Sunday, August 5, 2012

Chester, CT

The trip from Norwalk to Chester CT, compared with the first leg down Long Island Sound, was like night and day. Unlike the 4–6 foot seas we encountered the first time, waves yesterday were one foot or less, winds very calm, hazy visibility 1–3 miles and for most of the 57 miles few other boats. The open water of the sound, after weeks of inland waterways, was invigorating. For most of the trip we saw neither land nor vessel.

Contrast that with our Saturday afternoon arrival in the Connecticut River where we encountered the usual bad mannered, inconsiderate, large wake go-fast cruisers and weekend sailors under full sail tacking back and forth in the narrow channels. Gee it’s good to be home.

And there was the Home-coming party. The whole marina turned out in Hawaiian shirts, under a large tent with tons of food, drink and a DJ. Well, actually it was the annual marina Pot Luck but it felt special to us.

Our slip neighbor Bob and friend enjoying the festivities.

Looking back, it was a once in a lifetime adventure. Seeing this area of the world from such a unique vantage point was priceless. Ultimately we logged 1,200 nautical miles through 2 countries, 4 large lakes, 101 locks, 8 rivers, and 5 separate canal systems. We burned 492 gallons of diesel, about 3 gallons per hour average, costing $2,138.75 over 40 days; very fuel efficient.

It was pleasing to see the pride that the Erie Canal Corp. and the Canadian Park Service take in their work. The lock areas were lovingly tended and maintained, and the lockmasters and their young assistants friendly, helpful, and smiling. We would have to rate the lake region of the Rideau the most beautiful and scenic, followed by the northern portion of Lake Champlain.

What really stood out were the people we met along the way; all kinds, making the journey on demasted sailboats, antique wooden boats, screened pontoon boats, tall boxy cruisers, houseboats, and tiny cuddy cabins. All were friendly and ready to chat and share their experiences.  We gained wisdom from Clark on Sea Moss, and learned to accept that on a boat, things break and stuff happens.

In general, it was a slow go.  At one point we realized we were a 2 1/2 hour drive from home, but a good four days by boat. 

As for the commercial boat traffic, it's not so bad.  Barges and freighters are large, but they are also visible and predictable.  Not so for the pleasure craft. On the weekends, everywhere was crowded with all manner of boats.  The French, especially, seem very prone to risk taking.

During the week, we often had the waterways to ourselves.

In almost every boat group, our tug was the most unusual vessel. More common were screened in pontoon boats, runabouts, and cruisers of all sizes.

We had our share of mishaps, mercifully all were minor. Thom gained what would have been several years’ worth of boat handling experience, and has turned into quite the fixit guy.  I've become an expert in fender placement, line throwing and galley meal preparation.

Lessons learned:

1)  Always account for all of your lines. Coil and stow them promptly.

2)  Avoid anything and everything you see floating in the water.

3)  Leave the dogs at home.

4)  Get up to date charts and guidebooks. Things do change.

We won't be doing the Great Loop.  The transient lifestyle does not appeal to us long term. River and inland waterway travel is confining. You are always watching your water depth, the location of the channel, looking out for small boats and paddlers (always in the channel even when they should not be and don't have to be), and the wakes of the faster cruisers. Often it is like the Connecticut River on a weekend afternoon - crowded and not pleasant.  The rivers themselves are full of obstacles like swing bridges, cable ferries, and on this trip, the locks. So much that it is a relief to get into the open waters of the Hudson, and even better when you hit L.I. Sound.  Next year's travels will probably be local, and we'll see what happens after that.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Norwalk, CT

The day went better than anticipated.  With the help of the tide (2+ Knots), we made it down the Hudson quickly.  As luck would have it, the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge had been repaired and opened for us, cutting the three hours it would have taken to go around Manhattan down to one. 

Once through Hells Gate and the Throgg’s Neck Bridge, it was a straight shot to Norwalk Cove.   Instead of arriving at 5:00, we got there at 2:00.  It was sweltering, so we rested up in the A/C until dinner time.

Coming back from our showers, we noticed a ruckus around a boat hoisted onto the TraveLift.  Two Seatow boats, the Coast Guard, Norwalk Police and Fire department.  On closer inspection, we could see water pouring OUT from the bottom of the boat.  The Norwalk harbor area is known to have a lot of rocks and reefs. They had hit one known as Georges Rocks, hard!

One screw was gone completely; the other badly dented, one rudder bent seriously backwards, the entire keel torn up, and holes in the hull bottom where the propeller shaft used to be. 

The C.G. had put three pumps on the boat to keep it from sinking while it was towed in.  Bad way to end the day.
River, who had not thrown up once the entire trip, let loose this afternoon.  While on this trip, he has been able to eat only things that were actually food, but obviously managed to scarf something awful down while on his leash. I did mention he isn’t coming on any more cruises.
Red sky at night sailor's delight .....

