Pre-departure (Sept 6-9)
Shane finished work on July 15th and I started my leave on August 18th. Our boat projects and preparations were riddled with hic-ups all summer, including a bad case of COVID, several unexpected doctor visits and a surprise engine breakdown which left the boat out-of-commission for over a month. However, things eventually came together, and we left Peterborough the night of Wednesday, September 6th and got to the boat after dark. (A heartfelt thanks to our kids, friends, family, the mechanics at Loyalist Cove marina and our docs for helping and encouraging us!) We spent over 12 hours on Thursday moving onto the boat. A very blissful hour of that was spent being a nurse-nerd, organizing our First Aid kit, which my nursing friends will “totally get.” Friday was spent doing last minute errands before putting the car in storage at the boat yard. (Thanks for the ride Kim!)
Week One (September 9-15)
We had a good weather window to cross Lake Ontario on Saturday the 9th. Shane and our boat neighbour Daniel did a quick run to Marine Outfitters in the morning to get a sacrificial zinc anode (and a spare), which we had forgotten. These anodes prevent the prop and shaft from corroding. In fresh water, we use magnesium, but we needed zinc for salt water. I stayed behind and got the boat ready to sail. We pushed off around 10h (I think, but can’t say for sure as Shane’s notes are currently at the bottom of the Erie Canal – more on that later). Daniel and two other boat neighbours were there to wave us off the dock, and it was a bit emotional and touching and exciting all at once. We motored to Waupoos and threw out a precarious anchor. Shane dove on our prop several times to switch our magnesium anode to zinc, as we weren’t sure when we’d again be in swimmable water with decent visibility. We continued on under sail thereafter and had a beautiful run. At one point, Shane went below for a snooze and left me at the helm. I had to wake him up when our chart plotter screen went white. Turns out I had just zoomed in too far, he, he, he. We had rain for the last hour of our trip, but the wind and waves remained reasonable. We arrived in Oswego, NY around 20h. That night, we met Jay and Ken of Venture, who were moored next to us, and who would turn out to be wonderful boat buddies in the days to come. Jay was on his way south “forever;” Ken was on loan from his wife to help Jay through the canal system.
On Sunday, we took our sails and boom off and walked into town to get new US SIM cards. We came back and started to build the deck support for our mast. Our mast is 43’ and the maximum overhead clearance of the canal system is about 20’. By nightfall, we (Shane) had built a mast support we hoped would work. Oswego un-steps masts on a first-come-first-serve basis; we were third in line with three other boats scheduled for un-stepping the next day. Venture was first. We topped off our water and diesel tanks and got a pump out while waiting our turn. We had nervous bellies, but our mast came down without incident, the supports held and we got everything strapped down to the deck. The crew at the marina were patient, friendly and knew their stuff. Shane and I decided to stay another night at the marina to decompress, while the two boats before us, and one after us, carried on. Monday night, Shane and I headed to the Press Box and had an excellent plate of nachos and some nice cold beers. Whisky arrived on Black Pearl, a 26’ sailboat that night. He’s a Forest-Gump, Tom Sawyer type-of-guy, full of salt-water, who on a whim, fueled by a conversation with a buddy, decided to buy a boat, learn to sail and head South. Whisky wasn’t un-stepping his mask until Tuesday, but would catch up with us within two days and become another fun boat buddy.
Shane and I left Oswego on Tuesday morning around 8:30h, tackling our first lock right away along with a motor boat, Mari-Gab. Mari-Gab was new to its owners and was en-route to Lac Champlain; we travelled all day together. We got through the 7 locks of the Oswego canal and lock 23 of the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal runs from Lockport, New York to Troy, New York, connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson, consists of 36 locks and is divided into east and west sections. We only need to do the western section, which includes 23 of the locks. (Lock 1 of the western Erie Canal is in Troy, New York.) We missed our line at lock 2 of the Oswego canal and went a bit sideways, but otherwise we got through the locks without incident – not bad for a couple of rookies! We stopped for the night in Brewerton and were greeted by two familiar faces, Jay and Ken, who helped us tie up. I’m a nervous docker and completely missed my target, sending the whole spring line into the water instead of to Jay – embarrassing performance anxiety which I need to work on.
Our next leg of the trip was crossing Lake Oneida. Lake Oneida is a large (about 22 miles long) and shallow lake (with depths ranging from 22-55 feet). We had been cautioned by our friend Brian that this lake gets rough, to wait for good conditions before crossing and to leave early in the morning before the afternoon winds pick-up. The weather forecast was not great for Wednesday, so we stayed in Brewerton for another night and got to know Jay and Ken better, well into the early morning hours. It was here that Whisky caught up with us. We crossed the lake as a group on Thursday morning in about 4 hours. We did get some rain, but again, the wind and waves remained reasonable. Once past Oneida, we went through lock 22. We were the first boat in of our group and Shane and I went to work entertaining the others, missing our wall lines three or four times before getting ourselves straightened out. Lock 21 was less dramatic. We then stopped in Rome for two nights at the Bellamy Harbor Park wall, which provided free docking and showers.
Before crossing Lake Oneida, we had noticed that we lost a lot of coolant which Shane tracked back to a loose cap (easy fix). However, we were also having problems starting up our engine and suspected weak batteries. So while in Rome on Thursday, chauffeured by a slightly unhinged Uber driver, we purchased three new batteries.
We woke up to our first cold morning on Friday. There was dew on our v-berth hatch dripping down on our bed. Without a heat source on the boat, it was hard to get up. I put my cold, slightly damp clothes on under the blankets, then put the kettle on. When I peeked out of our portlight above the stove, I saw that Mother Nature had treated us with a whimsical blanket of dancing cotton-candy mist on the river. Moments later, two rowing teams silently glided past. The park staff opened the showers for us, which were gloriously hot.
Mid-morning Friday, we continued on to Herkimer, which I believe is about a 30 nautical mile stretch, involving locks 20 and 19. The magnetic sensor for our our autopilot (who we’ve named Myrtle, after Moaning Myrtle) is just under the starboard cockpit seat. She’s sensitive. Twice I put my cell phone down causing Myrtle to blip and our boat to take an abrupt turn. The first time it happened, we coincidently avoided a log in our path that I hadn’t seen. The second time I did it was just plain scary. I must say, most of the canal shoreline has a dense covering of deciduous trees and bushes. Few are showing hints of their Fall colours; however I imagine that in two or three weeks, they will put on a spectacular display. We stayed at another free dock on Friday night in front of the Waterfront Grill in Herkimer. Although we didn’t explore the town, we did treat ourselves to dinner out. The food was good and reasonably priced. It was a busy place. There was an armed policeman at the entrance of the restaurant all night, and I’m not sure why, but maybe we were dining in the company of someone famous.
- Animals seen this week: bald eagles, blue herons, king fishers (I think, but I forgot my bird book), mallard ducks, common mergansers, Canadian geese (who I am quite happy to be traveling south with), many fish a’jumping and one pot-belly pig!
- Boat bruises this week that I could see in the mirror: 7+
- Rope burns: 1
- Distance traveled: About 131 nautical miles (including spinning while waiting for locks to open)