Frankfort, NY

Departing from Sylvan Beach on the morning of August 23rd, we expected a fairly short motor over to Utica, New York. We had heard a lot about the brewery there, and heard also that one tended to find a lot of deals on Thursday nights. Unfortunately, what we didn’t realize was that our day should have been significantly shorter than it was. Heads down and motoring, we discovered upon reaching lock 19 that Utica had in fact been at lock 20, 10 or so miles back the way we had just come. Not exactly wanting to backtrack, we pulled into the first place we could find after lock 19, Frankfort, NY.

Now, Utica, though not exactly a bustling metropolis, is a town that I’ve certainly heard of, and has certain colleges and businesses that people tend to recognize. Frankfort, NY is a village that I’m fairly certain no one has ever heard of. We couldn’t even see it from the canal until we had motored a good way up this little tributary to find the dock, surrounded by a residential area that looked like it had been abandoned since 1954. We made our way up to the municipal building to pay for the night, and to our good fortune, happened to find the mayor there, who told us that we certainly didn’t have to pay for the night, and if anyone told us to leave the dock, to inform them that he had said we were fine there.

This enjoyable exchange under our belts, we walked into town to find a charming little library, as well as a pleasant small-town grocery store, and learned of a couple bars with pool tables, a combination that neither Pieter nor I has been able to turn down yet. We patronized both very empty bars for an hour or two that night, but had to get back on the water early the next day to keep plugging away at the Canal.


The Oswego Canal

Our first taste of the Erie Canal was actually an offshoot to Lake Ontario, the Oswego Canal. The Oswego Canal extends from just west of Lake Oneida all the way up to (surprise, surprise) Oswego, NY. We found the first few locks remarkably easy, other than a disturbing propensity for the water flowing into the lock to push us into the wall, threatening to both pop our fenders, and gouge long rusty streaks into the side of our hull. We made it basically to the end of the Oswego Canal on the first day, stopping in Phoenix, New York, where we found Terry and Susanne, as well as Jon and Arline, who had thoughtfully picked up pizza for all of us. We spent a few hours getting even more advice about places we should see and people we should meet along the way, and we finally said goodbye, this time for real and went to bed.

We finally entered the Erie Canal on August 22nd, crossing Lake Oneida(stopping once to swim in the multitudinous blue green algae swarms and veritable bushels of plant-life that surrounded the boat, with the odd water particle thrown in every now and again) and stopping after our flora-infused adventure in Sylvan beach on the opposite side of the lake. Sylvan Beach is a cute little town, with several restaurant/bars and an amusement park with the only roller coaster on the Erie Canal.


Fairhaven, NY

We awoke the morning of the 16th in Big Sodus Bay, and decided to get an early start to get to Fairhaven. Our first realization of the day was a good one, as the yacht club, though happy we checked in, did not charge us for the night, as they have reciprocity with the Saugatuck Yacht Club(a status that has saved us a lot of money this trip). We motored out to the lake where we found some of the largest waves we have yet encountered, and all of us thought it a capital idea to have Ellen make bacon and eggs in such heaving seas, only able to respond to the warnings that we shouted down to avoid getting doused in hot bacon grease. Fortunately the waves were primarily behind us, so they helped us along marvelously to Fairhaven and the Fairpoint Marina.

We spent 4 nights at the Fairpoint Marina, and recommend it unequivocally. Jon and Arline, the managers of the marina were unceasingly kind and helpful, giving us advice and counsel about our trip, as well as helping us out with some of the engine issues that have plagued Eastbound n Down. They even showed us a slideshow of their trip to the Bahamas, providing us with a lot more material and getting us real excited to get down there. While we were at Fairpoint Marina we also met up with a pair of cruising couples, whom we’ve met before, Tom and Laura, who were our neighbors in Frankfort, MI, and Terry and Susanne, who remained behind us throughout the entire Welland Canal, despite our glacial pace.

