Friday, September 30, 2011

Canal task force created in 2007 still has yet to meet

Elizabeth City Library
36 17.59 N 076 14.57 W

You read on this blog about all the terrible things that happened to the Mohawk River because of floods following Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.  Now read an excerpt from the Daily Gazette, the Schenectady, NY newspaper.

Stephen Boese held up a stack of letters he's received from a variety of New York state agencies, all responses to his question: What is the status of the Canal Flood Mitigation Task Force ?  
From those responses, Boese said Wednesday, he's learned "nothing."
That's because the Canal Flood Mitigation Task Force , created by the state Legislature [in 2007] following the 2006 flooding that inundated communities along the Mohawk River and canal system, hasn't met yet.

So. if there ever was a case where we should tar and feather politicians and run them out of town, this should qualify.  Don't you think?  Should we take bets on how much compensation and perks the task force members have received?   Do you think the Gazette would publish the names of task force members; no.

I have been criticized for being too cynical and too anti-government in my politics. I don't agree; obviously.  Here in the USA I see lots of evidence that government at all levels is more parasitic than benevolent.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Man Oh Man The Lightning

Elizabeth City Library
36 17.59 N 076 14.57 W

Last night, around 0300, an amazing lightning storm passed close by.  One of the strikes seemed to last 3-4 seconds with continuous flashing and thundering that whole time.   Fortunately, the storm and the strikes seemed to stay at least 1-2 miles away from us.   I haven't seen such lightning since that night at sea off Florida in 2005.  Man oh man.

How many sailors does it take to change a light bulb?  Three.  One up the mast, one cranking the winch, and one to tail the rope.  Libby and I don't attempt it with just the two of us; that's too dangerous.

Today, my big project was to go up the mast and repair the anchor light.  We have been using our oil lamp anchor light backup for a couple of months.   But now it's fixed.  Brian, the skipper of the Nonesuch boat next door assisted us.

Then, I reciprocated and helped haul Brian up to the top of his mast so that he could change his light bulb.  He bought a LED bulb for his anchor light.  When he got up there, he found that it was the wrong size.  Bummer.

Imagine being up the mast during one of those lightning storms?  Unthinkable to us modern sailors, but in centuries past it was commonplace.  Of course they had wooden masts rather than metal, but still ---

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Elizabeth City Library
36 17.59 N 076 14.57 W

Here is a truism.  If you stay long enough on a boat you will be forced to repair or replace every single little part.   Joshua Slocum on his single-handed circumnavigation, I'm sure had to replace almost every stick on his wooden boat Spray.  Things are better today but the essential truth has not changed.

I don't blog about each and every repair project.  There are too many.  This week's big one (so far) had to do with a suspected leak in one of our fresh water tanks.

All summer long we have been pumping water from our bilge.  Water in the bilge causes angst.  Where is it coming from?  I went through all the possibilities.  The stuffing box.  The sea cocks.  The speed sensor.  The depth sounder.  The two Dynaplates.   Leaks from above decks.  I stayed awake nights trying to visualize where the water was coming from.   Finally, I narrowed it down to the fresh water tanks.  It was always wet under the tanks, even though all the other places, fore and aft were dry.  The leak continued whether the boat was still or in motion.

Removing the water tanks is something we never did before.  Monday at the NC Welcome center was the time to tackle that.   I removed the forward tank (the aft tank was not suspect.)

The removed tank on the dock.  Looking for leaks.

Libby takes the opportunity to clean where the light has never penetrated for 35 years.  Aft water tank visible.

The verdict?  The plastic water tank is tough and it has no leak.  Therefore, the only possible conclusion is that the plumbing to and from the tank leaked.  I put in new plumbing.  By the end of this week we should have conclusive proof.  The leak is either fixed or it isn't.

By the way, that tank appeared to hold 35 gallons of water.  The aft tank is a bit smaller.  It might hold 25, making the total 60.  For years, we erroneously believed that our under-floor tanks held only 40 gallons.  Based on that, I calculated that in the Bahamas we consumed 0.8 gallons per person per day.  Now I'll have to revise that to 1.2.

I believe that most Westsail 32s have 80 gallons of water tanks.  Why not us?    Most W32s have lead ballast and a deep bilge.  Tarwathie was built with the cost-saving option of steel ballast rather than lead.  That means the same weight of ballast takes more room, and that her bilge is more shallow and that the room for water tanks is diminished (37 cm from keel to cabin sole).  At least that's my theory.  No doubt other W32 blog readers will let me know if that's right.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Libby Does It Again

Dismal Swamp Canal Visitors Center
36 39.41 N 076 21.36 W

She just keeps getting better and better.  Of course I knew that long ago.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Day of the Crazies

Norfolk, Virginia
36 50.65 N 076 17.63 W

Norfolk is always an abrupt culture shock for us cruisers. Approaching from the south and the solitude of the Great Dismal Swamp, or approaching from the North and the loneliness of the sea, you find yourself abruptly in the heart of one of the busiest ports anyplace. Such was the case yesterday. We were at the end of a particularly uncomfortable and trying passage and at the limits of exhaustion. We hoped to find respite from stress. It was not to be.

