Cayuga-Seneca Canal, Finger Lakes, and westward

Jumped back into Lock Cayuga-Seneca #4, the final lock in the C-S series. Thankfully this one is without mechanical issues as C-S2&3 continues to struggle, closed again for part of today due to different gate issues. We’ll need to go back through this series at some point to return to the Erie so we are hoping maintenance solves the problems before too long for us and others. This lock raised us up another 12 feet to the elevation of Seneca Lake, 441’ above sea level.

Lowest bridges yet – more squeakers and as long as they don’t raise the lake level (and hence the canal levels), we should make it back safely! But I still may duck my head and hold my breath. 

At the the western end of the C-S canal lies Seneca State Park – a large NY state park on the northern end of Seneca Lake with a marina, a few cabins, beach, playground, and “splash park” as well as much wide open land along the shore. Lovely walking and biking paths from the canal exit to the other shore and the city of Geneva, which holds Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Super hot (95+) when we arrived at our dock, with a 10-12knot wind chopping up the lake. We secured the boat then rehydrated and rested out of the sun for awhile before taking a walk to see the park layout. Many boats, few active boaters here, but a fair amount of walkers and bikers. And lots of Canadian geese doing what they seem to do best – poop and leave messes.

As the sun lowered a bit and the temps dropped to the low 90s, Dean got the bikes off the boat, pumped up tires, and greased chains for our first boat bike of the season. We first cruised the beautiful trail along the northern park of the lake to Geneva, enjoying the stiff breeze, then turned back and followed the Cayuga-Seneca bike trail across the canal and along the canal, back towards Seneca Falls where we started the day 15 miles ago. It was pleasant under the shade of the trees, with marshes on one side of the path, corn fields and farms on the other. We look forward to more biking which we enjoyed greatly last year. Thankful we have plenty of water in the tanks to allow for a “boat shower” – quick rinse, soap up, quick rinse. Does wonders!

We were looking forward to being on a large body of water with hopes of anchoring out and swimming as we entered Seneca lake at the western end of the Cayuga-Seneca canal. Seneca Lake, one of the biggest of the 11 Finger Lakes, is 34 miles long and relatively narrow. It was formed by glaciers and is very deep, making anchoring tricky with no harbors and a long fetch to build up waves. We cruised the western shore, which brought back sights and memories of a bike trip with friends, especially the ridge of farm land and wineries overlooking the beautiful sparkling lake. I do remember lots of hills.

N.Y. has a great state park system (which includes the locks on the Erie and Cayuga-Seneca canals) and since anchoring, unfortunately, wasn’t an option, we opted to dock at Sampson state park on the eastern shore of Seneca, about midway down the coast. It was originally a naval base! As the United States prepared for war in the 1940s there was a growing need for training bases and in May 1942 President Roosevelt approved the construction of the naval base on Seneca Lake.  The base was named after a local Spanish-American War hero William T. Sampson.

After WWII, the base was converted into a college for returning veterans.  It was repurposed yet again during the Korean War as an airfield to train Air Force personnel.  All in all, over three quarters of a million airmen and sailors were trained at Sampson and today there is a combined air and naval museum dedicated to this history. We biked past the museum, but it was not open (COVID). In the 1960s, the land was transferred to New York State as a recreation park. The park has been renovated and partially privatized in the last year with new docks and services, and it was a wonderful place to spend a night, especially with access to some beautiful biking along the camp roads and a lakeside trail.

And the sunset was spectacular as well!

Next morning 8/13, we pumped out our head tank (boat toilet, a necessity periodically) then head north along the shore of the lake, viewing the beautiful houses and land. Back into the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and headed east, backtracking our previous trip under the low bridges and through lock C-S4 to Seneca Falls again. We docked just in front of another Monk ‘36 named Just Passing Thru, with Sharon and Eric aboard. We had very briefly met them last year on the Erie Canal; they, too, are stalled Loopers and hoping next year opens up new possibilities. Always fun to chat (physically distanced, of course), with other travelers and especially with other “Monkers” to share tales and projects. We also met and chatted with a local boater but future traveler, Mark, who shared local knowledge and we shared suggestions for his future trips to NYC and Long Island area. Boaters can be some of the nicest and kindest people.

Seneca Falls

Once secured at the dock, we hopped on bikes and went to the local Amish grocery store, Saunders, about 1.5 miles west. I immediately recognized this store as one we had stopped at on a previous group bike trip, when it was surrounded with buckets and buckets of gorgeous mums and pumpkins. It still is a wonderful store and we filled our panniers with fresh produce and bread, then biked home. Finding fresh foods on the trip within biking distance is challenging, so this was a big score in my book.

Home in time to make dinner then enjoy it on our upper deck while listening to some great music from a live band at the little town pavilion on the water. Thankful we could be physically distanced yet enjoy.

On Friday, 8/14, we woke after another steamy but quiet night to clear skies again. The Seneca Falls Visitors center is right at the dock, and I was able to do a load of laundry while prepping for the day. We casted off and headed east, still back tracking on the Cayuga-Seneca, and headed for Cayuga lake, passing back through locks C-S 3&4 which thankfully worked perfectly this time.

Cayuga Lake is the longest and second largest of the Finger Lakes. Like Seneca, it was formed by glaciers and depths vary greatly. The northern portion started very shallow with depths less than 10’ except for a narrow channel. This lake does have a few small harbors, so we wanted to anchor. We traveled about 10 miles south, marveling at the large quiet body of water, to Springport Cove off of Hibiscus Point. We were surprised to find about 75 small boats already in this shallow cove! It is a place for locals to anchor and raft up and swim. We anchored a bit farther out, away from the crowd but in the path of all the boats zipping in and out – quite a bit of rocking! Lovely refreshing swim and a quiet afternoon of reading. A few osprey were nearby, and there was a steady stream of geese flying….northeast? As the sun set, the majority of the boats departed but the 10 or so boats who spent the night on anchor were pretty loud until about midnight. We are missing our isolated harbors and coves of Maine!


On Saturday, 8/15, we awoke again to a mostly sunny and sticky day. Quite the weather pattern we are in! We love a first of the morning swim when we can, and it was lovely. Needless to say, the water is so much warmer than our Maine ocean dips! Dean kayaked around a small uninhabited island just south of us. This lake is dotted with local wineries, several that we visited on a previous bike trip including Goose Watch. Its interesting to view them from the water and see the hills we climbed with our bikes to get there. We didn’t cruise the whole lake (35 miles one way – a full day trip each way at our slow-trawler speed) but thought about Ithaca at the very southern end, home to Cornell where all Dean’s cousins went to school (Gigi, Dave, and Carey) as well as Elizabeth, a good friend’s daughter. Too busy a place on a weekend for us and we need to move along. So we hauled anchor (unearthing a chunk of mud/clay- good holding!) and headed north on the lake back toward the entrance to the canal.

We passed back through lock Cayuga-Seneca #1, finished up the eastern end of the canal, and headed more westerly again on the Erie Canal, still in the Montezuma wildlife area. Also, we saw few birds this section and even fewer boats or people. Passed through two more locks, E25 (Mays Point) and E26 (Clyde) easily, then after about 2 more miles we pulled into the Village of Clyde town dock, a small town that has a beautiful small canal park with a great free dock with electricity, water, a pavilion, and a little book lending library :-). The water along the dock is shallow, less than 5’, but we were able to find a “just right” spot to tie up.

The Village of Clyde, originally called “Blockhouse” and “Lauraville,” interestingly is known for having the first woman mayor in New York (1940, Katherine Wykle) and for their patent for mason jars. Glass factories at Clyde began operation in 1828, but the plant did not evolve to bottle production until 1864. Originally, they focused on windows and doors. Clyde made soda and beer bottles, liquor flasks, and “fruit jars” that were marked with one of the Clyde logos. The plant closed in 1915. The jars are quite the collectibles now!

We were hoping for the forecasted thunderstorms to come through our area but they passed us by, again, so we remain in this hot and humid pattern with steamy nights. Quiet except for the trains – our first night this year really seeing and hearing their presence. Amazing to think about how efficient these long trains are at shuttling cargo and people, and how they changed the canal and the neighboring towns.

Sunday, 8/16, woke to Amish folks trotting by in their horse and carriage, partly cloudy skies, and a gentle breeze. We were able to livestream our home church service which was a real treat. Pastor Jon addressed the issue about why we should care about others, using the example of Joseph’s life (Genesis). Yes, we should care!

Cast off and headed westward. Seeing a few more boats (all heading east). The town of Lyons looked inviting but it was too early in the day to stop – we’ll stop on our return trip. More locks and short conversations with the lockmasters. For E28A & B, the lockmaster had to lock us through, then drive the 2 miles to the next lock to run that one as well. Back and forth!

Arrived in Newark NY mid afternoon. Another welcoming town dock with great services (power, water), and a lovely Visitor Welcome Center with showers and laundry for boaters. To keep isolated, we are staying as self-sufficient as we can, remaining on the boat, and not accessing such services, but its nice to know they are available. Plenty of dockage at either side of the canal, with lovely gardens and walkways. We are between two road bridges in the center of a town, so town-noise, but trains are in the distance. We spoke with my in-laws, Clare and Dean, and immediately Clare said, “Newark? They are known for their roses!” She has an amazing memory and traveled this route by boat barge but also on trips back and forth to Buffalo, where Dean’s dad grew up.  Looking around, we spotted on a nearby bridge mural with a vivid, large painted rose. Searching the web, I found out that Newark was once the “Rose Capital of the United States,” in the late 1800s to early 1900s when a company called Jackson & Perkins hybridized a rose called “Dorothy Perkins” which became one of the most widely planted roses in the world! People traveled from all over to view the famous gardens, and we saw several depictions on the bridge murals. Thanks, mother-in-love Clare, for another great piece of information!

Off on our bikes to explore and get some exercise on the canal trails which literally were right outside our door. On this trip, we haven’t seen any thru-bikers, doing the end-to-end canal trail trip, perhaps due to COVID or the timing? We enjoyed a lovely 12 mile ride along the canal, then hopped off the trail and rode into town to the local Wegman’s for some dinner bread and a few other necessities (avocados, apples, pretzels, and chocolate :-). A few boats had joined us on the dock, the local restaurants were lively with outdoor patrons, and kids zoomed by on their bikes towards the nearby ice cream shop. As we settled to sleep, we finally got a short rain shower, signaling hopefully cooler temps for the next few days.

Bucket laundry

It’s been so hot, we’ve been just a soggy sticky mess at the end of most days since we are exposed and in the sun most of the day. Lots of bucket washing of our clothes and quick rinses in the shower – thankful we’ve had access to water to fill our water tanks so we can! We keep remembering sailboat life on the ocean, where access to fresh water was limited so we “bathed” by quick dips in the ocean, towel off the salt water, and use baby powder liberally. I feel spoiled!

This is “Palmyra,” named (by me) after Lock EA29 on the Erie Canal. The lock master said he’s followed him from lock to lock for the past 4 years, eager for an occasional butter cracker. I’ve never been this close to a green heron – they are usually so skittish – but this one hung out in the lock with us! Wish my hands were free to take more pictures but I had lock duties to fulfill.



On Monday 8/17, we left beautiful Newark to cruise ~ 20+ miles to Fairport. Fairport is called the “Jewel of the Erie Canal,” mostly because it was so prosperous when the Erie Canal opened here in 1825, with manufacturing companies thriving in the mid1800s. Additionally, Fairport is known for its unique lift bridge which is in Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s only lift bridge apparently built on a slant and for having unique joints – each angle is unique (no two are the same) and none are square. They are currently rebuilding this bridge which meant construction noise at the town docks….until 11 pm and restarting at 7 am…..

