Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The Erie Canal opened in 1825, linking the Great Lakes with the Hudson River. Over the next century, the canals were enlarged and updated three times, adding links to the St. Lawrence River. Commercial traffic on the canal system declined dramatically in the last half of the 1900s, but the number of recreational boats has increased steadily. Today the New York State Canal System is being revitalized to enhance tourism to this historic resource.

Welcome to our 2008 Erie Canal experience on ‘Beach House’.
See that sailboat on Lake Ontario?
No, it’s not us, but just south of that is Oswego. That's where ‘Beach House’ entered the canal system ……
…… and where we turned our sailboat into a motor boat. The bridges along the canal system have an overhead clearance of 15-20 feet – barely enough room for small trawlers to clear, let alone us with a 63 foot mast.
The Oswego Marina had a two man crew at their mast crane to lift the mast and then lower it onto the deck.

            Geoff designed and built a cradle for our mast to sit on deck. It needed to be low enough to go under the bridges, but high enough so that the crew didn’t knock themselves senseless when moving around the boat during locking duties. On occasion I could’ve used a helmet.

It was quite late in the day when we finished securing the mast, the lines and the shrouds. We left Oswego Marina and tied up to the free wall just before the first lock on the Oswego canal. This was a pretty rough wall -

– but it was free – guess you get what you pay for. Our new inflatable fenders were being sent to a boatyard still ahead of us, but we were just as happy to be using our old fenders and a fender board forward.

We walked up to the lock master’s office and bought our 10-day canal pass for $50 US, then returned to ‘Beach House’ and broke out “the-we-are-here-beer” and “the-life-is-fine-wine”. We planned to start the locking adventure in the morning.

These lock walls had been refurbished recently -
– they were smooth and clean – that’s why I was smiling. But notice the work gloves I had on. They're recommended because many of the lock walls are grimy, greasy and disgusting. Even that ten foot 'pole' lets you get up close and personal to the sludgy wall. Here we were locking up. We entered the lock at low water, the lockmaster closed the gates behind us and started filling the lock. When the water reached the high water mark you can see in the picture, the forward gates opened and we proceeded. This lock only took us up 8 feet – a good 'starter lock' - we hadn't done this for a couple of years. Most of the locks carry you up or down 18-20 feet.

This is the free dock at Minetto ......
...... about half way along the 24 mile Oswego Canal. The town is tiny, but the dock is right beside a small park that has showers and washrooms for boaters who stop for the night. There was no charge, but a sign said donations were welcome. We were happy to put some dollars in an envelope and drop it through the mail slot.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a group of kids, known as The Bridge House Brats ...... boaters with tying up, getting water, and using the pump out here on the free wall at Phoenix. We had the place to ourselves however – it was already a week into October.

Just a few miles away is Three Rivers, the junction of the Oswego, Oneida and Seneca Rivers. Here, we turned left to go east, joining the Erie Canal at its half way point.

The first lock on the Erie Canal traveling east from the Oswego Canal is Lock 23. As we were locking through, Pete the lockmaster asked if we’d like to join him for coffee in the morning. We were in no hurry, so we stopped for the night, telling Pete we’d see him about 0730. This is the free dock at Lock 23, ......

...... new and one of the best tie-ups along the way. Low bridge ahead, by the way. Everybody down.

The next morning after an hour of chat and coffee with Pete, discussing economics, politics, and religion ……

…… we posed for a picture with our new friend.

Then Pete gave us a little tour of the lock workings. It’s the original equipment from the 1915 update, but lovingly maintained to museum standards. He was very proud and rightfully so.

Pete had one more surprise for us. His little garden beside the lock was offering its last hurrah.
The few remaining cherry tomatoes needed a good home. We were happy to oblige.

Our next stop was just around the bend – Ess-Kay Yards in Brewerton, NY, on the west side of Oneida Lake.
We tied up at the dock for a couple of days, since we were waiting for a couple of packages, Geoff had a couple of projects to do, and it was a good opportunity to visit with the owners, Kim and her family, who’d been so good to us in 2006.

That was the year we had tried to take ‘Beach House’ to the Bahamas, but she said “NO – not this year”. We’d made the tough decision to abort the trip and were on our way back to Toronto, then got stranded in Brewerton for 11 days, when the canal system closed due to high water and debris.

This picture was taken November 1, 2006. Oh, how very far we’ve come.
But back to 2008. After enjoying the Ess-Kay Yards perks – good people, hot showers, 30A electric, use of a courtesy car – we took ‘Beach House’ 20 miles across Oneida Lake ……

…… to the free wall at Sylvan Beach, a sleepy little beach town.

It was here that we met up with ……
…… Pat and Buz, relatives of our good cruising friends on ‘Sea Schell’, Harry and Melinda. We went off together for a long lunch and laughed ourselves silly - a good, good time.

After Sylvan Beach, we locked up through two more locks, getting to our highest elevation of 420 feet above sea level. Then from Lock 20 eastward, we were locking down.

Much of the Erie Canal is actually the Mohawk River.
The October scenery was spectacular.

No wonder the crew was smiling.

Next stop was Little Falls.
There was a charge to spend the night here, roughly a dollar a foot, unusually expensive for the canal system, but the hot private showers in the new terminal building were excellent.

Just past Little Falls is Lock 17, the largest single step lock on the Erie Canal, at 40.5 feet elevation.

And Lock 17 is unique for another reason. The eastern gate of the lock lifts over the boats. It’s a little spooky going under that weight – and it’s very wet, a sheet of water pouring down. We do love our enclosure.

Two more leisurely days of locking down and we arrived at Waterford, New York ...... …… where the Erie Canal meets the Hudson River.

This was my view from the galley.

Glory days!!!

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