The entrance to Hampton Roads is narrow and busy. When we tried to come in we found ourselves in the middle of a pack. The pack consisted of three warships, an ore carrier, a tug pulling a barge of rock, and another sailboat. The warships were the main problem. The navy was conducting training exercises and it showed. One ship had dropped its anchor, then pulled it up again, sailed out the entrance, then did a U turn and came back in. Another was heading for dock, then changed its mind and stopped, then changed its mind again and started again almost running over the barge. On warship 21 we heard the voice of a female on the VHF radio. She kept confusing port and starboard -- which does not inspire confidence.

The captain of the ore carrier was on the radio asking anyone and everyone, "What is your intention." Believe me, it was a great question. But he was confounded by the answers from warships 60, and 81, and 21 because he didn't know which voice went with which boat. The tugboat skipper chimed in, "It's like a three ring circus in here today." Finally as things began to sort themselves out, the tug and barge were passing warship 21 on 21's port side. Then the female voice said, "Please pass on our starboard side." Do you know how hard it is to make two abrupt U turns pulling a barge full of rock?

We no sooner got free of that circus when we encountered a tug and a pilot boat staging an inpromptu race in the harbor. They came right at us at full speed; the tug throwing a huge wake. I'm sure they were racing because their noses were neck and neck for at least a mile while their rails were separated by less than a yard.

We barely recovered from the tug's wake when an US Army Corps of Engineer boat approached us. He came in on our starboard bow, made a U turn behind us and came up on our port and slowed ot match our speed. He was so close that I thought he was trying to board us. At the last second, he put on full throttle, created a huge wake, and zoomed away at top speed leaving Tarwathie rocking violently. I have no idea what he was doing.

But I had no time to contemplate those crazies. At that moment our VHF radios beeped and gave us tornado warnings. There were two storms "capable of producing tornadoes" in the near vicinity. Jeez. I scrambled to wake up my phone to see the weather radar. It balked because it doesn't like the extreme humidity and salt of the ocean environment.  After 10 minutes I finally got to see the picture -- the centers of the storms would miss us, but not the edges.

Then it started raining so hard that we lost all visibility. Our AIS was able to keep us posted on the river traffic all around us. We had no place to hide, no place ot drop anchor and wait it out.  We had to keep going.  The AIS showed tugs, dinner cruise boats, and that crazy Corps guy were on the move within 0.5 miles of us. However, warships don't broadcast AIS, and they were on the move too. All of them would be as blind as us in this environment.  Radar is useless in that environment.  Talk about stress.

Finally we got here to Waterside Marina in downtown Norfolk. One would think that's the end of the story, but no. I turned on the news and heard that a sattelite the size of a bus might come down out of the sky and crash on Tarwathie's forward deck. Another guy was saying that scientists found things that travel faster than light.  Neither of those would surprise me on a day of the crazies.

The next morning you see the view from Tarwathie in the picture below.  We sit among the Navy wet and dry docks. America's newest carrier (the Bush?) is visible on the right.

Tonight we hope to be on the Dismal Swamp Canal seeking peace and quiet.

Friday, September 23, 2011

No Sleep - Bad Day

At Sea
37 10.28 N 075 41.50 W

I need to do something about sleeping while at sea. On this passage, I got no sleep for the first.44 hours. Yesterday we had a bad day. Yesterday also my brain was affected by fatigue. That is a very bad combination. Here's the story.

We have been motoring almost 100% of the time on this passage. That's bad but that was our plan. Winds and waves are light, but they were directly on the nose. Tarwathie is a wonderful buat but she is not good at powering against wind and waves. We could do 5.5 knots under power with no wind, no waves, no current. We can't go faster because (I thiink) our propeller is undersized. Yesterday the head wind subtracted a knot from that - 4.5. Then the wind started blowng harder - 4.0. THen the stronger wind started kicking up waves coming toward us - 3.0 knots. Our estimated time en rouhte nearly doubled -- so much that I feared running out of fuel before we got there. Then I noticed that the engine was overheating. I was pushing it too hard. At that point I considered (and rejected) turning back.

Why not turn of the engine and sail? Well, that's a guaranteed way to get us there, but Tarwathie does not sail well to windward with light winds and facing seas. Our bast in those conditios is 60 degrees off the wind. Our speed made good (progress toward the goal) drops to 2 knots. With 80 miles to go, it would have taken another two days of slogging into the wind.

Well, the bottom line is that things got better. We got the engine temperature back to normal. The wind dropped to zero overnight allowing speed to increase to 4.0. Around dawn, the wind returned, but this tome at an angle 20 degrees more eastewad. That allowed us to sail. I finally got four hours sleep and when I awoke, Libby had all the sails up and we were making 6.4 knots. Hooray! As I write this, Cape Charle lighthouse just came into sight. That marks the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. Hooray.

All that stuff is true, but the really bad thing is that all day yesterday my brain was being steered by fatigue and pessimism. I must find a solution to sleep in the first day or two offshore. Reader advice is welcome.

All my life, I have been somewhat insomniac. No matter how tired I am, it takes me 2 or more hours to fall asleep. If my mind is racing, I can lay there all night and never sleep. On this passage, my mind was going nuts with worry and contingency planning. What if the weather changed so? Why did the engine overhead? How much fuel would we have left? Where could we stop part way there to wait for the winds to turn? Libby and I generally take 4 hour watches at sea. 4 hours is not enough for me to fall asleep. Drugs? No. I need to be ready to wake up and lend a hand on an instant's notice if Libby calls for help. Natural sleep enhanced by going to bed at the same time every night? Not as sea in a two person crew. Count sheeo? Attention deficit gets me. Before I count sheep number 10, my mind is back to worry.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


At Sea
38 34.94 N 074 42.56 W

117 miles the first 24 hours. About half way. That's the good part. The bad part is that we have been able to sail only a few hours. Right now, the wind is on our nose and we are motoring into it. Our best speed is 4.5 knots.

