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June 28 - July 14
Sandy Hook * Lady Liberty * Coast Guard Lightship * Manhatten Skyline * Buying CDs in Times Square * Eating Hot Pretzls in Central Park * Wall Street and the UN * Hudson River * West Point * Clearwater Sloop * Gateway to the Erie Canal * Historic Canal * Crossing Lake Ontario
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Day 342 - Thursday, June 28
Sandy Hook, New Jersey
N 40' 24.9, W 74' 01.2
In the morning we headed out into the Atlantic. This would be our last time in the ocean on our trip. It made us a little sad, but at this point it's hard to imagine not being by the ocean. We've been in it and near it for so long that we've forgotten what it's like to be inland.
Our destination today is Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook is the part of New Jersey that sits just south of New York City. It is actually a skinny sand peninsula that is several miles long and it hooks north to create a semi-protected bay. We sailed around the hook and then south into the protected harbor area.
We visited both of the marinas there looking for Loblolly. No one had seen them yet, so we decided to anchor nearby and wait for them to arrive. For once, we got somewhere on time and we were pretty proud of ourselves.
This bay was full of fishing boats, but what you really had to watch out for were the super fast ferries. The Seastreak and the NY Fast Ferry were giant catamarans with the kind of engines that you usually see on jetskies. Each one could carry over a hundred commuters in comfortable cabins. A round-trip ticket to New York was $28 per person and the boats could get you there in 35 minutes. They were the fastest boats we have ever seen. When they came across the water you had to make sure you were not in their path. They threw volumes of water and spray out the back and left the top of the water churning with bubbles. Tricia really wanted to ride in one.
Day 343 - Friday, June 29
Sandy Hook, New Jersey
N 40' 24.9, W 74' 01.2
Sandy Hook has miles of beautiful sand beaches on the ocean side. It is a
National Seashore Recreation Area, so there is no development on the narrow
spit except for a few government buildings. We anchored in a cove along the
spit and walked over to the beach.
Sandy Hook was covered with woods, hiking trails and LOTS of poison ivy. I was careful to stay on the paths! We met a fisherman who gave us directions on how to get to the beach. He also told us that the water in New York Harbor is really getting cleaned up and sport fish, like striped bass, are starting to show up again. He said that the water was just tested and now it is as clean as it was in 1917 when the first water samples were taken.
It was a hot and humid day and the beach was filled with hundreds of people. I expect that there will be thousands along the beach tomorrow since it will be a hot and humid Saturday.
In the evening we returned to our sheltered anchor spot on the other side of the bay. We were hopeful that Loblolly would be there already, but they were nowhere in sight. We tried calling them on the radio and we monitored channel 16, but we didn't get a connection.
Day 344 - Saturday, June 30
Sandy Hook, New Jersey
N 40' 24.9, W 74' 01.2
We decided to spend one more day in Sandy Hook just in case Loblolly was late. It's never easy to stick on a schedule in a boat.
Instead of sharing the ocean beach with thousands of others, we decided to spend the day on our own private little beach. We were anchored next to a small marsh at the bottom of some steep wooded hills. There was about ten feet of sand along the edge of the marsh, so we dinghied up there and spent the day swimming, sunning and building sand forts until the tide came up too high and swallowed all of our beach.
Our anchoring spot filled up with other boats during the day. Lots of people had come over from New York for the weekend.
When the day ended and Loblolly was still nowhere in sight, we realized that they must have passed us. In the morning we would cross the harbor to New York City and try to meet up with them there.
Day 345 - Sunday, July 1
Liberty Landing Marina, Jersey City, New Jersey
N 40' 43, W 74' 02
In the morning we awoke and found that another catamaran had come into the
anchorage during the night. The kids were excited because it was Free Bird,
the home of some of the friends they had met in Georgetown. As we were on our
way out, we stopped by their boat and talked for awhile. Ensley, 16, and
Jack, 10, were onboard. Their family was headed for New England for the
summer. It was nice seeing some old friends again.
The wind was up and we had a nice sail into New York City. We were sailing for about two hours before we got our first peak at the Statue of Liberty in the distance. It was hard to see her because it was a very hazy day. It took another hour to get near her. Along the way we passed Staten Island, Coney Island and Brooklyn. The kids and I sat up on the front of the boat to see all of the sights.
The Statue of Liberty stands on a pedestal on her own little island. The
golden flame in her torch gleams in the sunlight. She is a very huge and
impressive statue. There were hundreds of people waiting in line to see her,
and more were coming in on the yellow ferry boats. We passed by and soon
found Liberty State Park, the marina we planned on staying in for the night.
Liberty State Park is a New Jersey State Park that sits right on the opposite side of the Hudson River from downtown Manhatten. From our boat we have a perfect view of the Manhatten skyline, and it gets even better after dark when all of the city lights come on.
Shortly after we docked, a big storm passed through. After the storm, the skies were still very cloudy. We even saw some clouds pass in front of the World Trade Center.
