Friday, August 31, 2018

Boat Gourmet Cooks Sustainably

You asked for more tips from Boat Gourmet. Sustainability is a theme of our travels, so this installment of Boat Gourmet covers hacks that help you

  • save water;
  • save fuel (i.e., propane for the stove); and
  • reduce waste and pollution

Tip # 1: Scrape before you wash

A rubber scraper is your best friend. Scrape residue into the trash before you do dishes. (Or, train the crew to lick their plates clean.) You'll need less wash water to get them clean.

Plus, you won't pollute the water in your anchorage. Did you know that the sink on a boat drains right into the water? Yup.

No one wants to see your leftover breakfast Cheerios floating away on the current.

Food waste in the water is more than unsightly. Those excess nutrients in an anchorage or marina can cause algal blooms.

Tip # 2 Use Only What You Need

Making coffee? Measure your coffee water into the kettle. (We make four cups of java every morning.)

Think about it. How many mornings have you dumped the stale water from the kettle before starting fresh? That's a waste!

Measuring your coffee water also means you don't use extra propane to boil more water than you need! Which leads me to . . .

Tip # 3  Conserve Fuel

We make sun tea--no boiling water
needed! Small flask fits in small fridge
Beyond the desire to use fossil fuel sparingly, getting your propane tank filled can be a hassle.

You can't always find a place close to the boat dock. And those tanks are heavy to carry!

So plan meals that don't take forever to cook. (The bonus to this strategy--you don't make your boat even hotter on a summer day.)

Beyond the obvious (sandwiches and salads) you have plenty of options.

Thai red curry! On rice, but rice noodles are also delish.

Angel hair pasta cooks in 5 minutes (compared to 11 minutes for heartier pasta substrates).

Even better are couscous and rice noodles. Just boil water, pour over, let sit.

A little protein, some veggies, some seasonings . . . so many possibilities!

Or use a heat source other than your stove. If you're lucky, you're docked in a place where there's a picnic area, with barbecue grills!

In the photo below, Cap shows how he used convenient engine room spare parts to grill in the rain. That's half of a length of some kind of ventilation pipe keeping our nice little steaks dry!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

What I'm Reading

You know that I like to read books that are set in the place where I'm traveling.
This summer, when we boated Lake Champlain, Cap bought me a book that's given both of us a lot of pleasure: Life on a Canal Boat, The Journals of Theodore D. Bartley, 1861-1889.

Captain Bartley was a diligent and engaging journaler. For 30 years, he ferried cargo on the Richlieu, Lake Champlain, and Champlain Canal (all locations where we traveled this summer).

He also traveled the Erie Canal and Hudson River (as we did on our Great Loop Trip).

And his canal boat, like ours, was a bit unusual. It used a sustainable technology. It was was a sailing canal boat!

A Canal Boat with Sails?

Voila! Sailing canal boat.
Yup! From about the 1840s to to the 1880s, some canal boats carrying cargo between Montreal and New York were built with a mast and centerboard. 

The idea was to sail under your own power on Lake Champlain, then be towed by mules or by a steamboat elsewhere on the route.

 Can We See One? Yes!

Wow! There she is! Hats off to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
 for making this rare bit of history come to life!
The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, which we visited this summer, built and operates a full-scale replica of an 1862 sailing canal boat. (Pictured under sail above left.) 

It was launched in 2004. Since then, the Lois McClure (read all about it, very cool) has been touring around, educating folks on canal boat life. 

Today it was in Palmyra, NY, just a few miles from Macedon. 

So of course we had to go obsess over it--I mean, admire it!

Solar Canal Boat, Sailing Canal Boat: A Comparison

Theodore Bartley's boat was almost identical to the Lois McClure. It's more than twice as long as Dragonfly (88 feet to our 41 feet), half again as wide (14 feet to our 10 feet), and capable of carrying 60 - 120 tons.

Click here to compare to pix of Dragonfly!
Bartley brought his wife and young son along on the boat. The Lois McClure recreates their living space, in the stern of the boat, beneath the steering platform. 

Stairs down, homespun curtains, patchwork quilt, tiny but complete galley, wood panelling . . . it all felt pretty familiar!

