Dateline 6/5/17. Little Falls, NY.
When last we left you, we were sipping drinks with ice from a hailstorm and putting salve on our words from our first day of lockage on the Erie canal. It was a very stressful day. So the next day (Thursday) we went a whopping 10kilometers and through one lock and stopped and enjoyed the little park. Friday was five locks, 32 miles and a stop in some unpronounceable town. Then Saturday we went 17 miles, through four locks including the largest on the Erie canal and finished in Little Falls, NY. Which is where we have been sitting ever since. Our recap from the past couple of days broken down into topics that you can read or skip over as fits your interest!
Good news on the Erie canal is that there are lots of stops. Most towns have free docks or docks that charge a nominal fee (typically $1/foot) and provide services like showers, power, bathrooms, etc.). There are also tie ups at each lock, some with parks, available for free. And other facilities along the way. The bad news on the canal is that when you figure out how long it will take to travel given miles, it is not the simple math of distance divided by speed of boat. You have to add in the time it takes to get through the locks. Each lock adds about 30 minutes. Maybe more, maybe less. And if you are a go fast boat (which we are NOT), you have to take into account speed limits and no wake zones.
So the days that we made 60 miles in a single day are not going to happen here. Because we don’t have our sail up and so putter along at 5mph. And because of those locks.
Start: Schenectady Yacht Club, NY. Leave 0951
Finish: South wall of Lock 8. Arrive 1153
Total Distance: 6.2NM
Number of locks: 1 (8)
I have run 10K races faster in half the time of our journey today. 6.2 miles in 2 hours. We were smoking. There is a heck of a current on the Mohawk River right now and our engines putter us along at a whopping 4mph. We arise early and check the weather, as we normally do. But then we also check the current and flow of the Mohawk river and saw that today was still high, tailing off later tonight and so we decide to make it a very short day. We will go to lock 8, and tie up on the far wall for the day. Save Locks 9 and 10 which Don reported as “Sporty” due to currents from the dams for tomorrow.
We also continue to learn from our (my) mistakes. Yesterday I totally misjudged the current on the river leading to a ‘racing stripe’ on our starboard side. This morning we moved our boat to the up-current side of our slip to give us a couple of extra seconds from ‘release line’ to ‘scrape the crap out of the dock.’ And it worked like a champ. With the help of a dock hand, lines were released, engines sufficiently gunned in reverse and we were off.
6.1 miles later we arrived at Lock 8. I called up to the lock master and as we arrived the gates opened. The lock is on the left side (as you head upstream) of a dam which was discharging water. Lots of water. Most of it was going down a separate fork in the river, but some was wrapping around to the channel leading to the lock. Which meant that as we entered the channel, we were moved unceremoniously to the south wall. Quickly. Remembering Don’s sage advice to get some speed and use rudders, I gun it, turn into the dam and the current pushes us towards the doors. Jan and AJ who were standing on the deck up front looked at the dam, looked at the doors, looked back at me, and sat down on the deck and held on.
We made it. In the lock, got our lines and locked up with little drama. The wind had picked up and was blowing straight into the lock so as we got up to the top, we had to hold on tight to keep us from pushing back out the back end. Front doors opened and we putter out and tie off on the lock wall. Before noon.
Start: South wall of Lock 8. Leave 0642
Finish: Canajoharie, NY, arrive 1429
Total Distance: 31.8NM
Average Speed: 4:09 Knots
Number of Locks: Five (E9, 10, 11, 12 and 13)
Wakey wakey. It is 0500 and I’m up. Lucky and I hit the road for a little walk and hop on line to check the weather and alerts for the canal system. And newly posted on line is a notice to mariners traveling the Erie/Mohawk river. The high levels of water are creating strong cross currents and turbulence at the locks THAT WE WILL BE GOING THROUGH TODAY! Oh joy. Jan gets up, we make some coffee and discuss our options. We can remain here for another day or two and see if the conditions improve, but the weather forecast calls for rain in two days. Which means more flow. Or we can head off to the next lock and see how bad it is and make the go/no-go decision when we see the lock. We decide to press on. So at 0642 we head up stream.
