The Erie Canal is an unusual cruise destination for the northeast if you are used to boating on the ocean or sound. There is something very different and special about taking your boat through the entire mid-section of New York State. Here over the course of 339 miles, you take in the pretty countryside while stopping in some quaint and architecturally significant towns along the way. On a lighter note, you will never have bad seas on this voyage.
The Erie Canal opened the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean in 1825 securing New York City as the lead port in the United States. Governor DeWitt Clinton barged his party the entire length of the canal and then sailed down the Hudson River with a keg of Lake Erie water. Upon reaching New York City he poured the keg into the harbor proclaiming a “Wedding of the Waters” thus connecting the Great Lakes and Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean. The canal lowered freight costs by 95% overnight and secured New York City as America’s top port.
Boaters cruising the Erie Canal start at sea level at the federal lock in Troy, New York where they lift up before entering the Erie Canal to the west or the Champlain – Hudson Canal to the north (see www.liboatingworld.com and search Hudson-Champlain March 2017). For the Erie, boaters get lifted to 566 feet while going through 36 locks. We added another 40 miles round trip for a visit to historical Seneca Falls and Lake Seneca. Our total mileage from Glen Cove was 1100 miles roundtrip. It is because of this length that this story will be in two parts.
During our cruise, we came across a dozen boaters that were traveling the Great Loop and chatted with them. We learned that taking your boat 5500 miles around the entire eastern United States can be a great adventure indeed. Their boats ranged from a small, simple 30-year 32-foot trawler to a modern 55-foot boat yacht. Some were at the beginning of their adventure while others were going through the canal to finish it somewhere in the Midwest.
Cruising preparation is important and I recommend buying two books. Cruising the New York Canal System, (www.skipperbob.net) will be your guide on the canal. The other book is the Waterway Guide, Great Lakes (www.waterwayguide.com). This book we found helpful when needing fuel and extra details. It will also be useful on the Hudson River and beyond if you keep going. Downloading the app NYS Canal Guide will get you emails on lock or bridge issues along with other useful information on your phone.
Lock preparation should be next on your list. Cruising America’s first major mode of transportation had us go up and down in the locks 74 times and boats need to be protected. We put four vertical fenders and one large horizontal mounted fender on the starboard side along with a ball near the bow and stern. We also had two fenders on the port side in case we lost a line or another boat drifted off theirs. It is also important to wear rubber garden gloves as the grabbing lines can be “yucky.” Finally, have two boat hooks ready for the fore and aft to grab the lines. While underway watch your speed and wake. Speed limits are 5 MPH in areas with docks, walls or other boats. It is 10 MPH in the narrow canal areas. Where the river meets the canal the limit is 30 MPH. Waking is taken very seriously up here.
During our cruise, we came upon a section of the canal that converged on the history of American transportation. Just to our starboard were the railroad cars clacking away. This led to the first large decline on canal freight. To our port side by 100 yards was the N.Y. Thruway and its trucks whizzing by. Trucking was the final blow to the canal as an effective transportation mode. We converged here for about a mile before winding our way back into the quiet countryside.
To cruise the Erie you need to get up the Hudson River. We recommend an easy stop at Shadows Marina (www.shadowsmarina.com) in Poughkeepsie. Cruising here at 18 knots took us five hours from Glen Cove. Shadows is an easy on – easy off marina with a good restaurant. Keith the Dockmaster always meets you with a smile and a fast tie down. For a second stop, go straight to Troy and visit the city for half a day. Troy has been rejuvenated and full of history and architecture. Contact Tom Carroll at http://www.hudsonmohawkgateway.org to set up a good tour. Ask Tom to show you some of the best Tiffany glass ever made. For dinner, we recommend Tara’s and ice cream at the Dutch Udder. Their Saturday farmers market is the best in the region. Overnighting is at the Troy Town Dock. For details on Troy and Hudson River cruising search www.liboatingworld.com January 2017 issue.
Where to Stop
Where to stop has to do with how long you want to be motoring on a given day and finding out what town interests you. Nearly all towns have websites that show their free concerts and special events. With the exception of docking overnight at Lock 20 and 25, we tied up on different town walls. Docking at Lock 20 and Lock 25 was more like camping in a quiet place but with all the comforts of being on board. Keep in mind that in many of the smaller towns on Sunday, everything closes down so keep an eye on your ship’s stores. We stopped three times at full-size supermarkets that were within walking distance of the docks. Overnight docking fees ranged from zero to a dollar a foot in towns.