A unexpected special bonus treat for us: On the boat was Barbara Bartley, the person who transcribed Theodore Bartley's journals, so that they could be edited into the book. 

(She's his great-granddaughter-in-law.)

Cap chats with Mrs. Bartley belowdecks.
Bartley's canal boat carried lumber, potatoes, grain, coal . . . all the nonperishable staples of the day. His diary documents pleasant days with nice weather, and frightening events: storms, collisions with bridges and other boats, injuries, his son falling overboard. 

He was a multi-talented guy who knew how to sail, was a skilled gunsmith, and, as a carpenter, made the boat more comfortable than was typical of the day for his family.

A typical journal entry reads something like: "Shipped and mended the rudder, repaired some sails, lashed the ends of new lines, made mosquito screens for the cabin, walked to town for supplies, loaded 5000 bushels of grain . . . didn't do much else today." 

Makes us feel like slackers!

Time to Do as Bartley Did

And with that, I'm headed back to the boat. We're taking this week in port to grind off the rust and put on fresh paint.  

So if you come cruising with us next summer (we're thinking Lake Champlain!) Dragonfly will be looking her best.

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Boat at Rest

On Saturday, August 26, Dragonfly floated up through Erie Lock 30, glided past Old Lock 60 (long abandoned on the north shore) slid beneath the still crisp-as-new Canadaigua Road Bridge, and made the left-hand turn into Mid-Lakes Marina, our home port.  Now she's tied to the dock.

Girls hiked the towpath, guys
drove the boat (see it?)
Our friends Dave and Brenda Eissenstat joined us for this final leg of the journey, leaving from Newark, NY (which is looking noticeably more prosperous than when we boated through in June, with several new waterfront buildings). 

Dave and Brenda are our long-time adventure buddies, always fishable for a hike or a paddle, so it felt fitting to have them with us to put the capstone on this summer's grand adventure.

What's the Takeaway?

This trip was a history lesson, a hands-on engineering puzzle, a succession of beautiful days spent outdoors. It included a few moments of terror, a hands-on demonstration of how invasive species spread, frequent opportunities to ponder the economic status of waterfront towns, and, as with every boat trip, many, many delightful occasions to appreciate the instant friendships that form when you're part of the Brotherhood of Boaters.

I can't possibly sum it all up in one quick blog post.  I'll have a few more things to say over the next couple days. So check back.

(Not to mention some of you havev told me this blog didn't include nearly enough "Boat Gourmet" tips. No prob, I've got lots more.)

Toast With Us Now

On Saturday night, after Cap equalized the batteries and shut down all the systems that needed to be shut down, we hopped on our bikes and pedaled down the towpath to the Twisted Rail, the newest and nearest brewpub in Macedon.  

Because you know we can't end the day without our traditional toast. 

With just a little twist this time.

"High Five! We didn't sink the boat all summer!"

Sunday, August 26, 2018

We Have a Winner!

The August 10th SlowBoat "What IS It?" quiz asked you to explain why the walls underneath a bridge would be decorated with chains that don't hold anything in place. (See photo at right.)

And we have a winner! Professional engineer (and number one brother) Scott Berger correctly explained that these chains function like the downspout on a rain gutter, helping to drain water off the surface of the bridge.

Scott writes: "Water [running off the deck of the bridge] comes down the hole at the top and runs down the chain. It is held on by surface tension."

(Maybe the water stains were a giveaway?)

Another Puzzler to Ponder

OK, cats and kittens, here's a couple more quizzical photos to entertain you.

This one is not a contest . . .  It's something that had ME saying. "What the HECK is it?" 

The ID of THIS critter is not the quiz question!
We were just past Schuylerville on the Champlain Canal, floating along under sunny skies past little waterfront camps and stretches of woodland. Suddenly, we heard the unmistakable racket of an upset raptor.

Scanning the treeline, we got a great look at a young bald eagle, perched and shrieking his head off. "Wonder what's got him so agitated?" I pondered.

Kicked Out of the Nest?