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Haverstraw,NY - Running for Home

Monday evening in Waterford we were part of a Mayfly swarm. As soon as it got dark, thousands of these light, not quite mothlike bugs, descended in a cloud on the entire line of boats tied up at the town dock. People eating outside had to go inside. It looked like a plague from inside the boat where we were sitting. On Tuesday morning, they were piled up by the thousands on all the boats. Everyone had to sweep them up, and then wash off the rice sized yellow egg sacks stuck to the boats.

On Tuesday we headed back to Coeyman's Landing, and Wednesday we stayed back at Rondout Creek in Kingston. We had a devil of a time getting into our slip, with a 20 knot wind pushing us sideways. As our friend Clark from Sea Moss says, "Sometimes you watch the entertainment, sometimes you are the entertainment."

We are back at Haverstraw tonight, and will take off early tomorrow morning. The Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, which crosses the Harlem River and normally opens on demand, is broken and no one seems to be able to find out when it will be fixed. That adds three hours to the trip as we will have to go around the tip of Manhattan and up the East River to try to make it to Norwalk.

Of the many pictures we took returning through the Hudson Highlands, here's two that we thought you'd like.

From Norwalk, it's a slog back to Chester by Saturday night as we are trying to avoid thunderstorms that are predicted for Sunday.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Waterford, NY - The Second Time

Today was a milestone day, for two reasons.  One, we traveled the entire Champlain Canal, all 57 miles and 11 locks in one day.  

Here’s the first Champlain Lock # 12 and the last Lock #1.

Second, and even more importantly, today we closed the loop!  We departed Waterford, NY heading west on the Erie Canal on July 3th and arrived back traveling south on the Champlain Canal on July 30th 

We’ve covered 718 nautical miles (957nm since we left Connecticut) and traveled through 99 locks (100 if you count the Federal Lock on our way up the Hudson River); 40 on the Erie, Oswego, and Champlain Canals, 45 on the Rideau, 2 on the Ottawa River, 2 on the St. Lawrence Seaway, and 10 on the Richelieu River.  Whew!

The Champlain Canal links the southern end of Lake Champlain with the Hudson River.  It started out as a ditch with green walls, unpopulated, until it merged with the Hudson and we began seeing farms and waterfront homes.  Since this area is so sparsely populated and it was Monday, there was almost no other boat traffic.

The advertised limit of the canal is 17’ vertical clearance due to the many older bridges, which eliminates commercial traffic and all of those tall, comfortable looking cruisers we had been seeing.  Sea Moss barely cleared the bridges, clipping an anchor light at one point in the process.  We quickly lowered our antennas to pass under the low bridges freely.

The first four locks lifted us to the summit at 139 feet above sea level.  We then began going down again and will reach sea level in the Hudson below the Troy Federal Lock tomorrow.
The rivers and canals, besides the use by boaters, is enjoyed by campers, kayakers, and fishermen...and there are fish in these waters. Here's one lucky guy we saw just as we exited one of the locks.

Midway there was an enormous dredging project underway. Below Lock 7, a place called Three Sisters, many barges were being loaded with mud by floating cranes. 

Starting at the beginning of the zone, a pilot boat guided our convoy through the maze of work boats and small tugs, which are used to move the barges through the locks back to Lock 8 where the sediment is unloaded.

After nearly 1000 Nautical Miles, River and Ellie have gotten used to life “under-way”. Once the engine starts each finds a favorite place to settle in for the long day's travel.

So the loop ends and tomorrow we'll start the final portion of our journey, down the Hudson headed for home. Sea Moss will do the same headed for New Jersey and since it travels faster than Dunworkin, we spent some time together exchanging contact infomation and saying our Adieu's.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Whitehall, NY

This morning started cool, a bit hazy, but soon turned into a fine, sunny day.  At 8:30 when we left, the water was flat, with no wind, and no other boaters on the water.

The southern section of Lake Champlain is narrower and sparsely populated.  The sailors seem to stay in the northern portion, and except for the occasional fisherman or runabout, the trip was serene and beautiful.

The hills surrounding Lake Champlain became larger, morphing
into the dark green shades of the Adirondacks.

Inside the sounds were the whirring of the engine and the sloshing of water alongside.  I spent much of the time sitting on the bow, just taking it all in.  Outside there was only the sloshing of water and the occasional bass boat zooming by

Clarke and Evelyn on Sea Moss caught up with us at around 11:30; they can travel faster than we can, so we fell in behind them as they slowed to trawler speed to better enjoy the scenery. 

Our trip down Lake Champlain to us past many historic sites. One of the highlights was Fort Ticonderoga.

A floating Clorox bottle appeared from nowhere, and as we neared it, I noticed it was attached to what looked like a piece of a float.  It looked like some kind trap or mooring, and I thought we would nudge by it on the starboard side.  Thom never even saw it at all.  Thunk! We hit something hard.  The boat leaned over, straightened up, and Thom throttled down.   We radioed Sea Moss that we’d hit something, described the Clorox bottle, and heard a new voice over the radio say “That marks a submerged log.”  We immediately began checking our bilges and compartments to make sure we hadn’t punctured the hull.  Thom checked the prop for vibration and rudder function. All seemed ok, and we resumed our travel rather shaken.

Once we arrived at Whitehall, Clark donned a mask and dove in to check for damage.  He found one scrape, but nothing serious.

We ended our day with them at City Steak and Seafood....

...and Berry-berry pie a la mode on Sea Moss compliments of Clarke and Evelyn.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Westport, NY

The forecast for Thursday was 80% chance of rain and severe thunderstorms moving over Lake Champlain. So we decided to stay in Rouses Point. Gaines Marina was fairly new, clean and the people were very nice. 

On Thursday afternoon, our fresh water pump began acting erratically, and finally stopped working. We could manage without it, but two weeks is a long time to be bringing your fresh water into the boat in buckets. Thom ordered a new pump, scheduled to arrive on Friday at 2:00 p.m. so we were now going to stay a third day in Rouses Point, NY.

The pump arrived, and was promptly installed. Later that evening, I heard the trickling of water coming from the engine compartment. The starboard section was filling up with water from a strainer that had not been put back properly. We also made the unfortunate discovery that during the installation process, the mechanic had allowed about 20 gallons of water to drain into the bottom of our engine compartment, thinking it would go directly into the bilges and be removed automatically. Not so. We fixed the strainer, and I ended up bailing both compartments by hand.

The rest of the day was taken up with bathing River, laundry, and watching the movie The Descendants.

Our old acquaintances Clarke and Evelyn (we met first at Brewerton, NY) from Sea Moss caught up with us at Rouses Point. They are now headed down Lake Champlain with us towards their home in New Jersey.

We left Rouses Point this morning, a hazy, cool day. It's amazing - start your engine and immediately four men will show up to help you cast off.

The scenery going down Lake Champlain is just beautiful.

This area is worth a visit back and an extended stay. Distant mountains, green shores, and a lake dotted with hundreds of sailboats.

This must be sailing heaven. Everyone was under sail, moving briskly along, and towing dinghies.

Lake Champlain is sometimes referred to as the "6th great lake", with little islands and many sheltered bays where boats can anchor out. There was only the occasional little fishing boat being tossed around, and almost no cruisers waking us.

It was nice to be in open water.

We have docked for the night at Westport Marina in Westport, NY

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rouses Point, NY - "USA"

This morning we were anxious to get going early and enter the Chambly Canal as soon as it opened, 8:30 a.m. Another boat docked near us, named Haddock, had a similar idea and got to the "Blueline" tie up a little bit after 8:00 a.m.  They entered the lock, which could only hold 2 boats, ahead of us and remained  there, to our consternation,  for the entire Chambly Canal.

Lock after lock after lock.  If we thought the Erie Canal was a ditch, the Chambly is a trench.  Narrow, with small locks and many swing bridges, it is single file only. 

Haddock was sightseeing, and it was like being stuck on a back road behind the Buick with Florida license plates.  The limit on the Chambly is 6 knots; Haddock crept along at around 5 knots.

The Chambly Canal runs alongside the Richelieu River, bypassing the many shallow places and rapids.   By using the dams and locks, the depth can be controlled to 2 meters, or about 5-6 feet. Right off, there were 3 flight locks, followed by another 6 close together.   It took 2 ½ hours to get through them all. 

The old towpath, used originally by mules to pull barges, was still intact and had been turned into a popular bicycle trail.  All of the bicycles were going much faster than we were.  While locking through, we chatted with a group of about 25 bicyclists who were traveling from Burlington, Vermont to Montreal, where they would take the train back.

The last serious obstacle was Swing Bridge #10.  According to the guidebooks, it closes down for lunch hour at 11:45 a.m., opening again at 12:45.  Thanks to Haddock, we arrived at Bridge #10 at 11:50 and had to wait for an hour for it to open.  

At 1:30 we approached the last swing bridge, but had to wait for a 3rd boat to clear lock #9 before it would open. If we planned to make time, today was not going to be the day.

At this point, the Chambly rejoins the Richelieu River, the channel opens up, and we headed for the U.S. Border at Rouses Point.  There we were met by two friendly customs agent, who quickly processed us. 

