WPSU

Thursday, September 19, 2019

What IS It?

The summer is over. Our cruise to Buffalo and back is over. But here's one more installment of the SlowBoat "What IS It? quiz.

The picture at right was taken near Pittsford, NY, when we were cruising with friends Clare and Doug. We spotted this odd watery phenomenom in one of the little side channels you see all along the canal.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Last Muleskinner on the Erie


The blog has been on hiatus while we were at our internet-free family camp in MA. We’ll catch you up on the final days of our August cruise to Buffalo.

Mon., Aug 26th: From the old salt port of Holley, we puttered our way east under sunny skies to dock in the college town of Brockport, where earlier in the month we’d enjoyed the local street festival and duck race

A mule sculpture stands sentinel at the Brockport Visitor Center
As we got ready to depart next morning, a woman, her six-year-old grandson, and a young man strolled up to watch. They had the usual questions about our solar panels. Noting how our boat resembled an old-fashioned Erie Canal boat, the young man remarked, “I was the last mule skinner on the Erie.”

How Is This Possible?

Mules were phased out as a canal boat power source by the 1920s, when the expanded Erie Barge Canal opened. Towboats powered by internal combustion engines pushed big rafts of barges along the wider, deeper new canal.

So. No mules after 1920. This guy was not 110 years old. Tell us about your mule skinning days, please!
19th-century mule team on the Erie . . . 
It seems that this man’s father had an Erie Canal-themed restaurant in Brockport, quite the attraction. Docked by the restaurant was a reproduction canal boat, and patrons could take a ride.

And yep, that canal boat was mule-drawn. Our new friend had the job of supervising the mules, walking behind them along the towpath.

Skinner or Not Skinner?

Now, the person who supervises a team of mules that pulls a canal boat is not, strictly speaking a mule-skinner. The official title for that job—usually held by a boy about 10 years old, usually pictured barefoot and wearing overalls and a straw hat—is hoggee (rhymes with “boggy”).  

(A mule skinner is someone who drives a mule-drawn wagon. The name comes from the unpleasant practice of whipping stubborn mules till they bleed. OK, put that thought from your mind right now.)

Yet . . . it sounds romantic, doesn’t it? “Last Muleskinner on the Erie.” You can almost see the melancholy oil painting, showing the tired boy prodding his team under a cloudy sky.

You can almost hear the sad drumbeat of a dirgelike poem. “That’s the last muleskinner, trudging along the canal. . . “

I bet he’s used that line on LOTS of girls. I wonder if it worked?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

What I'm Reading


I love to read books that connect to the places I’m traveling. On this trip, both Cap and I read Salt, by Mark Kurlansky. It’s a sprawling history-of-the-world through the lens of humanity’s quest for salt.

We knew that the Erie Canal made it convenient and cheap to ship goods around the northeast. We knew that apples, grain, and lumber were important canal cargos. But we DIDN’T know how important salt was to the development and success of the canal.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Making a Home with Cobblestones


As we headed back east from Buffalo, we flagged the village of Albion as a place to stop. 

The Cobblestone Museum was just three miles north of the boat dock—easy biking distance

Cobblestone Museum . . . hmm. It’s NOT a geology museum for the fist-sized, rounded stones dropped across upstate New York by retreating glaciers.

But there ARE plenty of cobblestones here! They’re embedded in the walls of houses—a bit of Erie Canal-centric folk architecture.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Is There a Doctor in the House?

In our years of cruising on Dragonfly, we've rescued several boats that needed a tow, most memorably a cruiser adrift on the heaving waves of Lake Michigan.

Cap has also put his EMT skills to work. Last summer on Lake Champlain, he patched up a sailboat captain who had mangled his hand in a winch.

On Monday night, in Lockport, he got called out on yet another rescue.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Kindness of Bikers

On Tuesday we traveled from Lockport to Tonawanda.

Then we pondered our next move. Our goal on this trip was Buffalo--the western terminus of the original Erie Canal.