I started looking around at the nearby trees and spotted a big, messy nest.  So, maybe this was a fledgling, bummed to be out on his own?

I snapped some photos and thought no further of the moment . . . till that night, when I was downloading and sorting the day's images.

Here's what caught my attention:

I could see a man standing in the nest. Do you see him? Khaki shorts and dark shirt?

No WONDER the bird was shrieking! My mind started racing. 

  • Was this a legitimate wildlife biologist, tagging nestlings? 
  • Was it a poacher, trying to capture a bird?
  • Should I call the local wildlife officers? Report what I'd seen? Could it possibly make a difference?

Then I looked even closer.

For just a moment there, I was Thomas, the photographer in Blow Up, accidentally recording a crime. 

But . . . .

Optical illusion! It was just the play of light and shade on the tree trunk.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Big Tim Says

Earlier on this trip we marveled at the locks on the Rideau Canal. It's a "living museum," operating with the same stone walls, the same iron machinery as when it opened nearly 200 years ago.

The current Erie Canal (officially, the New York State Barge Canal) is not quite so antique--this reboot of the original 1825 canal system was completed in 1918 and some locks modernized after that. But there's still some original 1918 equipment in some locks, notably the electrical systems that operate the lock gates and sluices.
Those square blue boxes contain the electrical wiring that controls the lock gates. See the hand-grenade-shaped thingy
between them? That's a winch for pulling barges out of the lock. There's a winch at each end of the lock.

Also dating to 1918: a kind of stationary winch, resembling an oversized hand-grenade. It's used to haul barges OUT of the lock after a tugboat pushes them in.

(If that sounds confusing, here's how it works. With the barge filling the lock, there's no room for the tug. So the barge rides up (or down) alone. Then the locktender winches the barge out so the tug can also lock through.)

Every lock has a stylish little iron arch over it.
That's to carry the wiring across the lock.
These elderly electronics and  machinery are simultaneously robust and fragile.  "Big Tim," the Erie Canal locktender I asked about the grenade-shaped items, was enthusiastic about the electrical boxes.

"Yeah, the original since 1918 and they still work great," said Tim, a husky guy with grizzled hair.

"All DC! Much more reliable than AC. Edison had it right! Ha! Him and Tesla. These new locks are no good, they break down all the time."

Tim Had Time for a Story

Tim leaned in to the railing, settling in. "Lemme tell you a story. You know Lock 19? "

Yes, we locked through there yesterday. 

"Well, I used to work there. You know how there’s a railroad bridge right before the lock, and then right after the bridge, a super narrow channel just before the lock?"

Yes. The locktender warned us to stay well back while he dumped the water from the lock . Told us we could get really banged around on the cement walls if we were too close.

This is what a sportfisher looks like when it's
not up on plane.

Cruisin' for a Bruisin'

Big Tim says, "Yeah. So I had a couple kayakers in there, taking them down. I start to open the gates, to let them out, and I look down the channel, and this big sportfisher (a very large open-water-type boat) is coming up at 35 mph. 

"So I rush to get on the radio and I tell him, 'Slow down! Slow down!' 

"The boat is up on plane. The guy drops his speed and the bow of the boat drops and sets up a four-foot wave! (We've seen this, BTW, in Florida. A sportfisher rode its own wave to get over a shallow spot in a channel.)

"The wave hits that narrow channel before the lock doors and gets even bigger. Then it hits the doors, and they swing . . .  in and out and in and out. 

"The kayakers are screaming for their lives. I’m telling them, "Hold on to the lines, you’ll be fine. I’m more worried about my lock doors.  

"Those doors are meant to open at half a mile per hour, and here they're swinging back and forth at 40 mph. Parts flying everywhere.

"So the guy in the boat gets on the radio and says, 'Oh, did I do that?' 

"Yeah, you did that. (You idiot!)

"So the sportfisher says, 'When can you lock me through?'

When Hell Freezes Over?

Big Tim says, “You got any beer on that boat? Yeah? 

"Well, you tie up there and start drinking because it’s gonna take a while to fix this one.”