We have settled in at Gaines Marina after a long day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chambly, Canada

The thunderstorms rolled through Montreal late yesterday afternoon, leaving 15,000 people without power. Just when we thought the storms were past we got caught out in a shower while walking the dogs. But, the real thunder and downpour didn't come to Sorel until the middle of the night when we were snug in our bed. The dogs, who are terrified of loud noises, quietly snuck onto to the bottom of the bed without waking us. We shoo'd them off when it was all's a pretty small berth.

We said Goodbye to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the industrial part of Sorel as we headed south down the Richelieu River.  

During the morning, we had the river almost all to ourselves. A great contrast from Sunday, when everyone with anything that could float was zooming around. The scenery soon changed to lovely waterfront homes and green fields. The green is in contrast to the parched brown areas we had been seeing up until now.

Thom watched the black clouds to our west anticipating rain. When it caught up with us there were a few showers and the weather changed to windy, cloudy, and cool.

We cruised by farms, manicured lawns, and villages marked by stone churches. 

By midafternoon we arrived at Chambly Marina in Chambly. Thom had to do some tricky maneuvering to get in the breakwater and find our dock because it was quite windy and even a bit chilly.

"Chiens, Chiens!" We no sooner arrived when the child magnets were at it again, first with the dock hands and then with these two delightful girls walking down the dock.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sorel, Canada

The cruise up the St. Lawrence River to Sorel was pleasant, all open water and the current in our favor. It was a beautiful day again, and best of all, no locks to go through. The industrial area of Montreal soon gave way to more natural scenery with sandy beaches on either side of the river.

Even the character of the water changed. The color went to a more greenish blue, the surface was rippled, and it felt like we were headed towards the ocean. 

Our first view of Sorel, which is at the top of the Richelieu Canal, was of fiery smokestacks. The municipal marina here is nice, and we plan to stay here a day to catch up on laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, pumpout, and so forth. Then it's boogie for home!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Longueuil, Canada

Yesterday we came down from Montebello to Ste. Anne de Bellevue. The cruise down the Ottawa River was very pleasant, no commercial boat traffic and open water.  On the way, we went through Carillon Lock, which dropped us 65 feet.  It was an easy drop, as you tie to floating docks. 

We have noticed many small, fast cruisers in our travels, and their mostly youthful owners are curious about our tug.  We've given a few tours, and the consensus is that when they retire, they want a tug, especially the ladies.

Arriving at Ste. Anne de Bellevue, a village on the south end of MontrĂ©al, we tied up on the upstream wall.  The town itself has many lively restaurants along the lock wall, but one block into town it quickly becomes less appealing. 

Boaters here have no inhibitions about running at night, and all but one of the boats tied with us left after the evening.  Between the beer drinkers hanging around the park, and the really loud train noise, it was a sleepless night. 

We decided to skip the tours of Montreal.  It would mean locking the dogs in the boat and leaving it unattended for many hours.  Have I mentioned this is the last time I am taking River on a cruise?  Amtrak charges $63 to get to Montreal from New York, a great bargain.

As far as bad days go, today, Saturday qualifies as an award winner.  We got up early and got through the Ste. Anne lock as soon as it opened, at 9:00 a.m.  We made the convoluted run through the lake around Montreal to Saint Lawrence Seaway and on to the Ste. Catherine Lock.  This is a commercial lock, not related to the Canadian Park Service and commercial traffic has priority. 

Had a terrible time trying to get tied up in the inadequate waiting basin, and then sat with a dozen other boats for 3 1/2 hours waiting to lock through while tankers and barges crawled in and out.  They finally took us, and they pack all of the pleasure craft into one lock through.  Sailboats, runabouts, cruisers, you are expected to raft up. 

We got through the lock and made the mad dash with the rest of the flotilla to Ste. Lambert, another commercial lock, where everyone place held for another hour. 

The only redeeming quality was that you got to talk to all manner of bored people.  Practice French, met a sailor from South America, and caught on some of the local stuff.  After Rafting up 3 deep and locking through we got to our Port de Plaisance marina in Longueuil at around 7:00 p.m.  The poor dogs went without a potty break for 10 hours!!!

Fortunately I had made a reservation ahead of time, as it turns out, Saturday is fireworks night in Montreal.  We got the last available slip.  MontrĂ©al is having some sort of fireworks competition, and every boat, RV, and human with a portable chair comes out to see them, which explained the many very small boats bobbing around in the St. Laurence seaway current.  Just as we were settling in around 10:00, BOOM! We couldn’t see the fireworks well due to the trees, and were too tired to walk to a viewing area, but we sure could hear them. Judging by the sounds, which went on and on, they were spectacular.

The best part of the day and the trip in general has been all the fascinating and friendly people we have meet along the way. Regardless of whether they could speak English or not they tried and we tried our French.  In the end, we learned about the local waters, points of interest, where boaters live and where they’ve been, what they do or want to do when they stop doing what they’re doing, and about their families and pets (the dogs are always a good conversation starter).