Welcome back to the account of Nine Lives and her Great Loop Voyage!
We left off the story in September, 2018, after leaving Nine Lives in Brewerton, New York. She spent the winter snoozing in heated, climate controlled, indoor storage while her crew did some travelling and even spent a few weeks at home in Hilton Head.
During the winter, the excellent team at Winter Harbor performed various expected maintenance and upgrade operations, as well as one or two additional, somewhat unexpected repairs. We had a major engine overhaul and added several new gauges and alarms. We now are able to tell that the solar panels are doing their job and charging the batteries, and we have alarms to show exhaust temperature heat, a faster indicator of trouble than engine temperature. New house and generator batteries were installed. Now the lighting in the cabin is brighter, the icemaker does not turn off the chart-plotter when we are underway, and we can stop overnight without shore-power and still have enough battery charge to make coffee in the morning! New strainers were added to the air conditioning system that allow us to put in chlorine tablets. These will stop marine growth inside the coils of the water-cooled system, and presumably improve the operation of the AC. The anchor up/down switches that had stopped working were replaced, as were the underwater LED lights.
There were also some cosmetic and not-so cosmetic repairs required. Last summer, thanks to a nasty cross current and a badly sited protrusion on a fuel dock we put a small hole in the side of one pontoon, fortunately above the waterline. Some good strong white tape kept water from splashing in, and the repair was scheduled for the winter. When the Winter Harbor team looked for the damage, we had done such a great job with the tape, that they couldn’t find it at first! Instead they discovered a much bigger hole, below the waterline. When Nine Lives was built, the original owner added so much extra electronics and other features, that it was decided to add extra flotation to the pontoons. This consists of a large tube down the side of each pontoon. In the starboard flotation tube was a large hole, and the flotation tube was carrying 15 gallons of water inside. Dick remembers noticing that there were some performance changes last year, slightly higher fuel consumption and minor handling differences. No wonder, carrying around all that extra water!
Last but not least, a new ice maker was installed, as the old one was no longer working properly.
Repairs complete, Nine Lives was put back into the water at the end of May, and was pronounced ready to go after a successful sea trial. Her crew left Hilton Head on May 31st, and arrived in Brewerton on the 1st of June.
Various preparations were needed before we could set off. Dick changes the oil and fuel filters himself. This is a good way to observe exactly what goes on with the engines, and if a boater is able to do the job himself it is much better, as well as saving a whole lot of boat bucks! We also clean the fresh water tanks ourselves. This means adding bleach to the tanks, running it through the system and then leaving it to sit overnight. Next day needs two complete fills and empties to get all the bleach out of the system, and finally the Seagull filter (that filters bacteria as well as impurities out of the drinking water tap and the ice maker feed) is replaced. Cleaning the fresh water tank annually and always filling with our own hose ensures that we can safely use the water on the boat just as we would the water from the taps at home. My job was to put everything away, make beds and organize the pantry, and prepare the provisioning (grocery) list. I also spend a few hours making up little bags of cloves, using sacks designed for making your own teabags. These little bags are distributed in all the pantry cupboards, and are intended to discourage ants. I read about this on a sailing blog, and have done this each year, replacing the bags roughly every 6 weeks. So far so good, and knock on wood.
At last we were ready to set off on Tuesday June 4th. We had an easy few hours on the Erie Canal, passing through two locks, and retracing our trip from last autumn to Baldwinsville. We were pleased to find that our locking and docking skills had not deteriorated from disuse over the winter! We like Baldwinsville, and particularly enjoyed a second visit to the restaurant called “The Chef and The Cook”. It is an interesting place, with two sides to its regularly changing menu. The cook’s side offers somewhat more familiar, although still quite innovative dishes, while the chef tends to be quite experimental. Dick particularly enjoyed his unusual appetizer, carrots prepared in 5 different ways with a small piece of roasted pork belly.
June 5th took us into new territory, as we followed the Erie Canal west to the Cayuga Seneca Canal and then headed south. There are beautiful homes lining the Erie Canal for some miles west of Baldwinsville, many with extensive landscaping and interesting dock facilities. The Cayuga Seneca Canal connects the Erie Canal with Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, allowing industries on the shores of both lakes plus Seneca Falls and Waterloo to have access to the Erie Canal and ultimately to Lake Ontario, or even the Atlantic ocean via the Hudson River. Begun in 1813, added to and improved through the rest of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the canal carried goods as wide ranging as flour, potash, pork, whiskey, lumber, and wool.
