Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Peril on the High Seas

Storm clouds over Beveridges Lock on the Rideau Canal
There's a comical song dating to about 1927 about a terrible storm and dangerous seas on the Erie Canal. The refrain goes like this:
   Oh, the Er-i-e was rising, and the gin was getting low
   And I scarcely think we'll get another drink
   Till we get to Buffalo

The joke is that the canal was just a big muddy ditch. Hardly dangerous waters. That's the way we like 'em. No drama.

But SlowBoat did have a tiny moment of drama this week.

Low Bridge, Everybody Down

No room for a canal boat under this puppy!
There's a swing bridge immediately before you enter the lock at "the Narrows." Like an Erie Canal bridge, it's low! About 3 feet above the water. 

Incoming boats are expected to tie up to the wall ("on the blue line") while the lock tenders stop traffic and swing the bridge out of the way. Then you can enter the lock

So we're approaching and Cap is maneuvering us skillfully toward the wall. We're 12 feet out . . . 10 feet out . . . 8 feet out . . . our fourteen tons are still moving pretty fast (for us!)

Cap has done this a million times. He's a pro. This is the point at which he shifts into reverse.  That works like a brake. The boat slows down, the bow gently approaches the wall, and the bow bunny hops down and ties 'er up.

Punch it, Chewy!

You've seen that scene in Star Wars.

Well!  Cap pulls the Morris control to "reverse" position and  . . .  nuttin. No reverse.

We are not all that far from the swing bridge. It we don't stop this train, 14 tons of steel are going to do some damage to this charming antique wooden bridge. The bridge will probably ding us up pretty good too.

Cap grabs the stern line and leaps across the (still sizable) gap. He tries to get the line on a cleat but . . . too much momentum . . . the boat whips past and pulls the line from his hands.

He sprints down the dock. "Throw the mid line!" (This is our longest and thickest line, kept on the roof at the midpoint of the boat.)

The breeze is pushing the boat a bit further off the dock. Bunny heaves ho across the even more sizable gap. The end of the line tickles Cap's palm and drops in the drink.

Cap hurls himself face down, grabs the line, hauls it in fast and gets it on a cleat.

You Knew This Movie Had a Happy Ending

The boat stops approximately 5 feet from the bridge . . . and three feet from some Japanese tourists who have not even looked up from their fishing poles.

(The problem was a tiny washer that failed to hold a cable in place. Cable now locked down in triplicate.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Wow! Loads of good guesses for our inaugural 2018 “What Is It” quiz. But this one was a stumper.

The mysterious forged iron thingy is a portable boat cleat!  The resident Rideau blacksmith made it for us while we watched, in his stone blacksmith shop, unchanged since 1836. 

A Job That’s Like Time Travel

Why does the canal have a resident blacksmith? Well, the Rideau is a living museum, with lots of antique iron parts: the gears that open the sluice gates, the gears that open and close the lock doors, the fittings on the doors themselves.

The blacksmith works full time keeping all 47 lock stations supplied. Even in the winter, when the canal is closed, he trudges through the snow to spend solitary days, hard at work at his forge.
And if he has any spare time, he makes things that we tourists can buy. Like this cleat.

Why BYOC (Bring Your Own Cleat)?

V  a boat. Usually, when you land at a dock, you see metal cleats every 15 feet or so. You wrap your lines around them in a proscribed way, and the boat stays put.
No cleats, ring a ding ding.
ery handy to have on

Sometimes, though, the dock cleatage is problematical. The cleats are too far apart.

Or they are too small to hold the hefty, thick lines used on a 14-ton canal boat (because they are meant for tying up the little boat you use to go for ice cream).

Don't Be Cleat-less

Here on the Rideau, we’ve seen some docks with NO cleats. There may be iron rings (very hard to tie your lines tight). 

Or odd metal loops that stick up and, bizarrely, have sharp edges, so that you risk cutting your lines.

That’s why this portable cleat is so nifty. Here’s Cap, demonstrating how it works.
  • Slip the straight edge down between the boards of the dock.
  • Turn 90 degrees. Now the iron rod is crosswise to the boards.
  • Tie your line on the loop. Tie up tight, and the pressure holds the device in place.

