A local public holiday, we left the south/east wall of Lock 17 on Friday 3rd July. After a 40.5′ lift we entered the next stage of the canal system. Lock E17’s east end doesn’t have the typical ‘mitre’ doors, but a guillotine system of weighted doors that lift up rather than to the sides. We waved to Tom the lockmaster at the top and continued along the Erie Canal. The stretch from here through Locks E18 and E19 is shallow and narrow. A few times we touched dirt with the keel but the bottom is soft mud.
We arrived at lock E20 by early afternoon and tied up to rings on the south/west side of the canal. On the north/west side of the lock is a canal park which has picnic tables, toilets, water and BBQ facilities. There is also a short length of concrete wall on the northern bank for boats to dock when they want to fill up with water, which is precisely what we did the following day. With the number of weekend fishermen lined up on the dock it was easier to do this at a time when they are not around.
On the 4th July, we rode back along the trail to Utica and across the river to Walmart on the northern side of the canal. This was the only store open that had bicycle parts and I bought a couple of new tyres, tubes, bell and a working bicycle pump. We carried these in our panniers and rode around Utica – taking advantage of the holiday/lack of people/cars around the town. At the east end of town is Proctor Park where people were setting up for 4th July festivities for the fireworks display later that evening. There really wasn’t much happening around town – same as in Australia on a public holiday with people mowing lawns, leisurely shopping, kids on bikes, that sort of thing. Some families enjoyed a BBQ at the canal park nearby at lock E20 and sat fishing on the dock. We didn’t go to the fireworks that night as the trail is unlit and would be hazardous at night. But after 9pm when the sun finally went down, we heard the exploding fireworks some 10kms away. With a little imagination you could almost believe you were hearing sounds from the Revolutionary War.
As we cycled through town we noticed there were many churches. The Redeemer Church held sessions in three languages – Spanish, Burmese and Nepali – this made me curious. I was surprised to learn that there is a Nepalese community in the middle of New York state. When over 100,000 Bhutanese-Nepali refugees fled Bhutan to escape violence back in the early 1990s (the Buddhists effectively kicked out the Hindus), over 300 Bhutanese-Nepali refugees were resettled in Utica. Here they can practice their religion without fear of persecution. The Mohawk Valley Resource Centre for Refugees (MVRCR) has the responsibility of helping over 2000 Burmese and other refugees build new lives for their families.
The next day we motored 18miles to Lock E21 and tied up to the south/east wall. This lock is in the middle of no-where and surrounded by thick forest and bush. At this point we are at an elevation of over 400 feet, and lock E21 is the first lock on our trip that descends. Our guidebook states that before the locks were constructed vessels had to be carried over the divide. No wonder they were happy when the canal was opened!
While I’m on the subject of guidebooks and navigation, I’ll just mention how we tackle this. Firstly we alternate between iNavX and SeaIQ for e-navigation (iNavX because it’s easier to use, but SeaIQ so we can view information added through ActiveCaptain. We can’t use our chartplotter’s Cmap charts as they are non existent on inland waterways). The ‘Doziers Waterways Guide to the Great Lakes 2015’ includes narrative for this section of the Great Loop, and also right through to the Gulf coast. So far though I’m disappointed with the diagrams and its layout. The New York State Canal Corporation produces a Cruising Guide to the New York State Canal Systems (Champlain, Erie, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca canals) and this A3 size book includes good visual charts and good simple information about the locks – this book is worth having in conjunction with the text from the Waterways Guide. So between the electronic charts, information from ActiveCaptain and two guidebooks we have all the information we need! Having the internet is also useful for researching facilities and using iMaps for stops along the way.
The Canalways Trail heads south at this point as it veers around Oneida Lake. We are about 12kms from Sylvan Beach on the east coast of the lake so we decided to ride our bikes there from lock E21 along the quiet country roads. The homes along the way are really nice; large lawns beautifully mowed (there’s plenty of water in these parts).
Sunday on the 4th July long-weekend and Sylvan Beach was brimming with boats and holiday-makers. The dock was full up and I’m glad we didn’t try and motor here. We met the crew of the tug ‘Elizabeth Anna’ – Nick and Matt – and they gave us a tour of the tug.
A quick look around, stopping for an icecream (and to fix another puncture!) then we cycled our way back to Lock 21. I got another puncture on the way home – this is happening because there is no tape on the rim and the holes where the spokes go through are quite sharp. Back at the boat I taped the rim and patched the tubes, while Wayne took my wheels off – problem sorted!
It’s so quiet here at Lock E21. In the evening all we could hear was frogs and birds. After 6pm the lockmaster had gone home, as had the few families hoping to catch dinner on the end of their lines. Now and again the sound of a single gunshot would break the silence. Or was it a firecracker? I hear running through the bush. A coyote? New York State has between 20,000 and 30,000 coyotes in the summer. Yes that’s it. I heard a coyote…
Next morning was tranquil and the reflection of the banks on the flat water looked like psychiatrist ink blots. Lock E21 was the first downriver lock so we grabbed the docking lines at the top of the lock and eased the lines as we floated down 25 feet. Lock 22 is only one mile further on and again we dropped another 25 feet. We were now 374 feet above sea level.