We also had to take our mast down in preparation for the Erie canal, and we were fortunate enough to be able to ship the mast with both couples (and a fourth we found out later) which cut down significantly on the cost of shipping, and allowed us to have a lot of free deck space, instead of lugging around a 45-foot pole like an oversized jousting lance. Taking down the mast was a rather involved process, as it involved a rather large crane(always a cool addition) and disconnecting a whole lot of stays, lines, bolts and wires, all in the hopes that our scribbled labels will be enough to attach everything back in working order at the other end of the Erie Canal.

The other large news from Fairhaven is that we finally got a new throttle, which John handily installed one afternoon, allowing us to finally put the pliers back in their box. Otherwise, Fairhaven was a very relaxed few days as we sorted through a lot of our to-do list and got ready for the next stage of the journey. We left Fairhaven on August 21st, feeling far more prepared for the trip ahead than we have previously. We really can’t thank the folks at Fairhaven Marina enough for everything they did for us, and we look forward to seeing them again, should we happen to meet them on their way down to the Bahamas this winter.


Toronto to Fairhaven

Our sail from Toronto to the U.S. was uneventful, but for two minor incidents, getting boarded by the Coast Guard, and navigating through Big Sodus Bay at night. The first requires some perspective. I took the first watch alone the night of the fifteenth, as everyone was exhausted, and the wind was scarcely blowing. Around 1am, I saw a large ship approaching from the stern with a spotlight. Not wanting them to hit us, I began putting the beam of my flashlight up on the sail, indicating our position. They eventually turned back behind us, but I caught a glimpse of their ship as they did so, and it certainly appeared to me to be a navy or coast guard vessel, and their lights remained behind us all night. The following morning when I was back on watch, we discovered that it was indeed the Coast Guard, as they sent a boat alongside to get two of their men aboard. Thankfully, everything was in order, and we were all very happy to discover that in our absence from the United States, no wants or warrants had been issued for us. Apparently they had spent some time the night before hailing us, but I had unthinkingly left the VHF volume on low, and the radio face down on the table, causing them to wonder at our intended purpose. The two Coast Guardsmen were very polite. One of them was quite affable, while the other seemed to make jokes, but maintained such a severe look on his face that it felt imprudent to laugh too heartily. They pulled away, although not without some minor comedy, as they had to come back only minutes later to return our vessel documentation that they had forgotten to return to us.

With our egos slightly bruised and the side of our hull slightly blackened from the (admittedly very impressive) boarding process under way, we maintained our course for Sodus Bay. What we unfortunately found, however, was that Big Sodus Bay and Little Sodus Bay are located in very different places, about 12 miles apart from each other. Intending to stay at Fair Point Marina, we made it about a quarter mile from Little Sodus Bay, before discovering that we in fact had to sail 12 miles back west to Big Sodus Bay to find a videophone to clear customs. As it was already 6:30 when we learned this, we arrived in just about pitch darkness and had to navigate through and around various buoys, boats and sandbars, before arriving and discovering that the videophone was in fact broken, and we had to clear customs on our cell phones anyway. Too exhausted to even think of moving the boat anywhere that night, we simply came back and passed out, ready to make for Fair Haven and Little Sodus Bay in the morning.


Toronto pt. 3

The QCYC was a bit more our speed, with actually used boats and boat slings visible on the property, and a much less stringent dress policy that allowed us to go to the bathroom without feeling like we had to wear a tux. We unfortunately didn’t have much time to enjoy our new surroundings, however, as we had a rather pressing engagement on the mainland. This was the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival, featuring craft beers from around Ontario, and held in the shadow of the CN Tower and the Toronto Blue Jays stadium. We got to try several fantastic beers from various breweries, but the most shocking event of the day occurred when John looked over at another picnic table and happened to see someone he’d met in Costa Rica and known for about a day and a half, Chet, who proceeded to show us around the city for six hours or so. It was an incredible bit of serendipity that they had both managed to show up at the same little beer festival in Toronto, and we really appreciated his taking the time to show us around for so long.

