Steamy Erie and Oswego Canals plus a Great Lake crossing! Canada, eh?

Waterford, NY is the start of the Erie Canal, and a favorite spot for us – so much history and so many memories from previous visits. Last year, 2021, we had our beautiful namesake Clare, Dean’s mom/my mother-in-love, for a few days along with also beautiful sister Sue. We had a wonderful time “locking through” with them up to lock 7/Vischer’s Landing for an overnight, and back to Waterford.

The Waterford wall at the start of the Erie Canal – can you find Clare?

This year, we arrived on 7/27 in Waterford, and stayed a full day to load up on provisions and once again wait out the rain and thunderstorms. It was somewhat quiet in Waterford, less boats, less chatter and excitement than with our previous journeys through, but very pleasant. We did meet some new folks and Dean got more projects done: moved the autopilot along with other “tweaks” to make the boat run smoothly and our lives easier. Saw eagles and a few herons, along with one beautiful sunset.

Started our Waterford flight of 5 locks by 9 am. This is a series of locks that need to be done in succession without stopping, and continues the rise above sea level somewhat quickly. We rose 169’ in elevation in less than 2 miles, and took us ~ 1.5 hours. Each lock has a hefty rise of 33-35 feet. We were alone in 4 of 5 locks and, as always, enjoy chatting with the lockmasters when we rise high enough to be able to talk. And our favorite lock master character, Leroy, was manning the guard gate to let us pass. The guard gates are in place to halt the flow of water if they need to work on the lock, and are usually in the raised position, but for some reason, our second guard gate was closed and needed to be raised for us and others to proceed westward.

From the Skipper Bob guide – notice the elevations with each lock; pretty steep rise for those first 5 locks!
Erie Canal Lock #3, part of the Waterford Flight of Five

Our first full day “locking,” repetitively going through successive locks, went smoothly and we were both aware of how much we’ve learned from our previous 3 trips through all the canals (Erie, Rideau, Oswego, Chambly, and Champlain) plus the rivers we’ve done with locks- St. Lawrence and Ottawa. For our particular boat/trawler, we’ve learned the best position for the multiple fenders used to protect us from the lock walls, the best technique for us for managing the lines as we rise and fall within the locks (if a pipe or cable is available, use the spring line), the ideal position within the lock to avoid the most turbulence which makes the boat buck and sway, and how to communicate and work as a team. Dean is a master at the helm, guiding us in even on windy gusty days and with other boats. Additionally, we’ve learned errors that can easily be made that can be dangerous that we plan protectively for. Dean always carries a knife to cut lines as needed, we make sure doors are closed so we don’t accidentally fall through while tending lines, we keep fingers and limbs within the railing so nothing gets pinched between the wall and the boat. There are probably many more things running through our head that experience has taught us, and we are thankful.

Lovely 10 mile cruise followed the Flight of Five and we were blessed with more herons on the shore/edges than we could count. We passed through Lock 7 (another 27’ elevation rise) and moored on the lock wall on the western side. Next to a beautiful lagoon area loaded with water lilies and duck weed, as well as a small boat ramp which appears well used by kayakers. After cooling off for a bit (and maybe a quick nap), Dean unloaded the bikes and we tapped into the bike trail. Lovely windy and somewhat hilly ride – good to stretch our legs and see more of this beautiful area. Still super warm (high 80s) but with a nice cooling breeze. This lock park is well used – lots of fishermen on the lock wall or in kayaks, jet skis, kayaks, walkers, bikers, and it seemed like a lot of folks walked down to watch the sunset. Quiet and cool night (hurrah), except for a family fishing well after dark that was quite loud.

Pair of Great Blue Herons
Dean, powering up the “Danger” section of the bike trail
Warning boaters to keep away from the 27’ dam next to the lock
Dam! see the warning buoys in orange on the upper edge? Water is so powerful

We have readjusted to life on inland waterways. The boat no longer constantly rocks, rolls, sways or bucks, which is especially appreciated at night. We have more urban sounds- trains, planes, cars, and people. We do get opportunities to anchor, but often are just tied off on a lock or town wall, with people strolling by or fishing nearby. Different!