It has also been raining off and on, and we had some patches of dense fog. The luck of the draw wasn't with Libby. Ever time it rained, she was on watch. It is cold and wet up there in an open cockpit at night in the rain. Thank goodness is isn't cold. The water temperature is about 65 degrees and the night/day temperatures are about 60/70.

Still, Bob's choice of window is still a good one. The forcast from Friday PM through Tuesday is for stronger south winds. We're much better off getting into the Chesapeake Friday morning.

Not much more to report. Not a lot of natural beauty to see.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Escape From New York

The Verrazano Narrows
40 36.95 N 074 03.03 W

We are escaping from New York as I write. The Staten Island Ferry seen in morning light is evidence.

We met up with our friends Bob & Sandra on Carpe Diem Monday evening. They spent the summer in Maine and now both of us are heading for Marathon. Tuesday, we played NY tourists. We took the water taxi from Liberty Landing to the World Financial Center, then we split up. I saw ground zero. Then I went up to the Inrepid Museum to see the aircraft carrier, the submarine Growler, and the SR-70 airplant sitting on the deck. Soon the space shuttle Enterprise will be there on deck.

Then I walked over to 5th avenue to buy a new camera. On the way I went through Chinatown, the diamond district, the theater district, and Times Square. Wow, NYC sure has a lot of culture to offer. When I got to the camera stores I was overwhelmed by too many choices. I didn't know what I wanted, so I walked away empty handed. I'll have to shop again after figuring out what to buy.

Meanwhile, Bob was studying the weather. He came to an unhappy conclusion. I looked too and I concur.   We are leaving today facing two days of light headwinds. We'll have to motor all the way to Norfolk. Libby and I hate doing that. It's against our policy. However, the alternative is to wait more than a week. Winds and waves will only get worse after Friday. Even if we do wait a week, there is no guarantee of a good weather window the following week. A couple of years back, our friend Andre waited 4 weeks and still no good weather came for him.

I think we've been spoiled. For the past several years, every time we arrived at NYC a nice weather window just happened to come along at the right time. That's uncommonly good luck. Now mother nature is merely correcting the averages.

Anyhow, we should be out there 60 hours. No guarantee that I'll be able to post blogs until arrival. It has been a long time since I used the SSB radio.

p.s. With all the United Nations mucky mucks mucking around, this harbor has police and Coast Guard swarming around like a swarm of angry bees.  It will be nice to escape that too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

We're Here

No city name or latitude/longitude are necessary to identify where we are tonight.  The photo below says it all and everybody recognizes that, right?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Debris on the Hudson

We caught up with the storm debris and muddy water near West Point. The amount of debris was small.

Now I know the answer to an interesting question. How fast does debris drift down river? About 10 miles per day.
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On The Boat

Buchanan, NY
41 15.73 N 073 58.06 W

It is a splendid day.  We had a great time sailing down the most scenic part of the Hudson River.  Now, we are passing by the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. There is just a hint of fall color beginning to appear in the trees.   Life is good.  We don't have a care in the world.

My friend Chuck just sent a compendium of our recent blog posts to our mutual high school alumni.  It is almost comical just to read the headlines of those posts regarding Storms Irene and Lee.  They show, fear, hope, frustration, elation, depression, worry, fret, and relief.  That's what makes them interesting I guess.

What makes those blogs interesting to classmates who don't live on boats?  Possibly because it is so different from their own lives.   Different how?  My friend Bob on Carpe Diem said it eloquently.   He said, "We don't live in a boat; we live on a boat."  When you live on a boat your existence is primarily outdoors. We are more exposed to the elements 24x7.   We are also exposed to forecasts of what the weather will bring to our near future.   I suppose that's a benefit, but it does result in a lot of hand-wringing and fretting that may not be necessary.  

"Normal" people who live mostly indoors are much less affected by weather. Nor to they have anyone foretelling what challenges they might be called on to face in the near future.  That is not unless they believe in astrology or fortune tellers.

In addition to living on a boat, we are also true nomads.  We move from place to place and enjoy the variety.  One can say that we have no home.   One can also say that we have more than 15 homes.  Both are partially true.  Every year we manage to explore new places, some of which may get added to our list of alternative homes.

But the biggest difference I think is that on a boat the emotional highs are higher and the lows lower than they are when living in a house, nor are we ever bored with life. Indeed, that's the appeal of this life style.  We remember and appreciate the highs while suppressing memories of the lows.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

All Systems GoH

The Hudson River
41 59.44 N 073 56.77 W

The mast is up.  The sails are out.  We're sailing down the river.  Only 100 miles to the sea.  Life is good.

Still gotta check out a number of things to make sure we're seaworthy, but I can accomplish that before hitting NYC.

p.s. At Riverside Marine Services where we put the mast up, there were a bunch of other sailboats doing the same thing.  They were the boats that took shelter in the Erie Canal Locks 2 and 3 at Waterford.  They rode the storms fine, but they were stuck in those locks for 3 weeks.   Boy were they glad to be out.  

