“I’m too old for this.” Jan. After lock #7 and before we failed to stick the landing at the yacht club.
“Yes. And did you happen to pick up my pride?” Jim. To Canadian monohull in lock 2 who managed to pick up our boat hook out of the lock water and asked if it was ours.
“I’m shell shocked.” Jan. At 5:23pm after locks, hailstorm, loss of power and a stressful day.
Let’s do a quick recap of the last two-three days.
Yesterday (Tuesday), we got ready to start our journey up the Erie Canal. We moved up to pump out and as we finished, the wind picked up, the rain started and we decide that our idea of fun was NOT this. So we backed up to our old position, put the lines down and stay another day. School followed by Xbox for AJ. Jan and I went to the Angry Penguin in town. A lovely little tavern. One of the owners was behind the bar. She had previously been married to an Army pilot, stationed in Germany (Berlin), Georgia, and Hawaii. From Massachusetts now living in Waterford.
After a drink we went back to the boat, unplugged AJ from the xbox, then dinner at a local place. Then to bed.
Today (Wednesday) it was again raining. This is becoming a pattern. But we got all our stuff ready to head out. We were going through the Waterford flight; the first five locks of the Erie Canal system. It starts out numbered E2, so E2-E6 locks. This sequence of locks is the largest lift in the shortest distance in the world according to wikipedia. And it takes about two hours to complete the less than two miles so no rushing along this morning. At 0730, three boats went into lock E2, but that was too early for us. We finished our preparation at 0845 we pulled away from the dock. There were two boats ahead of us. Ken and Linda in “Independence” and a Canadian Monohull. The three of us got into the lock. Plenty of room all around.
Let me digress for a minute and give you our own assessment for how the locks went today.
Lock Grade Remarks
E2 D- Only didn’t fail because we didn’t fall overboard. Or hit anyone. Though we came close to failing by both measures!
E3 C Midship. Need to remember Midship. Please remember the midship cleat!!!
E4 B We remember Midship cleat!
E5 B Rocking it!
E6 B Holding steady
E7 B+ Ran aground before the lock. Brought in a tree with us. STILL NAILED IT!!!!
Note the grade for lock E2. The lock we are in now. We are in with plenty of room. AJ is up front on the bow, Jan is on the stern, each with a line holding on tight. I drop the engines in neutral as the doors close behind us. We are feeling pretty good. We made it through the Troy federal lock with no issues. This should be cake. BUT. There is always a but. Water starts to fill and the current kicks up in the lock and we start to pull away from the wall. In hindsight we made two critical mistakes. First–we didn’t grab the rope mid-ship which would have controlled the entire boat. Second–we didn’t loop the lines around the cleats to control. We instead held onto them. First mistake was recoverable. Second? Not so much.
Lock E2: AJ up front
Lock E2: Jan in the back
Lock E2; Lots of room (thanks goodness)
First hint there was a problem was when the bow was moving quickly into the middle of the lock. And it was not supposed to. I tried to hook the lock ladder mid-ship but lost that fight and dropped the hook in the water rather than falling in. I ran up to get the bow line and pulled like a bastard to get us back on the wall. Meanwhile Jan was being slowly dragged overboard by her rope. She got her arm trapped between the lifelines and the rope so now she can either lose the stern, her arm or plunge in the water. Somehow she keeps the stern in line. Meanwhile the Canadian dudes in the monohull who are now uncomfortably close to our boat (through no fault of their own), smartly station one of their crew on our side. Just in case.
Commence pulling, tugging, swearing and praying. And eventually the nightmare ends. The lock gate opens. And as we wait to head out, a very scruffy Canadian yells “Hey Serenity” and holds up our pole and asks if we lost it. We did. I thank him and ask him if he happened to recover my pride as well as the pole but no such luck. We spill out into the canal. And we realize that we are now “That guy.” The boat that everyone looks at when we go into the lock to see what will happen.
When we toddle out of Lock E2, we notice that the three boats that left an hour before us are tied up to the side of the canal waiting for lock E3 to open. Apparently there was a personnel situation and the lock operator for E3 had to cover his and lock E5 and the lock operator for E4 had to cover E6. So there was a lot of delays and shuffling of operators. For those of us in the second flight, no big deal, but the first set of dudes had to be hot!
So now we are going into a lock with six boats. And we just tubed the previous one. We are the last ones in and we can see everyone checking us out to see what we are going to do now. The doors close. Jan is on the bow, AJ and I on the stern. And we make it. But it isn’t pretty.
We go ducks in a row into E4 and again, we are last. Liking this. This time we grab a line mid-ship and just like the Troy lock, we have no issues! I hold the line and Jan and AJ push off the lock. We have figured it out. Just like the books said. And as an added bonus, there are other boats who get pushed by the current in the lock. We use that to salve our wounds.
Lock E5 and E6 we get cables mid ship and rope in the back and it is easy peasy. Rest of boats are still giving us the stink eye. But we hold our own and enjoy the ride through the locks. AJ snaps pictures and squirrels around as only an 11 year old can do.
From E6 to E7 is 11 miles or a solid 2.5 hours in our put put of a boat. The big monsters take off pretty quickly and leave us and the monohull in the dust. There is obviously a current against us–we struggle to make 5mph and we should be doing better than that. The rain and high water levels are killing us. If you want a more technical description of the challenges, our good buddy Don and Peg in Endeavor wrote in their blog about what they saw. The link is: https://whatashipis.com/2017/05/30/swirls/. Note the lovely diagrams. Where I say “this sucks” he says why it sucks.
We arrive at E7 and the doors are open. The lock master (and no kidding–they are called lock masters. Or lock Mistresses. Which seems to be really weird to me) says that we should watch out for the debris in front of the lock. And he wasn’t kidding. There was something like a redwood tree from California in front of the lock. I tried to avoide it by juking left and managed to run aground. Apparently I went outside the channel. So I called to Scottie for full power, jammed the engines into warp speed and blasted out of the mud and into the redwood forest. Which got caught between our two hulls and dragged into the lock.
Not a big deal except I have a hard time steering or making headway with a redwood sticking out of our boat. Much cursing and thrusting and beating and we make it into the lock. Jan grabs the midship line, AJ is on top of it up front and we are it up. The big a$$ed cat at the front of the lock tells me that we have a redwood under our boat. Which we appreciate. Then it spills out to mess with the other boats.
We now have 4 miles, or just under an hour until we plan on refuelling at Schenectady Yacht club. We call, the fuel dock is open and, oh by the way, there is a severe thunderstorm warning for 1700, would we like to stay? Why yes we would. We fuel, I totally misdujdge the current and scrape the crap out of our boat and we are in for the night.
Power connected, AJ working at school and at 1630 a thunderstorm rolls through. Monster. Complete with thunder, lightening and hail. So much hail that it collects on our front deck, we harvest and use in our drinks for the night. An appropriate ending to a very, very long day.
We are the Donnelly family. We spent a year on our boat in 2017-2018 cruising in the United States, Canada and the Bahamas. We came back to the great state of Maryland, worked a bit, went to school and now are heading out on our 2019 adventure--a trip to Europe!