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.

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