Saturday, December 3, 2011

What's a SlowBoat?

This blog tells the story of a year-long trip around America's Great Loop.  With less than a week's experience piloting a powerboat, education professor Bill Carlsen and his wife, science writer Cynthia Berger, set out to circumnavigate eastern North America in an old-fashioned canal boat retrofitted as a solar hybrid vessel. The boat's top speed is 6 mph, hence the name SlowBoatCruise.

The couple launched their "voyage of sustainability" on the Erie Canal in upstate New York.  To read their blog posts in order, starting from the beginning, click HERE. Bonus photos are posted on the SlowBoatCruise Facebook page.

The SlowBoaters are available for talks and slideshows about their voyage.  Themes include Sustainable Technologies, Environmental Issues along America's Waterways, The Great Loop, and Canals of Eastern North America.  To request a presentation, send email to cberger@nasw.org.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Coming Full Circle

SlowBoat fans want to know, "What's the end of the story?" In my previous post, back in early June, the intrepid Dragonfly was holed up in Brewerton, NY. The Erie Canal was flooded by spring rains, and the locks were closed.  Who knew when the canal authority would re-open them?

The LAST lock:
Entering Lock 30 on the Erie, near Macedon
On June 1st the crew went home to State College, PA, to re-enter the "real world" and go back to work.  But Cap stayed with his ship. (That's what captains do!)  And when the canal finally opened, intrepid nephew John Thomas came aboard as deckhand, to help move the boat the final 80 miles to her home port at the Mid-Lakes marina in Macedon, NY.  (Check the photos on Facebook).

spring beauty
So now we have come full circle: A 6,000-mile circumnavigation around eastern North America.   We did it!  It feels good!

If you've enjoyed following the media reports of our voyage, here's one more bit:  A TV segment by local station WTAJ

So what happens next?  Well, yup, we are keeping the boat.  An adventure-travel book is in the works. We're adjusting our household routines to live more sustainably. And we're thinking about downsizing, to a home that runs on sustainable technologies.

I haven't decided about this blog. I COULD keep posting about innovations in alternative-energy technologies. Or canal-boating.  Or I could revive the photo quiz "What IS It?"  But most people tell me they're far more interested in the offbeat posts: "SlowBoat Bikini Workout Diet" and "Adventures in Anchoring." So let me hear from you!  Should this blog continue?  And, What should it be about?

I don't want to miss the chance to thank you for riding along with us!  It can be lonely out there on the big water.  It was good to know you were there!  If you're ever in upstate, let us know, and if we're up at the boat, we'll take you for a SlowBoat cruise.

P.S. (Added March 2018) Watch this space! In June 2018, SlowBoat heads north across Lake Ontario to cruise through Canada. We're heading north on the Rideau Canal to Ottowa, east to Montreal, then south to Lake Champlain and return to the Erie. Visitors welcome.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Current without Currents

"How fast can you go?" is a question that we're often asked, to which we usually reply, "Not very!" But it's a question that interests most boaters.

On a recent calm day with negligible current, we zig-zagged back and forth across Onondaga Lake and collected data on electrical current draw and the boat's speed.

The horizontal (X) axis shows the amount of electrical current used in amps (48V). The vertical (Y) axis shows the boat's speed "across the lake bottom." When there are tides or currents, a boat's speed through the water can be quite different from its speed across the lake bottom. If the flow is powerful enough, a boat can be plowing through the water in one direction, but actually moving in the opposite direction. That's why we came DOWN the Mississippi River.

More data and analysis are at Bill's blog: http://cshare.psu.edu/projects/sunboat/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=10

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hybrid canal boat vs. Toyota Prius

SlowBoat is tied to the lock wall in Baldwinsville, NY, waiting for the lock to open so she can complete her trip. Here's a word from the Captain: How does Dragonfly, a homebrew hybrid electric vehicle, stack up against the competition? We've been eagerly watching for hybrid electric boats on this trip, and the pickings have been slim. Boating magazines are full of articles about "green" boats, sporting rooftop solar panels, auxiliary electric propulsion motors, etc., but they appear to be mostly: 1) as-yet unbuilt concept vessels, 2) small boats with limited ranges, or 3) fantastically expensive "green" yachts with gimmicks that don't begin to compensate for the enormous fuel-burning engines that drive the vessels most of the time. (Note: We have encountered a few noteworthy exceptions, such as Ted Moores's Sparks, built by Bear Mountain Boats.

Commercially viable hybrid electric boats are on their way, but in the meantime, let's compare Dragonfly with a popular hybrid road vehicle, the Toyota Prius.
Model year19902010
Weight (lbs)28,0003,000
Seats (driver and passengers) 8-105
Engine (hp) 6398
Motor (hp) 1236
Fuel consumption, engine only (mpg) 5-6 mpg N.A.
Fuel, consumption, engine only (gph) 1 gph N.A.
Fuel consumption, engine-motor actual use (mpg)10 mpg 50 mpg
Fuel consumption, engine-motor actual use (gph) 0.5 gph 1.0 gph
Fuel storage 100 gal 12 gal
Range, engine-motor actual use1000 miles 600 miles

As you can see, the canal boat is clearly the better performer in the category, "Number of bathrooms." The rest is a little harder to compare. After all, we're contrasting a floating 2BR/2BA house with a car. (A nice car, for sure.)

Here are a couple of other carefully selected facts:

  • Every mile of Prius travel is powered, directly or indirectly, by fossil fuels. The energy for the vehicle's electric motor comes from the vehicle's gas engine. (Even the brake regen energy comes--indirectly--from the motive force of burning gasoline). In contrast, when Dragonfly is running on its electric motor, all of the energy used to move it is solar photovoltaic. (For our Great Loop trip, we had no other way of recharging the propulsion batteries).
  • For full-time cruising boaters, a boat is not just their vehicle; it is also their home. For us in 2010-11, Dragonfly was not just a replacement for our Honda Fit; it was also, from an "ecological footprint" perspective, a replacement for our 4-bedroom house (which was rented to someone else, and consequently part of their ecological footprint).
 In later posts, we'll look some more at the issue of hybrid vehicles, including comparing our hybrid boat with a typical non-hybrid boat, and assessing the "cost" of hybridization in our boat and in two other Toyotas: the hybrid and non-hybrid versions of the Camry.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

It was so exciting to cross our wake yesterday at Three Rivers, NY.  Thanks so much for your congratulations and kind words.

So often on this voyage, people have asked me, "Don't you miss your house? Your bed? Your kitchen with full size fridge?"  Nope.

What I've really missed is my friends.  It's been really great to have you along electronically for the voyage.  But I can't wait to see you in person.

