Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mighty Rivers, Mighty Bays - Midas Touch Moves North from Chesapeake Bay to the Erie Canal

Instead of the detailed narrative we’ve written in earlier posts, this entry has photos with descriptions of places we’ve been and things we’ve seen and random observations of life on a 38-foot trawler, traveling at seven miles per hour. We’re almost three months into our journey, and it’s time to reflect on where we’ve been, what we’ve done, what we’ve learned, and where we go from here.  What gets easier and where do we need to improve?
We’ve now traveled by water through or beside seven states – Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey – to New York, the Empire State.  As we cross the middle part of New York via the Erie Canal/Mohawk River, we’ve paused on a day too windy for locks at the very nice Riverlink Park in Amsterdam, between locks 10 and 11, along with four or five other looping boats. It’s a good day to vacuum, get haircuts, work on our blogs, and plan our next several stops.  Along the way, probably in Brewerton, west of Lake Oneida, Mike will need to find a dentist. A crown popped off when he bit into a Tootsie Roll at the Waterford Visitor Center/town dock office; within 20 minutes, one of the volunteers had found a nearby dentist who could re-seat the crown, and an off-duty volunteer, Mike Oliviere, The Lightkeeper, insisted on driving Mike to the dentist and back.  The NY dentist found decay under the crown; both Dr. Clemente in Troy and our home dentist Dr. Clagett agreed that the tooth needs attention. No more Tootsie Rolls for Mike, although losing the crown was actually a blessing; we probably would not have known about the decay if the crown had not come off.
 Midas Touch and Knucklehead at a boatyard/marina in St. Michael's on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Two German Shepherds were aboard Knucklehead, but "the girls," as the Skipper and his wife called them, are not dog friendly, so Midas didn't get to make friends. We showered aboard, but the price/foot was right.
 Words of wisdom on the table where we waited for a shady spot in the garden area at Gina's in St. Michael's.  They specialize in non-traditional tacos and burritos, and the food was delicious. The photo of more good advice on the adjacent table did not turn out well.
 Exterior view of Gina's - at the far end of "downtown" St. Michael's.  The main street is filled with shops and has a well-stocked food market.
 Two of the shops along St. Michael's main street.
 More shops in St. Michael's. We window shopped, but with Midas along, we didn't go in.

Below is the view from Drum Point lighthouse, moved to the Calvert Marine Museum on Solomon's Island from its original location on the shore of Chesapeake Bay.  Midas Touch was moored in the harbor near Zanheiser's Marina for $30/night. This gave us bathroom and laundry privileges, and very nice bathrooms they were. We spent a morning exploring the town, watching jets from nearby Patuxent River Naval Base do touch & goes, and having a delicious lunch.

  We took Midas back to his boat and dinghied over to the museum dock. After climbing the lighthouse and touring the museum, we headed back to the dock. This is where Marian tripped on the top step from the lawn to the dock (raised about 1.5" above the grass) and  took a nose dive.  For several days, she looked like Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, with her right eye swollen shut.  Ice packs, ibuprofen, and time were all it took to restore her face to normal. As she told nearly everyone who asked what happened, her mother didn't name her Grace for good reason.  
 Another restored lighthouse, this one at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum at St. Michael's. Visiting all of the maritime museums along the waters we have traveled so far has given us an education in boats, American history, and the towns along the way.  Each one is different, and each has its own unique perspective.
 Close up of the original Fresnel lens light in the Drum Point Lighthouse, Solomon's Island. This is one of three surviving Chesapeake Bay screw pile lighthouses

When the bay was shrouded in fog, the lighthouse keeper cranked the device below, causing it to ring the large bell seen through the window every 15 seconds.  The lighthouse keeper and his family lived in the lighthouse.

Drum Point lighthouse bell.  The "automatic" striker had to be rewound every two hours.

Spiral staircase from the top of the Drum Point lighthouse to the 2nd of two levels in the residential section of the lighthouse.