On Saturday, 7/30, we awoke to a sunny and cool (60-70s) morning! The day was predicted to be gusty with highs of 20+ mph winds, and since we tend to catch a lot of wind with our upper bridge and canopy, we headed off early to try to travel before it peaked. But it got windy early and we had some strong gusts as we travelled headlong into it. We seemed to be the only boat out traveling today, as we met no other transients going in either direction and we were alone in the locks, again. We maneuvered 5 locks over ~ 30 miles, made a bit more challenging in the wind and by the fact that each lock only had ropes (not cables or poles that are easier using a spring line), so I was on the bow muscling one line while Dean left the helm to manage the stern line. All went well, and I was thankful that my arms and hands are stronger this year thanks to consistency with an upper body weights program (go Peloton A&LW). We opted to moor on the wall above Lock 12, Tribe’s Hill, which is famous (to us) for BIL Al’s shooing off of all the Canadian geese with his bike in 2019. It was well protected from the wind, but very close to the train tracks, with lots of screeching freight trains coming by throughout the night. The wind calmed nicely.

Sunday, 7/31, was a beautiful day to be traveling. A little cooler, less wind, and few other boaters. This portion of the Erie Canal is man-made, rather than following the Mohawk River as we had before. The Erie Canal is a series of rivers joined by man-made canals. This portion of canal was narrow and straight as an arrow for miles. Very pleasant and we enjoyed listening to Bethany church service online, then our current audiobook. We went from Lock 12/Tribe’s Hill through to Lock 17 in Little Falls.

Straight and narrow for miles!

Lock 17 in Little Falls is an amazing engineering feat that gives us awe every time we pass through it, especially when we think of the 4 locks it replaced in ~ 1918 and how much work that must’ve been for those mules! Lock 17 is the highest lift lock on the Erie Canal (40 feet!), but it is also one of only two locks in North America where the entrance gate is lifted above the boater, like a guillotine! Last year when we came through, the lift had a broken sprocket/gear, and they had to use cranes to lift the gate. It’s a cavernous lock, and we once again maneuvered it without any other boats. Estimated 8 million gallons of water are used to fill the lock and, thankfully, it was a slow lift for us – that’s a lot of water turbulence!

After the lock, we arrived at one of our favorite stops – City of Little Falls Canal Harbor. This is an old 1918 barge canal terminal, now renovated, that used to house the goods coming off the barges for the (small) city. It is now a lovely park with great dock walls with electricity/water, and the building has the cleanest showers and laundry facilities on the Erie Canal. Super pleasant and helpful dockmasters (Allison and Mark) who we’ve met on all our passes through. This year they had an interesting series of posters about the area from the 1800s to current day, including the making of Lock 17, which took 3 years. Wish I spent more time studying the info, and hope that eventually it becomes a book that I can savor.

Hot (of course – it’s been high 80s and 90s for weeks), but we walked ~1 mile into town for fresh veggies and attempted to find outdoor dining, but everything seems to close down on Sunday afternoons. Early dinner, then did laundry and had luxurious showers. Met a few other transient boaters and a biker who was doing the entire Erie Canal bikeway, 363 miles from Buffalo to Albany. The harbor park has tenting for bikers and they also appreciate the access to showers and laundry! Super quiet night, hardly any train noise.

It’s August! Since we got a later than planned start, the summer season seems to be flying by for us, especially since we’ve only been on the boat for 2+ weeks! Off again west, passing through a series of locks 18-20, again without any company in the locks. Always nice to chat with the lockmasters – some are definitely chatty and willing to answer questions, but others are apparently introverts and we have little interaction with them. This portion was somewhat urban, as we passed through the city of Utica.

At Lock 20 Whitesboro/Marcy, we reached our highest elevation of the eastern portion of the Erie Canal, and we’ve gained 420 feet in elevation by ascending these 19 locks. Doesn’t sound like much for a hiker or biker, but when you consider moving water, boats, and barges, it’s pretty amazing.

