We have been on the move through the Erie Canal and have the following update for you:
Saturday (6/27) – We left Shady Harbor Marina in the morning, saying goodbye to our friends, and made our way up the Hudson River to Waterford.
Along the way we passed many interesting sights including the cities of Albany and Troy, home of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where Steve (Bro-in-law) attended.
We eventually caught up with Ginny & Bruce (“Snug Tug”) and followed them into the Lock #1 – Troy Lock. This is also called “Federal” lock because it is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is the only such lock as all others are managed by the NY Canal Corporation.
When we left Shady Harbor, we were uncertain as to if there would be dock space available for us in Waterford on the city dock as it was quite crowded and space is “first come – first serve”. However, they have two web cams that you can view online and see if there is room. As we left the Troy docks, Denise brought up the website on her phone and watched as several boats pulled out in time to make the #2 Lock opening, freeing up space for us. So, we knew they had room for us for the night.
After tying up and settling in, we visited the dock master’s office in the Welcome Center. The Welcome Center is manned by volunteers 100% of the time, and they are incredibly helpful and informative about Waterford, the locks, and the Erie Canal.
We located the Catholic Church in town and made it to the 4:00 pm mass. It was a beautiful church and afterwards the walk took us past the local bakery where we were pulled to buy some delicious cc cookies and scones. We met the daughter/father owners and enjoyed talking to them about their business and life in Waterford.
We had a quick meal of leftovers on the boat, socialized with a few other loopers and called it a day.
Sunday (6/28) – We woke up to a rainy drizzly day, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the town. We had decided to spend a second day in Waterford as it was supposed to rain all day (not fun for going out to handle the lines in the locks), and it gave us a chance to recharge our batteries.
Around mid-morning the rain subsided and Ginny & Bruce (“Snug Tug”) suggested we walk to see the locks that make up what is known as the Waterford Lift. It is a series of 5 locks (#2 through #6) that are very close together that you can walk to from downtown Waterford. It is a good way to see what you will face when you head this way in your boat. In all we must have walked about 4 miles and Mark was ready for an afternoon nap when we were done.
Denise went with Ginny & Bruce to Hannaford’s supermarket to get a few things and see the eastern part of Waterford. They have a very cool war memorial and a bridge that marks the end of the Hudson River and start of the Erie Canal north for the Lake Champlain route.
For dinner that night we decided to try a local pub called the Angry Penguin. British cruisers Kevin & Chris (“Sweet Sensation”) had eaten there the night before and advised they had great fish & chips. That is saying something coming from them – and they were right; the food was terrific.
Monday (6/29) – We left Waterford with several other boats, all trying to make the 8:00 am opening for Lock #2. Since these locks are very close together all the boats that go into the first lock together stay together though all five locks. You are supposed to enter & exit in the same order with no one trying to pass another. In this group was our friends Ginny & Bruce (“Snug Tug”), a sailboat from Rochester, NY (“Pappillion”), and two other boats who were on the Waterford docks with us; “Speedy Delivery” and “Andiamo”. From the get-go the sailboat tried to move in between Snug Tug and us, and they eventually negotiated their way in front of Snug Tug as we exited one of the locks. Placement in the lock is key as no one wants to be at the back because you have to wait for all other boaters to exit. This is not an issue on the Waterford Lift where they are close together, but if you don’t plan your time, you can miss the next lock opening and have to wait a while for them to lock up, then down before you can get in. This can add as much as an hour per lock to your travel time.
After the Waterford Lift, there is a very large stretch of open water where you can go fast before the next lock. It is here that all 4 of us power boats left the sailboat in our dust and then it was just the four of us in the next four locks together for the rest of the day. The funniest thing of all is that all 4 of us were from Florida. “Snug Tug” is from Sarasota and the other two are from Punta Gorda on the west coast. Denise called it the Florida Contingency.
Also along this stretch of waterway we encountered our first “guard gate”. These are guillotine-looking steel walls that are suspended above the water and remain opened most of the time. They are only closed when they want to control the flow of water and prevent flooding downstream, and are operated by the same people as the locks. Therefore, they are mostly uneventful milestones, usually no different than passing under a bridge.
Although the scenery is beautiful the locks take a tremendous amount of concentration to make sure you approach it correctly, don’t hit the seawalls, and don’t hit any other boat in the lock. Denise did all the entry & exit’s today and did so without issue. But it is stressful. It is kind of like docking & exiting your boat 9 times in a single day.
We decided to end our day after lock #10 in the town of Amsterdam (we have an affinity for that name – wonder why?) along with “Snug Tug”. We stayed at the city’s docks (Riverlink Park) that had power and water for $1 per foot a night (great price). They had showers and restrooms on premise, and a restaurant (Dan’s Backyard Bar-B-Q) which is only open Wed–Sun, but we didn’t care. Although owned by the city, Dan leases the restaurant property and is the “dock master” for the docks. It’s a great place to stay at a great price, and has terrific services. Dan is very customer service oriented and extremely helpful.
