Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Dinghy Dilemma

(The movie takes about 5 minutes, but it's kinda fun to watch. Especially right after lock 3 when Russ is pointing at directions for the boat to go. Currents there were rough, and the boat weaved and dodged.)

The new dinghy is now part of the boat. It was here, the new motor was here, so all we needed to do was put it all together.

We have a davit system that is made of two parts: two winches that raise and lower the dinghy, and two arms we raise by hand to support the dinghy. Of course with each we had an issue with both of those. 

The Pudgy Pug is smaller than the last dinghy. That means the location of the cables to raise it are closer together than the winches. And that means the cables would wind on angles instead of perfectly vertical. The second issue were the support arms, which miss the new dinghy altogether, offering zero support.

Russ had a good notion on how to deal with problem #1. A strongback. He wanted a metal bar about 8 feet long with two sets of eye bolts, one set on top that line up with the winches and the second that line up with the dinghy's lift cables. Unable to find a welder to make such a thing, he went to the hardware store and bought pressure treated 2x4.

Our homemade dinghy sling.
Yep. We're bringing Appalachia to the loop!

We could easily lift the Pudgy Pug, which is way lighter than the old boat. Now we needed to secure it.

Russ though about adding some attachment to the two arms, like a plate or a bar that would come up from below. After some churn and picture drawing, I googled "dinghy sling." We found nets made to support little boats.

Wait a minute. We actually HAVE a net. We use a cargo net to carry stuff strapped to the roof of the fly deck.

Little more than an hour later, Russ had lashed a cargo net to each of the arms. We tested the system.

Note the 2x4. 
It's not perfect yet. He'd like to wrap a couple of line around the net and boat to truly secure it in place. We'd like not to have the thing bouncy off if we hit some rougher water. But it's a great start.

Once done we moved Cat-n-Dogs between locks 7 & 8. It's more protected there, and it seemed like the weather was going to be a little nasty. Still hasn't yet. That's boating for ya.

Russ had to lasso these lines while moving.
A trick given the lack of space for error.

Another reason we moved. Getting the dogs on 
and off here was a real bother.
Those big blocks were to keep boats from floating
into the parking lot. The water was that high.

Sometimes you get weird parking spots.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Phoenix to Oswego

As promised, the locks opened at 7 am. When we parked on a wall in Phoenix there were already 11 other boats there. And two others joined us in the evening. We figured it would be a big rush for the first lock through, and a number of boats had their engines running at 6:30. One of these was a h-u-g-e tri-maran that took up a full width in the lock chamber. So only 5 boats could fit. We were the 6th.

We did enter the chamber at 7:45 for the second wave.

The locks themselves were no trouble. Everyone took the same positions at each of the locks so getting in and out wasn't a problem. Well... getting out was a little problem every now and again.

We're docked against the huge blocks, put there
to keep boats from drifting onto the land.
But it makes for a tricky on/off the boat.
Since we were traveling down river that meant all the dams and spillways were waiting for you as you left the lock. And with the very high water, this made for an interesting exit at lock 3. You could see water spilling over the river banks and into our exit. I left the chamber very slowly to give the first boat time to get through the thrash. A thrash it was. Tossed left and right -- he did power through it but it looked dicey.

That was my plan: powering through it. I put the spurs to Cat-n-Dogs and we forced our way into the churn. It's such an odd sensation when the boat turns on you and you aren't the driver. You feel like you've lost control. I did manage to keep her straight(-ish) and we got out of it without incident. But there was a great deal of spin-the-wheel-left-now-spin-it-right-now-back-back-back!

Other locks weren't as bad, just a bit jostling. 

Pudgy Pug's maiden voyage
We got to the Oswego Marina and our new dinghy and it's motor was waiting for us. Russ spent a fair amount of the day unpacking and assembling (not that the dinghy needed much assembling, just attaching the motor to it).

Oswego is on Lake Ontario, which is currently 3 feet above it's normal water line. They had a tremendous amount of rain and snow these last few months. Oswego is barely above the water line now. The canal was closed for a darned good reason -- waaaaaay too much water.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Brewerton to Phoenix

Teeny, tiny day. Just 14 miles. We didn't even plan on doing it. Until.

