Cruising on Last Dance

This blog archives the adventures of Glen and Jill Moore and provides a means of communication for friends and family. Exploration and adventure have been synonymous with boats and water for centuries. The joy of adventures shared while exploring new places and meeting new people has built a strong bond for Glen and Jill. Last Dance is the platform for the exploration.

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." St. Augustine, 354 - 430

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain, 1835 - 1910

"There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats." The Wind in the Willows, 1908, Kenneth Grahame, 1859 - 1932

"I've never believed speed and ease are conductive to living fully, becoming aware, or deepening memory, a tripod of urges to stabilize and lend meaning to life." River Horse: a log book of a boat across America, 1999, William Least Heat-Moon,1939 -

The Great Loop -- The current adventure is a circumnavigation of the Eastern United States, cruising north up the east coast through New York into Canada, across the Great Lakes to Chicago, navigating multiple river systems south to Mobile, along the Gulf coast to the Florida Keys and back to St. Augustine. This trip by boat is commonly referred to as the Great Loop. Progress and current location are indicated by the red line on the map to the right. It was titled the Traceless Path in recognition of a German sailor we met in St. Augustine who published booklets of his travels with hand-drawn, detailed maps describing his travels across the water as the Traceless Path.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Erie and Oswego Canals

Just north of New York’s capital, Albany, the Mohawk River joins the Hudson from the west.  At the junction of these two rivers, on the north and western corner, is the village of Waterford.  The Erie Canal begins at Waterford, and the village welcomes boaters traveling the canal.  Waterford has constructed a large welcome center and a long dock wall for cruising boaters, offering dockage with electricity and water, free for up to a 48 hour stay.   A wide variety of boats, from tugs to canal boats, lined the dock wall.  There was only one spot available when Last Dance arrived in the late afternoon, right in front of R Hope.  Interesting how, with very different agendas and travel plans, cruisers continue to cross paths.


The Erie Canal was begun in 1817 and completed in 1825.  Governor Dewitt Clinton saw the possibility of the Erie Canal “ . . . as a bond of union between the Atlantic and Western states, it may prevent the dismemberment of the American Empire.”   It was a controversial project, called by doubters “Clinton’s Folly” or "Clinton's Ditch", as they believed the New York Governor was supporting a boondoggle.  The canal proved to be a commercial success and is credited with making New York City the hub of commerce.  Raw materials, such as lumber and ore, could be transported from the Midwest to the east coast, and manufactured products from the east coast to the Midwest.  The Erie Canal provided the fastest and lowest cost transportation method.   The canal was built to support barges pulled by horses walking along a trail next to the canal.
In 1925, the new, much larger Erie Canal was constructed along the old canal route.   With train transportation and the St. Lawrence Seaway as competition, the new canal was never a great success for commercial transportation, but the new, higher dams provided opportunities for hydroelectric power, still generating renewable source power today.

A stay at Waterford allows one to learn about the locking system and purchase a pass for the locks since the first lock, Lock 2, is less than 100 yards from the end of the Waterford dock wall.    It also provides a contrast between the original canals and the new canal.  Next to Lock 2, just to the right, is a spillway to allow excess water to bypass the lock.  This spillway was the first set of locks of the original Champlain Canal, which at the time, also had its beginning at Waterford.  The original Erie and Champlain canals were quite narrow, and canal barges were built to fill the entire width.  The vast difference in size of the canal and locks is obvious.

The old Champlain Canal has been converted to a linear park.  The lower section still has canal walls and is filled with water.  Since the locks and dams have not been maintained, the upper sections have no water and are filled.  The horse trail still remains and provides a walking, hiking, and biking trail.

The Erie Canal locks are quite large (300’ x 44’), capable of handling large barges.  Today, most of the traffic is recreational boats.  Even the largest of pleasure boats seem like a toy when in a lock.
Big boat; big boat in lock

A lock is an elevator for boats.  To lift a boat to a higher level, water is added to the lock until the boat has risen to the next higher water level.  To move a boat down, it is moved into the lock when it is filled and water is released until it is at the lower water level.  Adding and releasing water from the lock creates turbulence which tries to move the boat around inside the lock.

The Erie Canal has two different systems for mooring a boat to the lock wall, to keep it anchored in one place.  Some walls have a pipe or rubber-covered cables installed vertically in a groove in the lock wall.  A line is looped around the pipe or cable, connected to the boat at midship, and crew are stationed at the bow and stern.  The line is used to keep the boat close to the wall, the crew attempts to keep the boat away from the wall.  It is often an interesting dance.

