Sunday, July 31, 2011

R.I.P. Rollie

Vergennes, VT
44 10.17 N 073 15.48 W

In 2005, our friends Rollie and Rosemary met us at the dock in Vergennes to go for a day sail. We had a great day.  The blog about it is here.   Today,we are back in the same spot, Vergennes and we received sad news.  Our lifetime friend Rollie Faulkner passed away.   We'll miss you Rollie.

Yesterday, we got to (a) Sail on the lake under full sail.  (b) See Mount Abrams, Camels Hump and Mount Mansfield, (c) anchor in Porter Bay.  Today we motored up Otter Creek, and now we're at the public dock in Vergennes.  What a rush, all those high points in one day.  Still remaining, Burlington, the main part of the lake, Valcour Island, and Willsboro to visit the deMellos.

Unfortunately, once again we are the only English speaking people here on the creek.  Eight other boats are tied up here, and all eight of them speak French.   Quebecers can be lovely people singly, but in a big group they are reluctant to break the ice and speak English.  When we try, the awkwardness of inadequate language skills usually makes it flop.

By the way, we encountered a flotilla of darling little steam boats coming down Otter Creek as we came up.  There must have been a steamboat festival that we missed.  Unfortunately, I only got a good picture of one of them.  Shades of The Arfican Queen.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sailboat Once Again

Chipman Point, VT
43 47.97 N 073 22.55 W

Libby is smiling.  Tarwathie is a sailboat once again.  See the picture.  I'm smiling too, but my wallet isn't.

We got the job done just in time.  A front passed, and NOAA was warning about severe thunderstorms (don't they always?)   Anyhow, it made me nervous.   Strong winds coming along at the delicate moments as we raised the mast would be very dangerous.

This time we completed the process almost without mishap.  Almost?  I lost a clevis pin overboard.  First time ever for that mistake.  I do have spares on board.    Also, something broke and fell in the water from the top end of the mast.  I heard the splash.  However, as far as I can see, nothing is missing.  The Windex, anemometer, VHF antenna, static dissipator and anchor light are all there.  (It's crowded up there.)

By the way, the final vote on the mast up poll was 30 for Libby and only 2 for me.  Thank you the 2.  I note though that even those 2 votes didn't appear until after I whined that the captain gets no respect.  Thanks again the 2.   For the 30, what is the emoticon for sticking one's tongue out?

There is a sailboat named Grace here.  The locals say that Grace spent several weeks in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon last winter.   I recall hearing a Vermont boat check in on the Cruisers Net.  I meant to seek out those people and to introduce myself, but I never did.  Too bad.

By the way, re my thinner wallet.  Chip is the guy at Chipman point who runs the place.  I learned from Chip that Point Bay Marina charges 3 times as much to raise the mast and that Shelburne Shipyard charges 5 times as much.    Ouch!

The above sign was seen in Whitehall, NY.  Considering the recent flooding, it should be revised to say No Snowmobiles or Sailboats ...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lenticular Clouds

Whitehall NY

See those clouds in the picture?  They are a sign that we yearn for all winter.   

You see, although we love the winter weather in Florida or the Bahamas, we really miss mountains.  When we lived near Burlington in the 1980s, I used to get an emotional high every morning when I saw the mountains while driving to work.   The best part was as I drove over the peak of the hill on Main Street.  From there I could see the lake below me, the Adirondack Mountains far to the West, and the Green Mountains back over my shoulder.

When we head south, as soon as we pass the George Washington Bridge the terrain becomes flat.  It stays monotonously flat all the way down to and including Key West.   The Calvert Cliffs in Virginia are the only sight resembling a hill that we we see from the water.

The clouds?   They are called lenticular clouds.  They are easy to spot because of their distinctive shape resembling a ground glass lens spherical on top and flat on the bottom. They form where the prevailing winds moves in up/down waves.  At the crest of the wave, air pressure gradients cause moisture to condense into a cloud that exactly marks the crest, and nothing around it.   Directly under or slightly upwind of every lenticular cloud is a mountain peak.  The mountains make the wind move up and down just like rocks on the bottom of shallow swift rivers can be spotted by standing waves.

When I learned to fly a glider in Vermont, I was warned to never go near a lenticular cloud.  It could be fatal.  A few years later I learned from an Argentinian friend that glider pilots in the Andes seek out lenticular clouds and head for them.  He said it was like being catapulted by a slingshot, and that he had reached altitudes of up to 30,000 feet that way.  I felt cheated.

Thus, lenticular clouds are markers of mountains that can be observed from several hundred miles away.  The picture above I took last June from down near Poughkeepsie, New York.  The clouds unmistakably mark the Berkshire or Green Mountains in northern Massachusetts or southern Vermont.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Depression then Elation

Saratoga, NY
42 57.97 N 073 37.86

A follow up to yesterday's story How Slow Can You Go?  Libby told me that while I was away from the boat snapping pictures for my slide show, a Google car came by and snapped our picture tied up against the wall.  How appalling!   I hate the idea of a proud cruising vessel like Tarwathie having a fixed association with any point on this planet.  It depresses me.  Anyhow, if and when they put that picture on Google Maps and/or Google Earth, look for us at 42 48.369 N 073 42.878 W  (Flightlock Road, Waterford, NY)

That was yesterday.  This morning is glorious.  The weather after passage of a cold front is often delightful.  There is no wind.  Therefore the Hudson River is like a huge reflecting pool.  Mist is rising from the water in the cool morning air.  It's all very beautiful.

Approaching Champlain Canal Lock 3 This Morning

Libby got glimpses of mountains to the east.  Those mountains are in Vermont and a sure sign that we are approaching Champlain.  I could almost see Libby's chest expand with elation.   Our friend Carolyn recently said, :"You LOVE that lake."   She's right.   We do love that lake and it raises our spirits just to approach it.

