Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Erie Canal Song

Whenever we've explained our route to folks, many aren't aware of the extent and historic significance of the great Erie Canal (although not so great in recent days). It was built in 1825 and helped the United States open the West and of course, made New York and Albany cornerstones of commerce. While we've travelled this waterway, we've seen the mansions, banks and factories of yesterday towering out of forests as we've made our way through swamps, forests and mountains. Some are closed but recent efforts have seen them find a new life as a store, condos or other commercial purposes. Towns like Little Falls and Fairport were built on the waterway for commercial purposes.

Nowadays we use motors to push our vessels along but there was a day when the big barges carrying cargo were pulled along by donkey.

 Of course, I assumed everyone had heard of the Erie Canal song. Bruce Springsteen did a fantastic rendition of it on his album 'The Pete Seeger Sessions'. This link will take you to youtube at http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5209914/bruce_springsteen_erie_canal_2006/

For those of you who are interested, here are the lyrics:
I've got a mule, her name is Sal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.

She's a good ol' worker and a good ol' pal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.

We've hauled some barges in our day,

Filled with lumber, coal, and hay,

And we know ev'ry inch of the way,

From Albany to Buffalo.


Low bridge, ev'rybody down!

Low bridge, for we're comin' to a town!

And you'll always know your neighbor,

You'll always know your pal,

if you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

We better get on our way, old pal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.

'Cause you bet your life I'd never part with Sal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.

Get up there mule, here comes a lock,

We'll make Rome 'bout six o'clock,

One more trip and back we'll go,

Right back home to Buffalo.

You can find all kinds of info on the Erie Canal - and if you don't have a boat, you can cycle it or you can take a cruise, whatever you like. Check out http://www.canals.ny.gov/

Sunday, May 29, 2011

100 miles and counting

We managed to move Messenger through 22 locks and 100 miles to Sylvan Beach, a resort community on the eastern shore of Oneida Lake by last Thursday and since then, we've just sat. The locks remain closed just past Lock 23 now, so there's still a logjam of cruisers sitting waiting to get home.

We were fortunate that we have friends from home, Stew Patterson and Alistair Robertson to join us today so I could drive home with Reg and Elizabeth as Reg has an orthodontist appointment tomorrow and Thursday (to replace a retainer he lost in Annapolis some weeks ago) and then his sailing instructor course next weekend.

Aidan opted to stay with the crew to help bring Messenger home. So I had to say goodbye to Scott and Aidan along with some of our cruising friends today. My throat had such a lump I could hardly swallow. The first hour I drove it was hard to see for the tears. In lots of ways, it's the end of the trip for us.

It was a good day. I started off making an eight-block dash for public washrooms (we're trying to conserve on space in the holding tank until we get to marina for a pumpout if you must know). Then I grabbed a coffee at the local deli and took a walk alone along the sodden beach while the seagulls circled the overcast sky. It was hot today. I got back to the boat and started making a big breakfast this morning, with everyone else squabbling over who's doing what part of the cleanup.

I loaded up some bags with bedding and one last load for Scott and Aidan and headed to the Beachy Clean Laundromat, really not up to snuff as far as I'm concerned. If it's one thing I know now, it's what makes a good laundromat. That done, I headed back in the sweltering humidity to make up beds, unload the boat and try to tell Scott where all the food is stashed in lockers.

We piled the little Dodge with garbage bags of clothes and stuff from the boat. It's hard to believe the boat is hardly emptied and it's also hard to believe Elizabeth owned that many clothes on the boat!!!

The crammed car raised the eyebrows of the lovely lady at the Canadian customs officials but when I mentioned I had just come from a boat full of crap, she waved us away.

After the tears subsided, Reg, Elizabeth and I talked about the families and people we met, the boats we saw and the beautiful, perfect weather in the Bahamas.

