Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Tragedy of Colonel By

And not a Starbucks in sight . . . 
BUT first, a digression:

Ten years ago, Bill and I traveled all across America in a sweet Airstream RV blazoned with the NASA logo. (Why did we do it? Deets on the "Blue Highways" blog.)

Where's the Wi-Fi?

I was working remotely for the eight weeks we were on the road and needed plenty of bandwidth to send big files to the office. My boss was sanguine. "Wherever you go, you can find a Starbucks and get free wi-fi," he said 

Ha! Each night, for fun, I would Google "Starbucks near me." 100 miles in rural Minnesota. 150 miles in South Dakota. And so on.

It's not quite like that now, but if you're wondering why you haven't heard from us in a few days, w're pleased to report that cell phone coverage and free wi-fi do NOT blanket the remote reaches of Ontario's Lake District.

Meanwhile, Back on the Rideau Canal . . .

Check out the curved limestone blocks that flank the
entrance to the Jones Falls flight of four locks
We had dreamy overnight stays tied to the lock walls at Upper Brewers Falls and the topmost Jones Lock.  Both are parklike settings far enough from settlement that at night, when the fireflies and the stars come out, you hear no road noise at all . . . no sounds of the 21st century.

Let Us Now Praise the Chief Engineer

At each lock, we've marveled at the work of Lt. Colonel John By, the engineer who directed the construction of the Rideau Canal. The locks today are living museums, most of them operating using the same forged iron machinery put in place in the 1830s.

Notice the walls slanting AWAY from the boat. Bow bunny
gives this feature a thumbs up!
And the locks are beautiful: carefully fitted limestone blocks forming walls that slant, so the top of the lock is wider than the bottom.

(Speaking as the bow bunny, when you are standing on an eight inch wide walkway next to the lock wall, you appreciate those extra inches between you and the stone!)

Those Dam Rapids

Col. By was a visionary. The canal followed a route traveled by Native Americans in birchbark canoes. Where there were rapids, canoes could be portaged. To let larger vessels pass, some engineers would have blasted a side channel AROUND the rapids.

But the red granite was difficult to cut through. So Col By arranged to build dams that simply flooded the rapids. Building structures from the ground up worked better than drilling down through rock. The dam at Jones Lock was the largest in North America at the time it was built

Bring on the Steamboats

The lockmaster's house at Jones Falls. Completely adorable inside,
including the rifle ports next to each window.  I love it! I'll take it!
He also pushed back against his superiors to have the locks made wide enough to accommodate steamboats, which were just coming into use. That decision helped make the canal a commercial success.

You'd think Col. By would be covered with glory for his achievement in creating an efficient, defensible, solid canal so the British military could move betwee Lake Ontario and Ottawa/Montreal without exposing themselves to the risk of attack by Americans across the St. Lawrence River.  You would be wrong.

There were some cost overruns, and the higher-ups were not happy. By was disgraced. He died soon after. What a shame.

It's a Military Installation! It's a Tourist Attraction!

A stop to cool our batteries at the base of a scenic little
mound of granite called "Dunder's Mate."

Fast forward to 2018. All those dams created vast lakes. That meant habitat for fish. Shoreline for summer cottages.  Last year the canal saw more than a million visitors. Income for small towns.

As we walked around the Jones Falls Dam this morning, we marveled that a former massive military installation is now a major tourist attraction. Col. By, we had a gourmet lunch at Hotel Opinicon at Chaffey's Lock today, and we hoisted a glass of Pilot IPA in your honor.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Well Fortified

See how the St. Lawrence River runs from Lake Ontario to
Montreal? The Rideau Canal, which angles north to Ottawa,
takes boat traffic AWAY from the U.S. border

Yesterday we played tourist in Kingston, but tourist-with-a-purpose: We were about to start our cruise on the Rideau Canal. We wanted to see the two other Kingston attractions, Fort Henry and a set of four defensive towers, that--together with the canal--make up a World Heritage Site.

Yankees, Go Home

Taken together, the canal, fort, and towers were one big integrated defensive system, engineered by British Loyalists in the 1830s to repel those pesky Americans.