By the way.  It's about time for me to throw in the towel about raising the mast.  The poll came it at 30-2 against me.  Worse, until I whined on this blog about the captain getting no respect it was 26-0.   Oh well.  We'll do it.  I would like to do it this Friday at Chipman Point.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How Slow Can You Go?

Waterford, NY
42 47.20 N 073 40.73 W

Last night when Roger and Carolyn brought us back to Lock 7, there was a big blue tug boat going through the lock.   As the opened the lock on the far end I could see a barge sitting waiting for the tug.  I didn't think much about it but I should have.

This morning the tug and barge left about 30 minutes before we did.  We still didn't think much about it.

Around 0900 we arrived at Lock 6, the top of the flight of 5 consecutive locks that let you down the hill the last 2 miles to Waterford.  The tug and barge were just entering.  Uh oh.  It finally dawned on me.  We would have to follow that rig all the way down and it might be slow.

I had no idea how slow it could be.  It took us 8.5 hours to move that last 2 miles.  That's about the slowest we've ever moved.

The problem was that the barge was so big that it barely fit in the locks.  The tug would push the barge into the lock, then disconnect and back the tug out.  The barge would descend in the lock on its own.  At the bottom they had to use the locks' built-in motorized capstans to pull the barge out.  Then the lock had to be refilled, and the tug lowered.  Then the tug would reattach to the barge and push it to the next lock.  This whole procedure took 90-100 minutes per lock and we were stuck behind them the whole way.  If only we got up earlier this morning!

Anyhow, I got a great set of pictures of the locking procedure for this mamouth rig.  See the slide show here.

Also neat, the tug Cheyenne has a pilot house that can raise or lower itselt.  It lowers to pass under low bridges and raises to allow the helmsman to see over the top of of the barge they're pushing.  They used compressed air to raise it.  It's quite a sight and it's visible in my slide show.

Erie Canal Summary

Colonie, NY
42 47.11 N 073 47.47 W

We have been very busy.   Dinner with Nancy and Bud, then a day's outing with my sister Marilyn, then dinner last night with Carolyn and Roger.   Carolyn and Roger were especially nice.  Then insisted on treating us to dinner to celebrate our 46th anniversary.   I think that's the end of it for a while.  No more social whirl until we arrive in Burlington to see Jenny.

This is a good time to summarize our Erie Canal side trip.   It took about a month to go from Albany to Buffalo and back.   We traveled a total of 604 canal miles, and 64 locks.  We used 60 gallons of diesel fuel.  Next we have 61 miles of Champlain Canal and 10 more locks to go to reach Champlain.

I think Libby and I both agree that it was one of the most fun trips we've ever done.   I would not hesitate to recommend this trip to any cruiser.  My only advice is to allow time to go slowly.  There's lots to see and do.   We have not used our anchor since leaving the Hudson river.   Where else can you go where they offer:

  • Free dock every night.  25 of the past 30 nights we had free electricity.  We have also enjoyed free water, toilets, showers, laundry, loaner bicycles, advice, directions, and WIFI Internet.  That is really unbeatable.
  • Safety and shelter from passing thunderstorms.
  • Three places where one can do major provisioning at supermarkets within easy walking distance.
  • All this in exchange for a $75 season permit to use the canal.  That's less than $1 per locking for us. In this era of tax cuts and higher fees for everything, this has to be one of the greatest bargains still available.   By the way, The NY Canal Corporation employees are almost all very friendly and helpful.
As our readers know, we have the extra benefit of having many friends and relatives in this area so we benefited greatly from the contacts.    However, for cruisers without so many local friends, here are the top ten high points (starting with the best)

  1. The city of Newark.  We found that place to be not too big, nor too small, very friendly.  In the words of Goldilocks, "just right."
  2. The Mormon Pageant near Palmyra.   In one word: WOW!
  3. The railroad museum in Medina.
  4. The four historical museums in Palmyra.
  5. The Arkell museum in Canajoharie.
  6. The concerts on the lawn at Lock 20 and in Newark.
  7. The beauty of the Mohawk River Valley east of Little Falls
  8. The beauty of the fields and terrain west of Rochester
  9. The history of Fort Plain and Little Falls
  10. The rural beauty and pastoral quiet for overnight stops at locks 7, 15, 20, 21, 25, and at Holley.
The worst things?  Rude and dangerous boaters on Oneida Lake and on the canal both east and west of Oneida Lake.  Next worse: The inability to visit our home towns of Schenectady and Scotia.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

More of Libby/s Craft

Amsterdam, NY
42 56.88 N 074 12.71 W

Below is Libby's latest. This one was converted to a bread tray by putting a piece of cork tile in the bottom. It is also unique in that it is the one and only Libby basket with the stitches upside down. That ought to make it collectible some day.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 22, 2011

Receive This Blog Via Email

Fort Johnson, NY
42 57.21 N 074 14.57 W

I added a new gadget to this blog.  Look at the Follow by Email box in the right column.   You can enter your email address there and then receive new posts via email without visiting this web site.

Why would you want to do that?  You may find it convenient. The firewall at work may block access to this blog totally or partially.   It's your choice.

Caution: Some email clients may not show the picture in blog posts.

p.s. We're almost in Amsterdam.  There we'll pick up a car for the weekend.   Probably no new blog posts until Monday evening.

p.p.s. I use Google Reader to follow other blogs.  It lets me subscribe to any number of blogs and/or podcasts.  Every day it provides an aggregate list of new posts from all subscribed blogs and podcasts.   Most prolific of those I follow are the WSJ law blog, and the Supreme Court blog.  I like to read about the issues they discuss.  Sometimes it is quite jolting to read through a series of 20 Supreme Court posts and find one in the middle with the title "Inlet" by George and Carol on Traumeri.  It startles me; "What does the Supreme Court have to do with Inlet?"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

No Respect

Canajoharie, NY
42 54.56 N 074 34.21 W

One would think that the captain of such an august vessel would deserve some respect.  But no. The poll results so far is 21 votes for Libby and 0 for the captain.  As the Aussies say; bugger.

