Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hudson River Highlights

September 20-27, Waterford, New York to New York City
We’ve been quiet without much to report for a while, but here are a few highlights from the past week:

• Completing the last five locks of the Erie Canal, the “Waterford Flight.” This set of locks, the biggest in the world, dropped us 169 feet in less than two miles. We spent Friday and Saturday nights in the historic town of Waterford, the oldest incorporated village in the United States.Loren and Clairice had left a car at the home of his cousin Laurie and her husband Jim. They drove it over and we enjoyed their company over a delicious dinner complete with warm and funny conversation.

• Restepping the mast at Riverview Marine in Catskill on Monday, September 24. Our beautiful Pelican is now restored her to her normal state of grace. Loren and Clairice worked hard on the tasks involved in the process and then left the next morning without reaping the rewards of their labor. We’re so glad they could share the experience of the Erie Canal with us, and we’re very thankful for all of their help.

• Meeting John and Ann Ross, a charming couple from Sarasota, Florida, who trailered their 1946 Chris Craft to the Hudson River to cruise with twenty-seven other classic wooden boats. Their runabout, AƱejo, was in mint condition, varnished and polished to a showroom shine. We complimented their boat profusely, they appreciated our enthusiasm, and soon they offered to take us for a short spin on the river. What a treat! And what a lovely couple.

• Seeing such a variety of sights along the river: Cliffs, mountains, and wooded banks. Castles, monasteries, and genteel estates. Five lighthouses. And West Point, standing guard like a massive fortress with the river as its moat.

• Anchoring two nights on the Hudson and eating dinner in the cockpit under a full moon. One of those nights, we jumped in for a quick swim and got our first taste of salt water on this trip. The Hudson River is an estuary, and tides flow north as far as Troy, 150 miles upstream. According to the Indian name, it’s a “river that flows two ways.”

• Arriving in New York harbor, greeted by a chaos of wakes from every kind and size of boat. The marina where we are staying has a “wave attenuator,” but it can't quite keep up. We're happy that the water traffic has diminished and all is quiet now. When the ferries and water taxis were scurrying back and forth, though, our mast would swing like a pendulum. Ah, but the view! In late afternoon the skyscraper windows mirrored the light of the setting sun. At night, the city lights twinkle like a galaxy of stars. Tomorrow we'll play tourist in the big city.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reflections of Beauty

September 19, Canajoharie, New York
We spent a night in Rome on September 17, and in keeping with the Italian theme, the next day we came upon an authentic Venetian gondola in the canal! We didn't hear any strains of "O Sole Mio" wafting across the water, but the gondolier does plan to row more than half of the length of the canal.

Our next stop was Little Falls, set along a waterfall in the foothills of the Adirondacks. Many of the buildings sit flush on the edge of granite precipices. The two-toned majestic cliffs that tower over us along the channel are a magnet to rock climbers.

We pass through a unique lock today. It drops us forty feet, the biggest drop on the Erie Canal. And it is also the only lock that, instead of having gates that swing outward, has a gate that lifts above our heads—all 120 tons of it—as we leave. It definitely drips on us…better by far than dropping on us!

Canajoharie has been high on our list since the beginning of this trip because of its library/art gallery with a famous collection of paintings by Winslow Homer and other American artists. When we stop here for the night, we’re disappointed to learn that the gallery is closed until its grand reopening in an expanded space on Sunday. Our timing leaves a little bit to be desired.

Instead we hike to a gorge just south of town to see the waterfalls and the “Boiling Pot,” a circular pool that the spring run-off swirls through. Canajoharie is an Indian word meaning “pot that washes itself.”

Chilly fall nights are followed by summer-hot days without a breath of wind. Unbroken blue sky and the entire spectrum of green reflect on the water surface. We leave mile after mile of beautiful scenery in our wake, thankful for glimpses of God’s beauty reflected in the world He made.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Halfway Point

September 16, Baldwinsville, New York
Morning gilds the clouds with a rosy reflection on this glorious Sunday morning. The temperature overnight was our coldest so far, and the partly cloudy skies follow along as we go, obscuring the warming rays of the sun.

The canal widens and meanders between the natural banks of the Seneca River, alternately lined with cattails and grasses, draped with overhanging tree branches, piled with driftwood, and scattered with camping trailers.

About halfway through our day, we meet the towboat Urger (you’ve gotta love the name!), one of the New York Canal System working boats. We stay the night in Baldwinsville, New York, the exact halfway point between Lake Erie and the Hudson River.

Check out the Google map I've posted at the bottom of this page with the stops we've made along the way on our journay!

Local Delicacies

September 14-15, Lyons, New York
The doors to Lock 30 close behind us and a clever young heron lands on the gates and perches transfixed on the lowering waters. Fish trapped in the shallower depths become easy prey and he snaps up several delicacies.

We snap up some delicacies, too, at the Saturday Farmers’ Market in the delightful village of Lyons. Friendly local growers tempt us with colorful displays of ripened-on-the-vine tomatoes, deep purple eggplant, pure-white cauliflower, and oversized zucchini. We stock up on fruits, vegetables, and baked goods…and can’t resist a bouquet of fresh-picked flowers.