It is a gorgeous morning. Mid 50s, partly cloudy and little wind. We chug along at our 5mph pace and at 0715 get a call from the lock master in E9. He says the can is open and requests we pick up the pace. We are 10 minutes out and there is another boat in the lock, but he is holding it for us so he only has to cycle it once. We jam the throttle forward and leap to 6mph and get there in 9:30 seconds. Turbulence is definitely present, but we are at warp speed and blow straight into the lock. Jan and AJ secure the lines and we are through. No drama. No mess. No fuss. Why was this so hard the past two days?
Locks 10, 11 and 12 are all in the same vein. Lots of water up front of the lock swirling around, but we make it in without major incident. We called the lock master at 13 and he told us that there was a lot of turbulence at his lock. And then called us 10 minutes later (as we were approaching) to remind us that there was a lot of turbulence. Great. And there was, but we made it in and got an ‘atta boy’ from the lock master. More for not scraping the gunk off his wall than anything else.
We held ropes, our boat rises in the lock and Lucky, who up to this point has been very well behaved, decided this was an interesting place, and hopped off the boat and onto the lock to check out the lock master. The lock master said that they were looking for a good dog and would keep him. We replied that Lucky was part of a package deal and if they took Lucky, the had to take Sid. Igor, one of the lock masters said, in a heavily accented Eastern European accent, “does the cat know how to swim?” To which we replied “No.”
“Then no problem” he said. “We take them.”
Dog rescued, cat on boat. Done with our last dock. We head off and arrive at Canajoharie. Or Canjo. Because the other word is really hard to pronounce. We arrived at the Canajoharie Riverfront park at 2:45. Don/Peg in Endeavor were already there and had a spot saved for us. Pull up into the spot and smack the port side anchor against the wall and simultaneously try to pull Don into the water. These landings are getting better and better. We were joined by Paul and Jean on Bob Tail. Paul and Jean are from Madison, Don/Peg from Hudson, WI and I’m from New Richmond. Three boats with Wisconsin people. Tis a small world indeed.
Start: Canajoharie, NY, leave 0650
Finish: Little Falls, NY
Total Distance: 17.0 NM
Average Speed: 3.5 Knots
Number of Locks: Four (E14, 15, 16, and 17 (the monster))
We are up early. The first lock of the day (14) is right around the corner from our wall and it opens at 7am (on the dot). Paul and Jean are on a mission to get to the Syracuse airport in time to get son and daughter in law on a flight. So they are catching the first lock opening and we don’t want to slow them down or miss it. So both Bob Tail and Serenity are bobbing around in the dawn light outside the lock bright and early. Doors open, we are both in, up and out in less than 20 minutes. And Bob Tail puts the peddle to the metal and that is the last we see of them for the day.
Jan and I get us through locks 14 and 15 because his royal highness cannot be awoken before 0830. No problems with the locks today. The weather is cloudy and we have a pretty tough headwind, so our slow pace stays slow. At lock 16 we have the full Donnelly contingency on deck working together. And to witness the first incident of one of us falling off our boat. At the lock, the wind is pushing us hard against the wall. Our two new fenders are working (see boat work section below) but I’m trying to keep us as much as possible off the wall. We are almost done with locking and the deck of our boat is above the wall and I’m pushing down on our boat hook on the painted topside of the lock wall. And the boat hook slips. I pitch forward, over the lifelines and onto the lock wall. I’m up in a flash and back on the boat and pretty sure that no one has seen anything. AJ helpfully tells me that “your boat hook is in the water next to the boat.” Crap. AJ hands me his, I pull the boat hook out to the snickers from Jan and AJ and I motor out with head held high.
Lock 17 is the biggest lock on the Erie Canal and at one time the largest in the world. It was built 100 years ago this year and raises/lowers the boats 40.5 feed. We are going west bound and locking up, so we see a huge guillotine type door lift up and we drive into what looks like a dark cave. Inside is a huge cavern with immense iron doors to the front with water shooting out. The instructions are to tie to the port side wall. The current from the incoming water when they fill the can makes it impossible to hold against the starboard wall. We putter in and then get 10 minutes to wait and get ready; another boat is coming up the canal and requested that the lock hold until we get there. No problem from us! While we look around, we notice we are the subject of attention from above–a bunch of people looking down to watch our boat slam around the lock.
