Monday, July 8, 2019

We Didn't Sink the Boat Today (Barely)

Street scene: the bustling metropolis of Clyde, NY.

We had a peaceful evening in Clyde, NY, after our gongoozlers departed . . . peaceful except for the moment we turned our gaze on the nearby bridge and saw a truck sideswipe the guard rail.

The cargo, a tall, translucent plastic cylinder, toppled sideways and exploded like a giant water balloon, spewing pale green liquid into the gully below.

It took about 20 minutes for various emergency response vehicles to arrive. We later learned that what we assumed was lawn fertilizer was, in fact, a hazardous chemical. Dangerous to breathe. Good thing we repressed the urge to walk over and investigate!

Good Stuff Did Happen Today

Entrance to the Cayuga-Seneca canal
features underwhelming signage.
The next morning, July 5th ,was another blazing day. We set out east from Clyde, and just as we made the turn from the Erie Canal south onto the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, an adult bald eagle flew low over the water in front of us. THAT seemed auspicious.

After few miles the canal cuts briefly across the top of Cayuga Lake. Those cool green waters . . . it was like seeing an old friend. Before we moved to State College, we lived near Ithaca, New York, so we’ve spent lots of time exploring the lake.

Damn You, Hydro Dam!

Lock CS 2-3. Doesn't look too scary, right? But the current hurled us against the left-hand wall just before the lock.
Once we turned from the lake back into the canal proper, the current was strong, knocking our rate of travel back to about 2 miles an hour. We transited the first lock on the canal without incident, admiring its smooth, unpocked walls and sturdy gates. Clearly these locks had been refurbished more recently (or more effectively) than the Erie locks between Macedon and Clyde.

As we approached the next lock, we noticed the hydropower dam to the right. Sometimes, if there’s a lot of water coming over the dam, you get whirlpools as you approach the lock—very disconcerting. 

At this lock, there didn’t seem to be much water coming over the dam. Yet as we made our approach, an invisible hand suddenly gave Dragonfly a hard shove toward shore. The dam must have been releasing water below the surface . . .

We had lashed our dinghy right alongside Dragonfly, so it wouldn’t be trailing behind us in the lock. Now our 14 tons of steel were crunching the slender fiberglass hull against the cement wall to our left!

Cap reversed the engines and fended off with the boat hook. Whew, no major damage done, but a scary moment.

Do Si Do Your Boat

The lock doors open and . . . yikes, those boats are comin' at us!
 And they want our space on this wall!
We’ve been boating (and navigating locks) for 9 years. Things that used to amaze us now seem routine. 

A flight of locks, one after the other? No problem. A lock that’s an elevator, where your boat rides up in a pan of water? We’ve done it. A lock where your boat gets pulled out of the water for a train ride? But of course! 

The double lock right before the town of Seneca Falls had the power to surprise us. You enter one chamber, lock up about 25 feet, then the doors open, into a second lock that takes you up another 25 feet or so.

Well, the doors opened . . . and in the next chamber were a gaggle of boats, headed DOWN. This lock was taking boats in both directions. We'd never seen THAT before. How efficient!

We were already sharing our chamber were three other boats, including a very large tug. The other lock had three boats. Boats on the left, boats on the right, no walls free! It was a regular boat square dance as everyone do-si-do’ed left and right, switching places in the two locks.

Lock and Roll

Gosh! we thought the bike would be safer on the roof than tied to the stern rail
Now we were secure on the wall in the second lock . . . and then, something happened. 

Maybe the tugboat revved its engines. Maybe the lockmaster, as he was opening the valves, let some water into the chamber extra fast. 

Whatever . . . Dragonfly’s bow swung out, then slammed back into the wall, hard. 

And my bike, which was loaded on the boat roof, fell off.

It was roped up, so it didn’t fall far. But now the bike was hanging beside the boat, getting crunched as we continued to swing out and back against the wall.

Cap quickly secured the line he was holding at the stern (a practice generally frowned on in locks), scampered out on the walkway, hoisted the bike back on the roof, then returned to his station and loosed the line. Total elapsed time, 5 seconds. Phew! Crisis avoided.

Bad Things Come in Threes, Right?

Sunny day. Rowing for groceries. What could go wrong?
We were both feeling a little spooked after two near-disasters, and the powerful thunderstorm that pounded us just as we tied to the dock in Seneca Falls amplified our doomsday feeling. 

Luckily, the next day, July 6, was calm--and fun.  We had the pleasure of boat visitors: Bill’s mom, Ann Carlsen; his brother Pete; and Pete’s son Ned. Seneca Falls was bustling with its annual canal fest. 

Our view across the harbor included a petting zoo, with a camel. How can you help but laugh when you can camel-watch from your boat?

The morning of July 7, Bill headed out in the dinghy, aiming to row to the grocery store 3 miles away. Surprisingly soon, he was back with a rueful expression on his face. He’d been rowing flat out when his oar struck a piece of rebar sticking up from the channel. With the impact, the 13-ft carbon-fiber oars (not cheap!) snapped cleanly in half.

What Else Could Possibly Happen?

We headed out of town, grocery-less. The transit through the combined lock was blessedly uneventful, and with the current on the canal now in our favor, we were soon at the head of Cayuga Lake.

It was Sunday afternoon, and a regular parade of boats passed us in the narrow channel—everyone headed home after a weekend on the water. Despite the “no-wake” signs, one powerboat passed us at speed, setting up a line of waves that made us roll so heavily, the port gunwhale went underwater.  A wave of green water sloshed across the deck.

It was an awful, heart-stopping sight. We’ve never had a wave break OVER the side before, not even on Lake Ontario, where we had four-foot waves on our beam!

Luckily the scuppers (drain holes) on the stern deck did their job. And though we heard china and glassware clinking and clashing inside the boat, nothing was broken.

Even the Weeds Are Out to Get Us!

How many times will Cap
have to do THIS?
A few miles down the lake we cut across, aiming for Cayuga Lake State Park. This part of the lake is shallow, and the water weeds are so thick, they strangled our prop a few hundred yards shy of the dock.

Time for Cap to go swimmin’! He stripped down and plunged in, pulling bushels of weed free. 

We weren't surprised to see water weeds on the Champlain Canal, where the water is warm, dirty, and sluggish. But it was a shock to see them in clean, cold Cayuga Lake.

Our Strategy for Securing a Dock Space: Show Up and Look Cute

The park "marina" has tiny slips in shallow water--it isn’t really made for big boats like us. Luckily the ranger in the park office took pity on us and let us lash to the face of the dock, usually reserved for fishermen.
Only a hard-hearted ranger could refuse dockage to THIS adorable pair!
And there was a bustling waterfront bar a few yards beyond the park boundary, pouring a nicely bitter local IPA. Our traditional toast --“High five, we didn’t sink the boat today!”--felt peculiarly resonant.

Our luck just HAS to change, right? So we also bought a PowerBall ticket.

1 comment:

  1. I think your supposition about the green liquid being for lawns or agriculture was correct. But in large volumes like that, a spill would be considered a hazardous chemical. For whatever reason, though there is no mention of it in the news.