Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Erie Canal (Jun 2 - Jun 10)

As we sat at the Waterford Visitors Center, we watched other boats begin the trip through the Erie Canal. First you see the water coming under the lock gate as the level in the lock is brought down. Then the gates open and a boat enters the lock and the doors close behind it. As the lock fills, the water boils around the boat. Once the water level reaches the top, the opposite gate opens and you go on your way. Before we started out, we purchased our canal pass which has to be one of the best bargains around. We paid $37.50 for a ten day pass. In our case, that means we have 10 days to cover about 175 miles and 29 locks. The locks are on demand from 7am to 10pm. That means that even if we are the only boat, we'll be locked up or down when we wish, although any commercial vessels take priority. The extra bonus is that in the canal there are many free places to tie up for the night - some even have power. There are also some very reasonably priced marinas. Our trip started with what is known as the Waterford Flight. This consists of five locks that raise you 170 feet in less than a mile and a half. Joe and I were both anxious as we entered the first one but felt like seasoned veterans by the last. There are a few different types of locks. The type we dealt with before, and also here, have ropes that hang down. To lock up you grab a rope and hang on as the water rises. The two others we've encountered have either a 6" diameter pipe or a cable that you pass a line behind and loop back to your boat. Then the line just slides up the cable or pipe. As my line was sliding up a cable, I noticed lots of debris caught at the top. As I got higher I could see it was not random debris. There was a bird's nest with eggs in it !
After leaving the Waterford Flight, we entered the Mohawk River. Originally the canal was separate from the river, but during expansions it was moved and now is part of the river at times. The scenery was just beautiful - are you getting tired of hearing that? Because we all travel at about the same speed, we meet up with the same people repeatedly. We left Waterford with Happy Clamz and Just Relax. We tied up to a wall in a park in Amsterdam together with plans to go out to dinner. Different groups of people kept coming and going in the park. It's hard to say exactly why, but none of us felt comfortable leaving the boats so we ate in that night. This is the only place we've had a problem.
The next day we all stopped at Canajoharie. There we were also joined by Claddagh, who we'd met briefly in Waterford. We'd been told to stop in Canajoharie - the home of Beech-Nut. The Arkell family (Beech-Nut founder) has donated art and money to the town since 1927. Before that Mr. Arkell felt that the factory workers should have pleasant surroundings - art was hung in the lunch room and a piano was played while they worked. When the machinery became too loud, the piano moved to the lunch room. The art galleries were great - especially for such a small town. One modern artist we were all amazed by was Devorah Sperber. Her "pictures" were made with spools of thread that were viewed through a crystal ball. Google her to see.
As I said, we gained confidence in our locking abilities pretty quickly - it's not exactly rocket science. But now we were facing Lock 17 where we would lock up forty feet. Lock 17 is also unusual because as you enter it has a lift gate instead of doors. The gate goes up, you go under as it drips yucky water on you if you don't take cover, then it comes down behind you. Because of the depth of the lock, it is a little disturbing to see that gate come down Claddagh went in ahead of us. You can see water leaking in at the bottom of the door. The water level will be up about 12 feet above the bottom of the doors when we're finished. (Thanks, Dee, for telling me to buy some waterproof gloves - those ropes are slimy!)We stopped for lunch in Little Falls with Bob and Elaine from Claddagh (Bob's sister lives in our neighborhood in Gulf Breeze!). Little Falls is typical of the villages along the canal. Many had factories and mills that used the canal then railroads for transportation. Now they've fallen on bad times and the canal is often lined with old, abandoned buildings. Walking through the downtown area was like a step back in time. Joe and I then stopped for the night in Ilion - the home of Remington Arms, which is the oldest company in the US that still produces its original product. (We pick up all kinds of tidbits like that!)
We had an interesting tour at the factory, including the area where the customs guns are made. Actually, the most incredible thing about the tour was that it existed at all. Our group was led from room to room filled with machinery and chemicals used to manufacture the guns. We kept wondering what their insurance provider thought about that! Surprisingly, little of the machinery appeared to be especially high tech and some may have been there since it opened.
At each lock there is an informational sign. We'd been locking up for some time and weren't sure when we would start the trip down. Joe snapped pictures at several locks before we finally hit the high point - 420 feet.
Our next stop was another free dock in Rome, NY, where we visited with our friends on Claddagh and another couple, Randy and Roberta on R & R. (Happy Clamz and Just Relax having left us in their wake by this time - I couldn't understand why making the first lock at 7am was so importnat!) The next morning Joe and I walked (Joe biked) to Fort Stanwix. The fort has been reconstructed on its original site, which is now in the middle of town. The fort was used briefly during the Revolutionary War and showed how the soldiers lived. They also had information about how the colonists as well as the indians took sides in the war.
That evening we met up again with R & R and Claddagh in the very busy town of Sylvan Beach on the shore of Lake Oneida. We managed to find some space on a free wall, but it was a party weekend at the beach! Sylvan Beach reminded us of an old time Ocean City - except the main road seemed to be the river.

After crossing Lake Oneida, at a rather confusing intersection, we found our road sign in the woods and split off the Erie Canal to take the Oswego Canal to Lake Ontario. We cruised some short days, visited and locked down for a few days. As I mentioned, we'd become pretty confident in our locking - especially since we'd been told that locking down is a snap. Then we came to lock 5. Normally, I handle a line toward the front of the boat and Joe takes one at the stern. I was having trouble holding the boat with my line, so Joe switched with me. At first we thought it was just the wind, but even when the boat was below the tops of the walls Joe was not having an easy time of it. Then, the unbelievable happened - the line Joe was holding onto was too short! He came to the end of his rope; the front of the boat started to swing to the center of the lock; the stern pulled out so that I lost my rope also. So we're sideways in the lock - heading for the opposite side. I haven't mentioned the debate we'd had earlier about whether to stop the engines while locking. Lucky for us, Joe was on the side of not turning them off. Also lucky for us, we have a bow thruster. Even with Joe's quick action, the anchor hanging on the front of the boat hit the lock wall, but a slight bend was all the damage we had. We were able to grab lines on that side about the time the gates were ready to open.

We tied up in Oswego that afternoon and shared happy hour with our friends on R&R and Claddagh again. There were lots of stories about problems in lock 5 that day - not just ours. The next day with a good weather window, we started out into Lake Ontario. As spring has chased us up north, so has the pollen. It finally got the best of me, so we stopped at Cape Vincent, NY to visit a local clinic.

If you'd like to see more pictures, follow the link to our picasa albums: (it's not always updated at the same time as this one, but I catch up eventually!)

1 comment:

Barb said...

Your trip along the Erie Canal brings back memories. The western part of the Erie Canal may be the best part. Put it on your list for a later trip.