Erie Canal redux

From Oswego, we began our trip back down the Erie Canal on Saturday Sept. 9 with our first stop at Ess Kay Yards in Brewerton where we had spent time in July, so a little over two months later for our return. We arrived early afternoon. We had previously scheduled mail delivery, so we picked up our mail, some parts ordered for us, borrowed the courtesy van and did a circuit to refill both propane tanks, pick up prescriptions, grocery run, Lowe’s to replace mats that went overboard in Penetang, and some takeout pizza. A very busy afternoon! Our Sunday began foggy, but we weren’t in a big hurry to get going. We took on about 300 gallons of fuel and bid farewell to Kim and Ethan, and headed to Sylvan Beach. Finally, warm weather! We enjoyed strolling in tee shirts and shorts in the evening, and moved on the next morning.

A few overnight stops down the Erie at Little Falls where we enjoyed another warm stroll and walked past some interesting buildings downtown. The architecture from the 1880’s-early 1900’s is very interesting, and some of the buildings still retain some of their original grandeur. The Masonic Temple pictured was built in 1914. and was sold in recent years. It was converted to a residence, and was sold again within the past few months. It appears to be in good repair, but as a heating guy, I can imagine the beast of a boiler that lives in that huge building’s basement! I can also appreciate that heating and maintaining that system involves costs that would leave most prospective buyers slack-jawed when they learn about boiler replacement! Still, an impressive building! The incredible prosperity of the whole Mohawk Valley and surrounding area during the turn of the century boom years of the Canals and industrial expansion is clearly reflected in the architecture of the region. Likewise, the downturn in fortunes in the time since. It’s very sad to see those former monuments to prosperity fall into ruin, yet encouraging to see some of them preserved in their original condition.

Amsterdam, our next stop shares a similar experience as a once-thriving industrial center that now struggles to stay afloat. Once the home of Mohawk Carpet Mills, the mills now sit empty, many demolished, and jobs sent far away. The area has seen some revitalization since our first visit in 2008 with evidence of improved prosperity. The Riverlink Park in Amsterdam features a well-maintained park with floating docks and free laundry! Not expensive at $1/ft., it’s a short walk across the lovely new pedestrian bridge to the opposite side of the river. We planned to dine out at a local small italian restaurant, the Armory Grille, but it was closed Tuesdays. Alternatives involved re-crossing the bridge where we found Chinese take-out in a repurposed 80’s mall. Not the tastiest chinese we’ve ever sampled! One the plus side, there was no line!

From Amsterdam we completed our transit of the Erie Canals, arriving in Waterford on Wednesday, Sept. 13 in the last locking. At this writing 9/14, we’re located in Kingston, NY where we arrived around 1545 hrs. in time to raise the mast and put the boat deck back in order. Tomorrow we’ll clean up fenders, deflate and stow the ones we use in the locks, and over the next few days we’ll make our way toward New York City. At this point we plan a layover in Great Kills on Staten Island for a day or two while hurricane José decides its path and we can plan ours!

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Back the Trent-Severn

We left Swift Rapids on Tuesday the 29th of August, for a leisurely pace back through the Trent-Severn Waterway over the period of a week, stopping at some of the places we stopped on the trip west, with the difference that our stopoververs were overnight, moving on the next morning.

Some of the stops were intentional duplications: Kirkfield Lift lock for a very quiet night with a campfire that was extinguished by a timely rain shower at dusk, Orillia and the Mariposa Market for fresh baked goodies, Bobcaygeon where there was a live band in the park, Peterborough Lock 20 and dinner out, Campbellford for more Empire cheese and Dooher’s Bakery in the morning, and Lock 7, nothing special there, except for killing a bit of time since Lock 3 was closed for repairs. It seems that one of the lock doors started to come apart, and on the Labor Day holiday weekend (yes, Canadians have Labor Day that coincides with the US holiday)!

We were kept apprised by the lock tenders as we progressed, and decided to stay at Lock 7 in case the repairs took longer than anticipated. Lock 7 greeted us with pretty dense fog the morning of the 6th. Since we were in no hurry, and the lock schedules are abbreviated after the holiday, we started at 10 AM, when the locks open. As it turned out, Lock 3 was in operation that morning, and we continued with no additional delay. We arrived at Trenton in the afternoon Wednesday the 6th of September, early enough to pump out, catch up on some laundry, wash down the decks, and top off the water tanks. Our plan to depart early Thursday morning to cross Lake Ontario took a detour with winds in the 25kt neighborhood that afternoon and predicted to persist through Thursday. We needed to be in Oswego before 1630 hrs in order to enter Lock 8, that required leaving Trenton before sunrise, but since the swing bridges crossing Murray Canal were also on the 10AM schedule, it wouldn’t be possible to transit Murray Canal in time to put us in Oswego by 1630. Since the wind was blowing like stink, we decided to delay departure from Trenton until Thursday noon, then transit both bridges in the Canal that afternoon, stay overnight in the well-protected canal, then leave at first light to head across the Lake.

