June 1 to 15, 2019. Brewerton to Oswego with a visit to the Finger Lakes

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!

boat repairs
A small oops, fortunately above the waterline!
boat repairs
The much bigger oops, that we knew nothing about!
boat repairs
That hole was carrying 15 gallons of water, fortunately not in the main part of the pontoon.

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.

preparation for voyage
Taking a look at all the wiring behind the TV. Who knew all that was back there!
preparation for voyage
Checking out the dinghy, making sure it starts.
preparation for voyage
In theory, these little bags of cloves discourage ants. They do make the cupboards smell nice.

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.

first night underway
Opening our traditional bottle of bubbly after our first day out.

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!

Cayuga Lake east side
Cliffs and a waterfall on the eastern side of Cayuga Lake

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.

Cayuga Lake east side salt mine
The huge and controversial Cargill salt mine complex on Cayuga Lake

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.

Fender Boards
Ithaca saw our first use of our new fender boards. These keep the boat from scraping on the dock when the construction has pilings on the outside of the dock.

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.

Ithaca tour boat
Tour boat with Amish visitors

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.

Cayuga Lake west Sheldrake Point
Pretty Sheldrake Point on the west side of Cayuga Lake

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.

Seneca Falls Nine Lives docked
Nine Lives on the boater friendly dock in Seneca Falls

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”.

Seneca Falls knitting mills
The beautiful limestone future home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame

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.

Seneca Falls Womens Rights Park
The restored Wesleyan Chapel where the Convention was held
Seneca Falls
Downtown Seneca Falls

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.

Watkins Glen marina
The busy and well run marina at Watkins Glen

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.

Watkins Glen
A historic building in downtown Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen
Downtown Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen
The World’s Smallest Diner!
Watkins Glen gorge
Dick hiked up the Gorge in Watkins Glen

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.

Seneca Lake salt plant
US Salt on Seneca Lake

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.

Seneca Falls sculpture trail
In addition to its many other attractions, Seneca Falls has an interesting sculpture trail.
Seneca Falls church
The beautiful Trinity Episcopal Church on the canal in Seneca Falls
Seneca Falls church
The Anglo Gothic architecture of Trinity Episcopal Church

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.

Seneca River Aqueduct ruins
Impressive ruins of the Seneca River Aqueduct

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.

Cleveland to Brewerton

September 5 to 16

Our second day in Cleveland was spend exploring the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  We both enjoyed the experience, although we were most interested in the songs and artists of our own generation.  I expect some people could spend days there, looking at memorabilia.  I found the clothes fascinating, it was hard to believe the performers were so small.  There were dresses belonging to Diana Ross and the Supremes, and they were tiny! The clothes worn by the giants of rock and roll, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and many more recent rockers, show that these men had to be well under 6 feet tall, and extremely thin by today’s standards. There was an excellent film with clips of Elvis Presley, and we also loved a 30 minute film of Dick Clark and American Bandstand.  In the evening we walked a little further into town for an outstanding meal at Blue Point Grille.

From Cleveland it was a long day, 100 miles, to Erie, Pennsylvania.  This year we made a conscious effort to reduce the distances we travelled each day, so a normal day has been 30 to 40 miles.  The weather was glorious, although hot, with a bright blue sky and a good forecast for wind and waves. With no rain in the forecast we replaced the side doors with the screens, which involves two large stiff zippers each side and one on top.  Just after lunch the clouds started to build up and the sky got dark.  We were caught in an afternoon thunderstorm with accompanying squall out on the water.  The rain lashed the boat from the side (of course it was the side I sit on) and the cushions, carpet, and my chair with me in it, got absolutely soaked.  Eventually I managed to undo the top zipper and secure my door at the top, but with the strong wind the only way it could even partly reduce the amount of rain coming in was for me to stand with my back to it and hold on.  Drenched doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.  Dick, from his dry seat at the helm, was highly amused.  The rain, low visibility, and choppy water were not the only matters for concern.  We had heard a securite announcement from a tow that he was headed into port with 3 loaded barges.  We could see his position on the chartplotter, but he didn’t seem to be moving, and we were headed directly for him.  Dick went well out into the lake to make sure we gave him plenty of room.  We were able to see through gaps in the rain as we passed that he was indeed stopped, repositioning the tow from the front of the barge train (pulling) to the rear (pushing it into port).  In due course the rain stopped, the waves settled down, and the sky was blue again.  The carpet took a while to dry though, and it was surprising how very dirty that rain was.

