Messing About in Boats, Boots, and Byways:

Archive of all Erie Canal Journal entries for 2002

Sunset on the canal.

    One of our favorite destinations is the Erie Canal, which originally began in downtown Buffalo, and later when the canal was widened and renamed the Erie Canal Barge Canal, the canal began, and still begins, at North Tonawanda on the Niagara River where Tonawanda Creek empties into the river. We have biked in five-mile bites from Lockport to Brockport, and we've rowed a time or two, too.




Rowin' and driftin' in our skiff
At left, self-portrait at Holley Town Wall on the canal. Above, detail of canal bank, with Shasta Daisies and Medina limestone.

    06 July 02: Today we took The Weekend Skiff on the new boat trailer to the Erie Canal. The boat and trailer were happy, and we were, too. We put in between Brockport and Holley and rowed west for a mile or two to the Holley Town Wall. Then we drifted back with the current and wind to the dock. The weather yesterday was incredible; today we had lots of haze, some gentle wind, and nice temperatures. Half the big boat boaters who passed us by shouted out admiration for the skiff.


Water works its magic on a humid day

The water was like glass.
Queen Anne's Lace.
    19 July 02: We went for another row on the canal. This time, we put in below Middleport and rowed for a while, then drifted back. The day had been hot and humid, but on the water, as the sun went down, the humidity, and the heat, eased. It was magical. I couldn't stop grinning.


We launch the Harmonica, our canalboat

A pair of geese swim by.

    04 August 02: We launched the Harmonica canalboat that I built today. We used the ramp at Middleport. Stayed out about two hours. It was hot but not so humid, about 84 degrees. The sky was clear and clean. There were many boats and lots of people out enjoying the day. Saw lots of fish jumping, too. No wind to speak of.


This is Heidi, a mommie dog that we saw at the ramp a few weeks ago. This was our second meeting. Heidi's human likes to park it on the dock and fish. Heidi jumped in the truck as soon as my wife opened the door. She was a sweet little thing for sure.

We see dogs and ducks ... and a very odd crane

There were a few dozen yearling ducks that circled the boat while we were at anchor, and even the heavy equipment on the canal bank look almost alive. A trick of the light makes the mirror image in the water sharper.
Piece of Medina limestone shows quarry drill marks.

    9 August 02: We took the Harmonica out for its second voyage. Again, we went to the ramp just outside of Middleport, on the Medina side. And this time, we went to Medina instead of toward Middleport, as we did on the Harmonica's maiden voyage. We were out for about four hours, and used about 40 percent of the battery's power, which is as much as we would want to draw down before recharging, to promote battery life. It was a hot day and there was a bit of breeze but not constant. The boat did OK in the breeze, though the breeze exaggerated the touchy steering. I'm thinking about adding a skeg to get some tracking going. As it is, I have to correct the course every 10 or 20 seconds to avoid getting off course. We tried out the anchor, which was a success, too, and on the way back the sun went down and it was very dark. A beautiful day and evening on the boat!


By now, we're canal veterans

Typical section of the bank (above). There was one boat that had some character at Amherst Marina, the one at left in the top photo. At right, haze and dusk
    12 August 02: We launched in the afternoon at Veterans Park in Amherst on the Tonawanda Creek section of the Erie Canal. It was the first time that we had much wind to contend with, and the wind drew down the battery a bit faster. I had to use full power to stay clear of the seaweed crap (don't know what to call it, really). There isn't any of this on the canal, because of the yearly filling and draining, I'm assuming. All in all, I'm glad that we went, because this section is much nicer than I expected, and wider --but also busier, than the canal proper. There were lots of birds, especially ducks, including some tiny ones. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll get used to the sit-and-stare reaction that the boat elicits in most of the other boaters that we encounter. On balance, I like it, a lot.


Walkers set a pace we can't quite equal

The sky made beautiful patterns against our new sun awning. And walkers were still catching up and passing us.

    17 August 02: We went to the launch ramp between Holley and Brockport, and started off downstream to Brockport, but when the wind picked up at our backs, we anchored for a time in hopes that the wind would die down, but it didn't. We turned around, and fighting the wind and current with our trolling motor, fought back to the ramp, and then went on to Holley, and back. We were out for about three hours but used as much energy as we did in a four- or five-hour outing. The difference was the occasional need to use full power to maintain steerage against the wind. The place where we anchored was down from a wide spot that seemed to funnel the wind and current. Once we gained the point at the foot of the wide spot, we were able to move better. Once we were to the ramp, the going was even easier. My feeling is that we could go full power for longer stretches, and that we could use the backup battery, too. I would want to install a gauge or two (volts and amps) and know how to use them before I used full power too much, though. We liked the striped sun awning that we made. The other thing special about the day was the sky. Lots of cloud shapes and blue sky behind.


