We left Newark a little after 9AM and made it to lock 29 about 2 hours later.

Leaving Newark

We anticipated being grounded just shy of lock 30 and called ahead to see if it would be possible to get towed if we got stuck there. The towing facility said they could help if needed, and would try to be on the canal when we needed them. We knew the risks and based our decision on multiple reports and conversations with those who went before, lock keepers, and people with more experience and more to lose than us. We gained as much information as we could in advance. Sometimes you just say gotta yes and hit the gas! 

High water in the canal and rivers
Low water between locks 29 and 30 where the canal broke out and freed itself from a century confinement. “It’s been going on for over a hundred years!” Says Tom

Along the way the tow service called to say they’d be late to arrive, so we tied up at 29 and went to talk to Tom (rock n roll lock keeper), and Bob was there as well. We stopped being surprised to see Bob. He had become a fan of our circumstance and wanted to see us through, one way or another. They updated us with the latest news, gave us a tour of the facilities, and Tom put on a CD he recorded of his Erie Canal song, mentioning every town along the way.

There was also an updated sonar scan of the 3 mile section of canal between locks 29 and 30. It’s a color map indicating depth, but there was no legend so we didn’t know the exact depths. Green is deeper, red means time and money will be spent. Both Tom and Bob were supportive and encouraging, and the anticipated towing option, though not guaranteed, gave us some reassurance that we wouldn’t be completely stranded.

We went back to the boat and prepped to launch and lock through. Meanwhile, 3 canal touring boats (packet boat replicas) had arrived, and we’d be sharing the lock with them. They were headed back to the home port not far beyond 30. As we untied, the call came through that locks 29, 30, and many others in both directions, are now closed due to high water and debris. I’m pretty sure Tom could have quickly locked us through, but now there were 3 more boats with liability issues.

As luck would have it, the tour boat company owner was at the lock taking pictures for his customers. He got on the phone with canal Corp HQ and started negotiating. Upshot is that we locked through with them, pushed off, waved farewell to Tom and Bob, and started on this part of the journey that had been so intimidating for so long. Luck was on our side once again, last to lock through here for at least a few days.

The water was most shallow coming out of 29 and into 30, so we lined up the paper sonar map to the Garmin gps and satellite maps, slowly hunting our way along the less red parts. It was green for a mile or so and we took a breath or two before the tow boat driver called to say they wouldn’t let him into lock 30 as it was now officially closed. The lock keepers already confirmed that they would lock us through and not leave us trapped between, but there was no more backup plan…

Maps to reconcile. These don’t line up, there was a missing piece…

30 was in sight, growing closer and larger as the map indicated increasing amounts of red. The only way around was through. We aimed for the green just in front of the lock and felt the boat slow as the keel hit sand. Gordon pushed the throttle and we cleared that shoal. Still in the red, we had to stop. The 3 canal boats ahead (who didn’t have any trouble with their shallow draft) had stopped to wait for the lock to get set up to receive us. 

“Packet boats” you can rent with your family and friends to cruise the canal. Lock 30 is just ahead.

We knew we were going to need some good speed to get through the next shallow area, like when you start driving up a snowy hill and get a running start; you don’t want to be behind the slow car. The boat idled for a few minutes but our nerves didn’t. 

Once the others were in, we pushed ahead, staying close to the map’s less bright red contours. We could almost touch the lock gates but were still in the red zone, scraping up sand and gardening the river bottom as Moon Dancer plowed through. Everyone we spoke with said it was a soft bottom, and we were glad they were right. We were fully cognizant of the risk we were taking, and if we sunk the boat it would be… well, it’s on the captain not the deck hand/journal keeper. Heh…

Finally, the keel freed up and we motored smoothly into 30, thrilled to be roping up to this slayed dragon!

Top of lock 30!

Once inside the lock, I turned around to see Bob there, cheering us on! Thanks Bob! Bob doesn’t do Social media. Too bad, he’s one of the best resources along this section of canal, and I’m sure within his broad community as well.

Lock 30 behind us!
Rock and roll!
yacht rock?

The keeper at 30 made sure we knew we were now trapped between locks for some undetermined length of time. We didn’t care, we were past 30! We motored on in a celebratory mood and tied up at the Fairport town dock. It’s a good sized town where the canal seems to cut through the center of everything, with every service we could want. There are only a few locks left to manage, but here in Fairport we found the first of many lift bridges to be negotiated all the way to Buffalo.

I need to work on an exit strategy after 17 days into a 10 day trip. The bridges do not require a deck hand, and there’s no indication as to how long the canal will be closed, but Gordon will need to make some friends along the way to help him lock through the last 2 or 3 before Buffalo and Lake Erie. I will be sorry not to be there to see the lake open up and the sails unfurl.

