2019 Finale: Revisiting the Erie Canal in September

Waterford NY felt a little like returning home, but without our previous Erie crew, Sue and Al, and without the Looper friends we first met there. Most of our earlier Looper friends have traveled more quickly than us, by-passing the northern Triangle Loop, and are heading south to Chicago and further south. We eagerly read about their travels and store their lessons learned for future cruising.

The Waterford town and visitor center were gearing up for their Tugboat Roundup so lots of hustle and bustle, and we knew we had to leave early the next morning to clear the dock for the incoming tugboats and mini tugs arriving. Kate and I walked up to lock 3 to see about staying above lock 3 the next night, hoping to be able to join some of the festivities. Another Kate and Karen adventure 😉. Evening walk into town for dinner out at McGrievieys Pub. It’s always a treat to eat out in new towns as we travel. No dishes! Home to the boat to read and watch as the visitor’s center projected an old Jimmy Stewart movie on the bridge wall nearby, and we waited for Gage to rejoin us after driving from work in New London NH. Quiet night at the dock, then up fairly early for showers and pumpout before starting the locks. Sadly, Gage and Kate departed after helping us through Locks 2 and 3 to return home for a fun weekend planned at Merryweather, one of our favorite places in Maine. They were our final crew for this trip.

Son Gage happily manning the stern lock lines
Gage and Kate

We heard via NY canal alerts about a canal closure by Sylvan Beach, a few days ahead of us, due to a bridge collapse. Apparently an old closed bridge, slated for demolition, collapsed into the canal, temporarily closing the canal to traffic. So we opted to stay in Waterford, on the wall between Lock 3 and 4 to enjoy the town, do some boat errands by bike (laundry, grocery, and hardware store were all an easy bike away). We met fellow Loopers (completed!) Cindy and Darryl on Nectar, as well as well seasoned Loopers Barbara and Bill on High Spirits. Lots to learn from those who have gone before us! So many wonderful stories to hear.


Cindy and I walked up to lock 5 the next morning to see a group of ~ 100 kayakers running the five “Flight of Locks” toward Waterford and Albany to raise awareness of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. It was quite a sight! Dean and I then zoomed on our bikes into Waterford to hear a talk at the Tugboat festival on lighthouses of the Hudson River by a woman from the Hudson River Maritime Museum – interesting! Touring the large working tugs and seeing the mini and recreational tugs was fun too.

That night, we and a group of other boaters walked to a lower lock, closer to Waterford docks, where we had a great view of the Waterford fireworks – pretty wonderful fireworks for a small town!

Got the word the canal was open with the old bridge removed so restarted traveling west along the Erie, planning to travel with Bill and Barbara aboard High Spirits while Cindy and Daryll continued heading southward, the opposite direction. Nice cruising with tree lined shores, trains alongside, and a few small towns on the water.

My time at the helm

Discovered Erie Lock 7 closed for a valve issue upon arrival so stayed at the lower dock wall with ~ 6 other boats, then hopped above once repair completed a few hours later to the inside western wall with Solitude (Dianne and John) next to a marshy area with egrets and herons fishing. Close to the bike trails and enjoyed a rolling hills bike ride toward Syracuse, past Knoll’s Atomic Power Lab and GE, and toward Union College, my father-in- love Dean E and brother-in-love John’s alma mater!

Stepped up and over the lock to the lower side for “docktails” with Bill and Barbara, and we gleaned more advice for next year’s cruise. The locks are still open until 10 pm for passage, and we were surprised by a few boaters locking down in the dark. Peaceful chilly night, stunning sunset.

Next morning headed west again as the sun slowly warmed us up. We are seeing fewer boaters and mostly locking solo or with only one other boat. Gentle canal through to lock 12, Tribe’s Hill, where we stayed in early July with Sue and Al. We were joined by High Spirits with Bill and Barbara again. No Canadian geese this time, thankfully (they leave geese poop everywhere) and another nice bike ride, this time heading west for ~ 12 miles on secluded paths. So great to explore new areas by bike, plus get a bit of exercise.

Dean is able to ride and take pics!

