Upper New York State through the Welland Canal - 7/7 through 7/15/03:
Special Note: When I laid out this website and defined the Stages, I didn't understand the specifics of our voyage through this area well enough to break it up properly. So I've combined the original Stages 7 & 8, since it only took two days to cover Lake Ontario and the Welland Canal to Buffalo on Lake Erie. Also, until I started writing this journal, I didn't realize I had a three day gap in decent photos. So keep reading. The photos pick up again on 7/10.
Day 1, 7-7-03: Actually, we left NYC behind mid-day yesterday, and this morning we're getting a slow start since Papa discovered a missing credit card left at the Chinese restaurant last night. Fortunately, our good friends came to the rescue and Jack picked it up and delivered it to the marina. That gave Paige & Blake another chance for a swim in the marina pool. So this Stage is starting as we depart Haverstraw, NY, about 30 miles up the Hudson River, just north of the Tappan Zee bridge. It is a beautiful river for easy cruising, with wooded bluffs rising on both sides. And about 1:30 we pass the impressive sight of West Point military academy. We've heard of other boaters enjoying a stop at the academy dock for a tour. But we were also told this is the week the new Plebes arrive prior to the school year, so they probably have their hands full. Plus it's a gorgeous day, and we're comfortable heading up-river past Poughkeepsie and Kingston. By 4 pm, rain-clouds have gathered and we find a safe haven in beautiful Catskill Marina, off the main river in the little town of Catskill, NY. Delores, the marina manager, welcomes us for the night at her fuel dock, and Diane catches cab to a nearby convenience store for provisions. After a lot of great (expensive!) restaurant dining through New Jersey & NYC, we're all happy with a nice pizza and salad dinner on the boat.
The evening was occupied by several phone calls with MN connections due to a trip to the hospital by my 95 year old mother, Gail. At first, a "light stroke" was suspected, but she checked out well, and Mary and Isaac took care of getting her home. Good news; just another "episode" with apparently no lasting consequences. Then we put in a call to Diane's high school friend, Peg Stoddart, whom we hoped to visit later in Buffalo, and "called it a good day" after getting back on a cruising schedule, 75 miles further up the Hudson.
Day 2, 7-8-03: As we approached the NY Canal System, and crossing to Canada, we needed to resolve an administrative "hiccup" caused by a lack of current vessel documentation. During our last home visit, I had discovered our venerable Delaware attorney "representing" the legal interests of Souvenir, LLC (owner of our boat) had dropped the ball on our documentation renewal notice, so it had expired! Though I had applied for reactivation, the papers had not come through from the Coast Guard. A quick check with the good people at our "documentation agent" in Texas (the Carol Matthews Company) determined that the USCG is "way behind" on these things, so they faxed me a letter to that effect, and a copy of my application. With no other choice, we pressed on, hoping that would suffice. It actually never became an issue, as a verbal response to inquiries about our Documentation number was all we ever needed.
With that hurdle cleared as best we could, we got a late start from Catskill, headed north up the Hudson River to the junction with the Champlain and Erie Canal systems at Troy, NY. It was still hot (mid-90s), humid and calm on the water. Around 12 noon we passed Albany, and by 1 pm arrived at the Federal Lock on the Hudson River at Troy, NY. It's really considered the first lock of both canal systems, with a lift of 14', serving as the separation point from the tidal waters to the south. Since we'd been free of locks ever since the Tenn-Tom Canal back in October (with the exception of one minor lock in the ICW south of Norfolk, VA), we were about to re-enter the experience. It started with a 40 minute wait for no apparent reason, and a few minutes after 2 pm we were through the lock, and making the left turn out of the Hudson River into the westbound Erie Canal itself. If we had continued straight ahead into the Champlain Canal, it could have led all the way up to the St. Lawrence Seaway. In addition to preferring the "shortcut" to Lake Ontario via the Erie and Oswego Canals, there was a bridge clearance issue for our boat height on the Champlain Canal.
Immediately after turning into the Erie Canal, we approached Lock E2. In the radio conversation with the Lockmaster, near-panic was struck by an off-hand comment about a fixed bridge clearance of 18' at Lock E3. No one had ever mentioned to me such a limitation!! We couldn't make that low even by removing the radar and other equipment on our radar arch! Could it be that we could go no further???? After hastily explaining my surprise and dilemma to the Lockmaster, he suggested I lower my VHF antenna, pass through Lock E2, and slowly approach the fixed bridge at the entrance to E3, and "we'll work it out." It turns out that E2 and E3 are so close together that the pool in between can be literally raised up and down with the timing of the two locks. If they lower E3 to prepare the gates for westbound entry before I pass under the bridge, then the clearance is only 18'. If they hold the water in the lock until after I exit E2 and pass under the bridge, the clearance is more like 22-24' (sufficient for my height, and closer to the "standard" other minimum clearances on the canal. I got the distinct impression that the Lockmaster enjoyed the mind game!
