Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

When in Rome, do as the Romans... and we are in Rome, New York, tied to the free city dock (map). It is only fitting that we should arrive in Rome after being in Athens, Troy, and Utica -- it sounds like we are cruising the ancient Mediterranean (sadly, we can not reach Ithaca). We are 420.5' above sea level, the highest we will get on this leg of the trip; it's downhill from here to Lake Ontario.


Louise hamming it up in Rome.

Shortly after my last post, we dropped lines for the short cruise to Little Falls, just ten miles or so away. That took a full two hours, because we had to lock through the tallest lock on the canal, Lock 17, with a lift of 41'. A century ago, 60' tall swinging lock gates were not yet a thing (they are today, witness the 110' lock doors we transited on the Tennessee three years ago), and so the lock was built with a concrete half wall at the downstream end of the chamber and a guillotine gate. We drove under the wall to enter the chamber.


Approaching the unusual entrance to Lock 17.

We're both engineers and we tend to think about failure modes, especially when using rusty old hardware that's been around for a hundred years. We don't worry much about conventional lock gates failing; if our lines parted, it would be a helluva ride, but the boat would stay mostly upright and we'd likely escape with minor injuries. But the mind boggles to think about this gate failing with the lock full to the top. We, of course, lived to tell the tale.


The giant guillotine gate lowers behind us.

Also unlike the enormous locks on the Tennessee, the older locks on the Erie, which, in today's configuration really started life as the New York Barge Canal, do not have floating bollards. Instead, there are either pipes or taut steel cables (or both) set into recesses in the walls, around which you loop your line to slide up or down, or else just a bunch of fixed lines, weighted at the end, that you grab, wrap around a cleat on the boat, and tend constantly as the lock lifts or lowers.


Louise tends the very long line in Lock 17. Note it comes down over our rail and to our midship cleat.

Since we'd already been in a bunch of smaller locks that had pipes or cables (and some with just lines), we were surprised that this tallest lock had only lines. As you might imagine, a single line tied some 40' above your head does not do much to keep the boat from moving away from the wall or rotating as the lock fills. We could have opted to grab two lines, fore and aft, and both tend them, but that leaves no one at the controls, and we feel that's far riskier. For the heavy, slimy line to do anything at all, Louise needs to constantly be taking it in as the boat rises, and I had to jockey the controls to try to keep us more or less in place.

After exiting the lock, we asked the lockmaster for permission to tie up for the night on the north bulkhead past the lock (map). He said we were good, and we grabbed whatever bollards and rings we could to secure the boat. Quite a bit later, when I went out to explore, I discovered that we were lockward of the "No Overnight Mooring" sign, which could only be seen from the other direction, but, hey, we had permission. I also discovered some more bulkhead and mooring bollards much closer to town, and that's where we really should have tied, but we had no way to know. Live and learn.


Vector tied to the wall above Lock 17. The sign on the lamp post facing away from us says no overnight mooring.

The enormous lock, and the man-made channel blasted out of the rock that it opens into, is all to get around the natural rapids for which the town of Little Falls is named. I took the e-bike across the bridge over the falls and into town, where I found the historic UU church, a couple of nice parks, and more decaying rust belt infrastructure. I scoped out the four decent dinner joints in town, and returned to the boat, past the rock climbers training on the rock wall near the lock.


Vector is just around the corner behind this cliff, used locally for rock climbing practice.

At dinner time we walked together back into town, crossing the bridge over the falls and then taking the little pedestrian subway under the train tracks to get to the main street. We had a nice dinner at the Copper Moose Ale House, although we'd also heard good things about the Italian Feast down the block. We've been eating a lot of Italian lately, as it seems to be the dominant cuisine here, so the ale house was a welcome change.


Little Falls falls, with turn-of-the-century buildings adjacent.

Wednesday morning we dropped lines at the lock and continued west through Lock 18, which, despite not being as tall as 17, was equipped with cables. Just upstream of the lock is a tour boat operation, and we had to wait for two tour boats that were down-locking. The larger of the two was empty and deadheading someplace, but the smaller one was chock full of school-age kids on a tour. They all waved as they went by, and we continued into the lock and secured to a cable.


The much more comfortable tending of a loop of line around a cable.