And it's been amazing and wonderful how many NEW friends we have made on this trip.  You have been so kind and generous, offering us rides and navigation tips and meals and the genuine pleasure of your company.  Let's keep in touch . . . and though, alas, there are no major waterways leading through our hometown of State College, please know that if your travels take us our way, the welcome mat is out.  (And you DON'T have to take off your shoes!)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It ain't over till it's over. We still have about 80 miles to go before we reach SlowBoat's home port of Macedon, NY.  We are in Cortland, NY, this weekend, visiting Cap's mom.  But please check back next week for the final adventures of Dragonfly.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Crossing Our Wake (REALLY!)

At 1750 hours, solar canalboat Dragonfly crossed her wake at Three Rivers, New York!  The circle is complete. Cool day but the rain has stopped. Very very happy! Check the photos HERE.

What I'm Reading

(Reminder:check in with SlowBoatCruise.com tonite at 5:30 when Dragonfly crosses her wake)

Our solar panels don't make much power under cloudy skies. So yesterday, SlowBoat cruised veeeeerrry slowly from Utica to Rome.

Utica, by the way, has a waterfront restaurant with a nice dock where (for a fee) boats can tie up overnight and plug in to shore power.  But we actually stayed half a mile farther along, on a rusty and apparently abandoned dock--less glamorous, but free. "Almost as nice as that dock in Beardstown," the crew said. "No, nicer," said Cap. "We don't have to row through dead fish to get to shore."

We washed up and hiked the canalside bike trail to the restaurant bar, where we met a couple of nautical-looking guys who turned out to be 1) yacht brokers, 2) sailors (the kind who win the big races) and 3) yacht-delivery captains. Their current assignment: A shakedown cruise, showing new owners the ropes on a large yacht. This boat passed us earlier in the day: Sleek, hi-tech, lots of complicated curves and mirrored glass. If the line of Transformers toys included a yacht, this would be the model.

The two captains joked good-naturedly about the owners' adjustment to to the constrictions of shipboard life: their blow-dryer flipped a circuit breaker. And when they took showers they pretty much drained the 170-gallon water tank.

Crossing Our Wake

Last week, at Waterford, public radio reporter Marie Cusick rode through a lock with us. (Marie covers a new beat called "Innovation Trail," a public radio project that documents technology innovations in New York.) You can hear her story about the voyage of the Dragonfly on the WMHT-FM website

More details on our most  recent adventures will be coming soon.  But I wanted to alert you to a landmark in our travels today: We are about to "cross our wake."

If you're not familiar with this nautical term, it means the point at which a trip officially comes full circle. We started our voyage by travelling east on the Erie Canal, to a junction called Three Rivers. There we headed  north up the Oswego Canal to Lake Ontario.

Today, we're approaching Three Rivers from the opposite direction on the Erie Canal--we're headed west. When we reach Three Rivers, we will cross our wake.

We're really excited for this moment. It'll happen around 5:30 PM. We'll have some family and friends on the boat, and some champagne, and we'll try to live-blog and post some photos. Please join us!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Best Pizza in the Hudson Valley/Everything Old is New Again

(Sorry no photos, connectivity problems today.  But check Facebook for your image fix!

Dragonfly enjoyed a bit of sun on her solar panels yesterday. The whole day had a sunny mood. We stopped in a couple of canal towns, Canajoharie and Fort Plain.  One highlight in Fort Plain was talking with local folks who are working to re-energize their town.

To give you a little history first: Fort Plain gets its name from an actual fort, important during the Revolutionary War.  And here's a cute story: Those colonial women were a spunky bunch.  When a group of Indians and Tories attacked the town while the Fort Plain menfolk were away fighting the war, the women jammed men's hats on their heads, grabbed guns and poles, and positioned themselves atop the fort walls to give the impression of a large armed force.  Seeing so many "soldiers," their attackers gave the town a pass. Since then, Fort Plain's fortunes have bloomed, then ebbed. In the early 20th century, this was a bustling canal town. But cargo vessels no longer pass through. Times are tough.

But the women are still spunky, and still defending their town.  As we tied up on the wall above Lock 15, we were hailed by a smiling reception committee bearing a gift of pizza. These "Friends of Fort Plain" are working hard to bring back the lively, economically vibrant town they remember from their youth.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Canal Boats Along the Mohawk

On Monday, Erie Locks 2 through 16 re-opened, and SlowBoat was cruising once again.  Under gray skies we churned along, traveling 36 miles and transiting 6 different locks over the course of the day.

We picked up a nifty little brochure about canal history when we entered the canal system at Waterford, and in between shifts at the tiller I read it cover to cover.  The author, state engineer Roy Finch, wrote the pamphlet in 1925 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Erie Canal.

The canal we're traveling today is quite different from "Clinton's Ditch," the 1825 original, which was a mere 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide.  That canal was designed for boats carrying loads of 30 tons.  (To put it in perspective, Dragonfly weighs about 14 tons.)

The Erie was an immediate success, and in 1834 the State started working to enlarge it, so it could handle more and bigger boats. By 1862, the canal was 7 feet deep and could handle boats carrying 240 tons.

What did the canal look like back then? Toward the end of the day, we cleared lock 12 and docked in the town of Fort Hunter for a quick bike ride to Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, where you can see the structure that, after the first canal enlargement, was called Lock 28, or the "Yankee Hill" lock.  Check our Facebook photoessay HERE.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Schenectady officials don't
mind being within reach of
crowds who have access to
tomatoes and eggs
The Voyage of the Dragonfly is an exploration of sustainable technologies. As a sideline, we're also interested in sustainable agriculture--reducing our carbon footprint by eating locally. Yesterday, biking around Schenectady, we were excited to find the downtown Greenmarket.

Schenectady's downtown is like many we've seen on this trip: grand buildings from the Gilded Age, storefronts empty, signs of redevelopment investment (like fancy streetlights and sidewalks) that may not have paid off.

The town took a hit in the 1960s and 70s when local manufacturers moved to Sunbelt states, taking jobs with them.  The Greenmarket is one of many projects Schenectady launched to bring commerce and visitors back to downtown.

The market sets up in front of Schenectady's grand town hall, which--with its neoclassical portico, convex rear facade, and other Colonial Revival features--resembles the White House topped with a gold cupola.