At Lock E3, we had to buy a pass (2 day, 10 day, or seasonal) which would then be shown at each lock. This is where our Documentation number, home address and port, destination, etc, was recorded. Locks E2 through E6 (called the Waterford Flight) covered a distance of only 5 miles, averaged 34' lift each, and took us about 5 1/2 hours. So by 4:30 pm, we had 6 locks behind us, with a total lift of 183', and we were looking for a place to stay the night. Not much in the way of marinas, so we pulled into Blaine's Bay and tied up at a meager fuel dock. I had been told on the radio they could handle a 50 amp power requirement, but they failed to mention "only if" I used my own smart-Y adapter on two 30 amp receptacles. Since I only had one adapter, and they had none, we couldn't plug in both of our 50 amp lines, which meant no air-conditioning on our aft deck and bridge -- and it was still hot, humid, and buggy! So while Diane found a taxi to a nearby store, the twins and Billie Jo took a good swim off the back of the boat. It was so "inviting" that Billie Jo actually jumped in of her own accord -- a first for her!
Day 3, 7-9-03: Yesterday, the 10 mph speed limit on the canal really wasn't much of a factor, since there was so little distance between locks. But now, they were a little more spaced out, so we began to get the feel of the "trawler-crawl." Still, it was more locks than miles, and it was hot, humid, sunny and SLOW GOING! In eight hours, we covered only 64 statute miles, and 9 locks (E7 through E15, with a total lift of 118'). At last, we arrived at what I had heard was a "decent" municipal marina, in an interesting little town of St. Johnsville, NY. We arranged for a ride to a local Italian restaurant, and were joined by another couple who were also cruising the canal. As we sat down at the table, it hit me! I said, "You're Marv Market!" Yes, it was! I had noticed the big 60' Viking sitting at the dock when we pulled in, but it didn't register with me at the time. It was DeeLight, owned and operated by Marv and Betty Market. They're the ones who had left Wabasha, MN, one week ahead of us last October, and wintered in Ft. Myers. We had seen their boat docked in Myrtle Beach, FL, and communicated a couple times via e-mail. Finally, we met face to face! It was like a reunion with "old friends" we had never actually seen before! It was an enjoyable evening exchanging Great Loop stories. Then we returned to our boats in time for Paige & Blake to chase a few lightning bugs before turning in for a good night's sleep.
Day 4, 7-10-03: Light rain for departure at 8:15 am, with clearing clouds to hot & humid again in the afternoon. We started out not using the generator to conserve fuel. But by noon, we needed some air-conditioning only to discover that the generator would start, but wouldn't stay running for more than a couple minutes. So we sweat it out, winding our way through upper the NY state countryside/villages and cities, imitating a trawler (@ 8.8 knots!) within the 10 mph speed limit; AND 7 more locks at places like Little Falls, Herkimer, Utica, and New London. The first five locks (E16-E20) we "lifted" a total of 117'. The last two (E21 & E22), we "dropped" a total of 50'. Then we came to the village on the eastern shore of Lake Oneida, Sylvan Beach, a little before 5 pm. A good time and place to stop for the night at Skinner's Harbor. So we managed to travel 60 miles in eight hours with no generator, and we were sticky and ready for a shower and/or dip in the lake.
We did manage to hook both shore power cables into "a 50 and two 30s," so cool air started to flow in the boat at last. Our new early-riser boating friends, Marv & Betty Market in DeeLight, had arrived earlier in the afternoon. Then after us, a trawler named "Ducky" arrived from St. Johnsville. And finally a couple of houseboats (a 44' Gibson Executive model and a 34' Nautiline with a single I/O) roared up to the dock, and got chewed out for "waking" the Coast Guard Station on the canal just east of the marina. I thought we were back in Windmill Marina on the St. Croix River in Minnesota!