But when the Erie was reconfigured in the early 20th century, to accomodate big barges, the shallow old canal was filled in, and vessels were re-routed onto the Niagara River.

The current often--though not always--runs fast. Would we be able to navigate it?

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Layers of Color

Del and Pam in Lockport.
My darling daughter gave me a gift before we left on this trip. It's a piece of crewelwork to stitch, showing a dragonfly, perched on marsh plants.

The project calls for stitches that are what I'd call indirect. You take a stitch forward, then take the yarn backward a little ways.

Forward, then back. Forward, then back. Building up layers of color.

Our trip this summer has been a bit like this, with lots of back-and-forth.

Just as the stitches build up a tapestry, our back-and-forth travels add color to the voyage--letting us enjoy the company of good friends.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Of Castles and Canal Boats

Dragonfly is cruising the Erie Canal this summer.To read about our Great Loop Adventure (a 6,000-mile circumnavigation of eastern North America), start here. For our "Little Loop" trip (around the historic canals of Canada) start here.

If you've ever visited SlowBoat (or if you're very observant when we post pix), you've probably noticed that, on the stern deck, the left-hand rear door, when folded open, reveals a hand-painted scene.

You see what look like stone walls, a bridge, a tall turret, some water . . . .

It kind of looks like a fantasy castle in Olde England. But it's a real place.

And we're visiting that place right now.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Original Big Apple


On Tuesday, we headed west from Albion toward Medina. Our "Erie Canal Cruising Guide" advised us that we would see apple orchards along the route. 

This guide was published in 2006, and a lot of the information about docks, restaurants, and cruising amenities is out of date. So we took the advisory about orchards with a grain of salt. But this time the guide was right. 

Once we left the stately brick and sandstone architecture of Albion behind, we were cruising through farmland—vast cornfields and expanses of soybeans, clusters of silos, the occasional tractor.  

Orchards along the Erie.
And then, apple orchards! Orchards everywhere, the trees studded with yellow and red fruit that glowed in the sunlight.

So much has changed in this region (called the Niagara Frontier) since the Erie Canal was first dug in 1825.  But apple growing has been a constant.

The climate here is perfect for apple growing: long summer days, and cold winters moderated by proximity to Lake Ontario. 

Before the canal went in, it cost $100 a ton to ship apples to city markets by wagon—a prohibitive cost. 

After the canal opened, you could ship apples for just $6 a ton--a good deal for growers. By 1845, Niagara County was the largest apple producer in the United States.

From the first, many of those apples shipped out of the Niagara Frontier made their way to urbanites in New York City. 

This "Big Apple" in Medina is about 10 feet tall!
Apples Upstate, Big Apple Downstate?

You might guess there's a connection between all the apple growing upstate, along the canal, and the nickname of “Big Apple” for the big city downstate.

But you would be wrong.

Etymologists who’ve traced the name "Big Apple" say it was a slang term for any big city, used in the world of horse racing in the 1920s. 

No connection to those mules hauling apples along the Erie in the 1820s.



Monday, August 12, 2019

Art for the Masses

When you visit Lyons, New York, the welcome sign at the edge of town declares that this is the home of “Mural Mania.” We visited the former Peppermint Capitol of the World last summer and had fun checking out all the scenes of the town’s historic past.

In Shik Lee checks out the Macedon mural.
Besides painting its own walls, Lyons claims credit for infecting other canal towns in western New York with mural mania. Just last week, on our passage to Palmyra, we spotted a mural we’d never noticed before—even though it was painted in 2013 and we’ve been cruising these waters for a decade.

A Mural in Macedon—Who Knew?

The Macedon Mural is on the village volunteer fire department’s picnic pavilion, facing Lock 30. It combines canal history with fire department history. 

Tucked in one corner of the mural is a fire engine . . . or rather a pumper,“Old Betsy,” used by the fire department starting in 1864.

This pumper was pulled by humans, not horses—a group of (presumably brawny) firemen would haul it around the village. Maybe that was faster than hitching up horses? 
The mural in all its glory. The figure at left is identified as "Indian Charlie, who sold baskets in Macedon." Wish
there was more info about him!
The fireman on the far right is Elmer Clark, who was a beloved fire chief in the 20th century, not the 19th.