Erie is the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania, and its only major port on the Great Lakes.  As heavy industry and shipping have declined, health care, plastics, tourism, and service industries have taken their place.  The harbour was interesting, divided into several parts, with the one we were visiting requiring passage under an elevated walkway that connects the Sheraton Hotel with the Bayfront Convention Center.  Unfortunately, the harbour itself is still something of a work in progress, but in a few years it could be very pleasant.  There is a large maritime museum and library, and a 187 foot Bicentennial Tower along the waterfront.

Our next stop was Buffalo and a grateful goodbye to “big water” for this year.  We stayed at the marina that is closest to downtown, and once again were pleasantly surprised by the waterfront parks and development of what was once a very unattractive industrial port.  The marina is situated on a spit of land that also includes a waterfront park with attractive gardens, a lookout tower, and two restaurants.  From the marina it was easy access to an extensive network of cycle paths.  We rode our bikes through what looked to be a very interesting naval museum, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park.  There are a number of decommissioned ships, including a submarine, a cruiser, and a destroyer.  Further along the Buffalo River is the oldest active fireboat in the world.  The Edward M Cotter was built in 1900 and rebuilt in 1953.  In addition to being a fireboat, she is used as an icebreaker on the Buffalo River in winter. She has a colourful history, including being burnt out in 1928 while fighting a fire on a barge carrying 5,000 barrels of crude oil.  Rebuilt, she continued in service, and crossed Lake Erie in 1960 to help put out a fire in grain elevators in Port Colborne, Canada.  We only saw her at dock, but I gather she is a regular sight in Buffalo Harbor.

After a two night stop in Buffalo it was time to make our way into the Western Erie Canal. We had planned our usual 9am start, but we were delayed somewhat at the pump out dock by a very slow pump.  As it happened, that delay didn’t matter, because of limited service at the lock on the Black Rock Channel.  This three and a half mile channel parallels the Niagara River, and allows boats to avoid the strong current and rough waters of the river.  It was built as part of the Erie Canal, but somehow it is no longer part of the Canal and the lock is a Federally operated lock.  It is in need of refurbishing, so the operators have decided to limit openings, and while two different phone numbers are provided to call to get the schedule, neither of the lines are manned.  On arrival at the lock we found a sign that told us the first opening would be 11am, so we had to tie up and wait for over an hour.  As is his wont when there is any expected delay, Dick set off along the lock wall to investigate.  On his return, he met the lock keeper arriving for work, a surly individual who was not at all impressed with Dick’s friendly smile and told him in no uncertain terms that he was forbidden to be on the dock and to get back on that boat and stay there!

After exiting the Black Rock Channel, we were into the Niagara River, which was unpleasantly choppy until we turned into Tonawanda River.  Not the most attractive waterway we have been on, and even after making the turn into the Erie Canal proper, it was somewhat unprepossessing until we had passed through the double lock at Lockport.  The stretch between Lockport and Rochester is very pleasant, with small towns that are making the most of their waterfront and the opportunities for tourism.  There are many lift bridges, all freshly painted in soft green with contrasting bright yellow trim.  Most of the towns have free docking at the town walls, and many have installed power pedestals and shower facilities.  One of the lock keepers told Dick that she is employed full time, all year round.  During the winter when the canal is closed, they take apart and refurbish all the lock and bridge mechanisms.  She said her winters are spent “up to the elbows in grease!”  At each lock we were asked how far we planned to go that day, and the keepers called the next lock to tell them to expect us.