At the dock we had pulled in behind Loopers on “Blue Moon”, whom we had met at GKYC and saw again in Half Moon Bay marina. The boat is co-owned by two couples, and they were swapping out time on the boat, with couple #1 (original owners) getting on and the other couple leaving. We spent some time after dinner (leftovers from the fridge) talking with them out on the dock as they are a wealth of information. Then we turned in for the night as it had been an exhausting day and we were tired.
Tuesday (6/30) – The day started out overcast and gloomy, but that wasn’t going to stop us from moving forward. Our plan was to try and get to Utica and set up for crossing Lake Oneida on Wednesday. The next lock (#11) was just a short distance from Riverlink Park, so we left at 7:45 in preparation for an 8:00 opening. It was just us and Snug Tug who were buddy-boating once again, with them in the lead.
As in the day before, Denise was planning on successfully driving into and out of the locks; but today was a different story. When lining up to enter the first lock, the boat got caught in the cross currents created by the nearby dam. As the boat came into the entrance the stern was thrust sideways and we had to back out. In doing so we came within 6 inches of the bow crashing into the cement wall on the right, and then the stern almost hitting the rocks on the other side. Once we were able to get out of danger, Mark took over and after two passes we finally got situated in the lock. It was a very scary moment and Denise was so shaken she refused to drive into the locks the rest of the day. (#1 disaster averted).
Entering a lock usually is not very difficult, but many of the locks we encountered on the Erie have dams right beside them to control the flow of the water downstream (and eventually into the Hudson River). As it has been raining a lot lately, they have had a tremendous amount of water flowing, thus creating these whirlpools and tidal currents that are very strong. In addition, because the upstream water levels are so high on their banks, they are carrying all kinds of debris downstream and with force. So not only do you have to worry about entering the lock correctly (and not hitting any of the things mentioned above), but you now have an obstacle course of tree limbs, logs, coke bottles, and any other debris that may have washed up on the shoreline last summer, that is now coming down the river this summer. If you run over any of this stuff it could foul your propeller or worse, punch a hole in your hull. So, you must stay alert at all times and navigate through this landmine of debris.
Of the 7 locks we were in today, only one had another boat; a sailboat from Australia. They told us that one of the lock masters told them the water flow was strongest in the morning and that things settle down later in the day. This was certainly true in our experience today.
During the day, we also knocked our boat hook overboard (now for the second time) and had to back track to retrieve it. It is a necessary tool used extensively when locking as you have to be able to grab long lines of rope that hang from the sides of the lock. The boat cannot usually get close enough for you to just reach out and snatch them, so you need something that can extend out, and the boat hook is the perfect tool. (#2 disaster averted).
Around noon we pulled into St. Johnsonville Municipal Marina to get fuel as they had the cheapest price around. It was here that it began to rain and continued to do so for the next 2 hours, including when we were trying to do the next few locks. It was because of this that we decided to rethink our destination for the day and cut the trip short. We targeted Little Falls, a town just west of Lock #17 – the largest lock up we will have to go through on the canal (44 ft).
We pulled into the Little Falls Municipal dock around 3:30. After tying up and settling our boats, we went into the marina office, which also houses very nice showers, restrooms and a nice cruiser’s lounge.
We first met Sarah, who is a volunteer host to check in visitors, but Phil (one of two dock masters) showed up at 4:00 and took our money (another cheap night at $1 per foot). He also suggested places to eat on the other side of the canal; meaning a walk over the bridge. Ginny had some laundry she wanted to do, so Phil drove her to the laundromat (across the bridge) and then Mark, Bruce & Denise walked the mile and joined her for dinner afterwards. After searching for a place to eat amongst several of the suggested restaurants (all closed for the holiday week), we happened on the “Copper Moose”. It was very crowded as it was “taco Tuesday”, but we didn’t have to wait too long to get a seat. We ate a delicious meal at a very affordable price and were happy to have discovered this place.
Afterwards we walked around the town a bit, and then headed back to the boats.
Wednesday (7/1) – We left Little Falls shortly after 8:00 and got to Lock #18 for an opening in our favor. Once again, it was just us and “Snug Tug” through this lock and next. Unfortunately, it was here that Denise’s glasses got knocked off her face and ended up sinking to the bottom of lock #18. (#3 disaster – NOT averted). Between locks Denise called Costco and they were able to reorder her a new pair and we will have a family member pick them up and ship them to us when they come in. As for now, Denise will be wearing her contact lenses all day, and use the old prescription glasses as a backup. Lesson learned: when you are thinking that you should do something (put glasses on the peeper-keepers) you should do it then and not wait!
After lock #18 we passed a small town called Ilion where we saw cruising friends on “Renegade”, “Patryachtik”, & “Bear Holiday” at the town docks. It was here that we were also joined by “Kindred Spirits” a Back Cove 34 we had seen ahead of us the previous day. Through the next 4 locks our three boats traveled together including enduring a thunderstorm in lock #21 where we all got wet! No, unlike Orlando airport tarmac, they do not close the locks for thunderstorms!