Why, you haven't changed a bit!
The rest of the mural aims to show what you would have seen if you were standing on the bank of the canal back in the mid 1800s.

The centerpiece is a canal boat, ready to be loaded with produce bound for Albany or New York.  This area of western New York was “America’s breadbasket” in those days.

There’s also a fine barn in the mural . . . and a few days after we spotted the mural, we went for a walk in the neighborhood and noticed a barn that looked strangely familiar. 

It was the barn from the mural, still standing.

Of Course Greece Has Murals

The Macedon mural put us on the hunt for more outdoor art. And as we headed west toward Buffalo, we spotted this mural in the small town of Greece, New York—right near curiously named HenPeck Park.

The three-panel mural, painted on a bridge abutment, doesn’t merge eras in history like the Macedon mural does . . . it keeps them neatly separated. 

Left panel: digging the canal. Central panel: Canal boats on the canal. Right panel: the 20th century barge canal. A neat little history lesson, and more attractive than the graffiti we see on most Erie Canal bridges.

This laugh-inducing sculpture is at the dock in Brockport.
A friend of ours uses the Instagram handle ArtfortheMasses. I thought of that name while looking at these murals. 

They’re not breathtaking, or brilliant, or likely to land their makers in a museum.

But they’re charming, smile-provoking. They make you stop and reflect for a moment. They transport you to another time, another world.  

And, being displayed in very public places, they get lots of eyeballs. Good deal for the artist and the art viewer, if you ask me!


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Terra (Sorta) Incognita

What happens when you come to the end of the earth . . . or Brockport?

On Thursday we cast off lines at our home dock in Macedon, headed west. The goal of this month’s cruise: Go all the way to Buffalo, the western terminus of the Erie Canal.

We’ve cruised the canal all the way east, to Albany. But the farthest west we’ve ever been is Lockport. So we want to finish the route—end to end.

We’re headed for terra incognita—sort of. We’ve stopped in some western ports before. But only once or twice, a long time ago.

Thumbs Up to Boat-up Brew Pubs!

Looking spiffy, Spencerport!
First night out, we docked at Bushnell’s Basin—where we’ve stayed many times. But this time there was something new to enjoy—a literary brewpub.  

Seven Stories claims to take its name from the saying that there are seven ways to tell a story. Whether or not that’s true, a boat-up beer dock is always a pleasant addition to the canal.

On Friday we docked at Spencerport. What I remembered from previous visits is that this town had a charming dockside gazebo with notable daylilies—but was otherwise kind of a grubby place.

This year the town was looking spiffy. We stayed at a new dock, directly in front of the little Canal Museum, which is housed in an old trolley station.

And Speaking of Beer . . .

Coming into town, we could hear energetic polka music. What timing! Spencerport was hosting its 125th annual Germanfest.

WHAT is going on here?
One of the pleasures of cruising is the little “slice o’ life” moments you happen upon in small towns. 

(Thinking back to our Great Loop cruise, the Oktoberfest parade we stumbled upon in Havana, Illinois comes to mind.)

Germanfest did not disappoint. We showed up just in time for a ceremony involving a team of brawny guys in lederhosen, marching in with a palanquin on their shoulders. 

Upon this platform was a beer keg. 

And riding astride the beer keg, looking nervous, as if it were a horse she didn’t quite trust, was a little girl wrapped in a black, hooded cloak.

It all looked a little sinister.

The emcee explained this as a charming custom—something to do with a fresh young girl and fresh beer? (If you know the lore, fill us in.)

Beer on a Bobsled

Anyway, the keg was tapped and the dancing started. Three numbers in, half the audience pulled chairs onto the dance floor for the (I assume it’s traditional) “bobsled dance.”

Sit down, all in a row, then lean left, lean right, wave your hands in the air. The perfect line dance for someone who’s had a few brews. Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi hoi hoi!

Speaking of Strange Customs . . . Duck Race!