Recall that the Oswego Canal, and the 8 locks therein, were closed. The news came out around 1 pm today that they will be open tomorrow, 7 am. We went around in circles about should we stay another night or get to the next nearest town. Russ even sent text messages to other loopers in Phoenix about space on the walls there. In the end we left.

No particular problems. We went through the last Erie Canal lock, then made that northward turn to head off to Lake Ontario. If all goes well we may cross it Friday, or over the weekend, weather permitting.

Just heart broken I couldn't go back!
I was bummed to leave Brewerton for one reason. Mariachi! That is the only Mexican restaurant in Brewerton (or nearby). When we fueled up I asked the attendant what she recommended for eats. She said Mariachi was surprisingly good. Then I said, "I don't know if I can trust your opinion on Mexican cuisine, being a New Yorker." She said she'd been to the Mission District of San Francisco a number of times while visiting relatives, and Mariachi was worthy.

She was right! In fact, I had the Camarrones Al Mojo De Ajo and I think it was the best ever. Better than Vegas's Lindo Michoacan or SF's Tommy's. And that is sayin' something!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Sylvan Beach to Brewerton

When we left Sylvan Beach we were waiting to hear of the locks to Oswego were open yet. They said today, but no official news had be published. But then we left around 7:30 in the morning, so that was no surprise.

As predicted the wind was almost zero, which made crossing Lake Oneida easy. We got to open up the engines a bit, and for about 10 minutes we traveled at nearly 12 knots. Quite a rush! To y'all that's just over 15 mph. Hey, no judging!

Nice day to cross the lake
We'd been warned that gas in Canada was expensive so we tanked up at a marina here. We also filled our water and pumped-out, getting ready for the next trip northward. And that's when we heard, not today and probably not tomorrow. Yep, the locks remain closed. This was due to the water levels being too high, and to make matters worse, the forecast for the next 5 days say -- you betcha! -- rain.

We may be here a while.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Utica to Sylvan Beach

I'm deeming this place to be Crazy Town! We knew it was a beachy town, and we knew they had a boardwalk-type vibe here, and we knew there was some kind of jet ski competition on the lake, and yet -- CRAZY TOWN!

Let's use white letters on a yellow background.
Everyone will be able to read that!
Given what we knew we thought leaving later in the morning (which would get us here later in the afternoon) would make parking easier. That all the weekenders would be, well, ending their week. We arrived around 3:15 pm to an absolute nut fest of boats of every kind going every which way. We parked on the wall away from the haps, since it had space available (no one wants to be away from the haps). But it's very close to the lake, which means we're getting slapped around by wakes and wind. We plan on moving later this evening, if things clear out and calm down.

No adventures today. After topping out at 420 feet through Lock 20, Locks 21 and 22 were both sinking locks for us. We come in at the top, then they let water out of the chamber and we plummet. They do go fast!

Tomorrow will be our first open water crossing since the Hudson Bay, Oneida Lake. The locks on the other side are still closed today, but rumor has it that they'll be open tomorrow.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Little Falls to Utica

The network is lest than ideal here,
thus the very straight line out of Little Falls.
Two more locks under our belts, both around a 20 foot increase in elevation. Soon we'll be heading down the lock system instead of up.

We started the day with breakfast. Russ and I talked up the blueberry pancakes at Ann Street Restaurant & Deli (they may have been the best thus far, imho) that we had to go back for seconds with the Babinskis. Once we all got back to the boats we headed out, right around 8:30 in the morning.

Before plastic fenders the padding on a boat was
made from grass or thatch. They were called beards.
After all the rain and flooding, the water in the canal was crazy muddy. Various logs, trees, and branches that washed into the system made for a little more challenging day. Russ called the game "flotsam dodge 'em." It definitely elevated my concentration to keep an eye out for whatever is under that tiny branch on my left.

Blue sky, muddy waters, a good day.
The only adventure today was in the second lock. First we had to go under a railroad bridge to get in. With all the water, however, the approach was a bit short for us. We scraped the bridge with our radio antennae. 