We got directions for about a half mile walk around the marina, through "downtown" Sylvan Beach to an actual beach on the lake shore. The twins soon learned that the water was so shallow that after wading out two or three hundred yards, they still had to sit down to get their swimming suits wet. Not much of a frolic, but at least they cooled off a little. Meanwhile, Nana found Dave's, a local sub shop, and picked up some great sandwiches for dinner back at the boat. Then I descended into a very warm engine room to do some diagnosis on the generator. The strainer was clear, and I took the cover off the impeller which appeared to be intact. I thought the belts seemed loosed, so toiled for awhile getting them tightened up. The metal lining in the water intake hose was disintegrating, but water seem to flow sufficiently. But it still shut down a couple minutes after starting, apparently over-heating. This amateur Mr. Fixit was out of ideas, and very tired, sweaty, and dirty. The "marginal" marina shower was plenty good enough before a welcome dive into the sack.
Day 5, 7-11-03: 6:30 am, and I connected with Curt, the local "all-around" marina mechanic, as planned. What a character! He claimed he was a guitar as a back-up singer on tour with Eddie Arnold for many years; actually was badly injured in a tour bus accident...did a little Willie Nelson chorus for us while he climbed into my engine room to inspect the annoying generator. Diagnosis: "Must be an electronic problem. Everything looks OK to me!" So, a little after 9 am, we departed and set an easterly course across Lake Oneida. At last, we could get up on plane...but no generator. It was cloudy, with an east breeze, and about a 1' chop on the lake. As we re-entered the canal on the west end of the lake, and passed under a highway bridge, Diane spotted Winter Harbor Marina, with some evidence of real cruiser service, AND $1.28 diesel fuel. We found a very responsive service manager who quickly determined that I had erroneously declared the generator impeller OK. It looked OK in place, but when he pulled it out, it was definitely missing some pieces of rubber blades. One thing I did right, was to have a handy replacement in my spare parts kit, which of course fixed the problem. He didn't have the right impeller in stock, so I made a note to pick up a new one at the first chance. So after two hours and $300 in fuel, we were on our way again, with cool air!
One more lock (E23) with a drop of 7' and we came to a "fork in the river;" it was actually called Three Rivers, and a left turn would continue on the Erie Canal. However, toward the Buffalo end of the canal, there were some fixed bridge clearances well below 19'. Thus we had to turn right into the Oswego Canal and head for Lake Ontario. Five hours, 24 more miles, and 7 locks later (O1 through O8; except there is no O4; with a total drop of 119') we arrived at the municipal marina at Oswego, NY. By the end of the day, we were in a light drizzle, with a pretty good swirling breeze that made waiting for, and sitting in the locks, pretty tedious. But sure enough, DeeLight was there tied up at the transient dock, right by the restaurant. So we enjoyed another fine dinner with Marv and Betty Market.
The summary of our NY Canal trip (Erie & Oswego) was; 30 locks, with a total lift 418', plus a total drop of 169', for 183 statute miles, taking 28 hours engine run time, over four days, for an average speed of 6.5 mph. Interesting experience, but not our favorite leg!
Also in the marina, were the two houseboats we had seen the night before at Sylvan Beach. They had left ahead of us, while I was messing with our generator. About closing time, they cranked up their engines, and roared over to the gas dock. By then, the wind was picking up considerably, so I wondered "why the rush?" and moseyed over to chat. They had learned that the dock attendant wouldn't open the next morning till "about 9." Since they were planning an early start to cross Lake Ontario to Kingston, they decided to fuel up that night. The forecast for the next day was SE wind, 15-20 knots with 4' to 6' seas. We and DeeLight (a 60' Viking) had decided to "wait it out." So I "gently" expressed my concern about their plans. I indicated I had 20 years experience with houseboats, specifically a Nautaline and a Gibson, among others) in the "protected river waters" of Minnesota, and taking them across Lake Ontario surprised me. The captain of the Gibson assured me that they had many years cruising these water, and never had a problem. In fact, he said, "You know that Gibson has a deep-vee hull! It'll go anywhere." I just said, "Oh, right" and walked away with a straight face. Then our before-dinner entertainment included their noisy attempts to get back into their slips in the wind, after several pirouettes, and banging off docks and fingers.