What I'll remember most however are the times we collapsed in laughter at some ridiculous thing we were doing: riding for a mile in our tiny dinghy getting soaking wet at Long Island; dashing around boats in the race at the Georgetown Regatta; trying to figure out what to do with Elizabeth's giant conch at Green Turtle Cay. The memories are deep and wide, just like the ocean that carried us there and back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back in the saddle

We made the long drive back to Messenger last Sunday night and it felt surprisingly good to be back to get her home.

We woke up the next day andScott asked for breakfast and for the locks to be open whenhe got back from taking back the rental car. Well, I didn't have breakfast ready but the locks did open so Tuesday we left early with a convoy: Georgia E our friends Stu and Tony; Wind Sprite with Dave and Marilyn who met last year and reconnected in Annapolis; new friends Fred and Neil on Dollar Boat, a refurbished tug built in Port Dover; and some folks on a boat called Sundance from Chicago.

We were all so happy to finally be putting miles under the keel once again. It was Dave and Marilyn's 25th wedding anniversary (and our 19th the day before) so I started making a cake on the locks. I made the cake, put one tin in, did a lock, put the other cake in, did a lock, made the orange cream custard filling, did a lock, made the orange icing, did a lock and then as neared Amsterdam where we were all headed, I iced it.

They were thrilled. They had also had Reg helping them all day as they hadn't done the canal before and he signed on for one more day as well.

Stu told us Russo's Italian restaurant in Amsterdam was his favourite on the canal so of course we had to go try it out.

It was a fun night. It wasn't fun though getting off the wall the next morning. Fred and Neil gave us a great hand getting off though and we fought the current to get in. A number of the locks had a great deal of debris and we hit a log yesterday and today. Whirlpools and swirls of whitewater marked a number of the entrances to the locks, making navigating into the locks even more interesting than usual. I had forgotten how beautiful this part of the canal is, mind you it's not 40 C and it's early days yet.

Tonight we had a chicken barbecue on Dollar Boat, the four of our crews - yet another great time to relax after a long day on the water.

So far, our plan is to make it at least as far as the canal is open, currently at Lock 23, near Brewerton. Then we'll have a couple of friends meet us and I'll leave the boat with the kids and head back home to get some needed appointments and get ready to take Reg to his sailing course.

It's a bit odd to think we'll cease to crew together, making these days even more precious.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Calling all returning cruisers....time for a support group

So we crossed the border by car yesterday - in a big white Crown Vic as a matter of fact - and boy was it wonderful and weird.

Messenger is being carefully cared for by our buds on Georgia E in Waterford, NY. We needed to come home for a few days to see family and we're heading back on Sunday to see if we can the bring the boat home.

So it's a homecoming, but not really. It felt so very good to cross into our great country and take the Lakeshore to little Port Dover. This is such a fantastic country, 10 months away has reinforced what we already knew about that. But to come home in the spring with the lambs and calves in paddocks lining the country roads, the lilac and cherry blossoms ready to burst, it really made all of us so just happy to be home.

But a feeling of disorientation lingers even today - Reg went to school this afternoon and Scott and I ran around doing errands while Elizabeth and Aidan lined up meetings with friends. It's so odd to be home without Messenger and know we're not quite finished yet. On top of that, we've lived a life apart, a different dimension to living.

It's as if we've been travelling to ourselves, becoming intensely self-aware in addition to becoming so familiar with our children, the good and the bad. We've lived in this other life and we come home to find that our old life has carried on.

Scott and I joked that maybe we should start a support group for returning cruisers, Boaters R Us or something, to help get us through starting back at our old jobs, meeting up family, old friends, our old life.

On Sunday we'll pile into the Crown Vic and head back to the new life, if only for a little while longer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Never a dull moment

Great minds?
We're still in Waterford, NY and yes, they do have a very decent looking Chinese restaurant but I can't imagine they're as good as Yin's.

Anyway, our friends on Georgia E pulled in last night in the rain and it was Tony's birthday. I was thawing out some Bahamian lobster and cooked up a seafood alfredo with all the fixings and we had a celebration.