Tips on how to beat the heat while cruising seem apropos today.  Here's what we have been doing.
  • While under way, the helmsman stays under protection of the bimini all the time.   Pity the prior owners of Tarwathie, they had no bimini.

  • The boat has considerable thermal inertia.  Even on the hottest day it stays cooler in  the cabin until about 1500.  But then it remains too hot until 2300 at night.  By the way, thank God it does cool at night around here.  We have no trouble sleeping.

  • I tried wetting down the decks and hull hoping to cool down the walls.  It has no noticeable effect.  I think we would need continue the wet down for an hour or more to make a difference.

  • We use muffin fans in the cabin and point them directly at our heads.

  • Drink lots of fluids

  • Yesterday I bought a package of Popsicle twin pops.  Eating half a pop every hour or so during the day is a great pick up.

  • (See the picture)  We have a battery operated gadget that lets you spray water mist on yourself as you hold a fan.  Directed at the head and the back of the neck it works well.

  • I have a floppy hat with a wide brim to keep the sun off.  On the hot days I put the hat on the end of a boat hook and dunk it in the river.  Then I put it on my head soaking wet.  That feels really good.

  • Seek shelter when possible.   Lounging in an air conditioned library, or a store is a great strategy.   Failing that, go for the shade of a grove of trees near the water.

  • Avoid the hottest hours.  Travel from 0600-1200 is more comfortable than 1200-1800.  We can also take evening walks and sit outside to vacate the boat after dinner until bed time.   The only trouble with that is the mosquito hour around sunset.   We've been using lots of bug spray this week.

  • Go jump in the lake (or the river).   Where the water is clean, cool, and free of nasty creatures, taking a plunge is what I call "instant attitude adjustment"    The Chesapeake Bay is full of sea nettles, the man-made sections of the Erie Canal have dirty water, the Mohawk and Hudson rivers are OK, Lake Champlain waters are perfect for swimming.
Along those lines, we rented a car for Friday-Monday.  We're going to take Marilyn out for a day.  We'll also have more ways to seek air conditioned spaces.   We'll pick up the car in Amsterdam (18 miles from here) noon on Friday.   Rather than travel there today to bake at Lock 11 where there is no shade and no library, we're going to stay here in Canajoharie all day.  There is a wonderful Arkell Museum and Library here.  We can while away the day there, get up early on Friday and travel 18 miles plus two locks to Amsterdam in the early hours.

  • Most important, seek the proper latitude. Migrate! With her heavy displacement, much of the hull in a W32 is under water.  Ambient water temperature has a major influence on comfort in the cabin. Below are some rough numbers for the USA East Coast. Temperatures in degrees F

 Latitude Place Summer water temp Winter water temp
47 Halifax, Nova Scotia 50 33
45 Penobscot Bay, Maine 60 36
45 Lake Champlain, Vermont 70 frozen
42 Erie Canal, New York  80 frozen
38Chesapeake Bay, Maryland 80 35
25 Florida 90 75

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hot Hot Hot

Marcy, NY
43 06.58 N 075 12.99 W

Last night we stayed at Lock 20 in Marcy.  It is a nice pastoral place surrounded by a park full of people having fun.  Good formula for nice, right?  It was hot though.   The Midwestern heat wave is touching us.  Tomorrow the temperature may exceed 100F (38C).

On days like that, the boat cabin becomes very uncomfortable by late afternoon.   Our fans help a little, but none of them bring in cool evening air.  Therefore, it isn't until midnight until the cabin cools off.   The easiest remedy for that is to sit outside until midnight.  But that means braving the mosquitoes that become ravenous around sunset.  Oh well, it could be worse.  The water temperature here is about 75F.  I just heard from a W32 in Florida that the water temperature there is close to 90F.  That would make it still worse.  It would almost be as bad as sitting in the hot seat that Rupert Murdoch had in London yesterday :)

This morning Sara and Steven came to the boat to deliver a package for us and to have some of grandma's famous french toast for breakfast.   That was nice.  We couldn't convince them to ride on the boat with us however.

So, we're pushing East.  Our plan it to make it to Amsterdam by Friday  morning.  There we'll rent a car for the weekend and take my sister Marilyn for a day outing.  After that, by mid week next week we'll be on Champlain :)

Libby and I are in the midst of a struggle over the Champlain part.   I'm of the opinion that our time there will be so short (only 5 weeks) that it isn't worth the $250 fees and the trouble to put the mast up.   Libby is of the opposite inclination.   Blog readers should start a pool betting on who wins this argument.   Wait, there is a way -- sort of.  I just put a poll question on the upper right.  You can vote there for whomever you think will win.   The poll closes one week from today.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Odd Bridges

Oneida Lake
43 12.33 N 076 05.36 W

We're heading east and north for Lake Champlain. Looking back on the past few weeks here are a few things we observed.

One of the oddities around here are the quaint lift bridges over the canal.   The bridge below is in Fairport.  One side is higher than the other and tilts at a different angle, and it crosses the water at an angle.  In the structure, there are no right angles and no two pieces the same size and shape.  The lifting mechanism uses a motor mounted on the bottom of the bridge and a complex series of pulleys and bicycle-type chains. That bridge is listed in Ripley's Believe it or Not 16 times.  It must have been a nightmare to design and build 100 years ago.  The engineer who designed it was no-doubt alternately praised as a genius and cursed as an idiot.  Nevertheless now 100+ years old, the bridge appears to be in excellent shape and it works smoothly.

Look closely at the other lift bridges below.  Notice the stairways that go to nowhere?   The designers of those bridges were so thoughtful that they provide ways for pedestrians to walk across with the bridge raised or lowered.  
Bridge down, stairway to nowhere.

Bridge up, stairs align.

