewmember. We hated so see her go! Athletic, strong, fit, she did anything we asked of her willingly and capably, including driving the boat. She was always ready for a hike or anything else we found to do and pitched in with food prep and cleanup – or just relaxing. She set the bar pretty high for anyone else who might join us on our Loop adventure later.
With the majority of the day left, we were able to do mundane tasks (laundry and email), then set off to explore the town. Walking, we came across a bike shop and Tom inquired about re-cabling our bikes, destroyed by the sun. Though Murdock’s Bicycles and Sports was 20 minutes from closing, Eddie and Mike told us they would stay late to help us. We quickly returned with our bikes and enjoyed conversation with them as they lightning-quick replaced all the cables and Paula’s shifter. They even gave us great advice on things to do in Oswego and told us they’d be following our blog.
With shifting bikes once again a pleasure to ride on the hills in town, we enjoyed exploring – past the railroad and marine museums, up to the top of the hill overlooking Lake Ontario to Fort Ontario, the only refuge camp in the US to house Jews during the war. After a quick meal at Press Box Sports Bar (with a good gluten-free menu selection), we were happy to get back to the warmth of our little floating abode. Paula secretly hoped the weather wouldn’t be good for crossing the next day, as she needed some time to catch her breath.
Indeed it wasn’t. Tom awoke at 2:30 AM to rocking and creaking of lines. When we finally got up around 7:00, it was windy and cold. We rode our bikes to a nice church service at Elim Grace Christian Church, a friendly church with an excellent pastor and well-delivered message. As the temperatures dropped throughout the day, we quickly took in the arts and crafts fair at the park before returning to warmth on the boat. Whitecaps broke over the seawalls outside the marina and we were glad we had easily made the decision not to cross. We rocked and rolled during the evening, looking like we’d had a little too much to drink (not) when we moved around on the boat. It was the roughest stay in a marina in a long time.
Monday proved to be no better, with a small craft warning and wind gusts to 25 knots on the lake. It proved an easy decision to stay in place another day. But that provided some needed R & R time. No…not “rest and relaxation.” For us on the boat, that stands for “Repair and Route planning!” Tom installed temperature sensors on the engines and drive shaft (to preclude another engine overheat) and checked on Canadian customs requirements while Paula route planned and blogged.