End of the Canal, start of the river

We’ve finally eased our way out of the Erie Canal, and are heading south and to New York City on the Hudson.

Grandparents in Baldwinsville

Grandparents in Baldwinsville

The second half of the canal was less about the excitement of the locks, for us, and more about visiting family and friends. Our method of travel–motoring, regardless of the weather–and the proximity of the canal to the interstate made it easy to arrange visits.

For people who have a blog, with their kids’ faces splashed all over the internet for the world to see, this will sound weird; but we are actually kind of private people, and want to protect our kids’ internet presence. With that in mind, we hesitate to post pics of other people, especially kids, on our very public blog. We won’t be showing too many photos of our visits, but we were able to meet up with two very dear families from Wisconsin, traveling back home from Maine; the above grandparents; and cousins from upstate New York.

Playing in the waves with cousins; Sylvan Beach, NY

Playing in the waves with cousins; Sylvan Beach, NY

Old-school amusement park in the rain; Sylvan Beach

Old-school amusement park in the rain; Sylvan Beach

We were able to spend some extra time with the cousins, as they’d rented an apartment in Sylvan Beach. Storms rolled through all weekend, but our family was pretty ecstatic to sit in air conditioning and watch some Olympics. Spending time with family was great, regardless of the weather.

Bike ramp to infamy, outside Guard Gate 2

Bike ramp to infamy, outside Guard Gate 2

After all the visiting, it was full speed ahead to get a jump on our next plans: mast up, and meeting with Michu’s sister further down the Hudson.

We managed to get through the Canal by the skin of our ten-day pass. To add an additional two days would have only cost us $15, but we were ready to exit. Despite high winds that almost turned us in a circle within lock nine, we made it down the Waterford flight and took our place behind three other mast-down sailboats at the very friendly town dock. Best feature: the KID BOAT right in front of us!

The lineup, Waterford

The lineup, Waterford

Perla VII is traveling with four girls, all French-speaking; F. has been learning to work around a serious language barrier. Fortunately for my rusty French, the parents’ English is quite good, and we’ve been traveling in concert for the past few days.

Photo by F

Photo by F

Anchorage on the Hudson

Anchorage on the Hudson

I feel like we are entering a third phase of out trip. After our extended time in the Great Lakes, which mostly felt familiar, and our trip through the canal, we are headed to the ocean, learning about tides, sniffing the air for salt. Mostly we’re smelling some funky pollution on the Hudson, but the excitement is building for the coast.

More lighthouses to discover, this one outside of Hudson

More lighthouses to discover, this one outside of Hudson

Outboard maintenance

Outboard maintenance

At the moment, we’re holed up at Hop-O-Nose marina, turning our boat back into a sailboat and doing some deferred maintenance. Michu’s just gotten the outboard running again, after a hiatus of two months (yeah, that’s pretty much the whole time we’ve been cruising. Getting pretty good at rowing the dink). We discovered that a mouse had made its home in the exhaust…which may have been affecting the outboard’s performance. Oil change to the diesel, sails bent on, rigging run, resealing the lower unit on the outboard, fixing a broken weld on the stove…and maybe some cleaning. Maybe. The guys at Hop-O-Nose are pros, the dock is only a buck a foot, and there’s a pool. Who knows how long we’ll be here!

Up she goes!

Up she goes!

Things whose value we didn’t understand two months ago

Our Bimini

We are shade-seeking missiles

We are shade-seeking missiles

I mean, we knew a bimini was an important feature; sun protection is a priority, and you almost never see a cruising boat without one. When we were getting the mast down in Buffalo, one of the yard guys was super-insistent: You HAVE to get your bimini up under that mast. Make sure there’s room for the bimini. Bimini, bimini, bimini. Ok, guy, we get it…but we really didn’t. Holy cow, do we need that shade; there are frequently days where everyone on the boat is huddled in the back, hogging the last pieces of shade and gasping for any kind of zephyr. Our brains would be lasagna without the bimini.

BinocularsDSC_1261

It is maybe possible that, when Michu bought these binoculars on sale at West Marine, I might have made fun of him for “unnecessary impulse purchases.” It is also maybe possible that Michu has the opportunity to remind me of that every day, since we use these binoculars every. single. day. To see if the lock is open. To see if that boat over there is actually moving. To find the harbor entrance. To watch the Coast Guard do some kind of helicopter rescue on Lake St. Claire at dusk. Every. Single. Day.

Deck of cardsDSC_1257

We have so many games on board. I spent a whole day sorting through—storing some, selling some, eliminating superfluous packaging—but the thing that sees the most use BY FAR is this deck of cards. Michu taught everyone gin rummy the first week we were on the boat, and since then, the tournaments have been epic.

Paper towels (You know what these look like, right? Because I don’t have a picture…)

In our land life, we rarely used paper towels. Some deep frying, some window cleaning, picking up something really gross; but mostly, we used rags and dishtowels in our day-to-day lives. Here on the boat, though, there’s a need: checking the engine oil alone has used up an entire roll over the course of the trip. We are no longer snobs about paper towel use.

