Friday, March 4, 2011

America's First Superhighway

A transportation system as revolutionary
as an Eisenhower-era freeway!
If you're a regular visitor to this page, you know Dragonfly is a canal boat, and her home port is the Erie Canal.  We've gotten quite interested in canals.  In fact, one of our mottos (right after "High Five! We didn't sink the boat today!") is: "We never miss a canal."

We're still in Charleston, and Wednesday we took a little side trip (by rental car) about 30 miles north of the city, to see a canal that's EVEN OLDER than the Erie Canal.

It's called the Santee Canal, and though it no longer operates, a segment of the original "ditch" is protected in a charming park. We roamed the overgrown banks  in the sunshine, imagining canal boats laden with cotton slipping past the alligators and spotted turtles.  (Check out more PHOTOS HERE).

Historians call the Santee "America's first summit canal." Oh, those historians. There's always a qualifier.  Some canals merely take your boat on a detour around rapids or a dam.  A true "summit canal" connects two rivers . . .  which by definition are in different watersheds . . .  which means the canal must take you up and over the "summit" that separates the watersheds.  (The actual summit may consist of quite a small change in elevation).

The route for the Santee Canal was surveyed in 1773, before America was officially a nation!  No less a personage than George Washington was a fan, saying, "it gives me great pleasure to find a spirit of inland navigation prevailing so generously."

The entrance to the visitor center
is a replica of a lock. Cap sez,
"I want one!"
The Santee was opened 1800 (the Erie opened considerably later, in 1825), connecting the Santee River to the Cooper River and so giving citizens in Columbia, SC (the new state capital) a convenient water route to Charleston (the main port).

The Santee was just 22 miles long (the Erie is more than 300 miles long), and had just 10 locks (vs. 83 locks on the original Erie Canal).  It was built with slave labor, and though there was a towpath, usually slaves (not mules) propelled the canal boats, poling them along.

This canal, alas, was abandoned after 1865 (the Erie is still open), so we were unable to cruise it.  You can find more information on the history of the Santee HERE.

The canal park visitor center shows a lugubrious movie about the canal designer, Col. Christian Senf, a micromanager who racked up huge cost overruns.  The canal company got permission to hold a lottery in 1795 to help fund construction (first prize, $5,000, quite a sum at the time).  But the stockholders never realized a return on their investment.

One thing the Cap'n particularly liked about the Santee Canal Park visitor center was the entranceway which (see photo above right) is designed to look like the inside of a lock.  (That's one of the lock gates Cap is perusing). As you know, once this trip is over, Cap plans to build his very own personal lock, in which to keep Dragonfly.  So he took lots of construction notes.


While we're holed up in Charleston, SlowBoat says, "Ask Me Anything."

George asks: "What are some of your favorite boating recipes?"

We cook a lot of stovetop meals, to save fuel and (in the summer) avoid making the boat too hot.  We like spicy ethnic foods: Thai green curry, shrimp creole, taco salad.  This week we had Mediterranean fish soup, larb (a Thai dish made with ground chicken), and a chef's salad with shrimp.

Before we left, I read a handy book titled "Good Boatkeeping," which has tips for boaters on subjects like "how to wash dishes with hardly any water" and also offers this wisdom: "Cabbage lasts longer than lettuce." Indeed it does.  I now make cole slaw 18 delicious ways, and we've gotten pretty fond of a little chopped cabbage on a turkey or tuna sandwich.  (It's good!  Honestly!)  And, most useful kitchen tool?  A narrow little silicon spatula for scraping the last drop of goodness out of pots (and making them easier to wash)/

I try to choose quick-cooking foods, again with an eye to conserving fuel.  You can dress up cous-cous a bunch of ways.  Angel hair pasta topped with canned clams sauteed in olive oil and garlic is quick and keeps away vampires (though alas not spiders).  I keep instant grits on hand since we're in "shrimp 'n grits" territory.  Mmm, grits with cheese, good for breakfast!

Some staples I keep in the cabinet in case we can't get to a store:  Dried fruit, sun-dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, canned soups, canned chili, shelf-stable milk or dried milk, crackers and peanut butter, pasta, a little jar of red sauce or pesto.  Cap likes that instant peanut-butter-cookie mix--just add water and bake? Some brands of tortillas are shelf-stable for quite a while without refrigeration; we make quesadillas, burritos, roll-up sandwiches. And with a can of salmon on hand, you can always whip up that old-fashioned ladies' lunch standby, salmon croquettes. (Goes good with coleslaw and cous cous.)

As for how we prepare all this stuff: We have a three-burner propane cooktop and oven, a dorm-sized fridge, and quite a nice amount of counter space. When other boaters tour the boat, woman tend to eyeball the kitchen and sniff, "I couldn't manage without my full-sized fridge." We actually find our mini fridge is just right; we shop with a plan for what we're going to make in the next couple days and try not to over-buy.  It makes me embarrassed to think how much food I used to throw away.


  1. Thinking of you!


  2. Now being a live-a-board, I find myself learning how to run a galley on a boat. I used to grocery shop once a month for a family of 4, filling in milk and bread during the week. What a change! Now there are only 2 of us and like you we plan what we want to eat for the next couple of days and try not to overshop. It works very well but takes a little getting used to. I'm getting there!