We love visiting these little towns, and it's good to take a day off. An extra day in Lyons gives Keith a chance to change the oil...and allows us to wait out the rain.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Full Day

September 13, Fairport. New York
Light diffuses through mist hovering over the still water as the sun rises, lending a mystical quality to the early morning. We pass under the lift bridge as soon as the operator comes on duty and stop for breakfast in Medina forty minutes later. A ninety-nine-cent breakfast special had been offered at a restaurant four years earlier. Inflation has increased the price, though…by a dollar.

Soon after we start out again, we cruise along on the canal and look down on a road that passes underneath. It’s the only place where the road goes under the canal, an engineering wonder both then and now.

Herons, kingfishers, and ducks peer intently into the water, then dart for cover as we close in. Ahead, an osprey dives from eighty feet into the water then sails in front of us with a fish in its talons.

Along the western end of the Erie the old mule towpaths have been converted into paved walking and bike trails that extend for a hundred miles. Loren disembarks with a bike and a camera and rides for two and a half miles between stopping places to capture images of Pelican underway. (Check out our “Sanford and Sons” look.)

Ten hours after we leave Middleport, we arrive at the very popular destination of Fairport. In other towns where we’ve stopped, we've had only one companion. Here, we are one of a dozen boats. Maybe the three ice cream shops near the waterfront are the draw!

The Power of the Wind

September 12, Middleport, New York
Late last night a fierce storm blasted through Tonawanda, packing gusts up to 64 mph and snapping substantial tree limbs as if they were mere matchsticks. Keith and Loren scrambled to attach extra dock lines for insurance.

Today dawns bright and clear, cooled by a refreshing breeze. Dog days and record-breaking heat give way to rain and then crisp fall days with temperatures dipping overnight. Apple-laden trees and corn stalks radiate in neat rows from the red barns that dot the rural landscape. Small swatches of red and orange begin to decorate the lush green leaves on either side of the canal. The trees cling to rock ledges at the shoreline and we revel in God’s created beauty.

Our calm reverie is interrupted by an adrenaline rush when we enter the second lock at Lockport and are blown off the wall by the wind. We stage a dramatic show for the onlookers on the tour boat ahead of us—our second-most-exciting lock experience ever. They cheer when we secure our boat to the wall and lock down. No harm done.

The quiet little town of Middleport is our stop for the night. Stately churches, constructed in the mid-1800s of beautiful native sandstone and brick, anchor the street corners and bear solemn witness to the changes that have occurred over the past century. Dinner is delicious at the historic Basket Factory, originally a manufacturer of bushel baskets for farmers’ produce in the canal’s heyday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On the Erie Canal

September 11, Tonawanda, New York
Keith’s parents rejoined us in Buffalo, and they came bearing bikes. We had won the bid on a pair of folding Dahon Boardwalk bikes, including bags, on eBay. The complication was that they had to be picked up…in Maine. Since Loren and Clairice were already planning a driving trip to Albany, at the east end of the Erie Canal, they very graciously offered to make a fairly lengthy side trip to Maine to retrieve the bikes.

Yesterday all the preparation for unstepping (taking down) the mast and placing it on deck provided a good workout. Today we arrive at Tonawanda, the western terminus of the Erie Canal, where a crane lifts the ponderous and unwieldy mast off the deck and dangles it into place on waiting sawhorses. Always a heart-pounding process with plenty of potential for damage, this time we sustain a small gouge in Keith's meticulously refinished bow pulpit wood trim. All of this so that our boat, whose mast normally towers to sixty-one feet, can glide under bridges that rise only fifteen feet from the water.

Pelican’s wings have been clipped again; she can no longer extend them to soar in the wind. But we can fly! We take the bikes on a ten-mile inaugural ride to West Marine (where else?) and have a blast! People seem to be admiring our new bikes. Or maybe they’re marveling at Keith’s multi-tasking abilities as he rides his bike while talking on his cell phone and carrying an eight-foot antenna (to exchange).

We’re looking forward to transiting the Erie Canal again. Last time we made this trip we really enjoyed the charming little towns along the way with their redeveloped waterfronts.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Off the Big Lakes

September 7, Buffalo, New York
We leave Put-in-Bay Thursday morning with the intention of making Fairport our next port of call ten hours later. A 20-knot blow gives us the chance to enjoy an exhilarating sail for three hours until the wind diminishes.

But Friday afternoon the winds are forecast to pipe up to 25 knots and the seas to five feet, with small craft advisories. So we put Plan B into place and continue through the night toward Buffalo to beat the weather.

During my second watch, a little smile of a crescent moon rises ahead and beams a golden path right to our boat. To me, it’s a reminder of God’s extravagant love that always surrounds us and His lavish faithfulness that always reaches out to us whether our sea is full of waves or mirror calm.

