Back on the Water-Spring 2023

’tis Grand was “splashed” in Brewerton NY on May 25th after a long winter’s rest in heated storage.  We quickly loaded some supplies and groceries, checked out all the systems and took off heading east on the Erie Canal, hoping to reach Shady Harbor Marina on the Hudson within a week’s time, where we would pick up our new bimini. Temps in the high 80s and low 90s without shade cover up top or AC onboard made early starts, noonish docking and finding a shady afternoon respite (like the pub below) necessary. 

Copper City Brewing in Rome NY
Early morning on the Eastern Erie Canal

We saw many Amish families picnicking along the Canal on Memorial Day. They lined Lock E15 near Canajahorie, spectating the lowering of ’tis Grand and crew while asking lots of questions about our origin, destination and experiences on the boat. Our responses always triggered more questions. We, understandably, obliged their wishes not to be photographed as we were exiting the lock, but what a memorable encounter it was!

After installing our new bimini and the two solar panels above- now held on with 14 super-duper magnets each rather than 8 that we used previous years – we headed north on the Hudson River/Champlain Canal into new territory. We spent several nights in small towns on “free” walls with power, water, and restrooms. So we naturally felt obliged to wander around town and spend a few dollars like good boating tourists should. The SlickFin Brewery in Fort Edward was a nice stop and we also enjoyed this traffic sign in Whitehall the following day (see below).

Looking up at the underside of our new Bimini with 14 magnets holding the solar panels on.
I guess it’s ok to gun it if they are not yet in your half of the road!
Our view from the free wall of Skene Manor, a Victorian mansion built of gray sandstone quarried on-site in 1874. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places in Whitehall NY

Lake Champlain begins after exiting Lock C12 at Whitehall. Initially it’s like a long narrow river with expansive marshland on both sides filled with singing/calling birds and beaver lodges. Lovely blue/green hills surround the valley. It was a leisurely ride until the clouds came and the wind picked up as the lake widened. Zeke preferred to ride inside where he was warmer… We added a new state to our list when we overnighted at Chipmans Point in Orwell VT at a wonderful family-run marina. Tonight we are in Westport NY where we found a great trail to hike a few blocks from the marina.  This evening it is again chilly enough to run the built-in heater in the main boat salon for short periods.  Tomorrow we will travel back across the lake to Burlington VT and stay a few days to explore the city and bike trails.

Lee Park Trail in Westport. Beautiful mature pines, maple and some younger hemlock.
Champlain Bridge
Zeke trying to stay warm

Wandering up the Rideau

After a wet and bumpy ride across the east end of Lake Ontario, we safely arrived in Kingston’s Confederation Basin Marina and were OK’d for entry through our ArrivCan app.  Kingston is a city of about 130,000 and the marina is adjacent to a great waterfront park and a thriving downtown filled with shops, restaurants, pharmacies, a bakery, and a large grocery store all within a few blocks.  We explored for 2 days, celebrated our 47th anniversary (with a rainbow to boot!) and prepared to start our journey north up the Rideau Canal towards Ottawa.

Following two rainy days and our Thai anniversary dinner!
Home at the Kingston Confederation Basin Marina
An acknowledgment of former prime minister MacDonald’s discriminatory treatment of indigenous people posted in the waterfront park.
Kingston City Hall across the park from the waterfront and marina

We had heard much about the historic canal and lock system to Ottawa completed in 1832. The large gears that open and close the lock gates are still cranked by hand, so we were excited to experience it first hand.  But right out of the marina we encountered a swing bridge that would not open for us and other boats until 9am, and shortly after that a bridge under construction where we waited (at anchor) for over an hour to pass through.  We have come to realize that Canadians are very patient people–they wait at crosswalks with no cars in sight for the “Walk” sign, they stop and tie up their boats to chat or picnic while waiting for a lock to open and in general, seem less hurried than most Americans we know (including ourselves).  I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned, and it is slowly sinking in.  

The Rideau Canal and other Canadian canals usually have mooring walls both above and below the locks where boats must tie up to wait for the lock keepers to tell you when and in which order boats should enter the lock (often multiple boats at once). This is very different than locks in the US where requests for passage and instructions from the lock keeper are all done via VHF radio. In Canada if you want to pass directly thru the lock you tie up on the part of the wall where there is a blue line. Once inside the lock you loop your boat’s lines around cables attached to the wall to stabilize it during the lifting or dropping process. If you just want to hang out or stay overnight, you tie up on the wall where there is no blue line. Many of the areas around the locks are park-like with picnic tables, bathroom facilities, and some even have 30 amp electric posts to plug into. We stayed “on the wall” at several locks and met some very nice people, including Doug who was traveling solo on his older 45′ Chris Craft trawler named “Y Knot Moor”. We enjoyed Doug and his dog Sadie”s company on our way north and south on the Rideau Canal.

Boats lined up on the blue-lined mooring wall waiting to lock through
Zeke enjoying some free time below Lower Brewers lock
A lovely overnight stop below Upper Brewers lock on our return to Kingston
Historic lock walls and gates on the Rideau Canal
Lock staff cranking the huge gears that open and close the gates

On our 2nd day on the Rideau we started to feel like we were in the BWCA…lots of granite bedrock protruding everywhere, rocky islands, northern and boreal tree and shrub species and crystal clear water. Frequently the canal gave way to larger lakes connected by narrow channels interspersed with locks. On day 3 we reached Westport, a great small town at the west end of Upper Rideau Lake. Once again, we experienced a community with friendly people, colorful mailboxes and wonderful amenities within a few blocks of the marina.

Typical scenery on the Rideau
Westport mailbox
Westport waterfront marina with the ubiquitous Adirondack chairs
Yes, those are pierogies sauteed with onions and bacon served with a side of tangy coleslaw!

After two fun days in Westport and provisioning at the local grocer, we left to anchor out on the lake and fish a bit. We swam off the boat with Zeke, caught and released some nice perch and a huge bass and enjoyed the day and evening. We pulled the anchor in the morning and decided to head back south as the wind was expected to increase steadily over the next day or two and there were several large lakes and marshes to cross and many more locks to pass through heading north. We made it back to Kingston battling strong winds, but the worst were yet to come the following day!

Zeke loved to watch and see what Ned would reel in!
Zeke the “water dog”
We are flying a Canadian “courtesy” flag while in Ontario with our US flag still prominent at the rear of the boat
The end of a good day

Gale force winds and rain tore the 2 solar panels off our bimini the following day. One landed on the dock and was retrieved while the other took off like a flying carpet and landed in 18-20 feet of water in the marina basin (as reported by a neighbor boat on our dock). We lowered the dinghy and fished for it the next morning with our super-duper magnets with no luck. So…..on to explore more of the Canadian coastline and the Thousand Islands area at the east end of Lake Ontario!!

Confederation Basin Marina sunrise
Unsettled skies continued into the evening

Following Sal’s (the mule) Route

The Eastern portion of the Erie Canal starts in Waterford NY, a small friendly town that hosts a huge amount of boat traffic every year. It’s at the intersection of the Erie canal and the canal that goes north to Lake Champlain and the St Lawrence Seaway. The canal systems throughout NY and in Canada have few “marinas” but many docks where you can tie up overnight for free or minimal cost. Some have no electric or restrooms, others have the works (power, water, washrooms, showers, etc).

After leaving Waterford, we stopped at Amsterdam, which has a phenomenal pedestrian bridge over the canal (Mohawk River) filled with gardens and public art. We also learned about its connection to the fateful 9/11/01 terrorist attack.  Next stops included Little Falls, Rome, and Sylvan Beach. Each a small, walkable community with its own personality, restaurants, shops and even a few grocery stores to restock! 

Piece of concrete from the Twin Towers attack
Lots of low guard gates and bridges that require us to keep our mast down on the canal systems
Beautiful mosaic in Amsterdam
The Mohawk Frasers, a bagpipe band practicing for a weekend competition

Near the west end of the Eastern section of the Erie Canal we crossed 22-mile Lake Oneida to reach Brewerton NY where we will eventually (at the end of Sept) store ’tis Grand for the upcoming winter. We bypassed it for now and headed to Three Rivers, where the next section of the Erie Canal would take you on to Buffalo NY and Lake Erie or north on the Oswego Canal to Oswego NY on Lake Ontario. We turned north toward Ontario to explore a bit of Canada before hauling the boat out for the season. But first we have to get our “papers” in order and complete the ArrivCan app before crossing the big lake!

Three Rivers intersection showing ’tis Grand heading north

From Jersey to Serene

Can’t say we’d ever been to the Jersey shore before, but can say we likely won’t visit again. Because of very skinny (shallow) water and a highly zig-zaggedy NJ ICW route, we decided to go “outside” – in the big Atlantic- from Cape May at the south end of the state to Sandy Hook at the north end. Once again we had 3 good weather/wind days and stayed within 1-3 miles of shore, usually in 50 ft of water or less.  It wasn’t fun, but we got ‘er done, as they say.  All we saw was mile after mile of beaches filled with people and  development of all kinds until we headed up the Sandy Hook peninsula. Even the FL coast seemed to have more natural features!

We were graciously accepted as guests at the Great Kills Yacht Club on Staten Island for several nights. Fun people at the Yacht Club  and fun area to explore and spend some time walking and sampling different ethnic eateries.

Best gyro of my life ( with fresh chopped parsley, lettuce tomato and onion)  at Andrew’s Diner
S.I. sunset over the Yacht Club

Next up was our cruise through NY Harbor to wave to Lady Liberty and see the Manhattan skyline from our boat. Even on a Sunday morning at 9-10am we were dodging ferries, and skirting tugs, barges and other recreational boats to get up close. But it was a sight and experience we’ll savor for awhile!

Within 30 minutes of leaving Manhatten behind, the scenery changed to forested bluffs, rugged cliffs and steep hillsides. The Hudson River Valley opened up into a spectacular venue.  Over several days we passed the Pallisades, Roosevelt and Rockefeller estates, Sleepy Hollow, West Point Military Academy, the Culinary Institute of America, Bannerman’s Castle, and many wonderful lighthouses from the 1800s.

Pallisades of NJ just north of the George Washington Bridge
West Point Military Academy
Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY
Rondout Light at Kingston NY

On one of our last stops on the Hudson we stayed at the Albany Yacht Club and ubered downtown to the Empire State Plaza, a beautiful complex of Italian marble, fountains and public art that encompasses several museums, state office buildings, a performing arts center and the NY state capitol building, which is a National Historic Landmark. It was fun and we checked another state capitol off our life list.

NY State Capitol, a Nat’l Historic Landmark
Four state office buildings lining one side of the Plaza (quite a difference from GEF 1 and 2 in Madison WI!)
The “Egg,” a performing arts center on the Plaza

The town of Waterford and the Eastern portion of the Erie Canal is next. Looking forward to all the interesting small towns!

Chesapeake Appeal

We initially had some trepidation about Chesapeake Bay as it has a reputation for rapid changes in weather and travel conditions. But, for a little over a week it was kind to us and ’tis Grand. Under mostly fair skies and smooth water we traveled back and forth stopping and exploring some of the scenic, historic and unique towns that line its shores.

First stop was Yorktown, which I covered in the previous post.  Next came Deltaville where we took 2 days of respite from the crowds and noisy beach scene at Yorktown. It’s a well-kept family-owned marina with nice  amenities, including a beautiful herb garden for boaters’ use, friendly boaters all around us and lots of great birds to watch.

Next stop was Tangier Island ( less than 400 acres), located in the middle of the Bay, inhabitated by watermen and their families who have made their living harvesting crab, oysters and fish over the past 250+ years.  It seems to be a tightly-knit working-class community proud of its heritage, but struggling in many ways, especially economically and because of rising seas. Many of the weather-beaten homes and fish/crab shanties lining the waterways that criss-cross the island are slowly being abandoned or put up for sale.  Incoming tidewater is clearly visible under many of  the homes and the Combined School (K-12) was raised 8 ft in 2008 to preserve the building which is still in use. Small cemeteries and individual gravesites occupy much of the remaining “high” ground (including residential front and back yards), as residents try to keep their deceased loved ones above water.  Some sources say the island will have to be abandoned by 2050. We are glad we had an opportunity to visit this unique place.

Thousands of stacked crab pots – our nemesis at times!
Main street in Tangier…residents use golf carts, motorcycles and ATVs to get around to

Next was Solomons MD, a small but vibrant community on Back Creek on the western shore of the Bay. Our assigned slip and the marina grounds were shaded by lovely, huge pines and hardwoods reminiscent of northern WI.  Then north to Annapolis, home of the US Naval Academy and the sailing mecca of Chesapeake Bay. It’s an interesting, walkable city where we spent 2 days seeing the sights and stopping at bakeries, breweries, ice cream shops and restaurants along the way (not necessarily in that order). The brick-lined streets near the Statehouse and over to Prince George St and the Academy were very cool! The entire city waterfront is literally lined with marinas and boats (mostly sailing vessels) and the Bay is dotted with dozens of white sails on evenings and weekends. 

After dodging a vast field of sailboats on Saturday morning, our last full day on the Bay was spent crossing to Rock Hall on the western shore. We explored this small community on foot after arrival and enjoyed a serene sunset over the water at dusk. Sunday we headed north and exited Chesapeake Bay by entering the C&D Canal, which took us to Delaware Bay, known for its wicked currents and choppy, sometimes dangerous waters.  But.. we traversed the 61 miles south under fair conditions and landed in Cape May NJ on the Atlantic coast. Who knew it was filled with  Victorian homes!   Up the NJ coastline is next and then on to NYC and the Hudson!

Sunset at Swan Creek (Rock Hall)