The Adams Basin lift bridge, on the way to Brockport. Just as low as the two Brockport Bridges, I assure you!
On Saturday we said a fond goodbye to Spencerport and gently cruised 8 miles west to Brockport. The dock here is sandwiched between two super-low lift bridges. We’ve squeezed under low bridges from Canada to the Carolinas, but no way we can sneak under these babies!
No pix of the hip-hop dancers, alas. These are the
Texas-two-steppin' Dancin' Divas!

Brockport—what luck—was having its annual street fair! With guys on stilts, juggling; booths selling corndogs and pickles stuffed with cheese, and a band called the Old Hippies. 

There were also dancers, including a performance by members of a local gym who should win an award for diversity in age, gender, race, and body type.

They should then win a second award for their “dance like no one is watching” willingness to bust some hip-hop moves in the middle of Main Street.

The event wrapped up with a duck race—3,000 little rubber duckies bobbing under one of the bridges and down a race course formed by floating baffles.

First across the finish line won $1,000. It was a small-town event, yes. But that ain’t chicken feed, or even duck feed!

For more curious pix of small-town fun, check SlowBoat on Facebook.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Packet Boat to Palmyra


Our boat was designed to look like the packet boats that once carried passengers on the Erie Canal. So it's fun to play at being a packet boat. On Tuesday, our friends In Shik and Steve brought their friends, Sandy and Dru, visiting from Washington, DC, to the boat for a day cruise.

We’d already done a “best of the Erie Canal” tour heading west--our cruise to Fairport and Pittsford with Doug and Clare. Where to go this time? East to Palmyra!
In Shik, Steve, Sandy, Cap, Dru. On an 1825 canal boat, the side door would have been occupied by a mule!
Part of the SlowBoat experience:
braving a gauntlet of goozlers at Lock 29
At lock 29, the passengers hopped off the boat (and braved a torrential thunderstorm) to see the restored “change bridge.” 

Once common along the canal, these bridges were cleverly designed so a team of mules could change sides--that is, cross from a towpath on one side of the canal to a towpath on the OTHER side--without tangling the tow rope around the bridge. (How does THAT work? Click here and scroll down for more info.)

At the same lock, you can still see the supports for an aqueduct that carried the original Erie Canal over Mud Creek. (The canal was later widened and re-routed, making the aqueduct superfluous.)

Two Locks are Better than One

For me, the most engaging stop on this cruise is Old Lock 60. It’s two locks, actually. The first was built in 1841, when the canal, highly successful after little more than 15 years in operation, was made wider and deeper.

"The canal boat goes riiighhtt here . . ."
The second lock, right next to the first, was added in 1874. The canal had become crowded with barge traffic, and someone had the good idea to create a double lock, so barges could lock through to the east and west simultaneously.

These locks are dry today (the canal was widened even more and re-routed again in 1918). 

But volunteer groundskeepers from the local community keep the grass so neatly mowed that, if you squint, you could mistake the turf for green water.

Doors go here!
The locks themselves are made of rectangular blocks of dark gray limestone, crisply edged, with graceful curved abutments and charming little steps at the eastern end, leading down to water level. 

You can see the slots where the lock doors once folded back to fit flush with the walls.

The stonework shows surprisingly little wear and tear . . . except for the grooves worn into the edges of the lock by tow ropes, grinding along for decades.

Work Well Done Deserves an Award

The volunteers who keep this lock accessible to visitors were recognized in 2013 with a “Heritage Award” from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. (The Erie Canal is managed by the New York State Power Authority, but  it’s also a National Heritage Corridor, a unit of the National Park Service.)

The awards committee shared this detail:
Chatting with Bill Lawton (green shirt), volunteer groundskeeper

Volunteers recalled their early days in the late 1980s when underbrush on site was so thick that they crawled on hands and knees to find the stone lock. They removed extensive vegetative growth that covered both the lock and bridge abutments, cleared and marked trails, installed a dock for boaters, and added wayfinding and interpretive signs. 

