Thursday, June 15, 2023

Read about the past adventures of SlowBoat:

Now Trending: Electric Canal Boats!

Back in 2010, when we first refitted a former diesel-powered canal boat to "run on the sun," solar boats were a rarity. If you were to Google "solar canal boat," you'd get a hit on this blog, and nothing else.

Cap installing the electric propulssion system

Thirteen years later, what a difference. A number of boatbuilders in Great Britain are having the same insights we once did about "how many solar panels you can fit on a canal boat's flat roof." We were particularly taken with one English narrowboat which has a propulsion system strikingly similar the one Bill designed 13 years ago!

We've often said, our mission is to spread the joys of solar boating across the land. We can't claim ALL the credit, but in a tiny way, it feels like, "Mission Accomplished!"

Dragonfly Has a New Owner

We've loved every minute aboard the Dragonfly, exploring North American waterways at the speed of history. But now, we're reluctantly letting her go and focusing on other adventuring. Dragonfly will begin her own new journeys with her new owners in Spring 2024.

Thanks for following us over the years!

- Cynthia and Bill

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Pausing for the Pandemic

For more than a year, solar canal boat Dragonfly sat “up on the hard” as we waited out the Covid-19 pandemic. No cruising, nada, zip.

Boating sure is fun!
Now Dragonfly is back in the water! In May we did the ritual grinding of the boat bottom; in June we had our first little cruise—just up to Fairport for the famer’s market, and Pittsford, for the dockside craft beer.

We’ll do more cruises like this on the Erie Canal this summer. No grand plans for far-flung destinations . . . OR elaborate upgrades to the boat’s propulsion system! 

Cap’s battery bank is working perfectly after a year of inactivity!

What Do You Do When You're Not Cruising?

Other duties as assigned . . .

To catch you up since our last post, back fall of 2019: over the fall and  winter of 2020-21 we volunteered with the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge system at two locations in Texas, starting at Balcones Canyonlands NWR, near Austin. 

It’s an expanse of juniper-studded, canyon-crenellated land that protects the nesting grounds of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.

We also spent a couple months at Brazoria NWR, on the Gulf Coast of Texas south of Houston. Gorgeous wildflowers, great shorebirds, alligators aplenty, monster mosquitoes.

In late April of 2020, as the pandemic was swelling, we left Texas to spend a month in our old hometown of State College and figure out our next move. 

Ultimately we decided to buy a house, so we’d have a home port in the Covid storm. We picked a fixer-upper so we’d have a project--or two or three--to keep us occupied.

A House Fit for a Canal-boat Captain

Our new home is quirky and old-fashioned, like our boat. It’s the Pennsville School, a former two-room schoolhouse built in 1908.

Fast forward one year.  We’ve fixed all the things in the schoolhouse that could possibly kill you (like the loft with no railings, 14 feet in the air. And the back door that opened over a 10-foot drop down into the basement stairwell). We are grateful to be vaccinated, to have come through the pandemic with good health, and to know that those near and dear to us also doing well.

We’ve also done a little local volunteering and put in a huge garden. Had lots of time to play my adorable little ukulele, which is (of course) decorated with dragonflies.

In Marina News . . .

Foreground: rental boats. Background: Dragonfly on the hard.

The marina in Macedon, NY, where we keep Dragonfly is under new ownership; formerly Midlakes Navigation, it’s now called Erie-Macedon Landing. Funny to think we got our start in canal-boating when we rented a boat here 13 years ago!

We miss the former owners, who had become good friends, but happily some of the staff members we have come to know and love are still here, and it’s wonderful to see that the canal-boat-rental business is thriving.

No grand plans this summer . . . no “Loop” trips or long distance travel. We’re still feeling cautious about Covid. But we’ll be cruising to our favorite ports nearby, and as always, we welcome visitors! See you on the canal!




Thursday, November 7, 2019

Intermission, with BBQ

Solar canal boat Dragonfly is spending the cold months on dry land, wrapped cozily in plastic and propped up on stilts at MidLakes Marina in Macedon. To read about our past adventures:

  - Great Loop cruise: 6,000 miles around eastern North America
  - Little Loop" cruise: 1,000 miles and the historic canals in Canada
  - Terra (Sorta) Incognita: Cruises to Ithaca and Buffalo

When winter comes, upstate New York freezes hard. So what do a couple of old canawlers do when their boat is in dry dock?