That plan worked quite well, the last bridge had a long enough wall to tie to, although it was adjacent to a section that’s collapsing, and we did scrape bottom on some rocks next to the wall, but it was just the stabilizer dragging on some loose rock next to the wall. We simply moved away from the debris. No tide other than a bit of wind effect so no worries there. It was a very quiet night, and there’s a mowed path that parallels the canal for about 3/4 of a mile. Up at dawn, the wind had laid overnight, and true to forecast, the Lake was about 3 ft. waves, going our way, so a fairly gentle ride to Oswego. We arrived in plenty of time to lock through and tied up between Lock 8 & 7 in Oswego, and walked back to the video check in to clear Customs. Back in the US on Friday evening Sept. 8, as planned. Saturday morning will begin our trip back through the Erie Canal.

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Trent-Severn Waterway – eastbound!

Our first day heading back through the Trent-Severn pretty much duplicated the trip west, our stopover point, Swift Rapids Lock 43. The highlight of that leg of course, is the Big Chute marine railway. We were the last boat loaded, and just fit with our stern hanging over the end of the platform a bit. No worries, the operators are very good, and since the platform actually supports the weight of the boat along the full keel, it’s actually quite stable. There are straps similar to those on a travel lift with the significance that the straps on the marine railway don’t actually carry the weight of the boat, but serve to support and balance it. The whole marine railway experience is quite unique, it’s remarkably smooth, and really isn’t much more involved than a conventional lock when all’s said and done! Another ride on the rails!

Our overnight stay at Swift Rapids was chilly, but the mosquitos have gone into hiding. We were able to walk across the hydro dam and back the rugged service road, a crew had been working during the day to remove one of the turbines from the plant, it was loaded onto a truck and the crane as well as the truck were preparing to move out the road as we walked. The turbine was interesting to see, we were told it had some wear issues and needed to be serviced. They were very careful securing the load for the ride out on the bumpy service road! An interesting observation was the installation of the power line poles that serve the hydro generating plant; a number of them seem to run across large sections of granite, it occurred to me that they were installed in the rock, and upon closer investigation, discovered they are in fact, drilled into the rock! Fascinating!

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Georgian Bay & North Channel bread crumbs….

Bread crumbs, indeed. Our travels on this cruise, in fact, every time the boat moves, are guided by our chartplotting program. For non-boater readers, it can be likened to Google Maps. Our position is shown in real time overlaid on a chart of the area. If it shows waterways, it’s a chart, maps show roads. The chart shows land features, water depths, obstructions, and ATONs, or Aids To Navigation, that are anchored to the bottom and mark bouyed channels, hazards, or speed restrictions. Waterborne road signs, if you will.

Our chartplotter is actually a PC-based computer program, it displays all the data that the various systems on board collect such as depth, position, course over ground, speed, heading, wind speed and direction, air temp, water temp, AIS data for nearby vessels, and many other pieces of information. The program also keeps track of our position continuously, and lays down a bread crumb trail of our movement, or track. Those tracks are data that can be viewed, manipulated, exported to other programs and recalled. It’s a timeline record of exactly where we were at what precise time. Although the location map on the blog shows a location related to each post, it doesn’t show how we got there. The graphic below shows our tracks (in red) for the time we were in Georgian Bay and North Channel, for a good depiction of our travels. The grid on the chart is lat/lon, each line is 20 nm (nautical miles) wide by 30 nm high.

North Channel -Georgian Bay tracks

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Return to Penetang

Our tour of Georgian Bay and North Channel complete, we returned to Beacon Bay Marina at Penetanguishene. Our route took us on the small craft channel. The route is very scenic, with cottages at every point of the compass. One landmark we heard many locals mention was “Henry’s”, a famous popular restaurant, known for it’s fish & chips, a tradition spanning some 40 years. Recently, the restaurant was closed due to challenges of staffing and operating the island location, accessible only by boat or seaplane. It was reopened in June of this year, but the reopening was short-lived and it remains shuttered.