A Quebecois couple in the group could barely speak English 3 weeks ago.  Today, their English is excellent.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sea Level!!!

Troy, NY
42 40.63 N 073 43.21 W

We have achieved sea level!  No more locks, dams, or collapsed bridges stand between us and the sea.   Hooray!   Actually I wanted to entitle this post "Escape From New York" but that wouldn't be accurate.  Not yet.   We have to get our mast up and get past the debris fields in the Hudson first.

We really got into the heart of the flood area when we passed Waterford.  Surprisingly, most things looked normal.  To be sure, there was damage visible, but not as bad as we expected.   The visitor's center in Waterford didn't appear destroyed as we heard; it appeared normal except that there were no boats there.

The worst damage seemed to be around Troy.  Approaching the lock at the upstream side we could see the bent and twisted railings at the top of the wall.   It appeared that boats tied up there were washed over the wall and over the dam when the water got too high. Below the dam we saw the hulls of two sunken boats.  The Troy City Docks were also badly beaten up.

There is not much debris in the Hudson here and now.  It must be downstream between us and NYC.  I wonder if we'll catch up to it or not.

Progress downriver is faster than normal, we have a 1.5 knot current with us superimposed on the tidal flood and ebb.

Tides! It's good to be back at sea level once again.

Have a look at the youtube video below.  It shows Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River, just upstream of Waterford.  (The canal runs parallel to this out of sight.)   All that water coming over the 1/2 mile wide  falls.  Then think of what happens next.  All that water must find its way to the Hudson.  There are only two paths.  One goes past the docks at Waterford.  It is about 200 feet wide.  The other is a bit south, but only 30 feet wide.  Imagine the force of the current having funneled that much water into such narrow outlets.

For perspective. here is a shot of the outlet at Waterford. My friend Pete is in the foreground. You can see the river and the docks below.  Now imagine almost all the water from the video above passing through the narrow passage below.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Mechanicville, NY
42 54.27 N 073 41.03 W

Great news: The entire Champlain Canal has been re-opened for navigation. We already moved from lock 12 down to lock 3. Tomorrow we move to Athans. Saturday (hopefully) we put the mast up. By Monday or Tuesday, weather permitting, we'll be out at sea.

The currents in the Hudson are swift. We were making 7.7 knots this morning. So far, we haven't hit the major debris fields. That will come after we are downstream of the confluence of the Mohawk River. Don't worry, we'll be careful. It is rather like navigating one's way between lobster traps or crab traps.

We are only 5 miles from my sister Marilyn's house. But we have no car. Also, this is a week day and Marilyn has her regular schedule. Libby says if we see Marilyn but don't take her out shopping, she'll be upset. So, guilty conscience or not, we won't let her know we are here.

We have been seeing numerous cruising boats along the canal that appear to have nobody on board. It looks like the owners left their boats and traveled elsewhere. After Irene, we heard that there were a number of Canadian boats stranded at the docks at Waterford. Their owners went back to Canada until the canals reopened. A few days later, Tropical Storm Lee came by, the second flood was much worse than the first, and the docks at Waterford were submerged, then destroyed.

I wonder what happened to those Canadian boats. Was the dockmaster forced to cut them loose? If he did, the boats would be destroyed. If he didn't both the boats and docks would be destroyed. Would the dockmaster be liable for damage to the boats for his actions? Were those the boats that washed over the Troy dam just downstream? Note that in this case, both the boats and the docks could not have been saved no matter what the dockmaster did.

Imagining myself faced with the dockmaster's dilemma made me realize the wisdom in some marina policies that say owners must stay with their boats. It is grossly unfair to push the boat owner's decision and potential liability onto the dockmaster of a free city marina.  In the past, we broke those rules and left Tarwathie on moorings in Vero or Marathon while we traveled elsewhere.

Below, a video from Troy after Irene.  13 boats adrift.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Green Light, All ahead half.

Whitehall, New York
43 33.26 N 073 24.14 W

The Troy Lock reopened Tuesday and the word is that the Champlain Canal will reopen Wednesday.  We have an escape path!   We could have left Whitehall Tuesday, several other boats did.  However, we'll wait until Wednesday Morning and proceed slowly.  There are several reasons for going slow.

  • A boater in Waterford near Albany said yesterday, "I went and had a look at The Hudson today. I would not want to be out there."
  • We heard the following from Andrew and Vanessa on Tally Ho"Well, we left Baltimore on Monday and within 2 hrs. we needed a tow to Annapolis. The debris in the bay is amazing. We were hauled this morning and the log that stopped our engine and prop was removed. $$$ later and we are on the move again. It's a little scary out here, like navigating thru a mine field. Not sure why we are in such a rush!!!!!"  
  • The lock master here says that there are numerous boats waiting at almost every lock along the Champlain canal eager to proceed.  There will be big surge in vessels leaving at the same time.  We hate crowds.
  • I called Riverside Marine in Catskill where we raise our mast.   Mike, the proprietor, said that mine was the 5th call of the morning.  There will be a surge of boats there waiting their turn, and Catskill is boring place to wait overnight.  
So, we'll go but go slowly.

