Crossing Our Wake

10 months have passed since Silas airlifted me out of the Erie canal near Rochester NY in a Cessna 152 and brought me back home to Vermont. It’s always good to be home but I did find myself “missing the boat”, so to speak. After all that motoring I felt a little cheated out of the experience of raising the mast and setting sail on the Great Lakes, and again in the Gulf of Mexico out to the Atlantic. The opportunity to join for sailing at some point later in the trip never quite worked out. Adventure and the need to get out of my own way for a short time won the day though, when Gordon called and asked if I could be available to help lock through the Champlain canal heading north on the last leg of the trip.

We met in Troy NY at dinner time at the start of Memorial Day Weekend, just south of Federal Lock, the first lock on the Hudson River. It was good to be stretched out on the cockpit bench catching up on stories and news.

Public dock in Troy NY

The gates opened at 7AM and we were ready. The locking process was still part of my muscle memory and went smoothly, but we shared the lock with a crew of noobs on a big, fast boat who decided it was a good time to install their on-deck speaker system and share their poor taste in music at high volume. I’m always kind of astounded at the lack of self awareness at such levels but I think they saw us shaking our heads and turned it down after a few minutes. We watched them scramble to manage the boat and the ropes hanging from the wall as the water rose while the captain worked the thrusters, asking the lock master all kinds of questions. I cringed because that was 100% us a year ago.

A few miles north, we “crossed our wake” at the confluence of the Hudson and the Mohawk River where the Erie Canal begins. We had docked on that wall and spent the night nearly a year ago in advance of the “flight of five” – five locks in quick succession at the start of the Erie. Still no taco truck or coffee cart…

Crossing our wake at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers

We entered the Champlain canal at Lock 1 in Waterford NY. There’s a double locking process now where they fill the lock twice and empty it before opening to let boats through. This is an effort to prevent the invasive Goby fish from migrating northward, but is currently only happening here at Lock 1. Lock 12 in Whitehall is the last lock on the canal before Lake Champlain, and we hoped to be able to spend our last night on the water at the same place we spent the first, the Lock 12 Tavern at the Whitehall Marina where the staff treated us and the boat well. There are only 11 locks on the canal though, lock 10 was planned but never built.

The big fast loud boat got to the next two locks just a few minutes before us, and each time had to wait for us to get there, plugging along at 5-1/2 mph. If there’s a boat in sight, the lock master will wait before closing the gates. I’m sure that annoyed them as much as their attitude annoyed us, which seemed a satisfactory enough trade. We made a lunch stop though, and lost them for good.

Between locks 4 and 5, we tied up for the night at the Schuyler Yacht Basin and campground in Schuylerville NY. At the marina bar we talked to a retired coast guard captain and former NYC police officer who told us stories about his experiences in the 1970s which, as teenagers back then, we had heard as rumors, but it turns out they were all true. 😬 😅😧

A short walk into town brought us to an excellent brew pub and Laotian food restaurant called “Bound by Fate”.

I look forward to a good, slow cup of coffee in the morning but that has been elusive on my part of this journey. Just like the taco truck. So once again we’re well underway before I can find the bag of ancient, stale coffee and some cheerios. The coffee is bad enough that I’m almost willing to stop drinking it altogether. Gordon has given up good taste and switched to instant. Just as well, I’m a lot happier with a lot less than I’ve ever been. Not sure if that’s part of a natural aging process or just the jaded acceptance of whatever reality I’m currently in, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that we all get better over time if we give ourselves the chance.

At some point during the next day was a torrential, 30 minute downpour, followed by sun, heat, and humidity, followed by a short walk to the local brewpub for lunch in Fort Ann NY. There’s a bit of history (which you won’t learn here) about all of the forts along this stretch of river: Fort Miller, Fort Edward, Fort Ann, Ticonderoga, Crown Point, etc.

docked in Fort Ann
another great meal!

Lock 9 is the height of land and we begin the decent to the lake Champlain basin. The lock masters are careful to inspect the gate seals before opening into the canal, we think because of the Gobi fish issue. Draining the locks usually goes a faster than filling, but sometimes you need to call the lock master on the radio and remind them that you’re in the lock chamber ready for the gate to close. Apparently it’s been a slow week on the canal. All in all, we make good time toward #12.

Lock 12, last one!

Last lock! I have to keep reminding myself that I was not present for the vast majority of this journey but it still feels like a full circle has been completed. We’re excited to dock at the Whitehall Marina at Lock 12 again but there’s no warm welcome from the staff like last year. Another boatman docked there helps us tie up and says they’re closed and out of fuel. But there are two guys working and one approaches us, gruffly announcing that they’re closed. We tell him we’re already tied up and ask if we can stay overnight anyway and he grumbles in an even more irascible, not-ready-for-retail attitude. If I were the owner of anything, I would not leave this guy alone at my establishment to chase away money from paying customers.