Everyone passes us by; we couldn't be more pleased

Clockwise from left: Mother with child in walker outstrips our boat; the yada yada yada goes on by (later they asked to take a picture of the boat); and two paddlers at Widewater set a pace we can't equal.

    21 August 02: We took the boat up to Lockport this afternoon and launched at Widewater. We went up to the lift bridge near downtown, then turned around and went with the current to a bridge a few miles away. We were on the water for about three hours, and we saw a lot more people on the towpath and a lot more boats than we usually do. Many folks shouted praise for the boat; I wonder if that will ever get old ... .


Diamonds! We're rich!

A day of many colors.
Diamonds! We're rich!
Low bridge! Low bridge!
Cute workboat goes by.

    31 August 02: We spent about five hours on the water, putting in at Albion and motoring upstream toward a big lake connected to the canal near Presbyterian Road and Eagle Harbor. The color of the day was yellow, including the first goldenrod blooms that I've seen this year (not a good thing). We also saw the first leaves that had turned -- sumac. The stretch of canal is not as populated with walkers as some others, but we saw a lot of bike riders, mostly older, since we were on the water at midday. There were a lot of boats, because of the Labor Day weekend starting. We were prepared to go through our first bridge raising but didn't have to. When we got to the lift bridge at Eagle Harbor, we saw that we could drift under with two or three feet to share in the headroom category. The sky was blue and temperature was in the mid-70s to start and low 80s later, but humidity was low. A wonderful day on the water. The bead of epoxy did its work -- no more leaks! We had to switch to the second battery in sight of the ramp because to oomph went kawoosh all at once. I could have stuck with the battery but wanted to test the drill of changing to the other. The critical component was tossing the anchor overboard to stabilize things so I could fuss without any need to use an oar to fend off the shore. The switch took about five minutes and was hassle-free. The difference in battery power was noticeable, but later when I hooked the first battery to the charger, it shows the usual starting point on the amp meter. I still have to learn more about the meter things .... . I'm getting better at the trailer thing, too. No longer feel lost about what to do to make the rig go this way or that. I'm scheming on a bowsprit piece to get the anchor out from the bow to make it easier to deploy; it'll hang from the sprit, too. Got a beautiful piece of 2x4 poplar to make it with. Tomorrow, maybe. The quality of light and wind made diamonds in the water. Like the kitten in the cat litter commercial on TV sez: "Diamonds! We're rich."


Biking from lock to lock in Pittsford

Tour Boat Colonial Belle floats in the lock.
The Reverend and the lower gate of Lock E33.
    02 Sept. 02: We spent the afternoon biking from Lock E32 (Lock 32 State Canal Park) in Pittsford, near Rochester, to Lock E33 and a bit beyond, to Rochester Institute of Technology. It was our first bike ride of this season on the canal. We saw a sailboat come through that we had seen the day before near Albion. The lock park is nice, and well-used by the locals.


Canalboats for all my friends!

Flipper did just fine with five aboard. The extra folk didn't change the trim more than an inch or two.
The Reverend pedals by on her rented waterbike.
Pecker is a houseboat with a huge pelican mural on each side. We saw this craft last fall up on the canal near Brockport.

Flipper sits at her ease at the town wall. (The design is called the Harmonica; our Harmonica we named Flipper.)
    08 Sept. 02: We launched at the North Tonawanda town ramp and motored down to Erie Gateway Park to meet four friends. The goal for the day was to give first rides to friends and to try out the waterbikes that one can rent for $6 per half hour. We had dinner nearby, leaving the Harmonica tied to the town wall. It was a fine and hot afternoon, and we were surprised by the funky little boat houses and cabins along the canal on the north side. The grass gunk was a pain, and there were a lot of boats, including my first witty drunks. On the way back to the launch ramp, a Sheriff's Department boat put the blue flashing lights on us for only having a white light (not working very well). After a stern lecture and the stated conviction that they should ground us on the spot for an equipment violation, they went the other way. I had gone to the state of New York website and check on Coast Guard regulations, and it was my impression that a white light was all I needed on the Harmonica. The deputy said that I needed a green/red navigation light and that I better have one before I go on the water again. Cops can be such jerks sometimes; me, too ... . I think I'd rather have a ticket than a ration of crap and a quick game of Kick Me. And I will get the lights in order.


