We landed in the land of red, white and blue. It took us just over 57 nautical miles, and a very roll-y ride, but we did it! We landed in Rochester, NY at the Rochester Yacht Club on November 6th. RYC is exactly what you picture when you envision a yacht club: warm, cozy, beautiful old wood, a glimmering trophy wall, a polished bar, and friendly and accommodating staff. What a great first night in the U.S.of A.
We checked in to customs using a dedicated video phone at one of the marinas (used to fulfill the face-to-face requirement of checking in to a new country), refuelled, purchased our cruising license, discovered plum sauce is NOT a thing over here (but raspberry is? Hello culture shock!) and started off along the coast toward Oswego, our port of entry into the Erie Canal.
We spent a single evening in Oswego, NY which is a shame as it is a neat and busy little port of call, but time was not on our side. Given that the Erie canal closed this year on November 20th (whether you're in it or not) we wanted to get underway a.s.a.p. We bought a 10-day canal cruising permit at our first lock, Lock 8 and began the canal system on November 8th - aka Super Tuesday, aka Election day.....
We transited 8 locks on our first day, no small feat! The lovely thing about the Erie canal is that there are marinas and tie ups all along the system so you can spend time exploring the little towns that call the canal home. The not so lovely thing about the canal in November is that most of these towns recognize the canal is dead at this time of year and consequently close their businesses down for the season. Also it gets dark. Early. And you kind of want power so you can have heat. So the first night we found ourselves a little public wall to tie off to and a light post with a 15 amp outlet on it (enough for our space heater) and settled in.
Having no US cell phone plan yet and being in the middle of nowhere (or Brewerton, NY - whichever you want to call it) we went to bed wondering what kind of country we'd wake up to in the morning. Some time the next day we discovered the (terrible) news. That it was going to be *Trumps* America. This not being a political blog, I won't get in to it, but it is worth noting that we were very disappointed at this outcome. Since we're Canadian though we rarely find ourselves pulled into a political chat unless we ask for it. *whew*
Our next few days continued much the same. Transit the canal. Cover a few locks. Search for a tie up with power in the evening. The canal does not have a ton to do at this time of year. Fair enough since we were looking to exit asap. The saving grace was certainly that the foliage was still in it's autumn apparel and more than breath-taking at this time of year. Otherwise the days were relatively uneventful (arguably a good thing when boating!). Over the next few days we settled into our liveaboard life a bit more. Got our bikes up and running and dealt with a few small projects.
One small issue that started to snowball was that we were running out of diesel. And everything was closed. We couldn't even find a gas station carrying diesel near the canal. We were also getting low on water. And we hadn't showered in a few days. Or done laundry in while. Oh, and a linkage in our gear let go on our third last day - so we had to 'drift' into our last lock and tie up for the day.
No worries. We spent half a day fixing the gear. We found diesel! We finished the locks on November 13th with the grand finale being the 'Waterford flight'. What a way to end the locks! The Waterford flight is a set of 5 locks (and 2 guard gates if you want to get technical) that are all in a row. There is no tying off between these locks so when you begin your transit through them, you have to be ready to finish them off. (You must begin transiting these locks 90 minutes prior to close). In the span of 2 very beautiful and sunny hours we descended approximately 170 feet in about 2 miles. It's quite amazing to look back and see where your started!
At the end of the Waterford flight is the town of (you guessed it) Waterford! While their visitor centre was closed for the season, we were able to tie off to their floating dock for a couple of days, plug in to power and water (hello boat showers!), get a free ride to a gas station for diesel (thank you locals!), finally get some laundry done and breath a little easier knowing that the 'timed' part of our voyage was over. Next stop - Catskill to have our 'sticks' put up!
While the locks can be intimidating before beginning them, once you've done a few they become more of a nuisance than anything. Having been through the Welland canal before, the Erie canal locks are minuscule by comparison. We felt more than ready to tackle this new system. The key difference between the Welland and Erie canal is that the Welland can be completed in one long day. The Erie, not so much (theres a reason they sell 10 day passes).