SmartphoneDSC_1258

I love you, smartphone. I admit it. You are the one with the power to locate the grocery store, keep the family up to date via Facebook, let me check my email in the middle of nowhere. You pick up the wifi before anything else, and take pretty decent pictures. You keep me up to date on the election insanity, and let me approve blog comments. You help me locate friends who want to meet up on the Canal, and can always find the library. We knew the iPad would be great for navigation, and the laptop would be important for the blog, but we underestimated your intrinsic value, smartphone. Thank you for being there for us.

Sunrise, entering Lake Oneida to meet up with cousins on Sylvan Beach.

Sunrise, entering Lake Oneida to meet up with cousins on Sylvan Beach.

Hard Aground

So the other day, I was enjoying my post-coffee time in the head, when the whole boat slowed down. It wasn’t that gradual, we’re-coming-to-a-lock slowdown—it was violent; the bow dipped way down, and I almost slid off the toilet. It was like the Millennium Falcon coming out of light-speed; clearly something was wrong with our hyperdrive.

Racing up to the cockpit as fast as modestly possible, I expected to find Michu frantically doing…something. Instead, he was just sitting there with an I’m-trying-not-to-swear look on his face. We were hard aground, our keel stuck deep in the muddy bottom of the Erie Canal.

Now, our boat has a deep draft. Officially, the keel sticks down six feet, nine inches below the waterline, but fully loaded down, it’s much more; we just pretend it’s seven feet. We’ve run aground three times so far on this trip: once, getting to a slip just off of the St. Claire River; once, pulling into the wall to tie up in Lockport; and once trying to get fuel on the canal at a gas dock that was too shallow for us. All of these approaches were slow; we were also right next to a pier, so we were able to easily pull ourselves off the bottom. This was not the case here.

After some futile attempts as reversing our way out of the muck with the engine alone, we decided to set a kedge anchor off the stern and throw the rode on an aft winch to grind our way out of trouble.

It didn’t work.

Not working. This is our only picture of this debacle.

Not working. This is our only picture of this debacle.

We tried rocking the boat to free the keel (ahem, dinghy sailors), but since the boat weighs about 20,000 pounds, that was a non-starter. Our mast is down, so we couldn’t send someone out on the boom or the spinnaker pole to heel the boat up. Finally, we decided to take the anchor off the stern; row it out to the port side and a little aft; and throw the rode on the capstan for the anchor windlass. Motoring backward and forward, with the kedge anchor pulling us off to port (and deeper water) as we wiggled out of the mud, we were finally able to break free.

What went well:

  • We had our secondary anchor ready to go in the stern lazarette.
  • We had the dinghy ready to launch off the arch.
  • We were able to come up with more than one feasible plan to get ourselves free.
  • We were able to stop and assess what we were doing, and make a new plan when needed.
  • No one got mad at anyone else.
  • We were careful with loaded-up lines and heavy anchors, and no one was injured.
  • Winds were calm, and there were no waves; we had all day to work the problem, and really, nothing would have impeded us from spending the night. Time wasn’t an issue.

What didn’t go well:

  • Well, we ran aground. That wasn’t so awesome.
  • We knew that part of the canal was shallow, and had been warned to hug the north side; even though we were solidly in the channel, we could have been more to the north.
  • T got scared down below, and we didn’t notice. We had a post-incident family meeting about letting parents know when a kid is scared.
  • We ended up blocking off the whole Canal with our anchor rode. Normally, we would have radioed a warning to other boats, but our hand-held VHF’s don’t have much of a range, so we didn’t think it would be helpful. Fortunately, no one came through.

All told, we spent about an hour and a half getting ourselves free. Somehow, we both had the idea that kedging off would be kind of like trimming a spinnaker; you just kind of pull the line, and the boat moves in the proper direction. Instead, it was more like an Olympic event; the load on the lines was huge, and even then we couldn’t pull ourselves back. Lessons learned all around.

Way more than 15 miles

 

DSCF0407Everyone on the Erie Canal is a waver, and that’s a lot of people—other boats, bikers walkers, bridge tenders—everyone. I love it.

Early morning, tied up next to a lock

Early morning, tied up next to Lock 25, and our friends on Faluka

View from the bottom of the lock, as the gates begin to open

View from the bottom of the lock, as the gates begin to open

We’re mid-way through our canal transit, and it has been lovely. We haven’t seen as many boats as we expected, and very few sailboats such as ours, making our way to the ocean and points south. Maybe we’re a bit early? Either way, we’re finding this section of our trip pretty relaxing and stress-free.

 The “flight of five” historic locks in Lockport; as seen from the bridge at left, and from the water after exiting the modern locks at right.

Sometimes, a canal just has to go over a road...

Sometimes, a canal just has to go over a road…

The canal area, like much of the midwest, has been in a drought; we had a brief rainstorm one night, but otherwise, it’s been hot and sunny. We’re glad for the bimini; the fans down below have been going 24-7; we’ve been swimming in some less-than-pristine waters, just to cool off.