Dredging the canal, an ongoing process to keep the 12’ depth minimum

Cloudy and overcast, which actually felt wonderful after days baking in the sun, on 8/2 as we left lock 20 Whitesboro/Marcy after a quiet night. Nice long stretch of straight man-made canal for 17 miles, with a fair amount of herons, merganser(?) ducks, and thankfully no geese. Lock 21 New London NY was our first “down” lock of this trip, dropping us in elevation by 20’. Locking down takes a little different technique as we kind of belay the lines, keeping them snug enough to keep the boat stable against the wall (no bumper boats!) while feeding out line as the water level and the boat descend. Careful attention needs to be paid on making sure the lines are clear as you belay the lines to avoid getting them caught. And we always review where the knives are just in case we need to quickly cut a line, since you can’t stop the water in the lock quick enough to prevent damage. Always aware.

The NY Canal system work boats

“Welcome to upstate NY!,” was the greeting into Lock 22, Sylvan Beach. We’ve had the same lockmaster each of our 3 trips through – he’s a memorable character! He’s gregarious and opinionated, rivaling Leroy on the Waterford Flight. He feeds the birds, and currently has ~10 pairs of hummingbirds zipping in and out of the feeders next to the building, Reportedly had so many orioles earlier in the year that he went through 11 jars of grape jelly! It was fun watching the hummingbirds zoom around until we dipped below the lock edge into the cavern.

Last stop for the day, 8/2, was the free dock wall at Sylvan Beach, which is on the eastern end of Lake Oneida. The winds were a little too brisk, and the waves a bit to choppy for a comfortable crossing today, so we will hold here for an early morning crossing with hopefully calmer water. Sylvan Beach is a touristy town, with restaurants, an amusement park, RV parks, little marinas off the canal, a beach, and a local resort (affiliated with the nearby casinos, apparently).

Although it wasn’t a great day to cross Oneida for us, the kite surfers had a blast in the wind and waves!

Oneida Lake is the largest body of water on the Erie Canal, and we need to cross about 20 miles of open water. It is the largest lake entirely within the borders of NY state. While not officially one of the NY Finger Lakes, some consider it the “thumb” because of it’s close proximity to the other “fingers.” It is relatively shallow, apparently freezes over in the winter, and is enjoyed by many for ice fishing activities.

Sylvan beach sunset- all those glowing “gems” the foreground are Canadian goose feathers

We picked the perfect day to do the mileage across the lake. We left early, and had a smooth cruise across, enjoying the open water.

Sunrise, leaving Sylvan Beach to cross Oneida Lake

We re-entered the Erie Canal in Brewerton. Dean has been concerned about the drive shaft being “sticky,” so we stopped at an open public dock and he dove under on the shaft and propellor to see if anything was stuck on them. Nothing apparent, so to be cautious we headed to Winter Harbor Marina to have their mechanic consult. We love Winter Harbor – great facility and we have stored our boat there over the winter for 2 winters and have been very pleased with their services, staff, and facility.

Somebody’s gotta look underneath….

Chuck, the running gear expert, interrupted his scheduled projects to make himself available to consult, so Dean and Chuck spent the warm humid afternoon “in the engine hole,” working the issue. After one afternoon and the next morning, neither of them felt satisfied with the progress so, to be sure, we had the boat hauled so they could look further under the hull on the outside portions. Lots of consulting, spinning the prop, tinkering, and then a smile from the mechanic, “I think we got it!” The set screw holding the cutlass bearing was too tight and causing it to bind.

This mechanic was more thorough at checking “joints” and “limbs” than some orthopedists 🙂

Finally got a late afternoon start, hoping to get through a few locks and arrive in Phoenix before the end of the day. However, the issue wasn’t quite resolved and after only a few miles Dean cautiously checked the engine and, bummer, the packing nut was now overheating. Turned back to Winter Harbor to give Dean a dock position to loosen the nut, with the promise of a shower afterwards. Back into the engine hole, and problem resolved with a little tweaking. Thankful for Dean’s skills and careful caution.

The beautiful weathervane atop the cupola at the pavilion at Winter Harbor Marina

Once we left Brewerton early the next morning, we pretty quickly finished the eastern portion of the Erie Canal, forking north at Three Rivers toward Oswego and beginning the Oswego canal.

Three Rivers Junction

Another beautiful canal with interesting towns along the way. At lock O2, we met the somewhat famous lockmaster, J Metz, who posts the conditions of the Oswego Canal and pics of the boats passing through on social media. Very informative and great to chat with.