Now, Speaking of “Stumped” . . .

One of our mottos is “Seek Local Knowledge,” and two days into our trip, a fellow boater warned us about an unexpected Rideau hazard.

“If a big boat’s ahead of you, hang back,” he said. “The wake might wash up a stump.”  What?

To create this canal system, our friend Colonel By built a number of dams that flooded river valleys. (Deep valleys!  We've see water more than 300 feet deep! That's Lake Ontario deep!)

The trees were left in place, and today, nearly 200 years later, some trees have not decayed and are still anchored to the muddy lake bottom. In shallow areas, a big wave can cut one loose.

Being stumped by a puzzle is one thing.  We’ll try to not actually get stumped!

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Isthmus of Canada

Here's a route refresher! Tomorrow, on to Smith's Falls!
Picking up our story from Thurs June 21: We stayed at Newboro Lock, where we visited an actual English canal boat. But Newboro Lock was also momentous for us because it’s the Isthmus of the Rideau. 

This lock is the height of land; it separates the watershed of the Rideau River, to the north, from the Gananoque River to the south.  

It's Downhill from Here

On the dock in Newboro.
Since we started up the canal, we’ve been steadily climbing toward this summit.  From here on out, downhill all the way. 

That’s a bit different from our home canal, the Erie, which goes up, then down, then up across the width of New York State..  

Before the Rideau Canal connected these two watersheds, if you wanted to go from  Mud Lake, in the south, to Rideau Lake, to the north, you had to make an 8,000 foot portage. 

Fine for a birch bark canoe!  For us, floating up a few feet in the lock was SO much better than having to carry our 14-ton canal boat for more than a mile!

Call in the Sappers!

One of the few places where the Rideau actually feels like a
canal: the "cut" right after Newboro.
We had a peaceful night at Newboro, undisturbed by the while of mosquitoes. It wasn't like this originally. So many men died of malaria while working to build this lock that work temporarily came to a stop.  

The chief engineer, the heroic Colonel By had the land cleared of vegetation, since malaria was thought to be caused by the “bad air” found in swamps.  

And instead of hiring more contractors, he called in the Navy Seals of canal construction, a unit called in the Royal Sappers and Miners—soldiers who were particularly skilled in digging ditches and handling explosives. 
And you thought ditch digging was a lowly profession.

From Newboro we cruised on to the sweet town of Westport, where we spent Saturday and Sunday.  More on that soon!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

We Brake for Narrowboats

Canal boats are everywhere in Europe but thin on the ground in the United States and Canada. When we hear there’s another actual canal boat in the vicinity, we HAVE to go see it.

A Tip from a Goozler

The skinny little dock below Newboro Lock.
Thursday afternoon, after we docked at Newboro Lock, we had amiable conversations with the usual round of gongoozlers. 

One lovely couple, wrapping up their visit, said, “You know there’s a canal boat like yours here in town? Came over from England in a container ship.”

No, we didn't know! 

“It’s not in the water, it’s in the owner’s front yard, on the road out of town. You can’t miss it,” they said.

Book Larnin'

Well!  We’ve read extensively about English narrowboats (so named because they are long and skinny, to fit through England’s tiny locks). Our knowledge comes, in part, from a subscription to Canal Boat magazine (“Here’s our canal boat porn!” we crow when it arrives each month) and in part from the book Narrow Dog to Indian River, by Terry Darlington, who took his English narrowboat where no narrowboat had gone before, along the Atlantic Intracoastal waterway.

So we know all about canal boat design, and traditional paint jobs, and how you should decorate with horse brasses. But we’d never actually seen one of the things.

Cherchez Canal Boat

Rounded stern . . . tiller for steering . . . porthole window . . .
this all looks strangely familiar!
Initiate rapid after-dinner stroll. We hiked along the gravel shoulder of the narrow road, periodically stepping off into the poison ivy to avoid being blown over by trucks.

And 20 minutes out, there it was, stern peeking out behind a travel trailer: An honest-to-goodness, 50-foot-long English narrowboat. 

“I’m knocking on the door,” Bill exclaimed.