Cap (tiny figure at left) explores the flight of four locks at
Kingston Mills.
If you're familiar with the story of the Erie Canal, the story of how the Rideau was built is much the same: difficult terrain, workers by the score succumbing to malaria, and ultimately, brilliant engineering solutions (hence the World Heritage designation.

The Yankees Stayed Home

Here's the funny thing: not one of these three structures, ingeniously constructed at great cost, was ever needed for defense.

Even the locktender's houses were fortified!
In its time, the Rideau was commercially successful . . . till--like the Erie--railroads outcompeted it.

Today, the canal is a major destination for boaters, anglers, and history buffs. And ironically, the majority of boaters on the canal are American.

We had a dreamy first day on the Rideau, traversing a total of seven locks.  We tied up above the lock at Upper Brewers Falls, rural parklike and peaceful, and spent a long time watching a great blue heron fish for its dinner in the shallow water of the empty lock.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Over the Borderline

We've raised the Canadian flag out of respect to our hosts.  Note that it's properly displayed on the starboard spreader.,
per the instructions in Chapman's Boating Etiquette.
Sunday morning, June 17, we left Cape Saint Vincent around 10 AM. A few miles later, without ceremony or visible border, we passed into Canada.

We love big metal boats!
Bienvenue! Later that day, safe at the Kingston Harbor marine run by Metalcraft Marine, maker of custom metal-hulled boats such as fireboats and pilot boats (unusual metal boats! We feel right at home!), we chatted with owner Bob Clark.

He told us of taking a couple visiting Kuwaitis for a boat tour that happened to wander over the border from Canada into the US. 

Both were wearing robes rather than shorts and ball caps like most boat people, and when a Coast Guard boat approached, they were concerned that they were so visibly foreign. And (oops) hadn't planned on visiting the US.

But . . . no problem! A smile and a wave.

Canada has Justin Trudeau! and wind turbines by the hundreds!

All People Are Welcome Here

Passing through customs when we landed was even less intimidating than that.  You simply walk up to the marina office, where there's an old-fashioned Bell phone kiosk.

Dial a toll-free number, wait 25 minutes (because it's a Sunday afternoon and hardly any customs officers are on duty), and provide your passport numbers and boat ID.

Avoid "Surrendering to the Crown"

You also confirm that you are a good citizen who is not carrying firearms or pepper spray (that's another story!), or transporting house plants. Then you are good to go!

If you are wondering what Canadians think of the United States these days, Cap reports that the men's room at the bar where we grabbed a beer after wandering around gawking at the fabulous 1840s limestone buildings in downtown Kingston had some cartoons that precisely expressed the sentiment.

One cartoon showed a line of Royal Mountains, facing away from the illustrator. All of them dropped trow. The caption? "Show your rump to Trump."

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Picked Up Some Hitchhikers

We've cleared the lock in Oswego, headed out of the harbor!
We stayed in Oswego on Friday, June 15. We spent the evening getting ready for the most challenging part of this trip: crossing Lake Ontario.

Eight years ago, when we made the crossing as part of our Great Loop trip, our first day out on the water was rough.  It was cold, and cloudy. 

Dragonfly shimmied like a bucking bronco in the three-foot waves.  We had to tack to keep the rollers from hitting us side on.  At the end of the day I was frozen, seasick, and exhausted.

Will We Make It Across Lake Ontario?

So I was nervous about repeating the crossing. What if we rolled and swamped?  Last night we got out all our safety gear: whistles to tie to our PFDs; waterproof flashlights, signal flag, portable waterproof marine radio all charged up, cell phones in double Ziploc bags.

This morning we got up at 6 AM, to stow anything that could fall off a shelf, or break, or bang around in rough seas. We caught the very first “lock through” at 7 am, going out through Oswego Canal Lock 8, which separates the canal from the lake.

Good-bye Oswego, wish us luck! 
The sun was shining reassuringly. But I was still worried. How would our new systems perform? Would the motor controller overheat, would the batteries hold up to the challenge, would the generator shake itself free of itsmotor mounts? 

We put an extra fire extinguisher on deck. Mapped the marinas along the way in case we needed to bail before our chosen destination, which was Henderson Harbor, about a 22-mile run.