The day was cloudy and cool, but a good crowd turned out for the chance to buy local chevre, the season's first lettuce and asparagus, herbs and bedding plants, honey and maple syrup, and whole wheat bread.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our Next Boat . . . is a Car

The locks ahead of us on Erie Canal are still closed, and SlowBoat is still sitting in Scotia. Who knows when we can move forward; we're hoping the rainbow at sunset on Saturday was a sign the flood is nearly over.
Release the doves!  There's a rainbow over  Lock 8 in Scotia 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's the End of the World as We Know It (I Feel Fine)

Can you find the canal boat in this picture?  This is where we stayed
 LAST night: Anchored on the Scotia waterfront.
So I'm sitting on the boat.  And the boat is bouncing up and down, and the bow is rotating in tight little circles, and underneath my feet, stuff keeps thumping--boom--hard, against the metal hull.

Close your eyes. Feel the sickening motion and hear the roar of fast water, and you might think, "This is the end of the world."

Luckily, the world did NOT end today. (No refund for the folks who signed up for post-rapture pet sitting.)

But we ARE close to the end of our trip.  People keep asking, "Are you sad it's almost over?"

I feel like I SHOULD be sad. This has been a grand adventure.  We've enjoyed the fresh air, the scenery, the chance to learn so many new things, the chance to meet people from all walks of life. Each day has been different.  Each day has been jammed with memorable sights and experiences. Who would want that to end?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Safety First

SlowBoat climbed the flight of five locks at Waterford yesterday, gaining 170 feet in elevation and entering the Mohawk River. In mid-lockage, we picked up a  guest: local public radio reporter Marie Cusick, who covers the innovation-and-technology beat for WMHT in Troy, New York.

It took a bit of strategizing to get Marie on board, because (in the interests of safety) the canal system rule is: Once your boat enters the flight of locks, it must keep on going.  (You can't let a reporter hop aboard from the lock wall.) But everything worked out.

Marie was mainly interested in our cool technology.  But she also asked this question:  "Looking back on your trip, were you ever scared?"

It really made us think.  About that lock on the Trent Severn where we would be exiting into a fast current that flowed inexorably toward a hydro dam. "I honestly don't think a boat this slow can make it across the current," said the locktender.  (Obviously, we did.)

Then there was the sudden lightning storm that caught us far from shore on Lake Huron. (Thinking quickly, Cap lashed the boathook to the tiller to make it longer, so he could step down inside the boat and steer under cover.)

How about the time in South Carolina when we wrapped the anchor line around the prop shaft? (Cap stripped to his skivvies and went over the side into the frigid water with a knife in his teeth. The crew did some really expert worrying.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hey, It's Good to Be Back Home Again

That boat looks strangely familiar!
We've spent a year giving our canal boat an adventure, taking her places canal boats never go. Out of sight of land in the Gulf of Mexico. Racing down the fast currents of the Mississippi. Bucking the waves in Albemarle Sound. Through all that, she's enjoyed celebrity status.  In every port, she's the cutest boat on the dock--or at least, the most unusual.

But the party's over.  Today, after touching in Albany, NY (to put our guest boater Ally Berger, who's been cruising with us from Catskill, on a train home), we locked through in Troy, NY . . . and Dragonfly re-entered her home waters, the Erie Canal.

Where canal boats are, um, practically common.  Here's one, sharing our dock in Waterford.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Green at the Inn

Cisterns collect rain to
flush toilets
The crew of the Dragonfly was off the boat and in State College this weekend for Penn State graduation.  Now, on big Penn State weekends it can be hard to find a hotel room.  But we lucked out.  We stayed at a place that was not only comfortable and stylish, it was green.

The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park (opened this past September) is expected to earn the Green Building Council's LEED Gold certification.  It's located on a knoll above Bald Eagle Reservoir, with a stunning view of the water--and also a nestful of baby eaglets in a tree on shore.

The Inn uses a geothermal heating system, energy-efficient lights, solar-heated hot water, and other alternative technologies to keep guests comfortable.  Saturday afternoon, we took the official tour with innkeeper Charlie Brooks.

We started in the breakfast room, where the Stickley-style oak furniture was made from Pennsylvania white oaks grown within 200 miles of the site.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We Brake for Canals

Cap and crew traveled to State College this weekend to attend Penn State graduation.  (We're now back on the boat, in Catskill, NY)

As you know, we never miss a canal!  So on our way to Central PA we visited the old Lehigh Canal in Easton, PA.

(We also visited the National Canal Museum!  Did you know that America has one?)

The Lehigh was completed in 1829--just a few years after the Erie--and mostly used to carry coal from mines in aptly name Carbon County, PA to Philadelphia.  Check out our photos of the Lehigh Canal (and of Cap making plans for his own personal backyard canal) on the SlowBoat Facebook page

By the way, you know we are eager to see canal boating go mainstream in America.  Here's evidence of progress: A whole series of romance novels that use the Lehigh Canal as their setting.  (Paris? Forget Paris.  Nothing says romance like a couple of mules and a barge.)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What I'm Reading

SlowBoat is STILL in Catskill.  But the Erie Canal should open this weekend.  Soon we'll be on our home waters.

Meanwhile, we're in State College, to see our niece Margot graduate from Penn State.  If you see us on the streets, yes, we're here!  But no, we are not really back.  Our trip ends May 31.

A lull in travel means a chance to catch up on reading. As you know, I like to read books set in the places I am traveling . . .  which means I SHOULD have read Shantyboat: A River Way of Life when we were cruising the Mississippi River. Better late than never.

The book was a gift from a new friend, Craig Ligibel, whom we met on the island of Useppa in January. Shantyboat is the true story of a young couple, Harlan and Anna Hubbard, who in the 1940s built a little house on a wooden barge and floated it down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, from Kentucky to New Orleans.

At the time, a whole class of people called shantyboaters lived on the river. They were literally drifters--these boats had no means of propulsion and only the most rudimentary steering Most shantyboaters were people on the fringes, fishermen or traders. (For some historic pictures of shantyboats, click HERE.)

Meanwhile Hubbard was a talented artist, writer, and musician, educated in New York. Distressed by the industrialization of America,  he wanted to try living in a self-sufficient way.  Here's how he described the motivation for the trip.

“I had no theories to prove. I merely wanted to try living by my own hands, independent as far as possible from a system of division of labor in which the participant loses most of the pleasure of making and growing things for himself. I wanted to bring in my own fuel and smell its sweet smell as it burned on the hearth I had made. I wanted to grow my own food, catch it in the river, or forage after it. In short, I wanted to do as much as I could for myself, because I had already realized from partial experience the inexpressible joy of so doing."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What the Frac?

If you've been following the news about natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, you know one issue is "methane gas infiltrating groundwater."  A report published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says household wells within a mile of drill sites are significantly more likely to yield water laced with methane.

