We left Delaware City early in the morning, part of a mini-convoy of 5 boats. The group soon split up, partly because we travel at different speeds. Dick and I followed the excellent advice of the harbourmaster in Delaware City and navigated Delaware Bay on a route that took us carefully southbound until a certain point and then on a direct line towards the canal at Cape May, New Jersey. We could hear the conversations of the two boats following us. One captain chose to ignore the advice and angled off towards Cape May Canal much earlier. After questioning, the boat following took the same line. We could tell from the conversation (and we could see for ourselves from the swells) that both of those boats had a most uncomfortable ride, while we were smooth for the whole trip. It was an interesting lesson, going in convoy or as “buddies” may not always be a good thing, sometimes a strong-willed captain may make a poor decision and take the whole group with him.
Cape May is very pretty, with houses built right out over the harbour and painted in ice cream colours. We passed the famous Lobster House. Tied up below their deck was a paddleboard with an enormous Golden Retriever asleep on it, waiting for the master to return from his meal. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture, he was a lovely dog.
We decided after reading reports from the forum that since we only draw 3 feet, we would chance the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway, which is notoriously shallow and seldom dredged. It is possible that I made a poor decision and persuaded Dick to take on a full load of fuel before we set off. So, we probably drew more like 4 feet. We ran aground 4 times. No, correct that, on 4 occasions the earth impeded the operation of our propellers and forward motion was temporarily halted… Fortunately we are a catamaran, and our props are a long way apart. Dick was able to twist and turn and eventually wriggle free each time. The route is incredibly beautiful and the small towns you pass through are interesting, but the whole trip to Ocean City was so stressful I didn’t even think about pictures. The next morning we checked wind and currents and decided to “go outside”, that is, travel on the ocean about 3 miles from shore. All day we could hear boats that had taken the ICW calling for towing companies, having run aground and been unable to free themselves, so we were happy with our decision.
Our next port of call was Shark River, where we again had to spend a few days waiting for the right wind and currents before we could continue our journey. It is quite a nice small town, full of friendly folks who all seem to be keen fishermen. It is also commuting distance from New York, so the newly opened marina restaurant was hopping every evening with twenty-somethings out to see and be seen. The noise was incredible, but the food was good.
Eventually the conditions were right, and we set off early in the morning for Sandy Hook and New York Harbor. The seas were very smooth, and we were able to push up our speed (and use 4 times the fuel) and make the first part of the run in time to catch the perfect incoming tide for passing through New York and up into the Hudson River. New York is amazingly busy, there are ferries everywhere. They throw huge wakes, as do the FDNY (Fire Department) vessels that seem to need to hurry past as close to unfortunate pleasure boats like ours as they can. We were lucky that there were very few freighters that morning. We passed under the Verrazano Narrows bridge. I have driven over it quite a few times, but this was a different view! Same again when we reached the Tappan Zee Bridge. I always felt I had at last left New York and was on my way home when I used to live on Long Island and commute weekly to Painted Post.
The Hudson River is very interesting. Near to New York there are lots of very beautiful homes, and as you get further from the commuting towns, you come into the Catskill Region, and yet more beautiful estates. West Point is an enormous campus. We were amused by “Sink Navy” painted in huge letters on the roof of the sports stadium.
Travelling up the Hudson you see evidence of industry that is long gone. One town we passed was once the site of over 100 factories, all gone now, or only derelict buildings left. There is still quite a lot of freight passing up and down the river, including big tankers, cargo ships, and many barges, sometimes as many as four linked together, filled with sand or gravel and pushed by a tug. There are some very pretty lighthouses. Seven of the original 14 lighthouses that were built after the opening of the Erie Canal are still in existence and carefully preserved. Esopus Lighthouse is called “The Maid of the Meadow”, and is the last of the wooden lighthouses on the river. Rondout Lighthouse was built in 1915, is still active, and can be visited.
Kingston, NY, has an “old town” that was once the thriving port of Rondout. This was the terminus of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, now defunct, but what a huge savings in time and effort there would have been in its heyday. Rondout was also a centre of shipbuilding, and the old buildings on the waterfront have been restored and a very pleasant promenade built along the remains of the old canal. We spent the night tied up at the Marine Museum. They have various exhibits, including sheds for building and restoring wooden boats. Tied up near us was a wooden tall ship that we were told was built for Pete Seeger, who was active in a campaign to clean up the very polluted waters of the Hudson. The museum is quite popular, and I was amused when one visitor took a great deal of interest in Nine Lives. He actually undid a barrier and walked out onto the dock to take a closer look… I wondered whether he was going to step aboard in the mistaken belief that we were part of the exhibits!
