We must be Canadians, the lock operators commented. Who else would be in the canals at this time of year? Who else, indeed. It was a challenging start to our journey.
Only two weeks later, while crashing through the north Atlantic’s December waves, no land in sight, we longed for the calm, contained waters of the New York Canal system that had brought us to this point. Since we entered the Canals, we had put 400-500 nautical miles behind us, and those miles had put us through a few rites of passage. We’ll share more about our Atlantic experiences in an upcoming Ariose Note. For this post though, we will turn the calendar back to that week in late November and our experience traversing the Canals.
The Canals are 524 miles of inter-connected waterways, and include the Erie Canal (from Buffalo), the Oswego Canal (short leg from Lake Ontario south to connect with West-East Erie Canal), the Champlain Canal (directly south from near Montreal), and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal (through Ithaca).
They opened in 1825, the grandiose brainchild of a Governor Clinton from an earlier era, to better access the American interior. Apparently, his plan was widely known as “Clinton’s Folly”. Some things don’t change. This water highway would allow settlers to more easily move west, and the resources from beyond what was then considered the western frontier, to move east. His vision was that the canals, and the commerce they allowed, would make New York City the economic capital of the US, and that they did! Costs of moving products along the canal were a tenth of the costs of overland, so the boom in trade was immediate. The advances in rail and the opening of the St. Lawrence to freighter traffic in the 1950’s spelled a decline for the Canals. Although there is still some commercial traffic, it’s primarily a tourist route, being developed as a “Greenway” to preserve the canal-related nature, history and culture.
For us, as with many cruisers, the New York Canal System offers an alternative to the St. Lawrence to get from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic. Although we’d love to do the St. Lawrence some day, the added miles to head north and around the Gaspe Peninsula, and demanding conditions of late-in-the-year Maritimes sailing, are beyond our means at this time. Our first attempt to make it across Lake Ontario to the Oswego New York entrance to the Canals was rather brutally thwarted, but a couple of weeks later, Ariose, proudly sporting a repaired keel and rudder, ferried us over. We were in a race against the November 20th closing of the Canals. On November 17th, we made it across to the start of the Canal, armed with personal assurances from management that even though it would likely take a us a week, they would ensure that we got through as long as we promised to get underway early each day. (Being stuck for the winter mid-lock, upper New York State was not part of our dream – so no dilly-dallying for us!)
Checking in with US Customs and Border Services was easy. We had heard stories of strict process, with cruisers enduring searches so we were a little nervous. We were pleasantly surprised when friendly agent at the other end of the videophone seemed more intent on chiding us for setting out so late in the year than relieving us of our home-made wine which remained stowed safely in our lockers.
What followed was an interesting but rushed week of cold days motoring along the waterways, usually setting out as the sun rose and tying up as darkness descended. As you know, we were successful in transiting the Canals, just in the nick of time, lock gates closing firmly at our stern. We’re told we hold the official honour of being the last recreational boat through. Here is a photo review of our transit.
I’m a solo sailing Autistic adult who is exploring this fantastic world on a beautiful 1969 Alberg 30. Come and share it with me for musings about sailing solo and what it’s like to do it on the Spectrum.