Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Champlain Canal

June 6-9, 2012

This is the first of our blogs that I will be writing and sending from Canada, which means your receipt of them may be more sporadic than usual, and when you get updates, you may get several at once.  The reason is that internet in Canada is exorbitantly expensive for people like us with US carriers and data packages, and coverage is spotty for us as well.  So I will keep on blogging, and when we get to a spot with a strong free wi-fi signal, I’ll send you what I’ve got.

When we left Waterford, NY, (after Craig enjoyed a $1.75 breakfast at the local diner), we continued north up the Hudson and the Champlain Canal rather than turning west to the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal certainly has a history and mystique all its own, but we had heard from so many prior Loopers that the longer northern route through Lake Champlain, to Montreal and Ottawa and south from Ottawa through the Rideau Canal was something not to be missed.  In fact, this decision factored heavily into our boat-shopping decisions, because going through the Champlain Canal requires a boat that can pass under a 17’ fixed bridge.  You may recall from our last blog the pictures of our boat with the radar mast and bimini top taken down.  It was a heavy and cumbersome job, but with the help of other Loopers, we got it done.



The Champlain Canal covers about 60 miles and involves 11 locks numbered 1-12; there is no lock 10.  For roughly the first half of the canal, the route follows the natural waterway of the upper Hudson River.  After that, it is a man-made channel.  The days we passed through we encountered very little boat traffic.  Our way was quiet and peaceful, but we did go under some very low bridges!

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We found the Champlain locks easy to use and the lockmasters very friendly and helpful.  We would call them on the ship’s radio as we approached, and they would tell us approximately when the lock would be ready for us.  We experienced very few delays, and usually the lockmasters would call ahead to the next lock for us to let them know we were coming. Every lock was equipped with ropes hanging down the sides. I would grab a rope at the front of the boat and Craig would grab one at the stern, and we just held on while we rode up or down and the case may be.


About halfway through the canal, we stopped at Schuylerville Yacht Basin, where we spent the night.  As we pulled off the main channel into the protected harbor at Schuylerville, we noticed a sign declaring it to be America’s most historic town.  That’s quite a boast, so we took a walk to see what supported this claim to fame. It turns out that “most historic” might be a bit of a stretch, but in fact a lot of big things happened here.  The town was very close to the battleground of Saratoga, and the victory monument is located here.  This is where the British Gen. Burgoyne surrendered to the Americans, an early and decisive turning point in the war. The town is named for General Phillip Schuyler, who played an important role in the Revolutionary Was, including working with Benedict Arnold (in his pre-traitorous days) to build America’s first naval force at Whitehall, where we would go the next day.  It was also Philip Schuyler who was the driving force behind building the canal system which resulted in the towns along the Canal enjoying tremendous prosperity in the nineteenth century.  Sadly, for most of these old canal towns their glory days are a distant memory.

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But whatever Schuylerville has lost from the old days, it now has a cow-horse statue on its main street.  Not many towns can claim that!


We enjoyed our brief stay in Schuylerville.  It is a very peaceful spot, and the friendly marina owner even helped me fold laundry!

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The next day, we continued up toward Whitehall, the northern terminus of the Champlain Canal. At one lock, we were greeted by a class of 4th-graders from Hudson Falls Elementary School who were on a field trip.  They were excited to be able to see a boat go through the locks (this is early in the season and there isn’t much traffic), but they were really excited to see Joey and Bailey on board. Their teacher was doing her best to explain how the locks worked, but the kids were mostly interested in learning the dogs’ names, where they slept and where they went potty.IMG_0875


We also encountered a large dredging operation being undertaken by General Electric to clean up the canal bed.  There was a great deal of tug traffic and large barges (several from Cincinnati!) and required ongoing radio communications with the director of operations to make sure we stayed where they wanted us to be.  We got through with no problems and it was interesting to watch.

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In Whitehall we tied up to the free town dock along with Looping friends Jackets II and 20 Buck$. We were right next to a large grassy area and it was easy to step right off the boat onto the concrete wall.  Too easy, in fact, because three times over the two days we were there, Joey and Bailey took themselves for walks to visit their friends on the other boats and some other passing dog-walkers.  And showed no remorse!

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Our cruising guides recommended a visit to the Skenesborough Museum – right next to our boats – to learn the story of the old town including its history as the “Birthplace of the U.S. Navy.” (America’s first warships were built and launched here in 1776.) We were disappointed to learn that we were a week early, as the museum is only open in the summer and wasn’t scheduled to open for another week yet.  But one of our fellow boaters happened to get into a conversation with one of the managers of the museum who said no worries, she would arrange for a volunteer to open it for us the next morning.  So eight of us had a private opening to view this fascinating little museum.  Where else would that happen?!

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Another big event in Whitehall was Ken from 20 Buck$ convincing us it was time to launch our dinghy. We hadn’t tried it yet since the installation of the new dinghy davits on the swim platform shortly before we left the Deltaville Boatyard. Ken was familiar with our set-up and was most helpful in showing us how to not only launch the dinghy but bring it back on board.  Craig went for a little spin around the harbor.  Next step is to get the dogs on board!

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Later in the morning, 20 Buck$ moved on as they needed to deliver visiting friends to an Amtrak station further ahead in Lake Champlain.  We joined Stephen and Charlotte from Jackets II for a walk up the hill to the old Skene Manor for an interesting tour and a pleasant lunch.  But again, so sad to see a town that was once so prosperous now struggling to preserve its history.



As we pulled out of Whitehall the next morning, we immediately went through Lock 12, the final lock on the canal, and entered the waters of Lake Champlain.  Initially, the lake is narrow and twisting and continues to look very much like a river.  Soon we passed Fort Ticonderoga – another key site in the Revolutionary War – and entered the wider and extremely beautiful sections of Lake Champlain.


Next up, our Lake Champlain stops of Westport, NY, Vergennes, VT and Burlington, VT, maybe our favorite parts of the trip so far!

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