Friday, June 28, 2013

The Erie Canal Saga Continues

This will be brief but an update for everyone.  I'm just copying a quick Facebook post from this morning so everyone knows we're OK, just enjoying boating on the Erie Canal!!!

The saga of the Erie Canal continues. Yesterday, 6/27,  we managed to finally leave Lock 11 in Amsterdam. The canal authority said "Move as fast as you can and go as far west as possible." They actually escorted us through the first 2 locks and 13 miles with so many markers out of place. It was slow with fog, current, and lots of debris. Covered 50 miles and 7 locks to Ilion, NY with more rain in the forecast. The marina here said the water had not risen over the dock walls since 2006. Well, now they can change that to 6/28/13 at 5 AM. We're fine - kept the nose cleated to the wall, swung the tail out and dropped a stern anchor. Biggest problem now is the debris field around the boat. Water is finally starting down.

Some of the locals are reporting 2 feet of water in their homes.  "Never has been this high before."

Hope all our boating friends downstream are OK.  We're pretty sure there's lots of water headed your way! Hang in there.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Well, we have not been here 4 years yet, but we're starting to get an idea of how Tom Hanks felt on his "Castaway" island.  For the record and as you can see above, we have been in Amsterdam for 17 days now.  The longest Rhonda and I have ever been delayed in this past 5 and 1/2 years of boat travel is 18 days in Memphis, TN on the Mississippi River at Mud Island Marina in 2008. As is the case here, we had to wait for high water, strong current, and debris to subside.  There are no locks or dams on that stretch of the Mississippi River, it was just mother nature on steroids. We expect to break that record here on the Erie Canal in Lock #11. We have actually been on the Erie Canal since June 5th (21 days) when we arrived in Waterford. We waited out high water there for several days before reaching Amsterdam.

Right after we got to Lock #11, we noticed a bright blue soccer ball caught in some of the debris building up around the west side of the dam.  We jokingly began to refer to it as "Wilson" even though "Wilson" on "Castaway" was technically a volleyball - trivial point considering everything. We could not get to "him" but "Wilson" was always there. "Wilson" has drifted around the locks now for 2 weeks, starting out above the locks, then he went over the spillway at one point, and he has been hanging around the downstream side of the dam for several days now at the entrance to the lock in another debris field.  We've tried to devise ways to rescue "Wilson," but he has always been just out of our reach.  We were awakened early this morning with shouts of "Wilson, Wilson" around the lock area - sure enough, "Wilson" was gone.  Increasing amounts of water flow through the dam overnight had apparently changed the currents in the area and all the debris, along with "Wilson," was gone.  You cannot imagine the despair among the group.  We had become attached to "Wilson" even in just a joking way. Our next thought was an optimistic one - after "Wilson" was lost in "Castaways," Hanks was rescued soon afterward.  So, maybe this was a good sign.  But we really missed "Wilson" and then the Looper spirit kicked in and we decided to walk along the banks downstream in hopes he had washed up on shore.  Sure enough, we found him about 1/4 mile downstream along the bank.  Fellow loopers, I am not kidding, the above story is true.  So, meet "Wilson"  and his counterpart from "Castaways."

He will be traveling with us now as a constant reminder of what we've experienced here and giving us hope for the future.

Galen was especially glad to see "Wilson" again.  Seriously, he has tried to figure ways to get to "Wilson" on many occasions.  BTW, Galen needs "something to do" all of the time and we appreciate any ideas you might have to keep him "busy."

On a very sad note, I walked up this morning and joined a conversation between Ken and Galen.  Their excitement for the morning was watching logs float down the river and placing bets/odds on if those individual pieces would make it over the dam.  Sad, so sad to see, but this is what we have come to.

We've eaten at Russo's across the street 3 times now followed by left-overs each time, been interviewed by all 3 newspapers in Amsterdam, know many of the locals on a first-name basis, Rhonda is a member of the local library now, we're rotating/sharing our movies among the castaways here, and I'm personally getting very tired of counting the number of railroad cars each time the train rolls by - you get the idea.  BTW, if I never hear another train whistle in my life, it will be too soon!!!!