Then as the chamber was filling with water one of our fenders fell off the boat. I took on managing both our lines while Russ, using a line pole, fished the inflatable between Cat-n-Dogs and the lock wall, then rescued it from the swim platform. Turns out we had it upside down. One end it supposed to be tied to the boat, which has a tiny knot, the other end, a BIG knot to prevent exactly this from happening. Somehow we managed to flip it, and with the help of the lock wall scraping it downward, the thing got loose. 

One of the oldest buildings in town,
Bagg's tavern.
Once we got to Utica, around 12:30, we took a long walk to town and toured a brewery, FX Matt. Silly name for a brewery, but their beer and ciders were really good. From there we did pizza at Lukins, also excellent. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Staying a day in Little Falls

The first day of summer, and despite the dry evening when we all went to bed last night we knew it would be rainy (at least in the morning). We decided we'd stay a day here. This gave us some time to a number of chores (such is boat life -- there's always something that needs to be done) as well as time our arrival to Oswego, where we're meeting our new dinghy. Short delay in shipping, so no reason to be there sooner. 

The As You Wish crew (thank you, Martha!) sent some wonderful photos from yesterday. They clearly show the guillotine-style gate of Lock 17 and what a rainy day it was.

Soggy weather
Lock 17. Two boats are in, the 3rd took the shot.

What it's like in a lock.
Note Russ in his rain gear.

Last turn before Little Falls.

As the day progressed, the situation got worse on the canal. First only lock 18 and 19 were closed. Then all the locks down to 8 were closed. Later still, all the locks along the canal and up to Oswego were closed. 

By the time we went to bed, however, the next few locks above us were opened. At least we'll be able to progress just a bit tomorrow.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Canajoharie to Little Falls

When we went to bed last night we hadn't made a go/no-go decision due to the weather. Some forecasts forebode of thunderstorms, others only light rain. When we woke things were gray but dry. We dashed out around 7 am, being first to lock through. We traveled with two other boats, As You Wish and Sea Gypsy

Four locks to do. And I'll give a "woo hoo!" right now because they all went swimmingly! No dramas, no issues. The first two had some currents but my power-through strategy remains effective. It's at this point that you get off the Mohawk River and really ride on the Erie Canal. Most of it no longer exists, and has been dismantled, filled, and paved over. We didn't get to enjoy it much because...

The rain started.

Big time!

Soggy day
The third and fourth locks were taller; the first around a 20 foot lift and the next, 40. Other traffic was about today, so on both we had to wait for boats to come down before we could go up. The occasional flash lit the sky followed by rolling thunder that echoed off the valley walls. Being on the water isn't ideal when in thunderstorms, but I do enjoy a nice burst. This one was behaved. No nasty winds, just rain and rumbles.

Weather maps showed that most of the rain was west of us. We were going to travel into some of it, but the bulk was beyond. 

Russ in his rain gear
The fourth lock, lock E 17, was not only the tallest on the canal, but it filled reeeeaaaally slow - took nearly an hour to lock through. We all stood in the massive downpour, managing the lines, and riding the slow rising waters. Later we were told it's broken, which is why it fills slow. Once it fully breaks they'll fix it.

Just after the fourth lock was the town of Little Falls, our destination. We sidled up to the wall with ease right around noon. Other boaters were already there, and as the afternoon went on, others came in. By 3 pm, things changed. The waters had risen over a foot. The current was rushing by, bringing with it some tremendous flotsam -- huge logs and entire trees. 

Along the Erie Canal we've gone under guard gates, huge metal barriers that close off sections of the canal to control flooding. There are a set just before you get to Little Falls, which were opened when we came. They were closed by 3 in the afternoon. Moreover, we heard that the next two locks, 18 and 19, are also closed, at least for today. Possibly tomorrow. Lock 19 apparently has some mechanical issue and has failed. Lock 18 was closed to help manage the flow for 19. And all of this was because of the rain west of us.

Waters are so high they've flooded the entry to the
floating docks.
We plan on leaving tomorrow but ultimately, we'll have to wait on news about the locks.