The good news is that our trip down the Hudson will take less time than normal because of the outflowing current.  A friend this week sailed from Washington DC to The Chesapeake in half his planned time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hurry Up And Wait

Whitehall, New York
43 33.26 N 073 24.14 W

We are in the canal, but we can't go further south yet.  The limiting factor is the debris around the federal lock in Troy.   Maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after -- rumors about about when things will reopen.

The lockmaster here in Whitehall said that the dam at Erie Lock 9 in Rotterdam, NY is gone.  Not damaged but gone.  The river there has carved itself a new river bed.  

Up in Vermont, the next phase of recovery is to send an army of real estate laywers.  Huh?  How does that figure?  The story I read says that for 200 years the people of Vermont have been straightening the river beds for convenience.  For one thing that makes floods worse.  For another, after this event the rivers have reverted to their natural course.  That means that some homeowners not only lost their houses, but their land is now riverbed.  Right next door to them is dry land that was riverbed until Irene but who owns that land?  Modern concepts of real property are based on surveys and fixed coordinates, not variables like river frontage.

If they leave the rivers where they are today, there will be many losers and some winners in the real estate shuffle.  If they try to force the river straight again (probably unwise) the population of winners and losers will be shuffled.  Hence the army of lawyers.  It is enough to make one's head ache.

Today a flotilla of power boats arrived in Whitehall.  Those boats had all been on the Erie near Oswego when Irene hit.  They were thus able to detour around the damaged part of the Erie Canal, up to Oswego, on Lake Ontario, to The Saint Lawrence River, to The Richelieu River, to the Chambly Canal, to Lake Champlain, to the Champlain canal.  That means the detour path took 15 days to get here, probably 17 days to Waterford.  That compares to 2-3 days on the normal Erie Canal path.   So I say to all you Great Lakes boaters, "You can still get to the Atlantic but the detour will take two weeks longer than you planned on, sightseeing not inlcluded."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lake Monsters? Champ? Two fascinating accounts.

Whitehall, New York
43 33.26 N 073 24.14 W

A while back I wrote about birds in Porter Bay.  Readers Pam and Dave posted the following delightful comment to that post.

During my few years on Lake Champlain, I noticed an interesting phenomenom. On the Sacandaga and other bodies of water, waterfowl go out onto the water at night to escape predators. On Lake Champlain, waterfowl get off the lake at night to escape a predator- Champ.
One evening, my ex-wife and I were sitting at our mooring at Westport. It was dusk and all the waterfowl that sit on the floating breakwater flew off for land. When it was almost completely dark, we saw a mother Merganser and one chick come swimming by the boat and off into the gloom. Suddenly, following it was a torpedo like wake. There was a big splash, and then silence, and then the sound of the baby Merganser peeping for its mother. Another splash, and then silence.
It made me a believer in Champ. That, and actually hearing him call while sleeping on the boat one night, a very low pitched whale-like call.
Don't go swimming at night, Dick! 

Pam and Dave's comment made me recall a somewhat similar account from the year 1609.  Here is an excerpt from Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, by Samuel de Champlain.

The next day we entered the lake, [342] which is of great extent, say eighty or a hundred leagues long, where I saw four fine islands, ten, twelve, and fifteen leagues long, which were formerly inhabited by the savages, like the River of the Iroquois; but they have been abandoned since the wars of the savages with one another prevail. There are also many rivers falling into the lake, bordered by many fine trees of the same kinds as those we have in France, with many vines finer than any I have seen in any other place; also many chestnut-trees on the border of this lake, which I had not seen before.
There is also a great abundance of fish, of many varieties: among others, one called by the savages of the country _Chaousarou_ [343] which varies in length, the largest being, as the people told me, eight or ten feet long. I saw some five feet long, which were as large as my thigh; the head being as big as my two fists, with a snout two feet and a half long, and a double row of very sharp and dangerous teeth. Its body is, in shape, much like that of a pike; but it is armed with scales so strong that a poniard could not pierce them. Its color is silver-gray. The extremity of its snout is like that of a swine. This fish makes war upon all others in the lakes and rivers. It also possesses remarkable dexterity, as these people informed me, which is exhibited in the following manner. When it wants to capture birds, it swims in among the rushes, or reeds, which are found on the banks of the lake in several places, where it puts its snout out of water and keeps perfectly still: so that, when the birds come and light on its snout, supposing it to be only the stump of a tree, it adroitly closes it, which it had kept ajar, and pulls the birds by the feet down under water. The savages gave me the head of one of them, of which they make great account, saying that, when they have the headache, they bleed themselves with the teeth of this fish on the spot where they suffer pain, when it suddenly passes away.

Don't those two accounts sound similar?  From what I've read, experts have no idea what species of fish Champlain describes.  Nothing in the fossil record seems to fit.   Lake monsters indeed.    Maybe so!  Might there be some left?  Could these monsters have given rise to the legend of Champ?  

My only experience with Champ happened around 1980.  I invited my sisters boyfriend to sail with me on the lake.  We just left land when he cried out, "Look!  There's Champ!"   I looked and saw nothing.  "Where," I demanded.  "Right there," he pointed, "See his neck and head coming out of the water."  I looked where he pointed.  It was a cormorant and it was only 20 feet away.  This young man had never been on a boat before and thus had no feeling for judging distance and size on the water.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Signs of Fall

Lower Lake Champlain

We woke up Sunday morning to a very fall like day. The previous night had been cold but the morning was pleasant. A layer of fog obscured the mountain tops. It made us feel like we were in a confined space.