Before we were fully tied up, the tour boat had turned around not even a thousand feet downriver and came right back into the lock with us. We figure that "locking through" was a key element of the tour, and once it was done there was not much reason to go farther. The tour passed us again shortly after we departed the lock; the skipper radioed us to warn us about a buoy that looked out of place but was, in fact, marking a dangerous shoal.


Tour boat Lil' Diamond III carrying a load of school children locking through with us.

We ended the trip right behind them, tying up to the free wall in front of Gems Waterfront Grille and store, in Herkimer, New York (map). The tour boats dock just a few feet west of where we tied up. We had heard the water was shallow at the old terminal wall, and, sure enough, we found just 6' as we slid up to the wall. Our keel was probably grazing the silt.


Vector at the very shallow bulkhead in Herkimer, next to the restaurant and gift shop.

I once again headed out on the e-bike to explore the historic old town of Herkimer, scoping out some other dining options in the process. The funky 40s-era diner was dry, and while the ale house a couple of doors down looked nice, we had just done an ale house. I wrapped up my ride with a stop at Walmart, just 3/4 mile or so from the dock and one of the key incentives for stopping here; we have a number of items on our provisioning list that are best sourced here.


We were a bit prominent to the rear exit from the shop and restaurant.

When we went back out together on foot later, we ended up at Tokyo Sushi, which was excellent and exceeded all expectations in this corner of the world. The restaurant at the dock looked fine, but had little ambiance and tourist prices. We did browse the adjacent store, sort of a mash-up of products from businesses all over town, but found nothing we needed.



Could a tourist attraction be more cheesy than this?

When we came back from dinner the depth sounder was reading 5.6', and was still there the next morning despite a bit of rain. Between the mud and ten knots of wind trying to pin us to the dock, I had quite the struggle getting Vector out of the silt and away from the dock, but things seemed no worse for the wear.


The town itself was more authentic. This is the sheriff's office.

Our next planned stop was Utica just a dozen miles away. You may detect a pattern here, of very, very short mileage days, at least by our usual standards. Most of the cities and towns along this route owe their very existence to the canal, and 15 miles or so was about how far a mule could pull a barge before needing to be changed. And so, unsurprisingly, towns or at least way stations are about that far apart. I was hoping to spend at least a little time in most of them, and thus we've been stopping at mule intervals, just like the song lyric.

Utica is a fairly large city in these parts, and when the Barge Canal was built, replacing two iterations of the towpath-driven Erie Canal with one made for self-propelled vessels, Utica got its own harbor, with a large terminal and its own lock. The harbor has been closed for years, notwithstanding efforts to revive it, with the lock closed and the lock channel silted in. And so our stopping options were a dock in front of a restaurant at an old canal-side terminal, or the approach wall to the old harbor lock.


This enormous sign welcomes travelers, including on the canal, to Utica. It is supposedly lit to resemble a building at night.

The dock by the restaurant was $1 per foot, for essentially exactly what we've been getting for free at the locks -- a concrete wall with some bollards, possibly a power outlet, and nothing else. We couldn't see a reason to pay the vig, so we continued to the harbor lock wall. While that would have been a shorter bike ride to town, it was entirely charmless and more or less right under the thruway interchange overpass. So we decided instead to continue another hour through Lock 20 and tie up to the wall at the upper pool.

We cleared the lock and asked permission to tie up. The lockmaster said he was waiting on a double barge, so directed us to go all the way west and tie up right behind a Canal Corp tug boat that was on the wall. There are power outlets here for the Canal Corp equipment, and we asked for and received permission to use one. We had to spin the boat around and tie up facing back east for our power cord to reach. We also had to tie both ends of the boat to a single bollard ashore, which was, thankfully, set back far enough from the bulkhead to vector enough force toward it at both ends.


Single-pin tie-up, as seen from above. We used the short line on the ring, center, to tie up long enough for me to get off the boat and set the fore and aft lines on the bollard. Then we looped our own center line on the bollard and cast the short one off.

After spooling out almost all of our 100' cord and plugging in, we discovered that the outlet was defective, with voltage on only a single leg of the 208/120 outlet, and thus unusable via our regular shore cord. I figured I could jury-rig something later to get the battery charger working, but we left the cord out in case the tug boat, which was using the other outlet, unplugged later in the evening (it did not).