The marina is expensive, but it's really the only place we can stay if we
to tour the city. There are actually some inexpensive moorings in the Hudson
River up near 79th Street, but the current in the river is strong there and
to have a motorized dinghy to make the long trip to the dock. Our rowing
dinghy just wouldn't do it. From this marina we can ride a ferry across the
river and be right at the foot of the World Trade Center in five minutes. We
decided to stay
for two nights so we could spend the day sight-seeing tomorrow.
This is a very charming (and huge) marina. It is very long and narrow and stretches along an inlet that empties into the Hudson. It has over 500 boats docked here, but the live-aboards and the transients get to stay nearest the river. The office is actually an old Coast Guard lightboat. A lightboat is a portable lighthouse. It was used in places where the sand shoals shift so much that a permanent lighthouse wouldn't do much good. It is big enough to hold a crew of ten. The boat has been remodeled as part of the marina. It has an office inside, as well as bathrooms and showers. Down below, there is a small laundry. The bow of the boat is a lounge. In the winter, the lounge is also used as a restaurant. During the summer the restaurant moves outside to a barge that is tied between the dock and the lightboat. Of course, the summer restaurant is called the "Barge and Grill".
We did our laundry down in the hold of the lightship. We met a nice man
living on a boat in the marina. He works in NYC, and he says he even lives on
his boat through the winter. He must have one heckuva heater! Given the
price of New York real estate, this is probably a very economical way to live
Day 346 - Monday, July 2
Liberty Landing Marina, Jersey City, New Jersey
N 40' 43, W 74' 02
At 8:30 we boarded the little yellow ferry to take us across the Hudson to New York City. The trip took about five minutes and cost five dollars. The most amazing part was watching the ferry dock in a tiny space next to ten luxury cruise boats that were sitting in a tiny marina in front of the World Trade Center complex.
We disembarked from the ferry and entered a picture-perfect city plaza. We went inside the nearest building and found ourselves in an indoor solarium filled with a dozen huge, perfect palm trees. Not really what we expected inside of our first building in New York, but it was beautiful.
People were walking everywhere. We followed them through a skywalk that
us over several New York streets. We ended up in the bottom of the World
Trade Center building. Tricia even found some indoor mailboxes so she could
send out her postcards from the heart of NYC. The inbox was covered with
metal rods so you could only deposit letters, not packages. Apparently, the
World Trade Center doesn't want any more bombs showing up in unmarked
We eventually stumbled our way into the subway. There are automatic machines that most people use to buy their tickets, but the real live ticket seller took one look at us and knew that we needed help. He actually came out of his bullet-proof booth and showed us how to use the automatic machines to get our tickets. I guess we had "Wisconsin farm folk" written all over our faces. He was very kind and helpful.
Once we learned how the system worked, it was a breeze. We bought one-day passes that were only $4 each, and we used the subways to get around for the rest of the day. Zion even learned how to read the subway map and he got us on and off the trains in all the right places during the day.
Our first stop was Times Square. I was surprised to find that it really isn't a square at all, it's just a street. It seems so big on TV, but in real life it is very narrow. You have to crane your neck way back to see all of the big TV screens and electronic messages that are being blasted across the tops of the buildings. You can't really walk down the street very well when you're doing that. I'm not sure who they expect to be looking at all of those signs.
The whole area was filled with people. but it felt very safe and comfortable. There was a little police station tucked into one corner. And Zion was happy because the motor traffic was very light.
Zion said he likes New York better than Chicago because there are so few cars, buses and trucks on the streets. Everyone uses the subway. (I'm still partial to Chicago because the architecture of their big buildings is so much more interesting. New York probably has more big buildings, but most of them are just big rectangular boxes, rather boring in my opinion.)
We passed by the set for "Good Morning America" and the "David Letterman Show". We found Virgin Megastore, the CD mecca. It had three floors of CDs and videos. They even have a DJ in a glass booth near the ceiling playing an eclectic mix of songs for the customers' enjoyment. The kids finally had the chance to buy the CD's we had promised them for Easter.
At the end of Times Square we found Broadway. We saw the theatres for "The Lion King", "42nd Street" and other popular shows. Again, I was surprised by how small they were. All you could see was a small theatre front that led into a sea of rectangular buildings. There were so many buildings pressed so closely together that you couldn't see the shape of the theatre building at all. And there was absolutely no parking visible anywhere. Everyone must walk there!
To our delight we came across a huge Internet cafe. For only $1 you could use Internet for half an hour. This cafe served coffee and bakery up front, and had over 800 connected Internet sites in back. They were lined up in row after row of carels and they covered two floors.
We were anxious to see if Loblolly had left us a message on where they were. We got the message and learned that they were already up the Hudson and they had just taked down their mast to start going through the Erie Canal. With their mast down they would no longer be able to receive e-mail on their boat. It would take us at least four days to get up the Hudson and we knew they couldn't wait for us. They needed to be home by August 1. We were very disappointed that we weren't able to travel with them again. We hope they have a safe journey home.