What we were not celebrating however was the continued problems on the Erie Canal. Water levels in part of the canal are actually BELOW datum due to construction on a dam, which is due to be fixed by Friday. But the continued rain and flooding is causing a great deal of debris to be churned up and the option of travelling the next 150 miles of the canal seems to have evaporated for now.

So we've got permission to stay tied up at this dock for a few days. Stu and Tony have agreed to watch our boat allowing us to go home by rental car to check in on our family and a few other chores.

This means we have some work to do before we leave however. One of those is repositioning the mast lying on Messenger's cradle because it was a bit unbalanced when we left Castleton. Scott woke up this morning, looked up through the V-berth to the bridge we're under and had a Eureka. He decided the best way to move the mast was to hook up a pulley system with lines attached to the mast and we could shove it back on the wooden cradle. Stu, Tony, Aidan and I gave a hand and it worked, although we often looked up to make sure no one untied the lines where the cars were whipping by. I must say, we're not bored on Messenger.

So that's one more job done. Now we have a big cleanup ahead and we need to get some things packed up to haul home Thursday.   We're all very excited, I am particularly excited to see family and friends and a bed.

Then it'll be back to Messenger on the weekend and hopefully we can start bringing her home.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On our way to the watery weary canal

Dawn at Nyack
We left Manhattan reluctantly but the sun was shining the current was in our favour and we had to get going. We learned too that part of the Erie Canal was to open soon.

We decided to make it to Nyack, home to our friends Judy and Steve on Bentana who we had met in the Bahamas.

We made it to Nyack and just caught a quick visit with Judy and Steve and took a mooring ball, as did our friends on Georgia E. We were just climbing into bed at about 10:30 p.m. and bang! we could see a mast and lights on our transom. We had either dragged on our mooring ball into Georgia E or we had just swung into each other when the current changed. Either way, we had to move, so in the black and strong winds the boys and Scott and I moved Messenger over to another mooring ball. The winds calmed and we were all up in the night thinking we had dragged to shore, it was that still.

We left the next day and headed to Kingston, about 70 miles up the Hudson River. It was spectacular. It was once called the River of the Mountains by the First Nations people and it's easy to see why with the sharp peaks of the Adirondacks. We also passed by West Point. Reg is just studying about Ulysses Grant and Robert E Lee for his world history course and both had attended the historic military academy.

We docked at the Hudson River Maritime Museum and thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits. It has a lovely reinvigorated small waterfront. Unfortunately that includes dance bars that played music from about 11 p.m. to about 4 a.m. Boom Boom Boom Boom One Two Three Four Oh My God will it ever stop. That's the synopsis of our evening there. Never again.

Scott and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 6 a.m. to catch the current and took turns at the wheel while Scott took the sails down in preparation of taking our mast down at Castleton-Upon-the-Hudson, a do-it-yourself mast stepping facility and boat club. It's also one of the friendliest clubs on the lake.

It took all five of the crew of Messenger to wrangle that 55-foot 500-lb stick into place on the cradle we had left there last fall. It was growing cold and windy and the rain threatened, finally starting to pour just after we had got the mast down. The boat club was having a striped bass tournament - amazing fish which swim all the way up the Hudson to spawn then swim back to the ocean later this month. The annual migration also attracts harbour seals at times. It's a beautiful area of the river with low lying mountains, green swampy trees and historic buildings peaking out of the forest.

We ended up staying at the club that night and then travelled up to Waterford, New York today to get into position to do a bit of the canal. It's a real frustration to be this close to home and to be facing delays because of the flooding here.

We're not sure of our passages here - the canal is to be fully open next week but the next 10 days call for rain, so it's hard to know what's going to happen. Georgia E had to get their mast down in the Catskills but are hoping to meet us here. The Oswego Canal to Lake Ontario is closed however, so it's not clear how far they'll get either.

