This is update #4 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
We pick up from last time at the floating docks in Waterford, NY. The town is the eastern entrance of the Erie Canal, the second longest canal system in the world. End to end it is 363 miles long, connecting the Hudson River with Lake Erie at Buffalo. There are a total of 34 locks that allow boats to travel from Waterford to Buffalo, ascending 565 feet by the time one reaches Lake Erie.
The Erie Canal is open from May to November of each year and used by thousands of boaters from around the world.
On June 8th, Last Item left Waterford around 9:00am and entered Lock #2, no more than an eighth of a mile away from where they spent the night on the floating dock. (Lock #1 was the Federal Lock they transited in Troy.)
(Seen below: Lock #2 on the Erie Canal.)
“There was one other boat behind us. After Lock #2, we had #3, #4, #5, and #6 right in succession. Most of the time, the next lock would already be open as the lock master knew there were boats coming. The canal between the locks was scenic, almost park-like in places, but there were some houses along the edge as well. In the narrower parts, one could imagine being in the jungles along the Orinoco River in South America with crocodiles swimming by.
“We cruised along at a speed just below 7 knots. It was very peaceful.”
The Nimbus 405 Coupe were now in the Mohawk River (part of the canal’s renovation took advantage of the paralleling rivers originally avoided in the first Erie Canal). Once beyond the Crescent Lock #6, the last in Waterford, the waterway opens and seems more like a lake. While they could have increased their boat speed at this point, they chose to “just poke along and enjoy the view.”
At the Vischer Ferry Lock #7 in Niskayuna, before Schenectady, they had a bit of a situation.
“I had looped my line around the vertical cable and secured it to the midship cleat as before but tightened it up more to keep us from moving forward and backward along the lock wall.
“As we rose to the top of the lock, however, the line came to the top of the vertical cable and stopped, while the boat kept rising. By the time I realized the line had no more slack, the boat was being pulled downward on the starboard side next to the wall.
“I frantically tried to loosen the line from the cleat, but it was so tightly around the cleat I could not get it undone. I yelled at Fred to get a knife, which he did immediately. The line was extremely taut but when Fred gave it a whack, the line snapped like a broken rubber band and the boat bounced back to level.
“We had no damage, but we did learn a valuable lesson.”
The area that is now Schenectady was originally the land of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois Nation. First settled by Dutch colonists in 1661, it later became known as "The City that Lights and Hauls the World," because Thomas Edison established the Edison Electric Company here (now known as General Electric). The American Locomotive Company was also located in Schenectady.
Unfortunately, the world has changed, and many of the cities in upstate New York have gone through difficult times with a serious loss of opportunity. The Schenectady population has steadily declined since 1950.
Sidonia and Fred prefer small towns whenever possible, so they bypassed Schenectady and stopped instead in Scotia, NY. It is a small community town of around 7,700 people. Among its many parks and active waterfront activities, the town is also home of the U.S. Water Ski Show Team.
“We passed Schenectady by and went off the beaten path a little to the village of Scotia. The marina, which lies beside a nice waterfront park, only holds eight boats and we were the only one there. It was difficult getting into the little slip, as the current and wind were both against us. The boat that had been behind us in all the locks was coming in to dock with us until he saw the difficulty we were having.
“He turned around, went back into the main canal, and continued to Amsterdam.
“Across the street from the dock is Rotary Park, which is huge. There are several baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and lots of open space. When we walked to dinner, we stopped for awhile and watched the little leaguers play.
“At the edge of the park is the Scotia library, located in a building built in 1730.
“We had a great prime rib dinner at the Turf Tavern about half a mile from the dock.”
It rained through the night and for most of the morning, so the crew of Last Item stayed put for another day. As cruisers often find, by choosing to stay rather than push on, there can be rewards beyond what one might expect. They learned, once again, the value of no schedule.
“We had a wonderfully quiet night. At so many of the marinas we’ve been to, there is steady foot traffic, running boat engines, loud conversations, and lots of noise.
“At noon and between rain showers, we walked up to Jumpin’ Jacks for a burger. It is THE place to go in Scotia. The night before when walking to dinner, Jacks’ parking lot was jammed full of cars. One eats outside under separate covered areas, each with about five picnic tables. At lunch, it was still busy but nothing like the night before. Despite the obvious popularity of the place, the burgers and shakes were okay, but we weren’t overly impressed.
“Late in the afternoon, we were treated to a waterski show. We had seen a sign at Jacks stating they sponsored a waterski show every Tuesday as there is a waterski school in town. The skiers we saw practicing were experienced as the first group of five skiers went by all together. Five young women tried to form a pyramid but couldn’t quite get the fifth person on top. Four men and a small boy were later able to make a pyramid.”
Sidonia, Fred, and their son Mike, walked to Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast the next morning before getting under way. It was Friday, the sun was out, and they were ready to see what was around the next corner.
And what happened next has happened to many boat owners, including me.
“Mike was handling the stern line as we slowly pulled away. When we were about five feet from the dock he yelled, “Stop, stop, stop.” Fred immediately stopped the boat, not knowing what the problem was, but then saw he had forgotten to unplug us from shore power. One of the two plugs we had plugged in was destroyed. We will still have power for the trip, but we can’t run too many electrical devices at the same time.
“Then, when we started to get up on a plane, we could feel a vibration. We ran for awhile and then stopped, put the engines in reverse, revved them up, then started forward again. The vibration was gone. There are sticks floating down the canal and a small one must have lodged in one of our props.”