Cross Lake Ontario? No Problemo

A perfect day, and all systems go!
All that worry was needless.  The marine weather forecast had seemed too good to be true: clear skies, warm temperatures, waves less than one foot. But it WAS true. 

We had the most perfect day. The weather was so warm, we were in shirtsleeves. The waters were perfectly calm. The lighthouses were scenic. We spotted a pair of loons.

The SlowBoat Solar Technology Report

We alternated between running on battery power only, and running the generator—which adds charge to the batteries at the same time that the solar panels are filling them up.

And Cap’s new systems performed so well, we decided to keep on cruising’ . . . all the way to Cape St. Vincent, about 55 miles of travel total.  Round of applause for the Dragonfly’s chief engineer, please!

What About Those Hitchhikers?

This good-looking lighthouse welcomes you to Cape
Saint Vincent.
 All in all a perfect day—and more of the same weather expected tomorrow when we make the second leg of the crossing.

There was only one fly in the ointment . . . literally, flies. Hundreds of them.  As we passed Grenadier Island, small, odd looking flies started to settle on our stern solar panels . . .  on our deck flowers, on our windows, and on us. 

Mysterious hitchhikers.  Hundreds of 'em.
They didn’t bite or buzz, they just sat there.  We were miles from shore.  How did they find us, and why were they riding along?  A mystery.

Happily, as we approached our port, the flies flew off.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Era of Electric Transport

Artistic snowplowing in  Oswego
We're on the Oswego Canal--actually, the Oswego River, with locks to get around the rocky bits. Some stretches are green and wild, others packed with cottages on the shores.

Rising from the  Ashes

We were wind-bound yesterday at Lock 1 in Phoenix, NY, a town whose emblem is the firebird, reborn from the ashes--it's the high school mascot, and even enlivens a snowplow at the town maintenance building.

You might think the name comes from a key event in town history: 100 years ago, a fire destroyed 80 buildings in the downtown district, along the canal.  You would be wrong. Phoenix is named for an early settler, Daniel Phoenix

Traces of Trolleys

One curious thing we've noticed as we've cruised the Erie and Oswego Canals is the many bridges )or abandoned bridge abutments) labeled "trolley bridges." Really? Trolleys in lightly settled, rural upstate New York? I thought you only found trolleys in cities!  I wanted to find out more, so I did some research in the (very nice) Phoenix Public Library on our windy dockside day.

Notice all the places we've been on our cruise: Newark,
Lyons, Clyde, Baldwinsville, Phoenix, Oswego.
Turns out that, as early as the 1850s, there was a horse trolley system in upstate New York. With electrification at the turn of the 20th century, this became an electric trolley system--or as it was called at the time,  the "Auburn and Syracuse Electric Railroad."

This was a private, not public, enterprise, a syndicate headed by one Clifford D Beebe. Just check out this map of the terrain they covered!

The entire route we have just traversed over the past two weeks under electric power could also have been covered thanks to electricity in the early 1900s!  (And much, much faster.)

Electric Transport Ruled--for a While

Remember, this was the era when cars were only just starting to be seen on the roads.  The electric trolley gave mobility to rural residents far beyond horse and buggy transport.

 People in tiny rural towns could hop a convenient trolley to almost anywhere they might wish to go. One man who lived in the rural town of Victor and worked as a clerk in the big city, Rochester told of a 20 minute commute via trolley, faster than  you an drive it today.

Sadly, this and other "Intraurban Electric Railroads" faltered and failed around and after the Great Depression. Why?  Historians aren't clear.  One possibility: Model T's were cheap and available, and individual transport fits with the American ethos of rugged individuality. 

Why didn't the government, or the states, or the municipalities subsidize electric railroads in the way that roads for cars are subsidized? Who knows.

It's fun to fantasize what might have been, if electric transport still ruled in upstate New York.

Where in the World is SlowBoat?

Today we ran from Phoenix 22 miles up to Oswego on the shores of Lake Ontario.  If weather permits we'll "go outside" tomorrow, leaving the placid confines of the canal for the truly big waters of Lake Ontario.