Upstate New York and the Erie Canal

The Hudson was choppy, rough and very busy. A few miles north of the city the traffic died down substantially and before long we were pretty much the only boat on the river. It was a nice, quiet, smooth journey with a good following current. At first the wind was at our back but by the time we got to the George Washington bridge the wind was dead on the nose. All we could do was motor with the staysail up but we made a good 6 or so knots up the river. The scenery was quite beautiful.

We passed under the Tappan Zee bridge which was under construction. The old steel girder bridge had been replaced with two suspension bridges, one for each lane of traffic. One bridge was finished, one was almost done and the old one was being dismantled. Just north of there in Ossining we anchored for the night. We woke next morning to a glorious cool clear morning, surrounded by hills to the East and cliffs to the West. After breakfast we took a walk into town for some groceries, stopped for a quick cup of coffee and then headed back to the boat to put our groceries away, then hauled anchor and hit the road. The wind was out of the North so once again we motor sailed with the staysail.

When we reached West Point, we decided to try to go ashore to take in a tour, but were told rather curtly on the radio that it is inaccessible by water. Disappointed, we ended up motoring up until the town of New Hamburg where we anchored in the river for the night. Next morning we caught the favorable current and motored up until we reached Kingston. We arrived around noon, dropped the anchor and waited for favorable current. The wind came up quite a bit, so we decided to sail even though there was a 2 knot current against us. It was slow going, we left Kingston during Peak counter-current, so even though we had a 15 knot following wind and our speed should have been close to 6 knots, we were moving between two and three. It was a pleasant sail, but the 8 mile trip to Saugerties took 4 hours! We eventually arrived and anchored in a very narrow river for the night. We went to shore, walked into town and found a nice restaurant where we had dinner and a few drinks before walking back to the boat.

Next morning we made a few phone calls and decided that Catskill was the spot where we would drop the mast. We waited until favorable current around 8 am, then hauled our anchor and headed out towards the Catskills. It was hot, still and very pretty. We made good time because we had a favorable 1.5 knot current. We anchored just north of the Rip Van Winkle bridge and started to take down sails. We figured that would save us a day of docking fees. It was hot. Very hot. Luckily there was a good wind and plenty of shade helped to keep us cool.

After we had the sails down we motored in to the marina, arriving around 4:30 pm. We walked into town and ate at a quaint restaurant that doubled as an ice cream shop. Right as we finished dinner they closed, so we had to wander elsewhere looking for some dessert. Luckily we found a place that was still open and enjoyed some good ice cream before heading back to the boat. It was very very hot and sticky. There was a promise of rain but nothing materialized.

We had tied up next to two boats coming from Quebec and headed south. They were having their masts raised and conveniently enough their equipment matched our purposes to a tee, so after their sticks went up, we took their trusses and with an hour or so of modification we were ready. They lifted our mast out of the hole through the cabin top and lowered it slowly on to the trusses and then we secured it down with straps. It looked a little unsteady, but the guys that were running the lift said that we did a good job and that everything looked fine. It was rather strange to have your mast above your head, it changed the way the boat behaves. It now rocked more quickly, much like a powerboat. It’s going to take a while to get used to the new feeling. After we had the mast fully secured we filled up with diesel, bought ice and then went back to the Rip Van Winkle bridge where we anchored for the night. It was much cooler out there with the wind blowing off the water.

We awoke the next morning and around 10 when the current was slack we hauled anchor and were able to take a favorable current all the way to our first lock which was in Troy. The river slowly narrowed to less than a quarter mile; we passed through Albany and then Troy where there was a quick lock to go over a spillway and then a short distance later we pulled into the entrance of the Erie Canal. There were free docks for tie up along with showers and water, so we took full advantage. We met a very nice couple on the way who also tied up and went out to dinner with him. They were from Muskegon in Michigan. After dinner we strolled back to the boat and collapsed exhausted. It was still hot and sticky. Next morning we headed out and ate breakfast at a diner that was very very inexpensive, $2 for eggs and toast! With a huge breakfast and coffee to boot our bill was less than $15, quite a nice surprise in New York where things have been unusually expensive.