Yesterday, we played an "imagination" game.  The guys played like we might get to leave here one day and took a course from Ken (from Canada) on what to expect in the North Channel and Georgian Bay.  He's boated these areas all of his life and gave us lots of pointers on favorite spots, caution areas, etc..  It was a fun game and we just hope now that the information will come in handy one day.

Now I don't want you to think we're just wasting our time here.  I managed to tackle a "pending project" I've had for some time now.  The dinghy davit has been in a sad cosmetic condition for a long time with peeling paint and really needed an update.  So, I managed to get that done in between rain and thunderstorms.  She now has a metal primer, marine primer, and marine topcoats on her.  Voila!

I've also completed 43 engine room checks and changed the oil 6 times, just in case.

Hey, got to have a little fun in the process.  The latest forecast is that we will be leaving on Friday but similar forecasts have come and gone.  We average more than 100 hits per day on the blog so I know many loopers behind us are probably checking in for updates in addition to our family and friends.  Y'all hang in there and we'll be moving soon.  Now, wonder what's on the menu at Russo's tonight?  Don't forget to send suggestions for Galen!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Journey Continues, We're Just Not Moving!

So, we've been in Amsterdam for 9 days now, the last 7 in Lock #11.  The latest update yesterday from the canal folks is that it will probably be another 7 to 10 days.  This post is mixed emotion - glad we're safe and comfortable but a little frustrated that we can't get moving. This picture of Galen probably depicts the frustration as well as any!  It was taken right after one of the many updates that have all said, "Looks like it's going to be a few more days."  Galen's a really good singer - "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay (Wastin' time)",  "Stuck In The Middle With You," and "Please Release Me Let Me Go" seem to be some of his favorites.  

This morning's update is anywhere from 3 to 10 more days.  We really would like to hear a better report.

There is lots of damage to the locks, above and below us.  Apparently, we are right in the middle of the section of the canal that always gets the worst of the damage.  Below, workers with chain saws removing debris from the dam.

Lots of misplaced buoys from upstream which will all have to be replaced.

Lots of workers on site to get our lock and dam back together again.

They had to bring in a barge with a back-hoe to remove the debris backed up and hung up on the dam.

And can you believe this?  They will not even let us swim and bathe in the canal???

 We've had lots of pow-wows and planning sessions about our situation, particularly the bathing issue, that's serious business!  

All joking aside, we are really blessed to be with some wonderful folks - everyone is so nice and helpful.

 Ken and Trudy finally had to go to a motel for a couple of days.  The water was so low in the lock that they no longer had a way to get on and off their boat.  That was a problem especially for their dog, Mellow, who really doesn't seem to care as long as she has a toy of some sort in her mouth.  "Trudy, won't you chase me please?"

As Trudy looks on above, Ken was the last one to abandon ship as all good captains should be!  His only exit was to take their dinghy and motor over to one of the other boats that still had access out of the lock.  You'll have to ask Ken why he has a plunger in his hand?????  We also had to remind him that the lock is a No Wake Zone - guess he just wanted to feel like he was "moving," even if just for a few hundred feet.  At our rate the past week or so, a few hundred feet is progress!

We've been up and down in the lock as the water level in the canal has varied with the work in progress on the lock and dam, frequently adjusting lines and utilizing ladders at times to get on and off.  We started out with easy access off of the boat.

This is about halfway down with the ladder on our walk-around deck.  Still not too bad.

Below, the water is down about 16 feet at this point.  We had to use a step ladder to get on the top of our aft deck hardtop from the flybridge, then another 8-foot ladder from there.  One day Rhonda just said it wasn't worth it - she would just stay on the boat. (She finally climbed the ladder.)

We're finally back to full pool and should remain here until we leave.  We do get to eventually leave, right?