As we passed through the extensive lands of the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, that encompasses part of the Erie Canal and the first few miles of the Cayuga Seneca Canal, we were surprised to see a huge brown bird fly overhead. It looked just like a juvenile bald eagle! A little google research proved us right. There are at least 6 occupied bald eagle nests in the Refuge, and a number of juveniles remain in the area. Altogether we saw 3 juveniles and 4 adults on the two days we travelled through the Reserve.
We spent the night tied to the wall below Lock 1. The next morning, we set off south, hugging the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. The shore is lined with cottages of all vintages and sizes, ranging from tiny cabins to large mansions (and the occasional glimpse of one of the area’s wineries). Many of these cottages are built on the cliffs above the shoreline. Often all we could see was an impossibly long staircase disappearing into the trees. Having been part of the “cottage country” lifestyle as a teenager, and knowing just how much of a pain it is to carry all your provisions up and down a steep hill to and from the water, I looked at these stairs without envy!
Summer has only just arrived here in northern New York State. Lockkeepers and fellow boaters commented that this was the first nice weather of the year, and we could see many boats still shrink wrapped and out of the water in the various marinas we passed. Even some of the trees have clearly only just leafed out. However, this means that temperatures are pleasant, and we are enjoying cool nights and no need to run the AC.
Near the southern end of the lake we passed a huge mine. Cargill owns the controversial salt mine, situated at the edge of the lake and tunnelling deep under the centre of the lake. The first mine was built in 1915, but was unsuccessful and shut down. In 1921 a deeper shaft was sunk (2000 feet) and produced commercial grade salt. The mine was purchased by Cargill in 1970. Salt is produced mainly for the road de-icing business, with some also for residential de-icing. The 7 mile long shaft produces 2 million tons of raw salt a year. When Cargill decided to drill a new 2500 foot shaft, a lawsuit was filed to halt the initiative, suggesting that the mine has an adverse effect on the salinity of the lake. The lawsuit was filed in 2017, and is still awaiting a court decision. Meanwhile, Cargill continues its preparations for the new shaft, that has already received approval from the Department of Environmental Conservation. The mine employs 200 workers, and contributes millions to the local and state economy.
On our travels around the country, we have commented many times on how it is clear that towns that once thrived are now barely holding on. Industries that once anchored the towns and villages have shut down or moved away, family farms are closed, and there is not enough population to sustain local businesses. A lawsuit that holds up a commercial initiative, even though it has already been approved, is a common theme for so many industries, and has to contribute to the many corporate decisions to simply abandon long established factories in favour of more commercially friendly locations. I shall now step down off my soapbox.
We arrived in Ithaca, at the south end of the lake, in early afternoon. Multiple attempts had been made to make a reservation at the large, State-run marina, without success. Given that it was a weekday and very early in the season, we thought we would just take a chance and show up, and if necessary, anchor somewhere if there was no room for us. Fortunately, an empty T-head presented itself, because we soon realized that all the slips designated for transient (visiting) boaters had an inconvenient post in the middle of each slip, limiting the accommodation to boats of less than 15 feet beam. We met the dockmaster, who told us she knew the dock we were on was available that night and we were fine to stay. She also explained that she has to be out on the docks all day, rather than in the office, and does not answer the phone, allow or return messages, and does not have a radio to communicate with boaters. While we were there, I watched her replace 3 old boards in the dock. Clearly, New York State has decided that the extensive and well-built marina needs only a single employee as a jack-of-all-trades. I can only imagine the chaos in busy summer months.
Ithaca is a nice town, we know from our visit by car last autumn, but it is all but impossible for boaters. The area is too hilly for bicycles, and the town centre is a long way from any docking facilities. The one riverside restaurant is far enough away that we needed to ride bicycles rather than walk, and while they do have their own dock there doesn’t seem to be any way of using it. So we were fine with just spending the one night there.
There is a tourist boat docked in the marina, and I watched as a large tourist bus decanted about 30 Amish tourists. All the women wore the typical white bonnets and long dresses, while many of the men sported beards of varying lengths. I don’t know enough about the Amish people to understand why they use horse and buggy for personal travel, rowboats without motors for fishing, and yet travel in large coaches and cruise on sightseeing boats. Something to research some rainy day perhaps.
