Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Special Independence Day

Sorry it has taken me so long, but the short version is that we managed to finally achieve INDEPENDENCE from the last problem area of the Erie Canal, Locks 19-22, on our country's Independence Day, July 4th.  We traveled 66 miles and made it to Ess-Kay Marina in Brewerton, NY.  Because I've left out so much of the story the past few days, I think it would be good to go back and cover the sequence of events that has transpired.  But before that, check out these nice eagle shots Rhonda got on our July 4th travel day, very appropriate I would say.

Back to the story.  If you recall, we were stuck in Lock #11 for 2 weeks and we finally got a one-day window to move west before the next flooding and damage occurred.  The Canal Authority (CA) told us to go as far west as fast as we could.  We actually left in heavy fog that morning at about 6:30 AM.  That's not normally a good idea but the CA had provided one of their employees who was very familiar with the canal to guide us up through Lock 13, at which time the fog would have lifted and we would be able to continue on our own.  Hey, this would also give us a chance to use our new radar we installed in Jacksonville in real live radar conditions!  BTW, marine radar takes some practice to use it effectively so you should practice with it periodically in clear weather conditions so that when you really need it you understand exactly what you are seeing.  

Here's an example of some of the debris, an entire tree, that was in the canal.

Our confidence was up though as Wilson was riding shotgun for us.  You can see that the fog had cleared up by this point.

Here are Mooring Dove and Satisfaction leading the way.  The route above Lock #13 was not very bad and the scenery was pretty.  No one was out there but us.

You'll notice in this next picture that a fourth boat has joined us.  She had pulled out of the Saint Johnsville Marina which is below Lock #16.  She locked through #16 with us and joined numerous other boats tied to the lock wall there above the lock, known historically as a safe spot to ride out flooding on the canal.  We decided to press on with more daylight hours available.

Except for the power lines in this pic, the rock walls are quite scenic through the area.

We had planned to stop at the town of Little Falls after we got through Lock #17 but the lockmaster said, "Do not stop there, keep going at least to Ilion or Utica."  We also passed the town of Herkimer which has several hundred feet of free city dock walls.  It looked very inviting and we were tired but we pressed on to Ilion.  This is a very nice marina and RV Park combined and the harbormaster was confident that we would be OK there since the waters of the canal had not risen above their dock wall since 2006.  Yeh, that's a confidence builder, huh?

It started raining not long after we got docked and it rained all night long, about 4 inches. Keep in mind that the ground was already soaked from weeks of rain, so anything new that fell ran straight into the creeks and rivers. But we were not worried, the water had not risen above the dock walls since 2006!  We were awakened around 5 AM by people knocking on the outside of the boat.  I went outside to find the water just a few inches from the top of the wall and still rising.  So much for the 2006 theory.  We quickly disconnected power, water, and cable and decided our best plan of attack (actually plan of defense) would be to keep the bow of the boat cleated to the dock wall, let out some extra line, swing the tail end out from the dock wall, and drop a stern anchor.  That actually worked very well.  There was a lot of water and lots of debris.

Here's Mooring Dove at the end utilizing the same plan of attack.

This 61-foot Hatteras decided to completely release from the wall and ride it out under power in the canal.

Check out the size of some of the debris floating behind us and around our SeaRay neighbor.

The debris field below around Help Me Rhonda.

Wilson was right there with us.  Hey, got to have a little fun, but you know we took it seriously if I put my life jacket on (just in case).

We think this might be Wilson's cousin floating by and there were many others as the day progressed.

All sorts of other debris passed by as well, including this little red wagon which was actually retrieved by an RVer on the banks.

By the end of the day the water had begun to recede and we were eventually able to return normally to the dock wall.  It did take a while to clear out all the debris.  The marina went to work instantly to start cleaning up the mess and most of the boaters pitched in to speed up the process as well.  However, the folks downstream did not fare as well.  Our friend, Cindy from Lock #11, brought us some pics a couple of days later.  Here's a CA photo of Lock #12 after the same flooding.  That's twisted steel beams and gates.

And remember the boats that we mentioned tied up to the lock wall above #16?  They were all lifted above the wall and ended up on land.  There was some damage but they were able to get them back in the water.

Others did not fare as well.  Note the car in the mess below. The CA said they came real close to losing the entire lock but were able to get someone to the site on an airboat to open some critical gates that prevented it.  Regardless, it was a mess.