The next morning about 7:30, I was walking Billie Jo, and witnessed the two houseboats departing, with winds easily in the 15 to 20 knot range. And they disappeared beyond the Oswego Inlet, with waves crashing over the breakwaters 20 to 30 feet into the air (Paige & I took a lot of pictures, but never caught the timing at their worst). About an hour later, I was having my breakfast in the boat, when Diane knocked on the outside.....she said, "You gotta come see this!" We ran over to the gas dock in time to see the Gibson coming in, with a uniformed Coast Guard person driving, and the big front window of the cabin missing. He slammed the boat into the first slip he could get it into. Behind him, came the Coast Guard boat with about 10 crew members all in uniforms and orange life-jackets, bouncing up to the gas dock on 3' to 4' waves. They had trouble getting tied down, and the crew appeared surprisingly young and inexperienced. We looked out beyond the Coast Guard boat, but there was no Nautaline houseboat in sight. It turns out it had sunk in 300' of water, 8 miles off-shore, with 8' following seas. Fortunately, the crew of four escaped unharmed, and were picked up later by fishing boats in the area for a tournament that had been called off due to rough seas! Witnesses said the Nautaline climbed up the back of one wave, then dove straight down into the back of the next one, and "just kept on going down!" About twelve hours later, the local TV "action" news truck showed up looking for "the boat that sank." We later heard that sustained wind on the lake had exceeded 30 knots. We and DeeLight decided to stay put another day, and really enjoyed our unexpected weekend in Oswego. It's a pretty little town with nice people, a beautiful park overlooking the lake shore and inlet. And Paige got in a little extra photography of some ducks in the harbor.
Day 7-14-03: It's Monday morning, and gorgeous! The wind blew itself out, and Lake Ontario began to settle down nicely yesterday (see photos above). Definitely, a good plan to wait it out! DeeLight took off early, as usual, headed for the northern lake shore and a tour of Canadian ports. We left the dock a little before 9 am, and within 15 minutes turned east at the Oswego channel outer marker, and set a course-with-autopilot for a beautiful cruise along Lake Ontario's southern shore. The water was probably as calm as the "big lake" ever gets; certainly less than 1' seas. We ran 2 to 5 miles offshore, and clocked abeam Rochester before noon, and Oak Orchard about 1:30. By 4 pm, we approached the north entrance of the Port Weller Channel, and the little town of St. Catherine, Ontario, Canada. By 4:30, we had navigated around the breakwaters of the channel entrance, and back into St. Catherine's Marina just on the east side. I missed a little sign at the entrance calling for an immediate left turn, and wound up in a dead-end dock full of boats. So I had to back around to the entrance again, and head for the fuel dock on the other side of the marina. I was directed to an end-Tee tie-along directly across from the fuel dock where a boatload of Canadian officials observed our approach. Before disembarking, I connected with CANPASS, the Canadian Immigration service, by cell phone. After a ten minute Q&A, I was given a certified "report number" and told to enjoy our brief stay in Canada. No problemo!
After getting registered and settled in, we met a resident boating couple, Jack & Joan, who offered the use of their vehicle, so we could drive to the nearest restaurant a couple miles away. And the little Italian restaurant, the Valley Inn, was exceptional! Real cloth table-cloths, candles, classical music, and GREAT food and service! What a welcome to Canada!
After dinner, I contacted the canal authority to find out about procedures for transiting the locks the next day. They advised that I call early in the morning "as soon as you get up," so they could schedule a time to enter the first lock based traffic at the time. There are eight locks on the 25 mile Welland Canal, and 7 of them are in the first 15 miles when entering from the north. The total lift is well over 300' (which is what it takes to get around Niagra Falls), and since it is the main ocean-going ship channel connecting Lake Ontario with Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes beyond, this is "big time" locking. We had heard and read all kinds of horror stories about being in the locks with dirty cargo ships, and the turbulence of the water while filling the locks. Part of that concern was dispelled by the lockmaster when he confirmed that a recent policy change had been implemented to NOT lock through pleasure-craft with ships. But of course that could mean more waiting time. We had also read that we should plan on 7 to 12 hours to transit the 25 miles, and once you start, you must continue all the way through, no matter what hour of the day it is. There is no place to stop along the way. We had heard the suggestion to buy a bunch of "straw-filled sacks" for temporary fenders, because normal fenders would get so beat up and ruined. So I asked the dockmaster at the marina about the sacks. He said they had some used ones we could buy for some ridiculous price, but they were in such bad shape no one ever wanted them! And finally, when traveling "upbound" as we were, a crew of three onboard was required. Fortunately, with our grandtwins along, we were all set. But we'd heard about the young men from St. Catherine's whose summer income came from hiring onto "crews of two" for $100 per trip. No doubt we were in for another new boating experience.