Yesterday, we saw a V-flight of geese going over. That's the first time in several years that we saw that sight. In previous Octobers sailing on Champlain I remember seing the sky almost blackened by the huge number of geese and having the sound of their incessant honking becoming louder than the sound of wind and water. In recent years however, we migrate south before the geese migration arrives and in the spring we come north after the geese leave southern waters. I guess the V we saw yesterday were trailblazers.

Two weeks ago, on the main body of the lake we saw a mirage image of Valcour Island floating suspended in the sky. If the fall, such mirages are the norm. They are caused when the water is warmer than the air causing light to be refracted down toward the surface. Seeing them so early in September is not usual. Since that day, the temperature of the lake water dropped 20 degrees because of all the inflow or rain.

Again this morning we could see touches of color beginning to appear in the trees. Indeed, the colors seemed to emerge as we watched. Of course, that's an illusion. What we really saw was the illumination on the colors increase as the morning sun climbed over the ridge behind us.

What a crazy mixed up year. We have so much anxiety over being landlocked over the winter that we are actually departing 1.5 weeks ahead of our normal schedule. We also are having regrets about leaving the lake at all as we approach the nicest time of the year. However, we got word this morning that locks C5-C12 are open, C1-C4 still closed. We'll leave the lake in a few hours.

By the way, we anchored last night for the first time on the southern part of the lake. This area has its own special charm. The navigable part of the lake narrows to only 100 feet wide. On either side are extensive marshes. Not salt marshes but fresh water marshes, but they look like salt marshes. Flanking us east and west are mountains. The mountains here are much closer than those around the lake north of here. The closeup views are extra nice. 

Just over the mountain ridge to the west is Lake George, a lake more famous in some circles than even Champlain. 

To the south we see another east-west mountain ridge that marks the mandatory end of the lake. One can imagine 10000 years ago having glaciers forced to make a 90 degree turn at that location.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Still Landlocked

Chipman Point Marina, Onwell Vermont
43 47.96 N 073 22.53 W

Our mast is down.  We're ready to head south.  However the Champlain Canal is still closed.  We have been calling the lock for an estimate; no estimate on reopening date yet.

The devastation below continues to amaze and horrify.  The second flood (the one caused by Tropical Storm Lee rain) brought down a highway bridge over the Mohawk River.   It also flooded Waterford, the place were many boats too haven from the first flood.   The visitors center at Waterford (which you have seen in numerous pictures on this blog) is under water, the floating docks are submerged.  No boats are visible in the pictures.

We heard the gossip yesterday that many boats were washed over the federal dam in Troy.  One of them was reported to be an 80 foot long boat.  The lock can not reopen until they clear away some of the sunken boats and send down scuba divers to inspect.  

So, we'll just hang around the southern part of the lake until at least lock 12 reopenens.   Our fears of being marooned until the lake freezes are renewed.   Probably irrational fears but nevertheless.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

To Go Or Not To Go

Porter Bay, Vermont
44 13.82 N 073 20.60 W

I just talked to the lock master in Whitehall.  He says that the water level there is still rising.  The  lock may reopen tomorrow.  No guarantee.  However, they are losing the red/green buoys in the Hudson again.  Those will have to be replaced before they open for traffic.  That means at least another week.

So, what should we do?   Our choice is to head south.  We'll take the mast down tomorrow and hope that lock 12 will reopen, if not the whole canal.  If we must wait another week, we would rather do it at a place where we can at least go ashore.  We're getting cabin fever just sitting here. 

Heads, up:  We get no cell phone, no internet on the south end of the lake.  We will be out of contact.  No new blogs until we at least get to Whitehall.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Emotional Roller Coaster

Porter Bay, Vermont
44 13.82 N 073 20.60 W

What a roller coaster.  The Champlain Canal was reopened for less than 30 hours before it closed again.  The culprit is more rain.  They say it is part of Tropical Storm Lee.  I don't understand that, Lee was far away on Monday, but it sure did rain.   Now, they say two more days of rain and flash flood warnings.  No idea when the canal will open after that.

We could go up Otter Creek to wait in Vergennes, but not with flash flood warnings.  It's much nicer here in Porter Bay.  We are the only people around.   

Enough of the negative, let me describe the wildlife here in Porter Bay.

Osprey are the current top of the heap here.   Years ago we never saw Osprey here.  Now there are plenty.  There are two families that live on Otter Creek just south of us, and two more families to the Northeast.   They like to ride the updraft on the windward side of tree line near where we anchor.  That means we have lots of time to watch them and to listen.   We learned two things.  First, they are extremely effective fishermen.  They appear to typically need only 15 or 20 minutes of soaring to make a catch to take back to the nest.  Second, I believe I can tell the difference between two of their cries.  One is directed at us and means "get away from here."  The other is directed at family members soaring nearby meaning "I'm over here."

Last week I watched an Osprey doing battle with a big carp here in Porter Bay.  They were in the shallows where the water is only six inches deep.   Obviously, this carp was far too heavy for the Osprey to lift in the air.  But he didn't want to give up.  The two of them thrashed and rolled for about 10 minutes.  Eventually, the osprey gave up and flew away.  The carp got to live another day.  However that poor carp must have a hundred or more puncture wounds from those long talons. He might not have lived long.

