Western Erie Canal Cruise Log

Pine Tree Island to Phoenix, NY.

Since the river was so calm, we decided to take the Starcraft to the Chippewa Yacht Club in preparation for winter storage before leaving on our cruise. Mary drove the Starcraft and I followed in the C. I left the C idling at the end of the concrete dock while I helped Mary tie up the Starcraft (her broken arm was still healing). Shortly after we left at 0937 hrs, the overheating siren sounded and the C’s engine automatically cut to idle. Hoping that this was just the water intake getting blocked by weed due to the low river water level (this had happened before), I stopped the engine, restarted it, and carried on. The engine then ran perfectly all day. The lake was almost flat calm until about 15 miles off Oswego, when 1’ to 2’ swells developed. The Oswego lock was open as we arrived, and we locked through with three trawlers, one in front and two behind. Unfortunately the trawlers cruised at about 8 mph despite the 30mph speed limit on much of the Oswego Canal and we felt obliged to stay in line. We would probably have had to wait for them at the next lock anyway, and so we slowly made our way through all seven locks to the Phoenix town dock. After walking around town (which had little to offer), Mary made a superb supper and we read in bed.

Phoenix to Clyde, NY.

A lovely cruising day, with all the locks ready and waiting for us! Took a side trip into the Cayuga and Seneca canals to visit Seneca Falls. In the town museum the Aussie docent helped us locate marinas with gas (we were running low, none in Seneca Falls) and told us about the town, restaurants, etc. Had great Reubens at a deli down the street, then walked over the bridge to the hardware store for a bucket and silicone spray. Back to the top of Lake Cayuga for gas, but both marinas were closed. The “marina” shown on the chart just past Lock 25 on the Erie Canal turned out to be a shack and a caravan, with no gas. Our gas gauge was now showing empty, but the fuel-flow meter said we still had 20+ gallons.  Have to believe the meter! We carried on at low speed to conserve fuel and stopped at the Clyde town dock, a small floating dock next to a pleasant park, but a long way from town and rather noisy because of the train tracks on the other side of the canal. Someone later told us that 70+ trains per day use those tracks, and we believe it. The park had potable water, and Mary made another of her superb evening meals.

Clyde to Pittsford, NY.

Rain started at 0400 hrs and fell steadily as we cruised slowly to Lyons, NY arriving at 0945 hrs. We walked around the town in full foul weather gear, checking out the old hardware store, reached through a short corridor from Main Street and sporting a beautiful old tin ceiling, and the charming Dobbins drugstore across the road.  We made good use of the free showers in the Fire Station next to the dock and then headed for nearby Miller’s Marina to get gas. Cash only (thank goodness for ATMs), containing ethanol, and a decrepit dock, but gas! The fuel-flow meter had been correct; we had 14 gallons remaining. It rained again most of the way to Palmyra, making Mary’s job at the bow in the locks quite unpleasant, but the rain stopped for us to walk around the town. Palmyra has a beautiful small free marina just off the canal and a lovely old Main Street. We bought some groceries and then cruised on through intermittent rain to Pittsford. As we cruised through Newark admiring the murals on the bridge, we noticed the CD 22 Fun Patrol moored at the town dock. Just before Pittsford we met several boats from the Pittsford Rowing Club out practicing despite the weather. Mary made another tasty dinner, and we ran the heater for the first time to take off the chill of a cold evening.

Pittsford to Holley, NY.

Pittsford is an upscale canal town, almost a suburb of Rochester. It has a Birkenstock store right on the canal and several nice restaurants. We ate breakfast at Simply Crepes after walking around the town, and then headed up the canal to the Genesee River and Rochester, where we moored next to the new Corn Hill development. Walking across the bridge just below the first of the two Genesee River falls, we were amazed at the size of some trees that had washed down the river and were lodged against the dam and walls. It must have been quite a flood to put them there! In Rochester the city information office lady warned us that Lake Ontario was too rough for a 25-foot boat. We visited the Strong Museum of Play but decided not to go in, and had a great lunch at the Dinosaur BBQ. Back on the Erie we began to negotiate the 15 lift bridges that dot the sixty +/- mile stretch of the canal before the last two locks at Lockport. As with the locks, we almost never had to wait more than a few minutes for a bridge, and the bridge masters were universally friendly and courteous. The bridge master at Holley, where we stayed for the night, knew all about C Dories, the C-Brats, and Wild Blue, etc. Holley’s town dock is next to a pretty park with a gazebo and octagonal building with toilets and showers, and a very nice lighted path up to town which for some reason we didn’t take when we went into town for groceries, etc. and our usual walk around. When we got back a cyclist was setting up a small pup tent next to us and a trawler had docked nearby. Another tasty dinner before bed.