We headed to the grocery store and the liquor store and picked up our necessities for the rest of the trip and then headed back. We were glad that we went early in the morning because it got very hot, steamy and uncomfortable. On the way back we passed a cherry tree packed with fruit, so we came back and picked cherries to our hearts content. We picked almost 2 quarts and after being in the hot sun for a while, we took our plunder and returned to the boat.

We ended up spending the afternoon watching Netflix with a fan running just to stay cool. After a light dinner we went to bed and woke early the next morning, grabbed a bag of ice and started the motor just as the first lock door was opening. We went through five locks in quick succession, going up about 200 feet and then motored for a while on the Mohawk River which is now part of the Erie Canal system. It was very picturesque, houses and small marinas dotted the sides of the canal, but for the most part it was green and heavily wooded and just absolutely beautiful.

Halfway between locks 6 and 7 our engine alarm came on. We shut down, dropped anchor and started to look for things that could be causing problems. First check was the strainer and although we had been going through relatively clear water, the strainer was quite clogged and looked like it was obstructing the flow of water. There was one big leaf caught in it and that would have been enough to severely restrict the flow. Our solution was to run the box fan blowing air on to the engine, and that cooled it down enough so that we were able to start motoring again after we had cleaned the strainer and put everything back together.

We made it up to lock 9, which is the eighth lock in the Erie Canal system and there we stopped for the night. There was a state park as well as an ice cream store, so the dog was happy and so were we. We took a walk to the store, then headed back to the boat and met a lock master named Clay. He was doing some maintenance work after hours and we chatted with him for quite a while before heading back to the boat.

Next morning we were up bright and early and after picking up some ice, we headed through the first lock, lock 9. It was a gorgeous morning, it had rained a little during the night so it was a bit cool and cloudy and there was not a breath of wind. After we motored out of the lock, we headed across a glassy, mirror like dam back into the canal system. It was lined with trees, bushes, rocks and all sorts of wildlife. We saw Kingbirds, Kingfishers flying around collecting dinner, Grackles, Killdeer, Osprey, Herons and Eagles; it was wonderful to see nature up close like this, so relaxing. After an hour or so, the wind came up a little bit from the West and offered us a cooling breeze.

We pulled in at lock 11 because it said there were some historic artifacts to be seen. We walked around aimlessly in the sweltering heat for about an hour before we realized that the artifacts had all been washed away in the flood from a few years back. We got back to the boat, cast off and headed westward. We went through beautiful mountain passes covered in trees of green, it was spectacular. Around 5, we pulled into Canajoharie and tied up at a free dock there. Melanie made a snack for us, and after eating, we headed to shore to explore.

It was very hot, so we really decided to just walk around the park where the dog was and talk to some of the locals. Then we turned in for the night. It was uncomfortably warm, train whistles blew all night long and the roar of I-90 right next to us made it difficult to sleep. Add to that the heat and humidity with no air conditioning and we were very uncomfortable. I slept well, Melanie did not. We awoke bright and early the next morning and went through lock 14 with a tug and continued up the Mohawk River. The river had narrowed quite substantially until it was only perhaps 50 yards wide, trees lined the bank with the odd cornfield poking through in between. We wound our way along the foothills of some mountain range to our North, through the pass towards Buffalo.

Just before we reached Lock 16, we pulled into a small RV campground right on the canal at Saint Johnsville to pick up ice and water. We continued on until we arrived at Lock 17. Just before we hailed the lock the heavens opened and it poured with rain. We were actually thankful, because it was so hot and windless and we were both very overheated. The rain cooled us down quite a bit, washed the boat a little and when it let up we went into the lock. It was an unusual one, the East gate was actually an up and down gate, not the opening doors which most of the other locks had. They lifted the gate, we drove under, then they closed it behind us. It was the largest lock we have been in on the canal so far and the lift was over 40 feet. When the doors opened we left and headed for lock 18 which we passed through without incident and shortly after leaving the lock, we decided to pull over in Herkimer for the night. While trying to tie up to the wall we ran aground – twice! Our poor overworked engine managed to get us off, but we were a little rattled. We ended up tying up in about 8 feet of water right at the very end of the dock, about as far East as you can go without actually leaving, then Melanie made us each a stiff drink.