After all of the adjusting water levels were over with and stable for the days to come, Marty finally went home to NYC and his business.  That's Marty on the left. We hope to meet his wife, Suzie, if they visit this weekend.  Their last boat was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.  They purchased a new one and Marty is moving it to NYC on this trip.  Suzie hasn't seen it yet.  Hope she likes it! 

  Is that Galen singing again?  "Gloom, despair, and agony on me.."  BTW, just kidding about Galen - he is a lot of fun and instantly brings about a positive attitude to all of us, regardless of the latest news.  So, let's move from the negative to the positive.

We have a lot to be thankful for.  First and foremost, we are safe and comfortable.  The canal folks have been very accommodating and every day has brought more aids to our comfort.  We started out with having to run extension cords from some of their facilities to help power a few things.  Then we got a small gasoline generator (in the picture above with Marty) that we were able to move around to each of the boats during the day to keep our house battery systems charged without having to run our generators as much.  Then yesterday they brought in a huge diesel generator that could probably power half of NYC if necessary.  It has three 50-AMP power outlets that provide us the same power we would have at any marina.  

There is a great restaurant just across the street - Russo's (Italian).

We have our bikes and a 350-mile trail to ride.  It's on the other side of the river, so we have to ride about 2 miles to get there - but very nice.

We have water run from the canal facilities and the canal authority even paid to have a mobile service come to pump out our holding tanks yesterday.  This shot is taken from across the canal on the bike trail with pump out in progress aboard "Mooring Dove."

In contrast to the level of the canal on the west side of the dam with "Mooring Dove" and the front of "Help Me Rhonda" visible in the lock, here are "Satisfaction" and "Suzie's" in the lock viewed from across the river on the east side of the dam.  Note more of the displaced buoys in the foreground.  

We've had many of the locals walk over and visit, offering assistance if we need it.  We got a gift of peanuts from a peanut farmer.  One of the churches offered to bring us dinner. Thursday night is "Heavenly Ribs and Strawberries" at St. Luke's, so we will eat well tomorrow. There have been numerous offers to drive us wherever we need to go - Rhonda and Becky took Vicki and Joan up on the offer yesterday and made a grocery and supply run to Wal-Mart and got a tour of the local area in the process. A bike ride across the river provided us with cannolis, cupcakes, and pastries. The bakery owner said we can now just call in our order, and she will deliver to the lock. Becky needs to get home to West Virginia this Friday for a previous commitment, and the Amtrack station is only a couple of blocks away - pretty convenient.  Nature provides us with lots to see - Canada Geese and a pretty half-moon view through the steel beams of the dam.

Plenty of time to cook and grill. Grills, bikes, lawn chairs, generators, and a dog - Lock 11 Redneck Yacht Club?  Rhonda has an idea for a burgee - "7 at 11 On The Erie Canal" (7 people at lock 11).

Plenty of sights to see.  This castle was built in 1894 and has been converted into a private residence and Bed and Breakfast. New York State built 100 of these as armories, and 50 are still used by the National Guard.  It's 36,000 (yes thousand) square feet, has a 10,000 square foot gymnasium, a rifle range, billiard room, and 2 guest wings.

Here are more of the original locks and canals upstream from us.

And where else can you see a Volkswagon on top of a smokestack?

Finally, the process of dealing with the flooding waters has been very interesting to watch. They first raised the highest set of gates which are the smallest, then the lower ones which are much larger.  This process is the cause for the water level changes in the lock also, since the height of the water inside of the lock is dependent upon the level of the water above the dam.

After both sets of gates are raised, the support structures are also raised to minimize damage from debris flowing down the river.  Once all of these are raised, the river is in total "free-flow" mode, moving the maximum amount of water as is possible and gives access to all of the structure for necessary repairs.

The gates and supports are lifted by chains connected to two lift stations that are positioned on the downstream side of the dam on rails.  They have to be moved to each individual gate and support to raise/lower them.