In Middleport we were joined for the evening by Wade Aiken, a talented photographer I met when we lived in Olean some years ago.  It was nice to catch up and hear about his extensive world travels and his photography.  The next day we travelled to Spencerport where we were met by another friend from the Olean Camera Club.  Barbara was not able to stop for a meal, but we had time for a chat and a cup of tea and hope for a longer visit, perhaps next year when we are in the Finger Lakes.

A frequent sight on the Erie Canal is English-inspired canal boats that appear to be a popular vacation.  The boats are a little wider than UK narrowboats, and generally shorter at a maximum of 43 feet, but they are driven by a traditional tiller at the stern, and they all look very clean and in good condition.  You can rent them from Midlakes Navigation, and they offer 3, 4, and 7 day rentals. We do not wish to be disloyal to Nine Lives, but we were intrigued by the possibilities!

Rochester is another city with an attractive downtown.  We turned off the Canal into the Genesee River, navigable almost to the city center.  We tied up at a good dock in Corn Hill Landing, a revitalized historic neighbourhood. The waterfront complex of rental apartments includes several restaurants, one of them is a very pleasant wine bar.  We walked over and each ordered a flight, sparkling for Dick, and rose for me.  To accompany we had a meat and cheese board, with fresh French bread, local honey, and grainy mustard.  It was a delightful way to spend an hour in the afternoon, particularly as we were planning an “eating up” evening of leftovers on the boat!

The next day Dick rode his bike through downtown to Lake Ontario.  He reports that Rochester is a very clean city with lots of parks and waterfront paths.  It is strange that a canal has never been cut to bypass the waterfalls in the river and allow access between the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario.  Apparently, it has been proposed many times, but so far nobody has found the money.

In the afternoon we took a rental car to Ithaca, and after a very nice meal in a French restaurant we went to a concert by Joan Baez.  What a remarkable woman she is.  She played straight through without an intermission (or a chair), and returned to sing three more songs for an encore.  It was a mix of old favourites and new material from her latest album.  Although she can no long sustain the high notes, at 77 years old, she is still an amazing performer, and we were very glad we were able to take the time to see her on what is expected to be her last tour. The theatre is also of historic and architectural interest.  The building, originally constructed in 1915, began as a garage and Studebaker showroom.  In 1926 it was transformed into a cinema and vaudeville palace.  The extravagant combination of Moorish and Gothic architecture is striking. After struggling for many years as a movie theatre that closed in the 1980’s, the building was condemned in 1997 and slated for demolition.  It was saved by strong community support and fundraising from both municipal and private donors, and has been operating as a concert theatre since 2001.

Returning to the boat at midnight, we planned a slightly later than usual departure, but my Rochester experience was not yet complete.  At just past 4am I became aware of footsteps and a slight rocking of the boat, as well as conversation from outside.  I got up and shouted at Dick to wake up.  No response.  Shouted again as I opened the hatch and went up to the cockpit to find the absolute cliché of a black man in a hoodie sitting on the boat.  I shouted at him “GET OFF”, and somewhat to my surprise, he did, with profuse apologies and compliments on the boat.  He told me it was such a beautiful boat he just wanted to try to get a picture of himself sitting on it.  His girlfriend on the dock also apologised and paid compliments.  As this was happening, Dick finally woke up, just long enough to understand what had happened, to hear the apologies, and know that his intervention was not required.  Then back to sleep he went, while I lay awake for hours getting over the shock!  Thinking about the incident, I come away with a few thoughts.  Given how well spoken and truly apologetic the man and his companion were, we are assuming they were simply walking to or from work, saw the boat and thought it was unoccupied and that they would not disturb anyone if they took a picture.  It would have been very easy to over-react.  By coincidence I have been reading in the AGLCA forum about several boats being boarded while tied up on the Illinois River.  The boaters reported that they used wasp spray and other unspecified deterrents to get rid of the intruders.  I know that many boaters (legally) carry firearms.  In our case, while it was, for me, a disturbing experience, the trespassers were quite innocent, and over-reacting could have been disastrous.  One thing we did agree on, in future we will make a point of connecting the lifelines and rail as well as bringing in the boarding ladder if we are using it.  Just to make it a little less easy to get on board.