Why so many lift bridges here but none on the eastern Erie Canal?  Because this area is flat.  On the Eastern end the countyr is hilly and there there is a lock every 5-6 miles.  On the western end it is flat.  We are on a stretch of canal 60 miles long with no locks.  It stands to reason that when the canal was built, each town needed a bridge.   Lift bridges were probably cheaper than elevated bridges.

Below is a sign telling of a bridge-related calamity in Albion, NY.  I never heard of the Albion calamity before.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sunday Drivers

The Erie Canal
43 08.47 N 076 18.54 W

On the highway the term Sunday drivers is used to mean those people who drive too slowly, enjoying the view, as they block those them.  On the water, I use the term to describe people who drive too fast and who don't know (or don't care) about their wakes.

Every boat leaves a series of waves trailing behind it called a wake.   Typically sailboats leave little or no wake.  Also, typically small high-speed motorboats that are able to plane leave little or no wake.   Bass boats that skim over the water at 50 mph seem to fly, and hardly cause a ripple.   The big problem comes from big and power boats too heavy to plane.

The size of a wake depends on the weight and speed of the power boat, and most-important its distance.  On a big lake, if the power boat can stay several hundred yards away from other boats, their big wakes don't cause problems.   However, in a narrow channel where boats are forced to come close to each other, problems caused by big wakes are greatly magnified.

Big wakes regularly cause much damage and injury.  Our cruising friend Charley was severely injured last year by a wake on Chesapeake Bay.   Tarwathie almost lost her mast last month when she was assaulted by a monster wake on Oneida Lake.  

The good news is that most boaters are aware of the problem and they act with consideration.  i.e. they slow down when passing places where their wakes will disturb.  Most important, the closer they pass, the slower they go.  In a narrow channel, if they are less than one boat length away, the only safe way is to put the engine in idle and glide past other boats.  

The bad news is that weekends and holidays bring out hoards of less experienced boaters who don't know or don't care about their wakes.   They love to go fast, and they resent the need to slow down so often to reduce their wake.   They also seem to be deaf when I call on the VHF radio to yell SLOW DOWN!  Most telling, they never look behind them to see the effect of their wake on others.   Charitable people will say it is a matter of ignorance.   Others say that they don't look back deliberately to avoid bad conscience.

Anyhow, to people like Libby and I who are on the water every day, the difference between week days and weekend days is unfortunately obvious.  When possible, we prefer to lay up on holidays in some out of the way place and leave the water to others.

But wait!  Power boaters aren't the only problem.  One day on Otter Creek in Vermont I noticed some people on kayaks gesturing vigorously at me to slow down.  Huh?  Tarwathie doesn't make any significant wake, not enough to bother a kayak, didn't those people know that?  Then it dawned on me.  No they didn't know.  I was scaring them.  I learned a lesson that day.  I need to avoid scaring other people, even if their fears are groundless.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Heading East on the Erie Canal
43 05.02 N 076 52.81 W

Reluctantly, we left Newark this morning. We sure enjoyed this place. If it weren't for winter, it would be a place we would like to stay at for 6 months or more. Best of all were the many outgoing people we got to know in a short time.

In addition to the friendly boaters Jack and Dick, we got to know the people from the Chamber of Commerce who serve as dock masters. Also, Bill from Bill's Classic Bikes who gave me a new tube for my bicycle tire. Bill also showed me his classic bike collection and classic car collection. He and I reminisced about how difficult and unsafe it was to drive the cars from the early 1950s. They didn't steer well and they didn't stop well; both pretty basic things.

Near the docks is Tiki Putt. Tiki Putt is a miniature golf/course and ice cream stand near the canal. We went there every night for a (colossal) ice cream cone. We also got to know the delightful family who run it.

Then, three were the people who run the Friday night concerts. The staff at the Newark Library. The man who tends and mends the clocks at the clock museum (he reminds us of my father Jerry). The staff at the Wegmans store where we bought dinner. And the numerous locals who stopped by the docks to ask about us and our life on the boat.

The boating life and village life go together. River walks promote making friends. How is that? BY getting people outside of their houses and their cars in a setting that promotes casual conversations. I recall living in West Charlton just before our cruising life. It wasn't until I joined the fire department that we really started making friends there. Why? Because most of the time people are inside, or driving their cars. Knocking on a stranger's door to introduce yourself is considered intrusive in American society, so it normally isn't done. Village life, and the old-fashioned style of families sitting out on their porches while other families take evening strolls is much more conducive to making friends. I suppose that going to the local church on Sunday is another way, but we are excluded from that because we're not religious. I suppose also that hanging around the local bar is another great social lubricant, but we don't do that either.

All that aside, there is still a quality and an atmosphere impossible to define that makes some places friendlier than others. Fairport, NY, for example, seems to offer every bit as much opportunity and amenities as Newark, but for some reason the social dynamics there didn't work as well. I can't explain it, just observe it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More from Libby

Newark, NY
43 02.93 N 077 05.60 W

The one on the left usea s sea bean for the center. Sometimes the baskets make better gifts when left unfinished with needles sticking out. It illustrates the method.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Headless Boatman

Newark, NY
43 02.93 N 077 05.60 W
One man says to another, "I'm having an attack of Alzheimer's and Deja Vu at the same time."  "What do you mean," said the other?    "I think I remember forgetting this before."

Last night we had no head on board the boat.  We were headless.   (Head = toilet in nautical terms).  How was that?

Our head has a lever to pump out black water, and a foot pedal to let in white water.   It is a massively solid  and functional bronze head called The Skipper by Wilcox and Crittendon.  A few weeks ago, we suffered a whoops when the bowl filled with fresh water when nobody was around.  Uh oh, a valve leaking somewhere. I have a sea cock and also a second valve to shut off flow of white water to the head, so we shut off the valve for a day.  The problem went away.  I attributed it to a flake of sale and/or lime that jammed in the valve.

