Rough day on the Erie Canal…

This morning dawned early as I misread my watch and thought it was nearly 0800 and that we were behind schedule. After we were up I realized it was only 0600 and I had lost an hour’s sleep. This does not seem to bother Jan but it kills me.

We walked up to the first lock to purchase our NY State Canal permit and get a look at the lay of the lock. You see after 9/11 all access to Federal locks was restricted and you can only see them from the inside by boat. It used to be that all locks were tourist attractions and recreational areas where families could picnic and kids could watch big boats go through. But no more. Now all those nice areas are security zones. However, it is another story with state locks. Most of them are still open and you can walk on them and picnic around them. So today we would see many people visiting the locks and taking our picture as we went through. This is the way it should be.

As you leave the Waterford Welcome Center there is a flight of four locks in rapid succession. Once you start there is no stopping, anchoring or tying up. You must go all the way through. Today we would go through a total of eleven locks before calling it a day. Our goal is to complete the first half of the Erie in two days putting us at Lake Onieda. You see we went through this section of the canal in 2007 with friends Ken and Darcy Searl aboard “Just Us”, so this time we can skip most of the sights. The highlights were not very high as this is now a depressed area that has been hit by a bad economy and several devastating floods over the last few years. So most of the docks and recreational facilities have been destroyed and there is no money to rebuild. Talk about an area that needed a stimulus, this was it, but as it was in most places, it never got here.

All went well for the first half of the day but apparently some tropical storm named Debbie came ashore off Virginia and we began catching the fringes of it in the form of very high winds. Now these winds are not so worrisome as long as we are moving in open water. But put Cbay in a confined space like a lock and slow her down to bare headway and then you have the makings of potential disaster.

Before the day was over we had gone through four locks under conditions that would frighten an experienced sailor. But a bit of luck was with us. One, no-one else was foolish enough to be running in this stuff. Two, this meant we were going right into open locks that were expecting us. Three, we were in there all alone so if the boat got away it would not hit any other boats, only the walls!

Now only blind luck and the Admiral at the wheel were going to get us through. Only once in those four locks did we get sideways but I had a lock line tied to the boat and it held as we rode up. When we came out of that one the lockmaster ran his hand across his brow and mouthed “whew”. I did the same back. In one other lock we did find a pontoon boat hiding inside and because they hesitated leaving when the gates opened we had to back off the throttle and smacked the skirt outside the gates giving us yet another battle scar or as Russ Campbell calls them “whiskey burns”.

Now when I say we were running through locks in wind I am talking 25-35 mph gusts here. It was no fun because there was no place to stop. Finally there was a sign from above letting us know we were in a friendly place. It was a place that used to be a terminal for the NY State Canal System where they would tie up work barges and re-supply them for work on projects elsewhere. It is merely a concrete wall with bollards on the top sitting at the edge of a field. We took any port in a storm and tied up. Naturally we had to do it all because there was no-one to catch a line so Jan drove and I lassoed one of those bollards.

Later when I went to explore I discovered that we were fenced in and locked in! There was a Dairy Bar outside the fence less than 50 yards away and I was surrounded by a 9 foot chain link fence with three strands of barbed wire on the top. How is that fair?

But all was not lost. An old guidebook we had purchased said that they used to leave a key to a side gate on the property near a doorway. Of course there were about twenty doors around and who knew if it was even still there. So I began a systematic search and guess what? The very last of what turned out to be 15 doors had a hook and a key. I took it over to the side gate and voila I was eating a pineapple sundae! Now you see why my father used to say, “You are the only boy I know who can fall in a barrel of horse manure and come out smelling like a rose every time.” All is well that ends well. We are running the generator and had meatloaf, mashed potatoes and asparagus for dinner.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, while I was searching for the key the phone rang. It was Joe Parker aboard Seabatical and he was attemting to change his first impeller on his generator. He needed me to talk him through so I said wait until I get my ice cream and I will call you back. he did a great job.

Goodnight all. Tomorrow we run for Sylvan Beach.