On June 7th we travelled north, hugging the western shore of Cauyga Lake. We passed Sheldrake Point, a very pretty part of the lake with some lovely old homes, working farms and a winery. I was particularly interested because my father’s Yorkshire mother was a Sheldrake, and it is a relatively unusual family name.
After turning back into the Cayuga Seneca Canal, we arrived at Seneca Falls and docked on its very boater friendly town wall. There is a long wall with power pedestals and good cleats on both sides of the canal, with sections of lower floating dock to allow for smaller boats, while larger craft are made welcome on the higher walls. The boater facilities include excellent showers and toilets, and even laundry facilities. Such a contrast to other towns, that could equally make boaters welcome and yet allow their docks to become derelict, or fill them up with commercial tour boats.
We liked Seneca Falls. This is clearly a town that is making efforts to improve the downtown and attract tourism, in spite of losing local industry. Goulds Pumps, founded in 1848, still maintains their headquarters in the town, but the Seneca Falls Knitting Mill has shut down. Situated in a beautiful old limestone building on the canal shore, the knitting mill opened in 1844, making socks until 1999. The company held the last two patents for socks in the US, but the owner decided to sell the patents to a German company, and the business has gone to Europe. Fortunately, the historic building is gaining a new lease on life as the new home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. It is a good fit for the town, which is known as “The Birthplace of Women’s Rights”.
On July 19 and 20, 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention was held. Its purpose was “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” It is considered by many to be the event that triggered and solidified the Women’s Rights movement in America. One should note that the Suffragette Movement in Britain was founded in 1903, more than 50 years later. Seneca Falls is now the home of the Women’s Rights National Historic Park. The Wesleyan Chapel, where the Convention was held, has been restored, a visitor centre is situated next door, and two of the homes of the organizers of the Convention are all part of the Park.
The next day, Saturday, we followed the Canal to the head of Seneca Lake. The last four bridges crossing over the canal before it joins the Lake, were, shall we say, interesting. The final one is nominally 17.3 feet above the water, and we had already lowered our antennas in anticipation, but given the high water the whole area is experiencing, we decided I should stand outside and we would approach very slowly, ready to back off if necessary. The first 3 were quite close, but as we passed under the rusty girders of the last one, I could see just inches above our radar array. Our air draft is 14.5 feet, and we should be a little lower with a nearly full load of fuel, but I certainly would not have wanted to pass under that bridge in choppy water. A lockkeeper later told us that the canal has been raised 6”, and the lake a full foot.
Travelling close to the eastern shore of Seneca Lake we could see lots of cottages and homes of all sizes and ages. Eventually we arrived in Watkins Glen, after carefully dodging a sailboat race. The T-head had been reserved for us, but it was already partly occupied by one of the many speedboats that were out and about on the first nice day of summer. Apparently, the owner felt that the “Reserved” sign did not apply. Fortunately, our docking skills (and no wind to speak of) stood us in good stead and we successfully docked without crunching him.
The friendly boating facility in Watkins Glen is an example of how to get it right. There are lots of transient slips of all sizes, and a lively restaurant right at the marina. Boaters are free to come in and tie up while visiting the town or the restaurant, and are only asked to pay if they want to stay overnight.
Saturday evening, we entertained our first visitors of 2019. Bill and Louise Wirz joined us for drinks and chat on the boat, and later we went for dinner at one of Watkins Glen’s nicer restaurants. Bill was a colleague of Dick’s from Dresser Rand, so there was much reminiscing, and of course shaking of heads about the direction the company has taken since Dick retired. Bill is newly retired, and is easing into the new lifestyle, keeping busy with Habitat for Humanity and other pursuits while his wife continues working for another year. It was a most enjoyable evening.
We had intended to leave Watkins Glen on Monday, but the weather forecast was not good, so we stayed an extra day. As we did last year, we try to stay in a marina on weekends, in order to avoid all the mad boaters who get out on the water and tear around, waking everybody and just generally being a nuisance! Tuesday morning, we headed north, following the western shore, hoping to stop overnight in Geneva.
