Monday, July 22, 2019

Best Little Marina in Ithaca

Full moon rising over Ithaca. 

Mission: Accomplished!  We successfully navigated Dragonfly all the way down Cayuga Lake to Ithaca, New York. 

It was a trip down memory lane, not just down the lake. Cap and I used to work at Cornell. So we were back on familiar turf.

Ignore Your First Impression

We arrived on a Thursday and docked for a little more than a week at the Allan H. Treman Marine Park.  

At this point in our boating career, we’ve stayed in dozens if not hundreds of marinas, and I have to say, First impression of this marina: not great.

No one answered our radio- and phone-calls, asking guidance on finding our slip. Once we docked, we found out why: the marina office was locked and dark, though it was merely mid-afternoon. Darn! After a hot day on the water we really, really wanted to score the key code that unlocked the marina shower room.

But a friendly fellow boater hooked us up, and after that we started to notice this marina’s many charms.
Treman Marina as seen from the new bike path. Kind of a sweet setting, ain't it?
Are Those Solar Panels . . . ?

For one thing, this is a solar-powered marina! There's a whole big bank of panels in the parking lot. We felt right at home.

I swear I did NOT know this was a solar marina when
I booked our slip!
Speaking of technology, the WiFi was password unprotected, the signal reached all the way to the dock, and the service was reasonably sprightly. 

As someone who's trying to work remotely and also blog, I can tell you with authority, that almost NEVER happens in a marina.

Another unusual feature: the big trees all around the marina basin extended right over our slip, keeping the boat cool. So what if the shade kept the sun off our solar panels? We weren’t going anywhere for a few days.

Break Out the Bikes!

In the time since we've been gone, Ithaca has added a very fine bike path, the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, that made it a cinch to get from the marina into town.

On Thursday we went crazy visiting old favorites. We scored some organic local groceries at the famous GreenStar Co-op. Strolled the Ithaca Commons with its Sagan Planet Walk and cute little galleries.

Browsed the independent bookstores in the DeWitt Mall. (Overhead by the register: “Marge, look at all these bumper stickers. Do you think this is  . . . ummmm . . . a town with a lot of liberals in it?”) And hit the Farmer’s Market for their new (to us) Thursday night scene, with loads of international food booths and live music.

Farmer's Market also reach-able by rowboat. Awesome!
Friday night, freshly showered and swankified, we didn’t even need our bikes to have a fancy night out. 

We walked a mere hundred yards from our boat to the Hangar Theater (yes, located in a former airplane hangar) for a Broadway-quality production of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” 

We've docked in cities galore: New York City, Ottawa, Montreal, Atlantic City, Charleston . . . yet never quite so convenient to so many amernities.

Old Friends, Good Times

The best Ithaca treat of all—we got some really excellent hang-out time with dear friends from our Ithaca past. And darling daughter and her hubby showed up, with adorable grandson in tow. See our boat “Visitors” page for more details.
Friends from Freeville: the Merwin-Lee clan and Susan Barnard.
So Why Doesn't EVERYONE Dock Here?

The marina’s seasonal slips are crowded with local sailboats and powerboats, and one comical shantyboat. But Treman Marina doesn’t seem to be a destination for out-of-towners. The transient slips were mostly unoccupied.
Step away from the console, Captain. Your grandson would
like to re-wire it for you.

I wonder why there aren't more boats detouring off the Erie Canal and making the run down to Ithaca. Most boats can make the 80-mile round trip a heck of a lot faster than we can.

Come to think of it, the transient slips DID fill up on Saturday night, with six “cigarette boats” down from Oswego, NY. These snarling big go-fast boats can do 60 or 80 mph without breaking a sweat. So I figured they'd made it down the lake, oh, half an hour.

But . . . these babies burn about a gallon of gas a minute—and you know how much a gallon of gas costs. We later learned these boats had come to Ithaca on trailers. 

It had taken us four days to get down the lake. We had savored the superslow scenic cruise. But now it seemed even sweeter.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Brotherhood of the Boaters Strikes Again

Cayuga Lake cottage: Do you not love the cuteness?

July 9: Sheldrake Point to Lansing

As you know, cuteness is a key quality for the crew of the Dragonfly. And as we continued our trip south on Cayuga Lake, we noticed a trend. The cuteness quotient of lakeside cottages increases with decreased distance to Ithaca. 

Maybe it’s because the cottages closest to town were built first, and turn-of-the century houses have more gingerbread, not to mention darling little boat houses.

After a peaceful float under hot sunny skies, we docked at a marina in Lansing, NY, sliding neatly between two sailboats on the “long dock” that bisects the middle of the marina basin.

I’m Getting a Friendly Feeling

Beautiful day for a cruise!
Like any other business, marinas have varied personalities. Cayuga Lake Marine Services is low-key—family-owned and family oriented. Not fancy, but neat and clean. 

And friendly—the couple across the way strolled by to offer us the use of their car for a grocery run, and also to let us know about their “secret swimming spot” just beyond the marina breakwater and encourage us to come take a dip.

If I Only Had a Piece of Plastic Pipe

Cap had been feeling a bit bereft ever since Seneca Falls. He’d been looking forward to sunset rows in the dinghy, but with a broken oar, this was not to be.

The oar itself is carbon-fiber construction, hollow in cross section at the spot where it had broken. If he could find a properly sized piece of plastic pipe, Cap theorized, he could insert it in one broken end, thread the other end over, glue or tape, and have a functioning oar again.
Our duckling among the swans

Now, he looked hopeful. Sometimes, marinas have ship’s stores, or repair shops, or both. He hustled off down the dock. In less than ten minutes he was back, smiling broadly. 

This marina DID have a repair shop, and the man in charge rummaged around a bit and came up with a piece of plastic plumbing pipe that was the perfect size. 

A few minutes fiddling with the fit, then applying gorilla tape, and the oar was, if not as good as new, at least usable. 

Not only that, but the repair shop foreman waved away Bill’s offer of payment. "Just take it," he said cheerfully.

It’s Great to Be in the Brotherhood

When you’re traveling on a boat, these little moments come thick and fast—times when people are kind to one another, and unexpectedly helpful. 

When we’re approaching a dock, other boaters will almost always step forward and offer to take our lines. (We always try to do the same.) This attitude of mutual support is called “The Brotherhoodof the Boaters.” 

Oh happy day! Rowin' again!
It’s one of the lovely things about boating, to discover that the vast majority of people who share your passion for water-based travel are also considerate and generous. 

Sure, there are oblivious boaters who throw up heavy wakes or play their music loud. But they seem to be the minority.

Kind of renews your faith that people are basically good.

Flush with victory over the broken oar—and also flushed with the 95-degree heat—we threw on our bathing suits and headed over to the secret swimming hole. The lake water was a perfect 78 degrees. 

And our new friends offered us a beer as we dripped our way back up the dock.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What IS It?

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that occasionally, we post images of perplexing objects and invite you to answer the question, "What IS It?"

Remember how Rocky and Bullwinkle used to say, "Fan mail from some
flounder"? Maybe this is a mailbox for lake trout.
This picture (right) was taken near Sheldrake Point on Cayuga Lake, but we've spotted these mailbox-sized structures elsewhere on the lake.

Doesn't Seem Ducky

We're familiar with the large wooden boxes that wildlife managers use to attract nesting wood ducks. This structure seems quite different. So, what IS it?

Write your answer on a case of Ithaca Flower Power IPA and mail it to . . . oh, wait! We can't get mail on a boat! You'll just have to use the comment function on this blog.

Yup, This Quiz Comes with a Prize

From all the correct answers we receive, a winner will be drawn at random (or based on the  humor quotient of your answer) and you'll be awarded the "What IS It" prize: a genuine old-fashioned tacky postcard, delivered by snail mail to your actual house.

If you're new to the blog and want to challenge yourself with some previous "What IS It?" quizzes, we flash you back to the past with the links below. (Sadly, the prizes have already been awarded.)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Wildlife on Demand

Pretty nice dock for a winery!
July 11: Thirsty Owl Winery on Sheldrake Point to Finger Lakes Marine Services in Lansing NY

Soon after we started work at Everglades Park last winter, we noticed that questions from visitors were predictable. “Where’s the bathroom?” “Where do we get boat tickets?” And, “We just have half a day here, where can we see alligators?” (Or, insert the charismatic megafauna of your choice: Manatees? Wood storks? Flamingos? Sea turtles?)

Again and again, park visitors gave us the message that they’d like to be able to see these species by appointment. Go to the appointed place at the appointed time, and voila, an alligator! Or a manatee.

But wild animals don’t pop out on demand. Their populations are small, their home ranges are large, and their habits are . . . well, sometimes regular. But not always.

Also, many species tend to be most active at dusk or dawn . . . times that are outside of normal park visiting hours.

We had some memorable wildlife sightings while we were stationed in the Everglades: a couple manatees on the Blackwater River lolling just arms-length from our kayaks; wood storks by the dozens, clustered in the marsh at sunset at the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge;  a loggerhead sea turtle rearing his head, the size of a fishing float, ahead of us in the channel by Sandfly Island.

But that was because we spent lots (and lots) of time outside. If we’d calculated “exciting-sightings-per-hour,” the yield would have been pitiable.

Low Expectations

When we started this trip, we had low expectations for wildlife sightings. We knew we’d feel perfectly happy to see the predictable local denizens: bald eagles in Montezuma Marsh, ospreys on their nesting platforms, great blue herons around almost every bend.

Early Bird Gets the Worm . . . or Something

We shut up the boat Monday night after a relaxing afternoon at the solar-powered Thirsty Owl Winery. We were feeling pleased at the sunset show we’d just enjoyed. But we had no particular expectations that the winery docks would hold any adventure or excitement for us.

At seven the next morning, I rolled over to the sound of Bill opening the rear double doors. But he didn’t charge up the steps as he usually does.  Instead, I heard an urgent whisper.

“Berge, come here! And bring your binoculars!”

I scampered out of bed to join him at the door.

“Look between those two arms of the dock!”

And there, glowing in the morning sun, was a mama merganser with a whole flotilla of babies, eight in all, steaming along purposefully.

One alternative name for the common merganser is the “sheldrake.”

The spit of land that juts into the lake, right where we were docked, is Sheldrake Point. I’d never really appreciated that name before!

Don't Put Away the Bins Just Yet

As we admired the spunky baby ducks, paddling at speed to keep up with Mom, a mink scampered onto the dock in front of us.

He snatched up a chunk of fish (perhaps dropped by a gull or osprey) and started gnawing on it like a hungry dog.

Usually, when you see a mink, it’s just a flash of brown at the edge of the channel. Almost as soon as you realize what you’re seeing, it’s gone.

But this mink was taking his ease, chewing and swallowing, gnawing and chewing.

When he was done, he patrolled the length of the dock and back, nose to the boards, looking for other tidbits. Then he slipped fluidly down to the end of the dock, along the shore, and into the undergrowth.

The Conservation Report

Although many North American bird species are seeing precipitous declines, Common Merganser populations are stable or increasing. Later that morning, we spotted a sizable flock of females loafing together on a snag.

Minks are also considered a “species of least concern” in New York State.

Water pollution is the greatest threat to both species.
What a great way to start the day!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What Lurks in the Lake?

Grocery run!
On Monday, July 8, we left Cayuga Lake State Park and headed south. The first order of the day: a provisioning stop in Union Springs, which has a nice grocery store within walking distance of the town dock.

The bulletin board at the dock had the usual notices about fishing regulations and the importance of wearing a life jacket. There was also an interpretive panel about Cayuga Lake’s mystery monster.

Champ’s Cousin, Perhaps?

In 1897 an Ithaca resident told the local paper he was certain he'd spotted an enormous serpent.
Note: The hitchhiker riding with him said it was a muskrat.
Scotland has the Loch Ness monster. Lake Champlain has Champ. And Cayuga Lake—which like these first two lakes is very long, very narrow, very cold, and very deep, is also reportedly home to a giant, eel-like creature, affectionately called “Old Greeny.”

An often-cited Ithaca Journal article reported in 1897 that a local man, driving the eastern shore, spotted an enormous water serpent. The article stated that this was nothing new;  residents had been seeing Old Greeny every year since 1837!

More recently, in 1974, a boy reported to a local emergency room with a broken arm, allegedly the result of an encounter with the monster. And a reputable professional diver claimed to have spotted it on a dive in 1979.

A Monstrous Problem

Back on the water after scoring some provisions, we scanned the water with new enthusiasm. The serpent stayed submerged, but we had a pleasant floating lunch. (Want Boat Gourmet's recipe for Farro Salad with Edamame and Feta?) 

Then we docked at Taughannock State Park so we could hike in to see the famous waterfall (see image at right).

I stopped at the park office to pick up the “vehicle pass” that would let us tie up for an hour (the ranger directed me to display it on my windshield!) 

As I left, I heard two young men speaking a little loudly with another ranger. “No swimming?” they said with some heat. “We came all this way! Isn’t there another beach?”

I found Bill at the concession stand, ordering an ice cream cone, and asked the kid behind the counter if he knew why the swim beach was closed. 

“Blue-green algae” he replied, and riffed into a 5-minute dissertation on the cause of the bloom (phosphorus run-off from dairy farms and the septic systems of lakeside cottages) and the harmful effects of the toxins released by the algae.

Seriously? Harmful Algal Blooms Here?

I’d always heard that Cayuga Lake was exceptionally clean.  It was a shock to learn that the ice cream guy got the story exactly right. In recent years, harmful algal blooms have plagued the southern part of the lake. It was listed in 2002 as violating the U.S. Clean Water Act.

Yuck! Cayuga Lake is the primary drinking water source for about 100,000 people, and plenty of lakefront cottages get their water directly from the lake.

Those little floating cells are heck of a lot scarier than a snake-like monster.

At the end of the day, we docked at the Thirsty Owl winery. Check out the pix on Facebook!