New navigation lights give safety and joy

Top left: There have been subtle changes in the approach of fall colors since our last trip on the canal, but the full blast of fall color is not here yet. Top right: More of the subtle colors of early fall on the canal. At left: A rare stand of pine trees on the canal near Orangeport.
    13 Sept. 02: We spent about five hours on the canal this evening, with the lion's share done after dark. We put in at Widewater in Lockport and went as far as Orangeport Bridge. The new navigation lights worked without a hitch, though I did spend the early part of the day installing them. I never did get this fancy switch with fuses to work that I bought at Obersheimer's. The leaves are just beginning to turn, and I spent a lot of my available digital camera chip space trying to catch the subtle change toward fall. The other amazing thing about this trip (every trip on the canal is amazing in some way) was the colors in the sunset. For a bunch of pix of the sunset, click here.


Messing about in Gasport

We couldn't fit under, so we went home. It was time anyway.
Fall colors still subtle. There is some color but still not much.

    21 Sept. 02: We put in at Gasport Marina, where there is a tiny public boat launch ramp. First we went downstream, with the wind, for about 45 minutes, then turned around and fought the wind back to the marina and beyond to the Gasport Lift Bridge. We knew from previous experience that this bridge has only a few feet of space under the girders when in the down position. That was the case. Last spring, we couldn't even fit the skiff under with both of us prone. It was fun to try, though. The weather threatened rain all morning and on the way, but the time on the water was dry, though the sky was darkish. It was cooler, too. Yesterday topped out above 80 degrees. Today was noticeably cooler. I expected to see more fall color than last week, but the change was subtle, and I don't know if the pix I took show the difference. There was a boatload of Nautical ... Ironical stuff.


Strong wind puts our boating season on notice

At left: Pruned willow. Above left: On the water. Above: Classic Chris Craft goes by the other way


    01 Oct. 02: We had some time in the afternoon, so we went up on the Tonawanda Creek section of the canal, which is closer to home, and launched at West Canal Park and Marina, which  is just off Niagara Falls Boulevard in the Town of Wheatfield, about 10 miles or less from the beginning of the canal at North Tonawanda. The wind was very strong, such that we had trouble getting out of the launch zone, and then could barely make any headway. After a few minutes of fighting the wind, we decided to anchor for a while, but the anchor kept dislodging when the boat began to charge around and catch the wind on one side and then on the other. It was frustrating, but being on the water is always good. We agreed that the boat and motor are best for the canalized section of the canal up further in Niagara County where we prefer to go when we can, and we also agreed that a bigger electric motor may be best for a bigger boat, down the road. This may have been the last trip of this season, unless we get a warm day matching up with a day off in the next few weeks. I'm going to hold off on winterizing the boat until the end of October, just in case.


It was a good day ... a dink day

Above left and right: The dink allowed me to get close to the banks, to appreciate the textures of the rocks. At left: Still only a hint of fall in the air.

    12 Oct. 02: We went to Widewater at Lockport today to launch the dink that I'm building. I took a short row down the canal, past the amazing row of hardwood trees on the south back below Widewater. There was more fall color than the last time I was on the canal, but it still is pretty subtle. We're hoping for one more trip this season in the Harmonica, probably at the end of this month, when we're taking some vacation time.


We visit abandoned Genesee Valley Canal locks

We're finally seeing some significant fall color. Through the colorful leaves, you can see part of a lock wall of the abandoned Genesee Valley Canal.

Click here to see more pix of the locks


    21 Oct. 02: We took a ride down to Letchworth State Park to admire the turning leaves, and I also wanted to take pictures of a series of abandoned locks that I had seen a few years ago when we were driving from Nunda to Portageville at the southern foot of the park. We drove around and around before finding the locks, but the search was worth it. The locks are on State Route 436 about two miles west of Nunda. We walked from the foot the  head of the series of seven locks on what was once known as the Genesee Valley Canal. This canal branched from the Erie Canal in downtown Rochester and went as far as Olean, in the Southern Tier, about 60 miles away. The locks that we saw are 10 feet wide and about 15 feet deep, and 100 feet long. The dry-laid quarry stone that was used for the lock sides is largely intact. There are even a few shred of the timbers that were used in the locks, too.


Leaves and temperature begin to drop for fall

At left: There is an abandoned dockwall along the canal just upstream from the locks at Lockport, and at the end of the abandoned dockwall is a short, steep launch ramp. It would take a 4-wheel-drive pickup truck to pull off a launch here. Below: I've been taking pix at Widewater for several weeks, off and on, and this is one shows the turn of the season.

    31 Oct. 02: We took a ride along the canal from its intersection with Niagara Falls Boulevard. We saw some special Nautical ... Ironical stuff and took pix, and also took some pix of the abandoned ramp in downtown Lockport and some pix of the turned leaves out at Widewater. It was cold, and almost snowing, but not quite, which has been the situation all week.


