The last couple of days have been interesting! Part of being successful on the Loop (or probably any extended boat voyage) is being flexible and being able to pivot as information and circumstances change your impression of your destination and its path.
Our original intent was to go up and around Nova Scotia, into the St. Lawrence Seaway and down into the Great Lakes System. Some challenging experiences in the open ocean and some reading about the black fog that frequently descends on the Nova Scotia area plus time considerations influenced us to reconsider this route, leaving us a choice between the Erie Canal or the Lake Champlain Canal.
Having studied both routes, we decided to go the Champlain Canal route. Fortunately for us, in observation of the New York State Canal System’s 100th anniversary, all lock fees for recreational vessels are waived for 2018 which make this decision even more attractive, as do the many small towns along this scenic waterway that offer free wall dockage, power and water.
We left Half Moon Bay and a few hours later were in Rondout Creek which is a suburb of Kingston, NY. It has a wonderful maritime museum with exhibits covering the history of the Hudson River. All of it was interesting but the most unique thing, to me, was the history of ice-yachting (more here: https://tinyurl.com/ydy95twq). These incredible wooden craft were built to sail over the surface of the frozen river at amazing speeds, sometimes even up on one pontoon-looking skate. Now they are built of alloys that lighten them considerably and allow even greater speeds but they lose some of the romance at the same time.
This sport reminds me of my dad, who was over six feet tall. One winter he built a dad-sized, aluminum framed kite, which he would hold by its cross members and sail, with my skates between his, and me hanging on to his knees for dear life as we whizzed, at break-neck speeds, across the frozen lake near our home, our black lab slipping and sliding as she tried valiantly to keep pace. While memories of ice sports are great, I still prefer the sun and sand to the snow and ice!
We had a few Looper boats with us at Rondout and had a great time sharing stories. Some of us have chosen the Erie route and others of us have chosen the Champlain route. The only iffy thing about the Champlain for us is that according to our boat’s prior owner, our air draft was 17.5’ hard and there are a couple of bridges where the lockmaster can lower the pan to 17’ but that’s it. There is zero wiggle room if you are any higher than 17’, unless you want to start shaving off radar, pieces of hard top or antennas. (We did get under the lowest bridge but it was still pretty harrowing!)
As we looked at our neighbor’s boat, we commented that his boat looked taller than ours and he had to make the low bridge also. Long story short, we both re-measured our heights with a tape measure and our boat was actually 16’9” tall with his falling slightly under the 17’ mark. We all heaved a sigh of relief because this meant we could each travel the route we wanted to and safely navigate all the potential obstacles.
Leaving Rondout, we traveled up the Hudson river to the town of Castleton on Hudson where we picked up a mooring ball (our boat looks really pretty against a pine backdrop – very different than the sandy beaches she’s used to!).
We dinghied to shore to catch an Uber into Albany, the capitol of NY. We had a fabulous time on a self-guided walking tour. It is a pretty little city that is blending old and new with great success. We visited old churches, one of which had imported Italian craftsmen to paint the frescoes on their sanctuary walls with gold leaf and beautiful paintings.
Saint Mary’s in Albany
We shot to the top of the Corning Tower, walked onto the 42 story observation deck where we could see for miles in all directions. Returning to earth, we walked the Empire Plaza, where the “Egg” is undergoing some kind of renovation. This plaza is an amazing place, where concerts happen on weekends and food trucks make a living during the week. The perimeter and corners are landscaped to give respite to people who work in the city. There are memorials tucked into secret gardens and shady places to rest, eat and get away from the hustle-bustle of the city.
It was a lovely afternoon and after a quick stop for beer and pizza at The City Brewing Company, we returned to our Boat Club to sit and listen to the locals riff, for our benefit, about creating smokers out of 250 gallon oil drums. According to one guy “diesel chicken” is the culinary delight produced by this creation but the other guy claimed to have made a smoker this way and sold it for enough money to keep himself in beer for a long time! We laughed until we cried!
We got an early start yesterday, as we planned to cover a lot of miles. South of Albany, we passed the site where the tug and barges had delivered the newly deconstructed spans of the Tappan Zee bridge (we had seen these spans sitting on barges when we went under the Tappan Zee on Father’s Day). We passed a scrap metal yard here so perhaps the spans will be recycled to live on in newer construction of some sort.
We passed Albany and then Troy and then we were in the lock system. The locks are rising locks on this section of the river and canal system. We went through three locks, ascending a total of 42 feet without incident.
Entering a cavernous, concrete box, one must figure out how it is configured and adapt on the fly (although we had a pretty good idea from our waterway guides what we would face at each one) to grab lines that hang from the tops of the walls or sling a line amidships around a cable or a pipe and sometimes all of the above were the required protocol.
We did fine in spite of a couple of crusty lock masters and the drizzle that spit on and off all day and were happy to get to the wall at Mechanicville, where we tied up, changed into dry clothes and basically stayed out of the weather for the night.
This morning dawned overcast and gray but we were ready to go as soon as Lock C3 opened at 7AM. We spent the day going from one lock to the next and ascending another 120 feet before getting to lock 9 where we began our descent. It was relatively simple and much quicker than we had anticipated because we started early in the day and we are still early in the season as well. Each lock master called ahead to the next so that most of the locks were open and waiting for us, which was really efficient. We only had to pull over after one lock and wait to allow a tug and barge to pass into the lock.
As we came out of lock 7, it was if we had entered a different county. The trees changed from a lot of maples, oaks and sycamores to stands of majestic pines, with Hemlocks dripping down over an ever-narrowing canal.
This was the man-made portion of the canal which connects the Hudson with Lake Champlain.
Interesting scenery including a curious cow we named “Oreo!”
It is quite narrow and runs through rolling farm country and forests after turning north from the Saratoga battlefield and monument (a mini-Washington monument). It is lush and green and very, very peaceful and we enjoyed the cruise, only seeing maybe 3 or 4 other boats.
We are anchored on the town wall in Whitehall a once prosperous village that is now almost a ghost town. Its claim to fame is that this is where the US Navy was born. This credit was bestowed on the town because the timber and craftsmen for the first US ships, commissioned under Benedict Arnold, came from right here. They fought the British at Valcour Island in Lake Champlain (we hope to see this later next week). Whitehall is also the midpoint between NYC and Montreal and so we are excited to begin this leg of our journey.
We have only one lock to go tomorrow, descending 15 feet for a total descent from lock 8 of 44 feet. We will enter Lake Champlain, hit our 11th state and explore the coastal towns for the next week. From there we will move on to Canada, just missing Canada Day there and 4th of July here.