It has taken us a week to transit both the Oswego and Erie canals, starting in Oswego Canal Lock 08 in Oswego, NY and ending with the Erie Canal Lock 02 in Waterford, NY (check out our route here). Our pod of three boats have made forward progress every day, getting up early and throwing off dock lines just after the sun comes up. Although we weren’t always able to travel as a pod of three (boat issues were usually the culprit), we made sure to check in with each other via text or phone calls. We are looking after each other on the water, fixing boat issues once docked, sharing info and advice, discussing options of where to go and when to go. We have an easy group that works really well together and all of this is so much easier being part of a three-boat pod. It has been a joy.
As we were preparing for our journey, we received lots of great advice from friends and family. One of the ones that has resonated the most then and even more so now came from a Trident Yacht Club member. It was “It is a big journey but just remember that it is just a series of day trips”. Oh my gosh – Yes! They were comforting words to hear before we set off, making what laid before us appear far more familiar. I mean, we are very used to moving the boat from one place to another. This journey is just a bunch of those strung together 😊.
Now that we have headed out and have finished our first week, those words “just a series of day trips” have taken on a whole new meaning. Moving the boat every day is tiring - working through the locks (not always easy!), avoiding shoals and deadheads, fixing boat issues, planning, and lots of re-planning, and just being at the helm for 7 or 8 hours at a time. Every day. Yes, very tiring. But we are also gaining new skills and confidence as we move along and that is making each day that much easier than the day before. I mean, if you had told me that I would be responsible to step off Wild Horses and quickly tie her three dock lines (bow, mid-ship, stern) to a single bollard by myself while being pushed off the rough dock wall by wind and current, I would have said you were crazy. Yet, here we are. And it isn’t even a thing. Mike echoes this sediment. This morning he docked Wild Horses at the free dock in Waterford, NY. This wasn’t just a swing into the dock and throw the keys to the valet situation. No, the docks were immediately after we exited Lock 02 and they were crazy full. The only space available was rafting up to a barge or taking the space being vacated by a catamaran. The maneuver Mike needed to get Wild Horses into the catamaran space was a little like parallel parking a car...on ice...with bald tires. But he did it smoothly and then immediately got to work helping Sensai raft up (attach alongside) to us. With Brise rafting up to the Barge, we were set for our night’s accommodation. Certainly, all six of us are learning as we go and learning a lot. It is extremely rewarding. I am not sure I have said “I am so happy” so many times in my life. 😊
We have a bit of weather to work through over the next few days but soon we will be on the Hudson River, facing tides and current for the first time ever. Very shortly after that, we will be in the Catskills to have our mast re-stepped and Wild Horses will, once again, be a sailboat.
I was very much prepared to write a sweet little blog today about how easy our trip has been so far. Thursday’s blood pressure raising moments changed that. It was probably our toughest day so far.
But let me start at the beginning. Our three boat pod (Wild Horses, Sensai, Brise) stayed last night at a cute little marina in Ilion, NY. Our plan for this morning was for each boat to leave in succession at 0800, with Wild Horses leaving slightly later as we wanted to take advantage of the free pump out 😊.
Wild Horses was off the dock by 0830 and all started well except our alternator belt gave a bit of a squeal until it warmed up. Hmmmm, odd but we put it down to the cool 10 degree morning.
By 0845, Brise, one of our pod boats, was turned around and passing us as they returned to dock. Huh? As it turned out they had a blown engine impeller that needed replacing. No worries, Wild Horses continued on but with updates from Brise as they fixed their impeller.
Separated from our pod mates, we proceeded along the Erie Canal, and finally arrived at our first lock of the day (13th overall) at Lock 18. All went smoothly. Our crew of three have found a great system for managing the boat in the locks. We are now avoiding getting lock slime all over ourselves and the boat, while also keeping Wild Horses safely off the rough lock walls. Ocean’s job? Well, she sits on the bow and has great discussions with the lockmasters. She sure gets a lot of attention!