We spent a night at the Yacht Club in Albany. We happened to be there on a Wednesday, and joined their “happy hour”. In addition to generously poured and amazingly inexpensive adult beverages, for $5. you can have all you can eat of grilled chicken, sausages, pasta, salads, potatoes, and various accompaniments!
We turned out of the Hudson and into the Erie Canal. The first section going west is a flight of 5 locks spaced very closely together. If we were feeling a bit rusty when we started we were well reminded once we were through! Most of the locks on the canal lift about 20 feet each time. They are very large, and it takes both of us to hold Nine Lives in place as the water rushes in. Sometimes there is a pipe you can put a line around and the line moves up the pipe as the lock fills, but more often there are just ropes dangling down that you have to hold onto. Needless to say, they are wet, slippery and very dirty. Add to that we have to keep pushing the boat off the sides of the lock to avoid ripping the fenders off, and you finish the day exhausted and dirty. Not to mention the boat is also filthy!
At Scotia Landing we saw a lot of preparations going on the various 4th of July celebrations. When we returned from dinner in a nearby restaurant we were surprised to see that the water skiing exhibition was being held that evening. Unfortunately, we had missed most of it, but we caught the last two or three runs.
The little town of Canajoharie turned out to be a fun evening. We tied up to the town wall and saw that there were several other boats already there. It turned out they were also “loopers”, and we all crowded aboard one of them for a convivial evening of drinks and stories. “Loopers”, what are they you ask? Members of the American Great Loop Cruisers Association fly a distinctive burgee(triangular flag) so they can recognize each other. They are all in various stages of travelling the Great Loop. Some might have finished and are going around again, some are just starting out, and everything in between. While we were socializing the rain pounded down, and when we came out to return to our boat there was a lovely rainbow across the canal. Little did we know that the rainbow was NOT a promise of fair weather to come!
The next morning we set off, somewhat surprised at how muddy the water had become and the strength of the current we were fighting. Our destination was Utica, just below lock 20. The other loopers stopped earlier, and we carried on to lock 19. As the water brought us up to the top of the lock, we seemed to get higher and higher, until it was just a few inches below the top. At that point, the lockmaster asked us to stop and tie up on the wall above the lock and not proceed any further that night. We could see the water roiling just ahead, coming out from a stream and carrying whole trees as well as logs and other debris. We spent two nights on that wall, joined the second by a sailboat. He had been tied up on the lower wall, which was right under a railway track and the noise was incredible. The lockmaster took pity on them and allowed them to come up to the top wall. First, a big sunken tree had to be moved away, it was completely blocking the lock doors. It had apparently been taken out and tied on the bank earlier in the year, but the heavy rain had washed it back into the canal. Dick took on the challenge of getting this incredibly heavy obstruction out of the way, helped by the captain of the sailboat. Together they managed to haul it back up onto the bank and secured it somewhat better this time. Appropriately, Dick was wearing the red t-shirt that says, “Keep calm and ask an engineer”.
Yesterday morning we watched workmen trying to clear the accumulated debris from the lock. Then, fortunately, we were allowed to proceed to Utica, at our own risk and only because there were no further locks between us and the town. Utica declared a state of emergency during the rain, with many of its streets under water. Another boat was at the dock that night, and was so concerned about the number of tree limbs hitting his boat that he took his family off to a hotel for the night, rather than risk being on board. I guess we were better off on the lock wall! We had a nice dinner at Delmonico’s last night, and now, here we wait. The section of the canal that we are on was expected to open this morning, but looking at the wind forecast for Lake Oneida, we decided to stay put. A good decision. The sailboat left this morning and a few hours later he returned, not able to get through even the first lock. At the moment, the whole canal from the Hudson River to just before the lake is shut, and then the further section of canal that leads to Oswego and Lake Ontario is also shut. The debris gets trapped in the lock doors and prevents them from opening and closing. Of course, it is not helped by it being July 4th! With luck, we will be able to carry on tomorrow, but meanwhile we are in a nice spot and at least here we have dockside electricity and water.