The Route South

Sunday, July 22, 2007

You’ll always know your neighbor...

I got a mule and her name is Sal Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal…
Low bridge everybody down
Low bridge for we’re coming to the town
You’ll always know your neighbor
You’ll always know your pal
If you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal
Thomas Allen

We flew back from Florida on Friday afternoon. Our plane was delayed in leaving Tampa because of a lightning storm so we were almost 1-1/2 hours late arriving in Newburgh. Since Newburgh is such a small airport, that meant a delay in getting our luggage. They unloaded the plane and left all the luggage on the carts outside while they loaded two or three other planes, the upshot of which was that we were delayed yet another hour. So instead of an early afternoon arrival, by the time we drove to Kingston and stopped at Hannaford’s (grocery store) for provisioning, it was time for dinner and we didn’t get to the boat until after dark. Saturday was taken up with chores, installing a new head and a new exhaust fan for the fridge and returning our rental car. Thanks to Kate Unger, who generously gave us a ride back from Hertz.
On the Hudson River a lighthouse is a light and a house.

Sunday July 22, 2007
We really want to get out of here and are up for an early departure and out of the slip by 6 AM. By 6:20 we are back in the Hudson River, riding the last of the tide North. Passing under the Rhinecliff Bridge Morning Star was making 7.5 kts. By 10:15 we had passed Saugerties, Esopus Creek, the town of Catskill and our speed had slowed to 6.4 kts. by the time we reached the town of Coxsackie. Cindy served up lunch as we passed by Castleton-On-Hudson. An hour later the state capital, Albany slid slowly by as our speed eroded away to 5.9 kts.

Waterfront - Albany, NY, the state capitol
By 4:25 we were finally at Troy Lock, also known as Federal Lock since it is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, not the State of New York. It took twenty minutes to lock through and we were finally out of the tidal effects of the Hudson River.

Federal Lock - Troy, NY
Shortly after, we arrived at Waterford and tied off on the town wall shortly after 3PM. Waterford is always a busy place since boats there have a choice of continuing north up the Hudson to Lake Champlain or doing as we intend and hanging a left and going west through the Erie Canal.
The wall at Waterford, NY
The first lock on the Eire Canal - Waterford, NY

Monday July 23, 2007
Today is a layover day because of the rain. We loafed and did small chores and rode our bikes to lunch and explored between the rain showers.
Canal boat alongside the wall in Waterford. 
The gates of Lock 2 are just beyond the bridge.
The canal boats are available for weekly u-drive charter.

Two-headed Canada goose.  The water here is polluted with PCP's. 

Tuesday July 24, 2007
No reason to get up. The lock doesn’t open early. The first thing we have to do today is the “stair step” of five locks. At 7:40 AM we entered the first of the locks, called Lock 2, and before 9AM we are through Lock 6 and into the Mohawk River.

Lock 2
The Erie Canal will follow the Mohawk, on and off, for the next several days. The river is beautiful and after leaving the outskirts of the city it is very much in the country. We aren’t finished with locks yet though and by day’s end we have negotiated Locks 7, 8, 9, 10 & 11. The ten locks today have lifted us up a 253’ vertical rise.

View of the dam from inside the lock.
By 3:15 we are ready to call it a day and Putman Park, the site of the old Yankee Hill Canal Lock, has a small dock which we are able to tie to for free. After the locals went home we had the place to ourselves. It is a quiet and peaceful place with the only sound being the trains passing by on the opposite side of the river. The little stone cottage Cindy & I had when we were first married had a railroad running right behind it so the sound of the train horns and the quiet rumble and clickety-clack of the railroad is a pleasant and nostalgic memory.
Morning Star at Putman Park
The old store alongside the old canal
Cindy as storekeeper
The bones of the old canal lock at Putman Park
Interesting stone work on the old lock.On the left is the old sill, the bottom of the lock.
The canal and locks were very shallow in the beginning
Pleasnt afternoon in a peaceful setting

The locks are easy to negotiate. As we pull in to the lock there are long lines hanging down the sides. With our gloves on, we grab a bow and stern line and hold the boat close to the lock wall. The walls are slimy and dirty and have the potential to damage the boat but thanks to our fenders, we are able to prevent anything serious except for the filthy marks on the hull where the fenders rub. Oh well, every boat has the same problem. Everyone leaves their fenders over the side while on the canal! Thank goodness for the gloves!