The process is reversed when it's time to raise the water levels again.  Here's the last of the lower gates going back in place.  As you can imagine with the amount of water flow in the river, the water in the lock rises quickly as the last few pieces are inserted.

And here's the river back to its normal condition with all of the gates in place - still lots of water flowing over the dam several days later.

This process has to occur at other lock and dam locations above and below us.  Several of those have significant damage and in some cases, there are no spare parts!  They are having to be made by contractors for the New York State government and that process is responsible for most of our delay now.  We could leave our lock, but we cannot get above locks 12-16 at this point.  So, we will continue to make the best of our stay here.  Ken and Trudy are from Canada, and they say a later-summer visit to Canada is best since the mosquitoes and flies will be gone by then.   Ken is going to give us a "boating in Canada" class, including spots to be sure to visit. There you go again, another positive.  I'm starting to think it can't get much better than this!!!!  By the way, we're saving the best for last - The Professional Wrestlers Hall Of Fame is here in Amsterdam - yes, not kidding.  Now if we can just keep New York state from assessing a "transient property tax" on us.........

We'll keep you posted.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Adventure On The Erie Canal - Stuck and Can't Get Out

Man, lots to tell.  On the last post, we were waiting out more rain at Amsterdam.  It went down hill from there.  The short version - there has been more and more rain, and the Erie Canal is now in flood mode.  The canal folks met with us three days ago to have some plans in place for whatever turned out to be the final version.  The worst case scenario would be serious flooding, swift currents, lots of debris, and we would have to move into Lock #11 for safety.  Well, that didn't sound so good, but we were prepared.  Sure enough, early the next morning, they were knocking on our boats giving us one hour to get moving into the lock which was only about a mile away.  They closed some of the gates at the dam to reduce the current for us, and we all made it into the lock without incident.  By the way, when I refer to us, there were four boats docked at Amsterdam.  Here are 3 of the 4 crews enjoying dinner the evening before all of the above.  Galen and Becky from WV on the right and Ken and Trudie from Canada on the left. Marty and friends are on the fourth boat, but he had gone home to NYC for a couple of days.  I called him to keep him posted, and he was returning at 2 AM in the morning in case we had to move the boats.  We are fortunate to be in company with such great folks.  Everyone is cooperative, helpful, and fun to be around.  Galen is a retired pilot for USAir and Ken is the same with Air Canada - so that has been a good source of conversation for us also with my Air Traffic Control background.  Marty is in the grocery business and is very interesting as well, especially a couple of clever product inventions he and some other folks are releasing in the fall after about 5 years of R&D, patents, marketing plans, etc..

Here's the water flow over the dam adjacent to the lock - all of the gates were opened.  This was the first stage of water release from above our lock - the reason they wanted us out of the downstream canal and inside the lock.  

It was really raining as we made our short trip to the lock and it continued to pour after we got docked.  By the way, Marty made it in during the night and that's Marty in the yellow rain suit.

The canal folks have been very gracious and helpful.  They have provided us a portable generator, so we don't have to run our boat generators as much.  We have water available as needed, and we are a couple of blocks away from the northern part of Amsterdam.  We all had a great dinner together last night at Russo's Italian Restaurant, Rhonda was able to get some laundry done today, we've had several offers from the locals to provide us transportation as needed, and the Amsterdam Gazette came out and interviewed us for a feature article in their newspaper.  Some locals stopped Rhonda today while she was in town and recognized her from the article.  I'm trying to get an electronic version and if successful will share it with you.

The canal corporation has now removed even more gates from the dam which were below the water levels in the picture above, so now the canal is in total "free-flow."  Consequently, the water level above the lock has now dropped to a much lower level, and we need ladders (provided by the NY Canal authority) to get on and off our boats.  It's crazy.  With the frequent change in water levels, you stay busy just managing things on the boat.