Tribe Hill has lots of train action through the night, but thankfully no train horns! In the morning, we were greeted by wispy, layered, Maine-like fog, which was our first of the trip. Gradually dissipated as the sun rose and warmed us. The trees are certainly changing on the river, from deep green to lighter green with yellows and reds emerging. Fall is coming!

Few locks or bridges on this ~ 18 mile leg as we headed toward the Canajoharie free dock at mile 60. This stop was recommended by several people for the museums and historic sites. Canajoharie is a Mohawk term that means “boiling pot,” referring to a series of cascading waterfalls with several “boiling pots,” about 2 miles out of town. Canajoharie Village is also reportedly the most architecturally original and intact Erie Canal commercial district. The village was the headquarters for the manufacturing operations of the Beech-Nut baby food company in the 20th century before closing in 2011 and the skeleton of the large plant is still intertwined and visible in the down town area. Susan B. Anthony, women’s rights pioneer, reportedly taught school here. Small but historical town!

We tied up at the Canajoharie Riverfront Park floating docks with 3 other Loopers, including High Spirits and an east bound boat, Half Time, with new but adventurous boaters, Ken and Andrea from OH. We were later joined on the cement dock side by two sailboats, one from Canada and the other from Lake Huron (US side) who were destined for the Bahamas (and beyond) but are rethinking/planning after hurricane Dorian’s recent devastation of the Bahamas. Solitude also tucked in. The Park is situated between a highway, a bridge roadway, the river, and busy train tracks. Not a quiet spot but the docks are nice and the electric hook up is helpful.

We hiked the ~ 2 miles through town and up the long hill to the Canajoharie Falls and gorge. It was a hot and steamy day again. Nice hike but very little water in the falls/gorge at this time of year, and difficult to see the gorge due to overgrowth of trees. We never did find the “boiling pot” for which the town is named. Brief stop in the Arkell Museum and Library as late in the day, but this museum deserved a proper visit at some point.

“Docktails,” the boater’s form of cocktails, was informally organized on the park’s walkway area and almost all boats joined in with continued stories (who hit rocks where, what mechanical stuff failed when, etc) boat life talk, resource sharing, and port recommendations. So many adventuresome folks from different parts of North America, varying ages and stages of life and with different lifestyles. We talked past sunset, until the rain drove us back to our boats. Not a quiet night, but caught periods of sleep between the trains and trucks.

Geared up to leave our new friends at Canajoharie in the morning, with some excitement as one of the demasted sailboats heading east got grounded or stuck in shallows just off the dock. 6’ of draw was just a little too much in close to the dock with current water levels. Thanks to some Egyptian engineering and manpower by the docktails crew, they were gradually pulled off the shallow spot and sent on their way. Turns out that if needed, the lock guys could have temporarily closed the guard gates and lock gates and raised the level between the locks to help – thankfully not needed!

Scenic trip continued westward with few boats or birds. Stopped above lock 15 in Fort Plain briefly to walk into the small, quaint village where I found an Amish grocery store, Dutch Country Market, just a short walk from the lock via the bike trail. Limited selection of fresh produce, but enough to keep us going a few days longer. The NY State Canal workers are busy cleaning up fallen trees and debris on the canal.

The day was hot and humid, much like our earlier days on the canal in early July. We chose to stop above Lock 16 in St Johnsville NY, a repeat for us from early July, because it was rural, quiet and easy access to the bike paths. Mid afternoon ride ~ 15 miles along the beautiful canal paths which traveled close to the canal but also through forests and marshes and rivers. What was different this ride from early July, besides missing the company of Sue and Al, was the crunching of fall leaves under our tires and the lower water levels of the creeks we rode over. We again visited the historical Herkimer house site, a Georgian-style mansion that was the home to courageous Revolutionary War hero, General Nicholas Herkimer.

Herkimer home

Appreciated the quiet night at the darkened lock, train sounds only in the distance, as we watched the almost full moon rise.

Reflection of the lock at night

As forecast, heavy rain arrived during the night and temps dropped into the 40s. We were quite cozy and warm in the cabin, spent the morning on boat chores, reading, and writing, then a short trip further west to Little Falls NY, also a prior stop worth repeating. Passed through Lock 17 (Little Falls), the highest lift lock on the Erie Canal at 40’ and one of only two locks in North America where the entrance gates is lifted above, guillotene style. We’ve done both of these locks, with the other being the Carillon lock on the Ottawa River 🇨🇦.