Wednesday July 25, 2007
Slow getting under way today. The outside temp is 62° and it’s foggy. We sure aren’t in Florida any more!

Foggy morning.
The engine gets a warm-up and we’re away from the dock shortly after 8 AM. Although the fog is lifting the navigation lights and radar are on…just in case.

Under way on the Mohawk River
Somewhere between Lock 12 and Lock 13 four other boats passed us. Fortunately by the time they all got loaded in Lock 13 we were able to catch up and lock through with them. They all went on ahead of us and shortly after passing the town of Canajohari (The Pot That Washes Itself) we approached Lock 14 just as the lock doors had closed. When I called the lockmaster on the VHF radio he told us we’d have to wait for them to be lowered down and then the lock chamber to be refilled again. According to him, they didn’t mention that we were back there. Thanks a lot! Locks 15 & 16 were no big deal but just before the town of Little Falls we had Lock 17. Lock 17 is a 40’ vertical lift, the largest on the Erie Canal. You get to experience sunset and sunrise when you go through that lock because unless it is mid-day, it’s dark in the bottom of that lock! Its has a lifted gate rather than doors and looks like a huge guillotine when you pass beneath it. When we arrived, we had to wait for the lock to be drained before we could go in but shortly after 2 PM we were through. By 3 PM we were tied alongside the terminal wall at Little Falls. The fee was $1 per foot but we got a $5 discount since we didn’t have electricity.

The canal park at the Litle Falls wall

Many towns have redeveloped thier town walls to attract visiting boaters.
Little Falls is one of the best.

Captains swapping sea stories.  The boat was from Naples, FL
Cindy pronounced that it was Dinner Out Night and there was a menu for the Eastern Steakhouse in the dock master’s office as well as a sign telling us that they would pick us up and drop us back after dinner. I asked the dock boy what he knew about the restaurant and he explained that he’d never been there but he heard it was pretty fancy. Arrangements were made for a pick-up and one of the waitresses came down in her personal car and drove us back for dinner. The bartender drove us back after dinner. The food was OK…just OK. As for fancy, how fancy could it be with cowboys on the menu!

Thursday July 26, 2007
Today we have a new experience! At 8:15 AM we started the engine and pulled up to the pump-out station. Since we have an onboard sewage treatment system (called Lectra-San) we normally don’t have to use our holding tank. However, the entire Erie Canal is a No Discharge Zone so we had to switch over to the holding tank. Last fall we pumped it out just to see how it works. Since we never use the holding tank we have no earthly idea how long it takes to fill it. Little Falls has a pump-out right at the end of the wall and its price is included in our dockage fee so what the heck…let’s give it a try. It really wasn’t such a gross job if you wore rubber gloves and didn’t look at the part of the hose that was clear plastic tubing! There..…That wasn’t so bad..…Its almost 9 AM….. Let’s get the hell outta’ here. After negotiating locks 18, 19 & 20 we are now at the highest elevation of the Canal – 420’. Shortly before 2:30 we are able to tie up along the terminal wall at Rome, NY.
Low bridge!  Everybody down!

Perhaps a short explanation about the Erie Canal is in order. The Erie Canal is owned by the State of New York. In its various iterations, it has gone from a small, shallow, hand dug canal with a towpath for mules to tow the barges to a larger canal and finally to what it is today. It was a canal of commerce, and towns and factories grew along its shores and where possible it follows the course of the Mohawk River, allowing for large barges and the tugboats needed to push them. Today most of the factories are gone and the canal is used strictly for recreation. With the closing of the factories many of the towns have fallen on hard times and the State has provided funding to spruce up the town canal walls, called terminals, in an effort to encourage visitors to stop and visit the towns and spend money at the local business establishments. It hasn’t always worked well. For us, it worked well in Rome. We took our bikes down, rode into town and found the grocery store, where we did a bit of provisioning. We must have been a sight with two backpacks full of groceries and bags hanging from our handlebars containing the surplus.