Vector tied up behind the historic Canal Corp tug Erie. This is as close as we could get; we're on the very next pin.

Having talked to both the lockmaster and the work crew supervisor about the scheduled traffic, we settled in for the evening. I put the e-bike on the ground and rode a half hour back to Utica to check out the town, hoping to make a quick visit and return to Vector before the rain storm that was arriving in the evening.

I made it to town by way of the Canalway Trail and a little-used street, and had just begun seeing some sights when I got an urgent text from Louise saying we might have to move the boat for the giant tow that was incoming. I was, at this point, at least a half hour from being able to get back, and that was assuming my battery held out and I didn't have to pedal part of the way, something I half expected when I left.


The one picture I got in Utica, down Genessee Street past the Stanley Theater. Genessee is close off a few blocks down for Summer Fest, which was likely delayed due to the rain.

While I was still ruminating about whether to call an Uber, the first of two towboats, with the smaller of the two tows, arrived, and the skipper looked at the space between us and the lock and told Louise there was plenty of room and we were fine right where we were. OK, phew. On to see some more of Utica.

My tour lasted perhaps fifteen more minutes before the second towboat arrived. We're not sure what the first skipper was thinking, or perhaps the was a misunderstanding one direction or the other, but we were absolutely in the way of this second, double-long tow. Had we not been there he could have swung both barges and his towboat against the bulkhead; as it was he had to nose against the bulkhead and stand off while he split his barges for the double lock-through.


The CMT Pike standing off of Vector's port beam, with his barges nosed to the bulkhead. Louise texted me this as I was frantically trying to get back.

I called a Lyft to get back as quickly as possible; fortunately the new bike folds down quite compactly and fits in a normal car trunk with ease. But by the time the Lyft arrived and got me back to the lock, the drama was over and the first barge was already in the lock chamber. Unlike the big locks on the Tennessee, these older locks can't pull barges through without a towboat, and so the towboat had to make a round trip through the lock to come back for the second barge. They managed to get the whole operation complete before the lock closed at 5pm.

Louise spent a lot of time talking to the skipper, who'd been running tows on the Mississippi for 30 years; it was a matter of professional pride for him to just handle the situation without Vector moving. But Louise was prepared to cast off and get out of the way if need be and hover in the canal until I made it back. The two towboats and three barges spent the night on the lower wall, so they could make Lock 19 when it opened at 7am.

The remainder of our evening was quiet and we had a nice dinner aboard, since by this time it was pouring rain. I was able to cobble together some cords and adapters to get power to the inverter from the defective outlet for the night. In the morning I looked at the gage, which read 420.5', half a foot over normal pool. That still left us plenty of room to clear the several low bridges en route to Rome, which at this gage level were just above 21'.


Approaching the dock in Rome. There've been goslings at every stop; here the quay is covered in goose droppings.

We arrived here mid-day to find the bulkhead, as we had been forewarned, lined with decaying timber fenders with protruding rusty bolts. Louise arranged our fenders for a section with enough good timbers to get off the boat and, we tied alongside one of the handful of 50-amp power pedestals. We were happy to have the power to run the heaters; it was cold and rainy most of the day.


Vector tied to the Rome bulkhead. We had to step out onto a rickety timber (note the canted loose one in the back), step atop a piling, then make a long step to the dock.

At 5 o'clock the rain let up and I took the e-bike out for a quick pre-dinner ride around town. In another one of those always-learning moments, the electric assist assisted me right into a powerslide on a slippery, muddy section of sidewalk and dumped me right off, so I am a little banged up today. I did manage to take in part of the town, including a quick pass by Fort Stanwix and a cruise through "Little Italy" along Dominick Street. We returned here together for dinner at The Vigneto, which was decent.


Vector in Rome. The gray building ahead of us is one of the historic barge terminals. We've seen identical terminal buildings at several stops. At far left is one of the "guard gates" on the canal, one of the lowest things we need to squeeze under.