A peek inside lock 17 as we enter-
note that the entry gate lifts from above
We’ve started seeing Common Mergansers, a new bird for me!

The Rotary Club park at Little Falls NY is one of the friendliest stops and we were happy to revisit this one. They have Harbor staff, Mark and Alison, manning the docks and the facility, ready to give local info and even lifts into town if needed. The facility has a boater’s lounge with snacks and books, super clean and warm showers (a real treat!) bathrooms, and a simple laundry facility. As this is on the bike path, many bikers stop here on their trek along the Erie Canal and camp on the green so it’s a lovely mix of bikers and boaters. We chatted with two groups biking from Buffalo to Albany, including two Vermont ladies who camped overnight.

Dean hosed down the boat from the slime and debris dropped down on us from the lock walls, especially the tall lock 17, and did boat maintenance tasks while I made brownies and started the laundry cycles. Warmth and sweet chocolate smells in the cabin! Later, I joined a conference call for my national pediatric PT organization, happily walking the dock back and forth with my headphones in as the sun set in pink and blues, the almost full moon rose over the trees, and the fall cold settled back over the river. Background sounds of frequent trains across the canal and honking geese migrating overhead limited my audio participation but made me smile and give thanks. We must be on a migratory path because the honking geese traveled overhead all night and through the morning. It was a chilly night – in the 40s – more signs of fall.

Summer morning routines have transitioned to fall morning routines. Sleeping until the later sunrise, snuggled under our warm blankets, then quickly jumping into clothes in the cool morning air. Morning swims have been replaced with donning pants, socks, shoes and down vests, with the occasional military-style sprinkle shower. Hot cereal is our go-to breakfast now, and we enjoy hot teas and coffee even more. We’ve become sun seekers, finding the warming sun on whatever corner of the boat we can, then gradually peel off our layers as the overhead sun warms us and the day. This morning, the air temp was in the low 40s so we had “sea mist” on the water when we awoke.

Writing in our “greenhouse” which captures the warmth of the sun

Rainy days are cold days now, no longer warm when we get drenched, so we tend to huddle in our dry cabin and read or do boat projects. We are thinking about winter storage for Clare next week, so are cleaning, organizing and making list after list of projects, next year needs, and what to pack home. It will be different for us to have the boat stored ~ 8 hours away from home, rather than in our backyard or at a nearby boat storage facility. What will Dean do without the opportunity to tinker and do boat stuff throughout the winter? It might be a long winter…

Between the rain episodes, we forayed outside to stretch our legs and get fresh air by walking the nearby canal paths. Brown aspen leaves coat the paths and crunch as we walk or rattle in the breeze, and the fall wildflowers add much color and brightness to the woods. Few boats on the Canal today so the lock was quiet as well. Other local folks were out walking or biking the trails, and a family fished nearby. A nice somewhat lazy day.

Great bird sightings as we continued our leisurely cruise westward, timing our crossing of open Oneida Lake for the calm weather window and for our scheduled winter boat haul in a few days. Along with the fishermen, the cormorants, mallards and mergansers, herons, kingfishers, and eagles were back with us. The herons are tricky to spot, as they blend in with the low rocky and muddy canal edges, standing tall, silent, and unmoving as they fish. I am learning to capture them as they fly away, preferring to move away from our gaze and our boat wakes.

Final canal passage and final lock of this season for us. We remembered the gregarious, salty dock master at Lock 22 from our earlier trip through, and caught up on his hummingbirds and orioles and his winter plans as we passed through.

Spent the evening at Sylvan Beach, where the canal joins Lake Oneida so we could get an early start across the lake tomorrow while the winds and lake are calm. Sylvan Lake reminds me of our local Hampton Beach, a touristy town with greasy seafood restaurants and an old style amusement park along a long sandy beach. But the free wall docks were good and we again were joined by our friends on High Spirits, as well as two demasted sailboats heading east to eventually turn south to warmer places. Quiet night.