So, here's the latest.  We are safe and secure.  There has been some damage to the locks above and below us.  Folks, entire trees are moving down the river, and I'm not talking dead tree remains but live trees that have been washed out from the banks of the canal. (Galen is waiting to see an old barn with a cow on it flow by!) We have heard that they moved about 50 boats out of Waterford and into Locks 2 through 6 for their safety.  For all practical purposes, the Erie Canal is closed, the Oswego Canal is closed, and the Champlain Canal is closed.  No one is going anywhere for a few days, we've heard maybe for a week.  We have lots more pictures and stories to share but sitting in this concrete hole with a steel structure directly overhead is limiting our WIFI reception tremendously.  Just wanted to get an update out so you are not wondering.  We'll keep you posted. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Erie Canal, Waterford, NY to Amsterdam, NY

We had a good time in Waterford, a very accommodating city for boat traffic with free docks and a great location. All you pay is a one time $10 fee for electric.  When we get that kind of treatment we try and patronize the local businesses and we did a pretty good job this time - big groceries (and 2 smaller trips), prescription filled and other supplies at a pharmacy, supplies at their hardware store, ate at 2 restaurants, a T-shirt from their marina office, and one item from the city museum gift shop.  As you can see below, many others took advantage of the opportunity as well. 

We had a special treat in getting to finally meet in person a long-time boating Facebook and email friend.  It all started in 2010 when we were making our trip from Muskogee, OK to Galveston, TX.  We had our 41' Roughwater at that time and had communicated with "Abreojos," another 41' Roughwater, from California.  Boat owners of similar models do that kind of thing.  Larry and Brenda Golkin had their boat trucked from CA to Rockport, TX to begin the Loop, and we thought our paths would cross as they proceeded along the Gulf eastbound and as we intersected the Gulf and turned westbound for Galveston.  As it turned out, they passed through before we could get there, but we've followed each others' travels since then and communicated a lot.  We stayed in Galveston for 2 years, Abreojos completed the Loop and when they got back to the Gulf in 2011, they went half-way around again to the Chesapeake and finally left their boat in Elizabeth City, NC while they returned to CA.  Larry recently returned to NC to get the boat moving again - the plan is to take her to Lake Superior, truck her to the Columbia River in Oregon and pilot her back to CA.  So, he's on a "power run" now to just cover the miles quickly since they already completed this portion of the loop in 2011. Larry is now on the same leg of the Loop as we are.  He has a friend, Brian, making this stretch with him and Brenda will join him again in Oswego for the jump across Lake Superior to Canada. Hopefully, we will get to meet Brenda in Oswego.  So, after all this time, Larry and Brian pull into the dock two boats behind us!  Me, Larry, and Brian below.

Rhonda and I did some more sightseeing around Waterford and attended church at Grace Baptist in Troy.

You can cross the bridge from Waterford over to Peebles Island and see evidence of what seems to be going on in a lot of these old waterfront industrial towns.  Factories and industry have dried up and in many cases, towns are hurting. We saw some industrial-looking buildings that appeared to have been converted into condos. A bleachery, where they clean and process cloth closed in 1972 (our friends and family reading this will be familiar with this as Lancaster, SC was at one time also a big textile town of Springs Mills).  

A shipyard that was at its strongest during WWI and WWII closed in 1983.

But the island has some nice trails that run along the Mohawk River so we enjoyed our bike ride around the island.  Most of the water of the Mohawk River is routed around the locks at Waterford and creates a nice water flow during heavy rains.

We found many old homes in another section of town called "Millionaire Row."

Some of the architecture and detail is really beautiful, but I think that era of intricate detail is long gone.  

Speaking of "long gone" - what's up with this?  The husband, William, is buried next to her and Sarah should be about 173 by now??

We're not addicted to visiting cemeteries but this one was really pretty and had an unusual headstone that Rhonda wanted to see - it was an open-scroll pulpit with a Bible that a church provided in honor of their pastor.

We headed back toward the city dock and Rhonda wanted some pictures of the old Champlain Canal that branched off of the old Erie Canal just above the city dock.