Second boat comes in, doors close and up we go. As advertised there is a big push to the port side the wall. Except because we are so far forward it was pushing more against the back of our boat, which kicked the front of our boat off the wall. Which is where Jan was holding onto the line. She got a workout.
We got to the top, were passed by the fast mover, moved along a mile and tied up at the Little Falls NY. The Canal Harbor at Rotary Park. We nailed the landing, which means I nailed the port side anchor against the wall. Again. Ken and Linda (Independence) were there. Our stop for the next three days. And our favorite place to date.
Over this portion we stopped at a lock wall outside Schenectady NY, at a free wall in Canajoharie, NY and at the canal harbor at rotary park in Little Falls, NY. This pretty much is the range of what you can expect.
1. The lock wall is minimalist. Big cement walls with bollards, rings, and if you are lucky, cleats to tie to. Most don’t have power (thought this one did). There was a nice park and bike trail for walking. We went along the trail for a mile and a half. It runs between the current canal and the original Erie canal and there are still remnants of the original canal. Trail has lots of people biking, walking and running. Only issue you have to deal with is make sure that you get your fenders out to protect your boat from rubbing against the concrete and steel of the wall. Which we apparently did NOT do well, because we now have a ‘racing strip’ on our port sid.e
2. Canajoharie has a cement wall for free. Similar to the lock wall but located in a town so you can walk to restaurants, stores and local attractions. No power, showers or bathrooms on site. But did I mention it was free?
3. Little Falls had a cement wall as well, but it was next to a visitors center that had the cleanest showers to date, bathrooms, room with TV, power, water. Everything you need. Plus SUPER nice people manning the dock to help you connect, get your dock lines, answer you questions and drive you around town if you want. For $1/foot. Or $36 for us. Per night.
Back to Canajoharie. The wall is in Riverfront park. It is a gorgeous, well cared for park with picnic tables, pavilion and people actually using the thing. We were met by a nice lady who was walking her dog who wanted us to know that the floating docks that were typically installed by this time were delayed due to problems with the crane–it was stuck in Albany.
AJ and I headed off with Don to get ice cream from Stewart’s shop. A gas station and ice cream store. Fantastic. Then to the dollar general. Paul and Jean on Bob Tale told us a secret to rooty pooty fenders–buy and exercise ball and a laundry bag from Dollar General and put on the side of the boat to protect the sides from the lock walls. We obviously need some help, and for $5, there is no down side. Meanwhile Jan and Peg were at the wine store.
We met back up, went to get some lunch meat from a local meat store (Peruzzi’s). Then we all headed up to the area that Canajoharie is named for. Canajoharie is a Mohawk term that means “boiling pot.” The pots are 20 minutes through town and we trek through to a creek that has a small waterfall and boiling pots, or potholes. The walk is fantastic and Lucky and AJ get to air out their britches. We come back to the boat and then head off to a small pizza place in town. Mercado Pizza Restaurant. It is run by husband and wife and that is the entirety of the crew. He takes your order and delivers the food. She cooks. The service was good, but not fast given there were TWO PEOPLE working. The food was fantastic.
In 2009, after 118 years, Beech-Nut moved out of Canajoharie leaving a huge factory in the middle of town. We walked by it twice and it was a pretty impressive sight and a reminder on how our economy is changing. And this would be a theme this week.
Town number two is Little Falls, NY. A fantastic town. We were a 20 minute walk from the town. When we arrived on Saturday morning, we were met and welcomed to the facility, given a tour, and were told that there was a wedding at 1:30pm. We decided that in the interest of their marital bliss, we would not take our much needed showers until after the wedding party had cleared the premises. At least two of us (with the XY chromosomes) were extremely fragrant, but if we put on a sweatshirt, we could knock down the stench enough to walk around in public.