Flight of Five to Schenectady
Lock E2 to E6 (there is no E1) are called the “Flight of Five”. You will rise faster in the shortest amount of time here than anywhere in the world. This will lift you to 184 feet in less than 1.5 miles. By the time you leave here, you will understand what locking is all about. You should end your day at Mohawk Harbor (www.themohawkharbor.com) next to the Rivers Casino (riverscasinoandresort.com). This small marina is adjacent to the restaurant Druthers Brewery Company. Every Saturday the marina hosts an excellent and free concert. While at the marina you are steps away from the free shuttle that does a loop into the city. When in Schenectady visit the Schenectady County Historical Society (www.schenectadyhistorical.org). Also, download information about self-walking tours at www. http://historicstockade.com where you can see homes dating back over 300 years. Schenectady has a classic Procter Theatre built in 1926 where you can see Broadway quality road shows at reasonable prices. (www.proctors.org)
Amsterdam has both floating docks and a wall with power and water at the Riverlink Park. Here you will find Danny who oversees the dock and owns the restaurant. He serves a casual lunch as well as a continental style menu for dinner. Highlights in Amsterdam include the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge. This “park over the river bridge” is a five-minute walk from the dock. The 511-foot bridge features history, culture and art. When you cross the bridge continue another five minutes up the hill to visit the Amsterdam Castle. This former armory was built in 1895 and has a dominant position on the hill. It went through a 5 million dollar renovation adding 25 suites along with a large inner room complete with European art and two rows of shiny knight’s armor standing guard. Click https://www.amsterdamny.gov/our-city/visiting-amsterdam for visitor information.
This historic town has two things worth a stop. One is the glacier created boiling pots natural swimming holes that are off Floral Avenue just 15 minutes from the dock (bring a towel and bathing suit). The other is the Arkell Library and Art Museum (www.arkellmuseum.org ). This little gem of a museum has works by Winslow Homer, George Innes, Andrew Wythe and other American artists. It also has one of the best copies of Rembrandt’s Night Watchman. There is a gallery devoted to Beech-Nut Packing Company of which Bartlett Arkell was the first president. Canajoharie offers a floating dock with free power and water.
This town was a good stop both ways for us. Rotary Park Marina is a wonderful place to dock with power, water, showers, Wi-Fi, bathrooms, laundry and a lounge to use anytime. The docks are a 10-minute walk to Canal Side where you will see old brick buildings restored in a little commerce area. Reserve a table at the upscale Canal Side French Restaurant. Take the 20-minute walk or ask the Dockmaster for a lift to the historical museum (www.lfhistoricalsociety.com) to learn about this former cheese capital of America. Main Street, while a little worn, has a classical brick look to it with many pretty homes on adjacent streets. The Copper Moose Ale House is a good stop for casual dining. For breakfast or lunch, you cannot get a more family run dinner than The Little Place on Main Street. There are a supermarket and drug store downtown. When on Main Street visit City Hall to view their Tiffany glass. During our return eastbound we stopped in Little Falls for their annual tasty cheese festival featuring over 100 vendors. For Little Falls events go to www.littlefallsny.com or www.explorelittlefalls.com Mining for DiamondsDuring our stay in Little Falls we took a taxi to the Ace Diamond Mine 20 minutes away (www.herkimerdiamonds.com). Here we rented a three-pound sledgehammer and chisel and were given a lesson on what to look for. After two hours of smashing rocks in the hot sun, we were pleased to find several Herkimer diamonds. These are shiny translucent multifaceted perfect quartz stones that can be turned into jewelry. RomeRome is one of the bigger cities on the canal. Free power and water are available at the wall but it is not easy to tie up to. Their floating docks offer no services. A new Navigation Center has bathrooms and showers. Two interesting places to walk to in Rome include Fort Stanwix (www.nps.gov/fost/index.htm). This fort was reconstructed from the ground up in the 1970’s on its original location using the blueprints found in England. During the Revolutionary War, it was the only fort not to surrender and won a decisive battle that slowed the British before going to Saratoga. Not to be missed across the street is the Rome Historical Society Museum (www.romehistoricalsociety.org) it is probably one of the best regional small museums on the canal. Nearby are streets with impressive older homes and other historical buildings that the museum staff can direct you to. For dinner, we visited the Copper City Brewery (www.coppercitybrewing.com) and enjoyed their visiting food trucks along with a flight of eight different beers. A short walk from the dock is Rome’s Little