On June 14, 2021, after a full day of birthday festivities (boat, bike, GF pizza and calls/texts/messages), we had our final showers and sleep at Little Falls Welcome Center and awoke early, eager to get through Lock 17 and get ahead of the predicted thunderstorms. Lock 17 is the largest drop/lift on the canal, one of the largest in the world at 40’, and the one I wrote about in the previous post as having to be mygyvered with a crane. The crew at the lock was up and ready for us, including the lift crane and cables in place, and we easily dropped the 40’ without issue. I love down locks, as they are so much easier (for me at least) to handle the boat with lines as we guide it through the height changes. With the “up” lifts, there is more turbulence with the water rushing in through valves of the lock; draining the lock is more gentle. And 40’ is a large lift or lower- millions of gallons of water moved over the 10-15 minutes with each locking, multiple times each day.
We had the threat of rain and heavy thunderstorms all day, so we monitored the radar and the skies carefully as we progressed along and through locks 17 to the upper western end of 12. Thankfully, the rain we did encounter was light, and the thunderstorms passed west and south of us. Our longest day of travel for 35 miles as we head to Waterford. Saw and photographed an eagle, standing out with his white head against the green foliage in the overcast haze. Majestic beauty.
Lock 12 is Tribe’s Hill, where we stayed in 2019 with Sue and Al. Near the bike trail and the Schoharie creek and old aquaduct. We had enjoyed biking in this area previously, but stayed close to the boat due to the threat of storms. This is a rural area, but the lock dock is ~100 feet from the commuter and commercial train tracks, which ran through the night. Thankfully, they didn’t blow horns. Otherwise a quiet evening of reading and projects, and a relatively quiet night with trains.
June 15th continues with cloudy and overcast but dry with peeks of blue teasing us. The water level of the canal rose about 6” overnight, almost lifting us to top of the dock level. Lots of debris was also loosened with the flooding so large trees were floating by us, drawn to the dam. The lock master at Lock 10 said the water is now above their maximal ideal height so they are considering opening the dam gates to lower the levels.
We’ve engaged most of the lock masters, and find they are friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to share information about the locks and the canal with obvious pride in their jobs. It is all a huge engineering feat and endlessly intriguing. Special shout out to Joshua R, lock master at Lock 10 on this day, who sent us these pictures of us traversing his lock – a different perspective on the scene!
The scenery gradually changed as we traveled eastward at 7-8 knots- more industries, more houses and day boats, small marinas and RV camping areas, and hard cliffs on the sides. We spotted several eagles and herons, with the occasional large fish jumping. As on other days, a steady stream of Loopers passed us heading westward, waving as we passed each other port to port. The clouds eventually became lighter and the sun arrived in the gaps of blue sky. So peaceful and calming.
We docked after 26 nm/30 miles at the top/western side of Lock 7 in Vischer Ferry, hopefully prepped for an early start in the morning for the final flight of locks, a series of 5, into Waterford. We need to arrive early to make sure we get a spot on the dock, and to do cleaning, shopping, prepping for our first guests of 2021- my MILove Clare Bensley and sweet sister-in-love Sue. Clare is the namesake of our boat and the most adventuresome and beautiful sailor I know!
This is a lovely spot which we fondly remember from 2019. A rural lock with a local boat ramp into a breakwater inlet filled with vibrant green water chestnut weed, ducks, swallows swooping, and fishing herons. The bike trail is easy to access here as well. We secured the boat then had a lovely 3+ mile walk on the paths, which seems to get used by local bikers, walkers, and roller bladers. Beautiful marshes alongside, and several turtle nests. We were the lone boat at this gem of a dock, with no road or train sounds, just the peaceful setting and the glow of the lock lights.
The storms cleared overnight and we awoke early on 6/16 to clear skies and great June temps – 70s. I hiked the trails early around the inlet in search of wildlife and was rewarded with a heron fishing, startled some deer (who startled who is the question), was chattered at by red-winged black birds who were harassed by blue jays AND spied an oriole! Met a local couple walking who said there is also a nesting eagle in the area but I did not have that privilege…maybe next time!
