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trip took place from Sept 29, 1992 to May 15th of 1993. It went from
Cleveland Ohio, through the
Welland Canal to Lake Ontario, down the St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal, back up the St. Lawrence Seaway to Oswego, NY,
through the Oswego Canal, through the Eire Canal, down the Hudson River, out into the Atlantic, up Delware Bay, down the
Chesapeake Bay, down the ICW and out into the ATlantic to the Florida Keys and Key West, up the Gulf Coast to Tampa, Florida.
"You guys are crazy. You will never get the boat in the water in time. Leave the boat here for the winter, and try again in spring", Dennis said. I hadn't even noticed him come up, as we were involved in drilling through the deck to install an external pumpout connection for the sanitary tank. It was September of 1992. I had quit my doctoral fellowship at NASA Lewis, and was putting the finishing (ok, so it didn't quite look that way) touches on a 1966 Chris Craft Capri 26 sailboat that I had bought for $1500. My roommate and I were preparing to leave on an extensive sailing trip. We planned on sailing from Cleveland Ohio, through the Welland Canal to Lake Ontario, up the St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal, down the Chambly Canal to Lake Champlain and to the Hudson, down to New York City, and in and out of the ICW down to Florida, Key West, and who knows from there. The boat was sitting on a cradle in a boat yard, loaded down with all of our supplies, $1000 of staple foods. I had sold my car, moved out of my apartment, and we lived on the boat for the last couple days before launching.
"Where is that water coming from?". It was just 4 days since Dennis said we would never get the boat in the water. Of course, it was sinking. We pulled it out of the water, and fiberglassed the rudder post tube firmly to the hull, and put the boat back in the next day. We were ready to go. I knew that I would never again get a chance for a trip like this. I had just finished college, and was waiting to get a job. We were going to travel until we ran out of money (and then some). Jim had only been sailing a couple of times before with me on a Laser II. My sailing experience consisted of dinghy racing, a couple charters in the San Juan Islands in Washington, and three seasons racing on a Santana 20, C&C 30, and Sonar 23. We were finally in the water.
This was the first sailboat I had ever owned. There is nothing to describe the feeling the first time you helm your own sailboat. You are in control, responsible to nobody else for what you do with the vessel. We played around in the boat all day on Lake Eire, and then headed into the marina for the night. A good size storm blew through overnight, and had died down enough for us to leave by noon the next day. We sailed all that day, and through the night and the next day, and then stopped in Eire, Pennsylvania for the night. We spent the day at the municipal pier fixing one of our spreaders which had come loose, and left about 1600. It was midnight, we were running downwind in pitch black. Our dinghy was surging behind us, running down 8 foot waves, just missing kissing our stern. Jim was clocking 9.9 knots regularly as we surfed on the building seas. Lake Eire is very long, and the waves build quickly as they run down 200 nm of shallow water. Jim was at the helm, while I was sleeping, and didn't really notice the building wind and waves. I decided to reef the main. We had practiced it before, but this type of thing always goes better in the daylight, with 10 kts of wind and flat seas. Jim was on the helm keeping the boat pointed into the wind, while I was wrestling with the mainsail at the mast. He swung us downwind, and accidentally gybed us. The force of 40 kts of wind ripped all the mast slides off, and the top 1/3 of the mainsail ripped off (except for the luff line). We dropped the main and the jib, and then put up our working jib (80%). We ran downwind for the rest of the night, averaging in excess of 9 knots the whole way. At first light, we powered our way into Dunkirk, PA through the waves. Not a real good start to a 3000 nm journey. We had only come 250 nm.
Nobody could fix our main in Dunkirk, so we sailed and motored across to Port Colbourne, Ontario the next day. I had read a lot of books about running locks in canals. The Welland Canal connects Lake Eire to Lake Ontario, and is designed for commercial traffic. We bought bags loaded with hay from the marine to pad our decks, and entered the canal at 1700. The books warned of rough currents bashing your boat against the lock walls while draining or filling, and an average transient time of 12-24 hours for the 7 locks of the canal. We exited at 2300 that night, had all the locks to ourselves, never needed more than a finger to keep our boat of the walls (of course, 5000 lb boat is probably easier to keep off than most people's monsters). Probably a record for transit of the canal. 7 hours from start to finish.
spent a couple days in St. Catharines so we could take a bus to Niagra
Falls, and get our mainsail repaired, than sailed across to Toronto. It
is amazing to see the Space Needle from across Lake Ontario when the other
shore is beyond the horizon (sure makes navigation to Toronto easy). On
the way, on of the spreaders worked loose and detached, so I climbed the
mast and pulled it down. We just stayed on a stbd tack all the way across
the lake. We spent a week in Toronto, during which time I thru bolted the
spreaders to keep them attached. We stayed a couple days on Island Park,
but got tired of taking the ferries, so spent the rest of the time anchored
in Ashbridge's Bay Park. Definite a good choice; well protected from the
weather and a nice location. We then sailed to Oshawa to collect all of
our mail that was waiting for us at the post office.
