I Have a Mule…

August 19 – August 22, 2021

Well, ok, we have a boat, not a mule. I can’t get that damn song out of my mind. We headed up the Erie Canal. There had been lots of rain up river and it was drizzly, but all seemed good. Off we go. The first lock was 300 yards in front of us.

That is the lock straight in front of us at the red lights.

The Flight of 5

The lock in front of us is the first lock of the “Waterford Flight of 5” on the Erie Canal. It is 5 locks in a row which raise/lower you from 15.2 feet above sea level on the Hudson River, 184 feet up on the Mohawk River (which is the Erie canal at this point). Each lock is between a 33 and 34 foot rise/drop. This is the largest lock change in the shortest distance in the world.

Entering into one of the locks on the flight. We had one boat locking through the flight with us. Very compatible locking partner. Would hate to lock with a big crowd of boats.

Jim and I had done locks in France on a different boat, and one ICW lock 3 time. Beyond that, this is all new and for sure on this boat. It seemed to be working fairly well though. Julia is with us so I drive the boat into the lock, get it stopped close to the concrete wall, and Julia and Jim pick up the hanging lines to hold us close to the wall. Then the lock goes up or down, in some cases on the Erie as much as 35 feet. Below are some pics of going in and going through the process. I’m taking these pics while driving, getting into the lock and then lowering or rising. Once we are in, my job is mostly done.

There is the lock to the right; grey doors are where we go. Damn dumping water to the left. Rather distracting, some more than others as in some cases, the damns dump right at the entrance to the lock. I am concentrating more on those so have not taken pics. This lock has quite calm water heading to it. We have to go to the right of the little green buoy you see.
Lock gates open and we are lined up. Pretty simple. I’ve got, as I have learned after having to go through one gate open and one closed, about 45 feet and I’m 17.5 feet wide). Drive slowly in, head toward the concrete wall, close enough for my “helpers” to grab the lines hanging down while I stop the boat.
This is what I have to drive towards in the lock. All the locks drip and squirt some amount of water. The water will rise enough that we can drive out over that lip which they call a seal. The water level on the other side is at the yellow paint.
We are in the lock and Julia has her line. She makes it look like fun and game, but she has to grab this line with a boat hook as we are still maybe 5 or more feet from the wall, or maybe closer as I’ve gotten too close, or maybe a bit farther as I’m not close enough. Meanwhile, Jim is trying to grab a similar a line at the back of the boat. All while I’m trying to get close to the wall, but not too close, moving the boat forward, backwards to stop it and also get lined up for the lines. A tricky job for all, but not too tricky.
Sometimes there are pipes that you can put lines around. We have 4 big orange balls to keep us slightly away from the wall. The sometimes get pretty squished. And, some of the locks can get rather turbulent as the water rises. It seems easier when we are going down. The water is calmer.
And now we have been lifted and can drive out of the lock as soon as the doors are fully open. Move away from the concrete wall and continue on your way.

Times, they are a-changin’….

All is going reasonably well; we’ve gotten through 7 locks and are headed to the Amsterdam, NY town dock for the night on the other side of Lock 8. As we approach Lock 8, what water is quite “broilie”. Choppy with a big current running between us and the lock. I don’t have a good picture of this as we are entering, but many of these locks have a big damn with water flowing over it to one side and you then enter a small lock canal into the lock. I had NO idea how we were going to get through the current and chop and into the lock. We’d called the lock several times via radio and phone to no avail. FINALLY, they responded saying we could come through but would have to tie up on the other side of the lock as all the locks past Lock 8. We said “no thanks”, turned around in the “broilie” stuff and headed back down to the casino marina we had earlier decided we did not line. You DO NOT want to get trapped between locks. A few weeks ago, the Erie was closed for 2 weeks due to log jams.

The exit from Lock 7. There were some reasonably size logs and sticks waiting for me when the lock door opened. One does not want these to hit your hull, surely with any force. Extra slow out. And, you DO NOT want these touching your prop. Into neutral when you think one of the bigger ones is close to the prop. There were louder clunks than I’ve heard before on the hull. This was a warning that Jim and I did not know to heed.

We SHOULD have subscribed the the New York Canal Notices to Mariners that would have told us that Lock 9 – Lock 23 were close and had been since 11:30 am. It is now nearly 4 PM. However, perhaps a Lock Master could have mentioned it…. But, our responsibility.


Tied up at the very strange but safe, cozy marina, trying to figure out what to do. Do we sit and wait it out, pick a new plan. We knew the Erie had been closed for a couple weeks a few weeks back due to log jams. By now, we know Henri is headed north and rain at a minimum is to come. And one of the other boats stopped here said it would be closed for multiple days.

On to Plan C. Lets turn around, get out of these Erie locks before they get closed down and we get trapped by the hurricane, and head north on the Champlain Canal, north towards Canada. Try to outrun the hurricane in our 8 knot boat. It is not moving much faster than us, and it is not clear it will do much more than drop some rain on Lake Champlain, so lets go for it. And, maybe we could still do our mini loop in reverse (remember the mini loop?; Erie Canal, Lake Ontario, some piece of Canada , a piece of the St. Lawrence and down to Lake Champlain.)

So, around we turn. Do the 7 Locks in reverse on the Erie we’ve already done, plus one more and tie up in Mechanicville, NY on their free city dock for the night. We have now in the course of 3 days done 16 locks.

They are easier as we are getting fore comfortable, but also because these are all locks dropping us down now and they are not so turbulent.

The Pretty Parts

We started out on this Erie treck with such high expectations. Remember Sal and her mule? It is/was so cool to be on the Eric Canal.

This is to the north of the canal we took at the first lock. The original canal, now an overflow place. At the top of this, if you go straight, you are on the Erie. If you go right, it is the Champlain Canal. Canals had to be enlarged and improved but there are lots of remints around.

It was hard work and a bit nerve wracking, but that is what makes it so fun for us.

And remember having to lower the mast, move the dinghy, etc… There were some low bridges.

Not our lowest, but I loved the arrow telling us to keep left. The red mark tells us that, but clearly they had problems where people went where there was not enough water. Just remember, “red right returning.” The challenge is knowing when direction does a canal return to the sea when it is an artificial canal connecting two bodies of water. It is complicated.
This is, our guess, a piece of the original canal. No in use any longer, but subsumed by the current canal. So pretty. We’d never make it under this, but it doe bring back, “low bridge, everybody down….”
And there were pretty waterfalls. Quite a few along the way. Beautiful country.
And people living here, connecting their homes to the waterway.

We got to Mechanicville. Tomorrow I will do my very best to get you up-to-date on where we are now. Remember, there was a hurricane? And we are on another canal now? Just too much going on to get it all down.


I Have a Mule… — 2 Comments

  1. It was really interesting and fun learning how to lock through-worst part was the slimy lines. We had gloves but they got really stinky!