Up Diary 07 Diary 08 Diary 09 Diary 10 Diary 11 Diary 12

Section 5

The Erie Canal

(June 15 - 19, 1999)

Tuesday, June 15, 1999. (Continued)  We pass through the Troy Federal Lock on the Hudson River, then enter the Erie Canal within two miles of our dock in Troy.  It is obvious where to turn since there is a large sign on the bank of the river marking "Erie Canal this way".  This is another of the really exciting moments of the trip.

The Erie Canal begins with a series of five locks which must be taken in one series on the same day.  The five locks, called the Waterford Flight, lift Interlude 151 feet.  Some of these locks raise us more than 35 feet at a time.  Locks on the Erie Canal consist of two basic types: the best are those with cables or pipes extending from the top of the lock to the bottom.  The goal is to stop the boat with one of these wires or pipes about at the pivot point on the boat, and slip a loop of line around the wire or pipe and let the boat stand off the wall using the fenders while it "rides" the loop of line up the wire or pipe to the top.  This type of lock can easily be handled by one or two people on a boat even the size of Interlude.

The second type of lock contains a series of ropes dropped over the sidewalls of the lock at 15 or 20  foot intervals.  In these locks, the boat handlers hold the ropes and control the boat.  On a 70 ton boat like Interlude, these lines need to be run through cleats to prevent the boat from straying from the side of the locks.  Two or three boat handlers are needed for these types of locks.  Fortunately, we have Bob and Trish along to help.  It appears that most of the locks on the Erie Canal are of the latter type. 

The locking experience is unique.  First of all, the lock walls are covered with slime, oil smears, and grime.  You have to handle lines with gloves, and be prepared to get dirty.  Secondly, when you start at the bottom for a lift, the diesel fumes can be really obnoxious.  Bill used to say about boating that it was something about the magic of the smell of diesel in the morning.  This should cure him of that in a short time.  Thirdly, at the Erie Canal locks there are almost always spectators watching the locking process--so any goofs are more public than you might want.

We dock early in the evening at the quaint Crescent Boat Club on the Mohawk River for the night, having gone only 9.5 miles.  Crescent Boat Club is composed of the most hospitable people we've ever met.   After docking, Bill went in to register, and when he didn't return, Jan, Bob and Trish came looking for him, only to find him in the club tap room sipping a beer with the members.  The boat club bought everybody a round (actually several rounds), and we had a fine time talking about Florida, New York, boat clubs, etc.   These are very, very hospitable people.

A couple of comments about docking along the Erie Canal.  First, there aren't many formal marinas as we have become accustomed to them.  But there are options.   Most of the towns have a "terminal" or town wall that you can use for no charge.  Most marinas charge from $1.00 to $2.00 per foot of boat length per night, plus extra for electric and cable TV.  But the town walls are free and some have power at no charge and maybe a water connection, too.  These town walls almost always allow you to walk into the town center for supplies and a meal.  Unlike the towns we visited along the coast, the boat traffic to the Erie Canal towns doesn't add much to the local economy, so it remains a relatively small effort.  As a result, the evenings are more modest, and we have generally lower expectations.  Further, since the Erie Canal parallels the NY Thruway (I-90), as well as several rail lines, some stops can be noisy.  Care must be taken in securing a docking location that is as quiet as possible.

Jan and Trish cook a great dinner, complemented with two fine wines, and we hit the hay.  We'll start early tomorrow, because we have 70 miles, a large lake, and 11 locks to navigate.

Wednesday, June 16, 1999. We start early about 7:00 am a soon are in the thick of travel then lock, travel then lock, etc.  By 7:00 PM, 12 hours of work, we’ve traveled 71 miles and negotiated 11 locks. These locks have lifted Interlude a total of 178 feet. And when you consider that the speed limit on the Canal is 10 mph, it means that we were relatively efficient in our use of time. This is partly due to the fact that lockmasters will ask you whether you are proceeding to the next lock on the same day, and will call ahead. If possible they will have the next lock waiting for you when you arrive. If you just miss a cycle, it can be a wait of half an hour to an hour for them to recycle the lock.