This part of the Erie Canal is unpopulated, very green, and has very slow speed limits; sometimes as low as 5 mph. It is a long boring 40-mile run that makes an I-10 drive to Tallahassee look exciting. We had been watching the weather for crossing Oneida Lake which was forecasted to be quite windy (25 knots) and not good for that day. However, we had had very light winds and thought we might give it a chance if the waves weren’t bad; but would make the final decision when we got to Sylvan Beach. This is the town on the eastern shore of Oneida Lake where the canal is temporarily suspended. As we approached the breakwater, we abandoned that idea because the waves were crashing over the seawall and the wind was howling.
Also, we had heard that the Oswego Canal was closed due to high water, so there is no hurry to get to Brewerton (other side of the lake) as we would have to sit there until the locks in the Oswego canal opened.
We tied up to the free public dock at Sylvan Beach, along with a handful of other loopers who also decided to wait out the weather. This dock is free because there are no services (restrooms, showers) and no power. After tying up and settling in, we walked the docks to visit with other loopers and discussed plans for making the crossing in the morning when the winds would be lighter. We re-met George & Martha Alexander (“Aunt Aggie”) and saw brits Keven & Chris (“Sweet Sensations”) – thanking them for the fish and chips recommendation in Waterford. We also went over to the Back Cove 34 that had been following us and met Aubrey & Jan Vaughn (“Kindred Spirits”). Come to find out they are from South Carolina and purchased their boat from the same place we purchased ours. What a small world it is!
Sylvan Beach is a small beach community that consists mostly of cottages, restaurants, one gas station/grocery store, a union chapel, and a town central park. But the big attraction here is the amusement park with typical boardwalk arcade games and rides. There is a great restaurant (“Canal View Café”) on the canal side near the docks where we went with Ginny & Bruce for dinner. This place has been here for 30 years and is decorated in memorabilia from all those years.
While sitting on the boat in the evening we met a couple who was from Palm Harbor, FL walking the docks, and another couple who has a child that lives in Winter Park. Too funny!
Thursday (7/2) – Sylvan Beach provided Denise an opportunity to get in a much-wanted run before we left for the day. She was able to take some pictures of the town and of our boat without distraction as she was up early (as usual).
Ginny & Bruce decided to head across the lake early and left shortly after 7:00 am, with us following about 45 minutes later and “Kindred Spirits” right behind us. Along the way we also passed “Aunt Aggie” who had left earlier that morning as well.
It was only 19 miles across the lake, and we arrived at Ess-Kay marina at 9:30. We filled the boat with fuel, did a pump-out, checked in at the marina and were sitting in our slip in time for lunch.
We both had office work to do and so we hunkered down to get this done before the holiday weekend started. Ginny & Bruce had secured the marina courtesy car and invited us to join them in a Wal-Mart run. We took advantage of the opportunity and got a few things on our shopping list, including a rotisserie chicken for dinner that night.
During the day our friends on “Renegade” and “Patriyachtik” showed up at the marina, so we all gathered at the picnic tables and had “docktails”, along with other loopers Laurie & David Hummel (“The Next Step”) whom we had met in Norfolk. In total, there are over 10 looper boats now at this marina, all of us waiting for the locks in the canals to reopen.
Ess-Kay Yard is a family-owned business started by the parents, and now run by three of the siblings and their kids. It sits on the Oneida River, which is the path from Lake Oneida to the rest of the Erie, and eventually the Oswego Canals. Although the facilities are rustic they are very customer-service oriented and have a ship store with everything you could possibly need or want. Since they are a boatyard first, they have many spare parts and have dry dock storage. We have even met some of the people who leave their boat here in the winter so they can summer in Canada. (i.e. Reverse snowbirds).
Every Independence Day they host a big cookout for the boaters in their marina, as well as family and friends. They provide the hotdogs & hamburgers and everyone else brings a dish to share. The party coincides with the fireworks that the town of Brewerton shoots off, which will be Friday, July 3rd (tomorrow).
Friday (7/3) – Our boat was filthy from all the bugs we encountered in the canal and in Sylvan Beach. So, in the morning Mark washed the boat while Denise cataloged pictures, wrote for the blog, and made the dish to bring to the evening cookout.
In the afternoon, we were invited by Bruce & Ginny to use their paddleboards. Mark wasn’t really interested, but Denise took advantage of this newfound sport and had a great time.
Around 6:00 we joined others and had our big cookout. In total there were close to 100 people here. It was great fun with a lot of food and laughter.
The evening was topped off with a terrific fireworks display that was easily seen from the docks at Ess-Kay. Because our boat was located near the fuel docks, we had front-row seats and didn’t even have to go outside and deal with the mosquitoes.
Tomorrow afternoon Jeanne (sister) and her friend Vicki will be joining us. They are making their annual trip driving to visit Vicki’s family in Attica, near Buffalo. We hope they will stay for the few days as we will be here until they open up the canals and we can make our way into Canada.
Stay tuned for more adventures to come!
Here are some other sights from the Erie Canal: