2021 And we are off!


Good-bye, Maine, for now!

We rose, sleepily yet excited, at 3am to drive from Kittery Point, ME to Brewerton, NY, where our beautiful slow trawler, Clare, wintered at Winter Harbor Marina, tucked in warm and dry with other boats, antique cars, jet skis, and even Airstream RVs.

The marina had moved our launch date up by a day to accommodate their staff and work flow, so we last minute had to get there with sufficient time for Dean to do all the necessities before launch: battery hook-ups, engine checks, switching the anodes, amongst other projects. We unloaded our rental SUV and worked in the 95 degree heat and humidity- summer sure arrived with a blast! The launch was smooth and successful at around 2 pm. More work followed over the next day as we readied Clare with food, water, and mechanic stuff for our hopeful – God willing – 3-4 months of summer travel.

Dean has a long list of projects and maintenance to do on Clare, and he is mostly happy while keeping busy with them. He’s just happy and grateful to be futzing around on a boat. I am appreciating the new roll out lower cabinet drawers he installed so I don’t have to kneel to access pots & pans (or snacks), but, honestly, the amount of behind-the-scenes work he does is astonishing and I am grateful to have such a bright, skilled, and hard working captain. And did I mention handsome? 😉

While we had the rental SUV, I traveled along country roads to the local Wegman’s which we learned to love when Ethan and Lia went to college in NY (RIT) and on our previous trip. The air conditioning felt lovely and the options for foods that meets our needs was extensive, thankfully. I remember that otherwise, along the NY canals is a difficult area to find gluten-free, dairy free whole plant foods. Wegman’s meets my needs! Our new ICECO cooler, supported by the new flexible solar panels Dean installed, supplements the small inefficient camper/boat fridge without draining the batteries or needing us to run the generator. Lovely – thanks Dean!

Many marinas and some locks have “snipping gardens” for transient boaters to access some fresh herbs and, in this case at Winter Harbor, peppers and tomatoes too. Such a treat.

Our first day of travel (6/9) was again hot and humid and we added hazy to the list. Without fanfare, we left the marina and started our travels east. We are heading against the convention Looper route as most travelers do the Great Loop counterclockwise for a variety of reasons, and we are stalling our next portion by a year due to the Canadian/pandemic border closers. We did the reverse of this path in 2019, when we first set out from our home port, Kittery, Maine, for our first summer segment. You can read about that trip in the blog archives from 2019- it was all wonderful.

Leaving Brewerton NY day 1 on 6/9

About one mile of quiet canal travel, then we entered Oneida Lake. So hazy it was almost like Maine fog! Oneida Lake is the largest body of water of the Erie Canal. The original Erie Canal passed south of Oneida Lake, since vessels during that early period were not self propelled (non-motorized), but relied on horses and mules to pull the boats along. Think “Sal,” 🎶. By 1917, self propelled motor boats were more common and the revised/enlarged Erie Canal now used Oneida Lake for passage. Brewerton became a boat building center and remains a major boating area with many marinas for boat storage and maintenance. We sure fared well at Winter Harbor Marina!

Power washing at the canal entrance at Sylvan Beach. The lake was foggy when we crossed, reminding us of thick Maine fog!

Easily traveled the 15 miles across the lake, entering the “canal” at Sylvan Beach, where we stayed overnight last year. Very few other boaters on the canal, especially heading east. Over 5-6 miles, we worked through two locks, #22 and #21. #22 was memorable for the chatty gregarious, hummingbird loving lock master (who was absent when we passed through this year). #21 we stayed at during previous passages and were looking forward to the quiet rural dock wall to tie up on and access the bike trails. We arrived just before a good rainstorm cleared and cooled the air. Ended the day happily sticky from the heat and being outdoors all day, and enjoyed a group video call with my “CCHS Rocks” friends. Quiet restful night with bright stars, but I forgot to get up to view the eclipse.

Hazy, foggy, and quiet Erie Canal on our first day
Waiting for a lock to fill and pass through the boats heading west. This is a good representation of many lock walls where we tie up for the night. That’s Clare at the far end as we scope the lock.
Thankfully, muscle memory kicked in after so many locks in past years and we had a smooth trip up. The rest of our locks as we head eastward are “down”
Good view of the control booth at the locks.

It’s amazing how technology and the internet allows us to stay connected with friends, family, business stuff, and our jobs. I was able to participate in my last teaching session in the cute little ergonomically comfortable space Dean helped me set up in our aft bunk (bedroom) while Dean called into our financial advisor. All went smoothly, thankfully.

Technology is wonderful, as is my ECHO Scope teaching team

Because of these commitments, mainly my 3+ hour teaching task, we stayed at lock #21 for a full day. The weather has cleared, sunny and hot but thankfully less humid.

One of the parts of the Erie Canal that we love is the bike trail the weaves in/out/around us as we travel. We seek out places were we can dock overnight with easy access to the bike trails. Today we hopped on our bikes and rode some trails on both the north and south sides of the canal for 12+ easy flat miles. Lovely shade, marshes, forests, and peeks at the canal, as well as remnants of the old canal before it expanded. Picturing Sal slogging along, pulling the barges – we have it easy now. Not a lot of wildlife except for snakes and turtles.

Momma turtle digging in the sand by the bike trail to lay her eggs.

Another part of traveling the Erie Canal is that we get to meet people at the locks and docks, plus we see so many different types and sizes of boats passing by, many also doing The Great Loop. Tonight we spent time chatting (socially distanced 🙂 with a 32’ “fixer upper” fishing-type boat that docked nearby just before sunset. “Mike” from Minnesota, single-handed and new to boating, was traveling from Long Island NY (were he just bought the boat 4 days ago) to travel to Buffalo NY to be with his wife who had spent the last 1.5 years caring for her ill mother. He was “learning as I go,” which is fantastic and a little scary at the same time. The night lock master joined us and all gave him some recommendations as he heads west- stay in the channel, use the ladders in the locks to keep the boat steady since you only have one stability point, etc. Dean also shared some extra boat lines that he had recently replaced since Mike was lacking in the necessary gear department. His great attitude hopefully will carry him safely! Mostly quiet night which is always appreciated.