For the record, Zion was right. He had thought they were ahead of us all along. While we stayed in Sandy Hook he was urging us to leave and go to New York because he thought Loblolly was already up there. Dan and I both thought it was better to wait for them in Sandy Hook, so Zion was outvoted (or ignored, in his version). I expect he will remind us of our error several times in the future when we run into similar differences of opinion! It reminds me of a saying I heard once but never really appreciated until now: "We can only hope that we are at least half as smart as our children think we are when they are pre-schoolers, and not nearly as dumb as they think we are when they are teens".
After our visit to the Internet Cafe we walked up to the southwest corner of Central Park. We were all amazed by how big and beautiful the park is. It's full of green grass and shady trees and walking paths and playgrounds and large bedrock that bulges out of the earth. You can find peaceful, secluded little places everywhere to let yourself get in touch with nature. It's hard to believe that such a beautiful spot is in the middle of such a large city.
We stopped for lunch at a hot dog stand. The stands were all over the park and the food was amazingly cheap. Hot dogs and hot pretzls were only $1.25 each. I never expected to find a deal like that in the city.
We still had enough light left in the day to visit Wall Street and the United Nations. It was near the end of the work day as we walked along Wall Street. We stopped to take a picture of the entrance to the New York Stock Exchange when some security guards asked us and the other people on the street to step aside. When the path was clear, they escorted an elderly gentleman with his briefcase to a limousine waiting along the curb. I don't know my financial gurus well enough to know who it was, but he apparently was finished with his work for the day and it was time to go home.
By the time we got to the U.N. the gates were closed and all of the flags
been taked down. All we saw were a sea of flagpoles sticking up into the air.
The U.N. buildings were much smaller and less impressive than I had expected
them to be. I guess it will take awhile for our planet's international
government to achieve the grandeur that we now lavish on our national
The area around the U.N. was filled with a variety of little restaurants from all nationalities. We stopped at a place that had some great-looking stuffed pizza in the window.
After eating we headed back to our ferry across the river. We all had a great day in the Big Apple.
Day 347 - Tuesday, July 3
Croton-on-Hudson, New York
N 42' 32, W 73' 45 on the Hudson River
We were tempted to stay and see the Fourth of July fireworks in front of the Statue of Liberty since it was only a day away, but there were several things that stopped us. First, it would be expensive to spend more time in this marina. Second, it would take another two days out of our travel time and we really needed to get moving again to stay on schedule. And, third, it would be nerve-wracking for the captain and the first mate. We learned that there are so many boaters that go out in the river in front of Lady Liberty for the big show that the Coast Guard actually spends the day out there directing traffic. They make all of the boats line-up and anchor in long rows, and once you get your spot you had better not move.
Tricia and I thought it would be fun, but the guys thought it sounded like a headache. I promised Tricia that someday she and I would come back to New York to see the fireworks on the Fourth, but we'll stay in a hotel and take the subway to the show. Maybe we can even squeeze in some tickets to see a Broadway show. I would really enjoy that. But for now, we needed to move on.
We left the marina at noon, check-out time. We didn't want to travel in
morning because we would have been fighting the current. At 1:00 the tide
changes and then the tidal current would help push us up the river.
It took a few hours to get past Manhatten and the Bronx. There were lots
city sights to see along the way, including the Empire State Building and the
As soon as you are past the city you
suddenly find yourself in a beautiful river valley, surrounded by steep rock
cliffs and the large hills of the Catskills. The river is an amazing 120 feet
deep in some places! The Hudson River truly fills a crack in the surrounding
rocks. A few houses are perched precariously on the sides of the hills, but
not many. Railroad tracks follow the western riverside and long freight
trains roll past frequently. Super-fast and short Amtrak passenger trains
whiz by on the eastern shore, going from train depot to train depot in each
We had to travel 70 miles to get to the first good anchoring spot on the river, but with the wind and the current pushing us we made good time. As the sun was setting we arrived in a sheltered area along the edge of the river. Other boats were anchored there, too, but these boats weren't other cruisers. They were smaller weekend boats that families were on to celebrate the upcoming holiday.
Day 348 - Wednesday, July 4 - HAPPY FOURTH!
Saugerties, New York
N 42' 05, W 73' 55 on the Hudson River
We continued up the river and saw more majestic cliffs and hills. This is
the most beautiful river that we have ever been in. With the morning mists
hanging in the valleys it's easy to believe there is a little magic in these
hills, just like Rip Van Winkle found.
West Point at 8:30, but decided not to stop because their museum didn't open
until 10:00 and they didn't have much of a dock. The buildings of West Point
were impressive, though. They looked like ancient stone castles built atop
the cliff of rock that lined the western edge of the river. As we turned the
point, we spotted a row of men in white uniforms and dark ties at the top of
the cliff. They must have been having a flag ceremony or something like that
because they all stood in perfect formation for awhile until they all walked
away single file.
The rest of the day took us from one beautiful valley to another. We were hoping to find a town along the river that would be having a fireworks display in the evening for us to watch. Our best hope was Poughkeepsie, the biggest city between NYC and Albany.