We did get some laundry done today, a five-block walk away. Scott picked up some groceries and tomorrow it'll be cleanup, school and we'll pick up propane before heading out Tuesday. Likely again in this cold rain. Yuck. We're very grateful for our little ceramic heater which is chugging away to keep the chill at bay. The Gilligan's Island DVD is helping keep our spirits up too.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day in New York

Offshore passages used to terrorize me, I was afraid of the hundreds of things that could go wrong, hitting things in the night, seasickness, and general stupidness that sinks in after so many hours of sleep deprivation.

So, now that I have a few passages under my belt, I've discovered the magic of Scopolamine patches, I must havce subconsciously figured it was time to make it more interesting by losing my glasses just before our last passage offshore to New York.

I don't have great night vision to begin with but when Scott confidently told me I'd have 'no problems' steering at night, I thought, hey I've done this before, what's the big deal.

OK, so the big deal is this: you can't see a DAMN THING without glasses at night. I could see lights ahead but they could have been aliens for all I knew. I didn't know how far, how close, and even with our radar and AIS I couldn't pick out certain lights. On top of that the used autopilot Scott and Aidan worked on for a week didn't have a calibrated compass. It was handsteering all the way.

We also discovered Reg, who also lost his glassesand had a bad fit of teenage crankiness, may have more problems at night. He took the early night shift and in about 10 minutes had us turned around going back to Cape May. We were alerted to the problem when he said he couldn't see Georgia E, which we were folloing. Ay yi yi.

So this plus an increasingly tempermental alternator and damp, soaked-in-your-bones cold made our last offshore passage rather memorable.

But it struck me last night that this could be our last offshore passage as a family. It gave me pause, and helped me overlook the challenges and see through to the good stuff: kids helping out (or at least trying) and all enjoying our beef stew as the sunset over the horizon.

Some things I'll never forget.

We came into New York with Lady Liberty greeting us and Aidan made me coffee, Elizabeth gave me a card, Reg grunted (hey at least he grunted) and the boys had told me they wanted to get me something special in New York. There's nothing more special than what's already on this boat.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cooling our heels in Cape May

I'm hugging the stainless steel bimini frame behind the wheel as Messenger is tossed to and fro. I squeeze my eyes shut, praying for deliverance from seasickness, the cold, the howling wind in any way God sees fit to make it happen.

Then Messenger hits a wall of water and the boat is engulfed in a wave, the dodger and the enclosure are soaked and the water drips through a few tiny holes. I sit up and Reg and Elizabeth and Scott and I all yell at the same time. Messenger is fine and suddenly I am too. A brush with death tends to snap me out of seasickness.

We are rounding the Cape May shoal. It was supposed to be 10 to 15 knots of wind at our back, a nice gentle run down the Delaware to the ocean. It was that for about an hour and then it started to build and the rainstorms never left us. Our friends Stu and Tony on Georgia E were holding their own on their tough Bayfield 36 and we were doing the same, both of us topping 10 knots in speed as we rushed with the current down to the ocean with breaking waves building behind us. Then we had to turn to go around the shoal and we knew it would be bad.

Later Tony and Stu said they thought it was going to be worse. Huh.

We fought our way up to Cape May for about 10 miles and finally Reg succumbed to seasickness and after he asked for a bowl, I ran to the head for a quick trip and opened the door and found all of my makeup box had emptied upside down after flying out of the cupboard. Someone, probably me, hadn't closed it all the way. I had to maneuvre taking down three pairs of pants, doing my business then redressing and emerging all the while trying not to slip on lipstick and mascara tubes. I climbed back into the cockpit in time to help Reg with being sick and then boy was I sick. That's when I climbed behind the wheel with Scott.

We got into Cape May and the 20 knots we anchored in felt like a light breeze. We both tucked in for the night and the next morning we were getting ready to go into Utsch's Marina and Georgia E's anchor started to drag. We finally got in after maneuvring in this shallow harbour.

We met up with some cruisers we had met in the Bahamas from Quebec and they told us that the Erie Canal was closed. Yikes. We checked and yes, not only was it closed due to all the runoff and intense rain they've had, the earliest possible day for opening is the week of May 23 (our wedding anniversary).