Turns out Little Falls is a decent place to be. Today there was an art walk downtown. By 5 the clouds had parted, the sun came out, and the sidewalks are filled with people.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Amsterdam to Canajoharie

Six boats were on the wall last night in Amsterdam and all of us were heading westward. Three left early, around 7:30 am. We left in the later group, around 8:30 am. Because of the nature of locking, which tends to cluster boats, just traveling in a cluster seemed like an expedited idea.

It worked great for two of the three locks we had to go through. The first two, that is. We three boats, As You Wish, Bay Tripper, and Cat-n-Dogs stuck together with Bay Tripper in the lead. The lock masters had the doors opened and waiting for us. It all went like clockwork.

Bay Tripper in the lead, As You Wish behind them.
We'd heard on the radio that of the three in front, one of them was going very slow and letting the others by. I won't divulge their real name because of events to come so I'm going to just call them SlowBoat. SlowBoat is a BIG boat and piloted by an couple who'd been doing this for many years. They said had enough of the east coast. In other words, they'd done all this a number of times already.

The stretch to the third lock was a bit longer. Bay Tripper, who'd been traveling faster than the rest of us, managed to get quite a distance ahead. About 2 miles from the lock we heard them call to request passage. The lockmaster said he'd wait. SlowBoat got on the radio right away saying they were already in the lock and ready to go. The lockmaster repeated that he would wait. Bay Tripper then said there were two other boats behind him (us). The lockmaster said we'd wait for us, too. Armed with that, we both sped up a bit, not wanting to hold up the show. 

The falls at Canajoharie
Immediately, however, SlowBoat got on the radio and complained about having to wait for these other boats. The lockmaster said (again) he was going to wait. SlowBoat complained further, saying we were far enough away that he could move them through now and have the doors open by the time we got there. The lockmaster (patiently) explained that locking through would take fifteen minutes, and we'd be there in three. He was going to hold the lock.

We did get there in just a few minutes. Bay Tripper was on the port side, pulled far ahead. SlowBoat was on the starboard side, smack in the middle of the wall. So As You Wish pulled up next to Slowboat, on the port side. As Cat-n-Dogs entered the channel the lockmaster told us to stay on the port side as well, so we buttoned up behind As You Wish. We hadn't fully secured ourselves to the wall when they closed the doors behind us.

Van Alstyne homestead, 1749. Still a residence.
(Note: We're not sure but we suspect that the goodie bags we'd been leaving behind for all these lockmasters may have had something to do with the lockmaster holding for us. Both As You Wish and we have been diligent about it.)

I've mentioned that, at this point in the process, we wrap lines around our cleats and manage them as we go up. Some folks just hold the lines themselves. We think SlowBoat did just that. But when the chamber filled with water, the fill came from the starboard side. This pushed their boat away from the wall so hard that they couldn't hold on and let go. SlowBoat drifted sideways and into As You Wish.

Thankfully, no people or boats were damaged.
I saw this drama unfold. Russ and I yelled to John and Martha to look behind them -- they'd been managing their own ropes, facing the wall, unaware of what was going on behind them. Then the two of them kept running back and forth, pushing SlowBoat away, then tending their lines, then back to SlowBoat

Everyone had fenders on them, so no damage was done other than some scuffing. 

Once the doors were opened, SlowBoat immediately got on the radio and yelled about how this was all the lockmaster's fault. That, if they'd been allowed to lock through that would have never happened. 

The rest of us were flabbergasted. 

I tell ya, everyday's an adventure.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Scotia to Amsterdam

Only three locks today, and about 15 miles of travel. So, a nice length. A bit wet and rainy but no winds. So, a decent day.

It's becoming clear that locks are going to be tricky. The locks themselves aren't the issue, but they are typically right next to rapids or a dam. These things cause crazy currents. All three locks, the first in particular, had wild, twisty eddys that caused Cat-n-Dogs to spin. It was all I could do to bring her back straight. Once you get into the chamber, everything gets calm.

The last lock had a strong current running at us. I used a fair amount of thrust just to keep her at 5 knots, which helped power through the current there. I will remember that for the next 200 locks.

No. Not an exaggeration.