The problem came back.  This time it happened at night and it almost sunk the boat.  Not really sunk, but the water in the bilge filled up almost to the floor boards of the main cabin.  A big whoops  (The automatic bilge pump was also broken.)  We turned of the valve once again until we could overhaul the toilet.

I still attributed the problem to salt build up.   You see we are supposed to put vinegar down the head once per week to dissolve salt.  But that's a chore we often forget.  I thought that our negligence with the vinegar caused the problem.

On the way west on the canal, we tied up at Newark, just feet away from a bathroom and toilet.  Great time for a head overhaul I thought, so I did.  I completely removed the head, and put it on the dock.  Then I took it apart, and used a scraper and a bucket of hydrochloric acid to clean away the salt.  Funny, there wasn't as much salt as I expected.

I put everything back together and re-installed the head, but "Oh No" the leak problem continued.  We shut the valve once again, vowing to fix it later.

Wednesday, we were back in Newark once again so I set out to repair the leak.  But how?  Why was it leaking?   All the internal parts were in nearly new condition.  There was no more salt.  I wasn't entirely clear as to how the white water valve worked in the first place.   As I stared at the mechanism, I spied the tip of a bronze part a tad shinier than the rest.  That triggered an old memory,  "I had fixed that exact problem once before many years ago.  I think I even wrote a blog about it."

The problem was two brass fingers which press against a rubber & steel flapper.  That formed the valve, and the fingers had worn down over the years.   My previous fix was to put a drop of JB Weld on the end of each finger.  That lasted for 5-6 years, but now it was gone.  I got out the JB Weld, and did it again.  This time I also put drops on the steel parts of the flapper.  I gave it all 24 hours to cure (hence headless overnight.)  Today I put it all back together and brought the head back on board.  It worked!

Now for the 64 dollar question.  If it leaks again six years from now, will I be smart enough to know how to fix it?  Maybe I should just start mentioning all the minor breakdowns and let blog readers tell me how to fix them.  Is that a :-) or a ;-) ?

p.s. I also fixed the bilge pump, a cabin fan, and a flat tire on my bicycle today, so I guess the title should be "fix-it day."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Hill Cumorah Pageant

Palmyra, NY
43 04.01 N 077 13.54 W

What a nice experience.  What a unique experience.   We are very fortunate to have had the chance to connect with this event.   If any of you get the chance to see this pageant in future years, take it. Don't worry about your own religion, you won't be offended, it is free, you will not be proselytized. 

Our host, Sherman, drove us down there a bit early, two hours before the show started.  That was wise.  In those two hours both Libby and I had a great time circulating, meeting people, and talking with the pageant cast of 700 dressed in costume.   Of all the Mormons we've met over the years in different circumstances, the overwhelming impression that stands out is that they are nice people; friendly, and decent, people who make fine friends and neighbors. No doubt, they were on their best behavior last night, but they seem to be on best behavior almost all the time.

At sunset, the pageant began.  It is hard to describe it in words.  We sat outside, several hundred yards away.  On the side of the hill in front of us, the players acted out the script.  Miraculously, the lights and sound system let us see and hear perfectly, as if we were in a small intimate theater.  The show is also enhanced with amazing special effects done with lights, water and fire.  All I can say is that we were amazed and delighted by the production.

The subject of the pageant is the Mormon view of their own religious history as told in the Book of Mormon.   They are Christians of Jewish heritage, but like the New Testament, and the Koran, they believe in the Book of Mormon as a supplement to the story.   Libby and I are non-religious, but that doesn't mean that we don't enjoy stories from the Bible and these from the Book of Mormon.

One thing surprised us completely -- protesters.   On the road approaching the pageant were groups of protesters carrying signs and screaming about how terrible Mormons are.  As we left at the end of the pageant we could hear one of them with a giant bullhorn screaming in his rage.   Lots of police were there to make sure the protesting was done legally.  Still it was shocking.  If some group staged a similarly hateful demonstration against Islam at ground zero, the whole country would be aroused in anger.   The Mormons though, just shrugged their shoulders.  It seemed that they were used to it and resigned to it.

By the way, it turns out that the New York Times was also at the pageant.  Their story is on the front page of the NYT Wednesday.  I read it and I think their story was snotty and that the only reason the NYT was there was because a Mormon is a Republican candidate for President, and the NYT sought ammunition to look down their noses at him and his culture.  Shameful.

You can see my slideshow of the pageant here.   Unfortunately, my camera is inadequate for after dark pictures.  Look here or here to see some better images.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Palmyra, NY
43 04.01 N 077 13.54 W

This morning we encountered hoards of bicyclers.  There are 500 of them. They are riding 400 miles on the Cycling The Erie Canal Bike Tour.   We exchanged waves and greetings  The best part is that they led us to a delightful stop here in Palmyra.

For some reason I had the false idea that Palmyra was a rural crossroads with nothing.  How wrong I was.  We went ashore and started walking up the street.  Along came a group of the bicyclers led by a dynamo woman named Diana.  Diana said, "Hey! Are you two looking for the museums?  Follow me."   We did and boy were we glad.   Diana took us on a tour of the old Phelps General Store.

Wow what an experience.  Once again we felt that we were transported back to the 19th century.  This was no artificial reproduction, as found in today's big city museum.  This was reality.  Here's how it is described on the web site.

The museum "where time stands still," has served the needs of Palmyrans and Erie "Canawlers" as a boarding house, tavern, bakery, and general store since its construction in 1826. Proprietor William Phelps completed renovations to the store by 1875, subsequently left untouched by his son Julius, who locked the doors in 1940, leaving a curious retail time capsule for you and your family to explore. Upstairs you’ll visit the elegant Phelps’ family home with post-Civil War furnishings and Victorian splendor, unspoiled by electricity or indoor plumbing, where Sibyl Phelps resided until her passing in 1976! The haunting presence of the Phelps’ 108 year legacy remains to this day.

I felt that Sibyl Phelps must have been one of our relatives.  Not true, but it could have been.  Because of the peculiar life style of this family, the 19th century remained alive and kicking until 1976.  Therefore, what is left for us to view today (after great labors by Palmyra volunteer restoration workers) is much fresher and more authentic than anything else we've seen.   

It reminded me greatly of my Aunt Matt and Uncle Duck.  Have I ever blogged about them?

Next we moved on to the Print Shop Museum, the Palmyra Historical Museum and the Alling Coverlet and Quilt Museum.  Wow, a quadruple whammy of great places.   

Since our tours were guided, I could not take as many pictures as I did in the Medina RR Museum.  Also, I used up the lithium batteries in our camera the other day.  Still I managed to get some pictures with the Droid   To see the slide show, look here.

We also learned a lot of history.   It is much more than a canal town and the home of Joseph Smith when he founded the Mormon religion.   Palmyra has a long, varied and rich history.  I had no idea.   Libby recognized one family name.   Leonard and Clarissa Jerome were Palmyrans and the grandparents of Winston Churchill.   Libby remembers Jenny Jerome from our high school days who was a descendant of that family.

Still more good things today.  After the museums, we went to "The Publication Site."  That is where The Book of Mormon was first published.  They have a book store there and a visitor's center where great numbers of Mormons come to visit every day.  We went in the book store and said that we were visiting by boat, and that we would like to see the pageant tonight, and was there some way we could get a ride to Hill Cumorah, 8 miles away.  A man overheard us.  He was Lt. Col. Sherman L. Fleek, Command Historian, US Military Academy, West Point.   The colonel was an author there for a book signing.   He said that he too wanted to see the pageant and offered to drive us there tonight.  Oh boy.  I"l blog about the pageant tomorrow.

Libby's Latest

Palmyra, NY

She's getting more inventive.   Last winter I bought her two huge gourds for crafts.  She cut one in half and used the top part to make this hanging planter for Cheryl.   I think it's cute.

How Flat I Am.

On Sunday we traveled an extrodinary section of the canal. It goes 69 miles between locks. As we travel, I've been thinking about how extraordinarily flat that is.

On the highway we measure angle by percent grade. A 10% grade is considered a steep hill. How flat is the canal in percent? Well, there are no tides and little current, so the surface of the water is exactly flat (neglecting curvature of the earth.) The depth of the water we monitor on the depth sounder, I'm sure it varies no more than a foot along the length. Say two feet to be generous. Well, 69 miles is 364,320 feet. 2 feet of 364,320 is a 0.0005 % grade. That's really flat.

But the canal is man made. What about the surrounding terrain? We can observe that part of the time we are roughly level with the surroundings, sometimes below, and sometimes above. Indeed, there are many places where we look down on fields of crops, and a few places where we look down on the roofs of houses near the canal. I estimate that the surrounding terrain varies 30 feet above and below the elevation of the water. That means the average flatness of of the land is about 0.016 % grade. That's still amazingly flat. If we look locally rather than on average, there are slopes up to about a 3 % grade. Thus local/average variation is about 180/1.  (I presume there is a civil engineering quantitative definition of flatness.  I looked but I didn't find it.  Perhaps some reader will provide it.)

Those numbers are impressive. Everything is naturally very flat around here. Does that mean making the canal was easy? Hardly. There are long stretches where the canal sits high above the surroundings. The embankments containing the canal are made of soil and rocks that had to be hauled in from many miles away. In several places the embankments are so high that the local highways go under the canal. It was a really massive engineering job. Think of the primitive tools and transportation they had for the original canal. It is instructive that the canal was improved and widened three times in it's history. That suggests that as the technology of earth moving increased gradually, the size of the canal kept increasing accordingly. That lasted until the railroads, and later the highways, captured the market for freight and the canal became obsolete for commercial use.

Today, we are treated like kings on the Erie Canal. I'm sure that NY Canal Corporation employees know that they owe their jobs to recreational boaters, so they treat us well. By contrast, the Saint Lawrence Seaway is for commercial traffic and we were treated shabbily when we traversed it. Fortunately for us boaters, the canal's budget falls under the NY Thruway Authority. It is financed by road tolls and not taxes. That makes it less threatened in this era of cut backs.

By the way, east of this flat stretch is a section of the canal 70 feet higher than the surrounding terrain. That makes for really big embankments. I wonder how insecure it feels to live in one of those houses at the base of the embankment.  The Erie canal has a long and notorious history of blowouts and breaks.  In one, a canal packet boat was carried several miles from the canal by the flood and found stuck 19 feet above the ground in a tree.

p.s. Not every city tickles our fancy.  On the way west, we skipped Pittsford and Brockport.  On the return trip we stopped at both of those places for lunch and to see if we might like to stay overnight.  In both cases, it took us only 20 minutes to decide "No" and to move on.   Pittsford had a Starbucks which David would like, but it also had a big Birkenstock banner hanging by the canal, that should have tipped me off.   Today we're going to lunch in Palmyra, another place we skipped on the westward jaunt.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Mulberry Caper

Spencerport, NY
43 12.00 N 077 48.10 W

The other day we saw some joggers on the path they appeared to be jumping up to catch branches on a tree and greedily eating berries they picked.  Berries from a 60 foot tree?  That's not what we're used to.  Anyhow, this morning Libby and I stopped along that same stretch, we hunted down and found that tree.  We too jumped up and caught berries.  They looked like blackberries.  We ate some.  Yummy, very sweet very good.  But what kind of berries are they.

Back on the boat, I did a little Internet research and found the answer -- mulberries.  According to the wikipedia article this must have been a granddaddy mulberry tree because the article says they get up to 49 feet tall.  It says that they are the national berry of Austrailia.  The Red Mulberry is native to eastern North America.

Libby attacks the tree with a boat hook and a bowl.

The price.  My purple hand.

The prize.  Yummy.

p.s. We are heading East again.  Looking at our Skipper Bob guide, the remaining stops, Lockport and Tonawanda both sound like dreary urban settings.  That's not appealing to us.   We don't get points for traveling far, only for having fun.