We met an interesting young couple in a 40’ steel sailboat. They were tied up behind us in Waterford and we spoke briefly there but invited them over for a drink and a chat tonight. They are from Switzerland and had bought the boat in Turkey. After cruising the Mediterranean they went through the Straights of Gibraltar and cruised down the coast of Africa and up several of its rivers before heading across the Atlantic to Brazil. From there they cruised through the Caribbean, touching in the Bahamas before arriving in the USA. They headed up the ICW to New York. After unstepping their mast on the Hudson River they were taking the Canal to Oswego on Lake Ontario where they would restep the mast. Their plan was to continue on through the Great Lakes to Duluth, on Lake Superior where they would truck the boat to Vancouver, where they were planning to winter over. Mighty interesting young couple with great stories to tell.

Friday July 27, 2007
Since we know that today will be a short one there is no compelling reason to start out early. The engine was warmed up and we were away from the dock by quarter to nine. At 9:50 we arrived at Lock 21 and after a five-minute wait we were in and fifteen minutes after that we had locked down and were on our way. That’s right …we locked down. The Erie Canal is now beginning to descend. Lock 22 is only ten minutes away and after a ten-minute wait we did a quick ten-minute descent and then ten minutes further on we were in Sylvan Beach, our destination for the day. Before tying alongside the terminal wall we traveled the length of the Canal to get the “lay of the land” and to run out into Oneida Lake. Shortly after 11:30 we were tied up to the wall. If we cross Oneida Lake and pick up the Oswego Canal, its only another 25 miles or so to Lake Ontario and then a like distance to Canada! However, this will be our turn-around point for our summer’s travel. Next time!

Shortly after we tied up a, Sabre 42 sailboat, Gypsy, from Michigan came in from the other direction. After helping tie them up we met Ron & Pat, who are headed to Hampton, VA Where they will be participating in the Caribbean 1500 Rally, a sailboat race/cruise to the Virgin Islands. While cruising around town on our bikes, Cindy found a hair salon and made an appointment for later in the day. While she was getting her haircut we had a strong thunderstorm, the first of those we’ve seen in a long time. I ran the generator and air conditioning since there is no electrical service on the town wall. Ron & Pat came by for a drink and we went out for dinner afterwards.

Saturday July 28, 2007
Today is a lay day. The storm rained itself out last night during dinner. We were even able to walk around and find an ice cream shop, thereby maintaining our reputation. The bikes got a workout today, as did the riders. We biked all around town and quite a way north. The town is mostly beach cottages…small, quaint bungalows, not the huge McMansions we have become use to seeing along the Atlantic coast. After lunch we traveled south to Verona Beach State Park. As we biked back north we passed a lighthouse. When we went out to investigate it the first thing we saw was a car with a license plate from Clearwater, FL! Sundowners aboard Gypsy.

Sunday July 29, 2007
7:35 AM departure, but a short trip. Going to the pump-out again. Thirty minutes later we were away again. The pump-out was pretty weak and ineffective so we are five bucks poorer but the load was only lightened by half. There is no choice but to back track your course from before so we headed back through Locks 22, 21, 20, 19 and 18 before calling it a day at Little Falls again, where we tied up to the town wall just five minutes short of 4 PM. We are going to skip the cowboy steak place and eat aboard tonight.
Approaching a lock.

The Lockmaster will invite you into the lock by turning on the green light.

Monday July 30, 2007
By design, today is going to be a short day. At 9:35 we started up and slipped back to the pump-out station. Since we had such a lousy experience yesterday at Sylvan Beach we are going to pump out again today. We had a good session, pumping out, flushing the tank with fresh water and pumping out again. Besides, it’s free! That dreaded chore was over and we were underway again before 10:30. We negotiated our old friend, Lock 17, this time dropping the 40’ and passing from daylight into dark.

