We were surprised by a turn of good weather, after preparing, mentally, for nearly a week of delay in Cape Vincent. Instead, after just one day of waiting, it looked as if the wind was going to be right to make it across Lake Ontario, but the possibility existed that, after such a blow from the west, the waves might prove too much. We decided to get up early and head out into the lake and see. If the waves were going to be too big, they’d be too big pretty early on and we could turn back with nothing lost. Instead, everything went perfectly. We crossed with fine, sunny weather, and wind mostly at our side or back. The engine performed perfectly. We had a few times where there were some pretty good sized waves… the kind you go down into and don’t see the horizon anymore when sitting in the cockpit… but nothing to worry about. TearAway simply slid down one and right back up the next. Here’s something I wrote in the log during the passage while I was on deck and others were below:
The early afternoon sun shines like silver glitter off the inky black water. A black so deep one would easily believe that to touch it would permanently dye the hand that dared to take such risks. But, as TearAway’s bow slices through, a white spray is revealed. The true nature of the black water shown only in the presence of the bright sun.
We stayed at the marina in Oswego overnight so we could get a fax with our cruising permit. After checking in, the border guard in Cape Vincent called me to let me know we wouldn’t need any of that, nor would we need to check in every night when we stop, because we’re all Americans. Good to know. Also, I found it amazing that a border guard would be so considerate as to give a personal call to let us know this. We spent the next morning getting supplies, doing laundry, and prepping. I figured we’d pull up to the wall by the lock and start going through the following day, but when we got there, as fortune would have it, everything was ready to go, so we went through all three locks in Oswego, not realizing how lucky we were.
We stayed the night tied up in public docks in Fulton and in Phoenix, which is, by the way, a great place to stop with free power, water, and pump outs. It rained, all day and night since we’d arrived in Oswego. When we crossed through the last lock on the Oswego Canal we had to pass under a swing bridge to enter the lock. I stood on the top of the deck and held my antenna bent over in order to make it. The lock master said the water was two feet higher than usual and we were the last boat to make it through the canal… they’d shut it down because of danger of navigation because buoys could be moved and submerged dangers might exist. I had certainly noticed a lot of current, and the water did seem high! When we tied up for the evening, the email came across with the notification of the shut down. As I write this, it’s still not open. Had we not locked through those three “accidentally” we’d still be in Oswego now.
The inside of the boat dripped everywhere with condensation. Between the continual rainfall, the cold outside and the moderately less cold inside, and the need to hang up all of our foul weather gear to get a little dry before we have to put it back on and go out again, there’s water everywhere. Clothes are damp. Beds are damp. Pillows are damp. Drops of water could come down from anywhere, making it unsafe to pull the laptop out to work, not to mention the difficulty sleeping when you could get a cold drop into the ear. Fortunately, we have decent sleeping bags and good wool under layers, so we’ve been able to keep warm.
Saturday, October 22, we took a left turn onto the Erie Canal. This has been a bit of a dream for me for a long time. The Erie Canal, a.k.a. “Clinton’s Folly” or “The Big Ditch,” opened in 1825, one of the greatest engineering feats of the time. It connected the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, 363 miles of interconnected waterways climbing hills and crossing marshes, opening the West to commerce in a way not yet realized. It was a major factor in the building of New York, both state and city. Eventually, overtaken by the speed of the railroad and crippled by its own toll and taxation process, the canal lost its appeal as a commercial venture. But, what it lost on that side it has made up for in recreational traffic. We would enter Oswego at an altitude of 245’, climb the Oswego canal to 363’, and continue to climb on the Erie to 420’ before stepping down to 1’ above sea level when we enter the Hudson River at Albany, NY.
The first lock that we entered on the Erie was Lock 23. This was the first we entered with company, one big cabin cruiser being handled only by the captain in his warm cabin (he didn’t even come out to tie up during the raising because he was able to maneuver with his side thrusters to stay centered in the lock – how posh!), and another sailboat similar in size to ours being operated single-handed. How cool it was to see this young man operating his boat by himself, fighting the currents and winds to come alongside easily and hold it there. We followed behind both until they pulled off at the marina just before entering Lake Oneida. We carried on without stopping. Wind advisories were mentioned on the weather forecast, predicted to start at 6:00. We’d be out the other side of the lake by 4:00, so no problem.
With the tail wind, we did make good time across the lake, but it was blowing hard and, since this is a long east-west lake, it caused a good deal of wave action by the east side. Fitz skippered the whole way across, moving from one marker buoy to the next, barely visible in the misty distance. When we pulled in behind the break wall at Sylvan Beach, it was hard to tell it was there were it not for the markers… the waves were still coming over the top of it. Just past the break wall and in the river is a free wall to tie up to, which we did, and then went to The Crazy Crab for a hot meal that none of us had to cook or clean up.
When we came out from dinner, the sailboat that was in the lock with us came rolling in, in the dark, not looking better for the experience. The wind had, indeed, picked up as the evening progressed and we figured that he must have gone in to the marina on the other side to wait out the weather, not followed along later in the afternoon. Fitz helped him get in and tied up and learned that his cradle holding the mast on the deck broke. He nearly lost his mast overboard, but managed to save it and get it tied down to the deck while his boat pitched and rolled and went wherever it wanted to because he was on his own with no auto-pilot.
In the morning, the boys helped the other sailor get his mast lifted back up onto the repaired cradle while I got things in our boat prepped for departure, then came back with news of someone wanting to take us to breakfast. In answer to my puzzled look, they explained that she grew up summering on Wolfe Island and was so shocked to hear that we were from there, they offered to trade us breakfast for stories. Bridgett proceeded to tell us names of people we knew and explained her relationship to them and let us know that she and Dan have a cottage on the island. When showing us pictures on her phone later, Elisha said “Oh, I know that house. I did work at a house a couple doors down.” Once again, proof that it is, indeed, a small world and we have relationships with strangers if we just take the time to look. They told us stories about how unusually rough the lake was, how the ice piles up on the shore here in the winter and spring, about snowmobiling the Adirondacks, and white water kayaking a local gorge. We told stories about this trip and previous, and exchanged information so when they come up to the island we can return the meal and share more stories.
Tonight, we are at the first place we’ve managed to get to where there are showers. Oh, what joy it was to stand under the hot spray! It’s also the first time I’ve refueled since Kingston. So, I set to figuring what exactly that meant. By my best estimate, we’ve traveled 178 miles in a week and have used 7 gallons of fuel. It’s funny to think of running most of nearly every day for a week and burning only 7 gallons. Then, when considering the distance traveled, it’s a little less funny. I suppose, though, that traveling in an RV with all of the necessities at 25 miles per gallon, it’s not too bad. Once we have sails, that number is going to get a lot better!