This morning I again took the e-bike out for a more relaxed spin around town. I returned to Fort Stanwix National Park for a proper visit, expecting to have the place mostly to myself, forgetting that it was Saturday. In fact, the fort was full of volunteers in period costume, including sentries on the parapets, a blacksmith, a woodworker, and other craftsmen. It was nicely done. Rome, positioned strategically at the Oneida Carry, has centuries of history. I swung by the grocery store on my way back to the boat and picked up a few fresh provisions.


This vending machine at the historic terminal building is the only dockside service in Rome. Yes, that's a Live Bait machine.

Update: We are now docked at the free wall in Brewerton, New York (map). Shortly after I returned from my ride around town yesterday morning, while I was still fiddling with getting photos loaded, Louise reminded me that rain was coming, and if I wanted any chance to explore our next stop in dry weather, we needed to get going. I set the blog aside, thinking I'd wrap it up last night and get it posted.

As nice as it was to have a free power outlet in Rome, with several more restaurants available and some history yet to explore, we'd been seeing other loopers pass us the whole time we were there. Four or five boats traveling together hovered right off the dock Friday afternoon, contemplating the conditions, before deciding to press on to Sylvan Beach, and Saturday morning another four boats also passed us. Apparently the peloton has caught up to us, and I was concerned we might get aced out of a spot if we dallied another day.


Reconstructed historic Fort Stanwix in Rome, with a sentry patrolling.

We had a short cruise from Rome to Sylvan Beach, locking down through locks 21 and 22. This being a Saturday in the summer, we passed quite a number of day cruisers in both directions, along with the environmental police and the sheriff's patrol. We arrived at Sylvan Beach, at the eastern end of Oneida Lake, in the early afternoon to find the free docks entirely occupied. Several of the spots were taken by day boats that we knew would leave before long, but we opted instead to tie up at the otherwise empty free wall just across the canal in sister city Verona Beach (map).

After we were tied up we met blog reader Joe, who was tied up across the canal in his very nice Fleming 55 and had walked across to say hello. I again took the e-bike for a ride across the bridge to explore Sylvan Beach, which is what passes for a beach town in these parts. The key attractions here are the sand beach along the lake, and the historic amusement park that is similar to those found in Rye, Seaside Heights, or Coney Island. The music and noise from the rides was prominent across the canal at our spot, but they close at 10pm, and with the rainstorm they didn't even last that long. There are also perhaps a dozen restaurants and the kinds of shops you find in beach towns.

Fortunately, one of the best restaurants in the area is actually in Verona Beach, at the Anchor Light Inn, just a block from our dock. Saturday is prime rib night, and we shared a piece. Not on our top ten list for prime rib, but the restaurant was very nice and the food was decent. We made it home just before the rain hit in earnest, which did not stop the phalanx of fishermen on the dock.


Vector at Verona Beach, with the Sylvan Beach amusement park across the canal. Empty stretch of dock was full when we arrived.

Between the two bike tours, two lockages, a dozen miles of hand steering (the canal here is man-made and narrow), recuperating from a banged-up knee, a heavy dinner, and two glasses of pinot noir, I was barely able to get through my email and catch up on news before my eyelids were drooping. I crashed early, before getting back here to finish my post.

This morning we dropped lines at 7am. Not because we wanted to beat the crowd, but because at that hour the lake was glass calm, and we wanted to get most of the way across before the forecast westerlies stirred it up. When the fronts had come through last night, the lake got rough and some of that made it into the canal; Vector pitched a little and made a mess splashing dirty water against the dock, while some of the boats across from us looked downright unlivable.


This shot inside one of the locks shows the poor condition of some of the century old lock walls.

We were tied up here before 11, and with the rain continuing and forecast into this afternoon, it was a good chance to catch up. I've also been working on the upcoming route; we need a mail stop and I am looking at marinas in the Thousand Islands.

Once the rain stops I will again take the bike out for some exploration, and scope out someplace for dinner. In the morning we will continue west, through our last lock on the Erie Canal, and turning onto the Oswego Canal at Three Rivers Junction. Tomorrow night we will be somewhere along the Oswego.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Locking our way west

We are docked at the canal bulkhead upriver of Lock E-16, in Mindenville, New York (map), just west of St. Johnsville. We are now about 322 feet above sea level, and have come 71 statute miles since entering the canal at Waterford.