The following morning Mike left us, heading out early to catch a bus back home. We were all sad to see him go (though Ellen is happy that she doesn’t have to share the V-berth with him anymore since she now gets it to herself…and the dinghy), but are immensely grateful that he came along for as long as he did, and I know that I in particular benefited a lot from his advice. We went back into Toronto that day to meet up with another friend of John’s, Will, and then, as the following day was Ellen’s birthday, I was tasked with distracting her while John and Pieter went to Whole Foods and picked up some of the high quality meat and vegetables that we have so rarely eaten on this trip, as well as a little birthday cake. We managed to get everything stowed away on the boat, just in time to head back to the city to see a Jays’ game with Will. Ellen was bored halfway through the third inning (we arrived at the top of the third) which was unfortunate, as the game went into extra innings. Despite our fervent hope that we would witness the longest game of baseball ever played, just to see Ellen’s reaction, the Jays managed to win in the 11th, and we headed back just in time to catch the last ferry back to the island.

We spent Ellen’s birthday rather more lazily than our previous days in Toronto, opting to stick around the Toronto Islands Park and relax a bit, watch a movie, and walk around exploring the island. We then settled down for an evening dinner of pesto pasta and green beans (which I inexplicably helped cook and somehow didn’t ruin) and went to bed in preparation of our imminent departure back to the U.S.


Toronto Pt. 2

We went into Toronto the next day to visit the “Taste of Danforth”, a Toronto festival which Ellen had found online and other people had recommended to us. It took us a little while to navigate the public transportation system, but with the help of some very helpful bus drivers, we managed to make it to this street, which was absolutely swarming with people. Every few feet there were stands selling every kind of food, from Thai to Haitian to Chinese, though the majority of it was Greek since it took place in the Greek neighborhood of town, and there were several dance companies putting on shows interspersed along the road. There was one very strange pavilion where a stunt troupe was performing a live-action interpretation of the Expendables 2 trailer. It wasn’t so much their chosen source material that was so amusing, as it was the intensely serious looks on all their faces as they fake punched, kicked, and shot each other (poorly), seemingly oblivious to their stupefied audience, who was standing there with bemused looks on their faces wondering simultaneously what was going on and why they were still there watching it after five minutes. The rest of the festival was truly amazing, with so many different stands to see, as well as the stores lining both sides of the road, which were kept open for the festival.

We finally walked back to the ferry (through another rainstorm), and got back to the island exhausted. I was the only person compelled to go out that night, and so I ended up in a boat of strangers from the RCYC, bound for Donut Island for a bonfire. After running aground 4 or 5 times on the way over, and beaching the boat, I discovered that their conception of a bonfire was very different from my own. I had envisioned a structure of some sort, perhaps made out of wood that would then be lit to construct some type of large conflagration. You know, a fire. As far as I could tell, however, my new friends’ conception of a bonfire was created in direct proportion to how much gasoline was added. The small bundle of sticks on the ground provided maybe 10% off the fire’s power, as gasoline was repeatedly poured all over and around this tiny stack to the great enjoyment of everyone involved. It was, in fact, a very good time, in spite of the intermittent bursts of heat and light from the fire pit, and I got to meet and hang out with a ton of cool people, before finally resigning myself to bed sometime quite early in the morning.

The morning of August 12th, we awoke far too early for my liking and decided that we had to depart the RCYC. We’d had fun there, but it was, after the first night, a little too expensive for us, and we decided to head instead to the Queen City Yacht Club, maybe a half mile away, on another island. We understand that this is probably frowned upon, and so if anyone from either yacht club is reading this, we sincerely apologize. We did not intend any offence, we are just young and on a budget.


Toronto pt. 1

Toronto is one of my favorite cities. Not of the trip. Ever. I thought it was absolutely fantastic, and loved the way it looked, the people we met there, the yacht clubs of Toronto, and the places we got to see. I really couldn’t have been happier with our visit there. We arrived after a short trip from the Welland canal, and an even shorter driving rainstorm that obscured the city, a mere mile or so away from us, at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club.

