12 Erie Canal: Pittsford, NY to Troy, NY

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We had a grand time visiting family and friends in Rochester and Newark. We stayed over a week and completely enjoyed ourselves. The hard part was leaving. We had such a good time we really didn’t want to leave. Family details are best left unwritten. I tried starting, finding it went on for pages, and as we reread, realized that we could hurt feelings if we told one story and left out another. As importantly, as we recounted one pleasant memory after another, I began to worry about running out of paper to all the good times.

The Erie Canal has its own charm. The setting is mainly rural, the towns small. With 35 locks to transit, you quickly become expert at locking through. Most towns have a dock wall you can tie up to for free. Some provide free showers and electricity. When we didn’t feel like a town, we tied up at one of the locks.

Boat living has its own set of unique happenings. Arriving back one night we were greeted with the sound of a pump running as we came below. Found the water pump running because the water line had burst. The entire fresh water tank had been emptied into the bilge. The positive side was we got to try out the emergency manual bilge pump and it does move a lot of water with little effort, and we now have a very clean bilge. The next day I replaced all the water lines (plastic tubing) with reinforced tubing designed to take higher pressure.

A moment’s inattention and we let the bow swing out while going down in the lock. When the bow swings out, the stern points in toward the wall. There was a crunch as the masthead overhanging the stern of the boat hit the wall and broke the anchor light. We called the marina where we will put the mast back up. They said they’d order a new anchor light since the boats going through this year had wiped out their supply.

The canal from follows a riverbed for part of the way. We found that Great Blue Herons are the common birds in the natural sections of the canal. There appears to be two varieties, dumb and smart. The dumb ones would watch us, waiting until we were almost even with them and then take off flying about 100 yards ahead and again stopping near the shore. When we again got close they took off again flying forward. The cycle would repeat three and four times before they got out of the way. The smart ones would stand and watch us go by, or fly and land behind us. As the river got wider, they ignored us, but we continued to enjoy seeing them and even saw a few catch fish.

Near Cross Lake we encountered power boaters who in their eagerness to get to the lake ignored canal speed limits and left large wakes. We got some major rocking which is very unsettling with a mast sitting on two supports five feet above the deck. The supports proved to be very stable and all we had was the worry of hitting bigger waves.

The B’ville diner in Baldwinsville has preserved its 1950’s interior. We had breakfast there with what appeared to be half the town. Breakfast was great. We got some of their famous rice pudding for a snack later. It was still as good as we had remember, having had some years earlier.

We went off exploring the cemetery that was next to the canal. It was interesting to see the contrast of tombstones from 100 years ago to the present ones with color photographs, and/or etched pictures of cars, houses, or pets. Exploring the town, we found it had a great collection of homes from the 1800’s.

Sylvan Beach at the edge of Onedia Lake and the canal was a ghost town. It lives from Memorial Day to Labor Day and then dies. We walked the closed amusement park. Almost all the shops and restaurants in town had closed. Camps crowded the lake shore and seemed lonely and forlorn without people around to add personality and character.

After all the towns, we hungered for a rural setting again. We found it at lock 20 and tied up for the afternoon and evening. As we sat and watched, a strange craft came down the canal. It was a ferryboat, the Bob Lo Island II complete with a car on board. On the transom was Cheyboygan, MI. Never did find out why it was on the Erie Canal heading east. Finished journal entry 11 at lock 20. The lockmaster let me use his phone to send and receive e-mail.

In Little Falls we found a great bakery selling bread inexpensively. Ended up having one loaf for lunch and went back the next day for another. In an out of the way corner, we found a fresh fish store. Got some great clam chowder. Our friends Rita and Jim drove out from Auburn to have dinner with us. A former NY chef who got sick of the big city owns the Canal Side Inn and served superb meals.

The lock at Little Falls has a 40-foot drop, the largest on the canal system. The downstream gate lifts vertically instead of two doors that swing open. You get wet as you pass under the gate hanging above you.

At lock 10 we think a snow goose conned us. It came limping up to the canal wall edge as we came into the lock. We were almost at eye level to each other. It looked us in the eye with that I’m hurt look, could you spare some bread. We felt for it and got some stale bread. The goose eagerly took pieces from our hand. It was then that his four buddies came out from hiding behind a building and joined in. Looked like the limp disappeared as he tried to get his share of the bread. The lock started emptying and we left the geese peering down at us from the canal edge looking for more bread.

As we moved east, the setting stayed rural, but civilization began to intrude. One side of the canal had railroad tracks. The number of trains making the New York to Chicago run was impressive. The other side of the canal has the Thruway that at times runs right next to the canal. Got a couple trucker air horn salutes and waves as they passed by.

Meeting other boaters on the canal is fun. You exchange notes on where you are from, where you are heading, and long term plans. From what we learned, every sailboat on the canal is planning on doing the Annapolis Boat Show. One boater had heard that space wasn’t a problem because the bay by the show has held hundreds of boats anchored out.

Our last night on the canal was spent tied off at lock 7. We had stopped early to enjoy the bright summer afternoon and walk the trail that runs along the canal. The next morning, the second day of fall, we woke to the perfect fall morning. It was sunny, no wind, 40 degrees and there was a mist rising off the mirror smooth canal water. We had one tree showing its full fall foliage so we got a hint of the fall colors we will miss as we start south just ahead of the fall colors. We did a brisk walk and then Ruth made pancakes. We ate breakfast sitting the now sun warm enclosed cockpit as the last of the mist burned off the water.

The last 7 locks are all within a 12-mile run of the river. We were again with a group of boaters and the 4 boats lock through together. As we did the locks, we all exchanged what information we knew about the Hudson River, and planned strategy for the offshore passage around New Jersey to Cape May. Everyone was eager to leave the canal and become sailboats again. So are we.

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