As we approach Buffalo, the water is churned into whitecaps. If we were heading the opposite direction, we would pound into the waves, but on this heading, with our jib unfurled, we comfortably surf following swells at speeds of up to 9.2 knots (compared to our normal cruising speed of 7 knots). All in all, the conditions are perfect for the sailing regatta taking place outside Buffalo harbor.

We arrive at our destination after thirty hours, happy to be off the big lakes for now.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

All By Ourselves

September 5, Put-in-Bay, Ohio
We’ve only just begun this trip, but we already know that one of the highlights will be Sean’s visit over the weekend. We have a great time…sailing with Sean at the helm…touring the Edsel and Eleanor Ford home…hanging out n the cockpit and people-watching as a parade of boats comes and goes to the restaurant just across the channel well into the night.

Monday afternoon we drop Sean off at Detroit airport and Tuesday morning Keith’s mom and dad drive away toward upstate New York and Maine. Now Keith and I are on our own until we get to the Erie Canal.

Our boat dealer, Bob Reed, generously shares his time and expertise with us later on Tuesday. Anyone who has ever dealt with Bob speaks of him in glowing terms. He’s the first person to call if you’re in the market for a sailboat!

Today we depart the marina into a shroud of fog. Navigational buoys emerge from a dense gray background as we approach. After a few fleeting appearances, the sun forces the haze to retreat to the horizon. We motor past the Motor City and into Lake Erie. Its shallow depths warm to the September sun and sparkle turquoise in its rays.

We make it a short day and stop at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. A monument to Commodore Perry, who won the Battle of Lake Erie in these waters and turned the tide in the War of 1812, towers over the harbor. (We get a few history lessons along the way.) Keith and I walk around town past restaurants and gift shops and the “world’s longest bar.” This is a tourist resort accessible only by boat and ferry. On summer weekends, it’s a crazy party atmosphere, jam-packed with revelers. Midweek after Labor Day, it’s low key and lovely.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Surprise Visitor!

August 31-September 1, St. Clair Shores, MI
We decide to run overnight from Presque Isle to Lake St. Clair. Keith’s dad seems to be in a hurry to be in St. Clair Shores by Saturday. Keith’s mom will join us there, and for some reason, she is uncharacteristically anxious for us to arrive. The weather seems to agree with her; it couldn’t be better for this passage and we have a very comfortable trip.

Around noon, we pull in to Jefferson Beach Marina, where we bought Pelican and dock at the Bob Seger’s slip. (The rock star is an avid sailor and happens to be a good friend of our boat dealer.) Mom has driven through Chicago and had lunch with Sean (or so the story went), and she shows up at 6:45 pm. It’s good to see her and we help bring her things aboard. A few minutes later, an unknown person steps onto our boat and opens the doors at the top of the companionway. A head pops into sight, and the face is familiar, but out of place. I’m so taken aback, that I blurt out, “Who are you?!” to my own son. They're not going to let me forget that for a very long time!
This is as good as it gets! We’re so thrilled to see Sean and spend Labor Day weekend with him. Now we know why Dad seemed a little pushy! They all wanted to surprise us, and they got us, but good!

This nine-month trip is a fantastic adventure and a tremendous blessing, and I'm very grateful. But at the same time, the thought of so much time away makes me feel very disconnected from family and friends. Having Sean join us for the long weekend is the perfect antidote!

Through the Soo

August 29-30 DeTour and Presque Isle, MI
Because we wake up early, we leave Grand Marais at 3:15 am. The winds are in our favor, but leftover swells rock us for six hours. It’s a Point A to Point B day, with DeTour as our destination. Fortunately, Whitefish Bay is kind to us, and when we arrive at the Canadian Locks we have no wait whatsoever. We pull in, the doors close, and the water level drops. It’s a nice ride down the St. Mary’s River and we tie up in DeTour at 8:25 pm.

On Thursday, we cross a glassy Lake Huron along the shipping lanes and see quite a few freighters. When we check in at Presque Isle Marina, they tell us we can borrow bikes, so we take a quick ride to the new lighthouse and climb its 130 steps for a great view of the surrounding area.

Pictured Rocks and a Pickle Barrel

August 28, Munising to Grand Marais, MI
A great reason to stop in Munising is that it is the portal to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the first lakeshore ever to receive that designation. Big tour boats run several cruises every day. As we hug the coast, we’re mesmerized by spectacular sandstone cliffs where varied mineral deposits have splashed the sunlit rocks with shades of red, blue, orange, green, white and black. Near the water, the waves have eroded stunning arches and caves and tumbled huge boulders into the water, creating masterpieces of colored rock formations.

Following this, we ride by ten miles of unbroken beach and then, after we pass Au Sable Lighthouse, we cruise along six miles of 400-foot Grand Sable sand dunes (where sand equals striated sandstone plus loose sand). The entire stretch of shoreline is breathtaking in its beauty.

Grand Marais (the other one) is an unexpected treat. It is home to the world-famous Pickle Barrel House. Between that and the Pictured Rocks, we take way too many pictures today.