Jumped into Lock 7 early with two other boats, much larger and faster than us, for an early-ish start toward Waterford. The flight of locks into Waterford (locks 6 through 2) is closed until later today for diving inspections. Hoping we’ve timed it correctly and hoping to get into Waterford early enough to get a spot on their dock for ease of getting Sue and Clare onboard…
Well, the day evolved very different than anticipated (we plan, God laughs). Arrived at lock 6 by 11am, following 3 other boats. The locks were scheduled to reopen at noon, so we tied up before the closed guard gates alongside a barge. Noon passed, 1 pm passed, finally just after 2 pm we got the go ahead and the guard gate was raised. We settled into the lock with a total of 5 boats now, 3 on the starboard(right) side and 2 of us on the port (left) side, and was told we were in a holding position as divers were still inspecting Lock 2. Folks tied off their boats, we walked around, I watched the herons and we chatted with neighboring boats.
We finally heard, “start your motors!” from the lock master, indicating we were good to go. Most of the crews scrambled to our posts, ready at the lines to handle the boat as the water drains out of the lock and we lower to the next level. Typically, you grab the attached ropes on the top of the dock wall, keep tension on them as you slowly release as the boat lowers. It is a bit of art and physics to keep the boat close to the wall and not swinging side to side with the water current or the wind. It can be tricky, especially alongside multiple boats.
The boat directly behind us, a new-to-the-owner ~34’ fast trawler boat had a slowly responsive crew. No one was manning any line and they were still tied to the bollards. The water started receding and the boats were lowering with it. It wasn’t until Dean whistled loudly that this particular crew realized that the lock was draining, their boat was still tied to the bollards at the top of the lock and that their boat was tipping sideways rapidly as the side tied on stayed while the opposite side (starboard) receded with the water level. Dean’s whistle and the yelling from the other boats triggered the lock master to step out and see what has happening, and he rushed to shut the valves and stop the drainage. This boat was almost dangling from their port lines at an angle of 30-40 degrees! At last, one of the crew was able to cut the stern line, then the bow line, and the boat literally roughly dropped down 3+ feet to the lowered water. The crew now had to rush to get the boat stable in the lock so it didn’t ping pong off the dock walls or other boats. Finally, everyone was settled and safe, with no injuries apparent from the abrupt motion and the snapping lines, and the lock restarted draining. Yikes, we had a first hand view of a boating safety concern we’ve read and talked about, but thankfully have never experienced. And hope to avoid in our future. We will continue to always have a knife available in the locks and to be attentive to our lines. Water is incredibly powerful and is to be respected.
We had about a 1.5 to 2 hour passage through the Erie Flight of locks, 5 total, with this same cluster of boats. You could see the learning curve as boats became more proficient in the locks and everyone stayed alert and safe. We were able to get one of the final spots in Waterford and were grateful.
No rest for us! We secured the boat then hopped on our bikes to ride ~1 mile to the local grocery store to shop for our next trip leg with additional crew! Too much to carry in one load (despite panniers and backpacks), so we unloaded once then went back again for final produce. Finally packed away in cabinets, fridges, and coolers. I learned how to pan-toast a GF/DF store bought pizza which we topped with grilled veggies and ate while watching the busy harbor and the sun sink. And did I mention the DF ice cream sandwiches? The plus of a close grocery store! Goodnight to all!
Thursday, June 17, was a morning of work for me while Dean finished readying the boat for guests, including moving the boat on the dock to a prime space for Clare to access. After a 3+ hour car ride, Sue and Clare arrived in the mid afternoon. We unpacked and settled everyone in, stowing more gear and food! A walk up to the top of lock 2 and the opportunity to witness the lock mechanisms and transiting boats before we take on the flight of 5 in the morning, backtracking from the previous day. Sue brought a delish burrito and tahini slaw dinner for us to enjoy and we chatted with boat neighbors as the sun set.
Friday, June 18th, we were up and moving fairly early as we had a busy day ahead. Pump out the holding tank, then we got our stations for our series of locks – 5 in quick succession out of Waterford, each lock 33-37 feet elevation. A staircase of steps over the “Niagara Escarpment.” The Waterford Flight remains the flight with the highest elevation gain (169 feet = 51.5 m) relative to its length (1.5 mile) for any canal lock system in the world. So, needless to say, we were kept busy going from lock to lock and beyond for about 3 hours straight (aka plan your bathroom breaks).