The sticker reads: "This water is most likely safe. If you have any concerns about contamination due to hydraulic
fracturing, expose water to flame."  (Note: The restroom also had a prominent "No Smoking" sign.)
SlowBoat is in New York State this week. In contrast to Pennsylvania, where drilling activities are expanding rapidly, New York has a moratorium on gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in place until July 2011. (The DEC has till June 1 to look into the issue in more detail, though the organization is not expected to meet that deadline.)

The issue is stirring passions, and here's what we spotted yesterday in a public restroom at Olana, a New York State Historic Site and the former home of the artist Frederic Church. These stickers have also been spotted in restrooms in New York City.

Though the stickers bear an accurate New York City DEP logo, they seem to be a hoax.  An article in the Wall Street journal quotes a representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council (which opposes fracking but does not claim responsibility for the stickers) as saying, "I wish I could claim that cleverness. I think the reason (the hoax is) so powerful is even though DEP didn't do it themselves, they echo the concerns that DEP and the city more broadly have."

(For some gorgeous Hudson River views, click HERE)

Visit With the Commish'

Dad also saves energy by biking
around town
SlowBoat has been docked in Catskill, NY, since Sunday, waiting for flooding on the Erie Canal to subside before moving farther north.

We celebrated Mother's Day with a visit from the crew's parent's, Jay and Kitty Berger.  It was a fitting bookend to this trip.  Exactly one year ago on Mother's Day weekend, Jay and Kitty climbed aboard the Dragonfly for her shake-down cruise on the Erie Canal.

This past year, while we've been touring under solar power, Dad has  been working on energy conservation, too.  In the small Massachusetts town where they live, he's a politically active guy, and a couple years ago he launched "Go Green Agawam," encouraging residents AND town government to adopt energy conservation strategies.

The goal was to reduce energy use by a full 20 percent.  In Massachusetts, towns that have an effective plan to meet this goal can receive "Green" designation from the state, becoming eligible for grants to move their plans forward.

Agawam later created an Energy Commission to keep the ball rolling--and Dad was appointed a commissioner. Now we call him "The Commish."

This kind of small-town initiative is more common than you might think.  Here in the Hudson Valley, a group called "Sustainable Hudson Valley" has put forward the "10 Percent Challenge,"  inviting communities and individuals to cut energy consumption 10 percent.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Still Crazy After All These Years

Crazy Outward Bounders, taking in the view on Mt. Marcy in 1978.
(Dragonfly's first mate is middle row, right, w headscarf.)
Often, when a woman guest tours our boat, she surveys the little kitchen and the narrow bunk and the phone-booth-sized shower, and then she makes a wry little face, shakes her head, and says, sotto voce, "I could do this for maybe a day."

Well, her loss.

Our boat seems luxurious to us. And this past weekend, Dragonfly's crew got a reminder why.  A past adventure put it all in perspective.

The prompt for this reflection was a brief but very enjoyable reunion with a college classmate. Scott Canning has a beautiful weekend home in Germantown, NY, where we anchored Saturday. (For photos of our cruise up to Germantown, click HERE)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Hudson Valley Landscapes

Possibly our prettiest anchorage yet:  Germantown, NY
A very Happy Mothers Day to our friends who are also moms!  Hope you got breakfast in bed and other treats from your lovely children.

Where we stayed Thurs: Newburgh
SlowBoat is creeping slowly north up the Hudson River.  There's no rush because, once we pass Albany, we leave the river to head west on the Erie Canal . . .  and the Erie Canal is still closed due to flooding.

We stayed Thursday in Newburgh, NY.  To travel along with us, check the photo album, "Streets of Newburgh."

We're in Catskill, NY, today and figuring out our next move.

Check back later for details about "Penguins in Bondage."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tour du Nukes, continued

Can you spot the nuclear power plant in this picture?
Most nuclear plants are sited on the water . . . the better to offload excess heat INTO the water.  As SlowBoat noted previously, sometimes our trip around America's major waterways feels like a Tour du Nukes.

On Thursday morning we left an unfriendly anchorage at Haverstraw Bay (just south of Peekskill) to continue cruising up the Hudson River. Around the first bend was what looked like an astronomical observatory (which got us kind of excited since we're into stargazing).

A closer look revealed the true nature of the structure: It was one of the two domes housing nuclear reactors at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.

With the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission planning to tour Indian Point this coming week, and with recent events in Japan in mind, here's some food for thought,
  • About 25 million people live within 50 miles of this plant.
  • The pools where the plant's spent nuclear fuel is housed have no containment structure

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oh, the Erie-i-ie is a 'Risin"

Look!  A giant floating box of animal crackers has invaded Manhattan!  (photo courtesy of Mark Winkler.)
I couldn't blog yesterday (Blogger was, again, inexplicably down) but I did post a photo album with some shots of Dragonfly "as you've never seen her before!"  If you haven't been to SlowBoat on Facebook recently, click HERE.

President Obama speaks from Ground Zero today.  We cruised past the site early Monday morning, watching construction cranes at work on the Freedom Tower.  We docked at 79th Street and spent two peaceful days just steps from Central Park. The city was dreamlike in its beauty--streets clean as if they'd been swept moments ago, buildings tall and elegant, flowering fruit trees making clouds of pale pink and frothy white against the fresh green of budding lindens and oaks. The chaos and horror of 9/11 seemed far away.

So many experiences on this trip have tied directly to the headlines.  We read the news that levees had been breached along the Mississippi--and remembered standing on our boat roof, back in September, trying to get high enough to look OVER the levees and see what lay beyond.

(No luck. SlowBoat is also LowBoat.)  But I've re-posted a few photos from the Mississippi stage of the trip, so you can see that stretch of the river at a more idyllic time.  Click HERE.  Notice another levee blast is planned TODAY.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Power Breakfast

French toast and energy strategies!  From left, Cap, Bill and Lynn Hering, Frederick and Sheila Dryer
This past Friday we were docked in the small coastal town of Forked River, NJ. When we're in a new town we always "seek local knowledge," and here's a good way to do it: Just wander into a promising-looking bar, nautical charts in hand.

The place we chose was crowded--every table and seat at the bar taken. So we were about to wander out when a woman hailed us: "Are you guys boaters?  Sit with us!"

And . . . what are the chances?  We operate a solar boat.  Lynn and Bill Hering have been involved with some of the nation's largest solar installations.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Unbroken Circle

Seen in NY: SlowBoat's dinghy is a high-performance rowboat. So naturally this quite-similar boat caught our eye.
Turns out, he's a Looper!
(If you haven't checked the SlowBoat FACEBOOK PAGE in a while, lots of new photos there.)