With weak internet service at many marinas and Verizon’s touted 4G network not living up to its hype, we’re connected more by Mike’s cell phone than by email and Facebook.  Yes, we can surf the web from our iPhones, but that quickly eats into our monthly 20-gig data ration, so we limit that use to finding necessary information, like weather forecasts and tides.  The budget did not allow us to add a tracking satellite receiver to our boat’s electronic equipment, but we don’t have DISH or Direct TV at home, so we don’t miss it. The digital antenna works great – usually - when we’re near a big city, but when we’re in more remote areas, we might pick up one or two channels.  Sometimes we get none.  In North Carolina, the only options were the state’s three public broadcasting channels, and we enjoyed some excellent, commercial-free programming.  Without TV, we read, listen to music, and enjoy each other’s company.  Days usually begin early, sometimes as early as 4:30 or 5:00, and we’re often sound asleep before 10:00.
When we’re docked at a marina, we usually go ashore for dinner; we’ve had some truly great meals (and one we’d rather forget). When we anchor out, we take the dinghy ashore for dinner and to give Midas a potty break; he has mastered the nearly vertical steps from the aft deck to the swim platform, and he’s always ready for a dinghy ride. Marian cooks if the anchorage is in a remote location.  On days ashore, when we’re exploring a town, we might enjoy a big lunch and skip dinner.  The day we went into Manhattan, we had stuffed ourselves with huge Reuben sandwiches (one would have been plenty for both of us) at the Stage Door Deli near Times Square.  On the way back to Great Kills Yacht Club on Staten Island, where we had free use of the Great Loop Harbor Host’s mooring ball and a nominal charge for use of the club’s restrooms, we got off the bus at Stop and Shop for strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, peaches, and vanilla ice cream.  That was dinner, and we’re planning to repeat it. 
Breakfast most mornings is a bagel, English muffin, or cereal, with coffee, of course.  When we’re docked and plan to stay more than one night, it’s time for bacon and eggs or a trip to the local cafe.  During our stay in Annapolis, we followed the advice of a fellow Looper we met at the Rendezvous and had breakfast at Chick and Ruth’s Delly (sic).  The tradition at Chick and Ruth’s is the daily recital of the Pledge of Allegiance, promptly at 8:30.  The owner leads the Pledge, and everyone participates: customers and staff. That breakfast lasted all day.
Just as they do ashore, clothes get dirty, sometimes very dirty, on a boat.  We have a growing collection of stained rags, and Mike has old jeans and tee shirts he wears in the engine room. The rags still get washed and used again, for oil changes and other dirt producing tasks.  At least once a week, we haul two large hampers to the marina’s laundry or a laundry in town, following the advice of veteran Loopers:  wash whenever you can, and save all your quarters.  The rainy Thursday we waited for favorable wind and tides at Delaware City Marina, the laundry was busy all day.  It was a good chance to share experiences, get tips and tricks from more seasoned boaters, swap books, and make friends.  We’ve hop-scotched from there to Great Kills Harbor to Half Moon Bay with one couple and enjoyed a road trip to the United States Military Academy with them on the next rainy Thursday.                      

We don’t grocery shop; we “provision.” (Marian the Grammarian has not overcome her strong objection to using a noun as a verb, but that’s the accepted usage for stocking the boat’s refrigerator and cabinets with enough food to last a week or two.)  The refrigerator is small, so space for fresh fruits and vegetables is scarce; the freezer, also quite small, is not frost-free. To save space, Marian transfers much of the food from boxes to zip-lock bags, saving only the label and instructions. Defrosting the freezer is fairly quick with the heat gun Mike uses for electrical work on the boat.
 The two-hour bus tour of West Point, preceded by viewing the exhibits in the Visitors Center, was well worth the cost.  Did you know that “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf led the student choir during his years as a cadet?  Our tour guide told us that he had a beautiful baritone voice.  Dwight Eisenhower was not a good student when he attended USMA.
The Hudson River is a mix of beautiful scenery and commerce, with industries along the way. We wish we had paid more attention to American literature and history in high school so that we could recall more about the Hudson River School of artists and writers like Washington Irving.  Because we’re still playing catch up for the two extra weeks we spent at Atlantic Yacht Basin for wind damage repairs, we didn’t stop to visit Hyde Park, home of FDR, or the Culinary Institute of America.  The Waterway Guide advised making reservations for any of the three CIA on-site restaurants well in advance, and we often don’t know our destination for tomorrow until we have tied up or anchored for today.  Part of the fun of looping, at least for us, is having no set schedule and no firm must-meet dates or deadlines. 
Panoramic view of the United State Military Academy at West Point on the cloudy day we cruised past it.