Here's how "locking through" works.
Step 1: Hail the Lock Master.
Seriously, what a cool job title! These guys truly are masters as we discovered not only are they responsible for the opening/closing and the flow of the locks (and consequently how fast you go up or down - how easy or hard the lock will be) but they are also full time caretakers and maintenance personnel as well. From oiling the gears to mowing the lawn they are fully responsible for the lock and the property surrounding it. Title earned!
So, hail your lock master....politely ask for an opening....wait for special instructions (port or starboard tie up, etc)...say thank you!
Step 2: Get yo lines ready!
*Most* locks will have their own lines ready to go, but just in case, always have your lines ready. If you've been given instructions by the lock master as to wether you'll be on port or starboard, prep that side, otherwise, best to have some lines on both sides.
Step 3: Throw down those fenders - grab a boat hook!
While we've read/heard varying accounts of how to prep your fenders for a lock, we're hear to tell you - you needn't worry about anything special. Make sure you have fenders ready to go on both sides of your boat, and maybe don't get too attached to the paint job on them.
While we've heard of people creating fender boards (see picture), we've heard just as many accounts of these getting tossed after the first lock. Bottom line: if the skipper knows the boat, approaching the locks is far easier than docking! Coming in to a lock is no different than tying off to a wall at a marina/yacht club etc.
Step 4: Wait for a green light to enter the lock.
Most locks will have a 'traffic light' indicating to boaters when the lock is ready. Not following those lights, despite what it *looks* like can result in a pissed off lock master and consequently a hell of a ride up or down for you. Barring the traffic light, wait until the doors are fully open. If unsure, just chat with your lock master! They're remarkably helpful (and maybe lonely?).
Step 5: Enter the lock slowly.
With one crew at the bow armed with a boat hook, the skipper will slowly saddle up to the lock wall. The crew member at the bow uses the hook to either grab a line along the wall or secure a line from the boat around a cable attached to the wall. It all depends on your lock. There are 3 types (see pictures). Our favourite was probably cables as the lines tend to be wet and full of whatever crud was resting in the lock water (we suggest gloves!). As we were the only boat going through 9/10 times we just used our boat hooks to grab the cables, not too worried about our swing. At this point, depending on how many boats are transiting the lock with you, you may just have to sit tight and wait for everyone else to be secured in the lock before anything starts to happen.
Step 6: Hang on.
Whether you're locking down or up the locks can take a surprisingly long time for how quickly the water moves. Hold on to your rope or cable the whole time though! Even if your ride starts out smooth and comfortable, if for some reason a valve isn't flowing properly your transit can get turbulent - forcing one end of the boat into or away from the wall. While this rarely happens, it is worth noting that had we NOT been holding the lines we might've ended up in the wrong part of the lock - bad news if you're in there with several other boats. Don't let this scare you though! At most we had to push off the wall with our boat hooks or hold a little tighter to the lines around the cleats.
*Special Note* DO NOT lock your lines off to the cleat. The locks can move surprisingly fast, pulling those lines taught faster than you can untie them. THIS can result in bad news for you and your boat. Do not tie off the lines!
Step 7: Wait for your green light to exit.
Once you get the cue, push off and exit at *no wake* speed. Be prepared for current as you exit the lock depending on the flow of the upper or lower water.
Step 8 Thank your lock master.
For real. They didn't *have* to open the lock. And maybe they're lonely. You don't know.
*Safety tip* While in the Welland canal it was required that every crew member wear a life jacket while transiting the locks. In the Erie Canal it was not a requirement but is STRONGLY recommended. You're performing operations over the side of the boat in a small, confined lock with turbulent waters. SHOULD something happen at least you'll be floating!
Also, if you're interested, this lil site has a whole ton of helpful how-tos, navigation information and history of the NY canal system.