Clare, captured by the O2 Lockmaster, J Metz! Don’t we look little in these big locks?
J Metz – a lockmaster’s viewpoint

Did all the locks on the Oswego Canal, finishing up in Oswego in the early afternoon, and found dock space on the western wall at the Oswego town park. Was soon joined by many boats, either finishing up the canals or coming across Ontario Lake. Mix of Americans and Canadians. Walked the town and browsed the wonderful local bookstore, River’s End, before walking more in search of ice cream. So hot still!

A working port, busy filling container ships

Noisy night on the wall – tiki bar pontoon boats cruising by, restaurants with outside bars playing music, and apartments with balconies overlooking the docks that seemed to have parties through the whole night. Can you tell we prefer quiet anchorages?

Because we weren’t sleeping anyways, we got up at 5 am with a clear weather window to cross Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes!

A perfect day to cross, with relatively low wind and waves, taking about 7 hours for us to cross and head to the Canadian town of Picton to check into Canadian customs. Up went the quarantine flag! We are finally in Canada!

We had pre-loaded our application on ArriveCan, the customs app, with all our documentation, then when we arrived at one of their check in ports, Dean finished the process with a call to a customs officer. All was well except we had to properly dispose of our apples and cherries as they were not allowed into Canada, interestingly. In Oswego, I had left behind my CBD lotions and oils for my joints, alas, as they are also not allowed to cross the border but are legal for purchase once we enter Canada. After clearing customs, we lowered the quarantine flag and raised our Canadian courtesy flag.

We continued another 13-14 miles up Aldolphus Reach, part of the bay of Quinte off of Lake Ontario, to Picton Bay, specifically to a lovely isolated anchorage in Hallowell Mills Cove. This was near a mining operation and cement manufacturing plant, but thankfully it was the weekend and both were quiet.

Mining the cliffs
Cement plant

Enjoyed a lovely swim in the refreshingly cool lake water – such a treat after too many hot and humid day along the warm/hot muddy Hudson River and the non-swimmable Erie Canal. Super quiet night with stars galore.

The Canadians are very welcoming, super proud of their Canadian heritage and flag and fly it proudly on most boats and docks. There is also a custom of having red Adirondack chairs out to welcome all.

On Sunday 8/7, after another wonderful swim, we again headed out on a very blustery day, up a long reach (Haywood reach), zig zagging along a beautiful area of lake and boat houses, through Telegraph narrows, Hungry and Big Bays, and up towards Trenton ON, part of the city of Quinte. The town, located at the start of the Trent-Severn Canal, has a wonderful town marina called Trenton Port Marina that has 100 transient slips. We came screaming in (my term) with wind gusts of 20+ and were greeted by fellow Loopers as well as friendly marina staff that caught our lines as we slid into the slip. Our ears were still ringing from all the wind and we were once again toasted in the sun and humidity. Lovely facility, and we were greeted by the AGLCA Harbor Host for Trenton, Erik and Karen Martin, who snapped fun pictures of us leaving the windy bay and entering the calmer marina.

Please pardon our dirty bow after the canal grunge – Dean cleaned it soon after this.

Once the boat was secured and tidied up, we walked around the town which has amazing flowers along the sideways and parks, and scoped out the grocery store. Lots of activity in the marina with boats coming and going, all struggling a bit to dock in the gusty wind and everyone sharing tales of their travels. The trawler next to us, Moon Dragon, had a couple from Hamilton ON who were just starting their Great Looop. Interestingly, Leo is a retired sailboat racing official and his wife, Donna, was/is a 4 time world champion dragon boat racer! Everyone has a story.

Spent a day walking, doing laundry (free at the marina, what a treat), grocery shopping, boat projects, and enjoying the marina showers. Rained on and off, but not the extensive rain storms they had predicted.

Tomorrow, God willing, we start the portion of our inland waterway’s journey we’d been anticipating for the past 3+years: the Trent-Severn Canal!

Thanks for coming along on our journey thus far! Welcome to Canada!

By the grace of God we go,

~ Karen and Dean

Categories: 2022, Canada, Erie Canal, New York, Oswego Canal, Uncategorized


  1. Wow, you two are amazing!!!!


  2. Wonderful to read of your adventures, and so glad you’ve started the Trent-Severn 🙂


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