But the town is lovely and seems to be doing well considering the decreased boat traffic and COVID restrictions. Many restaurants with outdoor seating, a bustling ice cream shop, and beautiful historic buildings housing museums, police stations, and yoga studios. We were greeted by the harbormaster, Larry, who also captains the large charter/tour boat Belle and provided all the “need to knows” for the area. Most people were wearing masks while walking the dock areas, thankfully. 

We spent the afternoon settling in then walking around the town then indulged in dairy -free ice cream – a real treat – AND take-out from the dockside Mexican restaurant. Delicious, and no dishes to wash so we had time for a game – Bananagrams to remind us how to use that portion of our brains. Rain showers came during the night, which started to change the temperature, thankfully.

On Tuesday, 8/18/2020, Karen actually worked the morning virtually from the aft (rear) cabin, doing teletherapy visits with clients. So great to remain connected during this trip with some folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive services. Dean did a few projects including some painting, so of course a rain shower followed. Thankfully, no damage done.

Hoped on our bikes and headed west on the bike paths which are very well used in this area. Lots of bikers and walkers of all ages as we wove through both wildlife and neighborhood areas, ending up in Pittsford. While biking through the Main Street of the town, we recognized the area as another stop from an earlier bike trip from years ago. We also bumped into Dick, an older gentleman who we had chatted with a bit in Seneca Falls earlier in the trip. Turns out he is well known to many along the canal! 20+ miles of biking with a repeat stop at the ice cream shop at the end.

Along the bike trail – beautifully carved and apparently lit up at night with solar lights; lovely sentiments

Wednesday, 819, we woke to showers and tumultuous clouds, and much cooler temps in the 70s. At last! Dean read and did boat projects, while Karen headed out for a canal trail walk – hard to resist these beautiful paths – and discovered a side trip into a marsh sanctuary via boardwalks. I wish we had options for beautiful walking and biking trails like these at home in southern Maine. Squared up the boat, filled the water tanks, pumped out the holding tank, and off we set west again!

Long day on the canal as stops are few between in these last 100 miles of the Erie. We opted to pass through Pittsford, planning to stop instead on our way back, and headed an additional 17 miles toward Spencerport (27 miles total). This section of canal was very unique – narrow, at times higher than the land around it, including a brief glimpse of Lake Ontario in the distance as we looked toward Rochester. We went under more bridges than we could count (okay, I counted – 41!) and through two 25’ lift locks. Some of the bridges continue to be squeakers but we now approach with cautious confidence – Dean’s got a good eye. One segment was called “Rock Cut” as it required the most extensive excavation of the entire canal with deep cuts through rock. Imagine the engineering this took without the machinery we have today!

We also crossed the Genessee River, which could take us to Rochester NY if we headed 2 miles north, but is no longer navigable to the south. Thoughts of our son and daughter-in-law’s years at RIT and, while visiting, watching the sculling races and walking the nearby park. A beautiful area. We’ve seen few other boats, mainly the canal charter boats or the tour boats, but lots of kayakers and people fishing on the sides of the canal. In this area, people really seem to access the canal and all it’s wonders.

Arrived late afternoon in Spencerville, another town centered around the canal. We will plan to head one or two stops further west before we turn around and head east once again, planning to finish the trip in early September. Buffalo is about 60 miles away, but we doubt that we will travel that far – we do tend to avoid cities and congestion, favoring the more isolated and wilderness areas when we can. But we shall see!

By the grace of God we go,

~ Karen and Dean

Trawler Clare, Monk 36’


Categories: 2020, Cayuga-Seneca Canal, Erie Canal, The Great Loop

1 comment

  1. Another fine trip summary.

    Liked by 1 person

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