Friday after I posted here we put our new folding E-bike on the dock and I went for a spin through downtown Schenectady and the Stockade area near the river. The city is struggling to reinvent itself, with mixed results, but I enjoyed taking it all in. This is really the first time I did anything more than a test ride on the E-bike and I was very happy with how it ran.


The historic City Hall in Schenectady.

We bought this bike back in Fort Lauderdale to replace a pair of very clunky full-size foldable mountain bikes, which we bought so we could have wheels in places where we had to get ashore by tender. They worked for that purpose, but, in practice, were so hard to load and unload that we seldom deployed them. After five years with them, Louise decided she was done riding, and I wanted something much easier to load and unload from the dink.

We returned to downtown together in the evening aboard the free trolley, the one which was not running the previous evening. After a brief stroll around town we had a nice dinner at local favorite Johnny's. The return trolley let us off at the casino, where we turned $20 in free play into nearly that much in cash before returning to the boat.


Jay Street in downtown Schenectady, now a pedestrian mall. Johnny's was at the end of the block.

While we were at the marina we enjoyed meeting Rev and Sam aboard Here's to Us, and Julie and Jim aboard The Journey. We have seen both boats a couple of times since; the Great Loop cruise is known for that. Both boats are faster than Vector and soon will leave us behind.

Saturday morning we dropped lines and continued west, locking up through four more locks before stopping for the day at the free canal bulkhead at Lock 11, west of Amsterdam, New York (map). This bulkhead has three power pedestals, each with 50 and 30 amp electric services, and is a short walk across the train tracks to the nicest restaurant in Amsterdam, Russo's, which will celebrate its centennial next year. We checked in with the lockmaster before tying up, and he told us to ask if we needed anything; the NY Canal system is very accommodating to pleasure boaters.


Approaching Lock and Dam 8, the first of many "removable" dams on the river. What looks like a truss bridge is really just the dam support. Water constantly pours through gaps between pans.

I once again took advantage of the E-bike and rode the mile or so back to the town of Amsterdam, first weaving around the goose droppings littering the bulkhead. Unlike Schenectady, the downtown here is dying on the vine, with only a billiards bar and a couple of sad looking shops along the main street. In stark contrast to that, however, the city has plowed millions into a waterfront park between the train tracks and the river.

Access to the park is via a footbridge from a shopping plaza frozen in time somewhere in the 70s. But the park itself is a modern and pleasant space, and includes a boat landing along the bulkhead with power and water. Not wanting to pay $1 per foot for the privilege, we had passed right by it in the boat, opting for the free dock at the lock instead.


Vector at the Lock 11 bulkhead, with the lock and dam in the background. We tied to the large bollards designed for barges; one fore and one aft. Even though there are three pedestals, we had the place to ourselves.

The park includes a brand new pedestrian bridge over the river, which provides access to a handful of restaurants on the south bank, as well as a few historic buildings from the early canal era and the old armory, now a boutique hotel. I stopped at the dock and chatted again with The Journey, and met Jim from Keokuk.


The Amsterdam Castle across the river, now a boutique hotel.

I learned later that around 10:30 that night, some youths smashed a few beer bottles against one of the moored boats and untied its lines, setting it adrift in the river. Nothing serious happened, but the crew were hopping mad with both the perpetrators, and the police who seemed unwilling to do anything about it. Having gotten zero traction on three stolen scooters, I know how they feel. In any case, we were glad to have been somewhat out of town at the other dock, where we had a pleasant stroll to an excellent Italian meal at Russo's.


Downtown Amsterdam, dying on the vine.

Yesterday was a short day, through three more locks to another bulkhead, at Lock 14 in Palatine Bridge, New York (map), across from the bustling metropolis of Canajoharie. The latter has a free dock with power pedestals at a city park right downtown, which we again passed right by. In this case it was because what we needed was really on the other side of the river, and that was motor oil and waste oil recycling.


This VW across from Vector, set atop an obsolete smokestack outside of Amsterdam, advertises a repair business that is itself defunct.

We were right at oil change time on the main engine, and just a few hours shy on the generator, and when I had scanned the charts back in NYC, it looked like there was a NAPA auto parts just a short walk from the bulkhead here. As we were approaching town, however, we learned that they had moved and were now a mile away, across from the grocery store, of which we also had need.