Thanks for all you have done to maintain Old Lock 60, folks! We were thrilled to be able to take this trip back in time.

Queen of the Canal Towns

The "new" facade of
the Phelps Store
With all of this canal sightseeing, we did finally make it to Palmyra, which refers to itself as the “Queen of the Canal Towns.” 

We toured a canalside general store, where the front door, which originally faced the canal, was relocated to a side street so ladies and children wouldn’t have to encounter the rough-and tumble “canawlers” when they went shopping. 

We also stopped in the old Depot, where travelers once purchased tickets to board an Erie Canal packet boat, and where you could trade in your tired mules for fresh ones.

And through all of this sightseeing on our personal packet boat, Dragonfly’s solar system kept us gliding along all day at the stately mule-like pace of 4 mph, no hay or water needed.

Did the original Erie packet boats let you do this at the end of the day? "High Five! We didn't sink the boat today!"


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A Sultry Calm


Our guests, Clare and Doug, stepped off the boat in Fairport on Sunday morning. We motored gently back to our home port of Macedon. They went on to Rochester, where they visited the Memorial Art Gallery. Later that day, Clare texted me a photo of this striking painting.

The English-born artist George Harvey painted “Pittsford on the Erie Canal: A Sultry Calm” in 1837, 12 years after the canal first opened. Just a day earlier, we’d cruised the very same landscape.

A Romantic View of Nature

The painting depicts a packet boat—a special canal boat fitted out to carry passengers rather than cargo. This packet boat is pulled, not by mules, but two rather fine-looking horses. 

This grain silo in Pittsford dates to 1882, but the town was
already a center for grain shipment when Harvey visited in 1836.
And instead of a hogee (mule driver), typically a ragged little boy, a well-dressed man on horseback accompanies the team. The equally well-dressed passengers ride on the roof of the boat, enjoying the fresh air.

In the distance, you can see church spires and perhaps a silo in the prosperous and growing town of Pittsford—already a center for grain shipment. 

As part of our cruise, we had stopped in Pittsford to stroll the main street and admire the old brick buildings, then enjoy a microbrew at a dockside pub, in the shadow of a grain silo now converted to luxury condos.

Pride in Mastering Nature, Too

The art museum’s website includes an essay about this painting, which I found fascinating. American landscape painting of the 19th century did double duty: it was a way for Europeans to see what this expansive new land looked like, but it also reflected a very American attitude: that our land’s extraordinary beauty was “a sign of God’s special providence.”

Later in the essay, the writer makes this point:

“The successful completion and dramatic results of the Erie Canal were seen by Americans—and even by the Europeans—as proof of America’s exceptionalism.” 

He cites the Erie Canal’s “Great Embankment,” a tall earth berm that carries the canal safely over Irondequoit Creek--and which we had also cruised along as part of our journey--as one of the great engineering challenges successfully achieved by the canal’s architects.

Then the writer continues:
Romantic Landscape, Masterful Technology, check!

“Harvey shared with many Hudson River School artists the view of American wilderness as a ‘second creation.’ 

"In this view the canal boat becomes a symbol of Adam in the new Eden, securely protected between the steeples of Christian churches with the divine light of Providence shining upon the scene.”

Whew! And here we thought we were just out for a leisurely cruise.


Monday, August 5, 2019

Set Your Watch to Barge Time

Welcome aboard, Clare and Doug!
To see who else has been cruising with
us, check our "Visitors" page.
We love having boat visitors. This past weekend, our friends Doug and Clare joined us for a “best of Erie Canal” cruise from the town of Fairport to Pittsford and back.

We traveled at our usual 4 mph—the historic speed at which mules pulled Erie Canal boats in 1825. The sun was shining, wildflowers were blooming, antique bridges arched over us, and ducks dabbled on the canal banks. 

At some point during this idyll, Clare turned to me and smiled. “It’s lovely living on barge time,” she said.

This time of year, when we’re long past the summer solstice, the sumac leaves are starting to turn red, and the geese are starting to flock up, I get a little anxious. Fall is coming, and winter after that, cold and dark. 