Italy where we visited the old style deli called Rocco Gualtieri for sliced Italian meats and cheeses at good prices.Sylvain BeachThis is the last place on the canal before crossing 21 miles on Oneida Lake. There is a wall with no services near the beach, bars and restaurants. If you like the bar scene, this would be a good weekend stop. The marina is a 20-minute walk away. BaldwinsvilleThis is a nice little town with its dock near the lock. Electric here is $10. It is an easy walk to several restaurants, hardware store, pharmacy and shops. The island park opposite the south wall has weekly concerts. LyonsLyons was a late Sunday afternoon stop where everything but the supermarket and the Ohmann Theater was closed. This theater build in 1915 is the New York’s oldest. It has been completely restored and brought back memories of going to a movie where there was a balcony and only one show playing. Before the movie starts the lights are turned up so you can see all the restored workmanship. When docking in Lyon, you may be greeted by a Bob Stopper who will be happy to share with you the history of the town and the canal system. PalmyraThis is another pretty historical town. It is where The Book of Mormon was written and printed in 1830. There are five museums here including a re-creation of a general store and print shop. (Closed Sunday). Palmyra pretty town has a couple of restaurants, a well-stocked liquor store and antique shops. It is also one of the ten places in the world where there are churches on four opposite street corners. Docking is in a small cove with free power and water. FairportFairport is all about the canal and its history. Boaters can dock on either wall and walk to restaurants and shops. When you arrive go to the old Box Factory building on the north wall to get local information from the merchants association. We used their self-guided map to see some of the older and grander homes. You can also see leftover hitching posts and dismount steps at several homes. Near the canal, live music is usually played at establishments on weekends. The lift bridge is in Ripley’s Believe It or Not because of its unusual construction of having an irregular ten-sided structure as well as lifting and crossing the canal at a 32-degree angle. No two angles in the bridge are the same, and no corners on the bridge are square. A restaurant worth visiting is Mr. Dominic located in an old mansion built in the 1880’s. The Moonlight Creamery is calorie worthy for ice cream. For town information go to http://www.finditinfairport.com SpencerportThis town was a good stop after a long day. There is a supermarket that is a five-minute walk from the dock that allows boaters to borrow their carts. We took a 20-minute walk north to stretch our legs and found a microbrewery and well-stocked liquor store as well as a Tim Hortons. There are several restaurants and pubs to visit in town. We chose the Texas BBQ Joint which was very good and reasonably priced. MedinaMedina is a wonderful little canal town with some of the best 19th-century architecture of any downtown. Here you can see a few buildings made of Medina stone. This stone came from local quarries and was used in diverse structures as the Brooklyn Bridge and Buckingham Palace. We had shopped in the English Rose Tea Shop and Della’s Chocolate shop where we tried sponge chocolate for the first time. We also sampled mead wine at 810 Meadworks. For delicious baked goods go to the Bread Basket. Lunch is recommended at Zambistro. Docking is in a large basin with free hookups. MiddleportThe best reason we found for visiting Middleport was for the laundromat just two minutes walk from the boat. Here we were able to fill three machines at once and get our laundry over with quickly. We were surprised on a Saturday we visited that the ice cream shop, diner and coffee house took the weekend off. The only place opened on this two-block sleepy town was a dive bar and the laundromat. For dinner, we walked 20 minutes north and had a good casual meal at Baby Ribs. BrockportBrockport is a lively college town incorporated in 1829. The welcome center is staffed by volunteers that can help you with anything and lend you a bike for free. Brockport has placed historical plaques around town for what they call “a museum without walls”. We recommend downloading a self-guided historical map at http://www.brockportny.org/about/walking-tours as a good way to see Brockport. When here call ahead to see the Morgan Manning House (www.morganmanninghouse.org) built in 1854. This is a restored large two-story Italianate brick mansion decorated in period furnishings. Brockport has coffee shops, café’s, bars, microbrew and the Lift Bridge Book Shop that is worth browsing around. For the best wings on the canal go to 58 Main where they smoke, flash fry and finish them off over the fire in their sauce. It is also where we tried something called a garbage plate. Next Issue:The next issue will continue with our Erie Cruise to the end and include a visit to Lake Seneca in the Finger Lakes region in the middle of New York State. For canal information go to http://www.canals.ny.gov/