He marched up to the house and made inquiries.  Owner Gill Heather kindly came out and gave us her story. (Only her second inquiry this month.)

Just Imagine Declaring THIS at Customs!

She built the boat herself. Named it Xanth, for the fantasy novels by Piers Anthony, which she loves. Brought it with her when she emigrated from England to Canada—in a container ship so large the boat lay crosswise inside the hold, welded to the floor so it wouldn’t bang about in high seas. (Here’s her account of the voyage.)
Cap did lots of research before deciding on Dragonfly's color scheme. Blue is very traditional.

For a while Gill kept the boat on the Rideau Canal. She opened a bed and breakfast, and after guests kept asking if they could sleep on the boat, made it part of the experience.

Gill has changed jobs and Xanth is “on the hard” for now.  But it was still a thrill to see her.

And Speaking of Canal Boats Crossing the Atlantic . . . 

Get this!  Brian Crutcher, a retired naval architect, PILOTED his specially built English narrowboat "across the pond" from Canada to Ireland in 2001.

It took five weeks, with a crew of four, not to mention 50-knot winds and 5-meter waves crashing over the roof of the boat. The blog grannybuttons tells the story, w pix of the nifty boat. (Unlike traditional narrowboats, this one had a keel, plus a mast and sails, so it was a bit more weatherly).

Now if SlowBoat’s captain is reading this post, I say, “Don’t go getting any ideas!”

What IS It?

During our Great Loop Cruise eight years ago, the blog included a regular feature called "What IS It?" It was a simple contest. We post a picture of something odd. You're invited to identify it.

Hint: It's handy to have on a boat.
We revive this tradition today with a picture of an item we purchased recently, as a trip souvenir. What IS it?

So this is cool: A blacksmith made this for us, while we watched!

The original rules for the "What IS It?" contest still apply.  

First person to answer correctly (use the comment function below) wins a good old-fashioned postcard, sent to you by snail mail. 

Also the glory of a shout-out on the blog.  

Waiting to hear from you!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Tragedy of Colonel By

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

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

Where's the Wi-Fi?

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Back on the Rideau Canal . . .

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

Let Us Now Praise the Chief Engineer

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

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

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

Those Dam Rapids

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

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

Bring on the Steamboats

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we walked around the Jones Falls Dam this morning, we marveled that a former massive military installation is now a major tourist attraction.

The Hotel Opinicon at Chaffey's Lock just got a major facelift.  Adirondack
chic meets Brooklyn culinary sensibilities!
 Col. By, we had a gourmet lunch at Hotel Opinicon at Chaffey's Lock today, and we hoisted a glass of Pilot IPA in your honor.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Well Fortified

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

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

Yankees, Go Home

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

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

The Yankees Stayed Home

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

Over the Borderline

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

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

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

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

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

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

All People Are Welcome Here

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

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

Avoid "Surrendering to the Crown"

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

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

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Picked Up Some Hitchhikers

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

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

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

Will We Make It Across Lake Ontario?

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

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

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

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

Cross Lake Ontario? No Problemo

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

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

The SlowBoat Solar Technology Report

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

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

What About Those Hitchhikers?

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Era of Electric Transport

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

Rising from the  Ashes

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

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

Traces of Trolleys

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

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

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

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

Electric Transport Ruled--for a While

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

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

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

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

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

Where in the World is SlowBoat?

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lockin' Through

Follow the yellow brick road . . . 

Helpful links:
  • Use Boat Finder to see what we see. Search on kd3fly-12, then click on "street view"
On June 12 we cruised from Lock 24 in Baldwinsville to Phoenix, NY. That means we have left the Erie Canal and are starting north on the Oswego Canal, toward Lake Ontario.
Masterful Lockage

Approaching the lock: the lock tender opened the lock doors for us.
Over the next three months, we'll pilot through dozens of locks. Happily, our boat is called a "LockMaster."  Yup, Captain Peter Wiles, who built this boat (and a fleet of others) in the 1980s, designed it to be super-easy to take through a lock. 

