Testing The Waters (part 1)…

In October, 2016 I undertook part of our planned adventure together, helping a friend move their boat from Sandusky to Boston. Bad weather did force a premature end to the adventure, but I gained valuable knowledge for our trip later this year.

  • I WILL be able to work when we go; for all but a few hours I had 4G LTE coverage – amazing!
  • The effects of allowing a schedule to drive you instead of working with nature are disastrous – nature always wins; we will NOT be travelling like that. We will work with nature.
  • October is COLD up there!! Thank goodness we are doing our trip in summer!

I kept a journal during the trip. Here is the first half of the journey as documented.

Days 1&2:


Sandusky Harbor before leaving

I left Sandusky with a wave and a smile, but I left my best friend behind with the dog. We both agreed that this would be a good opportunity to scope out the lay of the land for our adventure in 2017. After waiting for the other boat outside Battery park marina, we set off for open water. We found out once our heading was set that the lead boat had decided to shoot straight across Lake Erie to the Welland Canal. That left 2 of us on our boat for a 26 hour ride. We set the throttle so we were cruising comfortably around 7-7.5 knots.


Rain squalls bring rainbows

Sandusky soon disappeared, and after about 3 hours even the roller coasters were gone. Nothing but water. I went to bed at 6pm. I had agreed to take the night watch from 10pm to 6am. The weather was calm, but the lake was unsettled due to storms during the day. I couldn’t sleep. Too much adrenaline and too much noise – that “purring” engine was right next to my cabin. Before you know it my alarm went off and it was time for watch. I got dressed and got acquainted with the controls and the current situation. The wind had come up a little and was from a direction that was helping our efforts. We had some rain squalls pass through, and there was lightning all around us, but not close.

I settled down to a watch and put on my headset, set my iPod to play all the WOW CDs, and watched the most fantastic display of lightning for about 4 hours. Forked lightning – cloud to cloud, cloud to ground, sheet lightning – it was fantastic and truly creative – a definite God sighting. All alone on this tiny speck in the middle of Lake Erie I was struck by how small and insignificant we are – it truly IS about God. I marveled at His creation all around me and talked silently to Him. I thanked Him for the fact that the lightning was there for me to see, but not close – it helped keep me awake. My meditation was interrupted by the auto pilot suddenly going wonky – it would not hold a course which meant I would have to hand steer for about 6 hours.

Just then a radio transmission – it was the Coast Guard warning about waterspouts on the lake. Then another transmission – a powerboat wanted to pass us and wanted to know my intentions. Apparently he was not used to sailboats weaving as they surfed the waves and he thought I was in trouble. I told him to pass to my Port side (left) and figured he would zoom by – not so – for all the fuss he made it took him at least 2 hours to pass me! We were moving quite nicely, and although it wasn’t super windy, the storms around us had kicked up a confused chop, some waves were 5-6 feet! No light or land in sight, although there were soft glows on the horizon that marked where Cleveland, Erie and some of the other major cities were on the lake.


Looooong Point…

The lack of light made steering challenging, but eventually the gray gloom of dawn approached and once the sun came up, we were able to get into a smooth rhythm sailing down the waves. The other crew got seasick so anytime something was needed down below I went to get it. I am amazed I did not get woozy. We had some morning squalls chase us down the lake from Sandusky, and they brought with them some torrential rain and an even more confused chop – the wind came up and we were surfing rollers – I saw 11.3 on the speedo 4 times, and we cracked 10.5 probably 10 times during the course of the morning. I steered virtually all the time as he did not have the hang of the waves and I was getting the boat moving well.


Approaching Port Colburne

We passed Long Point quite closely, and from there its only 40 miles to Port Colburne. I can see why they call it Long Point – it seemed like we would never get around it. The last 40 miles took just under 5 hours – we averaged 8.2 and when we finally furled the sails and pulled into port, both of us were ready for a nap – neither of us had slept at all the night before. So we napped for a few hours, then went and purchased our ticket for the canal and went out to a nice little Greek restaurant before turning in for the night.

Days 3&4:


Motoring through the Welland Canal

The canal authority told us to be there at 6:30 on Monday, so we got up at 5:30 and prepped the boat, took off and found ourselves at the first bridge. Once it lifted up, we passed through and went into the first lock. That lock is an equalizer, so it only took us down a few inches, then we motored for 15 miles to the second lock. 4 locks in quick succession, dropping you anywhere from 45 to 75 feet. It was an amazing experience. Met some interesting people on the way, and when we finally got our locking technique down pat, we were done! The lead boat decided to go straight through to the entrance of the St Lawrence River, so we pushed ahead, first hugging the South shore of Lake Ontario, then striking out to the middle to cross during the night.


One of the locks – before we dropped

I stood watch until 10, and during that time got to watch the most beautiful sunset. The lake was like glass, no ripples, the sky was clear and when the stars came out, the Milky Way looked like a cloud in the sky. Absolutely gorgeous. Definitely a God sighting! We were motor sailing at 8 knots, and as the night wore on, the air cooled and we were suddenly in dense fog! I turned on the radar – the other boat was a quarter mile in front of us and I could not see him! That lasted for an hour or so and then just like that, the sky was crystal clear again. The moon and Venus made a pretty picture in the western sky, and once it set, it was very dark. Very little light along the shore.

Motoring across Lake Ontario

I was relieved at 10, but right after going below to get some shut eye, the wind came up and we started bouncing around very uncomfortably. Someone from the other boat (there are 6 on it) was supposed to come over and stand a watch from midnight to 4am, but they decided the water was too rough, so after about a half hour of true sleep I was up on watch again. I once again marveled at the beautiful sky. As we approached the St Lawrence River, traffic got heavier, we started seeing freighters and there was at least one in view almost all the time. Sunrise came, and we motored up the river.


Our boat guest enjoying breakfast

While on the way up, a little bird landed on our boat and started eating spiders. I was working the jib sheet on the port side, and my foot was next to the rub rail. The little guy hopped right up as bold as can be. I took a spider off the bimini and put it in front of him, he had breakfast! Later he found his way under the enclosure and was hopping around on the dock lines munching bugs. He stayed with us for a good hour before he left. Neat! We made our way down and docked in Clayton New York. After taking a nap we visited the wooden boat museum and then I got some much needed work done. Below are some images taken in the town of Clayton and at the wooden boat museum.

 Day 5:


Passing ships

Next morning we woke up early and headed over to the gas dock. We refueled and started heading down the river to our next stop; Alexandria Bay. It was only about a 90 minute trip, close to Clayton. The small town is across from an island with a famous castle on it. The husband built the castle for his wife, and she died before it was completed, so she never got to see it. The motor down was very picturesque, small houses, huge mansions, homes on tiny islands – the scenery was quite beautiful. We tried to get in to the castle dock, but the water was too shallow, so we ended up across the channel tied up to the city dock.

Located in a small cove, we were about 150 feet from shore and the water was 45 ft deep! The center of the channel was perhaps 200 yards away, and it was 250 ft deep! We waited for a few hours for our travelling companions – they had motor issues and were delayed in departing Clayton. When they arrived, we went to dinner in a family owned Italian restaurant – the food was awesome! While we were there, the captain of the other vessel travelling with us told us that they had waved to a person sitting on their porch who lived on a house on an island just outside Alexandria Bay. He met that person at the restaurant we were eating at, and invited him over for drinks after dinner. We socialized afterwards, and learned a little history of the area.

