350 Miles on the Erie Canal

350 Miles on the Erie Canal

Some 350 miles, 35 locks and 15 lift bridges later, we finally made it across New York State to reach Lake Erie.  The historic Erie Canal that was quite the feat over 100 years ago when it was built does make for a few interesting stops along the way.  But when you are eager to get home, it is a long, long haul at 6 knots.Our first day ended at the town of Amsterdam, that has a short wall to tie up to, but the city layout clearly dates back to the days when the canal and adjacent railway were critical for the economy, so they have a rather limited access to the town from the waterfront park.  However, we were lucky to pull in on a night with a live band playing 80’s hits.  As the band was setting up, they kept blowing the electrical circuits, so they wandered over to our boat to ask if I had an adapter that they could use to connect to the 30 amp shore power pedestal close to the stage.  I found mine, and 10 minutes later I returned from the shower to find out the band had brought Chrissy and I beer for helping them out and were already starting to play.

If I were to do the canal again, I would be sure to stop here again primarily for Dan’s Backyard BBQ restaurant.  In our mind this was far better quality and value than a popular ‘American Style’ restaurant in Manhattan.  Plus, Dan recognized us as the ones who had provided the adapter to get the band up and running, so we got a free round of drinks.


A couple more days on the canal brought us to Sylvan Beach at the eastern end of Lake Oneida.  A popular beach town in the summer.  The day we arrived here was the day we decided it made little sense to push on 10 hours a day and slowed our progress to a slightly more enjoyable pace.


Our 45′ foot powerboat tied up at Sylvan Beach….  DSC_0454

A couple days later we met another cruising couple on a Catalina and enjoyed drinks and appetizers at the Lock 24 pub and continued socializing later into the evening on their boat.  He has an electrical engineering job and is able to work several hours a day on the boat.  Very cool.

The award for the best arrival reception clearly goes to the town of Lyons.  A retired teacher, Bob, gave us a fantastic welcome.  Little did we know when we decided to stop that this was once the peppermint growing capital of the world, and that their annual festival was just starting.  With Bob’s directions we found a band playing in the park, and enjoyed sausages from the fire departments fundraiser bbq.

DSC_0457 DSC_0458

The next morning I set off for a walk with Magnus and ran into Bob, who gave me a crash course in the town history, showed me where the museum was and the route of the canal that preceded the current one.  He even took my photo at one of the murals in town that depicts part of the canal history and emailed it to us later on!

Mural depicting history from long ago in Lyons, NY (1024x655)

And another of us clearing through the lock a couple hours later after we had done some grocery shopping.  With Bob welcoming cruisers, Lyons is likely going to continue to see its annual boater visits increase.

Altera exiting Lock 27 on the Erie Canal (1024x549)

Further along, a large part of the canal is actually above the surrounding land.  It makes for interesting perspectives in places, but unfortunately it is hard to find a good spot to take a photo to really demonstrate.


Fairport is a popular stop on the canal, and we ended up staying two nights as we had been on the go for 10 days since we left Manhattan and really needed a day off.  It is a quaint town on the outskirts of Rochester and also draws a lot of visitors by land.

Medina,  is a small town that we passed through where the canal is actually a few stories above the land to the north as you come around the bend.DSC_0468

The Erie canal, lots of low rail bridges and of course locks.DSCN1647

Finally, on our 11th day since we started the Erie canal we were in the final locks in Lockport.  The only double pair on the canal.  I think we both felt the same way.


The original locks in Lockport (on the left) have actually been preserved as part of the history.  The earlier canal used 5 locks to make the climb, compared to the current pair.


We stopped in Tonawanda to crane the mast back up and the process went well and I had the rig tuned, and all the mast lights and electronics rewired and tested a few hours later.  The next morning, we put the sails on and got the boat reorganized to leave, but unfortunately not soon enough.