We pulled up to the little dock in Poughkeepsie. There was a boat ramp
the park and there were lots of families out having picnics for the Fourth.
We learned that the nearest fireworks would be four miles up the river in Hyde
I was interested to see Hyde Park. It is the home of Franklin Roosevelt.
Right now I'm reading the biography of Eleanor Roosevelt and she often
mentions their stays at Hyde Park. When we got there we found that
it was very small, mostly just a train station, a teeny-tiny dock and a few
We went to a nearby Boat Club where lots of weekend boaters were relaxing. We learned that the fireworks would be inland and we wouldn't be able to see them from the river. That was disappointing, but we decided to grab a little tradition on the Fourth and indulge in some hot dogs they were selling. Hot dogs were a treat since we're low on fresh food right now and we've been enjoying rice and beans and canned food for the last few days.
We finally decided to stop at the town of Saugerties on Esopus Creek. Our
guide book says that if you go a mile up the creek you will find the best
anchorage along the whole Hudson River. The anchorage is a deep pool of water
set among rock cliffs. It was calm and beautiful.
Because the cliffs were so near we had to set two anchors so we wouldn't swing during the night. After getting them down, Zion took the dinghy and tried to move one of the anchors farther out. He wanted to have extra scope out since it looked like thunderstorms would be coming during the evening. When he tried to lift the anchor to move it, it wouldn't budge. After struggling for awhile he realized that if the anchor was set that well there wasn't any need to move it out farther. We left it where it was knowing that someone would probably have to go diving in the morning.
We were almost, but not quite, alone in the anchorage. A large wooden sloop was tied up along the shore. It was named the Clearwater and it looked like an old Hudson River working sloop.
There was a little dinghy dock nearby, so we all went to shore and took a walk around town. We learned that there would be a fireworks show in the town park that night, so we bought some picnic food at a Pakistani convenience store and took the mile hike to the park. Dan decided to go back since we had left the boat unlocked and there was a chance of thunderstorms.
The kids and I found that the town was actually having a festival at the park. It looked like a county fair, with rides and games and food stands. It was very crowded. We enjoyed our sandwiches and chips on the grass, but then decided to head back to the boat. The sky was getting dark and it looked like the rain would start soon. We started the long walk back, and it started pouring on us when we were about half way there. We stopped for shelter under an awning and we watched the long flow of traffic heading out of the park. Apparently lots of families had decided not to stay out in the rain waiting for the fireworks.
When the rain let up a bit, we finished walking back. By the time we got to the boat we were soaked. Then we faced another problem. Dan had taken the dinghy back to the boat and he wasn't expecting us to show up so early. We yelled and screamed and called to him and hoped we wouldn't annoy the people in the surrounding apartments. He didn't hear us, but we saw lights going on and off in the boat so we knew he wasn't sleeping and that gave us hope. Eventually he wandered out into the cockpit and then he saw us. He quickly came to get us.
We learned that he had met the people on the Clearwater. The Clearwater was actually a teaching boat. It travelled up and down the Hudson River teaching about environmentalism and cleaning up the river. It had a crew on board of ten people, including the captain, first mate, engineer, cook and educators. Tara, the engineer, came over to our boat to see our solar oven and our energy-efficient LED lights.
While we were talking to Tara we heard the fireworks go off back in town. They were making a beautiful display right behind a giant tree that was near us, so we didn't get to see much. Tara invited us to come and see her boat in the morning.
Day 349 - Thursday, July 5
Castleon-on-Hudson, New York
N 42' 32, W 73' 45 on the Hudson River
At 8:00 we went over to visit the Clearwater. Most of the crew was already out and working at various cleaning and maintenance jobs. There was a lot of deck swabbing going on. Their wake-up time had been at 7:15, which Tara said was later than usual. They didn't have to teach any classes today. They just have to leave at 3:00 to make it to their next port for a class tomorrow.
A class is usually a group of 30 to 50 young students. They learn about
navigation, sailing, and all of the creatures that live in the Hudson River.
They drop down cast nets and let the kids look at the fish and eels that they
The old-fashioned sloop has a giant canvas sail that is very heavy. The
looks like a wooden telephone pole, and the sail is attached to round wooden
hoops that slide up and down the mast. It takes a big group of muscle power
to pull that sail up. The boat is steered with a tiller, not a wheel, and the
tiller takes a lot of muscle power, too.
Since Tara was the engineer she showed us the big Cummins diesel engine that powered the boat. Down in the engine room there was also a little woodworking room and the storage area for the educational materials. It's amazing how much can fit into a boat that looks so small from the outside. What we'll never forget, though, is their head. It's so primitive it made us feel lucky. They put a toilet seat on top of a five gallon bucket. As it fills up they add sawdust to keep it from sloshing too much. When it is full, it gets sealed up and stored (where else?) in the engine room until it can be disposed of properly. I'd love to see the faces on the school kids who have to use the bathroom while they are out at sea.