  • It's straight-sided (not curved) so it nestles flat against the lock wall. 
  • Nifty walkways down each side let the "bow bunny" scamper to the front to grab the line to hold the boat in place
  • This lock is full,  We're going DOWN. My job as bow bunny: grab the line hanging from one of those blue-and-white
    floats.  Then, HANG ON
Compare this image to the one above. Notice the watermark on the walls. The lock tender opened a big drain
at the bottom of the lock. Water flows out, and down we go!

These military-style buildings are typical canal architecture from about 1910 or so. 
Gates are opening.  They make quite a screech. At some locks, herons have learned to fly in at the sound, to look for
fish that may have gotten crunched--easy pickings!

And we're on our way.  Wave to the lock tender and say, "Thanks for the smooth ride!"

Monday, June 11, 2018

Tour du Boat

On the Erie Canal, eastbound toward lock 24
30 miles to go! Will we make it?
We spent Saturday night at the Lock 25 wall, in the middle of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. On Sunday we traveled east 31 miles to dock in Baldwinsville, at Lock 24.

Thirty-one miles in a single day on nuthin' but electric power is a new world record for SlowBoat. And we weren't even that slow . . . total run time about 6 hours. Give that Captain a round of applause!

First, The Travel Highlights

A few notes from our trip on Sunday and then (in case you haven't been aboard yet) a quick tour du boat.

Great blue heron on the Erie Canal, visiting our canal boat at Lock 24
Thought bubble over heron's head: "This boat appears to
have a river on its roof. Where are the fish?"
Montezuma is known as great place to bird watch. But we had no idea the birds would be so friendly. As soon as we docked, a great blue heron walked up to say hello.

Next morning we opened the stern doors to see a ruby-throated hummingbird hovering there, as if waiting for us.

Big Water on Cross Lake

One highlight of our cruise yesterday was crossing aptly named Cross Lake. (The lake runs north-south and the canal cuts east-west across its midsection.)

"Big Water": Cross Lake
The first time we made the crossing, 8 years ago, I was terrified--it was the first time we'd been on "big water," or at least anything wider than a canal.  How my view has changed!

Another highlight was cruising past the ruins of the Richmond Aqueduct. It was completed in 1859 as part of a canal expansion and relocation, to carry the canal OVER the Seneca River.

Solar canal boat Dragonfly passing Richmond Aqueduct on the Erie Canal
Those arches supported the bottom of the canal as it passed
over the river.
 Just imagine what it would have been like as a passenger on a canal boat, moving along at that smooth, 4-mph mule-drawn pace, to glance out the window, and see, not forests or fields beyond, as you expected, but a river 40 feet below you!

Come Aboard for a Tour du Boat

And what would it be like to be a passenger on a canal boat today? Come aboard and we'll show you?

Seating space in the bow of solar canal boat Dragonfly (aka SlowBoat)
Let's start from the bow--the front of the boat.  Under that red canvas canopy we have a space that's like a little screened-in front porch.

Two wide seats meet in a vee, with a little table. Nice for reading, or dining al fresco. Lockers under the seats are for storing gear. The screened windows have clear plastic covers (AND canvas covers) that can roll up and attach w velcro to keep out the rain and/or morning sunlight.

kitchen/salon on solar canal boat Dragonfly (AKA SlowBoat)

Boaters Call This "The Salon"

From the bow, it's a small step up into the main cabin--a combination kitchen/dining room/sitting room.

Bill built the dinette at left, elevating it on a platform so that when you are seated, you can still see out the window. (The platform hides two drawers, used to stow canned goods).

Kitchen on solar canal boat dragonfly
The kitchen is miniature but comprehensive: Double stainless steel sinks. Three-burner gas stove. Dorm-sized fridge . Shelves for dishes and glassware.

It would be hard to roast a turkey or make homemade apple strudel here. But pretty much anything else is fair game.

Are You Tired After Reading This? Me Too

Here's our cozy bunk. Because after all that birding, and boating, and baking, sometimes you really need a nap!

Thinking of visiting SlowBoat?  We have a guest cabin too.  You get your own bunk, wash-up sink, and head.

Two heads and two wash-up sinks . . . we hear that these amenities qualify our boat as a yacht.