After Rochester we stopped at Newark, with a well maintained town wall, excellent shower facilities, and a nice little canal museum.  From there the Canal became less scenic, and the towns not quite as pretty.  There followed long stretches with no towns or signs of habitation.  The next night we tied up below a lock, truly in the middle of nowhere (Tripadvisor reported the nearest restaurant was 4.5 miles away).  It was an incredibly peaceful stop, almost like anchoring.  We also noticed a somewhat different attitude on the part of the lock keepers (with the exception of the one we tied up at.)  They seemed to be less likely to be paying attention to their radio when we called for a lock-through, requiring several calls before we could see any activity at the lock, and often no response on the radio at all.  No longer interested in how far we would be travelling, and certainly not willing to call the next lock to let them know we were coming.  The attitude seemed to fit with the general condition of the houses we saw along the canal in this stretch.  Tumbledown shacks, yards full of junk, and lots of derelict docks.

Shortly before Baldwinsville we began to see an improvement.  New homes and tidy cottages with well kept grounds and well maintained docks lined the Seneca River (the Canal becomes the river for much of this stretch).  Baldwinsville is a very pleasant town of about 8,000.  It is built on both sides of the canal, and includes an island between the canal lock and the dam.  On the island is a large park with an amphitheatre, and we understand that concerts are held regularly through the summer months.  The town wall has power and water, at $5 a night on the honour system.  Here we met a couple of Loopers who have been spending summers on their boat for the past 8 years.  They completed the loop in 2010-2011, and since then, they have been twice to Maine, spent two summers on Lake Michigan, and this summer they went to the north side of Lake Superior.  Now me, I think of the Canadian side of Lake Superior as rocks, pine trees, and mosquitoes big enough to carry off your boat!  However, Jill told me they loved it, anchoring most nights for nearly a month.  The Lake was far more peaceful and the weather predictions more reliable than Lake Michigan, and as for mosquitoes, when they were there it was far too cold!  It was certainly interesting chatting with them.

From Baldwinsville it was a short morning’s run to Brewerton, at the north end of Oneida Lake.  At Winter Harbor, an aptly named marina where we will leave Nine Lives until next June, we found several other Looper boats in various stages of getting ready for winter storage.  Nine Lives will be hauled out and stored in a huge heated and humidity controlled storage shed.  While considerably more expensive than non-heated storage, there are a great many advantages, including being able to leave the water tanks full, most of the pantry food on board, and the security of knowing that damp will not be an issue. Since this is also a working boat yard, a quite long list of maintenance and repair items will be dealt with before launch next spring.  Today is being spent packing up the clothes we will be taking home, doing a lot of cleaning, and generally getting Nine Lives ready for a long winter’s nap.  We expect to leave tomorrow late morning, driving to Hagerstown, PA, and then get home early evening on Tuesday.

Look for the next instalment of the Nine Lives blog some time in June 2019.