He scratches his head and says, “You gotta talk to Joey. You see that skinny f*ck over there? Hey, JOEY!” He shouts at Joey who’s talking to another customer, even though they’re supposedly closed, “these guys wanna dock for the night!”

“I’ll be done here soon,” Joey shouts back.

“Awright, you guys need the bathroom? You got the code? It’s the phone number. I dunno, just punch in the numbers it should open. I gotta go make some deliveries.”

And then, the surprising Mr. Irascible invited us into the shop to see some beautiful wooden boat work in progress!

Just as abruptly he says again, “I gotta go make deliveries.” And Mr. Sunshine is gone. It was nothing personal, just his demeanor.

Eventually we settle up with Joey who offers us power and beer; that kind of hospitality that goes a long way! We clean up and wander around Whitehall looking for dinner and find no luck or even a general store open on this Memorial weekend Sunday. Any hope of finding a café for morning coffee is also dashed. Eventually we find, about a 5 walk from the marina, a family campground with a small restaurant on site where we talk to Sal at the bar, find out he’s the cook, and order Sal’s meatballs with spaghetti off the menu. It was way too much food but we were happy to have it.

Back at the boat, it didn’t take long for the mosquitoes to make a meal of us and we retreated inside, happy to have an excuse to hit the bunks early. I made sure Gordon knew he needed to put his sandals outside for the night because the smell would keep me awake. A couple hours later I wake up coughing. Smelly feet and old sandals pervade, but before I open my mouth to complain I recognize the smell not as feet, but as propane.

Propane gas burns somewhere between about 5 and 20% mixture with air. I don’t want to know what the concentration in the boat was, but I’m glad neither of us smoke. We turned off the gas, turned on the fan and aired out the boat in a few minutes. Well, I’m not thinking about that anymore and neither should you.

We slept fitfully the rest of the night, for different reasons I’m sure, and were underway by 7am for our last day on the boat. Whitehall NY to Charlotte VT. Same route as the first day.

Crown Point NY
Fort ruins at Crown Point

Around 11, we hit a long smooth, straight stretch on southern Lake Champlain. Gordon went below to make a last meal on the boat while I made sure the autopilot stayed on track. 30 minutes later he returned with 2 plates filled with the best breakfast burritos I’d ever had! I was immediately put in mind of the ancient sage wisdom: that which we had been seeking all along from the outside world – the taco truck – is what we carried within for all that time. Just click your heals, Dorothy, and get to work.

The Narrows of Dresden, Lake Champlain
Breakfast burritos!

We cleaned up the boat while motoring closer and closer to home port. Gordon had motor-sailed over 5,000 miles this past year with a handful of breaks and visits along the way. People do “the loop” (Erie canal through the Great Lakes, south to the Gulf, around Florida, up the eastern seaboard to the Hudson River) a lot faster but that’s not really the point for everyone.

“Tie up on the west side of the dock, just behind the red sailboat,” the dock manager radioed.

Coming in to port, Charlotte VT

We were both happy to see Erica, Gordon’s girlfriend, waiting on the dock. I tossed her the midline, jumped off and tied us up while Gordon deftly maneuvered the boat to just kiss the dock. Another smooth landing. Once the boat was secured, Erica pulled 3 glasses and a bottle of Prosecco from her bag. We stood on the dock next to Moon Dancer telling stories and catching up until the bottle was empty. We loaded the cart, rolled it to the car and packed up, leaving the boat to have her mast stepped for summer sailing on Lake Champlain.

Still friends!

I imagine Gordon is practicing being on land today, steadying his sea legs and planting a garden in solid, stationary ground, planning next year’s adventure with a bigger boat on the west coast through the inside passage to Alaska.

As for me, a landlubber at heart, earth sign Capricorn to the core, who can’t resist a good adventure or excuse to write about it, I’m on the porch enjoying a really good cup of coffee; waiting for the next adventure to present itself so I can say “yes” once more. Some say time is money, but for the likes of Gordon and myself, time is an opportunity for experience. I have the rest of the week off and hope to make some progress on my electric bike build project. Yeah, i know I could buy one, but that’s not really the point.

Thanks to all who have made the time to read about, and follow this journey. Your comments, encouragement, and questions served well to coax more words to flow.

southern Lake Champlain
till next adventure!

Published by Paul J.

Writer, adventurer, maker

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