It poured all night long, and didn’t let up until the next morning about 9. After breakfast we decided we would head out to do laundry, so we packed up our stuff, left the boat and decided to visit the gift shop right near where we were tied up. Its a good thing that we did, because 2 minutes after we got inside it started pouring again! It rained and rained and after talking with the staff for a while we decided it was better to just hit the road and do laundry elsewhere. It finally stopped raining around 11 and we were on the road by noon, once again headed west into a somewhat hazy sky due to the humidity and rain. The canal closed around us until it was perhaps only a hundred feet wide as we motored up the tree-lined “road” towards lock 19.

Our next stop was a short two miles up the canal, Ilion. We tied up at a free dock, and took a short walk into town to the Remington Arms Factory Museum. It was a fascinating history on the development and manufacture of Remington rifles and pistols. After the tour we spoke to one of the people that had worked there for quite a while, then walked back to the boat, stopping for an ice cream at Stewart’s and then at Aldi for a few quick necessities. It was 3 p.m. by the time we arrived back at the boat, so we hastily cast off and set out for the next lock which was about 7 miles away.

We passed through the lock without incident, and motored up to lock 20 where we tied up on the wall for the night. Next morning around 7:30 we passed through; the wall was very pitted and with the currents in the lock as they let in the water, it was difficult keeping the boat off the wall. Right after we left the lock we ran aground. They were doing dredging work and the barge that was dredging was anchored across the channel, and as I moved to go around it, we ran aground. They had to straighten themselves out and luckily we were able to motor off and then motor through the area where the barge used to be. There was a lot of debris and a lot of shallow spots that they apparently appear to be working on; many downed trees and rotten, dead stumps litter the canal. It does need some maintenance.

We stopped in Rome, walked to Fort Stanwix, then headed over to Ace Hardware to buy more cooking alcohol. The fort was a recreation, built to the original plans and was quite spectacular. It was rebuilt in 1976 and is by far the best representation of an old Revolutionary War Fort that we have seen. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting it before heading back and casting off, heading Westward once again.

The area between lock 20 and lock 21 is a watershed. We were going up in lock 20, and lock 21 was headed down towards Lake Oneida. Fort Stanwix was built to protect the portage between the two from marauding Indians and and thieves. Goods were shipped up the Mohawk River and then carried 6 miles across to Wood Creek where they were loaded on and taken down to Oneida and Westward. The Erie Canal took care of that Portage.

We passed through lock 21 and then a short mile later, lock 22, which dropped us a total of 50 feet. We then motored to Sylvan, a small vacation town located at the entrance to Lake Oneida and there we tied up for the night. We took a walk around the area near the city dock and then bought some takeout food at a small restaurant. We met another boater headed west to Lake Superior; he and his crew came aboard our boat and we chatted a while. Next morning we filled up, pumped out and motored across Lake Oneida to the other side where we spent the night at a small Marina called Ess-Kay. It was very quaint, quiet, clean and well-kept. The owners were very personable and we enjoyed letting Windsor run free and play with their dog. They had a courtesy car which they lent us so we could run a few errands and do laundry. It was a wonderful stay. Next morning we headed out to lock 23 which was a few miles away, off again headed westward.

We motored down the canal through lock 23 and lock 24 before coming to Cross Lake where we anchored in the southwest corner for the night. This lake is about the size of Alum Creek, although not quite as narrow in the middle. Very scenic with homes all around and not particularly busy. It was a calm, restful night. After breakfast the next morning we hauled anchor and headed west. The distance between lock 24 and 25 is 31 miles and we had done about 8 to get to Cross Lake, so we had a fairly long motor ahead of us before the next lift. It was very picturesque, a carpet of green on each side but there was also a lot of water weed. Hyacinth is starting to choke out the channel. We did see some “mowers” that harvested the stuff, people were driving them around attempting to vacuum it up to keep the waterway clear.

We passed through locks 25 and 26 before pulling over in Clyde. The city dock had water, shore power and a pump out, so it was a good spot to stop and stretch our legs. The town was pretty much closed up, almost too deserted for a Saturday, so we headed back to the boat after walking around and looking at some of the older architecture, took in some Netflix and went to bed. It rained during the night and we slept in, we never left until about 10 a.m. the next morning.