Day 8, 7-15-03: We had a pretty good night's sleep, though I think Diane and I "tossed" a bit, with images of how our Welland Canal crossing might go. No trouble waking up before dawn....yes, that photo IS a sunRISE! But it was a beautiful morning, weather-wise. At least that wasn't a complicating factor. More good news; the suggested phone call determined there was "little or no traffic" in the canal, so as soon as we could get to the "small boat holding dock" just below Lock 1 and call on the phone located there, we probably could start our journey through Canada to Lake Erie. About 6:45 am, we departed the marina, cruised around to the channel entrance and up to the holding dock, and made the phone call with the official request to lock through. By 7:20, we entered the big open gates of Lock 1. We were on our way, with the expectation of spending the night in Port Colborne at the south end of the canal (still in Canada).
We were the only vessel in the lock, and the attendants at the top of the wall dropped two yellow lines tied together at the bottom, over the edge. We'd been told that we'd pay our fee and get an official "instruction book" at Lock 3. But apparently the first two locks are kind of "learn by doing." When the gates closed and the water started filling, we felt like we were riding on a bobber. Diane and the twins did a great job of untying the two lines, and running one fore and one aft, across the boat, and around a cleat on the opposite side to provide maximum leverage. Floating bollards sure would have been nice. Meanwhile, I managed both engines and the bow-thruster to try to minimize boat movement. After several locks, I worried about overuse of the bow-thruster possibly causing a battery or motor problem. It would be tough to lose it. Twenty minutes later, we'd been raised about 40', the gates were opening, and we could see the next lock only a mile or two away. No other boats or ships in sight! By the time we got to Lock 2, the gates were opening. By Lock 3, we felt like veterans who had the whole canal to themselves. We paid our dues and got the manual which looked like a US Government booklet with a lot of gibberish, but wasn't all that much help.
As Lock 4 came into view, a whole new perspective developed. Nothing I'd heard or read mentioned that Locks 4, 5, & 6, are literally back-to-back; i.e. the upper gate for 4 is also the lower gate for 5, etc. Which meant while approaching Lock 4 with the lower gates open, the upper gate looks well over 100' high. And just to top it off (pun intended), I could look above Locks 4 &5, and see a ship sitting in Lock 6. First thought? Here comes our 12 hour day! But our good luck continued. After studying the ship through the binoculars a couple minutes, I concluded I was looking at the back end (to use a nautical term). At least he was going the same direction we were, and in fact, by the time we got through Locks 4 & 5, he was out of sight; and we never saw him again until we got to the end of the canal. He didn't slow us down at all! I don't know how they manage the flow of water through those three locks, but after a longer wait in Lock 5, we proceeded, and actually exited Lock 6 before 11 am. The concentration required through the "rapid fire" locks, resulted in a lack of photos. Just didn't have time to think about that! Only two locks to go! They were spaced further apart, and there were several bridges we had to wait for, but we still made it out of Lock 8 at the south end by 1:30 pm. We had done the Welland Canal in 6 1/2 hours! And only saw one ship, and met three pleasure-craft coming down together. With plenty of afternoon left, and good weather, the new plan became: top-off the fuel tanks at Port Colborne, and head back to the east end of Lake Erie to Buffalo -- a day earlier than expected!
One troublesome US "requirement" for re-entry to the country is the infamous Immigration Form I-68. We didn't have one, so the advice was to enter at a port that had a video-phone. We had wanted to head south across Lake Erie to Dunkirk, NY. We'd heard it was a nice place to stay, and we could meet our Buffalo friends there. But under the circumstances, we headed for Erie Basin Marina, right in downtown Buffalo, where they had a video-phone. Even though it meant "back-tracking" to the east, it would also be convenient for our Buffalo friends. So a quick phone call established dockage reservations and approach instructions to Buffalo, and off we went. A SW wind had kicked up 1 to 2' following seas, but by 3:30, we were approaching our US re-entry point, and transient dock for a couple nights. We tied up on the wall, and got shore power connected. Then armed with all our papers-in-hand (passports, boat documentation, birth certificates for the twins, immunization papers for the dog), the four of us found the US Immigration video-phone. After mentioning that had we properly filed a Form I-68 we could have "avoided this," the voice on the other end ran through a list of questions about who we were, where we were from, and where we were going. Then she said, "Please ask Diane to stand in front of the camera." "What's your name? Are you a US citizen? Please ask Paige to stand in front of the camera." Same thing over again for Paige, then for Blake. Then she gave me a number to record the action, and said "That's all there is to it. Thank you." Never asked us to show any of our documents for validation. We must have looked harmless! Whew! We were "home" again!
Thus endeth our story of Stages 7 & 8 of our Great Loop Adventure. Our visit to Buffalo will begin Stage 9.