Clare’s remark pulled me back to the present. Right! I’m living on barge time—free and easy and relaxed. In the moment, not worrying about the future.

Date Stamp: 1918

It's a looong way down to the bottom of Lock 32!
We love making the trip between Fairport and Pittsford as much as we love having boat visitors. 

It's a short distance but a big step back in time, taking you past lots of historical Erie Canal artifacts.

One stop Saturday was Lock 32, a bit more than a mile outside of Pittsford. This lock opened in 1918 as part of the New York State Barge Canal—a modernized verion of the Erie Canal, wider and deeper to accommodate commercial barges.

The canal hasn’t really been modified much since 1918, so locks like this one are basically living museums, with artifacts that are used daily, not under glass.

Thanks for the tour, Mr. Lock Tender!
We climbed to the rooftop viewing platform over the powerhouse to watch a couple kayaks float through the lock. Then we teetered across the narrow walkway atop the lock gates to visit with the lock tender on the opposite canal bank. 

He invited us into his office to see the collection of heavy-duty wrenches he uses to adjust lock machinery. These tools also date to 1918 and were custom-made to fit the equipment at this lock.

Date Stamp: 1818

We had a floating lunch on the boat, enjoying the bounty of the Fairport Farmer’s Market. For dinner, we docked in Bushnell’s Basin, midway between Fairport and Pittsford, to eat at Richardson’s CanalHouse.
SlowBoat docked between rental boats at Bushnell's Basin.

This wooden tavern, a mix of Federal and Greek Revival styles and repainted in period-appropriate mustard yellow, was built in 1818. Travelers considered it the best inn on the Albany to Buffalo stagecoach line. 

After the canal was completed in 1825, the place started serving canal travelers too. Read about its colorful history (including a stint as a nudist colony) here.

We sat on the lawn, with a view of the canal and the boats passing by. The food was 21st century: spatchcocked chicken, garbanzo burgers, fine wine. But the interior of the restaurant is still pure 1825, a real time-travel experience.

Date Stamp: 1914

Contemplating the oddball geometry of the Fairport Lift Bridge.
On Sunday morning, we cruised from Bushnell’s Basin to Fairport under a light mist. 

Both towns have active crew programs and a steady procession of racing shells passed by: eights, fours, single sculls.

Approaching the city center, you pass under the Fairport Lift Bridge, a fanciful steel construction of unique design. Each of the bridge's triangular trusses describes a different angle—no two are alike. 

And one end of the bridge is significantly higher than the other. This oddball construction has landed the bridge in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

The other steel-hulled canal boats that routinely ply this stretch of water—rental boats all—have to ask for the bridge to be lifted before they pass under. They have masts that make them a bit taller than Dragonfly

We removed our mast because it throws a shadow on the solar panels! So with our lower profile, we can sneak under, without a lift—as long as we stick to the high side of the bridge.

“Barge Time” Can Be Slow—or Fast!

Usually, Barge Time feels like this.
We cruised on under the bridge, and tied up at the dock, to reluctantly say goodbye to our guests. The dock master came scurrying over.

“You almost gave the bridge tender a heart attack!” he exclaimed. 

Apparently the bridge tender, who was new on the job, didn't recognize our boat. (The previous guy was used to our tricks.)

"He thought you were one of the rental boats," the dock master said, "and when he saw you coming at the bridge full speed, he figured you were going to crash!”

We had a bit of a laugh at that. It isn’t every day someone describes our rate of travel as “full speed!” 



Sunday, August 4, 2019

What a Load of Carp



SlowBoat will depart for her cruise west to Buffalo later this week. Meanwhile we continue to catch you up on her adventures during the July 2019 cruise down Cayuga Lake.

Fins cutting the water. Cue the "Jaws" theme music . . .
Fish That Pig Out

We didn’t need an alarm clock to wake us during our stay at Treman Marina. We were jolted out of sleep each morning by the sound of loud thrashing next to the hull.

It sounded like dolphins playing. But the creatures who were breaching and lobtailing and fin-slapping were actually common carp.

