Thursday, July 4, 2024

Back in the Great Lakes after 50,000 nautical miles

Happy Independence day, everyone. We are under way across the southeast corner of Lake Ontario, en route to Cape Vincent, New York, and the start of the Thousand Islands region. The lake is glassy, with a gentle one-foot swell on our port beam. It was calm enough when we left Oswego that we once again opted to raise the mast underway, rather than drop the hook in the outer harbor.

What 50,000 nautical miles looks like on the chart.

Last Wednesday was errand day in Amsterdam, and we raised the mast, deployed the crane, and put both scooters on the ground. I had carefully planned out how to fit two 5-gallon pails of motor oil on my floorboards, and as I prepared to head off to Walmart to go get them... the scooter would not start. After lots of fiddling I diagnosed it as a dead battery, and even with a jump it was too weak to keep the bike running.

Damage to the snubber from the tree episode in Coxsackie. I will replace this today.

Not wanting to fritter away the entire errand day working on scooter problems, I measured Louise's floorboards and determined I could get the oil on that, so off I went. She was out of fuel so I filled it up at the Sunoco on my way to the store. I texted her that I had put 1.6 gallons in, and she reported back that the bike has a maximum 1.1 gallon tank. Hmm.

Louise obeying the signs.

The only thing worse than being ripped off at the pump for fuel is getting bad fuel at the same pump, and a short time later the bike sputtered to a stop. To shorten the story, I nursed it through all the day's errands with a lot of extra throttle at stoplights, but it appears I will need to drain the tank and fill with fresh fuel and a dose of carb cleaner. I made it to UPS, Home Depot, and two separate Walmart runs.

One of the canal's snag-collecting barges, and snags already offloaded ashore. Dodging these is a daily occurrence.

That second Walmart run was supposed to be Louise's, but it died on her halfway up the big hill to the store. She turned around, coasted back downhill, and gave the infernal thing to me. In the meantime my battery had charged up down in the engine room during my first outing, so she took my more reliable steed and I rode ahead of her on hers. With two of us, we were able to fill out the provisioning list. We ended the day with a nice dinner on board. Unlike the previous night, when we were all alone, tonight there were three other boats with us.

Vector and her mate at Lock 14, Palatine Bridge NY.

Thursday we had conference calls scheduled in the afternoon, and so we made it a short day to Palatine Bridge, a familiar stop, where we tied up at the upper guide wall of lock E-14 (map). I attended to the somewhat overdue main engine oil change, and I also changed the heat exchanger anodes. I ended up having to pull both end caps off the exchanger to clean out bits of old anode and other debris; I found some scale partly occluding the stabilizer cooling supply, so it's good I took the end cap off.

Vegetation hanging from this "guard gate" looked like it was going to graze Vector's top. It just cleared.

Just by sheer coincidence, we arrived at lock E-14 exactly as our odometer ticked past 50,000 nautical miles since we bought the boat. I was keenly aware of this because we needed to "catch up" our odometer by nine nautical miles, the result of instrument issues over the last 10k miles, and so I was watching it tick up to 9,991 so I could reset it to zero when it crossed. While that might not sound like a lot -- a modern automobile is hardly middle-aged by 50,000 miles -- on the water, it's a ton.

Lock 17, Little Falls. Tallest on the canal.

Friday we ran the gauntlet of big locks, including E-17 in Little Falls, the tallest on the system, with Lock E-19 finally depositing us in the vicinity of Utica, where we once again encountered the shallowest stretch on the canals. Last time through we plowed the mud for a hundred yards not long after coming out of the lock; this time we were just grazing the bottom, but we did manage to hit an enormous log that was apparently embedded in the bottom, popping it up behind us like an enormous tiddlywink. Surprisingly, hitting a log that big on the bottom does not sound much different from hitting a concrete wall.

This little tug lives at Lock 20 and we remember it from our first visit.

We were locking up through E-20 right at 5pm, and we stopped for the night on the upper guide wall (map), not far from where we stayed on our first time through, five years ago. Long-time readers may remember I was in downtown Utica when a tug and barge arrived to lock down, leaving Louise scrambling to possibly move the boat on her own. The tug ultimately made it past Vector just where she was. This time, there were two other boats even closer to the lock than we were. Little did we know that tragedy was unfolding just two miles away, as a Utica police officer shot a 13-year-old who had pointed a very realistic toy gun at him.

Vector at Lock 20, tucked up next to a deck barge with snags on it.

The upper pool between E-20 and E-21 is the "top of the hill" for our journey, an elevation of 420' above sea level, and it would all be downhill from here. Saturday's leg brought us down through two more locks and to the summer vacation hot-spot of Sylvan Beach, on the eastern end of Lake Oneida. Normally we would dread ending up here on a Saturday, and both of our previous Saturday arrivals landed us at just about the worst spot on the bulkheads, across the channel in Verona Beach and exposed to the fetch of the lake. But today was cold and rainy all day, the amusement park was closed, and we snagged the perfect spot at the east end of the north bulkhead (map). We did get drenched, though, docking in the pouring rain.