After lock 6, we had a lovely 10+ mile cruise with beautiful scenery and bridges.
We had a great day and were quite sunned, hot and a bit tired. We arrived above our final lock, #7, and pleasantly found the lovely dockage available in a favorite peaceful setting. Rested/read/napped then set out for a walk along the beautiful bike paths in the cooler shade.
Earlier dinner, grilled pizza and salad, with visits from families on the dock to view the locks and fish, including a fun father/daughter fishing team. The geese swarmed the dock, unfortunately gracing us with their “remnants.” A flock of geese and goslings with 36 goslings between the 6 adults. We also spied a beaver, herons, osprey, and fish jumping all around us. Spattering of rain eventually drove us inside, but not until we had a round or two of Boggle!
Thankfully, the rain never appeared overnight and we were graced with a beautiful morning, filled with phone calls from family to say hello and share adventures. Then we once again geared up with sunblock, hats, and water to repeat our course down back to Waterford. Lovely day, spotted eagles and many bass fisherman as a tournament was starting today – lots of buzzing boats as we slowly trawled along, singing folk songs and spotting birds. A steady stream of Loopers heading west streamed by as we waved.
We did have an adrenaline moment in our final lock. As you lower in the lock, the lock line gradually becomes uncovered as the water level lowers and the boat lowers with it. The line tender (person tending the line) has to keep tension on the line, keeping it consistent by taking a half-turn on the cleat, and playing the line out as needed. Unseen by me (because it was under murky water), the line I was tending had a knot in it, which got caught on the cleat instead of sliding along it. Essentially stopping our starboard stern from descending with the receding water. I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to free the line so hollered “help” loudly to Dean who ran to the stern while I ran for the knife. Thankfully, Dean was able to free the line with his hands and feet quickly. I felt like we were both sensitive because of the incident two days prior and once again reminded that being alert and aware of safety issues was critical. Safety first!
Waterford was hopping with activity and we were only able to get a spot on the high wall with no services; difficult to climb onto or off of, and something we didn’t want Clare scaling. But we were fortunate in finding a spot after a long fulfilling day. Clare enjoyed a much needed nap and reprieve from the heat. Sue and I, and subsequently Dean, rode up the access road to the flight of locks, a nice gradual steady climb which felt good on our legs. Hot showers at the visitor’s center followed. Appetizers, dinner (cauliflower curry 🙂 and, a special treat, dairy-free ice cream bars! Then we watched the fiery red sunset over the lock, followed by a short burst of fireworks, and final fireflies blinking at us. We were tucked into our bunks by the time the gentle rain started.
Happy Father’s Day! 6/20/2021. Another beautiful day. I hopped off early to head into town to do laundry. But first we were able to move the boat onto the floating dock so Clare could more easily exit the boat and walk along the docks with her rolling walker. There was a farmer’s market happening on the dock at the visitor center, complete with music, vendors, and beautiful fresh produce.
We’ve greatly enjoyed our time on the Erie Canal and especially the chance to share the experience with Clare and Sue, two terrific and adventuresome crew members that we love dearly and will miss.
Next segment – Hudson River to NY City!
Thank you all for following along with us on this journey.
By the grace of God we continue!
~ Karen and Dean
What a wonderful time you’re having! I love being able to keep up with your adventures, so thanks for taking the time to write in such detail. A few scary moments, but glad all resolved well.
Thanks for your help in making Mom’s trip one that she’ll cherish!
Love you both! Chris
Thanks, Chris! We had a wonderful time making boating memories with your mom and Sue. Can’t wait until you can join us for more fun!! Xoxo
Such full, descriptive accounts of your journey and delightful pictures! You’re a fabulous story teller dear S-I-❤️!
Thank you again for a perfect few days on the boat.
Love you both,
Missing your presence on the boat! Until next time! Xo
Wow, sounds a bit stressful!! An engineering feat! Stay well and sleep well at night!
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On the whole, trawler Clare has a calm, mellow overall temperament. But moments like those…