This lock resembles a guillotine!
The next three hours sent us through three more locks and by 2 PM we passed through Lock 14 and tied up at the town terminal at Canajoharie. The bridge is under construction and the dock is only a few yards away from the noise and bustle and dust of the construction site. Fortunately, this is one of the few towns that have electricity at the dock and it’s free so we gratefully plugged in, closed up the boat and turned on the air conditioner, blocking out the noise and dust. We’ve read good things about Canajoharie so after eagerly unloading our bikes we set out to explore. The Town Library is supposed to have a wonderful, small art gallery but we were disappointed to find the library still drying out from the floods of last year and their gallery being expanded. Yet another construction project! The librarian was kind enough to find us a map of the town so we set off to see the sights. We made our way into the heart of town, which was only about a three block pedal, where we saw the local tourist information kiosk, manned by a volunteer. We chatted with her for a minute or two and got some more information. She directed us up the street to see the town’s first stoplight (no, I’m NOT kidding) and then left across the small bridge and then right down a small road, past General So-&-So’s house and then on to the stream and pool which gives the town its name. General So-&-So was famous in his day but the darn place was closed when we went by. An old timer was walking by and informed us that the place was almost never opened any more. This was disappointing because although we had turned right and gone down the road, it was UP the hill…the hill was so steep that we had to walk our bikes up much of it. Press on! The park isn’t much farther. Good thing because its straight up hill. Boy, are we going to have a great coast back down! We finally found the stream and pool that give the town its name. Apparently “Canajoharie” is an Indian word meaning “the pot that washes itself”. The stream cascades down over a small waterfall into a small pool (that’s the pot) that is eroded out of the rock, before continuing on its way to join the Mohawk River. Maybe it’s more impressive during the spring rains. I’m beginning to see a pattern develop here. We decided not to tour the Beechnut Foods factory. Although the ride back down the hill was great, our general impression of the town was that it was very depressed. The river was three blocks or so away from town and the town seemed to have turned its back on the river. To top it all off, we couldn’t find a nice cream parlor, jeopardizing my standing as an ice cream slut!
Locking down

Tuesday July 31, 2007
The engine warmed up for the five minutes it took to bring the power cord aboard and we were away from Canajoharie by 8:20 AM. Over the next ten hours we passed through Locks 13 through 6 and suddenly we were at the flight of locks that would deliver us back to Waterford. It was a long and grueling day but we left Lock 2 and tied to the floating dock at the Waterford terminal ten hours after leaving Canajoharie. We have done 225miles on the Erie Canal! Tonight we are going to find dinner out and call it a day.

Wednesday August 1, 2007
Lay over day. The boat is filthy from the locks and we need to clean it thoroughly. We had lunch out in a small diner on the main street and then went touring on the bikes. We found the old Champlain Canal. It is now a public park and the old mule towpath is a bike and walking trail so we followed it for several miles before the threat of rain forced us to turn back.

Thursday August 2, 2007
Shortly after 9 AM we were entering the Federal Lock at Troy. We had left Waterford only 30 minutes earlier. We had a pleasant chat with the lockmaster while we were waiting to go down. He told us that they empty the 3 million gallon lock in 8 minutes! There are tunnels built into the bottom and outside the lock that are large enough to drive a truck through! Even though the lock is huge and the volume of water is staggering, the ride down was quite gentle and we were out the other side and under way in the promised 8 minutes. By 10:30 we were passing through the Port of Albany and an hour later slipped by the town of Coeymans. At 1:50 we passed beneath the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and fifteen minutes later entered the beautiful Catskill Creek. Within ten minutes we were tied up in our slip at the Catskill Marina and plugged in to power with the air conditioner on. It’s hot! Let’s hit the pool!
Replica of Henry Hudson's little ship "Half Moon"
Catskill Creek marina
Catskill Creek marina