(No risk of this kind of incident while piloting a slow boat, right? 
And Tim liked our solar panels. DC. Like Edison and Tesla.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

On the Waterfront

Gov. Cuomo! Before you build new canal boats,
take care of the ones you already have!
Just last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $24 million investment to expand Buffalo's waterfront. 

The stated goals: "promote economic growth by attracting more visitors, and offer new recreational and economic opportunities for residents."

One component of the project is $4 million for a replica 1825 packet boat (the kind of canal boat that carried passengers, as opposed to cargo, on the original Erie Canal."

First, let me say I am heartily in favor of introducing more people to the delights of canal boats.

Second, let me say how much we have benefited from state and local investment in attractive waterfront facilities. We've enjoyed quite a few in just the past week.

Town Docks We Have Known and Loved

Cliffs at Little Falls
Starting with Little Falls, a canal town set in a dramatic landscape. Steep green hills crowd close to the bank of the Mohawk River. At canal level, you’re boating past cliffs of sharp-edged, rusty-black rock.

The town's attractive transient dock is notable for its “boater lounge” where you can enjoy the wi fi and score some locally made gourmet popcorn, and for friendly volunteers who offer you a ride downtown.

Amsterdam, Canojoharie, St. Johnsville, Little Falls, Rome, Illion--all of these had a town dock (and/or a town marina). All were attractive, landscaped facilities with nice bathrooms and other amenities such as picnic tables, walking trails, public art. 

These Places Don't Come Cheap

The new "navigation center" in Rome's waterfront park resembles a giant sugar shack. $500K in state money this past year.
All must have involved a significant investment by the municipality (and/or the state), first to build, and now to maintain. (We saw a lot of mowing machines.)

Like Governor Cuomo's PR folks, I'm sure the advocates for these facilities imagined that nice docks at waterfront parks would attract visitors: transient boaters, people like us, who are passing through on big boats. Retirees, usually, with disposable income. Who can spread it around in the town.

We Heart Local Businesses

The Illion town marina transports you back to 1956.
(Can you spot the canal boat in this picture?)
Sounds good to us! Boaters need groceries, pharmacies, hardware stores (especially us solar boaters), beers to toast that we didn’t sink the boat, not to mention the all-important laundromat.

This past week, for example, we had dinner at Parillo’s Armory Grill in Amsterdam, a homey place that resembles your Italian auntie’s dining room circa 1986. 

We scored gourmet groceries at Peruzzi's (“The Sausage King”) Market in Canajoharie.  Sampled the award-winning IPA at Mad Jack Brewing in Schenectady. Shopped the farmer's market in Little Falls.

But I'd love to see the numbers on how transient boaters help these canal towns. At most town docks this summer, we’ve been the only transient boat. Or one of maybe two or three.  Hard to see how that makes a difference for the bottom line.

Get Outside, Get Healthy

On the other hand, I suspect that investment in waterfront parks has a big impact on the health and well being of local folks.  
Little Falls hangs out festive flags to attract your attention to its newly redeveloped "Canal Place."

We've spent the past few summers cruising the Erie between Macedon and Pittsford, and no matter the time of day, the canal towpath is always busy with walkers, runners, rollerbladers, bikers, moms pushing strollers, and so on.

Waterfront parks make it easy for people to get outdoors and get a little exercise, close to where they live, in a pleasant and interesting setting. I'd love to see a study that could tease out the health benefits of living near the canal as opposed to out in the hinterlands.

Anybody know of such a study?

In the mean time, this 2014 report addresses the economic impacts of the Erie Canalway Trail.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Walk on the Wild Side

We traveled more than 40 miles on Sunday (the power of that diesel generator to extend our range!)

Plugging in for a "power stop" at Rome.
From the wall outside Lock 20, east of Utica, we cruised to Rome, where we took a break while Cap changed the oil.

Then on through two more locks and out into Oneida Lake (pretty big water—20 miles end to end.) We had fair seas and a following wind all the way.

We were a mile from the public dock in Brewerton. And it was just turning dark. Of course, just after dark is when spiders emerge to start their evening web spinning.

Spiders of Unusual Size

By this point in the summer, the teeny tiny cute little spiders that ballooned in on silk threads, back at the start of the trip, have now, through dint of excellent bug catching, become Spiders of Unusual Size.