So how far West did we go?  It surprised me when I looked it up.  78 degrees west is a line of longitude that goes through Medina and also Wrightsville Beach, NC.   It is so easy, and wrong, to think of our migration up/down the coast as being just north/south.  In reality it is Northeast/Southwest.  Thus, this canal doesn't go very far West after all.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Best For Last

Medina, NY
43 13.28 N 078 23.15 W

It seemed as if we were running out of fun on the Erie.  Albion and Medina, our last two stops were much less fun and welcoming than we've seen in a while.   Also, the canal itself is monotonous in this region.   There was only one attraction left -- the Medina Railroad Museum which we heard was nice.    Boy what an understatement that was!   We spent three hours in the RR museum today and we were enchanted.  I say without reservation, "Aside from the Smithsonian Museums in DC, this is the best and most fun museum I've ever seen."

The museum is chock full with more than 6,000 artifacts on display.  That's how I think a museum should be.  I really don't like the modern museum style with maybe 60 artifacts on display and 120 plastic storyboards.

This RR museum should be fun for everyone.  Especially, engineers,  train buffs, toy lovers, firefighters, mechanics, culture students, historians, boys, men.  Oh heck, not especially any one, bur rather everyone.

What is in there?  Around the outside walls are artifacts of railroad life, equipment and culture.  Things for the builders, the workers, the customers and the passengers.   More: there are lots of antique toys and models of cars, trucks, boats and planes.  Still more: there is a huge collection of helmets from various fire companies, plus an extensive collection of fire fighting equipment.    In the center of the  room is the largest miniature model railroad layout I've ever heard of.  It is jam filled with marvelous tiny details of all aspects of life in that era.  Just the miniatures alone are a great culture study.

We went wild taking pictures in there.  I'll show just one of them below, but click here to see our slide show.  It is 193 pictures long, but I promise it is entertaining.  

I can't help lay favorable words on this place.   Libby agrees.    If this museum visit was the one and only thing we did on this 300-mile one-month side trip, it was worth the entire trip.   I recommend it for anyone else who has the opportunity to visit, and who has an appreciation for the culture and the technology of recent centuries.

Still more.  Talking to the museum's creator, Martin Phelps, we learned that there are still whole barns full of artifacts not yet on display and that the museum is in the process of acquiring more land and more buildings in which to display them.  That means in future years it will be even better.  Therefore, we have a ready made excuse to repeat this Erie Canal trip just to revisit this museum.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Great Americana

Albion, NY

God it's nice around here.  We love rural beauty and we love small village life.  There's lots of both around here.  Have a look at some of the following pictures of great Americana see just today.

It is also 99 and 44/100th percent pure.

We had lunch at the base of this waterfall.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Plethora of Choices

Spencerport, NY
43 12.00 N 077 48.10 W

We're a bit overwhelmed.   Even though we have a lot of time, and we're trying to kill time, there are so many very nice villages on the Western Half of this canal we can't stop to see them all.

Tonight we are in Spencerport.  Last night we stayed in Fairport.  Both are excellent places.  Still today we bypassed Busnell's Basin and Pittsford, both of which also sound like excellent places.   Every place has free docks, power, water and showers -- all the amenities of fee-collection marinas.

Tomorrow night is the Hill Cumorah Pagent telling the story of the Mormon Religion.  However, I looked it up on the map, it is 8 miles south of the canal.  I have no idea how to get there so we'll reluctantly pass up that opportunity too.

In 10 days there will be an air show in Rochester with the Blue Angels.  I really love that.  The canal passes right by the end of the runway so we may be able to get a front row seat right from Tarwathie.   All we have to do is to be in the right place on July 16-17.

It is also a mystery why the towns and cities along the canal West of Syracuse seem to be much wealthier than those East of Syracuse.  Instead of rust-belt ghost towns, we find thriving affluent communities.  Why?  Perhaps this area is not part of the rust belt.  Nevertheless, this area did absorb the double whammy of the declining fortunes of Kodak and Xerox.

Al, the bridge tender here in Spencerport used to be an operator at one of the Kodak in-house power plants.  Boy that was ancient technology, and 19th century industrial philosophy that built up their factories into self sufficient cities.  I worked once at General Electric in Schenectady which was like that and also at ASEA in Vasteras which was also like that.  Therefore, even though I've always chased the cutting edge of high tech, I have a soft spot in my heart for the 19th century style of doing it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Cruising Naked

Erie Canal
43 02.97 N 077 07.11 W

Yeah, I know.  When the search engine spiders discover the title of this post, the hits on this page will soar.  It's not what you think though.  You'll see no naked pictures of Libby or I here.  Too bad.

Instead, I want to call attention to the fact that for the first time ever we are cruising unknown waters with no paper charts and no electronic charts.

Oh no, what will we do without charts?  Well the reason that we have no charts is that none are published for this stretch of canal, neither on paper nor electronically.   I presume that the reason none are published is that they are not needed.  Navigation?  Just head west or east and stay in the water in between the two banks.  It is almost, but not quite, to the point where steering is unnecessary --  just let go of the tiller and let the boat bounce from side to side.  That's how they used to do it on the canals in England.   What about the red and green buoys to warn us about shallows?  None.  So, it feels very odd indeed to have no charts, but we'll do OK.

In the past two days we stopped at Lyons for lunch at at Newark for a 36 hour stay.   We've heard that towns in the western half of the Erie are outgoing in their hospitality and free services for boaters. Newark set a new high standard.  Top quality free docks, water, power, very nice showers, a free laundry, and the strongest WiFi signal my computer every saw.   Wow.   The majority of paid marinas have a hard time matching those amenities.  It bodes well for the next few weeks.

