Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tuesday, August 18th - Locks 35 & 34

This morning we met Dennis Wardell’s father, the founder of the Wardell boat yard.  He is working on restoring an old boat at the yard and was quite fun to chat with.  Dennis was kind enough, after we had walked over to the grocery store for provisions to pick us up and drive us back.


So, with the mast, boom and everything else of ours back on the boat we proceeded down the Erie Canal.


Jerry and I agree that for at least the first 30 miles the Erie Canal was about as exciting as watching grass grow.  Like most similar canals you simply run down a narrow ditch for mile after mile.  Yes, the scenery does change – corn fields, private homes, etc. but in general the entire idea is to get from point “A” to point “B”.


So far we have seen 2 other sailboats making their way east to west.


For those considering a transit:


The entire canal is on channel 13 ---


We locked thru the first two locks coming east – locks 35 and 34.  The lockmaster was very helpful and after purchasing our 10 day canal pass got us hooked up and ready to go.  These are very deep locks back to back in Lockport, NY.  That is, lock 35 feeds you directly into lock 34.  You loop a line around a cable and the line slides down the cable as you are lowered quickly it turns out in the lock.  What we were unprepared for was the bow and stern of the boat swinging against the side of the lock.  We had brought two long 2 x 2 poles on board and spent quite a bit of the time keeping Reboot parallel to the dock.  Since the mast sticks about 10 feet out in front and behind the boat the impact of even small swings are exaggerated.  We were OK with only two of us on board but a third hand would have been nice.  A lot happens in a very short time.  Our mild trip thru the Black Rock canal lock did not prepare us well.


What we didn’t know was that the lower lock feeds into a 200 yard stretch of the canal with a lift bridge that does not open unless you call it separately.  I guess there are lots of boats that come out of the lock and then stop (there is no place to stop!)  Fortunately a tour boat was in the lock with us and notified the bridge that we were coming thru also.  Then, just so that captains can exhibit their skills holding an 11 ton sailboat in the center of a 100 foot wide channel in a crosswind there is a second lift bridge 500 yards further down the canal.  It too does not open.  We have been told that the bridge operator opens the first bridge, closes it, gets in his car, drives to the second bridge and opens that.  Clearly a system that provides a major hazard to navigation, fortunately for us canal traffic has been very light and we only shared the “holding pen” with the tour boat so we had a bit more room to maneuver.  I bet with three or four sailboats it could be quite a show.


So far the cruising guides have not been much help, and the NOAA charts do not cover the area we are transiting.  The NY State Canal Corporation publishes a guide that includes charts of the canal and that is what we have been using to keep track of our progress.  With all the focus on locks it is easy to forget that there are quite a few lift bridges.  They are marked on the charts but not in an obvious way.  Each bridge that crosses the canal is labeled.  After a couple of surprises you start looking for the word “lift” in the bridge description.


Garmin obviously did not put a lot of stake into getting the Erie Canal charts accurate.  We have been at various times in the canal, parallel to the canal, on roads near the canal, and harvesting corn.  The equipment keeps a track of our route; it will be fun to compare it to the charts.  Also, the west part of the canal does not have official NOAA charts.  We will see what happens when we get to “official” NOAA chart country.


We spent the night in Middleport, NY.  Jerry bought me a celebratory dinner at The Basket Factory.  It is a great moderately priced restaurant right on the canal.  It was recommended by the lockkeeper at Lock’s 35&34 and we would recommend it too.


Tomorrow we grind thru as many more miles of the canal as possible; we have about 300 more to go.  We go about 7 miles an hour, so you do the math!



  1. Roger, Jack Boeldt here. I am one of Jerry's Eagle Creek boat people. I talked to Jerry by cell about 1:00p today. I sent you $5 via PayPal for donuts. It doesn't seem like 4 years since Jerry's group sailed the North Channel of Lake Huron - He should have a story or two about that trip. I just spent an hour getting signed into this GOOGLE web, and hope it transmits.
    Fair Winds.

  2. Thanks to Jack for his contribution via PayPal. The entire crew of 2 (less the kitty it seems) will feast on donuts in Jack's name.