I'm voting for fewer spiders and more of these . . . 
 Fat. Black. Long legged. Well, I'll spare you more details. Or a picture.

As I tried to keep a firm hand on the tiller, they started dropping off the edge of the stern canopy, all around me. 

Like evil Christmas ornaments. Animated ornaments.

Do not look up, I reminded myself. Do not look to right or left. Must. Just. Drive. Boat.

A Butterfly with Good Taste in Men

I repeat: Why can't the boat be infested with
THESE instead of spiders?
On Sunday afternoon I heard the "ding" again. Came on deck to see Cap sporting a tattoo on his leg. On closer examination it was a butterfly!

This was a "comma" butterfly, also known as an angelwing. With its wings folded it looks like a dead leaf. Unfolded it looks like a small monarch.

Maybe it should be named the "calm" butterfly, not the "comma." Bill touched it gently, and it amiably crawled onto his hand.

There it proceeded to sit for a good half hour, probing his fingers with its slender coiled proboscis.

Turns out, this particular butterfly species prefers tree sap and salt to effete meals of sweet flower nectar. No wonder she liked Cap--he's an Old Salt, right?

An Osprey with an Appetite

Didn't get a picture of the osprey, so let me distract you with
this juvenile bald eagle!
Most of our wildlife encounters this week have been more benevolent or amusing. On Saturday, I was inside and heard the stern bell ding. Our prearranged signal means, "It's not an emergency, but come out and see this!"

Bill pointed out an osprey who was acting like a gull, sitting in the water. "She plunged in," he said. "But then she didn't lift off."

She flapped her wings hard, trying to fly. Was she caught on fishing line? Water weeds? Had she accidentally plunged her talons into a decaying log?

She tried again. On the third try, she made a supreme effort, and her legs emerged, with talons firmly hooked into a Carp of Unusual Size. Waaaaay too big for an osprey. She flapped, the fish flapped, showing its white belly . . . and splash, it fell back into the water.

She flew straight up then circled, giving little shivers, like a dog shaking off water after a bath.

Was she a young bird who didn't know the fish was too big? Or a big, experienced huntress who figured she could take it? We'll always wonder.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Not Your Average Rest Stop

Shoulda seen the spiders
on this one!
When we're traveling by boat we tie up for the night in all kids of places.

Serene remote anchorages. Precarious lock walls. Public docks in the middle of bustling cities. Charming marinas. Grungy marinas.

Sometimes there are loads of amenities. Dockhands to take your lines.  A restaurant on premises. Sometimes there are no amenities beyond the cleats on the wall, and the only way off the boat is a rusty vertical ladder.

Take a Break from Your Drive . . . or Cruise

Last night was a first, We stayed at rest stop on the New York State Throughway.

Seriously.  Here it is, seen as we are exiting the lock the next morning.
Let me explain! Lock 13 on the Erie Canal just happens to be RIGHT next to the recently enhanced "Mohawk Valley Welcome Center" (your tax dollars at work, New Yorkers!) on the thruway near Canajoharie. 

The lock wall was a free place to stay. We were out of solar power. So we tied up.

Erie Canal themed playground for the kiddies!
After dinner, Cap (ever the gentleman) brushed aside the dime-sized spiders on the steel ladder, and we clambered six feet up the wall, then sauntered over to the rest stop to check it out.

We were expecting maybe a clean bathroom and a candy machine. 

This Place Has Everything!

But this recently refurbished visitor center is a kind of fantasy land for Erie Canal enthusiasts.

I HAVE to list all the features for you, it's so great. (Loads more photos on FB.)
  • Bollards in the parking area, so you  can pretend to tie up your land yacht
  • Gardens decorated with navigational buoys
  • Another garden featuring antique propellers
  • A vintage buoy tender (a kind of boat), pretending to float inside its own model lock
  • A playground for kids with . . .   a canal boat you can climb around on, stacks of shipping containers you can climb around on, a swing hanging from a crane, and two mules

And That's Just on the Outside

This vessel puttered from lighted buoy to buoy, refilling the
kerosene lamps and lighting them.
We wandered around, exclaiming over each fresh discovery till dark settled in. Then we went inside, where the amazement continued. 