Friday August 3, 2007
It is just a short ride down to Kingston so we didn’t leave Catskill until 9:30. After a five-minute side trip further up the creek to the bridge we turned the boat around and headed down the creek and back into the Hudson. Tide and current is once again an important consideration in planning the day’s travel and at 9:45, when we turned into the river Morning Star was making 8.5 kts. By noon we turned once again into Rondout Creek at Kingston, Morning Star’s home for the next two weeks. Before going to our slip, we stopped at the fuel dock and took on 100 gallons of fuel ($2.999 per gallon, the most we have EVER paid) and pumped the holding tank one final time. There to greet us was Ewe, from the Manatee The Duck. We have never met Ewe but knew his boat before he owned it. It used to be slipped in Bradenton at Regatta Pointe Marina. Our paths crossed twice in Portsmouth, once last fall as we were on our way south and we were tied up in the marina that they winter over in, and again this past spring when we stopped for two nights. He stopped by and left a card when we were out. Finally we can put a face to the name. He took a tour of Morning Star and left after we promised to stop over and see his boat after lunch. Its always fun to compare boats. Not only do we like to see what personal touches folks have put on their boats, it’s interesting that the boats are all built a little bit different. It’s not something that anyone but an owner would ever notice but there are subtle differences. I guess our boats really weren’t factory mass-produced.

Saturday, August 4, 2007
Tomorrow we will be driving back to Newburgh and hopping a plane to Florida where we will spend the next two weeks. Today we need to pick up a rental car and do a few errands. We took a taxi to the Hertz office and got our car before lunch. After lunch out and running a couple errands we went back to the marina. Shortly after we returned our laid-back afternoon’s plans were shattered. I wrote of the event to my friends on an Internet trawler cruising forum to which I belong. It is reprinted below.

Cindy was doing a couple of loads of laundry while I changed the oil this afternoon. I was crawling around in the bilge when I heard a loud thump and felt the boat move. I thought someone had hit us so I jumped up and ran outside. Nobody there. Out in the creek I heard the sounds of kids screaming. As I jumped onto the dock I could see several people looking out into the creek. As I ran down the dock my field of vision changed and I could finally see what the commotion was all about. An old woodie Chris-Craft, docked two slips down, had gone out and was idling in the creek, waiting for their turn at the fuel dock. Suddenly it exploded, sending the family of five (Dad, Mom and three teenaged kids) into the creek. The boat started sinking almost immediately. There were several people swimming to help the five victims as well as several small boats and jet skis. I ran to get Cindy since she is a nurse by training and generally acknowledged as the brains of our outfit. As we got back to the dock the first of the victims was making his way to the dock. The other four were on the dock in short order. All were badly burned. Their skin was sloughing off their feet, hands and arms, in large sheets. Much of their hair had been singed off. The father was bleeding. 9-1-1 was called and responded in unbelievably quick time, the first of probably 5 vehicles arriving in about 5 minutes. Boat owners had been tending to the victims as best they could and they were slowly replaced by the EMT's as they arrived. Dad was sitting in a chair and getting shocky. The rest of the family was laid out on the wood deck at the head of the dock. All were in extreme pain and going into shock. The EMT's triaged them, got oxygen going and put them into the ambulances. The head EMT declared that three of the five were critical and called for chopper evac, which they had to do up at the top of the hill. The other two went to the hospital by ambulance. (They were also ultimately air evac’d from the hospital to the burn unit) I was very impressed by the EMT's. They were either mostly volunteers or else were on their day off judging by the clothing they wore when they arrived. I only noticed about two or three uniforms.
My heart ached for the father who sat in the chair, burned and bleeding and in excruciating pain and watching his wife and kids laid out on the wood deck and crying out in such pain. SEA TOW arrived quickly and put two boats alongside the Chris and tied it up tight to keep it from sinking on the spot. All the planks were blown and the seams were opened. Don't know where they took it.