Melanie cooked breakfast while we were on the way, continuing down the green leafy road called The Erie Canal which at this point was only 75 to 100 feet wide. Between locks 28B and lock 29, we passed a barge being pushed by a tug! The river was only 60 to 70 feet wide at that point! It was a little harrowing trying to edge past each other safely and not run aground, but we managed somehow and then continued on our way. Just before lock 29, we stopped under an overpass which was a close walk to a grocery store. Melanie went to pick up a few things while I waited with the boat. Then we were on our way, passing through locks 29 and 30 and tying up to the wall just after lock 30 to explore the park. There was not as much there as we were led to believe; part of the old Canal which is now being used as a spillway, and huge wooden boxes that were used like anchors. There was also a little butterfly park we took a walk in; very cute. I walked into the gas station in town to pick up some ice and there was not much there either. Town was pretty deserted; everything was closed but being a Sunday that was not surprising.

Next morning we left around 10 a.m., motored through locks 32 and 33 and then down the narrow gorge carved into the rock outside of Rochester. In some places the cliffs on either side were 40 foot high. The glare from the clouds caused us to miss spotting a huge tree trunk which we hit at full speed. We were horrified. We threw the boat into neutral, slowed it down and checked for damage. We still had steerage and we did not appear to have any leaks so I think the keel probably spun the log and pushed it out of the way and it did not damage the propeller shaft. We posted a watch on the bow of the boat so that I would have enough time to avoid any in the future. The glare on the water made it very difficult for me to see what was ahead down low.

We arrived at Spencerport just before 5pm, ahead of the Glass blowing barge that was touring the canal ports. We registered, then headed into town, a short block away and enjoyed dinner outside at an Irish pub which served some superb food.

The second day in Spencerport we did laundry, and in late afternoon met a couple from New Hampshire that was doing the canal in an 18-foot Hunter! We chatted long into the night with them and had a wonderful evening. Towards bedtime it started raining and it poured all night long, not stopping until 11 in the morning. We took our time, slept in and were generally lazy. When the rain stopped, we headed in for a cup of coffee and then said our goodbyes and cast off. The lift bridge was unusual. Most have towers and the bridge is hoisted up the tower. This one was underground and pushed the bridge up. Very unusual.

We motored until about 6 p.m. and pulled into the canal Port of Medina. We tied up there to a free wall with electric and water, and after an afternoon drink, we walked into town to explore. The town is renowned for its sandstone, and there were many buildings constructed with that material that have been restored and are quite beautiful. We stopped at an Irish Pub, ate dinner and chatted to a few of the patrons before heading back to the boat to watch a little TV and hit the sack. Next morning I did a little bit of work while Melanie relaxed and then we walked into town to the railroad museum. It was the most spectacular collection of railroad related memorabilia that I have ever seen. Quite an amazing display. Then we headed back to the boat, cast off and headed westward to our next Port, Lockport. It was only a 3 hour motor, and after passing through the double locks, 34 and 35, we pulled over at a free wall and tied up for the night. I took a quick trip to a gas station for ice before we settled in to enjoy the evening.

Next morning we took a walk down to the lock district and had a good cup of coffee before heading down to the locks where we poked around. The famous “flight of five” original locks are still there and were converted into a spillway right next to the current working locks. They have all kinds of stuff from pictures of the construction to memorabilia and original equipment from the historic lock period. It was a fascinating tour; we got to watch an interesting phenomenon; a boat going down and one coming up at the same time. Our morning culminated with a hearty late breakfast at a local diner. Then we went ziplining across the Erie canal and celebrated afterwards with some ice cream from a famous local shop. After a full day, we headed back to the boat and relaxed for the evening. Melanie made a yummy chicken stew which we gobbled down before settling in for the night.

We started slowly the next morning, after breakfast we went down to the lock district, had a cup of coffee and went to the farmers market that was open on Saturdays. We bought a few veggies, some cheese and then a bag of ice and headed back to the boat. We did our preliminary checks, started the motor, cast of and headed Westward. After Lockport the canal goes through a man-made gorge. The water is about 15 ft lower than the surrounding land, so it’s like a tunnel on each side of rocks and trees, very scenic. Then the gorge gradually flattened out until we motoring down the Tonawanda river through the suburbs on the outskirts of Buffalo. We arrived around 3pm and tied up at Gateway park near where the river merges with the Niagara River. Our canal adventure was over and now it was time to become a sailboat again and head to our home port.





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