The place was made to look like a cross between a rustic barn and an 1880s factory—if barns and factories of that era had 21st century electronic kiosks with interactive displays of the delights of New York State. And fancy coffee.
  • One wall featured a mini-Erie canal museum
  • The coffee shop was closed, but self serve—just leave two bucks in the can
  • Did I mention the superfast free wifi? 
  • And the air conditioning?
  • And yes . . . clean bathrooms

Need Any Artisanal Salad Dressing?

You know you want some maple pepitas. Even more
than a Snickers bar,
Best of all were the vending machines.  Rows of gleaming machines, filled not with stale gum and mass-market candy bars, but with a crazy variety of Upstate New York local foods. For example:

  • Milk in tiny glass bottles from a nearby dairy 
  • Maple granola 
  • Artisanal teas
  • Wedges of gourmet cheese

Stuff you would never in a million years expect to see in a vending machine, and all mighty tempting looking. 

Something for Everyone

If all that weren’t enough, the place is politically correct: three electric-car charging stations, handicapped parking spaces stenciled with the ACTIVE racing wheelchair logo, and a fenced-in dog park.

If you’re on the New York State Throughway, you gotta stop.  

Although I can’t promise you’ll see what the folks who stopped for coffee this morning saw . . .  a solar-powered canal boat--that bizarre hybrid of 19th and 21st century technologies--sliding silently out of the lock.

(I put all the best pix on FB. Check it out!)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

We Still Didn't Sink the Boat

Aren't they stylish? The locktender stations, which date to 1918, look like the flying bridge (steering station) on a tugboat. Wonder if that's on purpose? The rounded base points upstream, the better to withstand flooding.
We're on the Mohawk River, headed west. Stayed in Amsterdam, NY last night and transited Locks 11 and 12 today.

The river is high. Both locks are next to dams, and the New York State Power Authority (which now operates the Erie Canal), has some of the dam gates open, cleaning out debris and dumping excess water. This has led to some exciting moments.

Playing Dodge'em with Tree Trunks

The view from our stern deck this morning!
For one thing, the debris being dislodged from the dams includes giant trees! They come bobbing down at us in the current.

Feels like being back on the Mississippi River, where after one torrential rainstorm, we spent a day engaged in slow-motion dodge'em with giant floating tree trunks.

Our hull is steel, but run over one of those babies and good-bye prop!

Slow Churn

Schoharie Creek dumping a load into the Mohawk River.
The water is loaded with silt. So you can see the current, racing down the channel--it's easy to see the lines of brown scummy bubbles, racing faster than the eddies in shallow water at the river's edge.

Roaring at full power, Dragonfly made a mere 2.0 to 2.8 miles per hour against the current.  We tried edging cautiously outside the marked channel, so we could go a little faster with less current.

 But Hurricane Irene did a lot of rearranging of sediments last fall.  The channel doesn't seem to be as consistently deep as the charts show. So back to slogging against the tide.

Whirlpool Ahead

Sign says, "Danger."  Duh!
As we approached Lock 11, the radio crackled to life. "Stay to the left as you approach the lock, Captain," warned the locktender. "The current could push you into the wall on the right."

The dam gates FARTHEST from the lock were open, so you'd think the lock entrance would be placid. Or at least, a little more placid than the maelstrom on the far side of the river

But a promontory bounced the water pouring down from the dam back toward the dam, where it swirled toward the lock entrance, then bounced off the 6-foot-high, 100-foot long cement wall and swept back toward the far side of the dam. A veritable whirlpool.

High Five

This is us, YESTERDAY in Schenectady.
Little did we know what today would hold!
Cap asked for a little more juice, and Dragonfly, brave canal boat, dug in a little deeper.

 Her nose swung sickeningly toward the dam . . . then back.

After some excruciatingly slow progress, we were finally in the lock. Grabbed the lines and landed safe against the wall.

"You did a good job, Captain," said the locktender.