I do think a lot about about the lives and families of those that came before us, the workers that constructed the canals, and the boaters and barges that traveled them - lots of history along these waterways.  Apparently Rhonda thinks about it more than I do - she doesn't want to miss anything and stops for pictures more than you can imagine.  She likes for me to always lead as we ride our bikes around towns, but I can't tell you how many times I've turned around only to see that she is not there.  I have to circle back frequently to find her.  Here I am waiting again, this time on a bridge while she takes more pictures across the street,  I'm actually very enthusiastic about this - it's just not evident in this picture.  Not sure if I am asleep or maybe praying for her to speed up!

We've seen about 5 more groundhogs since our first sighting at Half Moon Bay so we figured it was about time to move on and begin our trip on the Erie Canal.

When you leave Waterford, you transit 5 locks in succession called "The Waterford Flight."  They each raise or lower boaters about 33 feet.  Here's #4 just around the bend opening the gates for us.

There are lots of bridges over the canal, so far the lowest is 21 feet.  All sailboats have their masts stepped down and many powerboats have to lower an assortment of antennae, radar, or any other equipment above that height.  We're fine at 17 and 1/2 feet.

The canal also utilizes a few emergency guard gates for unusual circumstances that would require shutting down sections of the canal and/or managing water flow.  There are 2 in succession after the Waterford Flight.  The first one was open but the second was closed and had to be raised for us.  

Any structures or equipment associated with the Erie Canal are painted blue and gold.  You've probably already noticed that on the locks.  Here's a working barge in the same colors.

We found more marsh grass and cattails along the way but no sand gnats this time.  Our legs and arms are still healing from all the bites we got in Delaware!

We got a late start on Sunday, and after all of the initial locking through, we decided to call it a day at Lock #7.  Permission to dock on most of the lock walls is included in the canal access fee and some of those have different electricity options that may work for your boat.  Lock #7 had two 120V outlets that would power our refrigerator and a couple of our heavily used outlets.  With those two off of the boat's power usage, the battery bank and inverter power supply will handle everything else for many hours, eliminating the need to run the generator.  We had the lock wall to ourselves except for a workboat on the other side and a few fishermen/visitors.

We walked over and visited with the lockmaster who was doing his maintenance duties in-between boats transiting the lock.  These engines are about 100 years old and have to be rebuilt every 2 years.  We commented on how well-maintained everything is and he said with a lot of pride - "We have quite a piece of history here and work hard to preserve it."

Here's a good shot of all the waterflow over the dam adjacent to the lock.  There's actually a barricade normally visible on top of the dam which gives you an idea of how much water is flowing downstream.

Some of the approaches to the locks as you head upstream are separated from the overflow waters by land masses which makes for a nice easy approach.  Others can be quite turbulent with lots of cross currents.  This is one of the easy ones.

We were amazed that there is no restraining system above the dam to prevent boaters from entering the waters above the dam - just a few warning buoys and that's it.  With the barricade completely under water, the water above the dam blends in with the water below the dam and looks like a continuous horizon - looks like an accident waiting to happen.  Or, maybe we've become too sensitive to possible hazards with the world that we live in always looking to place blame somewhere else.

We got up early this morning and were underway by 7 - two more days of rain are forecast starting at noon today.  The ground is already soaked and it was evident with lots of small waterfalls draining into the canal along the way.

Some of the original aquaduct system.  Check out for more details - pretty interesting.

There is a 350-mile walking/bike trail that runs along the edge of the Erie Canal.  It is available for cross-country skiers in the wintertime - no kidding.

We cruised only 25 miles and 3 locks today but got docked before the rain began.  Amsterdam, NY has a nice waterfront and city dock so we're catching up on laundry today.  We have a W/D stacked unit on the boat to keep our heads above water on the laundry but every now and then it's time to get the big stuff done also.  Looks like it may be a long night tonight also - the train tracks are only a few hundred feet away and at this point the trains come through at high speed with whistles blowing about every 15 minutes or so.  It's a beautiful location but we may need to find a new location tomorrow to wait out the rest of this rain.