The morals of the story are many.
1) If you have a gas boat make sure you ventilate it adequately. Then ventilate it some more.
2) Take a first aid refresher course. You never know when you may need it. CPR also. Nobody needed CPR but easily could have.
3) Tell your family you love them. You never know when it will be the last time you see them.
The world is a messy place. Be careful out there.
Randy Pickelmann
lying at Rondout Creek, Kingston, NY

They were all taken away, all in critical condition. Suddenly, for us, it was all over. Back to normal. Yeah, right! Needless to say, our day was shot. We took the memory of the afternoon to dinner with us that night. Understandably, it was hard to talk about anything else. On a more positive note, the last we heard, the family is all recovering although I’m sure that their recovery will be a long and painful one.

Impressions of the Erie Canal
The Erie Canal was not at all what we expected. That’s not to say it was bad, just not what we expected. Friends once said, “Why go to the expense of cruising the canals of France or England? We’ve got the Erie Canal and it’s just as nice.” With that in mind we set out to travel north and avoid the brutal heat we experienced last summer in the Chesapeake. But the Erie is nothing like France. We were expecting a smaller, more intimate setting. Much of the Erie Canal is within the Mohawk River. It was absolutely beautiful but it wasn’t small and intimate. We should have known this…after all, in its earlier life it was used by commercial barges being pushed by tugboats.

As we analyzed what we were seeing, we began to realize that the Erie was there first to support commerce and was an earlier century’s version of an Interstate Highway. Today we don’t locate the most beautiful part of town under the Interstate overpass and they didn’t yesterday either. Quite to the contrary. Waterfront real estate was too valuable a commodity to “waste” on housing or a town park. Why build a house on a site that could be used for a factory or shipping warehouse. Commercial utilization meant jobs and profits within the community. You can build houses anywhere.

But that was yesterday. Today the factories are closed down and the warehouses are empty. We saw the skeletons of General Electric, Mohawk Carpet, and numerous textile mills and of course all the supporting industries that fueled the economy of the region. As these plants closed, the jobs went away and so did the vibrant economy of the area. Many of the towns along the Erie are economically depressed. The State of New York recognizes that although the Canal has outlived its usefulness as a commercial enterprise, it is a viable and valuable recreational resource. They have spent money fixing up the old city terminal walls or wharfs and most towns offer dockage space to traveling boaters for little or no fee, hoping that the boaters will patronize the local merchants. The old towpaths are being converted into bike trails and it is now possible to bike from the State Capital in Albany nearly all the way to the Great Lakes.

Unfortunately, many of the towns seem to have turned their backs on the Erie. Many businesses adjacent to the canal are run down and dumpy and we couldn’t help but feel that these places were a bit too “long in the tooth”. They have a way to go in putting their best foot forward. But there are glimmers of hope. We saw towns like Little Falls who were willing have a waitress provide us with round trip transportation so we could dine in their restaurant. Canajoharie was busy rebuilding its library and expanding their art gallery. We heard that Rome was not a good place to stop…too dangerous. Someone knew someone who knew someone who had a problem there once. But we saw people fishing and enjoying the waterfront and we saw a police presence in the area of the terminal and we had absolutely no problems. In fact, without exception, the people we met were friendly and helpful. Clerks in the stores were willing to give us directions to where we needed to go, although many of the kids had a hard time with the concept of old folks riding bikes because we didn’t have a car. Folks were usually quick to strike up a conversation if they were enjoying a walk along the river or Canal, especially when they saw the Florida port of hail on Morning Star’s transom. “Did you really come all the way from Florida? - ”How long did it take - “Can you really sleep down there - “What do you do in bad weather?” were popular questions. In town we would frequently be asked if we were here on a boat. We must have “the look”. Many folks went out of their way to offer directions or recommend a restaurant. They would be sure to point out the next concert or great event in their town or fill us in on the one we just missed last night. And most of the boaters we met were friendly and helpful. But most were going somewhere or going home from somewhere else. For most folks, the Erie Canal is still a highway, not a destination.

Once we reminded ourselves that we do this so we can see different parts of the country and that this is about the journey and not the destination, we were more at peace with the Erie. The countryside was absolutely beautiful and different from anywhere we have boated before. But Cindy and I seem to always be interested in what is around the next bend. Would we go back? Well, there is still a lot of the Erie we haven’t seen yet!