So we've been regrouping. Our plan now is stay in Cape May for one more day, then head for our 120-mile passage to New York late tomorrow, arriving Sunday morning. We now have a few days to enjoy New York. So we'll do that: Elizabeth and I are planning a shopping day and I am on a mission to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Then we'll go up the Hudson, take the mast down and settle in at Waterford, NY, the entrance to the canal. Then it looks as though I may rent a car and drive home with the kids and Scott will stay behind on the boat. Once the canal is open, we'll join him and help him bring the boat home. That's Plan A.

We have several other plans as well, depending on a number of variables. It's not the glorious end-of-trip finale I envisioned, but then, what the heck. We're anxious to get home for Pete's sake and Reg has a course he's lined up to take in early June and he may have exams to write as well. So, like the rest of this trip, plans are written in Jello and we'll have to just figure it out as we go along and try not to spend the Earth getting home.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Aurevoir Endurance

We said a sad and tearful goodbye to our good friends Tess and Tony on Endurance this morning as we slipped off the dock in Baltimore. They were staying for family reasons and we won't see them again for such a long time.

They're from New Hampshire and we met them when we were anchored at Royal Island in the Bahamas.They dinghied over because they had heard we had dragged in a terrible storm the night before and Tony had heard the kids' voices on the wind.

"I had to come over to meet  you because you have kids!" said Tess. "Do you like board games?"

Then she warned us not to see where we nearly ran aground in the anchorage where pieces of rebar lurked just under the water's surface. "Don't look at it, it bothered me, it'll haunt you," she said.

The next day at a dock in Spanish Wells she loaned me her hair cutting tool she had just used on her husband much to our entertainment and I cut Scott's hair. We shared big deep belly laughs. Of  course we were meant to be friends. (By the way, Tony and Scott didn't laugh that much together but this gave them a moment to share sympathy and bond).

We both cried today as we pulled away, like teenagers heading off to college.

Tony and Stu on Georgia E are travelling with us, great guys from Toronto, and it's wonderful to have a boat buddy.

We made it all the way to Chesapeake City, thanks to a big boost from the current running up the bay. Tomorrow we hope to make it down the Delaware River all the way to Cape May. Then we'll likely stop for a day due to weather and then take a big run offshore to New York where we'll anchor at Sandy Hook.

It was lovely today, about 80, with a fantastic breeze and we sailed the whole way with a surfing sea behind us. Big storms predicted tonight though and then it'll drop to just above freezing with rain. Lovely.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Time for a rest in Baltimore

We love Baltimore. There's so much to do and see here - apparently there are 200 distinct neighbourhoods. Scott and I went for a walk along a designated trail on the waterfront this morning and for a mile we saw at least a couple of those: Felll's Point and Canton.

Friday night we went to a famous pizzeria, Matthew's (est. 1943) and had a great time. That was in a different neighbourhood altogether. This is a marvelous city, rebuilt and reborn with people living in the downtown and jogging its streets, hanging out at cafes that spill onto its sidewalks. There is a vibrant arts community here along with dozens of museums and art galleries not to mention the national aquarium at the Inner Harbour.

We are trying to put the boat to rights and of course, Scott has some new things to fix: our autohelm compass stopped working on the way to Annapolis, the dinghy has sprung a leak and he needs to change the oil and check the engine. I have a monster list of scrubbing out lockers, reprovisioning and laundry, laundry and more laundry as I air the bedding and give it a good once over.

We got a dose of retail therapy at this terrific mall outside Baltimore called Arundel Mills.

Today we might try to get over to Fort McHenry (site of the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to pen the Star-Spangled Banner) and check out some of the eclectic stores at Fell's Point.

Then tonight it'll be potluck dinner aboard Endurance. Georgia E is to join us any day now and we'll start trying to stage our trip to New York. It's a bit of a long way, not even sure how many miles, about 200 or 300 from here??? We may stop a couple of times to anchor at the top of the Chesapeake. Once we're in New York, it'll be about two weeks and we'll be home. Hard to imagine sometimes.