Grab your boots and Stetson, honey! We're heading to Texas!
Last winter, we hooked up our other tiny metal home, an Airstream trailer, and migrated south, to volunteer as ranger-naturalists in Everglades National Park. In a word: awesome!

This winter, we are headed to Texas.Yes, the land of barbecue and boot-scoot boogie, longhorns and lassos.

For a couple of damn Yankees, it might as well be a foreign country. We anticipate culture shock.

But we're prepared to embrace the weirdness, because we'll be doing what we love: talking about conservation and the environment with folks who are visiting a beautiful wild place. Specifically Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. (Which happens to be near Austin, hence the reference to weirdness.)

We'll be there from Dec. 1, 2019 to Feb. 23, 2020. Balcones is in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, known for its limestone canyons, Ashe juniper forests, bluebells, and quaint little old German towns.

And then, from March 1 to April 30, we will be volunteering at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, on the Texas coast, not far from Galveston. Also a nice place to visit.

Come on down!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ten Years Canallin'

It’s hard to believe, but true: We recently celebrated 10 years as “canawlers.” That’s the old-timey name for the owners and pilots of an Erie Canal boat. How does time fly away so fast?

Ten years ago, in August of 2009, we were kayakers. We had zero experience piloting a powerboat. 

Our adventure started when Cap, being a kind and thoughtful son, had the idea to rent a houseboat for a few days, to give his parents a nice little vacation on the Erie Canal. (Read the story here.)

Nine months later—the ordinary gestation time for a human infant, but extraordinarily fast preparation for a trip that most experienced boaters spend years planning—we owned that rental boat, a 14-ton, 41-foot-long, steel-hulled replica of an Erie Canal packet boat. 

Has it really been 10 years since we hoisted a glass of champage with Mid-Lakes Marina friends
before leaving on the Great Loop?
We’d outfitted her to travel on solar power. We’d taken an online boating class. And we were departing to travel the Great Loop, a 6,000-mile circumnavigation around eastern North America.

We Know Every Inch of the Way . . .

This summer’s cruise wasn’t quite so grand in scope. But it was satisfying in its own way. 

The Erie Canal runs from Albany to Buffalo. We’d cruised the eastern end of the canal from our home port in Macedon all the way to the canal’s terminus in Albany. But we’d never been all the way west, to Buffalo.

We’d also never explored the Cayuga-Seneca canal, though we’d cruised past the junction in the Montezuma marshes many a time. 

This branch canal takes you from the Erie all the way down 40-mile-long Cayuga Lake to Ithaca, New York . . . where Cap once taught at Cornell University.

So  . . . check! and check! We achieved our goals. And had a wonderful time doing it, with loads of boat visitors to share the fun.
We're so grateful to everyone who took the time to visit us this summer . . . we had a blast boating with you!
Not Newbies Anymore

It was a beautiful summer . . . 
 When we departed on our Great Loop Cruise, we were innocents abroad. Cheryl Strayed on a boat. Sure, we’d taken that online course, but we didn’t really know a whole lot about boating.

Everything was new and fresh and exciting: how do you go through a lock? Navigate out of sight of land? Set the anchor? Land at a dock when the wind is pushing you off? Handle your vessel in four-foot swells? Read a tide table?

It feels a little odd to realize how far we’ve come. Now we’re, um, sorta, experts. 

Cap has more hours at the tiller than some licensed captains. We’ve crossed the Gulf of Mexico, piloted the Mississippi, rescued other boats, rescued ourselves when the anchor line wrapped around the propeller or the bow bunny went overboard.

Hold that image . . .  till next summer!
It would be easy to feel jaded. But I’m working to hold to that sense of freshness and wonder, that every day brings something new.

This past weekend was the autumnal equinox. The days are getting shorter. This week we are stowing and cleaning, getting Dragonfly ready for winter storage. 

And the new adventures do keep coming. This winter, we’ll be working as ranger-naturalists in two national wildlife refuges in Texas.

Next summer on the canal? Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

What IS It?

The summer is over. Our cruise to Buffalo and back is over. But here's one more installment of the SlowBoat "What IS It? quiz.

The picture at right was taken near Pittsford, NY, when we were cruising with friends Clare and Doug. We spotted this odd watery phenomenom in one of the little side channels you see all along the canal.