There are no rental cars available, Amtrak has not yet returned to full service, and flights between Rochester and Burlington are outrageously expensive and take longer than the train plus hitchhiking. Even used cars are hard to find. I’m hopeful that my pilot son can provide a rescue airlift, but weather may be an issue as more rain appears to be on the way. The canal level is slowly lowering, and the locals say it could be 2 to 10 days before it returns to normal. Fairport isn’t a bad place to spend some time. 

Lift bridge in action. This one lifts up to become a walkway so people can keep moving. Cars need to wait though.
One of the only canted lift bridges in the world is in Fairport.

If you enjoyed reading this, and you have younger readers in your life, please check out my book, “The Biggest Bear”, it’s a great story, and you can read or listen to the first chapter here.

And don’t forget to subscribe if you’d like to receive post updates.

#greatloop #greatloopers #lock29 #lock30 #eriecanal

Locked in!

We docked in Newark in the rain and I made hot bacon/chicken/cheese sandwiches using the BBQ chicken that Devon gave us and house smoked n cured bacon I bought from the William St Tavern in Lyons. Best. Sandwich. Ever. Dessert was Mennonite blueberry pie from the farmers market yesterday, also in Lyons. Walked to the nearby grocery store to restock, came back to the boat to read and watch YouTube videos about sailing. We both avoided the looming question about what the next move might be. Tomorrow, we would arrive at the decision point.

Sunday morning over coffee we faced the hard fact. The boat is too deep for the approaching 3 mile section of canal just 9 miles on, and the most optimistic timing for it to return to normal operation is two weeks, our choices are to 1) pause the trip again, find a marina and tie up, go home, and come back when that section is “really” open or 2)… well, there really isn’t a second option. The lock keeper says 5 feet max or you can plan on getting beached, and nobody really knows what’s down there.

But we did hear a rumor or two about boats getting towed through.

Boats heading east have zero options now due to high water from heavy recent rains closing the canal for at least another day or 2 in that direction. But we’re heading west where the canal is too low. It sounds wrong, but it’s complicated. The canal is sometimes part of the river and sometimes parallel to it. In those places where it’s parallel,the river feeds the canal and controls the water depth. In other places, guard gates prevent high river water from flooding the canal, but then the canal has to close until the river subsides because you can’t boat through a closed guard gate.

Option 2 just needed a minute to catch up with us over coffee. As we discussed the dilemma, I looked up and said “that looks like Bob.” Walking down the dock, heading our way was Bob. Remember Bob? From Lyons? He’s buddy’s with Tom, the keeper at 29 (who’s locally famous for playing air guitar at work), and they spoke last night.

Tom told Bob, and Bob told us, “you probably don’t want to spread this around, but the canal water is a bit higher now from all the rain, and that might make it easier for some of the bigger boats to get through.”

Then Bob said “I’m heading down that way now and you’re welcome to come along if you’d like to see for yourself.”

The tag line of this site is “Just Say Yes” Need I say more?

Bob is somewhat of a local historian and gave us a great local history lesson along the 15 mile drive. We saw some of the old shops, buildings, original canal ruins and ox trails from the canal heydays. The ox trail turned bike trail with “glamping” facilities on the rise.

Tom at 29 is an amicable man, who’s been at this a while. He came to work one morning in May and found his section of the canal empty after a hole eroded in the side of the canal allowing it to drain into the river. They’ve been working on it since then. So, while he empathized with our dilemma, it certainly wasn’t his. He’s been taking phone calls from all over the east from boaters like us. But those boaters don’t know Bob.

Construction at 29
High water!

Tom showed us around the construction site and described exactly what happened. He was non-committal about our chances of getting through this section of canal, as he should be, but said he’d help us as best he could. I could read between part the lines of his message, but there’s only so much one can do in the face of the forces of nature.

Tom, Bob, Gordon, and the infamous lock 29

Back in Newark, Gordon called the tow boat insurance company and signed up for the free towing package. They said they’d meet us at lock 29 around noon on Monday with a boat that could tow us through if we got stuck. Meanwhile, more notices to Mariners came through with additional high water lock closures that we hoped to pass through tomorrow! High water lock closures are on either side of us now, and boats seem to be stacking up here in Newark waiting to go one way or the other. Still no food truck to be found.

At the Newark town dock

I’m pushing hard against the outside limits of time before I need to tend to my regularly scheduled programming back home. This started as a “planned” 7-10 journey for me, and it’s now day 16 with a couple more to go. I need this week to plan for next week’s journey, a trip to the Oshkosh air show with my son.

If you enjoy this, and you have younger readers in your life, please check out my book, “The Biggest Bear”, it’s a great story, and you can read or listen to the first chapter here.

And don’t forget to subscribe if you’d like to receive post updates.

#greatloop #greatloopers 

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