Watkins Glen is home to two salt producing operations. In the town, Cargill operates a refinery that is a brine operation (as opposed to a mine). Steam is introduced into two wells, creating a brine that is then pumped up and processed into products including granulated salt for food, water conditioning pellets, and agricultural salt. Just north of the town is another brine operation operated by US Salt. This taps into a brine well 1500 feet below the surface, discovered in 1882.
On arrival in Geneva it was clear that the negative reviews we had read about their dockage were quite accurate. Although there are quite a few spaces on floating docks behind a breakwater, the docks are very short, with space for only one large boat such as ours. That space was already occupied, so we turned around and headed back to Seneca Falls. And town fathers wonder why they cannot attract enough tourists even though they ignore the opportunities from boaters!
In Seneca Falls we were reminded again of how unusual Nine Lives is. People comment and ask questions as they go by. It is very interesting to notice how different are the reactions of men versus women. Men get quite excited by the boat, and will call out across the water, “What a great boat!” Women, on the other hand, are interested in the name, and I hear them pointing out the name to each other “Nine Lives, Nine Lives”. This month, all the women seem to be getting quite excited by the dinghy. I hear comments, “Oh and look, a little boat!” Two women who stopped to chat about our boat and our voyage were more interested in Minnie (the dinghy), wanting to know what we would do with the little boat. Of course, we love answering any and all questions and I am sure Nine Lives bobs up and down with pleasure when she hears all the compliments.
As we made our way back to Baldwinsville the next day, I was able to sit out front with my camera and big lens and watch for eagles and other interesting wildlife as we passed through Montezuma NWR. In addition to the eagles, we saw other raptors including osprey, a small hawk, and a group of vultures.
We passed the ruins of the Seneca River Aqueduct. Opened in 1857, the second longest aqueduct on the system carried the original canal over the Seneca and Clyde Rivers. It was dynamited in 1910 to make room for large barges to pass on the Erie Barge Canal. It was 840 feet long, with 30 piers and 31 stone arches. The ruin is an impressive sight.
In Baldwinsville we were delighted to entertain our second visitor of the season. Barbara Kubiak is a wonderful photographer who I met many years ago when we lived in Olean. Her family is from Baldwinsville, so she was willing to make the 3 hour drive to get together with us. I showed her my pictures of eagles and songbirds from Alaska, and she shared her images of Cuba with me. A most enjoyable afternoon, followed by dinner in one of Baldwinsville’s many restaurants.
We left Baldwinsville on Thursday morning very early, hoping to dodge the raindrops, but with a total of 8 locks to transit we did get quite wet. We are tied up to the free wall in Oswego, fortunately above the last of 3 locks, because as I write this (Friday) there is a big windstorm. Wind coming up the river, against a strong current from all the rain going down the river, has made for some really heavy chop at the dock below the last lock. Dick was just there, and reported that the big boat we saw pass us earlier is bouncing up and down. We don’t envy those aboard. The only downside of our free dock is that there is no water or power. Fortunately, we can run the generator to get the hot water tank up for showers, and the solar panels are at last doing their job and charging the batteries for much of what we need. Cool weather means no need for air conditioning, which is the biggest power draw.
(Saturday) We are watching the weather closely, and expect to be able to leave tomorrow morning with light winds and calm seas on Lake Ontario. Yesterday afternoon we were joined on the wall by two other Looper boats. An invitation to join us on Nine Lives for drinks and chat was well received and we enjoyed a convivial couple of hours swapping stories. We have an app that lets us see where other Loopers are, and could see that at least 10 boats were staging themselves on the canal well south of Oswego. This morning the news came that there are two major problems at Phoenix, and the canal is closed indefinitely. As I said to Dick, when you can see the good weather coming, doesn’t it make good sense to get as close as possible, rather than hanging back and counting on there being no issues with the canal! We had thought to see a big group arrive today, but at this point it looks as though there will be just two other boats at most joining us here in Oswego.
I wrote fairly comprehensively about the interesting and historic town of Oswego when we were last here in 2017, so I won’t repeat it all again. Enough to mention that it is an important and historic port town, situated as it is on the shores of Lake Ontario. There is a marine museum with a WWII tug, restored Fort Ontario, and some interesting shops and restaurants. The commercial port is still active, although small by modern standards. It is the first large American port city west of the St Lawrence River. Over one million tons of goods are still shipped from the port.
Tomorrow Nine Lives will be on the move again, heading for eastern Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands, and then on to Canada and eventually the Trent Severn Canal.