We didn't get to go down into the cabin because they were scrubbing the
floors, but we peeked in to see the galley and the main salon. The galley was
a regular small kitchen and the salon had a beautiful wooden table and benches
that gleamed in the sunlight coming through the hatches. The walls around the
tables were lined with bunks for the crew. Not much privacy here. Boats
always require a bit of communal living.
We thanked Tara for the tour and let her get back to working on the engine. If you would like to know more about the Clearwater organization, go to www.clearwater.org
We went back to lift our anchor. We tried every trick in the book and
would make it budge. So Dan put on his goggles and jumped into the chilly
water. It was a more difficult dive than usual because the water was twenty
feet deep here. Dan has never had to dive down that far before. The water
was so deep and dark that he couldn't see anything, so he had to come back for
a flashlight. The flashlight didn't help.
Then he went down again and felt around and discovered that the anchor had
hooked onto a rock ledge. He simply pulled it out and then we were on our
We motor-sailed up the Hudson all day until we reached Castleton-on-Hudson. There was a boat club there that had an old hand-crank crane by the dock. For $35 you can rent the crane and take down your mast as a do-it-yourself job. It's a great deal since it costs well over $100 to have it done at a boat yard.
We anchored across the river from the Boat Club. We all took a swim in the fresh water. We noticed that the plants and trees here were just like what we have back in Wisconsin. It started to feel like we were close to home.
Dan worked on taking the boom off of the mast and getting the sails taken down so we would be ready to lower the mast in the morning. Zion worked on some forts along the sandy riverside, but none of them could withstand the mighty wakes that came rolling in when a power boat zipped by. Tricia got out her boogie board hoping she could ride in on some of those big wakes but it didn't really work too well.
Day 350 - Friday, July 6
Waterford, New York
Mile 0 on the Erie Canal
In the morning we were the first boat at the dock to take down our mast.
the cranks up on shore while Dan man-handled the mast. First, you tie a rope
in a loose loop around the bottom of the mast. Then you hook the crane to the
loop and start to pull the rope up to the top of the mast. It tightens around
the spreaders at the top of the mast.
Once that is secure, the mast is
supported by the crane and you can loosen all of the stays (wires) that
usually hold it up. When all of the stays are detached, the mast starts to
wobble, especially if a boat goes by and sends a big wake our way. One wake
caused the top of the crane to bump into the top of our mast and the tip of
our wind vane was broken. Not a serious problem, but a nuisance.
The last step is to loosen the bolts at the bottom of the mast. Then Zion started to slowly lower the top of the mast while Dan guided the bottom of the mast to the back of the boat. We gently lowered the mast to rest on piles of old life preservers across the top of our deck. It looked strange to have the top of our boat so clear. The mast lays on one side, hanging a bit over the front and the back, but most of the top is now bare, white and unobstructed. Tricia thinks we could have a dance up there.
After we finished two more boats were lined up to lower their masts. Dan and Zion stayed to help the next couple. They were doing well until a nasty wake came along and smashed the top of their mast into the crane. Their red-and- green anchor light was knocked off and fell onto their deck.
We were pleased to learn that our $35 fee also included hot showers. We took advantage of the opportunity and got a kick out of the signs on their restrooms. The women's restroom was marked with a sign that said "Inboards" and the men's restroom said "Outboards".
We only had a few hours to travel to reach the beginning of the Erie Canal. We stopped for the night at the docks in Waterford, the Gateway to the Erie Canal. They had a beautiful dock that you could stay at for free for two nights. After that it was $10 a night which is very reasonable. There was a nice park on shore and a brick welcome center for boaters.
We docked up about 4:30 and Dan had to rush into town to find a bank that was still open. We desperately needed more cash. We had pulled together everything that we had left on the boat to scrape up the $35 we had to pay for the crane rental.
While Dan and Tricia hustled through town to find cash, Zion and I checked out the Welcome Center. We met Joe and Meg who were volunteer greeters for the evening. They were very friendly and helpful and even introduced us to the other boaters on the dock and shared some Chinese take-out with us.
Dan and Tricia had a successful mission and came back with lots of cash. We took a little walking tour downtown and stopped to have some pizza. We also visited a crazy little antique store where I found a copy of an old "Lennon Sisters Adventure" book that I had read when I was young. I had to get it.
Day 351 - Saturday, July 7
Waterford, New York
Mile 0 on the Erie Canal
It was a beautiful sunny day so we decided to take a break from travelling and spend the day in Waterford. It is a beautiful old town. Our first stop was the library and we were disappointed to learn that we couldn't use their Internet terminals. The librarians were very apologetic, but they said their board had made a policy that only cardholders could use the terminals, and only Waterfordians could get library cards. This is the first time in our year of travel that we came upon a library with such restrictive rules. It was a shame because everything else about Waterford was exceptionally pleasant and friendly.
On our way back to the boat we passed a little farmer's market and we loaded up on garden vegetables and fresh baked bread.