Eagles.  In past years there were two or three families of bald eagles around here.  Haven't seen them this year.  ???

Turkey Vultures also soar along the tree line near us.  They are so graceful in the sky and such skilled at flying.  They are so ugly and clumsy on the ground or on a branch.  Of course we see them all up and down the coast (as we do ospreys).  I don't recall ever seeing a turkey vulture catch a meal.

Great Blue Herons.   These are perhaps our favorite birds.  They are so beautiful and so graceful.  They are fun to watch wading in the water and fun to see flying.  They seem to each have a favorite place to spend the night.  We see the same birds heading for the same spots just at sunset each night.  Their cry sounds like graaaak.

Kingfishers: We don't see them often but there are several here in the bay.  Very fun to watch.

Cormorants are birds we hate.  There used to be a huge flock of several thousand cormorants in Porter Bay, but now there are only a few.  The state has been trying to kill them as pests.

Gulls.  Normally we are not fond of seagulls either.  We have grown deaf to their distinctive cries.  After six years, it is so familiar, the sound doesn't register.   Yesterday I saw a gull who caught a fish too big to swallow.  That's fairly unusual.  They aren't like pelicans that seem to be able to swallow anything of any size.  So how to make a meal of the fish without swallowing it.  The gull worked and worked, and eventually his beak cut the belly and exposed the intestines.  Then it started taking bites of the entrails.  But as each bite broke from the fish, he dropped it.  Then the gull had to scramble to catch the carcass before it sank.  It was quite a juggling trick for the gull and obviously something unusual at which the gull was not skilled.  But it was hungry and persistent.

Deer and sometimes moose come to the shore for a drink of water. There are bears, but we never saw one.  At night, we are serenaded by crickets.   To you landlubbers, that's normal, but to us living on a boat it is a rare and special treat.  Normally we are too far from shore to hear crickets.

Last week, after the passage of Irene, we started hearing angry and anguished bellows.  They were very loud.  At first I thought it sounded like a cow overdue for milking.  Then we thought it might be a moose caught in a trap.  After an hour or so, Libby and I agreed.  It was an angry anguished cow.    Checking on Google Earth, I see that behind the veneer of trees and wetlands we see, there is a farm close by.

Finally, we have some kind of swimming mammal.   We see it swimming around the bay before sunset.   It could be an otter, but I think it is a muskrat.  I know its not a beaver because they slap their tails and we would hear it.  In any case, it is too far away to identify.

One night I saw a really big animal swimming across the bay.  I got all excited watching it come my way.  What could it be?   When it finally came close enough, what a surprise.  It was a woman.  She had a swimming cap and a racer's type swim suit.  She swam all the way across the bay and back.  Oh well, I can't count her as wildlife.

FIsh?  Lots of fish.  Big ones too.  In the early morning and late evening they leap out of the water.  Makes me wish I knew how to fly fish.  I know that record size lake trout and salmon have been caught nearby.   

p.s. Earlier blogs about Porter Bay:  Porter In the Morning   North Versus South and many more.  Searching my archives, I found almost 30 previous blog posts about Porter Bay.  Obviously, this is a place that inspires.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Southward Bound

Porter Bay, Vermont
44 13.82 N 073 20.60 W

Yesterday we got the news that the Champlain Canal was reopnened. Today we got the news that Federal Lock in Troy will be open by Friday. We checked with the marinas to help us take the mast down and up; they're ready for us. That clears a path for us all the way to the sea. Off we go!

What a crazy summer this has been.  It started and ended with epic floods.  In June we held back from passage to Champlain because of the severe flooding in the lake caused by spring rains.  Then last week tropical storm Irene struck with amazing impact in Vermont and New York.  For a while, we thought we would be blocked entirely.  In the meanwhile our dinghy was stolen and recovered.  Whew!

Still, although many others suffered mightily, everything worked out fine for us.   We were motivated to travel the Erie Canal all the way to Buffalo and back.  That turned out to be a delightful trip and we're very glad we did it.  Then, we arrived on Lake Champlain after the floods receded and we had outstanding weeks here.   We got to visit all of our children, most of our grandchildren, and many friends old and new.  Libby even got to work her green thumb urges to exhaustion working with Jenny and working in Jenny's yard.  Gardening is one thing Libby misses most in our cruising life. This provided a good fix.

The summer season was capped with dinner with Terry and Julia on Shelburne Point last night.  Those were people we only knew slightly before.  Now we know them very well and discovered that we had much more in common that we expected.   Thanks for a great evening.

There is even a (slight) chance that we could make it to the Westsail Rendezvous 9/16 near Annapolis.

The path and the high seas of Hurricane Katia will apparently be past before we reach the sea.  The next two hurricanes are too far away to be a factor yet. #14.  Green light to go.  All we need is some favorable winds as we approach New York City.

My, how quickly things can turn around.  We're getting out of here while the getting is good and before something else happens.

6 minutes after I posted the above, we got notice that the Champlain Canal is closed again.  At least part of it.  The culprit is the rain we had yesterday from Tropical Storm Lee.   We can still start on the canal and get part way down.  Hopefully it won't stay closed long.

Monday, September 05, 2011


At 1000 today, I got the following notice by email.


Hooray!  Also, Katina is bendind eastward.  

Last item. I ordered a new pair of oars over the weekend. If I can divert the ship-to address to somewhere on the Hudson, we can leave this week!