Last night we dined in style, at a table with an iconic New York City view.  We were not at an elegant New York City restaurant, however.  Nope, we dropped anchor right by the Statue of Liberty. Our windows framed an view of Lady Liberty's backside.

(Yes, you are allowed to anchor a boat near The Statue, and no, it's not because they finally got Bin Laden . . . it's because we're a free society and that's how we roll.)

So figure this!  New York is a city of 8 million people, yet we were the ONLY boat at the anchorage.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

We Didn't Sink the Boat Today

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that each day, upon reaching safe harbor, the Cap and the crew exchange high fives and say, with gusto, "We didn't sink the boat today!"

And we didn't sink the boat today (though it WAS startling, at one point on our open ocean crossing, to climb the stairs from the boat's interior up to the stern deck; from this vantage you usually see blue skies, but the swells were so large, that view was blocked by a wall of green water.)

What a welcome!
Instead of sinking, SlowBoat is safely anchored near the New Jersey shore with a stellar view of Lady Liberty's backside.  Can you believe it?  Me neither.  Tomorrow we'll let the rising tide waft us up to the 79th Street Boat Basin, where we look forward to greeting some college classmates and a representative of the American Canal Society.

Liberty Ho!

We're approaching the Statue of Liberty.  If you've been following along on our trip this afternoon, please join us in celebrating!  Hit the "comment" button or send email to slowboatcruise@gmail.com

(And scroll down in the blog for more photos from today's cruise to New York!)


Today is May 1st. May Day.  Mayday. That's a phrase we hope to avoid saying!

We're humming "Born to Run" as our canal boat cruises past Asbury Park, headed for Sandy Hook, NJ, and then . . . New York Harbor.  Sportfishing boats are zipping past us.  Offshore we can see tankers and cargo barges on a parallel course.  Jumbo jets lumber overhead. A helicopter hovers near the Atlantic Highlands.  And the radio is crackling, as the Coast Guard announces, "All stations, all stations, motor vessel Blackberry Blackout has deployed an EPIRB (emergency transponder), be on the lookout, and be prepared to offer assistance."

The waves are too much for poor Blackberry, but Dragonfly is taking the swells like a champ. The sensation is like bouncing on a trampoline in super slo-mo.  Uuuuuuup . . .  till you can see distant fishing boats, from their waterlines aalll the way up to the tips of their radio antennas.  Then, doowwwwwwn . . and the curve of the earth hides the boat hulls, and all you can see are the spiky conning towers and bristly racks of fishing rods.

More photos from our ocean crossing are coming momentarily . . . in the mean time, if you want to see what we've been up to the last few days there's a new album on Facebook.

And yes, I promise to tell you all about our stop in Forked River, where we eyeballed the Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant, met the guy who's helping to install The World's Largest Rooftop Solar Array, and hosted a distinguished Princeton fuel scientist for breakfast.  Check back soon!

We never did hear what happened to Blackberry.

Goin' Outside

Yesterday, SlowBoat made it safely through what our guidebooks call (I am quoting exactly) THE MOST DANGEROUS SPOT ON THE INTRACOASTAL WATERWAY!!!!

Laying in our course
The precise spot:  A blind right-angle turn--in strong currents and high boat traffic--under a low railroad bridge in Manasqan, NJ. Piece o' proverbial cake.

Today: The biggest challenge yet for a canal boat like ours. We're "goin' outside."

Away from the protected waters of the Intracoastal and out into the open ocean.  There's no other way to get to New York and the Hudson River.

As we were leaving Manasquan inlet, four guys on a sportfishing boat passed us, close and fast.

"I admire your green-ness!" one guy yelled.  "Hey, at least you qualify for the carpool lane!" Cap replied.

Check back for live updates all day (internet access permitting--those bars are wavering) on the blog--or follow us on Twitter.

Feeling queasy at the thought of our passage? Experts recommend you take dramamine at least half an hour before embarking on an ocean voyage.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Take a Gander at Gannets

  Unlike their cousins, the boobies, gannets seem shy around people. This is the closest we got.
First, our whereabouts: We're headed north to Manasquan, NJ. If all goes well, we'll go "outside" (into the open Atlantic!) on Sunday and cross to New York Harbor. Then Monday, we'll cruise up the Hudson to dock at the 79th St. Boat Basin.

But weather can change--and so can this plan!  Please check back for further updates.

Earlier this week we spent two days windbound in Atlantic City. Stuck our nose out Friday and bounced north up Barnegat Bay to dock in Forked River, NJ  (say "FORK-ed," two syllables, or they'll know you're from away).  One aid to navigation: The more-than-300-foot-tall venting stack of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant--and more on THAT tomorrow!

But today, just for fun, I want to talk about gannets. If you're NOT a birdwatcher, you're saying, "Uh, you mean the news service?" Naw, I mean the bird--the large, fast, and very interesting bird.  We've seen lots of them here on the Jersey Coast, and in contrast a lot of wildlife I've mentioned in this blog (manatees, wood storks) gannets are NOT on the endangered species list.  Hey, a good-news story!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What? This is NOT the world's largest rooftop solar system?  Well, it's definitely the prettiest.
We're in New Jersey (Motto: "Second only to California in solar capacity.")  The casinos in Atlantic City are over the top--and so are the solar arrays. Really. The world's largest rooftop solar system was just installed here.

Before we left Cape May on Monday, we stopped at a marina for a pump-out.  The dockmaster, Bob, scratched his head over our solar propulsion system.  "I've got solar panels on my house," he said. "Never seen them used to run a boat!"

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Do You Know Where Your Spent Nuclear Fuel Is?

So I'm trying to blog about alternative energy issues here! But you, loyal reader, you tell me that you prefer it when I channel trashy tabloids and offer you a bikini diet.  I promise to keep delivering both.

Check your charts:
This bit of real estate is called Artificial Island.  Really!
We're anchored in Ocean City, New Jersey today, after a wild and windy ride north up the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway from Cape May.

Early Monday, we were coasting down Delaware Bay with blue skies overhead but deep fog all around. And our tour of eastern nuclear plants continued! The cloud of steam from the Salem Nuclear Plant bulged above the rim of fog.

The Salem complex includes two nuclear reactors.  Another reactor is being considered.  About 5.5 million people live within 50 miles of this facility.  (Did you notice that some experts are recommending evacuation within a 50-mile radius of the Japanese plants?)

These reactors were shut down for a while in the 1990s because of maintenance problems.  And they were shut down twice this past week, for the same problem:  bits of plant matter floating in the Delaware River clogged the cooling water intakes.  (Officials call the problem "grassing.")