We arrived at Beacon Bay Sunday afternoon of the 27th, in time to do a quick deck washdown, clean the dinghy, cover it, do wash, prep the boat deck and get some help to lower the mast in preparation for returning to the Trent-Severn waterway. Yes, we must dismantle part of the rigging and lay the mast back onto the railings to reduce our bridge clearance, or “air draft” from our normal 24 ft. to 16ft 2 in. This allows us to clear the “controlling bridge elevation” of 20 ft. on the Trent-Severn, as well as the Erie Canal. It’s not terribly involved, it takes a little less than an hour from prep to secured, and a strong back, which is not nearly what it used to be, so we enlisted help from one of the dockhands who looked at us incredulously as he remarked, “you two do this by yourselves!?” Well, yes, we have. Despite having rigging to take most of the weight, the whole rig is about 150 pounds or better when it must be guided down by hand on final approach onto the blocks that support it. It gets heavier every time! Mast lowered, antennas lowered, dinghy put to bed, we’re ready for canals! The mast will remain stowed until we clear the Troy Lock, the last of the 20 ft. bridges as we re-enter the Hudson.

We slipped lines Monday morning, arriving at lock 45 at Port Severn at about 0915 hrs. to begin our return trip on the Trent-Severn Waterway. Cool weather prevailed, skies slightly overcast, we had our 3 days of sunny weather, time for some clouds! We entered the lock alone, a marked difference from our locking a month ago on the weekend when we had to pick our way through a wall of boats waiting to lock through!

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Revisit Echo Bay

Heading southeast along the small craft route took us a more scenic route. The scenery is quite stunning, and the trip was very pleasant in spite of lots of twists and turns around lots of rock! The chart is well-marked, and the channels are well-bouyed. Not always the case; early mariners and explorers marked hazards in innovative ways. Point au Bariel is named for a barrel, legend has it that a barrel marked the entrance to safe water, the barrel sometimes contained fire, and the modern aid approximates a barrel. The original barrel has been reproduced and stands near the lighthouse that stands as one of many along the shore.

Probably our favorite anchorage on the trip up Georgian Bay was Echo Bay. Our timing on the return trip put us in position to revisit that anchorage, and we did. We arrived just after 1400 hrs, plenty of time to drop the dinghy and do some exploring. A month makes a huge difference in activity, and while our previous visit had us hunting for a spot to anchor, this time we just headed to the middle and dropped the hook. With staying only overnight, a shore tie seemed a bit overkill. We found some unusual rock formations, with the typical striations from glacial abrasion, but more unusual were the color striations that are the result of molten rock of different mixture creating layers. Very fascinating!

With the weather turning cooler, evenings are less a fight with the bugs, although after dark they come in hordes attracted by the cabin lights. Mosquitos seem never to relent, but they’re not as plentiful. A very calm night in Echo Bay, not a ripple on the water, and a brisk morning with steam on the pond as we lifted anchor and continued our movement back toward Penetang.

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Flip side- The Bustards

Covered Portage in our wake, we headed for Killarney. Since we’ll be covering a lot of the same area, we planned (loosely- we rarely do an itinerary, per se) on our route west to skip over some areas by taking a more direct route, and planned to visit those areas on the return trip. The Bustards is a group of islands near the top of Georgian Bay we bypassed west-bound in favor of a more direct and southerly route to Killarney. East-bound, we decided to stick more to the small craft route that runs a more circuitous path, but is more scenic. The Bustards was our choice of our first stopover eastbound.

The Bustards are mostly uninhabited, but a few cottages can be found here and there. A relatively new cottage in a beautiful setting was located just a short way from our anchorage, with no one around. Another, older cottage located across the water appeared to be neglected, perhaps abandoned. The vast majority of the cottages in the area are accessible only by boat, so the boathouse or docks play a significant role in the cottage setting. We did some hiking on adjacent Strawberry and Tie Islands, and of course, Molly got plenty of swimming! Just an overnight stay in The Bustards, up anchor the following morning, Friday, August 25, bound for somewhere a bit further south and east!