Next came Lock 17, this is the highest lift lock in the Erie Canal and is only one of two locks in North America where the entrance gate is lifted above the boater (the other one? Well, in our beloved Ottawa, Canada of course!). Even though Lock 17 was impressive, it was actually the lead up to the lock that got our hearts pumping. We had called the lockmaster upon arriving and were told that it would be a 30 minute wait. Uh-oh. The currents and wind were strong and keeping the boat steady wasn’t easy. We narrowly avoided drifting into a rock and finally ended up securing to a cement wall outside the lock. Whew! Compared to that, actually transiting the lock was easy!
After Lock 17, we started towards Lock 16 when the alternator belt began squealing once again. Ugh, the belt obviously needed tightening but we would have to wait until we could get to a dock to fix it. In the narrow Erie Canal, anchoring to fix such a problem is not an option. But the belt was definitely slipping quite a bit and really slowing down the engine. We needed a dock before we had a complete engine failure. The next possible place was 6 nautical miles away (about an hour) so we kept chugging along, holding our breath.
Now, in the Erie Canal, we are getting used to seeing very odd vessels, equipment, and dock-type setups so it didn’t cause us too much concern when we started to go alongside a vessel type apparatus that seemed to be dredging the canal way (i.e. getting rid of built of silt and mud). We went alongside the vessel with the intention to pass until, at the very last minute, one of the crew gave us a panicked “STOP” signal. Yikes! Their operation had strung a thick cable right across the canal way and Wild Horses was seconds from running over it. Thankfully, Mike quickly hit the boat in reverse and we….stopped…on a dime. Wow. A few minutes later the dredging crew had removed their cable and Wild Horses was, again, on the move.
We finally made it to Lock 16 and secured ourselves to a wall so Mike could fix the alternator belt. Brise caught up with us and docked on the same wall. Their impeller was fixed but they also had an exhausting day avoiding hazards and dealing with boat problems. We are spending the night here, just before the lock. Engines will be fired up at 0730 tomorrow morning as we hope to make Amsterdam, NY before the locks close at 5pm.
What to know exactly where we are? You can find where we have been and where we are going right here. Click the "view all tracks" in the top right hand corner of the map to see our whole route so far.
We have always known that living on a sailboat would mean that weather would dictate our schedule. What we didn’t realize is that weather is only one of a gazillion variables that affect how our day actually unfolds. The others? Boat issues, surprise changes with marinas, and boat traffic are just a few of the things affecting our first few days.
Variable 1 – our mast de-stepping day was surprisingly moved up a day by Oswego Marina. They never step masts on a Sunday but they had a lot of boats on their list for early in the week so slotted all three boats in our pod to get the masts stepped today. We got the news yesterday morning and hightailed it to Oswego Marina from Henderson Bay by mid-afternoon so that we would have enough time to prep the masts for de-stepping. It was a slog. The 20 knot wind was at our noses, meaning lots bucking through of 4 foot waves crashing over our bow for several hours.
Mast stepping this morning went extremely well due to the crazy expertise knowledge of the Oswego Marina staff. It was an early morning start though. All crew was up and at ‘em by 0700. The good news? We are now officially canal ready with our mast securely set on deck.
Variable 2 – Sensai’s engine failure in our first lock. Yikes! We all went into the lock together and learned the ropes of lock management. It was a lesson! The ropes were slimy, we had to fend ourselves off the wall as the current of the “up” locks swirled us around. Exiting the lock we got a call from Sensai that their engine was overheating. The decision was for us to go ahead while they resolved their engine issue. We got through 4 locks today, learning on each one. Now we are comfortably docked, showered, bellies full and, well, we may or may not have an alcoholic beverage in hand 😊.
Variable 3 – Boat traffic. Or, rather, the absence of it. We are apparently a week ahead of the “rush” so we are finding that the locks are so far just our little pod. Yeah!
Tomorrow will we head for Brewerton, NY, at the mouth of Lake Oneida. If the forecast of light winds for Lake Oneida holds for Tuesday, we will cross the lake.
Oh, and Sensai? Their engine got fixed by 4pm today. They intend to meet us in Brewerton. Yay!!
Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.