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Just in Time for Swimsuit Season: The SlowBoat Workout Program

Try the SlowBoat Workout.  No spandex or yoga mat needed!
One of the challenges of this trip is taking our boat where canal boats were never supposed to go. Like 50 miles down Delaware Bay.

We had a grueling day yesterday: left early, spent long hours in the fog; arrived in Cape May late, after more long hours bouncing over the big rollers coming in from the Atlantic.  Woke up bone tired, as if we'd run a marathon.

Which suggests the good news: You too can be fit and slim for swimsuit season! Just follow the SlowBoat Workout Program!  These three easy exercises bring guaranteed results (IF it's ever warm enough to remove your sweatshirt and windbreaker and show off your sculptured abs.)

1) Anchor Lift (Clean and Jerk):  Stand at the bow of the boat.  Apply hands firmly to anchor line. Jerk upwards to lift 50-lb anchor (plus attached 50-lb chain) clear of muddy sea floor. When anchor is level with gunnel, hold for 5 minutes with left hand. With right hand, lift scrub brush and scrub anchor clean of mud. Repeat daily, till biceps scream.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

Look!  A canal boat on the C & D canal!
Happy Earth Day from SlowBoat. How did you celebrate?  Please let us know.

On this end, SlowBoat spent Earth day docked in Delaware City, DE. Ironically, the crew were off burning fossil fuel.  But we believe it was for a good cause.

We attended the first-ever Berger Family Reunion. About 30 of us piled onto a yellow school bus to drive past the homesites and graveyards and textile mills that the Berger family once knew in the fading industrial towns of Lawrence and Haverhill, MA.  Lawrence is the site of the famous Bread and Roses strike of 1912. The strikers, led largely by women, appealed for both fair wages AND decent working conditions (hence the slogan: "We want bread, but we want roses too.")  Family founder Joseph Berger was hit by a rock and lost an eye during the strike.

Now we're back on the boat and about to make a run down Delaware Bay. Did raw materials for those Massachusetts factories--wool, cotton, leather for the shoemakers--pass through this port? Probably.

I was thinking about Earth Day when we first docked here last week.  The water at the head of the Chesapeake--right before we entered the C and D canal--was chocolate brown with mud.  And where we passed the mouths of rivers draining into the bay, the water was loaded with debris, mostly tree branches and even some tree trunks.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Free Ride

Flying the American Canal Society Flag
on a canal boat on the C and D canal.
Wheee!  This was the scene Wednesday on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.  The tide was coming in and we boomed along at a bracing 8 mph!  Free ride!

You know we never miss a canal. And this is a VERY cool one!   Nearly 200 years old, and still one of the busiest in the world. It connects the Delaware Bay to Chesapeake Bay.

HISTORY: Waaay back in the mid-1600s, a mapmaker from Bohemia noticed that, if you cut a canal across the 14 miles from Chesapeake City (on Chesapeake Bay) to Delaware City (on Delaware Bay), you'd cut 300 miles off the sailing distance between Philly and Baltimore.

But you know how slowly governments move. Construction on the canal didn't start till 1804.  The original canal had 4 locks.  Teams of mules and horses towed vessels through, Erie Canal-style.

In the early 1900s the canal was made deeper, making a direct sea-level connection between the two bays and getting rid of the need for locks. That's why we're flying along: High tide on the Chesapeake is pushing us through!

Gotta go. My turn to steer. Great big container ships sometimes use this channel.  Could be fun. Check the SlowBoatCruise Facebook page for more photos.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ego Alley

Spotted today:  Ah, NOW we know what happened to Tom Hanks's
 friend, Wilson.  He's drifting down the Chesapeake Bay
We left Annapolis early this morning and motored till dusk. Midday a squall came up; later, the water around us turned deep muddy brown, colored by silt.

The mouth of the Sassafras River was barricaded with rafts of debris, mostly big dead tree limbs. (Though we also spotted two basketballs and a soccer ball.) SlowBoat had to juke and jive to avoid mashing her prop. Almost like being back on the Mississippi River!

Finally dropped anchor tonite in a little cove on the Bohemia River. Hey! If you're thinking of visiting SlowBoat, next week we'll be cruising down Delaware Bay to Cape May, New Jersey.  Then up the Jersey Coast (Atlantic City, anyone?)  Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge, all youse birdwatchers? Greet us in Asbury Park? We should be anchored near the Statue of Liberty after May Day.

We've enjoyed recent boat visitors:  Science journalist Elia Ben-Ari and her family checked out the boat in Chesapeake Beach on Sunday. Then on Monday, Bill and Ellen Woodcock found us docked in "Ego Alley" at Annapolis.

Like Swallows to Capistrano, Bikers Return to Tiki Bar

Friday, April 15, 2011
Warning:  No alternative energy news or eco-notes today, just a rant.

We are weatherbound in Solomons, MD (claim to fame:  More Bugeyes Built Here than any other Chesapeake Bay community).  We're constantly scoping for signs of spring, and the locals told us we got here just in time.  For, here in Solomons, spring arrives when the Tiki Bar opens.

The Tiki Bar doesn't look like much.  We went for a leg-stretch the night we got here, and if we hadn't know the place was famous we would have barely given it a first glance, let alone a second glance.  But "Tiki Opening" is a big deal. All our guidebooks mentioned it.  Solomons has a population of 1,500; for Tiki Opening, some 20,000 visitors show up.  Locals call it "Redneck Mardi Gras."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Going Nuclear

Look Ma, no cooling towers!  Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant.
First: We're tied to a dock in Annapolis!  Less than 10 minutes after we landed, a red tour trolley pulled up to point out "the English Canal Boat."

To catch you up on earlier travels: The weather forecast yesterday was grim. "Waves 2 to 5 feet at Chesapeake Beach." But we set out from Solomons anyway, staying close to shore, in the shadow of Calvert Cliffs. And though the wind raged mightily, the water was flat.

The so-called "cliffs" are low, rounded hills that look like layer cakes sliced open.  Inside are fossil-laced strata of gold and brown sand.

We made it to Cheseapeake Beach, where, as the sun set, a full moon boomed up over a glittering sea. Leaving the laundromat at 11 PM, I passed a woman in a business suit and sensible shoes, staring at the glowing disc and the bright water below.  "Drove all the way from Raleigh just to see this," she murmured.

One of the more interesting sights for us on our 25-mile trip yesterday from Solomons to Chesapeake Beach was the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

About 3 million people live within 50 miles of this plant, including the residents of Washington DC. Built in the mid 1970s, the plant's two generators use the bay as a heat sink for cooling water.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Slimy Signs of Spring

Beware of the blob!
Like Edwin Way Teale, we're headed north with the spring.  Our slow rate of travel means we've enjoyed weeks of bloom: redbud, daffodils, dogwood.