At each lock, the altitude in posted.  Last Dance has spent her life at sea level; moving to such great heights is a different experience.

Locks are built in conjunction with dams.  The dams create the higher water level to give sufficient water depth for boats.  The Erie allows boats to cross the Catskill Mountain Range, traveling through the Mohawk River Valley.  The dams also provide water power to generate electricity, with generating plants located next to the dams.

Lock 17 is a bit different.  Due to its great height, a guillotine-like wall drops down from a fixed wall that must be passed under.  With a lift of 40 ½ feet, its lift is greater than any single lock on the Panama Canal.  Interestingly, on the tallest of all the Erie locks, the engineers have provided hanging ropes for boat mooring, which provide almost no leverage – quite a challenge.

In addition to having to squeeze under the door to Lock 17, there were numerous times when low structures made the crew want to duck for fear of hitting their heads.  Bridges are listed as being at least 15 ½ feet above water level, however, none of New York bridges have sign board s to show height above water.   Last Dance is 21’ 6” tall at the top of the mast and 15’ 6” at the top of the bimini.

The Erie Canal follows the Mohawk River for much of its eastern half.  The Mohawk River valley is a beautiful section of New York State.  The canal is much more than a series of locks; it is an amazing path through the beautifully wooded countryside and mountains.  The Erie Canal itself is a cruising destination, with companies renting canal boats solely for traveling the canal.

Amsterdam, NY

One of the cities along the Erie is Amsterdam.  Last Dance moored along a lock wall at Guy Park.  Guy Johnson was a British Loyalist who fought with the British Army during the revolutionary war.  Being on the losing side, Guy had to leave the country and his property became a park and his house a museum.  One disadvantage of spending a night along the canal is that train tracks run parallel to the canal, and freight trains are numerous.  With a couple road crossings in Amsterdam, the trains are required to blow their horns as they enter the town.  There is an amazing amount of freight being moved at 4:30 am.

One of the odd claims to fame for Amsterdam is a Volkswagen Beatle sitting atop a smokestack.  It is an advertisement for an auto repair shop located nearby.

The sad part of this oddity – the reason the Beatle can sit atop the stack— is that the factory below is shuttered.  It is testimony to the decline of smokestack industries and the loss of employment opportunities in cities once thriving.  Amsterdam was once home to Mohawk Carpet and Cabbage Patch Dolls.

Through the city, many eloquent, architecturally interesting homes, built in the early 20th century are losing their luster since the people remaining in Amsterdam lack the resources to maintain large, financially demanding houses.  There was one exception to share and to end on a positive note.  A brick home, with stained glass windows, was wonderfully maintained.  An interesting feature, behind the house, facing the next street, is a brick barn.  The barn has been converted into a three-car garage with an enormous amount of space.  Glen longs for such a garage.


Another welcoming town for cruisers.  Conajoharie has a riverfront park with a free dock for visitors arriving by boat.  (Seems towns along the Erie want boating tourists as much as many towns in Florida work to discourage them.)

At first glance, Canajoharie seems to be another of the towns losing its major employer.  In this case, however, Beechnut has built a new, modernized plant 20 miles outside of town.  Beechnut is a different type of employer than many U.S. industries which only look at the bottom line.  Beechnut provided live music for its employees working the production line.  The women were treated to manicures and pedicures.  And, most importantly for the rest of us, Beechnut purchased art to display in the factory for the education of its employees.  In 1927, Bartlett Arkell, Beechnut’s owner, funded an art museum, co-located with the town library, to share some of the art with the public.  It is a beautiful museum with an extensive collection of Winslow Homer’s paintings.  There are some commissioned originals, such as a train steaming through the Mohawk Valley, and the art commissioned for Beechnut advertisements.  Norman Rockwell created some of the illustrations, now held as great period art.  

Canajoharie has an odd claim to fame, one they celebrate.  Their stop light is located in the middle of the street, on an island.  One can actually buy a hat or shirt with illustrations of this oddity.

Oswego, NY

During the visit to Washington, DC, it was learned that only one city in the United States accepted Holocaust refugees – Oswego, New York.  It was good to have a chance to see the city whose heart was bigger than the pressure to conform.

 The Oswego Canal connects the Erie Canal with Lake Ontario.  The city of Oswego lies along the southern shore of the big lake and at the end of the canal.  A longer visit to learn more about the city architecture could have been beneficial.  The city hall is a grand, marble building.  The YMCA is located in a large, brick building, with quite different architecture.  It would not seem these buildings were built with the intent to house these functions.  What were they in their original lives?

