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)

Cruising to MM 0 and Beyond

Oriental, the sailing capital of NC, was our next stop after Beaufort. A great small town with a pleasant waterfront park for watching sailboats on the bay, a friendly local brewery and one of the best marine provisioning stores we’ve seen anywhere, regardless of the surly clerk! Plus, Blackbeard, the pirate shrimp boat was docked just a few yards away.

Then on to several more small marinas leading north to Abermarle Sound. Our decision to traverse the Great Dismal Swamp (GDS) enroute to Norfolk/Portsmouth VA (MM 0 and the end of the Atlantic ICW), meant we had a slightly shorter crossing of the Sound. But we still got rolled around pretty hard over the 16 miles to Elizabeth City. There was some slam-banging down below as we drove the boat from the upper helm. It was too rough to immediately investigate, but we later found that the microwave had flown off a shelf and hit the floor! Could’ve been worse. It was a relief to tie up at the free docks (no electric or water) in Elizabeth City, have lunch and visit the Abermarle Sound Museum before heading on to a small marina a little farther upriver to “plug in the AC” and get an early start to the lock where we would enter the GDS in the morning. In addition to the history and early inhabitants on the Sound, we learned about the important role that several blimps, housed in a hangar just south of Elizabeth City, had in reducing human and boat casualties along the Carolina coastline from German U-boats in WWII.

Elizabeth City Blimp Hangar, 20 stories tall and 1000 Ft wide, one of the few remaining in the US from WWII
Sunset from Belhaven Marina north of Oriental

Started at daylight to make 15 miles to South Mills Lock as it only opens 4X daily. We initially hesitated to go through the GDS because of a recent explosion of duckweed, an aquatic plant that can clog the water intake that cools your boat engine and cause engine overheating. But it was a windy day and previous communication with the lock master and GDS staff said it seemed to be thinning and blowing off to the sides. Indeed it was! We traveled through a few long patches, but most of it was hugging the sides. It was a peaceful relaxing day with no other boats around. Stopped for a walk and exhibits at the Visitor Center and made it to the Deep Creek lock at the north end of the Swamp with plenty of time to travel the last 10 miles to the bustling harbor and shipyards in Norfolk/Portsmouth by late afternoon. What a transition!

Early morning start to the lock
Peaceful, cypress and cedar swamp
Just this for 22 miles…with lots of bird song and dozens of ospreys too!
Then this 5 miles north of the lock!
Multiple cranes for off-loading cargo ships
Aircraft carrier in the Naval shipyards

After 2 days of exploring both Portsmouth and Norfolk on foot with the aid of a very cool free ferry that crosses the river every 15 minutes, we started our journey up Chesapeake Bay. First stop Yorktown. Lots of history and a neat 3-masted schooner across the dock, but also lots of tourists and summer heat. So north we went the following day to the Deltaville Marina, a wonderful stop with an on-site oyster bar and crab hush puppies that are heavenly. Stayed 2 nights due to high winds on the Bay, but hope to head out to Tangier Island in the middle of the Bay tomorrow. We’ll be up early watching the weather. And hoping to spot more species of jellyfish, which are abundant in the Chesapeake!

Jellies next to tis Grand in Yorktown
Zeke made some friends in Portsmouth
Gorgeous life-size glass art in a Norfolk gallery
Zeke asking to go back to the boat so he can rest in the AC-cooled bdrm