A couple of words about lock terminology. The doors are called gates, and the lock itself is called a chamber. Adding water to the lock to raise a boat is called filling the chamber; emptying the chamber is called dumping it. We pay $10 a day for a pass to use the locks on the Erie Canal. These are called day passes, and often you are required to show the to the lockmaster when the boat is in the high position. You can buy the passes, as you need them from the lockmasters. For the most part, lockmasters are very helpful and friendly and want to make your trip more pleasant.

A good case in point. Jan called the walk-in clinic back in Troy late in the afternoon to learn the status of her culture. It happens that she was infected by a strain of bacteria that is resistant to the medication which had been prescribed. The doctor agreed to prescribe a new medication to any pharmacy we could find. We asked the dockmaster at Lock 16 if he was aware of a pharmacy in Little Falls (New York). He went into the lock house and came back with a piece of paper with the pharmacy’s name, address, and phone number on it. He also said he called the lockmaster at Lock 17, and he would have directions to the pharmacy ready for us. These are good guys.  Jan called the pharmacy, then the doctor and arranged to have the prescription filled and waiting for us upon our arrival in Little Falls.

When we arrived in Little Falls, about 7:00 PM, we tied up to the terminal wall in the town. There was plenty of room for us, but upon closer examination of the spot we chose, we discovered there was no power available. To get to the power, we would have to shoehorn Interlude into the end of a dock with only 40 feet of runway available. We worked at it, and pulled it off. A little creative laying of the lines had us secure for the night. We asked the boat ahead of us, "Barb’s", if he would reroute his power line, and we were able to hook up two 30 amp lines for the night—about 1/3 of the power we might want, but enough to get by on. During the night we heard the eerie (pun intended) sound of the train whistles as they approached the crossings in Little Falls; somewhat romantic, if we do say.

Since we needed to walk into town for Jan’s prescription, we asked other boaters for a dinner recommendation and ended up at a steak house in town that served huge portions of great food. We brought doggie bags back with us. The restaurant was across the street from the pharmacy and from a grocery, so we stopped for a few items in the supermarket before we returned to Interlude.

As pleasant as the day has been, not all is easy today. We have generator problems—not one, like we’ve had in the past, but two. Both generators are intermittent, but we are able to continue by alternating between them, as they cut out. We need to get these problems resolved.

Thursday, June 17, 1999. This day was both similar and different from the day before. It is similar in that we were still in the Erie Canal, traveling then locking then traveling, but this day we spent more time in the excavated ditch than in the natural Mohawk River, so it seemed much more like a canal. It was different in that today we have only six locks but we cross the 29 miles of Lake Oneida. A lockmaster tells us to be cautious about Lake Oneida since it swallowed-up a 65 footer a couple of year ago. We’ll be careful.

During the day we are lifted a total of 57 feet to the summit of our trip at Rome, then lowered a total of 50 feet to the level of Lake Oneida. We handle the locks without problems, like pros.

Generator problems continue throughout the day.

We reach Lake Oneida and it is raining quietly and is very cool (60 degrees or so). We cross the lake at planing speed since there is no traffic out on a day like this. About half way across, Jan asks if we’ve pulled in the fenders (which are hung over the side of the boat to protect the hull from the walls of the lock). Bob checks and reports that we’ve lost one but the others are OK. Well, the ball fenders we’re using are very large—larger by far than those typically sold at West Marine, so we decide to go back and look for it. We need all three to lock through properly.

An interesting aside: We had heard a boat by the name of "The 4th of July" following us all day, usually about half a hour behind us. As we began the run back along the markers in the lake, we called ahead to see if The 4th of July was yet in Oneida Lake. We would ask him to watch for our fender. He was just entering the lake and agreed to watch for the white marker. We both saw it about the same time, so he passed us and allowed us to make the retrieval. We chatted and realized we were both spending the night at the same marina. The 4th of July appeared to be a yacht about the size of Interlude. Later that evening, when we were in the marina we learned from the captain that their destination is the North Channel of Lake Huron, so we’re sure we’ll see more of them along the way. More typically nice people.