A weather report of high winds and seas beginning at noon and lasting for a number of days dictated an early morning departure.  The lighthouse at the end of a long jetty/breakwater proved invaluable for navigation at 4:30 am.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hudson River

Although still functioning as a commercial seaway with large barges and ships, the Hudson is a beautiful, scenic river.  With the exception of Albany, the state capital, there are no large cities located along the river north of New York City.  Most communities on the river’s edge do not classify as cities, they are villages, too small under New York law to be called a city.

Passenger trains travel along the eastern shore of the river and freight trains travel the western shore. The frequency of the passenger trains to New York City is high and the freight trains are long and almost continual.  Watching the large number of freight cars traveling the western shore reinforces the wisdom of Warren Buffett’s investment in railroads.

Much commerce still rides on the river.  Tugs, barges, and freighters are a common site.  The tug with the multiple tows of red barges also demonstrates that the Hudson is a big river and can get rough.  The waves are breaking over the bow of the leading barge, and this photo was taken in the morning, when the winds are normally lower.

Unlike the Potomac, there are numerous bridges across the Hudson, many works of art and engineering.  The Bear Mountain Bridge connects Anthonys Nose, on the eastern shore, to Bear Mountain on the west, clearing the river by 155 ft.  Along the lower right, the passenger train track bed is visible leading to a tunnel.

Palatial homes are located on the Hudson with grand views of the River.  Many of the homes are quite large and a wide variety of architecture is represented.  The Hudson River banks are mostly natural, with rock faces and large forested areas, with some interesting human intervention, such as the houses.

The Hudson River is a natural shipping channel as it is quite deep, sometimes as much as 200 feet deep in the southern portion of the river, with the deep water running right to shore.  There are places where you could put the bow of a boat against the shore and the stern of the boat would be in 70 feet of water.

After negotiating the Harlem River around the east side of Manhattan to reach the Hudson, the first stop up the river was at Croton on Hudson and the Half Moon Bay Marina.  Surprisingly, Last Dance was placed in a slip next to another 40 DeFever, R Hope, Lorne and Edy Hope’s boat.  It was good to see them again.  Croton on the Hudson is small, but had many services needed by the crew, including a UPS Store, large laundry, and a specialty food store with an amazing variety of fruits, vegetables, salads, and breads.

It was a hazy day traveling north on the river, making the image of an extremely large stone building appearing in the distance even more eerie.  The stone structure rose from water level to hundreds of feet high, bringing thoughts of Medieval Castles or a European City on the Mediterranean.  As the distance shortened and haze lessened, it became clearer visually and cognitively.  It was West Point.  It is understandable why the British never made it past West Point.

A short distance north, on the opposite shore, the village of Cold Spring hugs the river.  There is a skinny cove north of the village that has a small area with depths shallow enough to provide anchorage.   One of the first buildings in town after crossing under the railroad tracks, is the chamber of commerce, which occupies one-quarter of a building, the other three-quarters being the men’s and women’s toilets and a storeroom.

There are some interesting modest homes in the village, and above the village, facing West Point, a not so modest home.

For all our friends in Palatka, the Putnam County newspaper is published here also.

Cold Spring provided reminders that this journey continues in the spring through the display of dogwoods in full bloom.

Poughkeepsie is not a town that is written up in travel guides, nor do friends tell you that it is a place that one must visit.  However, Poughkeepsie does have a marina (no place to anchor nearby) and it is just south of Hyde Park, an area with much history and reasons to visit.  Poughkeepsie is trying.  They have lighted their bridge, the Mid-Hudson Bridge, in a manner far surpassing the monochromatic bridges in Jacksonville.  The lights are fiber optic and they can change colors or create moving displays of lights.

President Roosevelt’s home and library/museum are located in Hyde Park.  The presidential home was interesting.  Just up the road is the Vanderbilt house, which is appropriately described as a mansion.   FDR’s house was a home – interesting comparison in lifestyles and priorities.  The museum included the 1934 Ford that he was so often photographed driving.  An educational and enjoyable visit that is not documented by photos – forgot the camera. 

Hyde Park is also home to the Culinary Institute of America.  They operate four restaurants and a bakery open to the public to provide students with educational experiences and the school with income to purchase the raw materials.  An evening in the French-themed restaurant was enjoyable for two educators observing students performing skills they had been studying and sampling the results of their daily assignment.

The Hudson River is a beautiful, interesting, educational destination; much more than just a segment of the route from New York City to the Great Lakes.