Water like glass today
Amsterdam has a city park with a wall for boats, parallel to the Mohawk River (or the Erie Canal). Based on yesterday's experience we planned for a strong current. We found a spot, and turned into the current, waiting for it to move us around, and, well, nothing happened. We just sat there. Turns out we had almost no current at all. Go figure. I backed up and just parked her like I normally would. No drama today.

Additionally, it's also becoming clear that these upstate New York towns just relish their summers. It don't last long here, so they do everything they can for as long as they can. Right after work or school, parks fill up, outdoor eateries are jammed, baseball or pickleball or field hockey games are played. And we got treated to some interesting water sport activities.

Working on the pyramid, Schenectady

The Amsterdam Castle, an old armory, now a B&B.
Russ on the boat at Amsterdam City Park.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Waterford to Scotia

Westward Ho!
...the longest 20 miles!

We'd gotten some advice from a dockmaster in Poughkeepsie that if you want to expedite your trip through the lock system on the Erie Canal give the lock masters a small gift. Cheap beer works, maybe some nibbles. We loaded up with Budweiser and snack-sized bags of pretzels. I don't know if it worked or not, but of the six locks we went through today we only had to wait for one to open. The rest were waiting for us.

That said it wasn't a quick trip. Typically a day of about 20 miles is 2 - 3 hours of travel. We left at 7 am, and powered off our engines in Scotia around 1 pm. This was due partly to the number of boats that traveled with us. Six. A small flotilla. Getting everyone in and secured, then getting everyone out of each lock took time, about 30 minutes. We went through 6 of 'em.
Locking through so we don't have to go over that!

The process is this: You creep into the lock one at a time. The lockmaster has told you where he wants you, port or starboard side. You pull up to some line dangling high about you or a cable that's fixed to the wall. If it's a line, you wrap it on a cleat, and if it's a cable, you wrap a line around it that you then attached to a cleat. As the boat raises (in our case, anywhere from 30 to 35 feet each time), you managed line, making sure it doesn't get tangled or stuck. We have knives in our PFD vests ready to remedy any such issue. Once everyone is in they close the doors, fill the chamber, then open the doors on the other side and off we go, one at a time. Sounds easy. Between the turbulence in the chamber as it fills and the space you have before you bump the boat in front of, behind, or next to you, it's kinda tricky.

So far the Erie Canal is quite lovely.
The day wasn't without excitement, either. While waiting for the one lock to open I drifted a little too close to a cement wall. The breeze picked up and pinned us on it. It happened so quick that Russ couldn't get the fenders down in time. We scratched the fiberglass a bit. Nothing major. Just a bummer.

Then after the long day we docked at a park in Scotia, just across the Mohawk from Schenectady. The current on the little spur was formidable. Thankfully we were the only boat there, but it took me 5 tries to get Cat-n-Dogs in a slip. Not something you want to do when you're both tired and hungry.

Never the less, we docked, we napped, and we ate Impossible Burgers at a German beer garden in the city. Then we took a walk to look at the cute little town. George Washington visited here in 1785. They even know exactly where he slept.

Our dock in Scotia. Wonderful little park!
Long day. A little upsetting and frustrating. But it ended well.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Rainy day

After we hemmed and hawed over breakfast about whether to go or not (eggs and blueberry pancakes, second time in two days!) we decided to stay another day. It's rainy. Only that, not windy and not particularly cold. If we were just traveling, we would have done it today. But! We're on the Erie Canal now and ahead of us are locks, six of them, between Waterford and Scotia, our next stop. Locking in the rain means standing outside and holding soggy ropes. They aren't quick, either. Frankly, not too appealing. One of the biggest reasons TO go was the lack of traffic. We would have had the canal to ourselves, which meant they'd likely to have the locks open and waiting for us.

But we stayed. We did get another round of chores done. Russ changed the oil in the engine drives (like a transmission), while I did laundry, which seems an endless task.

Wet day, wet dogs, wet paw prints on the floors. I'll have to clean those one of these days.

Under the bridge you'll see these. Legacy footprints
of horse and human, like those that pulled
barges through the canal way back when.