Our end-of-day toast is going to be particularly fervent tonite.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Homeward Bound

On Sunday August 12 we. got up early and left Mechanicville, (a grim-seeming town with treeless streets, where as innocent seeming a place as the nail salon has a sign on the wall warning "No Concealed Carry").

We locked through Champlain Canal Lock 2, turned a corner, and easy as that, we were back on the Erie Canal, our home waters. From here on out we'll be traveling the same waters we boated in spring of 2011, homeward bound from our Great Loop trip.

Seems a good time to reflect on all the different canals we've cruised this summer.

The Rideau Canal 

  • Completed in 1832
  • Runs from Kingston, on Lake Ontario, north to Ottawa
  • 125 miles long (only 12 miles of this is manmade "cuts," the rest is natural rivers and lakes)
  • 45 locks, most operated by hand using the original machinery
The British built the Rideau after the war of 1812 so troops could move between Kingston and Ottawa and Montreal without cruising the Saint Lawrence River.

They were avoiding the border with that upstart new country, the United States of America, which (the British thought) might attack their vessels.

The canal's
defensive blockhouses (left) never had to fend off American attackers.

Today the Rideau is mainly used by American boaters, invading for their summer vacations.

Carillon Canal

A "guillotine gate" hangs over the massive lock
  • Completed in 1833, then enlarged in the late 1800s and again in the mid 1900s
  • Located between Ottawa and Montreal
  • Had 11 locks (each with small lifts) originally. 
  • One HUGE ultramodern lock today (right) with a 65-foot lift, next to a hydro dam
  • Lets boats bypass big rapids on the Ottawa River

The Carillon was also originally intended for military travel. Later enlargements allowed it to handle commercial traffic, mostly barges carrying logs at first.

St. Anne deBellevue Canal

  • Completed 1843, replaced a private canal built 1816
  • Located on the West Island of Montreal, at the mouth of the Ottawa River
  • Multiple locks originally, today one modern lock with a very small lift

Notice the date. What a difference a decade makes! This canal was opened just ten years after the Rideau, with the goal only of serving commercial traffic, not for defensive purposes. Today it's used only by pleasure craft and the canal waterfront anchors a street lined with lively restaurants and ice cream stands.

Lachine Canal

  • Opened in 1825 (before the Rideau!)
  • Runs through the southwest part of the Island of Montreal
  • 9 miles long with (today) 5 locks

Low bridges on the Lachine! We lowered our canopy to sneak under

This canal has always been used for commercial purposes. It let boats avoid the "treacherous" Lachine rapids, allowing easy passage from Ottawa and Montreal to the St Lawrence River and east to the ocean.

If the large number of construction cranes and rehabbing factories we saw on the banks are any indication, the canal is about to see a gentrification boom, with the lure of waterfront real estate.

Chambly Canal

  • Completed in 1843, same year as the St. Anne de Bellevue
  • Locks are on the Richelieu River, 77 miles long
  • Runs from the town of Sorel (on the St. Lawrence River east of Montreal) south toward Lake Champlain
  • 9 locks and 10 bridges (eight of which are still operated by hand with the original machinery or replicas)
Turbulence in the Chambly Locks!
The Chambly Canal, together with the Champlain Canal, which we just transited, connects Ontario and Quebec to the Hudson River Valley. 

Forget about repelling those annoying Americans! After these two canals opened, trade between the nations exploded. All those sweet little French Canadian farms in the Richlieu River valley could ship produce and goods to New York City.

Today, plied only by us pleasure craft.

Saint-Ours Canal

  • Completed in 1849
  • A single modern lock today. Sometimes called the 10th lock on the Chambly
  • Bypasses the final obstacle to navigation between the Saint Lwarence River and Lake Champlain

So there you have it: A fabulous tour of early Canadian history in 62 locks.

Hats off to Parks Canada, which operates and maintains these locks. They're parklike, well run, and the locktenders are friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. The Rideau and Chambly Locks in particular are a living history museum, almost unchanged since they were first built.

Get yourself a pleasure craft and try it sometime. (We recommend the model called "LockMaster."