When the locks close the river gets calm. Sunset from Lock 11.

I had expected to take the E-bike across the river to check out the downtown, and also to the grocery store to pick up some essentials, but the oil was not something I could carry on the bike. We briefly discussed using our folding hand truck to schlep the oil back and forth, but soon decided that putting a scooter on the ground would not only simplify the oil and grocery problems, but also let us both get across the river for dinner in town. And so after we locked through, I spun the boat around and we tied to the bulkhead on our port side, facing the lock.


It's gosling season, and we've had several families as neighbors.

Landing the scooter meant first raising the mast -- the spreader in the lowered position prevented the scooter from being lifted off the deck. But the winch made quick work of it and we had the scooter down on the bulkhead in short order. I made a solo excursion across the river to explore historic Canajoharie, and then stopped at the Price Chopper on my way home and filled the entire grocery list, including some heavy and bulky items we would have skipped without the scooter. NAPA was closed Sunday so that errand would have to wait.


Shades of our former life. On our way to Lock 14 we passed this TA truckstop off I-90 complete with restaurant and service shop. Would have been a great place to get oil, but the only dock nearby was too shallow.

We made our way back across the river two-up at dinner time and had a casual meal at Mercato restaurant. Italian is the dominant cuisine in this part of the state. We briefly walked around the historic canal area near the old Beech-Nut plant before dinner. Afterwards, we returned to the lock and parked the scooter on the bulkhead next to the boat for the night.


Our view of Lock 14. Little ramp to the left is how we got the scooter to the road.

The bulkhead here is very close to the double-track CSX mainline, and since there is a grade crossing at the access road for the lock, trains in both directions are sounding their horns. Train horns don't bother us, but many cruisers find them disturbing; we had the dock to ourselves for the night. The trains were just a bit farther away at Lock 11; interestingly we saw only freights there, but here we also saw several Amtrak trains.


This family of goslings, our neighbors at Lock 14, has sadly lost a parent.

Yesterday morning I rode the scooter over to the NAPA and picked up seven gallons of oil, in the form of one five-gallon pail and two individual gallons. The pail fit on the floorboards, but only on its side, which made me just a tad nervous. The other two gallons rode in the trunk.


I put the new oil in the engine using the same pump that extracts the old. Thus this "710" inlet is used only to add make-up 710. Uh, OIL.

Changing the oil and filters in both engines took most of the morning. After lunch I loaded the roughly eight gallons of used oil in three large containers on the scooter floorboards and road them over to the nearby auto transmission shop, who gladly took them to burn in their waste oil furnace. I was glad to be able to do the whole process, from purchase through disposal, at a single stop and not have to have extra oil aboard during the cruise. I'll replenish the supply of spare oil and filters at another stop.


Locking through 15 behind Independence, the only Nordy we've seen on the canals.

With everything done by 1pm, we decided to drop lines and move a little further along the canal. Two more lock-throughs brought us here, to the free wall west of lock 16, just a bit west of St. Johnsville. We passed several loopers tied up at the $1/foot municipal dock there, including Here's to Us whom we met earlier, as well as the Nordhavn 59 Coastal Pilot Independence, whom we had met in Charleston and with whom we locked through at lock 15.

Just west of Lock 15 we spotted some tents along the bulkhead; the Canal system allows camping at several of the locks, to accommodate the numerous hikers and bicyclists traveling the Canalway Heritage Trail. We also spotted an Amish family enjoying the park and fishing, their horse and buggy parked nearby. There are, apparently, several Amish settlements here along the Mohawk River valley.


Amish fishing at Lock 15, with their buggy nearby.

We locked through Lock 16, which diverted us away from the Mohawk in order to take us around the falls at Little Falls, one more lock upstream of here. Another few Amish families were enjoying the lock park, and the children came over to watch us lock up. We tied up here on the south bulkhead, where we spotted a lone 50-amp power outlet. It's been cool enough overnight to run the heat, and it's great to have the power when we want it.


Our audience for our lock-through.

Both the trains and the highway are farther away here, so it is much quieter. Instead we were serenaded all afternoon and evening by ... a fish. It sounded for all the world like someone was using a driver-drill outside the hull, with the buzzing sound those make when the screw is fully tightened and the clutch releases. I dubbed it the Makita Fish. Louise looked it up; it's actually the Freshwater Drum Fish, and the sound is much more persistent than the salt water varieties we're used to hearing.