Holley to Tonawanda, NY.

Cruised west under many lift bridges and arrived at the last two locks (a double) on the Erie canal at Lockport. We locked through with a local tour boat (we had to wait 10 minutes) and were photographed many times! We moored at the miniscule town dock just above the locks at 1315 hrs and walked into town for lunch at Shamus, an Irish restaurant recommended in Trip Advisor and by the Lockmaster. We checked out the Erie Canal Museum at the lock before casting off at 1510 hrs for Tonawanda on the southern shore. We would have preferred the North Tonawanda town dock, which seemed prettier and more secure, but others had the same idea and there was no room. After a walk around both Tonawandas, we bought groceries at a nearby supermarket and ate on board. As it got dark we were intrigued (and made a little nervous) by two girls on the dock, one of whom seemed high and was behaving very strangely. Eventually they left and we settled in for the night, only to be waked quite severely near midnight.

Tonawanda to the Buffalo Yacht Club, NY.

We woke up to a windy day and a pretty dismal NOAA forecast for the lakes but decided to head for Buffalo and Lake Erie to see for ourselves, stopping at Island Marine for gas (ethanol-free, highly recommended in Active Captain) on the way. At the last minute, however, we realized that we could just make the 0930 hrs. upriver opening of the Black Rock Lock and so did not stop for gas until the Erie Basin Marina, only to find the gas dock closed until 1100 hrs.  Directed by passers-by to the Small Boat Harbor (really a marina) further down the Buffalo waterfront, we gassed up (also ethanol-free) and headed out around the breakwater into the lake. We soon encountered the NOAA-forecast 3-4 foot waves right on our bow and quickly returned to the sheltered water and headed for the Buffalo Yacht Club, where we were able to get a free slip based on our Chippewa Yacht Club reciprocal privileges. After checking in we took a cab into Buffalo where we had a very nice lunch at the modern and trendy Sea Bay restaurant and walked around the city, visiting the Lafayette Hotel, the Liberty Building, the Buffalo Savings Bank, and the observation deck atop the City Hall, before cabbing back to the BYC for a lazy afternoon on the boat reading and watching local teens practice in the BYC’s 18 Club 420 Class sailboats. One group of kids would practice for 45 mins and then exchange with another group. We had a fun front-row seat as they came roaring downwind towards the club’s basin and execute a quick 180 deg. turn in the fairly narrow confines of the entrance, ending up stationary at the dock for the crew change. There were some mishaps – one boat turned over just off our dock – but all had lots of fun. At 1915 hrs. we showered and dressed up for a drink at the bar before eating a superb dinner at the BYC dining room.    

The Buffalo Yacht Club to Brockport, NY.

The NOAA forecast for Lake Ontario was even worse than yesterday, calling for five days of high winds and big waves (even 9 to 12 feet one day!), so we decided to forego our original plan to return via the Welland Canal, Toronto, and the northern shore of Lake Ontario and return again on the Erie Canal, stopping at all the towns we missed on the cruise west. It had poured during the night and was a cold, dreary day, but things quickly got worse. On the way to the Black Rock lock, while I was trying to find the name of the lock on my iPhone in order to call in, I did not notice the C veering off course, and we crashed into the shore, damaging the point of the bow and the anchor roller (but luckily nothing under water). The boat was covered with broken branches and leaves that I insisted on cleaning off before entering the lock (to minimize the evidence of my stupidity). By the time we reached Medina I had also straightened the anchor roller so the C almost looked normal, although quite a bit of fiberglass repair will be needed. We ate lunch on board at the Medina town dock, walked around town to look at the murals, and then cruised on to Brockport town dock, where we were met by the ebullient Nancy from the Welcome Center. Brockport charges $8 for overnight docking but has good facilities. Shortly after we arrived, a canal rental barge arrived with two older couples aboard. I went to help them tie up (they were absolutely clueless) and got nary a “Thank you” or any other verbal communication for my pains! Signing in at the Welcome Center, Mary noticed the previous signee was also from Doylestown.  This turned out to be Tom Kelso, Buckingham Twp. Water/Wastewater Consultant who I knew from my work on the Township Planning Commission, who was cycling from Buffalo to Albany and had pitched his small tent nearby. We chatted and he joined us for dinner at the Stoneyard Bar and Grill next to the canal.