Top of the hill. Yes, there is tent camping at these lock parks.

As it happened, the rain was mostly done, down to just an occasional sprinkle, by dinner time, and we walked to the closest joint, the Crazy Clam, for dinner. They have a phalanx of draft handles, and I got my fix of the Utica-region staple, chicken riggies. After dinner I had a pleasant walk around town, with the rain now done, and I scoped out breakfast and dinner options for a possible second day, with the lake forecast to be uncomfortable on Sunday, and me needing a down day to organize Coast Guard paperwork.

Vector at Sylvan Beach. Power cat in the foreground was moving quite a bit, being just that much closer to the lake.

As it happened, the morning forecast improved overnight, but westerlies would likely push lake chop right up the canal in the afternoon, and so we dropped lines after morning coffee and made our way across the lake, pushing against short-period two footers that were more annoying than uncomfortable. At least all the spray coming over the bow was fresh and not salt. We were in Brewerton before 1pm, and we could easily have continued to Phoenix, except I had Amazon packages coming to a locker in Brewerton, where we had expected to be on Monday.

We have seen many ducklings on this trip. These are in Brewerton.

We tied up to the free bulkhead north of the canal (map), a familiar spot, which is technically in the community of Central Square. Unlike our last visit, this time we found the 50-amp power outlet to be working, and we ran 100' of cable down the dock to plug in. I still had most of the afternoon to work on my paperwork, which has to do with renewing my Merchant Mariner Credential. We were not far from here when my original credential arrived in the mail five years ago. We walked a block east to Jakes for a casual dinner and draft beer, and I ended up hoofing it a mile to the Amazon locker in the evening when one of two packages arrived. The other was delayed to July 2, so I waved it off.

Lots of Loopers in Brewerton, but they all stopped at the marinas. We had the free dock mostly to ourselves.

Just as on our last two passes, after dropping lines Monday morning we traveled just a mile to Winter Harbor marina to take on fuel. Unlike on those visits, we're planning to come right back through here in a month, and so we only topped up the center tank, a bit over 100 gallons. We also took on water and pumped out our waste tank. We were passing Phoenix by mid-day, and we stopped for the night at a familiar spot on the wall in Fulton, between locks O-2 and O-3 (map).

In addition to the birthplace of Nestlé Crunch and Toll House Morsels, Fulton was also home to Hunter Arms, nowadays mostly known for ceiling fans. Industry here was powered by the dammed Oswego Falls.

Fulton was another two-night errand stop, and it proved more than up to the need. I was able to squeeze in a follow-up eye appointment for the scare I had a month ago, get a drug test for my CG license renewal, and finish the provisioning at the Aldi and the Price Chopper in town. I also stopped at two hardware stores, and the Amazon locker for the item they somehow could not deliver to Brewerton. I got rid of five (of seven) gallons of used motor oil, and mailed off the oil sample. We ate at Mama Gina's pizza, just so-so but they had draft beer, and Tavern on the Lock, which was good and we remembered from last time.

We woke this morning to glass calm on the canal, a stark contrast to the roar of the rapids just the other side of a thin concrete barrier.

Wednesday morning we walked to the Dollar General, just a block from the boat, for a couple of last-minute items before dropping lines for the short trip down through four more locks to Oswego, where we tied to our usual spot along the free wall just before the final lock, O-8 (map). We're short one wireless smoke detector, which nobody seems to carry any longer, and after striking out in Amsterdam and Fulton I took the e-bike down to Walmart and Tractor Supply for one last try, but still no dice. Amazon carries them but will not deliver to a locker. We walked over to Azteca for dinner, which was OK for being a long way from Mexico.

It's almost impossible to capture sea state in a photo, but this was Lake Ontario for the first half of today's cruise.

This morning was The Day for a lake crossing, and we dropped lines to make the first lockage at 8am. We have our sights set on Cape Vincent because there are two docks and a backup option there, and it appears there will be no fireworks or other shenanigans there tonight to interfere. I enjoy fireworks, but the navigation restrictions can be a challenge.

Below our fenders here you can see the concrete outcropping on the seawall; we needed to be sure the fenders were fat enough to hold us off.

Update: We are in Cape Vincent, New York, tied up to the harbor breakwall (map). This is a concrete wall that rises vertically 25' from the sea floor; there is a small "step" just at the water line that required careful fendering before we came alongside. We arrived to the harbor to find our "secret" spot on the fisheries pier occupied by our friends April and Paul on their lovely Dutch canal boat Parnassia. The other dock was also full so we came here. I have a skirt steak marinating for dinner aboard, but I might drop the tender and go over to say hello later.

Vector tied to the harbor breakwall. There are harbor entrances at both ends; this wall is not connected to shore. We're tied to two bollards that are further apart than Vector is long.


  1. I've been following y'all all the way back to the Bus years, and always enjoy your posts. I"m originally from Utica, though now I'm in the shenandoah valley in VA. Sad to hear about the incident with the police. Safe travels!

  2. Always a good read.


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