The RCYC is an establishment on one of the islands across the bay from the city that fully lives up to its name. We all felt rather out of place as we walked around the club for the first time, although that may have had something to do with the tank-top undershirt that I was wearing, which made me look even more slovenly than the rest of our already underdressed crew. We soon discovered, however, that this feeling was entirely natural, as the RCYC seemed to function by very old-world rules. Going on the tennis courts was prohibited unless you were wearing white, with white, non-marking shoes, and don’t even think about playing lawn bowling if you are in an outfit that hasn’t been bleached 20 minutes prior. The club house was rather less stringent, requiring only slacks, dress shirts and blazers just to enter(needless to say, none of us did).

We took the ferry over to the city for an expensive, though tasty dinner in the old distillery district, and came back early to meet some friends that John had already made that afternoon(he really is quite impressive at that. You have to see it to believe it). They were, as so many people we have met are, incredibly friendly, and invited us up to their deck, as well as to see some of the boats that they had built themselves. They then swam with us in the harbor, and let us into the pool. This seemed like an overly brazen activity in the middle of the night, until the night shift came by, and politely asked us to keep the noise down, without any discussion of removing us from the pool. We did so, although with rather less enthusiasm than the task required, and we were asked to leave, although not unkindly, around 3am, at which point we decided that it would probably behoove us to finally turn in. That was just the first day!


Navigating the Welland Canal

After a solid day of waiting for the Welland canal, we were finally given the go ahead. In a rather Make Way For Ducklings fashion, we made our way for the canal following our Mother Duck, the 200 ft Empire Sandy tall ship.


The locks themselves are fairly simple. Each lock takes you down about 40 feet, and the process is nearly identical through all eight locks: the boats enter the lock and are thrown lines. As the water level starts to decrease, more line is let out. After about ten minutes, you’re down 40 feet, they take back the lines, open the gates and you’re off to the next lock.


Other than that, it’s a fair amount of waiting and motoring to get through. It was really just short of enough time to take a nap between each lock—a real bummer.

For the most part, the whole experience was fairly uneventful. However, there were a few moments we got a little too close for comfort with Empire Sandy—it’s a tight space for so much boat. Luckily, we didn’t hit the largest schooner in Canada. Overall, the canal is more tedious than anything. Starting at around 3 pm, we went through our final lock around 2 am. Exhaustedly, we tied up on the other side of the canal system, and continued on to Toronto via Lake Ontario at 10 am the following day.

While Mike’s last experience with a lock and/or canal system might have occurred roughly a decade and a half ago, we depended on him for his intuition and comfort. Or at least I did. It was reassuring to think SOMEBODY knew what they were doing.  As we go forth towards the Erie Canal, we’re much more prepared and have realistic expectations for what will occur. I guess we all know what we’re doing. Or at least kind of. Maybe.

Wish us luck.


Lake Erie to the Welland Canal

Sailing across Lake Erie was slow, as it generally is for us, but enjoyable for all that. Since Lake Erie is, as far as we could tell, 180 feet deep at its deepest point, and 30-60 feet deep everywhere else, it had a mean temperature approaching that of bathwater. That made it quite enjoyable to throw a fender attached to a line behind the boat and just tow in the water, although doing so reduced our speed to about as fast as one of us could swim.

We arrived in Port Colborne, the first stop on the Welland Canal, the day after leaving Cleveland, and after getting a ridiculously expensive pump-out(which we nevertheless now do on instinct every 4-5 days) and clearing the ridiculously convenient customs process, we pulled up outside the locks to await our turn going through. What we did not yet suspect was that we would end up waiting there for about 24 hours. Our departure time kept getting pushed back, before they finally told us that a freighter had lost control in a lock and broken a few of the safety cables. We were told that they were not allowing a couple navy ships through, indicating that we had a snowball’s chance in hell of going through the locks that afternoon. As this problem apparently happens about twice a year, it seemed perfectly natural that it should fall on the date of our passage through the locks. We cannot exactly complain, however, as we were able to dock there for free, and had the opportunity to spend many useless hours on the internet, which is a pleasure that is (probably beneficially) rarely available to us. We also had the time to get to know Terry and Susanne, two of our fellow stranded yachties, whom we seem to keep finding along our route. We left early the next afternoon, accompanied by a massive tall ship: a 3-masted schooner, named Empire Sandy, which was incredibly cool to see.