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Dredging Up the Past

First, the "Where in the World is SlowBoat? report?

Town wall in Fort Edward. Can you spot the canal boat?
We're cruising south on the Champlain Canal, toward Albany, NY. We've stopped in
  • Whitehall, where the kind marina owner opened the bar (closed on a Monday) so we could cool off on a scorching day (Thanks, Lynn!)
  • Fort Ann, where we investigated an old lock
  • Fort Edward, where we docked on the lovely town wall (right)
  • Schuylerville, where we enjoyed a visit from the McKay family. Check our "Visitors" page and plan YOUR visit!)
  • Mechanicville, for a "make and mend" day.
At the lock before Mechanicville, the lock tender warned us to watch for dredging activities as we exited.

Sure enough, one of those trademark blue-and-yellow canal authority tugs was backing and filling in the channel ahead of us, manipulating a dredging pipeline.

We maneuvered cautiously behind it and continued down the channel.

Another barge supported what looked like an oversized shipping container, painted bright cobalt blue. We assume was a bunkhouse or other support structure for the workers.

Water get extracted from the dredged material and returned
to the river.
On the shore, we could see a wide flexible pipe gushing water back into the river. It was drainage from the dredging spoils that had been pumped up onto the land.

More Dredging Ahead?

We believe this dredging effort was simply to maintain the depth of the navigation channel.  But some wrangling between New York State and the federal government could result in resumed dredging to remove a carcinogen from Hudson River sediments.

PCBs in the Hudson

This stretch of the Hudson River, above Albany, looks placid and pastoral. We haven't passed many factories, and we certainly  haven't seen obvious pollutants gushing into the river.

But in 1984, the EPA declared the river—from just above Fort Edward to New York City--a SuperFund Site. Pollution from multiple sources contributed to this drastic designation but one of the biggest contributors was GE. Between 1947 and 1977, its  transformer factories in Fort Edwards and Hudson Falls--discharged (by most estimates) 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the river.

These chemicals (which are banned from use these days) can cause a discouraging array of medical problems: neurological disorders, hormonal disruptions, depressed immune system, a variety of cancers, and more.  Over the past decades, the discharged PCBs didn’t sit there, inert, on the river bottom. They worked their way up the food chain (fro what to what), getting=ng more concentrated in organisms higher up the chain.
When we docked at Schuylerville, a little boy on the boat next to us was gleefully pulling sunfish out of the river . . . and his grandfather would take them off the line and toss them back in. Every boat launch and dock you can see signs warning you not to eat the fish you catch.
There’s risk not just from eating fish but from drinking the water, or breathing the air near a heavily contaminated river.
For wildlife (what can PCBs do to them?)
The good news is that after years of extensive—and expensive—remediation, the EPA declared a successful cleanup.  There were cleanup efforts in 1977-78, in 1991, then the 2009 and 2011-2015. Mostly paid for by GE. (How much did it cost?) 1.6 billion
The cleanup is considered one of the largest and most complex environmental dredging projects ever conducted in the United States. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

What IS It?

The "What IS It?" quiz brings you photos of obscure or confusing objects.  You guess what it is.  If you're right, you win:

  • Recognition on this blog
  • A tacky postcard, sent to you via good old-fashioned snail mail
  • The satisfaction of being right!
OK, let's get guessing. Today's quiz takes us back to Ottawa and that shady tunnel where we queued up to descend the Rideau Canal's triumphant finale, a spectacular flight of 8 locks.

We had to wait for an hour and half, since other boats were coming up the lock. Plenty of time to explore the underpass.

Not For Tying Up the Boat

We spotted this chain hanging down the wall.

It was hanging in a little recess--a vertical trough cut into the cement.

On the other side of the overpass was another chain, exactly the same.

So, What IS It? (Other than being a chain, that is.) 

Look closely. Yup, it's a chain, all right!
Why does this overpass have random chains hanging down the walls?

Write your answer on an iRocker Cruiser inflatable paddle board and send it to . . . oh, wait, we're on a boat, you can't send us mail.  

Use the comment function below, or visit the SlowBoat Facebook page and make your guess there.

You could be our next lucky winner!