Within 15 minutes we’ve spotted the fender, and Bob makes a valiant save by pulling it aboard from the swim platform in rough seas. Not a minor task in a tossing boat, with a slippery rubber ball, a yard across and weighing 45 pounds . Bill operated the boat from the controls in the transom to aid the rescue.  Bill moves back to the pilot house and we finish the run across the Lake Oneida without problems (except for our recalcitrant generators).

We tie up at in Brewerton at Ess-Kay Yards, and arrange for an electrician to look at the generators in the morning. The four of us are happy since this marina has 50 amp power, running water, and cable TV. We’ll get caught up on some news, for change.

We polish off a great meal of soft tacos and we wash them down with several good New York State wines, and call it a day. Tomorrow we have some maintenance to attend to and a short run to finish both the Erie Canal and the Oswego Canal and our first look at the Great Lakes.

Friday, June 18,1999. In port in Brewerton, NY. The maintenance items we started yesterday ended up being a dead alternator. Now it is a $1700 proposition to replace the alternator on the starboard engine, so we decided to wait a day and have it rebuilt instead—for a fraction of the cost. So we spend the day doing those things we seldom seem to have time to do. For instance, we replaced a stanchion that supports one of the boarding ladders. The old one had broken, and we were jury-rigging a fix. We also did inside and outside chores such as putting SLX on the port side of the hull removing some more moustache.

Let me describe briefly what we learned about the generator problem.  First of all, we ended up in the last couple of days with two generator problems--this is what raised the concern to the "must fix" level.  Generator #1 has been quitting for no reason.  We had it diagnosed as a faulty sensor which sent a message to a controller in the generator that there was a serious problem, and the generator should be shut down.  This controller caused a 50 amp breaker to open, and the result is the generator shut down.  We replaced the logical sensors, and no effect--we still had the problem.  In Albany they identified the problem as a faulty controller board, and since it wasn't in stock in the local inventory, we arranged to have it shipped to us in Buffalo. 

Let's switch to generator #2.  While in the Erie Canal, we were using #2 without problem, until it started to surge (change RPM) then it shut itself down.  Bill had replaced the primary fuel filter in New Bern, and it was unlikely that the filter was the problem.  Nevertheless, in the Erie Canal he replaced the filter again.  Yet, the problem was characteristic of a diesel motor starved for fuel.  So the mechanic at Ess-Kay checked the secondary filter.  (Note: each of the four diesel engines on the boat have a primary and a secondary fuel filer.  The secondary filters are on the engines themselves.  The primary filters are located remote from the engines.   Bill has changed the remote filters regularly based on a vacuum gauge reading.)  The guys at Ess-Kay are going to work on both problems.

Bob also rigged the large ball-type fenders with a quick-attach coupling so that we can change sides of the boat quickly. That’s something we’ll need for the Welland Canal since they require us to tie to first one side in one lock, then the opposite wall in the next lock. It is a big deal, and a little precarious to change sides while we’re moving.

While we hadn’t planned to lose the day, we were in a beautiful location at the Ess-Kay Marina, the weather was perfect, and with Bob and Trish around, we enjoyed the day immensely.

For dinner, we walked into Brewerton for a bar-type dinner that was fine. It was a fun evening—one of those when everything seems funny, and we laughed about almost nothing at all until our sides hurt.

Saturday, June 19, 1999. This was a big day. We started about 1:00 PM after the alternator was replaced, and after the final generator sensors were installed. It looks like we’ve solved the generator problem once and for all. The second generator problem proved to be a cloged primary fuel filter--perhaps defective in manufacturing since the one on the other generator was fine.

It was an easy day and we logged the 30+ miles and the 8 locks in good time. We pulled into Oswego, NY about 6 PM and tied up near the end of the Oswego River. The four of us have become master lockpeople; we negotiated a series of significant drops without even batting an eye.

This is an important day in our trip. On this day, we completed the Erie Canal, and negotiated the entire Oswego Canal, and now we’re ready for the Great Lakes, which begin but a mile from our dock.