The season of the Guard Gates begins

At left: Guard Gate ready for draining day on the canal. Above left: Green grass white picnic table top and still full canal -- a collision of images. Above: The launch ramp at Middleport.
    02 Nov. 02: We went up to the canal at Middleport to see if the dusting of snow that Western New York got overnight would make for some good pix. There was a little more snow still on the ground than there was closer to home, and it was cold and windy. Still, there was a fisherman in a small aluminum boat trolling around with a small electric motor. The official end of the canal boating season is tomorrow, so we are hoping to get a pic or two of the process of shutting down and draining the canal, later next week.


The watch continues as the canal faces winter

At left: Exchange St. Lift Bridge -- canal still full of water. Below: Guard Gate near East Canal Road is beginning to dry up the canal. The far gate seeks to be all the way down, and the near gate seems to be partly down.
    06 Nov. 02: I detoured over by Lockport on the way home from church this afternoon to see if the draining of the canal had started. In Lockport, below the locks, there was no indication that anything was afoot. Going home, I followed the canal and came upon a Guard Gate near the confluence of the canal and Tonawanda Creek. The gate was down, and the canal was down a few feet. We're planning to check again this weekend to get some more pictures.


One up, one down ... Gate watch continues

Above: Guard Gate's position. Left: Reflections in blue. Below: Detail at Guard Gate with reflection.
    08 Nov. 02: I took another detour to the canal today to see if there was any more progress on the draining effort. I went over to the Guard Gate below Middleport. It was sunny and cold, and beautiful. I got a lot of pix of reflections in the water, and I took some pix of the Guard Gate. One side was down near the water and the other was still all the way up.



A foot here, a couple of feet there

Left: The Guard Gate at Middleport. Below left: This millstone has been recycled as a barrier at the Guard Gate above Lockport. Below: Today's position of the gates at the Guard Gate above Lockport.

    09 Nov. 02: We went up to Niagara Falls for a while this morning then north to Route 18, then Route 104, heading toward the Guard Gate at Middleport. We stopped at a farm stand in Ridgeway and got about 50 pounds of winter squash and apples, and some turnips. The canal is only down about another foot from Thursday, for a total of three feet. I'm going to give it a few days this time and probably check again on Wednesday or Thursday of next week. We also went by the Guard Gate above Lockport. The gates are down more but still not all the way. I figure that a slow draining puts less stress on the gates and other systems that drain into the creeks that cross the line of the canal, heading for Lake Ontario. If they pulled the plug all at once, there would be flooding along those creeks. That's just my guess. It was warm today, but there was no sunshine at all. The temperature in the afternoon was about 60 degrees F.


In theory, the canal will be draining for winter

Still all but brimming.

    13 Nov. 02: Took yet another detour by Lockport to check on the level of the canal. There wasn't any change to speak of.


5 feet down and 11 to go
Above: reflections. At left:The willows are beginning to let go of their leaves, turning the ground to gold. The Middleport Guard Gate hasn't moved an inch.

    16 Nov. 02: We took a chilly ride up to Middleport to check on the level of the canal. The total drop so far is about 5 feet, which leaves about 11 feet to go before the canal is drained. It was spitting snow and had been cold overnight, too. There was a pronounced ripple to the water in the upstream direction. The reflections of the trees in the water were different still from any other visit we've made to this spot.


Canal level inches toward its winter position

Gates down on the Guard Gate near the junction of the canal and Tonawanda Creek.


Looking downstream from bridge over the locks at Lockport. The locks have been drained.

Downstream view of low water at the Guard Gate near Tonawanda Creek.


It's a long, long, long way down: View from the bridge over the locks at Lockport.

Reflections in the water at the Middleport boat launch. The guard gate is still up.


View of the upper locks at Lockport, from the bridge over the locks.
The water is down at Widewater in Lockport.

    20 Nov. 02: The water level is way down at the upper end of the canal, because the workers have lowered the guard gate upstream from Lockport, and downstream from the locks at Lockport the level is down 6 to 10 feet at the Middleport Guard Gate, which is still in the up position. It was a beautiful day, with high temps in the 50s and mostly sunny skies. We're going to check again this weekend at Middleport, and probably get some more of those great turnips from the roadside stand in Ridgeway.


Canal arrives at winter destination

Top photo: The water is all the way down at Widewater in Lockport. Middle photo: Upstream factors continue to lower the water at the Middleport Guard Gate, though the gate itself has not been lowered yet. The water is about 10 feet down now. Lower photo: The low water and dark, cloudy afternoon conspired to reduce the reflections in the water to a dull, dim minimum.

    29 Nov. 02: We took a trip up to the canal to see how far the draining effort has gone. The canal is down another five feet from the last time I check, and there isn't much more to go. We going to give it a rest for a while.


& Perkins

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