Brockport to Newark, NY.

Both Tom Kelso and the canal barge had left by the time we got up. We showered, had breakfast on board, and cruised to Fairport, arriving at about 1230 hrs. We walked around town and had just asked in a general store if there was a grocery nearby when we were approached by a woman who had overheard our question and offered to drive us to a small Italian grocery which “was certainly open on a Sunday.” It was, however, certainly closed, but she then recommended that we eat at the Irish Pub and dropped us off there instead. When we returned to the dock the CD22 Fun Patrol (which we had noticed in Newark) was moored in front of us. We stopped to chat with Roy and Laura Davidson, who live near Palm Springs, California, tow the boat behind a motor home (now parked in Buffalo), and are spending a month on the western Erie before wending their way to Florida. Roy had mentioned that the Mid-Lakes Marina had ethanol-free gas, so we stopped there to fill up and found two more C Dories, a CD22 and one of the four CD29s ever made. We had gone aboard a CD29 at the Annapolis Boat show and found it huge and rather ungainly. The marina rents the old-fashioned canal barges, and we enjoyed looking around inside them. The young fellow who gassed us was very embarrassed when the tank burped really hard and gave us a couple of ice cream bars as an apology. We stopped for the night at Newark, which has wonderful murals at the dock, a quiet harbor mistress (in contrast to Nancy!) who finally opened up when bemoaning the loss of most of the town’s historic buildings during what she felt was misguided urban renewal, and which showed us a terrific sunset as Mary cooked another of her super alcohol-stove dinners.    

Newark to Baldwinsville, NY.

Yet another cool, windy, broken-clouds day. We breakfasted, showered, and had a pleasant cruise to Baldwinsville. The cruising guide said one can moor above and below the Baldwinsville lock, and we had decided to go below. As we were dropping in the lock, the lockmaster told us we should moor above the lock since there is no shore power below and was kind enough to immediately reverse the process and let us out again. After we tied up, we called Larry and Jean Fuller, our good friends and neighbors on the St. Lawrence, then walked around town. Larry and Jean arrived at about 1800 hrs., and we walked to the Lock 24 Restaurant for dinner. We had a great evening, and it was really good to see them again.

Baldwinsville to Oswego, NY.

Cruised to Oswego with frequent checks of the NOAA forecast for the lake in the hope it might improve, but it didn’t and we decided to wait until tomorrow in the Port of Oswego Marina. On the way we had passed a trawler, and I made a mess of the one-whistle two-whistles system and was duly chastised by the captain. He also decided not to try the lake and moored next to us in the marina, and we had a friendly chat. We spent most of the afternoon wandering around Oswego, spent a few hours in the town library, and then had an excellent dinner at the Red Sun Fire Roasting Company.

Oswego to Pine Tree Island, NY.

Had breakfast on board, showered, and then walked over to spend an hour or two at Fort Ontario (erected in 1755) overlooking Oswego harbor and Lake Ontario. Back at the marina we listened to the NOAA forecast one more time. Today’s forecast was for 2-4’ waves with a SW wind, tomorrow’s was for 1-3’ waves with a northerly wind, and Friday’s was for calm seas. Mary didn’t want to wait until Friday and I thought 2-4’ following waves would be much easier than 1-3’ waves on the bow, so we decided to take on the lake. We were able to average about 15 mph with little or no pounding most of the way across and Mary was calm most of the time, but every now and then a wave would catch the stern and slew us around 50 or 60 degrees, and these events were really scary for Mary. We were in no danger of broaching because the waves were not breaking and they had a fairly long period (more like swells), but it is an uncomfortable feeling to be momentarily out of control. The river level had dropped yet more during our trip, and we actually briefly touched bottom approaching our dock on Pine Tree Island. As it turned out, we woke the next morning to a flat calm river, and the NOAA forecast for Friday was now for rough seas, so we would have only had to wait another day. Such is 20/20 hindsight! Our trip turned out to be 11 days, 640 miles, mostly canal travel, and really enjoyable. The small towns and their murals were delightful.

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