I’ve been arranging logistics, or twisted into pretzel-shaped positions in the small spaces of my sailboat for more than six weeks Finally, I declare Mandala, ready to depart on a 500 mile, post-retirement voyage to circumnavigate northeast New York.
July 10, 2005. We depart Coeyman’s Landing on the Hudson River and motor eleven miles north in a hot afternoon sun. My son-in-law, Gregg Allbright, and a friend Steve Huber are aboard as crew. We pass the Port of Albany where, in 1609, Henry Hudson stopped his ship at the rapids, and sent a few of his men to explore farther up the river. Native Americans chased them back in short order. Now, with the Federal Lock at Troy, Mandala can go up river beyond where Hudson was stopped.
We enter the Erie Canal 183 years after it first opened in 1822. Our course is 160 miles west to Three Rivers Junction to meet the Oswego Canal for a 25-mile journey north to Lake Ontario.
We pass through five closely spaced locks, known as the Waterford Lock Flight. They lift the boat up a little more than 160 feet in two hours. At each lock, we enter the huge concrete chamber with some trepidation, but all seems peaceful once the boat rises to the top of the walls and we see the green park grass beside us. Still, it can be difficult picking up the holding lines, and we often had to use a boathook to grasp a line.
Shortly after leaving the fifth lock the overheating alarm on the diesel engine goes off. Our position is just above the lock’s dam, so out goes the anchor! Investigation reveals a disintegrated alternator belt, which also drives the cooling pumps. I dig around in the spares locker and come up with the spare belt. After installing the belt, we manage a late arrival at Blain’s Bay Marina near Colonie, where we dock for the night after traveling only eighteen miles this first day.
July 11, 2005. Crew discipline needs improvement! Getting them up tactfully is like wiping up molasses: a sticky and slow process. I finally get the boat underway at 10:00a.m.and we begin our first full day on the Erie Canal.
The Canal has been widened and deepened a number of times over the past century and a half, but there are still remnants of the early narrower canal system. Portions of old locks and aqueducts can be seen at points along the canal. Bicyclists are also a frequent sight on the nearby bicycle trail.
We negotiate locks 7 through 12 as we pass Schenectady, Scotia, Amsterdam, and Fort Hunter, New York. Abandoned General Electric plants line the canal bank, revealing a once vibrant economy that now is dormant. We pass a palatial home, which was reported in 1998 to have had a $42,000 a month mortgage.
At Lock 9, we decide to stop for lunch at a Rotterdam pizza house. While tying to the lock wall, our protective fenders rise up against the rough lock wall, and the boat takes some bad scrapes on the side. Later, one earpiece comes off my sunglasses. These incidents make for a frustrating afternoon. A call to my wife that evening elicits the helpful comment: “it sounds like you are having a disaster a day!”
We spend the night at Lock 12 near Fort Hunter. I’m in my berth by 9:30 p.m., while my crew members take a late night walk, managing first to witness a probable drug sale, and later, to find a local dive where they and former General Electric workers entertain each other with their life stories.
July 12, 2005. On the third day, we make only eighteen miles, passing through three more locks. The Canajoharie waterfront park looks inviting so we stop for lunch. We tiptoe our way through a minefield of duck droppings on the new park’s sidewalks and walk into the business district for lunch at Peruzzi’s Market and Deli. Afterward, we motor on through a scenic rural area where we watch several Blue Herons perched on stumps, watching us. Occasionally a powerboat passes, leaving a following wave that pitches us up and down. We handle it by turning forty-five degrees and riding over the rollers. Multiple bottles of water and canned cokes disappear throughout a humid day.
At four o’clock we dock at St. Johnsville Marina and torture our neighbors by grilling hamburgers on the stern rail barbeque. A salad of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes accompany the smoked meat. Then it’s off to the marina’s showers before we end our day in the cockpit, sipping wine and beers while darkness turns the water’s color to black.
July 13, 2005. Again, we get a late start after walking to a café in town for breakfast. Late morning finds us on rural portions of the Canal where it runs separately from the Mohawk River. Here, the banks are long and straight, and lined with natural stone, revealing its man-made nature. Small cave holes dot the waterline; likely homes for the small mammals we see around the water. We master locks 16 and 17 and stop at a canal park with a floating dock in Little Falls, New York.
I manage to locate the town’s only optometrist who repairs my sunglasses at no charge. Gregg buys old medicine bottles at the local antique store, claiming he will be able to sell them at ten times the price on E-Bay because they have a devil symbol on the bottom.
We have Chinese buffet for lunch, and I photograph an old house that hangs precariously above the rocky riverbed, near what was once a viaduct that carried the canal over the Mohawk River. Then, we travel on, passing the touristy shop, Gems Along The Mohawk, eighty-six miles from where we entered the Erie Canal. We transit locks 18, 19, and 20, tying up to Lock 20 for the night. Supper is canned shrimp in a packaged Alfredo sauce, with canned brown bread and a bottle of wine.
July 14-15 2005. Day five takes us on to Rome, New York where we stop for a visit at historic Fort Stanwix. That evening we reach Sylvan Beach, a resort town at the east end of Lake Oneida, where we lay over for twenty-four hours and Gregg is picked up for his flight home to California.
July 16, 2005. The next morning, Steve and I cross twenty-two mile long Oneida Lake under overcast skies. Winds from the east help push us across as we watch closely for the navigation aids that warn of shoals in mid-lake. At the western end, we stop for sandwiches and iced cokes at a waterside restaurant in Brewerton. Later, we pass through our final Erie Lock and reach Three Rivers Junction. A sign on the bank points left to continue on to Buffalo on the Erie Canal, or right to take the Oswego River Canal to Lake Ontario. We turn right, and twelve miles later dock, alone, on a deserted riverfront wall in Fulton, New York
July 17, 2005. After motoring twelve more miles up the Oswego River and passing through our thirty-first lock, we reach Oswego on Lake Ontario. That evening, Steve and I pull off the cockpit bilge pump which has stopped working. After taking the pump apart, we find a small stick lodged in a flapper valve. We clean and reinstall the pump before finding dinner, taking showers, and falling into our berths for the night.
July 18, 2005. As I leave Mandala for a few days home break, I give her a silent nod of approval for the last week of adventure and history. I also realize that there is so much more to experience somewhere out there–just over the bow.