Motoring four miles to Sylvan Beach (which was a little quieter than the weekend), we then entered Oneida Lake for an 18m crossing to Brewerton. The wind was light from the east so the trip was easy, although we’ve read that crossing in a strong westerly can kick up 1.5m seas which would be daunting with a 15m mast stowed on deck.
Fortunately our timing was good, as the locks would reopen this week after the recent heavy rains and flooding. We arrived at Brewerton on the west side of Oneida Lake just after lunch. Not much happening at this place, but the south/west dock was comfortable and we stayed there just one night. I took a ride out to lock E23 about 6kms away to say hi to the crew of La Luna who were just ahead of us and waiting to head north up the Oswego Canal.
Just west of the railway bridge near the free dock is the Winter Harbour Marina. Here we filled up with diesel for just $2.79 per gallon – much cheaper than in Sylvan Beach which is around $3.48/gallon. That’s less than A$1.00 per litre!
The current flows downriver at this point and Wayne changed the instruments to mph and not knots to match the distances and signs along the way. The canal has a 10mph limit, although we usually stick to 5mph. We were through the 7′ drop of lock E23 by 9am with three other boats. The section west from lock E23 has a promenade of waterfront homes with their own dinghy docks and lovely gardens. Some are impressive and include fully functional bars, hammocks and some have dug out their own section of the bank for their own personal ‘marinas’. The closest I’ve seen to anything like this in Australia would be the Pittwater area north of Sydney, or perhaps Tasmania’s Tamar and Huon Rivers. Along the way I noticed another Hallberg Rassy with the mast off docked about half a mile away on the south bank. I could see a guy peering through binoculars at our boat while I was squinting looking to see if it was also a HR39. Unusual to see another Hallberg Rassy in these parts. We both waved to each other like secret members of the ‘friends of the Hallberg Rassy fraternity’!
The day was unusually hot and humid – 35degC/96F. There are mozzies in this neck of the woods so fly screens are a good idea if you want a comfortable sleep. We’ve learned that a hot humid day usually ends up with thunderstorms overnight, and this day was to be no exception. The next day would be cooler.
We arrived on the south/east wall of lock E24 and briefly tied up. There were no other boats here so Wayne called the lockmaster on Channel 13 and asked if we could go through to the more scenic town dock on the south/west side of the lock. He said no problem and let us through, on the promise that we would go no further (the lock was officially closed until the following morning). One length of dock was available to us while another six boats took up the rest, including the tug ‘Elizabeth Anna’ which had it’s pilot house removed to reduce the height so it could get under the low bridges ahead.
The lockmaster at E24 is friendly and wished us a pleasant stay. On the south bank on the western side of the lock an older lady was sitting outside a small Tourist Centre hut waving and smiling at us, but I never saw her again. Along the bank is a floating dock with electricity and water, and flower gardens. Fortunately for us and due to the backlog of boats due to the closure of the locks, there was one place left for us with access to power and water. An honour system is in place and there is a box with envelopes to drop your money into. The only cost to dock is for electricity and that was only $5 per night for 30amp, but $10 or 50amp. As our boat is wired for both 110V and 240V, we plugged in the 110V cable we’d bought in New York City just to see if the 110V system still worked, as we’d never had the need to use it in any other part of the world. It didn’t work initially so Wayne would spend time dabbling with the electrical system the next day. About 2kms from the dock is the well stocked Tops Supermarket and a simple bike ride away to stock up. That night we went out for some creole food at the “Muddy Water’s Kitchen & Bar”. This place is located next to the bridge over the gushing water from the nearby dam.Wayne had Cajun chicken with biscuits and gravy. A ‘biscuit’ in the U.S. is similar to a rock cake or scone as it has the same ingredients. Basically it is a simple bread.
That afternoon we had a visitor. Remember the guy waving at us from a Hallberg Rassy? Introducing himself as Jerry, he explained that he’d driven around the area and eventually found us tied up at Lock E24. Jerry knew us, as his wife Karen had contacted us a few weeks back on our blog. He was keen to talk to us as he had recently purchased a HR39 and was doing it up. Coincidentally Jerry explained that he actually grew up on the street across from us at the dock. Not only that, but his boat is numbered 90 where ours is number 100 – there’s a good possibility that both our boats were being built in Sweden at the same time! Later Karen came along to pick up Jerry and we chatted some more about sailing and we learned more about this part of the Erie Canal. The following day Jerry and Karen generously helped sort out our problem with the propane valve, then spent the next couple of hours talking about boats, designs and ways to improve them, etc. They plan to work on their boat and have it ready later this year so hopefully we’ll get a chance to see them again perhaps in the Caribbean. It’s great to meet such friendly like-minded people along the way, and particularly to meet up with readers of my blog.
Later that morning we cast off and headed west but only a short distance to a place called Cross Lake and anchored at a spot recommended by Jerry. Here we dropped the pick for a quiet afternoon of reading while it poured with rain outside. Friday the weather brightened with a clear sky and fresh air. Travelling through the Montezuma Wildlife area, we headed 30m west to the ‘Peppermint Village’ of Lyons…