Russ and me yesterday, when it was sunny.

Still shot from the security cams at Waterford.
I'm to the right of the light post, and Russ is seated next to me.

Russ filling our water tank.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Shady Harbor to Waterford

A couple of milestones were made today. First, we've reached the farthest easterly point of the entire Great Loop. From here on in it's westward. Kinda cool.

The second is we say farewell to the Hudson River and start along the Erie Canal. The canal will be our last US run northward, ending in Oswego on Lake Ontario, then it's up into Canada.

We knew yesterday would be cold and damp, and it was. But today was supposed to be warmer, just a bit, and sunny. IT. WAS. NOT. A little windy when we left, but overcast the entire trip. We even had a drizzle or two. 

The day's voyage was only a couple of hours, but it did include the first lock we've been to since the Dismal Swamp. This is also the start of many locks to come.

After we pumped out we headed northward and toodled our way up to and through Albany, NY. After that the Hudson became more industrial looking, full of big docks, factories, and barges. We passed a barge on the way up, in fact. First time in a long time we had to hail a vessel and ask where did they want us. We ask because we don't want to assume anything, given their lack of mobility.

Downtown Albany
The entire trip up we followed As You Wish, our buddy boat. Just before the lock a tour boat left its dock. I slowed, giving it some room, and it (of course) headed northward ahead of us. He hailed the lock and was told that it would be about a fifteen minute wait, and he would be the first in; all other boats (us) would go in after. Once again I got to practice my "hold position", which was tricky with the wind kicking up. Eventually the gates opened, the light turned green, and the tour boat went in the lock.

On the wall at Waterford (second boat)
We'd been told we were going to tie on the port side but another boat, Zin, caught up to us, also wanting to lock through. The lockmaster asked that either As You Wish or Cat-n-Dogs take the starboard side to give the third boat some room (the tour boat was BIG and occupied a fair bit of lock space). We volunteered since Russ (being ever prepared) prepped both sides of the boat with line and fenders.

As You Wish got on their wall. Right away a wind kicked their stern into the lock. I held up while they got situated. 

Our lock experience thus far was that we'd get two lines to hold for the ride, one for the bow and one for the stern. Here, however, they only had a pipe set into the wall. We crept up to the starboard side. Russ wrapped a line from one cleat, around a pipe, and back to another cleat. He would manage that, making sure it held the boat in place while we moved upwards.

Once the massive doors shut water flooded in the lock, causing some churn. The lockmaster warned us we (on the starboard wall) would get the brunt of it, but As You Wish seemed to have a hard time keeping against the wall. I went to the stern to help keep the boats from bumping together.

Lock #2, to be done Sunday
As the lock filled with water, things settled, and once filled, the doors opened and the big boat left. Then As You Wish moved out. Then it was our turn... just as the wind came up again. Now we were much higher. The wind pushed us against the wall at the same moment I started to move forward. I couldn't push us away. So I did what we usually do, which is twist the bow in, using the front of the boat as leverage to press the stern out. Then I untwisted, bringing the bow into the channel. Again the wind tried to push us against the wall. This time I added a bit of speed to rush us out of the lock. We got out without scraping the walls, but the fenders got a good grind a couple of times.  

From there it was a quick trip to the Waterford wall. Several boats were already there, so we had to pick a space and fit into it. We took the first one that looked big enough, right under the bridge. This time, the wind would be an asset. I lined Cat-n-Dogs up with the gap and the wind just blew us right in - I just throttled forward or back a bit to keep us in the gap. Smooth as butter! We powered down and started our clean up when "thunk-thunk" went the bridge. I really didn't want to hear that all night as traffic came and went.

Canadian Geese and goslings
So we walked the wall a bit and found a large gap further down. We dashed back to the boat, donned our headsets, and moved about five hundred feet closer to the lock. Again I used the wind to my advantage and docked without issues.

Someone approached us as we walked the dogs. He asked which one of us was piloting when we went perfectly sideways and parked under the bridge. I raised my hand. He asked, "Can you teach me that?"

Not ours anymore

There's a saying in the boating world, that the happiest days of a boater life is the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. This...