Infesting U.S. Waters for Nearly Two Centuries!

Common carp have been messing up North American ecosystems much longer than the high-flying Asian carp we encountered on the Illinois River during our Great Loop Cruise. Those guys were brought to the U.S. in the 1970s to clean up algae in catfish ponds. The U.S. Commission of Fish deliberately brought common carp to New York State long before that--as early as 1831.

Releasing a prolific, ecosystem-destroying species into the New World? Those government biologists thought it was a smart move. Settlers had fished out many native species. Back in Europe, carp farming had been a common practice for 2,000 years. Why not bring over a tasty fish that’s easy to farm, and that homesick settlers like to eat?

Oops, mistake.

Fish That Pig Out

Three-foot-long carp spotted at the dock in Newark, NY.
Carp are the fish equivalent of pigs—they like to root. They'll dig up the bottom of a lake or river, tearing up water plants by the roots, sucking them in, and spitting out mud. Muddy water makes it hard for native fish to find their food. With their light cut off, water plants decay and die.

This is a weed harvester. Carp do the same job, only
in a messier way.
Meanwhile the carp do just fine. They reproduce fast—a single female can lay as many as 2 million eggs a year. So they replace native species. 

Carp can grow to 50 pounds or more (picture a medium -sized dog!) And they can live for 20 years.

Carp aren't solely responsible for native fish declines. During the industrial revolution, paper mills, power plants, chemical plants and more dumped pollutants into American rivers. 

Native fish died off, but carp were survivors, hard-wired to tolerate low oxygen levels, warm water, and pollutants. 


In one study, biologists exposed carp to 1,600 common pollutants.  Only 135 of them were reliable carp killers.

Let’s Go Carpin’

If 19th -century Americans welcomed carp as a source of food, some folks today find carp to be exciting game fish. Believe it or not, you can fly-fish for carp, just as you would for trout, and anglers consider them to be exciting and challenging prey.

It’s also legal to bow-hunt for carp—yup, shoot into the water with a bow and arrow. As long as you have a fishing license (or a small game hunting license) and you’re in an area where bow-hunting is legal, go for it.

Speaking of bow-hunting for carp. During our Great Loop Trip we learned about a brand-new way to bow-hunt for fish. Asian carp can jump six feet straight up out of the water when startled, so bow-hunters now go after them on the fly—trying to shoot them in mid-air.

Let’s Go Skarping Now, Everybody's Learning How

Ten years later, I’m pleased to report the evolution of yet another new carp-related sport: Skarping. Developed in the every-innovative town of Peoria, Illinois, It’s a combination of skiing and carping. 

Just strap on your water skis or wake board plus a helmet and some body armor (a trash can works well). Arm yourself with a weapon (broadsword, boomerang, wolverine claws . . . the choice is yours). Find a friend who has a fast boat, get up on plane behind it, and as the carp start to fly, hit them with your weapon.

Check out this video . . . 

I hear dunking your catch through a basketball hoop is optional, but earns points for style.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Boat Gourmet Uses Up the Leftovers

Chicken and sugar-snap peas. Serve al fresco with a beer and say, "High Five! We didn't sink the boat today!"
We call our travel on Dragonfly a “voyage of sustainability.” Sure, we’re testing the boat’s home-made solar propulsion system. But we also try to live sustainably in other ways, lots of them having to do with dinner.

Last week we had super-hot weather. One “good-boatkeeping” solution is to have a cold dinner--salad or sandwiches. No point heating up the boat by turning on the stove! But I was bored with salads and ready to cook SOMETHING! So I made stir-fried chicken with snow peas.

Save Fuel, Cook Fast

This dish cooks fast, so you don’t heat up the boat tooooo much! I served it over jasmine rice, which cooks in just 12 minutes. (Other quick-cooking carbs to keep in your boat larder: cous-cous (just boil water), angel hair pasta (cooks in five minues), and my fave, Thai rice noodles--just soak in water!)