So we headed out to the grocery store to get provisions, then back to the boat. Jan washes the boat while I do the laundry. AJ logs some electronics time. Then we head back into town to walk onto Moss Island to look at Lock 17 from above, watch rock climbers and look at potholes in the rocks. On the way we see the ruins of an old aqueduct that connected the farmers from one side of the Mohawk river to the Erie canal so they could get their cheese to market in New York City and the east coast before it went bad. It turns out that Little Falls was claimed to be a cheese capital of the US at one point, which, as a former citizen of Wisconsin, is heresay! Back to the harbor for showers (FINALLY) and dinner–green thai curry chicken and rice.
On Sunday, I get up just before 8am and take Lucky out on a run up the canal trail. Then back to pick up Jan and AJ. I’m learning that there are no short conversations here. We dropped in to tell the guy at the desk that we were staying two more nights and twenty minutes later we left after learning about the town, cheese, and the Erie Canal. And AJ scored two donuts. Jan, AJ and I head out to walk into town to see a small waterfall. As we start to cross the bridge into Little Falls we run into two ladies out on a morning walk. And for ten minutes we walk across the bridge with them and learn about the town, cheese, the Erie Canal AND which restaurants are open, events happening in the area, who owns the houses that we can see, where we can get the best donuts, and a ton of other information. They talked to us about the old factories that still stood on the side of the river and the manufacturing that used to happen in the city (shoes/textiles) and how it transitioned to tourism and shops, restaurants and living spaces. They assured us they were not from the Chamber of Commerce; they just love their town. We parted and headed straight to the donut shop to get yet another donut for AJ, then to get some coffee and up into town.
It is a fantastic town. There are some HUGE homes of all varieties. Stone, wood, turrets, stained glass, Tudor. You name it, it is here. After a mile or so we came to a small park, walked around an old pool and into the woods and after 10 minutes came to the Milk (or Buttermilk) falls. The falls are about 40’ of falling water in the woods. Then back to the boat to eat a quick lunch and then back to town to go see “Wonder Woman.” Back to the boat for showers, dinner and end of another day.
We talked a bit about the boaters at each of the stops along the way.
Bob Tail: Paul and Jean from Madison , WI. Their first night on their boat was their first day on the loop. They provided us the great idea for ‘pick up’ fenders to protect our boat.
Independence: Ken and Linda who we have been hopscotching with since Croton on Hudson. Ken and I swapped stories about sliding into locks and perhaps leaving a couple of marks on our boats.
Let it Ride; Tim and Karen on the end of their great loop on a HUGE 52’ motor yacht. Pulled in behind us. From Ohio and cheering for Lebron and company to pull out one win from the Golden State Warriors. Good luck. They had the most honest assessment of the great loop. When we asked how their experience was on the loop they said “it has been good and it has been bad. It is life.” First people to say that there is actually something hard!
Some work was done over the past three days while we have been in Great Falls:
1. Sink. Sink was clogged starting at lock 13. We tried vinegar and baking soda in a middle school science experiment. We tried boiling water. We removed the drains to see if there was a clog. Finally we bought a plunger and AJ and Jan managed to plunge out whatever food was in our lines to get our sink working.
2. Batteries: Serviced/topped off batteries with distilled water. They needed it.
3. Bought 2x6s for supports for fuel and water on front of boat. Lumber store across the street so took advantage and bought a 12’ 2×6 to put as support on our stantions to hold our extra fuel and water cans. Fuel cans are back of our boat right now and water in a random locker. We are looking at all the other boats and realize we don’t have it right. Yet.
4. Reran ratchet straps on front support for mast. On Friday in some ‘rough’ water we watched the front support sway left to right. Realized that we don’t have enough lateral support, so AJ and I reran two of the ratchet straps to get more support.
Tool of the Day: I think from time to time we will put in the one tool that helped us the the day or week. Today’s winner is our toy ball in laundry bag that we slung over the side of the boat to protect us from the side of the locks. You can see it in the picture below–the fashionable blue bag!