I can unfortunately relay very little of the Welland Canal. Because of a bit of a fever, I was indisposed for the vast majority of it forcing everyone else to do the real work; I only remember portions of it as a rather hallucinatory fever-dream. More on the Welland canal soon!


A Couple Days in Cleveland, Ohio

Our exposure to the city of Cleveland was rather more extensive than it had been to Detroit. Although we drove around the outside and suburbs of Detroit, we spent no time at all in the heart of the city, whereas we felt very comfortable heading into Cleveland. This difference in perceptions is at least partially attributable to the fact that, as our friends in Cleveland unequivocally informed us, “Cleveland sucks way less than Detroit.” Negative phrasing aside, it was unquestionably true. Cleveland, for all its bad neighborhoods in no way gave off the same air of disrepair and almost dystopian abandonment that permeated Detroit.

Our first few minutes after arriving in Cleveland were spent in a state of charmed shock. Not only was the price to stay at the Edgewater Yacht Club ridiculously cheap (reciprocity playing no small role in that), but the discovery of a beautiful, grassy park just across the street, and a pool actually in the yacht club was enough to convince us to spend more than just one night in Cleveland. We spent the first afternoon performing some routine engine maintenance and lounging in the pool (guess which one we did more of) before asking around for good places to go on a Saturday night. We were informed of a place, helpfully named “Whiskey Island”, which was only a short walk away. This short walk was, however, almost entirely along a two lane road, edged by ivy so as to remove any sidewalk or shoulder that might keep us out of harm’s way. We ended up cringing, single file against the ivy as cars careened past without seeming to slow down or in any way alter course to us.

We fortunately arrived at Whiskey Island fairly quickly and discovered, much to our chagrin, that the party was clearly winding down and only a few groups of older couples and middle aged professionals remained. John, not to be so easily dissuaded, led us through the maze of tables and introduced himself, with his inimitable gregariousness, to the only group of young people in the entire establishment. As has happened so many times before, they welcomed us, and after a few minutes, invited us to the next bar on their route.

Not ones to turn down an offer like that, we met them at Edison’s Pub to continue hanging out. At one point, looking around the bar, an interesting realization came to light. Pieter, Ellen and I were still talking with our friends from the first bar, while John and Mike were embroiled in a conversation with 2 entirely separate groups that we had met at Edison’s, and all of us were able to rotate freely among them and keep conversation going. It is an interesting facet of our trip that no matter where we stop, whether a tiny town or a large city, people are always welcoming and friendly. We have yet to run into a group of people who have been unkind or disinterested, and most are happy to spend their whole nights swapping stories until after last call. It is both the great benefit and great drawback of this trip that we have the opportunity to meet and talk with so many different, interesting people, and that we have so little time to actually get to know them.

The following morning was rather stormy, and we met a girl at the yacht club, unable to race due to the weather. She was kind enough to spend her entire day with us, driving us on errands to pick up groceries, as well as to pick up our new clutch from West Marine. As it turns out, West Marine, naturally, didn’t have it. In my crippling awkwardness and desire to get off the phone, I had only ordered the lever to our clutch, without any of the internal assembly to actually, you know, run the engine. Once again stymied in our attempts to find a motoring option that doesn’t involve pliers, we resolved to find one in Toronto, and committed to the pool for the rest of the day.

We arose the next morning and departed rather later than we’d hoped for the next stretch of our trip, across Lake Erie to the Welland Canal.