The recipe didn’t call for onion. But I had a half an onion sitting there in the fridge. Taking up space and not getting any younger. Also a couple aging scallions. What stir-fry is NOT improved by a scallion or two?

Since we started cruising Dragonfly, I'm obsessed with using up leftovers. Wasted food is one of those unsung societal issues that to my mind, deserves lots more attention. (Thank you, National Geographic!)

The U.S. FDA estimates a whopping 30-40 percent of the total food supply in our nation ends up in the trash, un-eaten. That’s perfectly good food, in the landfill. Not to mention the waste of water and fertilizer to produce the food . . . and the fuel and labor to process and transport it.

I used to be totally guilty of overbuying. Everything looks so delicious in the produce aisle. And then you can't eat all the oranges in that big bag, and they grow fuzzy blue mold. Or you get fancy cheeses for your party and people merely nibble. . .  and then how much Brie can you personally eat up before the stuff gets funky?

With just a dorm-sized fridge and minimal cupboard space on the boat, I can’t overbuy, because there’s no where to put stuff! But more importantly, I’m always trolling the fridge to see what needs to get used up.

So back to the stir-fry. Serves four, delicious for dinner one night and lunch the next day. Just keep the fan running while you cook to push that hot air off the boat!

Chinese-style Chicken and Snap Peas

Two boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 to 3 cups raw sugar snap pea pods
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey or brown sugar
½ cup chicken broth
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp ginger powder
½ tsp garlic powder
White pepper to taste

Instructions
  • Cut the chicken into thin, bite-sized strips, sprinkle with salt
  • Trim and string the pea pods
  • Combine the chicken broth and cornstarch to make a slurry
  • Heat your largest frying pan (no woks on a boat!) and add a little canola or peanut oil
  • When the oil is hot, stir fry the chicken till just pink
  • Add the pea pods and stir fry for a few minutes more, till chicken is cooked
  • Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic, and sugar or honey
  • Add this sauce to the pan and stir fry about a minute, till everything is coated
  • Add about half the cornstarch-broth mixture and stir to coat; keep stirring as sauce thickens—this should only take a minute or so
Time to eat! We like to season with hot chili oil and sprinkle chopped peanuts on top.

Additions/variations
You can add onion slivers, thin-sliced scallions, broccoli florets, red pepper slivers, a can of pre-sliced water chestnuts—whatever you are trying to use up!

Want more recipes?
We sometimes breakfast like the Brooklynites--on avocado toast
And here's a Boat Gourmet Farmer's Market Salad





Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What IS It?


SlowBoat is taking a few "Make and Mend" days (learn what THOSE are here) in Macedon before heading west to Buffalo. Meanwhile, we'll catch you up on our July cruise down Cayuga Lake.

Spotted near the dock at Thirsty Owl Winery.
The July 16th “What IS It?” quiz challenged you to identify a strange structure protruding from the waters of Cayuga Lake (right).

This quiz was a first for SlowBoat--I did not actually know the answer! 

Our friend Steve Merwin, an expert hunter and fisherman,explained that what looks like a fuzzy mailbox is actually a nesting structure for ducks. (THANKS, Steve!) 

It’s designed for mallards and similar “dabbling duck” species. People call these structures "hen houses."

On the prairies of Canada, hen houses are a conservation tool that put nesting ducks out of the reach of predators. Mallards are hardly a species of conservation concern around here, so I assume whoever erected the box just wanted to attract them for easy viewing. Kind of like putting a bird feeder in your backyard.

Among all the answers to this quiz, we had NO correct answers. But I promised a prize for most creative answer, so a tacky postcard will be winging its way to Rachel Kline, for her guess of “mermaid mailbox.”  Well done, Rachel!

Ready for Your Next Challenge?

Check out this odd indentation (left), a regular feature in many (but not all) locks. 

No, it’s not a meditation altar for carp. It's not a  place to leave your soap if you’re bathing in the lock. So, what IS it?

Use this blog's "Comment" function to reply—or just reply on Facebook. You know the drill! 

You know you want to win that tacky postcard and enjoy bragging rights as a “What IS It” champion!