Rock n Roll
Rock n Roll – the main entrance plaza of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Surf and turf Cleveland
Surf and turf in Cleveland – one of the best I have ever eaten, delicious tender lobster tail with drawn butter, and a perfectly grilled steak in a simple presentation with mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus at the Blue Point Grille.
keeping out the rain
Keeping out the rain – we will blame the photographer (Dick) for the blurry photo of me, valiantly holding back the rain as it lashes the boat when we pass through a squall. It’s probably blurred because he was laughing!
Erie PA
Erie PA – the harbour with a view of the Sheraton Hotel and the walkway to the Convention Center.
Erie PA 2
Erie PA 2 – a shipyard with a vessel under construction. At the left you can see the large rust red bow (or stern), while on the right are blue plastic covered sections of the midship. We don’t know whether this is a Lake freighter being constructed, or a large barge tug.
Buffalo
Buffalo – extravagant flowerbeds in the gardens at the marina on the edge of Buffalo’s Inner Harbor.
Buffalo 2
Buffalo 2 – another picture of the marina garden, with the attractive architecture of downtown in the distance.
Buffalo 3
Buffalo 3 – the Edward M Cotter, a historic fireboat, still in service, and also used in winter as an ice breaker in the Buffalo River.
Buffalo 4
a detail of the stern area of the Edward M Cotter.
Buffalo 5
Buffalo 5 – General Mills is still a grain milling presence on the Buffalo waterfront. The high rise manufacturing facility is of unusual architectural interest. It is also the place where familiar brands such as Cheerios, Gold Medal Flour, Bisquick, and Wheaties are made.
Into the Canal 2
Into the Canal – a somewhat unprepossessing entrance to the Erie Canal between Buffalo and Niagara. The Canal turns to the right of the image.
Erie Canal bridge
Erie Canal bridge – one of the many lift bridges on the Canal. The car parked beside the tower belongs to the bridge keeper. Typically, one keeper will be responsible for 2 or more bridges, and must shuttle between them when boats need to pass.
Erie Canal boat
Erie Canal boat – one of the English narrowboat style boats that are available to rent and cruise the canal.
Albion 2
Albion – the main street of the pretty village is glimpsed through the lift bridge. You can also get a sense of the bridge mechanism. The whole span slides up to raise the bridge over the canal. Pedestrians can climb the stairs and cross when the bridge is lifted, but cars must wait.
Albion 4
Albion – the sign for the village as we leave. We were particularly interested in this because we have a friend, Stuart Albion, and had no idea there was a whole town named after him!
Short ribs Spencerport
Short ribs in Spencerport – Dick’s favourite dish, served with mushroom ravioli. Sadly, it was not as tasty as he had hoped. As he put it, “it tastes the way it does when I make it at home, and I know I don’t do it very well!”
Spencerport
Spencerport – sunrise at Spencerport, where we were docked with two of the English style canal boats.
Rochester
Rochester – we docked beside an apartment and restaurant complex on the Genesee River in historic Corn Hill, with a view of downtown.
Wine bar Rochester
Wine Bar in Rochester – they specialize in flights, currently very fashionable. Dick tried champagne and sparking wine, while I enjoyed tasting three different roses. A delicious meat and cheese board accompanied the wines.
Ithaca concert hall
Ithaca concert hall – the historic State Theater was saved from demolition after it was condemned.
Pittsford
Pittsford – we passed through this pretty village. Creative use has been made of the former grain elevators, they have been turned into luxury flats.
Pittsford 2
Pittsford 2 – another view as we leave the village.
Newark
Newark – sunrise over the pedestrian bridge at Newark, NY. The building at the left of the bridge houses a visitor center and excellent shower facilities for boaters.
Erie Canal lock 25
Erie Canal lock 25 – the quiet wall above the lock where we docked for the night.
Erie Canal lock 25 2
Erie Canal lock 25 – still water and reflections of the trees lining the Canal.
painting a bridge
Painting a bridge – this was interesting to see, they set up a tent to completely wrap the bridge so that the paint does not contaminate the water. As we passed under the bridge we could hear the high pressure paint sprayers at work in the covered section.
Baldwinsville
Baldwinsville – a pleasant seating area in the waterfront park.
Baldwinsville 2
Baldwinsville – the canal and town wall leading to the guard gate and lock. To the left of the image is the park and amphitheatre where weekly concerts are held in summer.
Erie Canal 15
Erie Canal – our last morning on the Canal and on this year’s voyage. The leaves are beginning to turn, and it is time for us to return home.
Winter Harbor
Winter Harbor – the aptly named boatyard where Nine Lives will sleep for the winter. You can just see one of the huge red and blue sheds in the background of the picture.