Dean is very social with the boating crowd, always eager to catch a line to help another boater dock or to just hear their stories.

Up relatively early with sounds and voices of the NY Canal maintenance boats that surround us gearing up for a day’s work, and a wave and travel blessings to Mike-from-Minnesota as he heads west while we continue east. Much cooler and cloudy, requiring us to put on warmer clothes, startling after the heat and humidity of the last several days.

The canal work boats are always beautifully painted and maintained. I love the rope fenders and “mustache” for pushing – classic

Coffee/tea on our upper deck along with quiet reading time (ahhhh), then a full breakfast before we also left the dock. The amount of boats we are seeing is gradually increasing as is the wildlife – sighted several herons, including a green heron (missed the pics, darn), two deer swimming across the canal, several unusual ducks that we think might be wood ducks, Canadian geese/goslings, kingfishers, and ducks/ducklings. I am ssslllooowww with my telephoto focusing while moving on a boat – hoping to get quicker soon. Practice, practice, practice!

Traveled about 15 nautical miles (nm) or ~ 17 miles to the next lock, #20 in Whitesboro, where we docked above the lock on the western side, once again joining NY Canal work boats and barges. We have been here before and looked forward to this stretch of bike trail that we remembered as well used by the community and particularly pretty. Afternoon projects (new shades in the galley and salon (little boat kitchen and main area) and writing as the clouds clear and the temps warm. It was a sociable setting, with many using the community path and stopping by to ask about our trip, share tales, etc. We went for a walk along the path for 3-4 miles, and met two bikers, Scott and Byron, who were traversing the full bike trail from Buffalo to Albany, ~ 50 miles a day. Scott joined us for after dinner tales and was interesting to talk to – retired border control agent from Plattsburgh who’s kayaked the Maine Island trails, amongst other adventures. Fun to hear other’s stories!

Quiet night, awoke to clouds on 6/12 after a little rain overnight. Immediately traversed lock #20 with a very pleasant lock master guiding us through, then traveled 22 NM/25 miles for the day, less than the bikers! We passed through the towns of Utica and Herkimer, and worked through two more down locks (#19 and #18) easily. Many people bike along the bike path to the locks to watch the activity, and we met a family of 4 who were so amazed by the locking mechanisms and activities, and asked many questions about our boating lifestyle. Always fun. Today there was a steady stream of boaters heading west, some doing the Loop (and kindly informed us we were going the “wrong way”) as well as what appeared to be many boat deliveries. We landed in the “city” of Little Falls, a favorite from past travels as it has a lovely Rotary Welcome Center for boaters and bikers, a neat canal town, and access to the bike paths. Super friendly Welcome Center people, space for up to 10 boats, depending on size, and amenities like electricity, pump out, water, laundry, showers, and WiFi. Such a welcoming place! We met a biker, Ho, a 75 year old man also biking from Buffalo to Albany at a pace of 50 miles per day . He was searching for a place to sleep and ended up tenting at the Welcome Center. So many adventurous and friendly people!

Walked to the nearby next Lock #17 which has been somewhat in the canal news for the past month. It is a unique lock in that the release doors are guillotine mechanisms, lifting from above rather than swinging like doors. The lift mechanism is in need of repairs, so after a several day closure (imagine the back up of boats), they McGyvered a solution with a crane to lift the door. It was interesting to see and check out before passing through.

Lock 17 with crane assist for the door lift

We then hiked through a canal island (between the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal), which wasn’t as clear as we hoped so a bit of bushwhacking happened until we finally emerged off the cliffs and heading into town. Got take-out from a little cafe in the Canal Place, a picturesque area with shops and inns in the old mill buildings. Sauntered home eating (dairy-free) ice cream, a real treat.

I wish we were around for this festival!

Hot LONG showers, laundry, then started to prep for bed when sirens erupted and we could see a large fire with dense black smoke across the canal, near down town. The black smoke covered the town and canal, and we quickly shut our hatches, windows, and doors. Heard the next morning that it was a house fire. Overall, it was a wonderful day, a great way to spend my last day of my 60th year.

Quiet night and we awoke on 6/13 to clear skies, dry temps, and the smoke fully cleared away. We decided to stay at lovely Little Falls another day to do some biking, as we learned the bike path has been fully connected in this area with recent construction. Enjoyed chats with fellow Looper boats, phone calls from family, as well as many texts and birthday wishes. Boat birthdays are wonderful, but I wish family was nearby.

The bike trails in this area have been expanded, eliminating riding on roads in certain areas, and wonderful views of fields, farms, canal and quaint little towns

A birthday bike ride was perfect!

Gorgeous church and graveyard in German Flats. Love the tombstones and monuments looking like chess pieces. A pavilion was nearby with shade and water for bikers passing through.

Thank you all for taking the time to read about our adventures, year 3, on our trawler, Clare. We are blessed to have this opportunity and appreciate the well wishes and friendship. We are heading toward Waterford, where the Erie Canal joins the Hudson River, to meet up with our boat’s namesake, Clare Bensley and sister Sue Bensley Reetz. More locks ahead!

By the grace of God we go! Joyfully and thankfully,

~ Karen and Dean

Categories: 2021, Erie Canal, Get ready...., The Great Loop

2 comments

  1. What a wonderful diary of your trip so far! Quite the hurried start in the heat! Sleep well. ~K&J

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