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.