We moved our boat across the river to a little dock that was right behind
big Price Choppers grocery store. It was very convenient to stock up on food
and carry it down to the dock. Then we gave ourselves a treat and ate at the
Burger King next door. When we were done we took our boat back to the canal
There was a boat in front of us with a family on a weekend cruise. There was a sixteen-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy. After they left, Dan asked Zion if he had noticed the cute girl on the boat. Zion said "Not really. But the eel that her brother caught was really neat." We suspect that if she had been 14 years old he might have paid more attention to her.
Day 352 - Sunday, July 8
Amsterdam, New York
Mile 38.8 on the Erie Canal
Today was our day to start up the Erie Canal. These locks cater to pleasure craft. There isn't much commercial traffic along this canal anymore. The lockmaster at each lock is very friendly and always full of helpful information on the local area. Each lock is well-maintained with all of the metalwork painted navy blue or gold, the colors of the Erie Canal. And there are flower gardens or flower pots at every lock, along with a helpful sign that tells you your elevation before and after the lock, and how far you have to go to reach the next lock.
It only costs $15 for a 2-day pass on the Erie Canal. That means you can go through as many locks as you want to for 2 days. Then if you're not through you have to buy another pass. We expect it will take us four to six days to get through all of the locks.
The Erie Canal locks are much smaller and narrower than the locks we went
through last summer. These locks are only 50 feet wide, big enough for just a
single barge. The walls of the first lock were so old that they looked like
bombarded castle walls as you rose up between them. There are big
sections of cement and rocks that have begun to erode away, but since the
walls are six feet thick this isn't a big problem yet.
Between the first two locks there were some beautiful old rock arches
with ferns and other small green plants. It looked like an ancient, magical
place in the morning sunlight. We even passed our boat right through some
overhanging willow branches.
There was a series of four locks in rapid succession at the beginning of
canal. After going through them you have been raised over 100 feet into the
surrounding hills. You can turn around and look down at the Hudson River
valley lying behind you. You feel like your boat has just climbed a mountain
- an amazing feat.
Since it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, there were lots of people out for the day enjoying the parks that surround most of the locks. There would usually be a group at the top of each one watching us come up. They were always very friendly and curious about how we got our Wisconsin boat into the Erie Canal. One particularly friendly group asked us if we knew the Erie Canal song. When we said "no", they sang it for us. It's a tune we had heard before and the words are something like this: "I had a mule and her name was Sal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal. Everyone's your neighbor, everyone's your pal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal."
By the end of the day we had gone through nine locks, each one lifting us
higher and higher. We docked in Amsterdam for the evening.
All of the little towns along the Erie Canal have free public docks. It makes travelling the canal a breeze. And each town has something interesting to see. Unfortunately, we don't have time to do much sightseeing, but it seems like this would be a very pleasant place to travel again some day at a slower pace.
Day 353 - Monday, July 9
Little Falls, New York
Mile 78.7 on the Erie Canal
We spent the day going through more locks. Now they are farther apart and
rise is more gradual.
We stopped in the morning at a historic site that showed part of the original canal. The original Erie Canal was completed in 1825. It had cost an increbible $8 million dollars - a staggeringly large amount for the time. Many felt that the investors were being foolhardy putting their money into a ditch of water that would only be forty feet wide and four feet deep. But it turned out that the canal was tremendously successful. The cost of moving wheat to eastern markets dropped from $100 a ton to $5 a ton. The opening of the Erie Canal made New York City an even more important port and contributed greatly to its growth.
Within ten years they started building a bigger, better canal. The Erie
widened to seventy feet, deepened to seven feet and its locks were enlarged
and doubled. At the historic site we saw the remains of one of these double
locks. It doesn't look like much today, just some old stone walls surrounding
some swampy ground. And they were so narrow our boat wouldn't even fit inside
of it. Luckily for us, the canal was given a final expansion in 1918 and that
is what we travel on today. As the canal was expanded it often shifted to new
sites so you can find bits and pieces of the old canals all along the existing
The early canals were lined with tow paths along the sides so mules could pull the barges through. You can still see these tow paths along the old sections of the canals. Some parts of them have been made into highways.
The surveying and engineering work that went into these canals must have
phenomenal. There are even places along the canal where the water passes
through an aqueduct that goes over roadways below.
As we were exposed more and more to the greatness of the Erie Canal throughout the day, we began to wonder how it paid for itself today. We were often the only boat in each lock, and the lockmasters always had them ready and waiting just for us. One lockmaster gave us the figures. Last year $260,000 were collected in fees from the users of the canal (like us). The annual operation and maintenance budget of the Erie Canal is $55 million dollars. The difference is paid for by the state tollway system. They let the car drivers pay for the boater's highway. We figure that if we were paying our fair share for using these locks, it would cost us about six thousand dollars!
Near the end of the day we went through Lock 17. This is the only lock in
country that still operates with drop gates instead of doors. As you enter
the lock, the big gate hangs above your head like a guillotine ready to drop.
When you are inside, the gate lowers with the help of a giant counterweight.