Approaching West Point, originally a fort for defense against King George III's army during the American Revolutionary War.  This is the narrowest point on the river, and the American army stretched a huge iron chain across the river to stop the British.  The enemy found the chain, removed it, then sent it to Gibraltar. 

Below left - the newer Chapel at West Point, which includes a side door for brides who change their minds at the last minute to escape.  Our tour guide told us it has never been used.  Below right - one of the monuments in the West Point cemetery, 

Since family members often live far away from West Point, they leave small rocks on the headstones instead of flowers. 

Downtown Albany, state capital of New York, from the Hudson River.


 More of downtown Albany.

A few of the fellow Loopers who gathered for a delicious dinner at Riverlink Park in Amsterdam, NY, overlooking the Erie Canal.  The day had been so windy that after transiting two locks - where the funnel effect makes the wind even stronger - Mike and I decided to look for a place to pull over. When we found the park, with dockage at $1/foot and shore power, we decided to stay, and soon the dock wall was lined with Annabel, Freedom, Waterview, Attitude Changer, Summerland, Talisman, The Bottom Line, and more. 
Chef Bob came out to meet us. His wife also works at the cafe, and his sister Renee bakes the scrumptious desserts.  Looking at Bob are Marsha and Cam; the throttle on their boat Freedom stuck as they entered Lock 16 and it rammed the front gate. Gate 1, Freedom 0, but no one was injured and the boat can be repaired.  There may be internal damage we couldn't see, but there was much less than I had feared when I heard it hit.  On the right is Bob of Waterview; he and his wife Vicki have been great traveling partners since Amsterdam, and Bob led our flotilla across Lake Oneida today.
View of a NY State Canal System barge from the top of a lock.  Two of these were docked at Little Falls; the dredge teams live on them.  We passed several dredges in operation on our way from Rome to Sylvan Beach; the channel through the canal is supposed to be maintained at 14 feet, but there were places where it was only 9 or 10 feet.
Scenery along the Erie Canal

We reach the top the Troy Lock, our first Erie Canal lock, one of eight we traveled through on a hot, sunny Tuesday, the day the canal re-opened after being closed for several days due to high water levels and debris from heavy rains.  The locks had floating logs and branches we had to avoid, and several had floating dead fish. Required gear: gloves to protect our hands from the slimy lines we had to snag and hold as the lock filled and life vests. Mike skipped the gloves in this lock, but made sure to wear them for all of the others. Gloves also help grip the line as we pull the boat closer to the wall. The Lockmaster checks our Lock ticket, purchased at Albany Yacht Club when we stopped to pick up three cases (nine gallons) of oil on our way to Waterford, at the beginning of each day. 

  The lock gates begin to open.  The "Waterford Flight" of  five locks, averaging 34 feet of lift in each, provides the highest lift in the shortest distance (7,000 feet, or 1.32 miles) of any canal system in the world.  Boaters cannot stop or overnight in this series.  Once you start through tthem, you must continue.

Most of the Erie Canal/ Mohawk River corridor is also a beautiful mix of countryside, forests and marshes, very nice homes mixed with houses that look like weekend fishing shacks, a few industrial plants, and trains, trains, trains. Our cruise from north of Manhattan, with pauses at Croton-on-Hudson and Kingston on our way to Albany/Troy and then along the Erie Canal was accompanied by a regular chorus of train horns and whistles – commuter trains taking folks to the city on the lower Hudson, Amtrak and freight trains as we moved north, and mostly long freight trains along the Erie Canal/Mohawk River.

Every day is different, yet every day has common threads of growing friendships, magnificent scenery, and interesting sights that will eventually form the unique tapestry of our Great Loop adventure.
 Midas Touch at sunset, moored in the harbor at Solomons Island on the Chesapeake