We've seen several horse rails at lock parks, for trail riders. None here so these buggy horses (left) are hitched to the pole guys.

Tonight's planned destination is another lock wall, in Little Falls, just seven miles (and one tall lock) from here. Since it's been raining on and off since our arrival yesterday afternoon, it seemed like a good time to take the morning off and update the blog. In a short while we will drop lines for Lock 17.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Low bridge, everybody down

We are docked at the Mohawk Harbor Marina in Schenectady, New York (map). This is a brand new, man-made harbor that opens onto the Mohawk River, which is part of the Erie Canal system. Yesterday was our first day on the canal.


Vector in Mohawk Harbor at sunset. Our locking fenders are still out.

Shortly after my last post here we had a nice dinner at Stella's 2 in Athens. We had a pleasant night and were undisturbed at the dock there. In the morning we walked to breakfast at Bonfiglio and Bread, across the street from the brew pub, but not before a passel of school children showed up at the dock to take the little pontoon ferry/tour boat over to the lighthouse for a tour.


The first of two school groups headed to the ferry.

While in town I also made two trips to the little C-store and gas station; one for milk, and again in the morning for a couple of gallons of gas to have aboard for the tender. We dropped lines at the free dock at the turn of the tide, and had a fair current Tuesday most of the way to Troy. We had a brief wait at the Amtrak swing bridge for two trains to pass before they could open for us.


Vector at the Athens free dock.

Since our last visit to the Troy bulkhead there has been a lot of construction there, and the most recent comment in the database for it, nearly two years old, said it was inaccessible to shore due to a chain link fence. So we were expecting to perhaps be confined to the boat. Instead we found the fence long gone, but a new parapet wall constructed atop the bulkhead. The bulkhead itself has also been extensively patched, and the vertical ladders (but not their recesses) have been removed completely, along with the large mooring bollards. Fortunately, the recessed mooring bitts were still in place.

Our docking and mooring skills have improved greatly since our first visit here, and we were able to get both a bow and stern line onto two widely spaced pins and bring ourselves well alongside the wall (map). That enabled us to just step off the boat deck onto the bulkhead, hop over the parapet wall, and walk to Browns Brewing, which we remembered from last visit, for a nice pint of craft beer. We ate leftovers aboard, having already planned for being unable to disembark.


At the refurbished Troy bulkhead. At high tide in the evening the boat deck was even with the top of the bulkhead.

Wednesday morning I unbolted and lowered the mast, using the winch we bought for the purpose back in Charleston as part of the Great Mast project. Since then we've replaced the tender, which is now a bit taller in front, and we had to slide it back a few inches in the chocks to lower the mast far enough without hitting the sat dome on it. I also had to cut a few inches off the PVC pipe support we made to keep the mast from inadvertently lowering any further.

We took great advantage of the tall bulkhead to verify our bridge clearance. We marked off a weighted 20' cord at 19' and 19'-6" and suspended it from the middle of a pole. I stood on the bulkhead and held the pole while resting an end on the highest spot fore and aft, using a torpedo level to keep it horizontal. Louise checked which mark(s) ended up in the water, and we determined that the height was just about 19'-6". We had previously had it measured, while on the hard, and had come up with 19'-8", so we were happy to find it just a hair under that.


Approaching Troy Federal Lock, on the Hudson.

Our next planned stop was Waterford, New York, just three miles (and one lock) from the Troy bulkhead, but the official start of the Erie Canal, where the visitor center is located. It's a stop we very much wanted to make, but the docks there have been entirely full for more than a week, despite a 48-hour time limit, because the Champlain Canal, which leads north from here, has had its opening delayed by high water.


Vector at the free bulkhead in Waterford. Sailboats at either end of us were unoccupied and still there when we left.

We were resigning ourselves to possibly having to just bypass Waterford, but in a stroke of good timing, the Canal Corporation announced Wednesday morning that the Champlain was open as far as Lock C-5 in Northumberland, and a couple of boats left the dock right away. We called ahead, found out there was an open spot, and then hastily cast off our lines and headed up through the Troy Federal Lock.