We spent the night at a lovely little dockside park in Little Falls. This is touted as the best dock along the canal system because it offers free hot showers. They were great! And we learned that plans are in the works to upgrade the whole park and make it even more pleasant and beautiful in the future.
The kids took advantage of the green area in the park to play some "boatball", a game they invented. It's like baseball, but it uses equipment found on a boat. The ball is a plastic one that was found floating in the water, the bat is the stick we use to push off from the lock walls, and the bases are our old rags. It was great fun until the baseball landed in the water of the canal.
Day 354 - Tuesday, July 10
Little Falls, New York
Mile 78.7 on the Erie Canal
This was such a pleasant place to stay, with a nice small town nearby, that we decided to spend the day. Dan spent a lot of time at the library linking pictures into our website.
We learned that Little Falls, and most of the other towns in this area, is going through some tough economic times. Some of the biggest employers have moved out of the northeast and headed down south or overseas, so unemployment is a problem. Little Falls dropped from a population of 12,000 down to it's current size of 5,000 in just a few years.
When Dan and I got back from a walk in town, we found Tricia and Zion along the water's edge. They had lost their ball again, and in their effort to retrieve it they dropped the net into the water, too. Zion bravely jumped into the cold water, dived down and retrieved the net. Luckily he could take a hot shower right afterwards. The weather has been very cool here for the last few days. It makes for very pleasant travelling weather, but the swimming isn't so great.
Day 355 - Wednesday, July 11
Sylvan Beach, New York
Mile 128.8 on the Erie Canal
We continued through the canal this morning. We went through a long stretch where there were no longer any hills around us. It looked like flatland again. That's because we were at the highest part of the canal.
Starting with Lock 20 we started going down instead of up. At Lock 22 we
to purchase another ticket. While talking to the lockmaster, Dan arranged a
special tour for the kids. They got off the boat and the lockmaster showed
them how he worked all of the gates and pumps from his control booths. Once
we were out of the lock, we pulled to the shore and the kids hopped back on,
now at a much lower elevation than where they had climbed off.
We stopped when we reached Sylvan Beach. Sylvan Beach is at the east end of Oneida Lake. Oneida Lake is a narrow lake that runs for about twenty miles in a straight east-west direction. The long lake is part of the canal system. We wanted to start out across the lake early in the morning so we would be back in the protected canals by the following evening.
We were all pleased to find that the public dock in Sylvan Beach was right next to a small amusement park. It reminded us of Bay Beach back home. It had several rides, including a small roller coaster and bumper boats, as well as several buildings of carnival games and video arcades. The kids didn't have much interest in the rides. Bouncing around on the boat in big waves has given them all of the thrills they could want. Zion did try the Tilt-o-Whirl and practiced balancing it perfectly so it wouldn't swing around. He did a good job in his man-over-machine trial (or is it man-over-gravity?)
We all got a kick out of the games they had. We found some ancient ones hidden between the skee-ball and the video games. One was an old baseball game that looked like it came from the 1920's. Most of the players had long ago lost their heads. For just a dime, fifteen wooden balls would come down a long metal chute, one by one. At the bottom was a man at bat. You could make him swing his bat by pulling a trigger on a gun. If you smacked it just right, you could make the ball fly into the stands at the back of the machine.
Another was the old fortune teller with his crystal ball. This guy looked like he was about 100 years old at least. His eyes were kind of falling back in his sockets. But he still handed out good fortune cards. Much to her delight, Tricia got one that came true.
What we really enjoyed was the shooting gallery. You could aim at little targets that made things jump or squeal. If you hit the guy at the player piano in the pants, he would rise up and start playing a wild piano song.
Day 356 - Thursday, July 12
Sylvan Beach, New York
Mile 128.8 on the Erie Canal
We wanted to head across the lake today, but the wind is strong and coming straight out of the west so the water is very rough. The lake is very shallow, but strong two-foot whitewater waves are rolling into the beach that is normally used for swimming. And the weather is very cool and kind of rainy. We decided to stay on our safe little dock for another day. If we went out, we would only make about 3 knots against this wind and it would take us all day to get to the other end of the lake.
Since we didn't stop at Disneyland or Atlantis on this trip, we decided this could be the kids' big amusement day. We gave them each $20 and they promptly cashed the bills in for quarters. They spent the day playing games to their hearts' content.
Zion lucked out on one machine. After depositing a quarter, he was supposed to tilt a playing field while the machine wiggled like an earthquake hit it. The object was to keep the quarter from rolling off the top. If you did it well, you could get 20 tickets. Well, something must have jammed up in the machine and he won 70 tickets out of it. Tricia thought this was terribly unfair that he got so many tickets for doing nothing. She tried it and got nothing. Zion tried again and got another 70 tickets. Tricia was fuming. He made it do it for him one more time and ended up with 210 tickets.
After playing a few more games Zion traded in his tickets for a model sailboat. Tricia went off on her own and diligently tried to increase her winnings. Then, with no one around to see her, she hit the jackpot on the Cyclone game and won 191 tickets! After telling me the good news she went shopping and came back with a cute little ceramic kitten curled up in a wicker basket. It will be a great addition to her cat collection.