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Covered Portage

Covered Portage is an anchorage that was recommended by locals we met in Penetang as a place to put on our “visit” list. The anchorage is a bay with a dog leg opening that the guide books and the reviews on ActiveCaptain describe entering the cut exercising caution and a bow lookout. Without actually entering the basin, it’s difficult to assess how crowded the anchorage is, so we opted to anchor outside the basin since the wind direction put us in the lee of the shore anyway. We dropped the dinghy and headed into the bay. It’s a fairly large bay with a single opening entrance. There is a dog leg at the entrance, but it is actually pretty straightforward and marked on the charts. Two observations in that regard: 1)- We’ve noted that the CHS charts are quite accurate, we’ve followed the chartplotter through a number of “iffy” areas, and have found the charting to be spot on. 2) The cautionary notes on Active Captain, however helpful, seem to universally lean toward overstatement. Yes, there’s a rock ledge at the opening of this and most any anchorage in the Georgian Bay area. Exercising reasonable prudence and going slow will allow access to even those tricky spots. Despite there being plenty of room, we decided that since we were only staying one night, we were fine on the outside.

Guidebook notes describe a marked trail starting at the far end of the cove that leads to an overlook of the anchorage. We dinghied into the cove and found a likely spot, and located the ribbon-marked trail. It’s a pleasant hike up to the crest of the ridge. The ridge is actually the same ridge that we hiked to Casson Peak the previous week, Covered Portage is on the south side across the ridge from the anchorage in Baie Fine. The area has similar geologic features, and although the summit at Covered Portage isn’t quite as high, it’s an impressive view from the top, well worth the easy hike. As witnessed by the photos, our weather was less than ideal, but our hike outing was unmarred by rain or wind, so a qualified success.

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Gore Bay

We departed the Benjamins on Monday the 21st making the short 15 nm jump to Gore Bay. Gore Bay is a small community on Manitoulin Island, with a short main street and downtown. It’s a laid back small town feel, the marina facilities are well kept with relatively new floating docks, new bathroom facilities and things in town close enough to walk. There’s a medium-sized grocery store with an adjoining hardware store, and some interesting shops downtown.


We took advantage of the proximity of the grocery to do some provisioning, when there’s a grocery store within just a few blocks of the marina, it’s a given we’ll be stopping in for things we need, and some we probably don’t. Weather started turning cloudy and winds piped up to 26G 35, so we signed up for a 2nd night’s stay. The 2nd day gave us the opportunity to visit the local museum and art gallery. The museum was very interesting, it’s housed in what was originally the jail house for the region. The jail cells are intact with some of the original cell doors. An interesting item was a prisoner’s table, presumably a mess table, but the compelling feature was the grafitti carved in the table’s surface by prisoners, some depicting self portrait with term of stay. The selfie of the turn of the century! Other displays in the museum depicted some interesting glimpses in to the local history.

Of interest in the marina was the Purvis, a typical Great Lakes fish tug. We had seen similar vessels in use in the Maritimes, with a similar closed in deck with large areas. Used primarily in gill net fishing, the fish tugs have been made nearly obsolete with restrictions on gill netting, and are now primarily an historical oddity. The 2nd day about exhausted our Gore Bay experience, so we departed Wednesday morning, the 23rd with overcast skies, temps in the mid-60’s and winds still in the 20 kt. neighborhood. Folks on the dock seemed doubtful that we would not turn back, but the ride, albeit a bit bumpy, was not bad enough that we were uncomfortable. So we made way toward Covered Portage on the other side of Little Current.

The departure from Gore Bay marks the western most extent of our visit to the North Channel, and the turn-around point in our Georgian Bay cruise as we begin our back track to the Chesapeake, and warmer weather!

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The Benjamins

Weather finally started to cooperate as we headed to the Benjamins, an easy cruise from Little Current. The Benjamin Islands are a circular grouping of islands unique in their geology. Their pink granite is worn smooth from glacial action and has an appearance that, from a distance looks like sand dunes. We chose to anchor at Croker Island, one of the Benjamin Islands group, but on the eastern end. We dinghied from Croker to Benjamin Island, about a mile and a half. Benjamin Island is a popular anchorage, with room for many boats. The rock formations are simply stunning, the smooth face of the pink granite creates a visual effect that is most unusual.

We spent two days in the anchorage, enjoying the sights and the hiking around the islands. Dinghy rides are always interesting, yet a bit unsettling for the presence of unknown rock. Despite the appearance of open water, there’s a good chance there could be a house-sized boulder in the middle of an expanse of 30 foot deep water, just waiting to eat the dinghy prop- or worse! Some of the trepidation is just due to the unknown, but it’s also a healthy respect for that unforgiving granite! More photos of the Benjamins in the gallery, just click on any of the blog photos to open the photo in the gallery and view the album.

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