Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The New York Canal System

Ok, everybody sing along!

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge, cause we’re coming to a town
You always know your neighbor and you always know your pal
If you ever navigated on the Erie Canal
(btw Google “Bruce Springsteen Erie Canal” and watch a video of his rendition of the song. Outstanding.)

Day One

We traveled with our cruising buddies, Jim, Gail and Kathy of the vessel Jim-O, after staying an extra day at Waterford due to weather forecasts for high winds with even higher gusts. we cast off from the dock at Waterford and Right out of the chute proceeded a whole whopping 200 yards to the first lock of the Erie Canal, Lock E-2. Yes, that’s right, E-2, not E-1. There is no E-1, or an E-31 for that matter, and no, I don’t know why that is. Anyway, locks E-2 through E-6 form a stretch of the canal called the “Flight of Five”. These five locks raise you 169 feet straight up in only one and half miles. I’ll do the math for you. That’s a bit over thirty-three feet each lock. Once past them there is a bit of a breather before getting to lock E-7. E-7 to E-10 are more spaced out so you can actually get some cruising in. By the way, the time it takes to just get through the Flight of Five is two hours.
Lock E-2, the first lock in the Erie Canal

Waterford, NY Visitors Center
Our boating buddies on the canal, Jim, Kathy and Gail of Jim-O

a control gate on the canal

Cruising the Mohawk River portion of the canal

a cut canal portion of the canal

From what I can make from studying up on the Erie Canal it has been reshaped, re-dug and re-routed a number of times over its 150-plus year history. The eastern part of the canal is mostly made up of the Mohawk River. It’s fairly wide with gentle meanders along the way. We passed by several small towns and larger communities.

Going through locks is like a lot of things in life. It gets easier each time you do it. But it can be a bit tricky. Almost all of the locks are part of some kind of flood control dam and sometimes the currents coming off of the dams funnel right into the channel of the lock. Being in a lock when it’s filling can be a task too. Most of the locks just have ropes hanging down in the water. The crew of the boat just stands on the deck and hangs onto the lines pushing and pulling to keep the boat in a good position while the incoming water is rushing into the chamber from giant spouts near the bottom of the lock. So the water can be fairly active. After we went through the Flight of Five we got the hang of it and where able to get into a pattern. So on we cruised into the day.

The weather pattern has been pretty predictable lately. There hasn’t been any rain as such but the winds have been temperamental. The days start off well enough but by 2:00-ish the gusts start to pick up. Some days have been worse than others. We stayed an extra day at Waterford because the predictions were for some very severe gusts. A couple of the lockmasters mentioned that on the day we didn’t go out, things got pretty wooly in the locks with winds blowing boats around in the actual lock chambers. That’s not good. You see, when you are in a lock going up you and your boat are physically in a big box protected from winds. But as you rise up the top of your boat gradually starts sticking back up into the wind. That’s when it gets hard. And remember all the crews are doing is hanging onto ropes. Very tricky. We have settled into the routine of now cruising early in the day and finding some place to dock around 2:00pm. This keeps us out of the real hard stuff.

We, along with the good people of Jim-O spent our first night at a very pleasant marina with long secure facing walls called Riverlink Park in Amsterdam, NY. It is primarily a restaurant but they have a marina to go along with it. We all had a great dinner and talked about all of our travels. Jim and Gail just set out June 2nd, from North Carolina heading to Michigan. They weren’t going to go to Canada like we are so they are going to go all of the way to Buffalo on the Erie Canal. We are going to head up the Oswego Canal to Oswego and cross Lake Ontario to Kingston, Ontario.

One other note about being in Amsterdam – while we were finishing docking and getting tied up a young lady with a camera came around and asked if should take some pictures. She also kind of interviewed us. Turns out she is a reporter for the Amsterdam Recorder, the local newspaper. Here’s the link

Day Two

We all cast of about 7:30 am and almost immediately hit another lock, lock E-11. From there we kept winding along the Mohawk River until we locked through Lock E-16. From that point on for several miles we were actually in a canal, cut from the Earth to go around a particularly violent drop in altitude for the Mohawk River. The waterway was much narrower and pretty darn straight.

Right before lock E-17 we parted company with Jim-O for at least the night. They locked through E-17 to go to a marina a short distance further on the canal. We docked on a large solid free concrete wall just a few hundred yards down river from E-17. This was our spot for the night. Quite frankly, locking through is tiring. We deserved a good rest.

Day Three

We started the day off with a bang by immediately entering lock E-17 at 7:00 am (We were their first customer of the day.) and with a 40 foot lift it is the biggest lock on the canal. It also has a very interesting entry. Instead of the angled gates called mitre gates at each end on the east end it has what could be called a vertical guillotine gate. It is a large slab of steel that is raised and lowered into place. With such a large lift the lock looks rather foreboding. You are sitting in a big concrete box. But locking through was not a very big deal at all and we were soon cruising on east.
Lock E-17 from our free wall dockage.

After passing through E-17 high above Little Falls NY

The canal at this point is more of a cut canal than the Mohawk River and it is much straighter than the previous days cruises and with fewer locks. By the end of the day we ended up going through only 6 locks. And once we reached Rome, NY the tides turned, so to speak, and the last two locks were western flows so we were locking down instead of up. The rest of the locks from Rome to Oswego would be going down.

The winds were five to fifteen mph but there were not any larger gusts so it was a very pleasant cruise. We had not seen Jim-O at all during the day but near the end we did hear them hailing one of the last locks so we were able to reestablish communications with them and finally caught up with them in Sylvan Beach. They stopped at a marina. We tied up to a very nice free wall just before the entrance to Oneida Lake which would be the next main body of water we had to cross.

Sylvan Beach on Lake Oneida is a vacation and resort town. Not more than 200 yards from our position was a small amusement park. There is also a long deep beach and it was packed with people, as well as shops, restaurants and all the kinds of places you’d expect to see that the locals hope vacationers will stop and spend some money. It was a pleasant stop and we turned in early because day 4 on the canals was going to particularly challenging.

Day Four

With Jim-O on our tail we cast off from the wall in Sylvan Beach at 5:30 am to cross Lake Oneida. It is a long lake (18 miles) running east and west and the two ports of call, Sylvan Beach on the east end and Brewerton on the west end are almost on the same latitude. The conditions were ideal with much of the transit in calm conditions. We then passed very slowly through Brewerton, NY because of all the boats and marinas on each shore. After a while we passed through lock E-23. It was shortly after this point that our friends on Jim-O and us bid each other adieu. They were stopping at a marina on the canal to spend a few days on maintenance issues and to prepare their boat to continue on the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal going on from this point all the way to Buffalo has some very low height restrictions and they have to dismantle some of their upper structure to make it under the bridges. But we kept on going and after a short distance we came to the junctions of the Erie Canal continuing on to the west and the Oswego Canal going to Oswego to the north, our final destination for the day.

The Oswego Canal is kind of, well, crummy, with none of the charm of the Erie Canal. The shores are unattractive with low lying scraggly looking trees and lots of water plants blanketing the shore. It’s more developed also. There were seven more locks to go through up to Oswego and we pulled into the Oswego International Marina around 2:30 pm. It was a long leg and a long day and this is where we are spending the Fourth of July to wait for a good weather window to cross Lake Ontario on up to Kingston, ON. And it looks that July 5th is it.

So for our entire New York State Canal System cruise we travelled 166.52 statute miles in four days passing through twenty-nine locks.

Next stop…Canada.