And here we thought it was a canal boat.
This bunk could be yours!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

What I'm Reading (w BONUS Boat Recipe)

Reading the book SevenEves aboard solar canal boat Dragonfly
When I'm traveling, I like to read books about the place I’m visiting. My current read is NOT set on the Erie Canal. But it’s entertaining to make some connections between this book and our current situation.

The book Is SevenEves, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi doorstop by Neal Stephenson. It’s excellent. (If you haven't read it, I promise no spoilers in this post.)

Put Everyone in a Small Space and See What Happens

The SevenEves plot, super-briefly: Earth is destroyed. Just a few hundred people have escaped to space. Space station . . . boat. Both small, enclosed spaces. 

Heroic on-the-fly engineering ensues as the brave new citizens re-purpose limited materials to address each new challenge. Devise algorithms to avoid being hit by space debris? All in a day’s work. Lasso a comet to use its ice for jet fuel? Roger that!

Bill Carlsen, captain of solar canal boat Dragonfly, works on wiring diagrams
Working on wiring diagrams
Meanwhile, back on OUR small enclosed space, Cap’s been rooting in lockers and sorting through tool chests, drawing up blueprints, wiring and unwiring.  

This new propulsion system is unique. It's his own invention, using some new parts but many scavenged old ones. Every day brings some urgent new engineering challenge. Small canal towns don't have boat supply stores. (Most don't even have auto parts stores!)

Regenerative Braking? If Only!

Center, vertical gray box is motor controller for solar canal boat Dragonfly
See those twin black cables with
yellow at the top? They connect to
 the motor controller
Take a gander at this nice new motor controller (left)  installed while we were becalmed in Lyons. With this device, we'll use our new pair of electric motors more efficiently. But our motor controller is a piece of machinery that was designed (and is marketed) to be used in a car or a motorcycle--you can hook it up to an accelerator pedal, or a twist grip. It doesn’t come with a boat-suitable user interface.

Temporary throttle for solar canal boat Dragonfly
The temporary throttel. Notice the label at right:
BRK. That's the control for regenerative braking.
Not gonna happen on a boat.
So for now, Cap has got it hooked up to this little throttle box (at right, neatly taped to the steering podium). This box is a device you’d use at your workbench, to test your system--it's NOT meant for controlling the speed of a 14-ton boat.  

But it will do for now, till Cap takes it apart and figures out what wires go where, and how to make them interface with our Morris controller (a more normal kind of boat throttle.)

It's a good thing we don’t have to dodge space debris while he’s doing all this. (Considering we're a SlowBoat.)

And unlike the characters in SevenEves, we haven’t yet been reduced to eating the algae grown in the transparent hulls of our “Arklets.”  

Instead, we eat Boat Pizza. (See below. Recipe follows.)

Boat Gourmet! Recipe for quick and easy pizza you can make on your boat
You asked for boat gourmet recipes . . . we provide!

1 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp dry yeast
White flour

Pizza dough is very forgiving, so you don’t have to strictly follow the usual rules for yeasted breads.

Combine the first four ingredients in a good-sized bowl and let sit for a few mins while the yeast foams up.

Add white flour to the yeast mixture, half a cup at a time, mixing with a wire whisk. When the mixture gets too gummy for a whisk, switch to a wooden spoon. Stop adding flour when it pretty much holds together.

Cover the mixing bowl (I used a plate, to avoid wasting plastic wrap) and set it on top of your boat oven which (if you are me) is nice and warm because you are roasting asparagus to go with the pizza.

In 20 mins the asparagus is done and your dough has risen. Punch it down, right there in the bowl and add enough flour so it’s not sticky.  Punch it some more in the bowl (no space on my tiny boat counters to knead the dough on a big board.)

Have ready a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Make the dough into a nice round ball, plop it on the sheet, and press it out gently so it fills the entire sheet.

Topping time! I used pizza sauce from a jar, shredded mozzarella, salami, and some red pepper and onion that needed using up.  Your boat fridge may contain other useful pizza toppings.

Sprinkle w oregano, parmesan, and garlic powder. Into that already warm 450-degree oven for 10 mins and dinner is served. Don’t forget the red-wine-in-a-box. (Box wine lighter and easier to store on your boat)

Makes enough pizza for two hungry boaters. Ready in less than an hour.