Flood Damage, Stranded?

Shelburne Bay, Vermont
44 25.61 N 073 14.94 W

Last week we visited Schenectady and Rotterdam Junction.  We saw some of the flood devastation.  It was so sad to see mountains of people's spoiled possessions piled by the roads.  However, nothing we saw first hand compares to the pictures I found later.  The destruction is hard to imagine.

Erie Lock 8, (Source The Columbia Missorian)
The lock is under water between the house and the dam.

One spot we spent a lot of time at is Erie Lock 11 in Amsterdam.   We were especially fond of the Walter P Elwood  museum housed in Guy Park Manor at the lock.  The museum had lost its previous home. The museum is a jewel, more fun to visit than some of the Smithsonian Museums in D.C.   I blogged about it here.   Guy Park Manor is a wonderful mansion which has survived at that site since 1773, 3 years before the American revolution.   Here is a  NY Times article  about the destruction.  The Amsterdam Recorder also said that the water was even 5 feet deep in  Russos Restaurant across the RR tracks and highway from the museum.  The currents must have been very swift and powerful. Pictures below.

Lock 11 and Guy Park Manor,
(Source, Amterdam Recorder)
Closeup of Guy Park Manor,
(Source, NY Times)

Amsterdam, NY, Lock 11? or Lock 10?
(Source Albany Times Union)

That big thing that looks like a bridge is actually a dam.  It has steel gates that are lifted in winter to let the ice through.  Those gates appear to have been destroyed.  

Now, after the flood waters are gone, the river/canal has almost become a dry wash.  That is because of damaged gates at the downstream dams.  They lost the ability to control water levels in the River.  The NY Canal corporation's first priority must be to repair the dams before next spring's thaw and flood.  If they don't the ice and spring flood will damage and destroy still more.  I would not be surprised if it takes more than one year to reopen the canal for boat traffic.

As a reminder of the importance of those dams, look at the picture below.  It shows a flood gauge on the wall of a city building near the river in the Stockade section of Schenectady, NY.   Marks on the gauge show the crests of various spring floods in past years.  This flood in 2011 is almost of the top of the scale.  However, smaller signs on the wall show the floods of 1913 and 1914 which happened before completion of the modern canal and dams in 1918.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


Shelburne Bay, Vermont
44 25.61 N 073 14.94 W

We may be stranded here on Lake Champlain for the winter.   The Champlain and Erie Canals are closed.  Officially there is no word on when they might reopen.  Unofficially, we hope that the Champlain Canal might open in another week.   That would put us behind schedule on starting southward migration but not badly so.

The Erie Canal is much more severely damaged by Irene.  I'll post some pictures soon.  It won't reopen this year for sure.  I think even next year is in doubt.

What alternatives do we have?  We could go up to the Saint Lawrence River and head for Nova Scotia.   That is a much long trip than you might suspect.  Doing so would also put us in the Atlantic in the Perfect Storm neighborhood in the Perfect Storm month.   We are not up to that.  Tarwathie could do it but not her crew.  

We could also try for the Great Look route to get out but that might get us frozen into Lake Michigan in December.

No, we would have to find a place to put Tarwathie up on the hard for the winter, and then impose on Jenny for a place to live.   That might work but we (and I'm sure Jenny) sure don't want it.

So, for now we enjoy our extra weeks in paradise and enjoy it while keeping our fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

OMG The Dinghy is GONE!

South Burlington, Vermont

Boy oh boy do we have lots of things to blog about.  I'll have to spread it over several days.
First, the headline news.  We have been away from Tarwathie for two days.  When we went to return to the boat this morning, we went to the dinghy dock.  When I looked, I said, "Oh My God, the dinghy is gone!"  After a few minutes searching the vicinity of the Perkins Pier dinghy dock I really began to panic.  I asked the Perkins Pier attendant.  He knew nothing.  Then I called the Burlington Boat House who is in charge of Perkins Pier.

The man on the phone gave me good news.  He said, "We have your dinghy.  It was found by the security man last night as it was being vandalized."    I hurried down there.  The Burlington Boat House is about 1/4 mile away.   When I got there, I heard the full story.  It seems that the security man spotted three men doing something bad.  He rushed in.  The three men ran away but he found my dinghy floating upside down near one of the docks.   He rescued the dinghy, turned it right side up, and tied it to the dock.

Vandalism?  The painter had been cut and one of our oars was broken in two.

My theory?  It sounds likely that the three men were drunks who wanted to joy ride.  Our dinghy was the only one at the Perkins Pier dock in the water at night.  Other dinghies were stored upside down on top of the dock.  Why did they cut the painter when they only needed to untie it?  Why or how did they break the oar?  Drunkenness is my theory.

The Burlington Boathouse people were very nice.  They used the harbormaster boat to tow me in the dinghy back to Tarwathie.   Otherwise, it would have been hard.  A rowboat with one oar is worse then one with no oars at all.  Also, Tarwathie was upwind against a stiff breeze.  No way I could have paddled there with my hands.

Once on Tarwathie, I was able to mount the outboard motor as an alternative means of dinghy propulsion.  We haven't used the motor since leaving Florida last April.

We owe a hearty thank you to the staff of the Burlington Boat House.  They rescued us from what could have been a much worse incident.

In other news today, more dark clouds (see below)