Long time readers may remember that we made an about-face in Troy the last time we came up here. That's because just north of the lock is a bridge that has a clearance, depending on pool level, of from 20' to 25'. With our mast fixed vertically at the time, we had a bridge clearance of  nearly 26'. Unable to clear the bridge, we turned around without even going through the lock. The height boards read 23' as we approached the bridge, and with our mast now lowered, we cleared with over three feet to spare.


Louise and Vector at the Waterford bulkhead. Note the lowered mast.

We made the turn to the canal shortly after the lock and tied up near the end of the concrete bulkhead in Waterford (map). We were disappointed to find that many of the spaces, including ones on the floating dock where power is available for just $10, were taken up by boats whose crews simply left them there, unoccupied, while they returned to Canada or wherever to await the canal opening. Abusing the privilege of a free dock, whose purpose is to promote tourism in the town.


Decorated fiberglass mules have invaded Waterford. No word on whether this was Sal.

I enjoyed a nice walk around the historic town, and together we walked to dinner at The Angry Penguin bar, after finding the go-to spot in town, McGreivy's, unappealing on both visual and olefactory fronts. There is a lot of history here, but it's really good for just a one-night stop.

Yesterday morning we shoved off and made our way to the first of many locks on the Erie Canal, Lock E-2 (there is no lock E-1). Near the entrance to the modern lock, one can look to the side and see the chambers of the narrower historic lock, now a cascade of water. Despite this being the season for loopers to be headed through the canals, we were locked through alone.


Looking at the historic lock, with the modern lock to the left. As seen from the bridge just before the lock.

E-2 is the first in a series of five locks, through E-6, known as the "Waterford flight." Together these locks raise boats a total of 165' in just over a mile; to this day still the highest amount of lift in the shortest distance on any canal system in the world. Normally I log each lockage in our log book; on the flight, I was so busy the entire time that I had to log the entire flight as a single entry. After the locks we passed through a pair of "guard gates," giant guillotine-like gates that hang above the canal to close off sections. The second gate was closed as we approached and we had to wait. We cleared each gate by just a couple of feet.


Secured in the first lock, E-2. These were the most turbulent locks we've used, bar none.

After the Waterford Flight the canal opens up into the Mohawk River, wide, scenic, and relatively deep courtesy of a series of dams. We had the river to ourselves and it was flat calm and surprisingly beautiful. We cleared under several low bridges, the lowest of which seems to have registered on the 18" styrofoam "telltale" that I rigged above the flybridge top, even though our information said it should have been higher than 21'. We're double-checking all the clearances as we go along.

We had one final lock, E-7, before the last few miles to our planned stop in Schenectady. Our options here were free walls at Lock 7 or Lock 8, both bracketing the town a few miles out, or a $30 municipal dock across the river in Scotia with a skinny 7' hump at the entrance, in addition to this marina. I really wanted to see town, and after the marina told us there was a free shuttle on Thursday through Saturday starting at 4pm, we bit the bullet and booked a slip.


The Mohawk was quite lovely.

We were tied up well before 4pm, and the plan was to spend a single night, take the free trolley bus around its entire loop, get off downtown for a nice stroll and some dinner, and then shove off this morning. In the meantime we'd take advantage of water and power to do some laundry and top up the batteries and the tanks, getting some more mileage out of our $130 slip.

I walked around the neighborhood in the early afternoon, checking out the two walkable restaurants and sending some time in the brand new casino built as part of the harbor development, turning complimentary sign-up play into a couple bucks in real cash. On my way back to the boat I scoped out the trolley stop, only to learn that it's not yet running on Thursdays, only Friday and Saturday. Phooey.


Finishing our lock-through at E-7. Lots of debris in the river; you can see it caught in the dam.

I fired off an email to the marina operator, and we ate instead at the brew pub right on site, which was fine. The marina was very apologetic about the mistake -- they had been misinformed about the city's trolley service -- and offered to let us stay an extra night. And thus here we are, still in Schenectady mid-day. After I post here I will do some more exploring, and tonight we will execute last night's plan to take the trolley downtown. In the morning we will shove off for Amsterdam, our next stop, just 17 miles further along.