We're in Solomons, Maryland, today and there's another kind of spring bloom here . . . something quite as pretty to look, at but less pleasant to touch: Jellyfish. (Watch 'em swim here).

Ever wonder where the jellyfish have been all winter? When the water gets cold, the adult jellyfish die.  But their offspring have hatched . . . and developed into blobby creatures called polyps. The polyps find something hard on the sea floor, like an oyster shell, and stick tight.

In spring, as the water gets warmer, the polyps bud off free-swimming jellies--the familiar, tea-cup-shaped critters you see in this photo.  And hey, what with the globally warming climate trend, Cheseapeake jellies are showing up nearly a month earlier than they did back in, say, the 1960s.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Welcome to Dixieland

Both of us want to take this chance to say a heartfelt thanks for your expressions of sympathy over the last two weeks--it means so much to both of us.
In the news: A SlowBoat's-eye view of Fort Sumter, South Carolina,
where the Civil War started 150 years ago this week. 

We've back on the boat today, and heading north up the Chesapeake.   Back in Homer, Mom pointed to the map, raised her eyebrows and said, "You're going to be way out THERE?"

Yup!  Back in the groove: dodging crab pots, waving to the Coast Guard, scoping for loons, which are starting to show their spring checkerboard plumage. Sixty-four degrees and feels like 40, wearing all my fleece.  It's bittersweet. After all, the seed for this trip was planted two years ago when Cap resolved to give his dad a treat by renting a boat and cruising the Erie Canal.

Driving south Tuesday we crossed the line into Virginia and the first thing we saw was an elaborate fireworks establishment, flying the Confederate flag over a billboard that read: "Welcome to Dixieland."
The 33-star flag over Fort Sumter
More info HERE

Dixie!  If you consume any media at all, you may have noticed that Tuesday also marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. This trip has floated us past so much Civil War history. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, we visited Fort Sumter, where the first shots were fired on April 12, 1861.

Our trip focuses on energy technologies, not American history or social justice. But these are hardly monolithic topics.  From an economic (and a "principles of physics") perspective, the institution of slavery WAS an energy technology. It was a way to accomplish work.  Slave owners used cheap human labor instead of other energy sources, such as hydropower, wind power, steam power, or horse or mule power.

Cup Overboard!

The saddest sight in the world

We're working our way up the Chesapeake. Hope to be in Annapolis this weekend.

At the first "changing of the watch" this morning, SlowBoat had a moment of drama.

Cap was chasing the morning chill with a steaming cuppa java. He set the cup on one of the stern seats.   And in the shuffling dance to change places . . .  into the drink it went.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Can't Start a Fire Without a Spark

We happened to be in a bookstore with a big magazine rack, and this month's issue of Wooden Boat magazine featured, on the cover, a boat with rooftop solar panels and a hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system.

Wait a minute! That sounds like SlowBoat.  But I said "Wooden Boat" magazine.

Yup.  The featured boat is Sparks, and the latest innovation by Ted Moores of Bear Mountain Boats.

Amazingly enough, we got to tour Sparks and meet Ted and his partner Joan Barrett. It was just three months into our year-long SlowBoat cruise.  We landed at the town dock in the hip college town of Peterborough, Ontario, and the dockhand said, "You HAVE to go over to Dock C.  There's a boat just like yours and it's launching today."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Checking in With Friends

We're off the boat for a week.  But other boats are still cruising the Loop. I thought you might enjoy a peek at what some our new boating friends are up to.

The cruisin' Parrent Family is just crossing the border into North Carolina. We first met this inspiring family at a marina in Tennessee. Craig and Danielle decided "life's too short to put work before family,"and sold their successful business. Now they're looping AND "boat-schooling" their three extremely smart and delightful children.

The Parrents' Great Adventure was punctuated recently by a moment of terror. Their boat, Negotiator, was anchored out in a cove with one other boat. During the night, a storm kicked up and both boats dragged anchor. It seemed Negotiator would be swept onto the rocks, then smashed by the second boat.  But the Parrents are self-sufficient and had planned ahead for emergencies, and that preparation stood them in good stead. Danielle tells the story on their blog.

You get to check out lots of boats on this trip, and early on, we admired a particular kind of blue-hulled boat called the Nordic Tug.  Pete and Anna Gulick are cruising in one of these sweet little tugs, which they named Blue Yonder.  We first met them on the rocky shores of Georgian Bay in Canada when both of us docked for dinner at Henry's Fish, a local institution.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

SlowBoat Whereabouts

SlowBoat (the boat) is docked in Hampton, Virginia, waiting out the weather.  Cap and crew are in Homer, New York with Bill's Mom.   Bill's Dad, Tom Carlsen, ended his long battle with lung cancer yesterday.

Tom Carlsen spent his life helping others.  He was a medic in the U.S. Army, an EMT in his small rural community, a firefighter, a scout leader, a leader in his church, and, to his grandchildren, the guru of good table manners.  As a professor of social work at Syracuse University, he prepared hundreds of students to do good and make a difference.  It's lovely to think of his influence rippling outward in the word.

We'll be here for about a week.  Please do check back on the blog for some SlowBoat flashback stories and some photoessays.  Your love and support means a lot to us.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Canal Boats: Part of America's Strategic Energy Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, APRIL 1, 2011.  President Obama's position on energy policy is making headlines this week.  Hidden among the heated discussions about oil, natural gas and nuclear power was this small but intriguing detail:  The President's plan to rejuvenate America's canals--and add new ones.

Goodbye 18-wheelers.  This is the future of transportation in America.
"One key to a secure energy future is conservation," said the President, "and water-borne barges are the single most energy-efficient means of transporting goods ever invented.  It only makes sense to adjust our supply systems for greater reliance on canals."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aids to Navigation

What you see on screen: Little colored marks
along the edge of the white channel.  
The "Brotherhood of the Boaters" is a wonderful thing. We needed advice on navigating the Chesapeake. So we turned to the AGLCA list of "Harbor Hosts."

On Sunday, Al Miles, Portsmouth-area businessman and boater, drove us to a grocery store so we could re-supply, then took us to a marina restaurant so we could spread out charts and pore over them together. Thanks, Al!

What you see in the real world:
"aids to navigation."
Yesterday the Brotherhood of the Boaters was at work again.  A local guy, Bill Mathus, spotted the story about us in the boating magazine Latitudes and Attitudes and shot us an email.  Could he help in any way, while we were in town?

We were set for groceries but turns out Bill works for the Coast Guard. He generously organized an insider's tour of the Portsmouth Station.