we will go!" A foot of snow on the ground. It was Oct 12th (Canada's Thanksgiving
Day, which held more importance than we realized). We rolled the dice,
and decided that since we were real men, a little cold didn't bother us,
and we really wanted to see Montreal. I called the New York Barge System
office to determine the closing date for the Chambly Canal (which goes
between Montreal and Lake Champlain). "Yes, we run that canal, and it is
open until Nov. 30", said the lady on the phone (this mistake led us to
sailing 300 nm out of our way and passing through 14 locks on the St Lawrence).
We sailed to Presqui'le Provisional Park, where we had our first experience
attempting to enter a harbor after dark AND running aground. The
bay is very shallow (about 3.5' average depth it appeared, and we draft
3'). We sounded our way in with the spinnaker pole, and played bumpity-bump,
until finally just gave up, dropped the anchor, and went to sleep.
We played around a little bit more with the "running aground concept" the
next morning (an art form we didn't fully develop, despite frequent practice,
for another 6 months) as we attempted to come into the marina in Brighton
to get gas. We realized (not soon enough) that the round styrofoam
balls in the water that were spray painted red and green were actually
channel markers describing a snake like channel that looped it's way into
the marina over the space of a mile. The marina owner greeted us
with "How can you even think of entering a harbor with out a chart, eh?".
Hmm, $14.95 for a large scale chart of a place we would never see again?
Yeah, right. We were using a road almanac and a small scale chart
that showed ALL of Lake Ontario.
"Can't get much closer than that!" I had combed the libraries in Cleveland, Ohio before I left, searching for information on this trip. The Bay of Quinte was supposed to be a great place to visit, so we decided we couldn't miss it. Fortionately, a canal runs from the Presqui'le Bay and the Bay of Quinte. About 5 miles down the canal, we reached our first of 3 drawbridges. We were unable to raise the bridge tender on the VHF radio. Tying up to the canal wall, we soon discovered not only was there no bridge tender, but that the Drawbridge was not manned after Oct 12th (this should have been our first clue that our planned route was endangered). We didn't feel like backtracking the 5 nm to Lake Ontario (it would have been great practice for later in the trip), so we dropped our mast. I stood on the bridge with the halyard, and lowered the mast until Jim could grab it. It is amazing how easy it is to drop a mast... a little harder to put it back up. We passed under the first drawbridge with about a foot to spare. "Can't get much closer than that", I joked. Knock on wood. The next drawbridge had about 6" to spare. The last drawbridge, we both had to push up on the bridge as we went under to get the extra 1/2" of clearance we needed. We resupplied in Trenton, and stepped the mast using the Crane at the Yacht Club at the insistance of one of the members.
The Bay of Quinte was beautiful. Sort of like a fjord... very high walls, very deep water, and wind dead on the nose. Definitely worth the side trip to see. It took two days... we anchored out the first night, and made it into Kingston just before dark. This marks the entrance to the Thousand Islands area at the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway. This is one of the prettiest crusing areas in the country (second only to the Starits of Georgia and Desolation Sound in Washington and Vancouver, BC). The small scale chart we had of Lake Ontario did us little good. Most of our navigation was according to the road atlas (also of little good), and the Canadian Coastal Pilot (excellent publication describing nav-aids, profiles of all harbors, etc.). Needless to say, we were lost most of the time. We just kept heading North-East until we exited the Islands area ("you are in a maze of twisty passages, all of them alike..."). One of the remarkable sites was a castle built on a small island by a wealthy doctor. I would just hate to live in a place like that, with my own docks...
It was in this area that we added considerably to our skill at running aground. Our outboard motor had been running fitfully, so we were ghoasting along through a narrow shallow passage between islands, with a strong current behind us, lazily tacking upwind. There were a string of styrofoam balls (painted green) in the water. I assumed them to be marking a crab trap or something. Should have recognized them from our fun in the Bay of Quinte. I quickly saw the rapidly shoaling rock coming up, but the current swept us square onto it. The current pushed us up on the rock ledge. Jim quickly came up with the novel (to us) idea of heeling the boat over by climbing out onto the end of the boom, and swinging it out over the water. I nursed the outboard to life, opened the throttle wide pointing in the right direction, and climbed out on the boom to heel us further. We immediately cleared the rock. At the next town, we repaired our outboard (bad seal on the gas line where it plugged into the tank). This heeling the boat over was a usefully tool that we put to use repeatedly later in the trip.
St. Larence Seaway has seven locks between Lake Ontario and Montreal.