And remember we mentioned our original plan was to stop at Little Falls?  The harbormaster there came up to check on us a couple of days later at Ilion.  When we passed by Little Falls we had noticed a huge boat docked there, about an 80-footer so we were curious how it had fared.  She said they literally backed a couple of trucks up along the dock wall to keep the boat from coming over that wall and said, "There is no way we could have saved all of your boats had you stopped there."  The towns of Herkimer and Mohawk (the last 2 we passed before arriving at Ilion) along with several others in the area were declared disaster areas by Governor Cuomo.  It was and remains a big mess with significant losses by the residents of the area.   So, we were literally about 1 mile upstream from the worst of the damage and have so much to be thankful for.  Had we stopped at any of the locations downstream, we could have sustained damages as well and as a minimum would be stuck in those areas for weeks to come.  We're still a little amazed that this received almost no national media coverage.  

The folks at Ilion Marina were great and we were very impressed at their committment to getting the marina back to normal.  They also kept our charges to a minimum since we were "stuck" there.  The town is very nice and we enjoyed worship at their First Baptist Church on Sunday.  Much to our surprise, Tom, one of the employees at Lock #11, is a member there and it was good to see him again.  The Methodist Church just a couple of blocks away had two feet of water and mud in it as parts of Ilion flooded as well.

Never had deep fried fudge balls before so we followed the directions on the sign and "hurried in" to get some.  They were darn good.

We met some real nice folks during our week's stay in Ilion.  One couple RVing at the marina, Glenn and Pat, are from Guntersville, AL (even though they have not been home in five years except to check on things).  We all agreed it was nice to speak the same language with each other again after being in the north for so long now.  Pat took Rhonda to WalMart in Herkimer for groceries, and when it rained again, yes again to the point that the water came within 3 inches of going over the dock wall a second time, we saw on the news that the WalMart had to be evacuated because a weakened earth dam was close to failing.  It seemed like the rain just would not stop.  But it did finally stop and they opened locks 19 through 22, allowing us to finally continue westbound.

Lock #19 was packed with debris and trees.  We were really aggravated that the lockmaster had not flushed this out before our arrival (he knew we were coming).  The debris was so thick that our boat finally could not move and we ended up rising in the the lock in a diagonal position with the bow on one wall and the port stern corner on the other wall.  "Satisfaction" picked up so much debris that their engine overheated and they had to delay at Lock 21 overnight for repairs.  Mooring Dove and Help Me Rhonda continued on and the conditions improved as we continued westbound.  Here's the approach to Lock #21.  Note that we are above the locks now and will be descending from this point westbound.

Here's a nice waterfall in the town of Rome, NY.  

I'm leaving out lots of pics just to get a blog post completed but can't leave out Sylvan Beach which sits at the east end of Lake Oneida.  This is obviously a hopping little town and the folks were out in force for 4th of July fireworks that evening.

We would liked to have stopped there but we pressed on.  It felt good to be on big open water again.  Lake Oneida is about 20 miles long and is very clean and pretty.  That's Mooring Dove in the distance.

We arrived at Ess-Kay Marina around 4 PM.  Some of our cruising friends, Roger and Dorothy on "Slow Churn," had highly recommended it and we are glad they did. Some of their friends here had been following our blog and were glad to meet Wilson. They were also glad to finally see some Loopers.  This is normally busy season for them but the Erie Canal mess has stopped that in its tracks. The marina had a nice Pawley's Island style hammock for those of you Carolinians familiar with them.  First class marina and a very nicely-stocked ships store with the kind of stuff you really need while traveling.

The waterfront community is beautiful here with very pretty homes lining the waterway.

Ken and Trudy made it in the next day and Mellow was very interested in making friends with one of the locals.  The "attraction" was not mutual.

Ess-Kay has 2 courtesy cars so we made trips into town to reprovision. We are leaving today for a 25-mile run and 7 locks to Oswego, NY, which will put us on the southern shore of Lake Ontario for our crossing into Canada on Sunday.  We enter Canada at Trenton and will travel the Trent-Severn Waterway, Georgian Bay, and The North Channel to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.  Our blog posts will be minimal during the next couple of months since our Verizon service is quite expensive while in Canada and WIFI is scarce at the marinas.  In the meantime, we wish everyone well and hope to blog again sooner than later.

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