In the afternoon a boat pulled in next to us with a set of grandparents and three grandchildren. The oldest child was a twelve-year-old girl named Ashley. She and Tricia hung-out together. They didn't spend much time at the amusement park because Ashley liked the rides and Tricia didn't, and Tricia liked the games and Ashley didn't. But they did spend lots of time listening to CDs and looking at teen magazines together. Ashley's dad had just taken her to see a Backstreet Boys concert in Boston, so that gave them lots to talk about.
Day 357 - Friday, July 13
Sylvan Beach, New York
Mile 128.8 on the Erie Canal
The wind is still strong out of the west, so that means another day at the dock for us. I put the dock time to good use and did our laundry. Zion picked up some bread and eggs at the mini-mart. Dan made arrangements to get some engine parts at a marina on the other end of Oneida Lake.
Tricia spent more time with Ashley. The dock was getting filled with boats. Everyone who had been there the day before was still there because the lake was so rough, and lots of weekend boaters were beginning to show up. Dan thought about taking a little cruise out into the lake to see how rough it really was, but the locals said our nice docking space might be gone by the time we got back!
It was nice and sunny so most of the boaters were out and socializing along the dock. Tricia and Ashley moved back and forth between their two boats. We spent a lot of time talking to Joe and Betsy who were travelling home to Ohio in a small sailboat. They had also spent the winter in the Bahamas.
Zion borrowed Joe and Betsy's dinghy and took his model sailboat out for a test cruise. It got hit by a wake and immediately sunk! Everyone had a good laugh and then Zion went back to the amusement park store and bought a new one for $3. (All of the prizes that you could win with tickets were also available in their little store. One ticket was equal to one penny.) This time he stuffed the hull with styrofoam so it would be unsinkable. He tested the boat again and was happy to see that it actually worked just like a sailboat should.
Dan did some repair on our genoa, then laid out our big sails on the grass. Betsy showed us an easy way to fold them up. She has lots of experience with folding since her hobby is making large quilts.
Day 358 - Saturday, July 14
Between Oswego, NY and Trent, Ontario
Crossing Lake Ontario
This morning the winds were dying. The forecast said that they would be gone by the end of the day, so we decided to head out. Dan and I started across Oneida Lake while the kids were still in bed. The waves were only about two feet, but choppy. Sometimes they would combine to give us a good jolt and our dinghy and our mast would actually rise up off of the top of the boat. Dan tied a few more ropes around them so we could be sure they would always come back down.
Oneida Lake is twenty miles long. When we reached the other side, we stopped at Pam's Gas Dock so Dan could pick up his engine parts. Pam was fun and friendly. She said she never goes out on the lake. She can't stand being in boats. But she's worked at the marina gas dock all of her life.
After Oneida Lake we went through our last lock on the Erie Canal. After that the Erie Canal continues heading west, but we turned north along the short Oswego Canal. We went through four locks on the Oswego that lowered us down to the level of Lake Ontario. After one of the locks we saw a farmer's market between the dock and the road, so we stopped. They had some great fruit - raspberries and blueberries and three kinds of cherries.
The water in the canal was gentle so I started cooking up a big dinner - fresh corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and lettuce salad with Italian dressing (and kidney beans and hard-boiled eggs, of course, for protein). We managed to eat in between the locks.
We reached Lake Ontario at 9:00 p.m., just as the sun was setting. It cast orange fire across the lake and it lingered for a long time. These are the beautiful, long-lasting sunsets that I remember. It's one of the nice things about being north again.
We decided to stick our nose out into the lake to see what it was like. If it was rough, we could go back and dock in Oswego for the night. We were pleased to find that the lake was pretty calm, and the forecast said that the winds would drop to 6 mph overnight, which is almost nothing. Dan and I made the decision to go for it and cross the lake during the night. It would take six hours to cross to the edge of Thousand Islands, where we could anchor if we had to, then another three hours to get up one of the rivers to a really nice anchorage. Tricia and Zion went to bed and we told them that when they awoke they would be in Canada.
Dan and I took turns on watch throughout the night. The autopilot was on, so all we had to do was make an occasional check for other boats. We never saw one all night long. Plus the wind died down and the waves gentled as the night wore on. Early in the morning the crescent moon rose between the clouds and lighted the water for us.
I slept first and Dan woke me up at midnight for my turn. Unfortunately, spicy Italian dressing isn't the best thing to eat before going out to sea. I had been on the smooth canals for so long that I had forgotten the importance of eating bland foods before crossing a big body of water. I got seasick and spent most of my watch over a bucket. But once I got it all out of my system I felt better.
The sky in the east started lightening at 4:00 a.m. You could tell that the sun was on it's way. At 5:00 the sun came up as a bright red ball on the horizon. By 6:00 we were in a nice, gentle anchorage between some islands. We set the anchor then crawled into our bed for a morning nap.