Each drops you any where from ZERO! feet to 50 feet in height. At
the time we went through, it cost $10 US per lock. The locks that
actually dropped you a decent depth generally had lines for small boats
to hold onto while the lock drained. One of the locks appeared to
be akin to the robber-barons of old building a castle at the trade route.
You deposited your money into a bucket on a long pole after entering the
lock. As soon as your money was in-hand, they would open the downstream
gate. Both gates are open at the same time. It is sort of like
a very expensive tollgate (yeah, sure it is there for flooding. Uh
huh. I believ that...) All the towns along the New York side
have commemoration plaques all over the place to the ill-fated invasion
of Canda that occured during the war of 1812. Learned a bit of history
on this trip. It was beginning to become increasingly apparent that
we were late in the season, as we begin to find most marinas empty, and
usually shut down for the season.
"What is that white light on the horizon". We left Iroquois in the morning, and navigated through the Beauharnois canal. We left the canal just at sunset, with the intention of stopping in Cornwell for the night. Unfortionately, the shore lights were confusing, and our chart of the Seaway didn't help much. In addition, sometime during the day, the wire connecting our alternator on the outboard to the battery had broken, so the battery had drained all day. As soon as we turned on our running lights, the battery gave up the ghost and we lost use of the depthsounder. We broke out the perko oil navigation lanterns that I had bought expressly for this purpose (which produce more light than the electric navigation lights). It is really difficult to read navigation markers by using a kerosene storm lantern. Pretty much impossible. After coming close to running aground repeatedly without being able to thread into where we thought the marina was, we decided to push through overnight (not a real good plan, as most people who have navigated inland waterways have discovered). We rean the length of Lac St. Luc, and had our first introduction to traveling with Merchant traffic. We had probably half a dozen sea going freighters pass us head upstream. Quite an experience to see them go from white light on the horizon ("What is that?" Jim said, pointing at the light on the horizon!), to passing you at 20 knots while you are trying deperately to get the heck out of the channel. We finally made it into Sally Berry de Valleyfield at about 4:00 am. We bumped our way in to the marina by trial and error (an hour to travel what should have taken 10 minutes... night vision goggles would help alot.) We couldn't continue, because we were almost out of gas, and the 10 nm canal around Sally Berry de Valleyfield does not premit stopping once entering the canal.
Quebec is a foreign country! What a discovery. Everybody speaks French almost exclusively, and many will choose not to converse with you in English at all. Jim had spent a year in France, and his rusty French helped us get by. My 2 terms of French in college meant that I might be able to order ice-cream, or something reasonably close to it.
"You are the first pleasurecraft I have seen in a week", the locktender said. We were passing through the last lock just upstream of Montreal. We told him what our plans were, and he laughed. He told us that the Chambly canal had been drained for the winter since Oct 12th, and we were SWOL. We anchored behind a spit of land outside Longueuil, and spent about 2 weeks exploring Montreal and our options for regaining the DREAM. The atlas shows it to be about 30 miles from Montreal to the Richelleu river that feeds into Lake Champlain. No problem. Just a short truck trip. After evaluating the cost of hauling, trucking, and launching ($600), we decided we would have to just head south. We were starting to discover why all the other boats were out of the water. There was 3" of snow on the ground, and it was about 10 degrees F outside. Bone chillingly cold, especially on an unheated, uninsulated sailboat. We spent most nights until 2:00 am in a coffe shop in Longueuil, playing board games and meeting people who hung out. It was better than freezing on the boat. Finally, we admitted defeat and reteated south.
"You are the first pleasurecraft I have seen in two weeks", the locktender said. No kidding, it was us you saw two weeks ago. Not funny at all. About this time, I had taken to wearing a sweatshirt, a sweater,, a wool coat, and foul weather gear. I wore wool gloves, with thick wool socks over them to keep my hands from freezing. I had a neck gator pulled over my nose, and a watchcap. Jim took to wearing a ski mask. But at least we were headed south, to warmer weather (upstream).
the saga continues. It includes sailing across Lake Ontario in a blizzard
with an inch of solid ice encasing the top of the boat.
frozen in 2” of ice on the Mohawk River at the top of the Eire Canal. Surviving
the storm of the decade in New York City (Dec 1992).
down the hudson river (dont miss the abandoned castle), and getting our
dinghy stolen in NY.
hour jumps out in the Atlantic to make distance down track, and try to
catch up with the otehr crusisers before they started heading North to
avoid hurricane season.
Breaking our rudder in a storm 40 nm off the coast of South Carolina, and fixing it in Beaufort, SC.
Surviving the second storm of the century (March 1992) in Beaufort, SC. Plus some wonderful time in the Florida Keys. 4000 nm spread out over 8 months.
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