When we cruise through the US, we have a cruising permit and we have to phone in to the local authorities when we change areas.  In some places, like Maryland or North Carolina you just report in when you arrive in the state, which is reasonable.  Even when we were in Manhattan, the agent indicated we were all set until we reached a certain town at which point we were in a different jurisdiction.  However, in upstate New York, we were instructed to phone in every time we moved.  So much for being part of the Nexus, trusted traveller program.  Anyhow, we complied even though on multiple occasions the agent often hadn’t heard of the towns along the canal that we stopped in.

The frustrating case, was when the customs/immigration pulled along side in their boat the morning we were preparing to leave.   I expect the occasional stop like this as we are in a Canadian vessel (inspections are part of boating in a foreign country), but the arrogance and rudeness of one of the agents was completely uncalled for.  Not to mention they didn’t even have adequate fenders to protect our hull, so we had to quickly move one of ours to prevent them from scratching our boat.

We politely answered their questions, and when asked I retrieved our papers.  I have all our passports, registration, radio license, clearances and dog papers in one zip-loc, so I asked which ones he wanted to which he snapped back that he would find what he needed.  Moments later, I was informed I hadn’t provided the clearance into the US and partly implied we might be illegally in the country.  The paper he was looking for was actually the 2nd in the stack I provided, right behind our cruising permit and in front of Altera’s registration.  Peculiar how one can be so arrogant yet not recognize one of the main standard forms that is part of his job.  No doubt a Trump supporter.  Anyway, one of the other agents was quite pleasant and Chrissy had a nice conversation with him while I bit my tongue and kept on being pleasant and patient with the clown.

Unfortunate to end our stay in the US on such a negative note, considering how many other great Americans and officials we had met over the past month, in Puerto Rico and boaters in the Caribbean.

The final bridge on the Niagara river before reaching Lake Erie.


So, yes, our arrival in Canada that evening in Port Colborne couldn’t have come at a better time.


This article has 10 comments

  1. So sorry to hear about your “memorable” experience with the customs/ immigration officer. Thanks for the kind words about Lyons, Milepost 220, Lock 27. Hope to see you again. Bob Stopper, Lyons Greeter

    • Thank you for sharing Lyons history. It certainly helped Lyons stand out from the many towns along the canal. Overall we enjoyed out time in the US this summer, but it always feels good to return home.

  2. Jeff,
    Hello it’s me Jane. Where did you have your mast step? And was there any issues? 


    • We used Wardell’s. Our windex snagged the crane and bent a bit, but otherwise no issues. I think it was standing freely about 40 minutes after we tied up to his dock.

  3. Very Interesting and informative. Glad to see you are home.
    If you haven’t heard you have a  new cousin HAILEY and we have another great granddaughter wonderful??

  4. Welcome back to the motherland, Jeff!
    Any plans to swing through KW in the near future?

  5. Well — It seems you are nearing the end of the voyage with a flourish in the North Channel. Now, we await the denouement: selling Altera still appears to be part of your plans, and a return to the “regular” economy. It is has been my pleasure to follow you on your travels and your updates and illustrations were much appreciated. I now have two (repeat) questions for you to contemplate: what is your final opinion of the Rocna anchor you purchased, and will Christina consent to share all she has learned about maintaining her cuisine while aboard – both off shore and at anchor?
    Both of you set out on this voyage with the right attitude and preparation: a frugal life style that permitted to you to embark on it. From everything you have since told us all, those attitudes have only strengthened and this bodes well for a life focused on the right things, not the superfluous. I think I can safely predict that you will have future voyages on your itinerary, including Europe. Who knows, maybe with kid(s) in tow! All my best to you both – and, of course, Magnus.

    • We certainly are hoping to spend some time in the north channel to finish our journey, and would like to hit northern Michigan for a week too. But right now our schedule changes daily as we are trying to keep flexible for re-integration to society opportunities.

      If our preferred opportunity works out, then we will be too far from Altera to keep her and become beach catamaran sailors again. If another opportunity that we are pursuing arises, we may very much cherish keeping the boat as a summer escape.

      I do intend to post on the anchor, how our electrical system coped, and how cruising compared with our expectations. Unfortunately, getting home and back up to speed on the professional level has detracted from blogging.