We were excited.  Only Monday we'd been boarded by the Coast Guard.  Now, we would get to inspect them!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Colonial Era

Evidence of careful urban planning: A personal-szied backyard canal,
property of the Colonial Governor of Virginia.  (Cap sez: "I want one!")
We're in Hampton City, VA, waiting on the weather to run up Chesapeake Bay. (Forecast today: "Waves 4 -5 feet.")

Yesterday we grabbed a rental car and burned some fossil fuel running up to Colonial Williamsburg, which the crew has long yearned to visit.

If you're not familiar with the place, it's a living history museum that lets you step back into the 1700s.  The houses, the shops, and the public buildings--armory, courthouse, jail, several churches--have been restored or reconstructed using "historically correct materials." (I DID notice, however, that the antique iron street lamps use compact fluorescent bulbs).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prepare to Repel Boarders!

Did you doubt the power of the internet to bring people together?  SlowBoat posted about the Belhaven Memorial Bathroom . . .  and now BestRestroomAward is following me on Twitter. (What's YOUR favorite restroom? Vote early. Vote often.)

Earlier this week Dismal Swamp Locktender Robert Peet, on hearing we'd set aside a year for this trip, said (without a trace of irony): "You're going too fast." But SlowBoat keeps a' movin. We left Portsmouth, VA, Monday under swirling little flakes of snow.

We cruised down the Elizabeth River, past container ships large as luxury hotels and Navy ships defended by floating police, and then--all of a sudden--we were starring in a Hollywood action movie! (Does the Cap remind you more of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne or Daniel Craig as James Bond?)  A fleet of SEVEN--count' em--seven super-Zodiacs, spread out in a line, were bearing down on us.  Each one powered by snarlin' twin Mercs. Each one loaded with a full crew of armed men. Each with a machine gun on the bow.

One of them broke the line and pulled close.  The radio crackled to life. "DRAGONFLY! Permission to board on your port quarter!"

Monday, March 28, 2011

King Conch

U-Turn the lockdawg sez:
"That ain't nuthin.
Let me tune up my howl."
We're safely docked in Portsmouth, VA, and we feel right at home--this city has electric buses!

Over the next two weeks, we'll be working our way north up the Chesapeake, with stops in Hampton, Annapolis, St. Michael's and other ports.  Looking forward to greeting visitors.

Our final miles on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal were also our final miles on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.  The trip wrapped up with a literal blast: At the canal's Deep Creek Lock, we met the self-described "world's best conch player," Robert Peek (see photo at left).

Some background here:  Back in the 1800s, before airhorns or VHF radios were invented, canal boaters and locktenders used conch shells to communicate with one another.  By blowing into a hole at the tip of the shell, you can make a sound as loud--and as musical--as any trumpet.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mile Zero

Is that the smoke from burning sox?
(No, redbud in bloom along the canal)
Today we learned that sailors on Chesapeake Bay celebrate March 21--the spring equinox--by burning their socks.

Truth!  In the words of the immortal Dave Barry, I am not making this up.  (Click the link to confirm.)

Somehow the vernal equinox blew by us this week.  But yesterday was also momentous, because we arrived safely in Norfolk, VA--"Mile Zero" on the Intracoastal Waterway. (Next stop: Chesapeake Bay)

"Should we burn our socks to celebrate our safe arrival?" asked the crew. "No!" said Cap. "I need all the sox I've got to keep my feet warm!"

With a forecast of "High 40, feels like 35," and feeling colder, we pulled away from the Not Very Dismal Swamp Visitors Center dock. A nice little stinging wet mist was blowing, for added traveling pleasure.

But we were well fortified for the day's travails.  Yesterday, after a sunny cruise on canal (photos HERE), we docked to enjoy a fried-chicken-dinner at the Great Dismal Swamp Welcome Center.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pasquatonk, ba-donk ba-donk

Burma Shave!
Today we travelled from Elizabeth City along the Pasquatank River till it became the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.  We've been looking forward to this leg of the trip for a while.  

Heck, just saying the name is fun.  Try it:  "Great Dismal Swamp." There, don't you feel better as you contemplate those piles of snow?

The Great Dismal Swamp Canal predates the Erie Canal (SlowBoat's home) by a good bit. George Washington, a well-known promoter of canals, was strongly in favor of this one, which gave merchant boats a shortcut from North Carolina's (dreaded) Albemarle Sound up to Norfolk and ports on the Chesapeake.

Construction started in 1793.  Much of the work was done by slaves, released from their plantation jobs in the off season. The first boat to float a portion of the canal, in 1805, was a "shingle flat" (which sounds exotic but is simply a flat-bottomed barge loaded with roofing shingles--a popular export product of the region, made from rot-resistant native cypress trees). The 22-mile-long canal (far shorter than the Erie) was completed in 1814, after the British coastal blockade during the War of 1812 made the gummint sit up and take notice how handy the shortcut would be.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Dread Albemarle

Crossing the Dread Albemarle
We left our anchorage on the Frying Pan at the crack of dawn yesterday to head up the Alligator River and out into the dread Albemarle Sound.

Boaters have been warning about this crossing since before we left on the trip.  The route across the Albermarle River is a shallow but quite wide crossing. When the wind is high, big waves kick up. Terry Darlington whined about it extremely in his book Narrowdog to Indian River and ultimately hired a pilot to take his canal boat across. No hired pilot for this crew!

Cap had been monitoring the weather reports.  "Calm in the AM . . .  gusty later in the day . . ." followed by a forecast of days and days of bad weather.  If we wanted to avoid days and days bobbing at anchor in the lonesome Frying Pan, we needed to go.

On the Alligator River the waves, at our stern, pushed us aggressively, creaming over into little whitecaps. So much for the forecast of calm in the morning.  We conferred:  If we stick our nose out into the sound, and it's too bouncy, can we bail out? WHERE can we bail out?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Best Bathroom Ever

Leaving Oriental at dawn.   (Check HERE for  photos of the Oriental Dragons)
"You are not likely to have cell or internet coverage on the Pungo and Alligator Rivers," the guidebook says, and By George, the guidebook is right!  The flip side:  Our route yesterday took us up a lovely wild stretch of water with little development and (at this time of year) few other boats. We anchored for the night in Frying Pan Creek, off Catfish Point. "Perfect place to do some poaching," the crew told the Cap.  (But he resisted the temptation.)

From Oriental we had travelled Monday to Belhaven, where we stayed at a family-owned marina with lots of charming touches: A gazebo on the point, furnished with wicker chairs and brass ship's lamps, perfect for sunset gazing.  Whitewashed rocking chairs for a comfortable wait outside the laundry room.  And quite possibly the world's best marina bathroom.