F, post-swim

F, post-swim

At 5 to 6 miles an hour, it’s taking us a while to motor across the state. The days are pretty long, but we’re feeling solid in our lock transiting skills—it’s already become routine to motor in, grab a fore and aft line to hold with our work gloves, and drop down into the cool well of the empty canal. The smell is not so great, but we enjoy the shade while it lasts.

Solar shower area off the transom

Solar shower area off the transom

Herons everywhere!

Herons everywhere!

Stairway to nowhere. If a pedestrian wants to cross the canal when a lift bridge is up, they just climb the stairs and walk across.

Stairway to nowhere. If a pedestrian wants to cross the canal when a lift bridge is up, they just climb the stairs and walk across.

We’re already past the lift bridges—the last one was at Fairport—but for a long stretch, we had bridges and lock tenders keeping track of us, radioing ahead to the next stop so they knew we were coming. Some tenders take care of more than one bridge; they’d wave and honk as they passed us on the road.

We are starting to tire of the engine noise; the heat and humidity are oppressive; we’ve banged our heads on the mast more times than we can count. But we’re still happy to have such protected water, and worry less about the weather; we’re also enjoying so many free places to tie up for the night, and the friendly people we’ve met along this path.

Picking up lines along the lock wall

Picking up lines along the lock wall. This was taken the same day I lost a shoe overboard in a lock. Whoops!

 Primary form of public art along the canal: the mural

On to the East

Approaching Buffalo; at least it wasn't blowing 25 on the nose again.

Approaching Buffalo; at least it wasn’t blowing 25 on the nose again.

We left Cleveland and pushed kind of hard to get to Buffalo. The less said about our time on Erie the better; we had unfavorable winds and not-wonderful marina time, and with the exception of beautiful Presque Isle State Park (80 degree water! Quiet anchorage! Lovely!), we were happy to see the back of it.

We did manage to get this beautiful sail in the air outside of Cleveland--for about a half an hour, before the wind returned to it's natural position in our face

We did manage to get this beautiful sail in the air outside of Cleveland–for about a half an hour, before the wind returned to it’s natural position in our face

Boats stacked along the river, Buffalo

Boats stacked along the river, Buffalo

Our time in Buffalo was task-focused: we had to get the mast down, in preparation for the Erie Canal; we had concerns about the multiple fluids leaking from the engine area; we had a serious laundry situation. We also had managed to book up most of August with plans–meeting up with family and friends on both the canal and in NYC–so we were anxious to get going, but unsure how long we’d be held up with boat tasks. Fortunately–finally!–things went our way.

Someone in Buffalo decided it would be a good idea to light up this old grain elevator in our marina; the whole show took about 45 minutes

Someone in Buffalo decided it would be a good idea to light up this old grain elevator in our marina; the whole show took about 45 minutes

Our home in Buffalo was the First Buffalo River Marina, and we can’t say enough good things about them. You probably won’t find them in any cruising guide–they don’t have fuel or a pump-out (which lead to a challenging bathroom situation down the line)–but they were wonderful to work with. Their yard guys were top-notch and on schedule, plus their rates were the cheapest in the area. They contracted with an outstanding diesel mechanic who diagnosed most of our problems as Paranoia, and worked with Michu to get the engine properly aligned. The staff and residents of the marina went out of their way to be helpful, giving us rides to the laundromat and grocery store. After our dispiriting week in Lake Erie, we found Buffalo to be amazing.

Remember, the last time we took down the mast, it was catastrophic; this time, everything was A-OK

Remember, the last time we took down the mast, it was catastrophic; this time, everything was A-OK

Favorite boat in the marina: this little J-22. Huge repair to the other side, as well, right at the chainplates

Favorite boat in the marina: this little J-22. Huge repair to the other side, as well, right at the chainplates

While the boat was being torn apart, the kids and I pulled our typical library move, and explored a bit of the city. We were docked on the outer harbor, but for a dollar, a ferry would bring us across to the free train. We checked out the art deco City Hall and the interesting downtown buildings, and picked up Michu for some wings and beef on weck. Across from the boat, the canal front was a non-stop party, with Zumba classes and live music until late.

View from the stern, across the river

View from the stern, across the river; the strings of lights are on Navy ships

Breaking the law.

Breaking the law.

We finally got on the move Saturday morning, planning to meet up with friends in Lockport. After motoring across the river for a dozen doughnuts from Tim Horton’s (indulgence!), we headed to Black Rock Lock, planning for the ten o’clock opening. Our first lock! We were so excited, and kind of nervous. After failing to get in touch with lock master on the VHF (maybe these things are broken? Do we need new hand-held radios?), we looked up their phone number and gave them a call to confirm our transit. Crickets. What the heck? I mean, the lock is in sight, we hustled to get here, why aren’t they answering? We tried the newly-installed loud-hailer. Nope. Oh…they don’t open until 11 on Saturday. Right. So we proceeded to commit a federal crime by tying up to the wall to wait for an hour.

Oh. Right.

Oh. Right.

We need to work on reading signs.

Fortunately, the lock operator declined to arrest us, and we transited our first lock without incident. We descended five whole feet, motored past Tonawanda, and voila–we were in the Erie Canal.

Our aft line handler

Our aft line handler