We are back on the boat after taking our youngest son to college. As you’ll recall, we left Thalia in Toronto so it was a long drive home and back. Our dog “Journey” is now on board with us. Journey is a ten-year-old cross between a black lab, a blood hound and several other breeds. Journey has become less excited about being on the boat as he has aged. He gets anxious when we heal or if we are slamming through waves. While our son was home working this summer, it was nice to have Journey able to stay home; but with our son going to college, Journey had to come with us! This will be an adjustment for all three of us.
I’ll just get it out at the beginning. Leaving Detroit behind and entering Lake Erie, we were both a bit apprehensive. Apart from the tasty mojitos at Put-in-Bay on our way through last time, Lake Erie had not been very kind to us. Bugs, hurricane-force winds, shallows – I would have been perfectly happy finding a portkey of the kind Harry Potter would discover to take us directly to Lake Ontario. But being mere Muggles, we were going to have to do this ourselves.
The action adventure got off to an immediate start as we were pushed down the Detroit River, running with the strong current directly into an opposing wind, what we affectionately call the Buzzards Bay effect, as it is reminiscent of being flushed out the Cape Cod Canal into Buzzards Bay with it’s prevailing SW winds and step square waves.
I’m not sure if being born in 1963 qualifies me as a child of the 60’s, as I was still in diapers during Woodstock, but the concept of thumbing your way across the country is certainly appealing. In the present context, that means hitching a ride on the winds of the Great Lakes around the coast of Michigan. And what better coast to hitch along than one that Michiganders whimsically portray as the outline of a thumbing hand!
The Erie Canal is divided up into three sections – Eastern, Central and Western. Quite a few boaters do the Eastern canal, and then head north at Three Rivers Junction to the Oswego Canal, which takes you into Lake Ontario. There were a number of tricky shallow areas in the Eastern portion and we had considered this Oswego route to get us out of the canal and into the expanse of Lake Ontario, and thus avoid even shallower areas further west in the canal. But we had heard from multiple sources that the Western section was the most beautiful and we didn’t want to miss it. I was able to get ahold of the head of navigation and dredging at the NY State Canal Authority, which by the way is an amazing organization that deserves a whole blog post of it’s own. He quickly talked me into continuing west on the canal, all the way to its terminus at Buffalo. He put me at ease, letting me know that the shallow areas I saw on the charts had just been dredged, and that if we took it slow in sections, we’d have no problem. He re-affirmed that the Western Erie Canal is not to be missed. He added that if we headed to Lake Ontario, we’d have to uplock the Welland Canal (which circumvents Niagara Falls), and in the process have to hire crew to handle the lines, all while jockeying for position in the locks with lots of commercial traffic. Simply put, in his words, we’d be ‘second class citizens’ if we did the Welland. The Welland is actually in Canada, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him we weren’t citizens there, but his point was well taken. I couldn’t help but hear a bit of pride in his voice, implying that the Erie treats their pleasure boater citizens with first class, white glove service. Which they really do! But again that’s a story for another day. Continue reading “Go West, Young Man!”
Above, we transit the Erie Canal as it narrows to pass under a railroad bridge (complete with passing train!) and then right into a lock!
We have been in the Erie canal for five full days now and in the 152 miles we have traveled in the canal, we’ve experienced 22 locks for a total lift of 419 feet and a drop of 51 feet. The first 20 locks were all up-locks … we experienced our first down-locking at locks 21 and 22 to drop us down to the height of Oneida Lake. The highest lift in a single lock was 40 feet and this lock (lock E-17) had so much water flowing into it that the boats were only allowed to secure themselves against the southern wall. The water flow from north to south as the chamber fills is so significant that boats are not able to hold themselves against the north wall. Continue reading “Embracing the Erie Canal”