Day 6:

In front of the mansion after the tour

The next morning he came over and picked us up, and took us on a personal tour of the mansion he lived in. The mansion was bought by his parents when he was 5 years old, and was filled with artifacts from the early 20th century – an Edison drum phonograpgh in good working order, old muskets, antique pianos – it was like walking through a museum. We had a wonderful tour, then said our goodbyes and headed down the river. It was uneventful, beautiful scenery, islands with castles on them – one of them even tried to solicit us to stop for a visit as we passed by. We got to the first lock – Iroquois – it was a “huge” lock with a big six inch drop – we laughed at the trivial drop, but further down we encoutered 2 locks – each dropped us 45 feet and they were only a mile or two apart. It was getting dark so I went below to look at the charts and catalogs we had on board to try and find us a place to spend the night. CRASH – #$@%$^#&$ – wow – I have never heard cussing like that – we had side swiped a HUGE channel mark. Our lead boat turned around to head back to a marina they had seen a mile or so back. I took over steering duty since my night vision was apparently better and we followed them to a marina about a mile up river. We tied up, and after talking on Skype to my wife, I enjoyed a good chili dinner along with a stiff drink to calm my nerves. Tomorrow we head to Montreal….

Day 7:


The morning started off well, the place we stayed was a marina on the Mohawk indian reservation. We had a great conversation with the owner while we fueled up, and then left so we could recalibrate our autopilot which was still acting up. This involves doing two slow 2-minute circles. With a 5 mph current that was almost impossible to do, and in the end after about 5-6 circles we gave up and started heading down the river again. I was taking a look at the charts and looking for our next lock when we ended up running aground on the only shallow spot for miles around in a mile wide river. We gunned the throttle and headed back up stream from whence we came, and we slowly came off. Then, after we motored into the navigation channel, I took the helm and we headed back downstream.

Our destination today will be Montreal. The rest of the journey was uneventful. We motored down the river past some beautiful fall foilage, across some very wide lakes until we came to the outskirts of Montreal. The first of 2 double locks was in Beauharnois. We passed through the first lock, dropping 45 ft and then motored on to lock 2. We tied up and while waiting for a cruise ship to enter the lock, our travelling companion’s dog slipped off the deck and fell into the water. Panic ensued for a few minutes until they were able to get him out of the water. Then we exited the lock after dropping another 45 ft, and motored on to the second pair of locks.

We were too late for locking through so we anchored out in a bay next to the lock. The lead boat dropped anchor, and we rafted off them. We went over to their boat and enjoyed a wonderfully simple dinner; grilled cheese sandwich with broccoli-cheese soup, followed by chocolate for dessert. Yummy!! We were all tired and turned in early – we are on the outskirts of Montreal, but didn’t quite make it down to the city itself. Tomorrow…

Day 8:


A lifting bridge we has to pass under

We woke up this morning and it was raining. First lousy day. Temps were in the 60s but there was a damp chill in the air. A freighter came out of the lock right at 9am, the official starting hour for locking through pleasure boats. Alas, the light stayed red; there was another freighter right behind it. An hour later the light went green and we were waved into the lock. After dropping another 45ft, we were done with all the locks – YAAAAY! We motored out the channel, and turned into the current to motor to our marina a mile or so south of the canal entrance. In the manuals, it suggested skirting the channel on the left side to make headway as the current was strong in the center. We went straight up the middle. Motoring at 8.5 knots, our headway was about 2 knots, a 6.5 knot current! So our 20 minute trip took an hour. We tied up in the marina about a block from old town Montreal, a very quaint area. 2 more crew (both ladies) were due around 7pm that evening, so after a hearty lunch on Island Dancer, we headed back to the boat to clean up and prep for their arrival. That meant me moving in with the food. We got eveything arranged and I moved into the food locker – a single but comfortable and warm.

The women arrived around 7pm with all the goodies; a new mainsail and autopilot compass, plus all their clothes and some supplies. We went out to dinner at a restaurant that was located in old town Montreal in a house built in the 1700s! Had a great dinner and  then went back to bed. Next morning we went out for breakfast, and then decided to look for a grocery store to provision the boat. It took a while to find the store because it was in an indoor mall, AND the street names kept changing as you walked. Walk a block and the name of the street changed – it was very confusing, but we made it. These pics below are some we took on the adventure in old town.

Once we got to the store we stocked up and then carried the food back to the boat and put it away. We had hors douvres and wine, and then I went to bed while the others went over to the companion boat to watch the presidential debate. Next day we left and struck out for Quebec City.

Second half of this adventure to come later…

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