We were delighted to find that Newark has a Wegmans grocery story.  The  Wegmans chain is legendary for being one of the best grocery chains anywhere.   They have wonderful stuff, a nice in-house restaurant, and great customer service.  We expected high prices in return for luxury shopping, but we were surprised to find their prices significantly lower than we're used to paying.  No wonder people love Wegmans so much.

Last night we went to a mini-golf place just 200 yards from the docks.  It was recommended by the dock master.   I bought an ice cream sandwich and Libby bought a small ice cream cone.  Both were enormous.  Libby's small cone was so big, they had to give her a side dish for the excess ice cream.   Who says that small town America is dead?  It thrives and we love it.

Today we enter a 100 mile stretch of the Erie about which Skipper Bob says: most closely resembles the original Erie Canal as a ditch dug through the landscape with a towpath on both sides.  Today, the western portion of the canal has more dockage points ... than the eastern 246 miles.  Get used to going slow, stopping often, taking in sights, and seeing joggers, walkers and bicyclers ... "  Sounds great to us.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Terrible Trestles, Towering Thermals and More

The Erie Canal, Near Clay NY
43 04.48 N 076 51.61 W

I'm lazy.  My least favorite chore on the boat is actually steering it.  Therefore, even on the canal I like to use the electronic tiller pilot.  (Libby doesn't).   Most of the time it works fine, but I found an exception.  The NY canals are crossed by hundreds of highway bridges and railroad trestles.  Most of them are only 15-20 feet above the water.  The problem is that many of the older ones have become magnetized.  When we pass under a magnetized bridge the tiller pilot goes crazy.  I have to grab control immediately to keep it from steering us up onto the bank.
A Terrible Trestle 
Actually, the magnetized bridges excite the engineer in me.  Our Ritchie card compass sees almost no deviation because of the bridges while the flux gate electronic compass does.  Why is that?  Well, using the Tricorder app in my Driod I can monitor the magnetic field in three directions.  I see that the biggest disturbance is in the Z axis,  normal to the surface.   I hypothesize two things.  (1) The card compass is better designed to be sensitive to the horizontal component of the magnetic field. (2) The flux gate is tiny.  It works on small signals and it is more sensitive to noise.     By the way, using the Tricorder I am able to see that these bridges leave a magnetic shadow extending a hundred meters or so.

Every day and night we note sights and sounds that remind us that we are in the Northeast, not the Southeast.   Yesterday I watched as thermal bubbles lifting from the ground create and grow spectacular cumulus clouds.   Back when I was flying gliders, that was a sign of a splendid soaring day.

On the ground we hear crickets at night; sometimes peepers.  Yesterday I heard the annoying sound of a flock of crows.  Been a long time since I heard that.   The air at this time of year is filled with cotton-like wisps that float around.   Is that cottonwood trees?  We forget.  I'll bet some blog reader will tell us.  Later in the season we'll see the one-winged helicopter seeds falling from maple trees.   

This morning we saw a stand of magnificent reeds in the Montezuma swamp.  They were 8.5 feet tall.  I can't recall ever seeing such tall and proud reeds before.   Montezuma, is one of four swamps we cruise through.  The others are the Pee Dee Swamp, The Everglades and (well known to blog readers) The Great Dismal Swamp.

I'm afraid that the Montezuma Swamp is no longer as extensive as we imagine.  It is subject to the veneer effect in the extreme.  Last night we stayed in a lovely natural setting at lock 25.  We tied up in the cool shade of the bridge on a warm afternoon.  I checked it with Google Earth.  From the two pictures you can see the contrast between the canal environment and the surroundings.  The first picture zooms in and the second zooms out. Sigh, once again we see evidence that this planet is populated to excess by people.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Oh What Fun

Baldwinsville, NY
43 09.34 N 076 19.77 W

I haven't been blogging much for the past couple of days because we've been having so much fun and so many activities.

We had dinner with old dear friends Gerry and Phyllis.   Gerry and I go way back to 1962 as freshmen in the dormitory at Clarkson.  Thank you for the great evening.

Droid at quick draw
The next morning, our granddaughter Katelyn came on board to spend a few days with us.   She is such a pleasure to be around.    She's a beautiful, talented, well behaved and very thoughtful young woman.   She now prefers to be called Katie rather than Katelyn.  Name changes like that give me a particularly hard time.  My niece Lena changed her name to Ilan.  I've been struggling with that change for several years.

Anyhow, Katie, Libby and I have been having great fun.  Friday night, there was a free concert here in Baldwinsville.  They said it would be Led Zeppelin appearing.  Actually it was thAerosmith Tribute Band –Draw The Line with Special Guests Kane and Mike Ryan Duo.   As you can imagine, there was a big crowd.   We moved Tarwathie as far away from the crowd and the noise as we could.  We could still hear the band just fine.

Last night was time for 4th of July fireworks over the water on the Seneca River.   Again, Libby and Katie stayed on the boat to avoid the crowd.  But I crave the up-close feeling of fireworks shock waves so I moved as close as I could.  I was a bit disappointed right up to the finale.  The finale, lasting perhaps 15 seconds was one of the best I've ever seen.   The final burst was pure art boom-boom-boom-boom-boom  boom-boom (shave and a haircut, two bits).

B'Ville Fireworks
However the real highlight of the weekend was ladies day with Libby and Katie.  Baldwinsville has lots of small shops, some of which are women's boutiques.   Libby gave Katie $30, and told her to spend it wisely.  She sure did.  After three hours, the two ladies came back to the boat.   Katie had a beautiful new hand bag.  More, she had presents for her mother, and sisters as well as herself.  They ate lunch in the famous B'ville Diner where Libby introduced Katie to those old-fashioned machines which let you select songs on the juke box from your table.

Of course, that was the high point from our point of view.  For Katie, it was the moment she discovered that she could get on her Facebook account with my computer, and using a free WiFi from somebody's nearby Linksys modem.   The low point was when I told her that I was out of text messages in my cell phone quota.  :)

Katelyn Marie (; <3