Off soon after the sun rose, with clear skies behind us but thick clouds in front as we entered the calm of Lake Oneida. We were so excited to enter a large body of fresh water last time through with high hopes of swimming during the hot humid July weather. This time, we had our cooler weather clothes on, gradually peeling layers off as the sun rose and the clouds dispersed into another clear blue sky day – our final one cruising on water. Dock life ahead for a few days as we cleanup, pack up, and get sweet Clare ready for winter storage far from us. Bittersweet.

Grabbed a final free dock wall in the town of Brewerton NY, on the sunny side of the Erie Canal, in order to continue our many tasks to ready the boat for storage. A new boat joined us, Potest Fieri, with Canadians Susan and Dan. Again, we were graced with new friends who were experienced in the waterways in which we hope to travel. They graciously invited us to their luxurious 50’ yacht for cocktails and stories from their 18 years of cruising. Back to our humble but perfect for us boat amidst the many unfinished packing projects, tumbling into bed.

More tasks, then off a very short distance to Winter Harbor Marina in Brewerton NY where we chose to winter our boat. We joined a familiar line up of friends and their boats that we had met along the way: Potest Fieri and High Spirits, who are also leaving their boats and traveling back to New Brunswick and FL We were the little boat between all the others. Busy packing, cleaning, winterizing the boat, and picking up a rental van as we planned to bring home all the boat cushions for reupholstering in a brighter, fresh color. Finally, we stopped our hustle and bustle to enjoy our last docktails with the other boaters, once again staying until the sun set, the mosquitoes found us, and the air chilled.

The line up for fall hauling and winter storage
We are on the board!
Winter Harbor Marina seems very professional and organized!

Final prep, deliciously warm and clean showers, loads of stuff to our rental van, and final cleaning. The van was stuffed to the gills with boat cushions, bike, dinghy motor, leftover food, and our belongings.

36’ packed into a rental van

We got the news that they were hauling us out this morning, which was wonderful as Dean hoped to be present when Clare exited the water so he could see how trawler Clare’s pretty bottom held up over the summer. The marina staff was very competent and reassuring, and Clare left the waters easily and smoothly.

Final farewells to our traveling companions and to dear trawler Clare. We have enjoyed a wonderful summer of journeying from Maine and through all the northeast canals, rivers, and lakes that comprise the Triangle Loop, around 1700 slow trawler miles and 99 locks that raised us up or lowered us down in elevation. Too many birds or beautiful sights to count, gathered many new friends, and heard wonderful stories along the way. We agreed we wouldn’t have changed a thing. But we are gladly ready to head home and spend time with our family and friends, return to work, and begin planning our next adventure on a segment of the Great Loop. We are thankful.

By the grace of God we go!

~ Karen and Dean

Categories: Erie Canal, September 2019, UncategorizedTags: , , , , , , ,


  1. And now the journey is paused for the winter! Good work, Karen, keeping us all informed and updated on your voyage. Can’t wait for Season Two 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like you had a nice summer. Very good read. Thank you for sharing


  3. Great write up! Bet you might be home now (or soon) – thanks for taking us virtually on your voyage.



    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello – Just found your website. I also have a Monk 36, purchased earlier 2019 in Newfoundland. I’ve brought it as far as Florida and will head back to Maine in spring. I’m in the early stages of planning for 2021 a trip somewhat along your lines, but will go directly to Lake Huron via Trent-Severn.
    Your travels are very informative about what I may face – thank you!
    I travel solo most of the time – have you seen anything that would be a challenge for a single hander, locks, docks, etc?
    You are bookmarked, and I promise not to be a stalker.
    Best –


    • Thanks, Dave, for reading and reaching out! My husband Dean thinks he read about your trip from Newfoundland on the Monk page? We love our Monk trawler. We had a friend who did the Erie locks up to the Thousand Islands single-handed his Monk without difficulties although he will attest it was a lot of work. He would be good to reach out to – Steve Dettman and he is also on the Monk page. We are heading to Lake Huron via Trent-Severn this summer! We’ll have to keep in touch! Happy New Year and happy planning, Karen & Dean


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