Their preferred side of the boat for docking and locking is the starboard side. The Nimbus was designed with a wide side deck on the starboard side for that reason, as most times one can choose what side to fuel, dock, and go through a lock.
On this day, however, they would find it necessary to change fenders from one side to the other as the locks did not consistently allow them to be starboard side to. Scotia Lock #8 was fine, but for the next two locks they had to move all six fenders to the port side. They found it wasn’t that easy to move fenders and it took time. Locks #11 through #16 were all starboard and then #17 was on the port side. Little Falls Lock #17 also has a guillotine-style gate, and it is very slow. The lift is 40 feet, the highest they encountered so far on the Erie Canal but also the slowest. It took 30 minutes to get through the lock.
“As we continued to our next stop, the Mohawk River grew narrower with little sign of humanity along the shores. A highway ran alongside but was only occasionally visible through the trees and shrubs which came right to the edge and hung into the water. We saw very few houses but every so often we came upon a small park or an RV park. We went for miles without seeing another boat.
“When anticipating the Loop, we pictured a flotilla of boats moving along and crowded together in the locks. At this point, we have been the only boat in the locks except one time.
“We arrived in Little Falls around 4:00pm and tied to the wall with a park alongside. A woman, walking with her toddler, came over by us and told her little boy, ‘Tell the people, Welcome to Little Falls.’ In his cute little baby way, he did.
“After dinner, we walked across the park to the taco/burger/ice cream stand in a colorful little trailer. There were four, umbrella covered tables, and everything was gayly painted with flowers and other happy designs. A single scoop soft ice cream cone was about 6 inches high above the cone. Mike got a double. I had to put half of mine in a dish. Fred had a chocolate sundae which overflowed its dish.”
Little Falls has the second smallest city population in the state. Surrounded by dairy farms, it was once a major center of cheese manufacturing. At its peak the town had 13,000 residents. It is another example of the general decline in populations in upstate New York, as manufacturing, textile, and other industries closed or moved elsewhere.
“I went up to the large old building where the marina office is located to do some laundry. Washing and drying laundry was cheap, $1.50 each. While my clothes were washing, I wandered around and took a few photos.
“The woman from the marina office came over and asked if I’d like a tour of the old canal building where they used to on and offload the barges, and she would tell me about some of the history. I called Fred so he could come and see/listen as well. It was interesting and so nice of her to take the time with us.
“Mike walked and we rode our scooters across the canal bridge and into town, about 3/4 of a mile. We toured around a few blocks and poked our heads into a Catholic church built around 1912.
“A friendly lady started talking to us and telling us about the town. People here are so friendly and helpful. We went to the grocery store and then looked for a restaurant for lunch. We like to have a beer with our lunch but couldn’t find a restaurant that sold any.
“So, we came back to the taco/burger stand by the boat, Fred brought over three Coronitas from the boat and we drank them with huge, delicious burritos at the colorful picnic tables.”
One of the things that got me stoked to follow their journey is that Sidonia and Fred are very experienced cruisers, having cruised the East and West coasts of North America, the Caribbean, and both side on the Panama Canal. Even so, I wondered what new things they would find on this adventure, and how cruising on the Great Loop compared to the serious coastal cruising they have done in the past.
“After more than 50 years of boating in the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and Alaska, we are used to floating docks. Very seldom do we have to tie to a stationary one.
“When we first heard about mooring to walls in the little towns along the Erie Canal, we thought ‘No Way,’ we’ll find a dock. Since having to tie up to the wall in Little Falls, we have decided we like walls. We have a break in our starboard rail which makes it so easy to step on the top of the bulwark and right onto land.”
Speeds along the Erie Canal are mostly on the slow side, although some of the stretches of open water allow fast travel if the boat can do it. The Nimbus, with a cruising speed of 23 knots, offers the speed flexibility that is ideal for this section of the Great Loop.
Sidonia finishes up this week’s entry in the travels of Last Item:
“We left this morning at 10:15am. The speed limit beyond Jacksonburg Lock #18 is 10mph, as we’ve seen before. It’s often difficult to discern if we’re in the Erie Canal or the Mohawk River. In the more eastern part of the canal, the speed limit was 10-45 mph, now it is 10-30 mph.
“Every so often we pass under a guillotine-like gate structure. They are used to close off sections of the canal in case there’s a break in the waterway, an accident of some kind, to control flooding, or if a section of canal needs to be drained to perform maintenance.
“There has been much more debris in the canal today and, at one point, we hit a small log. We were going slowly, and it only hit the forward part of the hull, thankfully not our props. At Lock #19, there were many sticks and other debris spanning the entrance to the lock. When the lock started spilling its water to get to our level, the debris moved toward us. Luckily, it also dispersed a bit so when we began our entry, we could maneuver through all the sticks and small logs.
“We arrived in Rome, NY at 3:00pm. As we were tying up, we noticed that a man, fishing from the wall, had something on his line. Fred got off the boat to go see what the catch would be. The man fought the fish for at least ten minutes and finally pulled in a big carp.
“Fred held the rod for him so he could net the fish. Mike and I trotted up to see the fish up close. I was surprised to see it was quite pretty. The man said we brought him good luck as he had never caught one this big before.
“He then released the fish back into the canal.”
See you next time.
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford