I write this blog roughly every two weeks while we are travelling around the Great Loop.
Pictures are taken with my phone, or kindly provided by fellow Loopers. All are copyright and may not be downloaded or copied without express permission.
For more professional images from our journey please see the America's Great Loop page.
Nine Lives 2018 Summer Voyage
Croton-on-Hudson to Montreal, June 17 to July 4
Continuing our stay at Half Moon Bay on the Hudson River, after a day of sightseeing, we left the boat and went off in different directions. Dick drove to Toronto to participate in the annual reunion lunch of former Ingersoll Rand colleagues from his first years with the company. I rented another car and set off the next afternoon for Long Island and dinner with Harriet and Carol. I worked with Harriet many years ago at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and together with Carol and other friends we have travelled in Europe and enjoyed canal boating in UK.
However. First it was apparently necessary for me to have a very stressful adventure. Dick had not been gone for two hours when I discovered tell-tale signs that our holding tank was ready to overflow. (for the landlubbers, the holding tank is where we keep the poop and such, it has to be pumped out once a week). Having had an experience with the situation last summer I knew this was not to be ignored. Unfortunately, the pump-out machine was located on a dock at the other end of the marina, outside the breakwater. After my urgent requests for help from fellow Loopers, they jumped into action. Two ladies got on board with me to catch and throw lines, and two gentlemen stood on the dock to cast off, and then hurried over to the pump-out dock and did the necessary business. The whole thing was immensely stressful on several levels. First, although I do take Nine Lives into locks, mostly I don’t do any docking maneuvers (I lost my nerve in bad weather at St Mary’s last January). I had to take her out of the tricky slip, around the marina, then turn and back her up to the pump-out dock. Then of course it all had to be done again in reverse. I can say definitively that I now have my nerve back! The second level of stressful was because the tank was overfull, and I will leave my gentle readers to sleep sound and not draw graphic images for you all. Anyway, it all got done, and what a great group these Loopers are. One of the ladies had just arrived to spend time with her gentleman, and there she was participating in the most disagreeable job on the water to help a complete stranger! Credit to Dick, after a brief text exchange that evening to tell him what had happened, he phoned me and made soothing, congratulatory, and even slightly apologetic noises for not being present.
My drive to Long Island was uneventful, but I am truly glad I no longer do that regularly. It was only 48 miles, but it took 2.5 hours each way, and that was outside of rush hour traffic! Port Jefferson, where I stayed and had dinner, is a pretty village on Long Island Sound. There is a very nice marina there in the supposedly sheltered bay, but that afternoon I watched a large trawler make 5 unsuccessful attempts to dock in the high winds and currents. I am very glad we are not including the Sound on our Loop itinerary. It was great to see my friends and catch up and reminisce.
Dick had an equally uneventful trip to Toronto and enjoyed getting together with many old friends from his early days with Ingersoll-Rand. They included Gordon Rogers, who first hired him, and who I have known since childhood, when my Dad was an I-R customer. Also Martin Campbell, who was at Queens a year behind us, and who was one of Dick’s first Application Engineers when he was moved up into Sales. Laurie Trewartha was Dick’s second boss, and Dave Mathewson succeeded Laurie as Dick’s boss. Garth Warren headed up the Calgary operation when we lived there the first time in the 80’s.
After we both safely returned to Half Moon Bay, a great evening of docktails with about 20 Loopers, and a chance to provision at the excellent local supermarket, we were ready to continue our journey. Dick was pleased to provision with a car, and not have to load 50 pounds of beer, water, fruit, canned goods, vegetables and various meat and cheese onto his bicycle as he usually does. Reminding you all that he has a single speed bike, unassisted by electricity!
Our first stop on the Hudson was our favourite Maritime Museum at Kingston. We docked with two other Looper boats who we had met at docktails the evening before. On our return from dinner we were fascinated by the local fire brigade practising their high pressure hose skills across the river, fortunately pointing up the Creek instead of across! The next morning we launched the dinghy and went for a ride all the way to the end of Rondout Creek. Rondout was a major shipbuilding port in the 19th century, when it was the northern terminus of the Delaware and Hudson Canal. Before that, it was a Dutch trading post in the early 17th century. The Canal was the heyday of the city, bringing coal from northeastern Pennsylvania to the markets of New York City. As happened all over the world, the railroads spelled the end for the lucrative canal barge business, and it closed in the early 20th century. Today Rondout Creek supplies a large part of New York City’s daily water draw via reservoirs and aqueducts in the Catskills. The Creek still has some small boatbuilding and repair facilities, as well as several large marinas. It was an interesting dinghy run on a pretty morning.
Our next stop was Donovan’s Shady Harbour, followed by a transit through Albany and Troy to Waterford. At Troy we passed the Corning Glass Barge moored on the river wall. This is a barge that travels around the Erie Canal and waterways of Upstate New York this year in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the move of the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company to Corning, New York. Some of the innovations credited to Corning Glass include the first electric light bulbs for Thomas Edison, the invention of optical fiber for telecommunications, and the glass used in modern flat screen displays, including cell phones. The barge offers glassblowing demonstrations each day plus museum exhibits sharing the story of glassmaking in Corning. It is touring in celebration of the bicentennial of the New York Waterways and the Erie Canal.
Waterford was busy, due to the anticipated arrival of the Glass Barge and the upcoming weekend, but we had timed our arrival carefully and were able to get a spot under the bridge on the free town wall. Being under the bridge had the advantage of keeping the boat cool on a hot sunny day, but the ga-thump ga-thump of vehicles crossing the bridge carried on all night and in the morning the boat was covered in fallen dirt and dust. Not to worry, our next stop was on the Champlain Canal, with a transit of five locks on a wet and miserable day!
I have decided that I am not so very fond of transiting locks in Nine Lives, especially big locks and lifting as opposed to lowering. The lines we have to grab and hold are greasy and filthy, and all the muck from the lock-side transfers itself to the fenders and thus to the boat. We are sailboat shaped, so we have a tendency to swing from bow and stern, and while other boats simply push off from the lock wall occasionally, we need constant vigilance and much pushing, followed by inevitable pulling hard on wet lines to keep the boat in place at the lock wall. Our usual method is for Dick to bring the boat near the lock, but then he goes outside where I have prepared lines and fenders, and he catches the critical first line while I bring the boat into the lock wall. Then, once the boat is stopped, I rush outside and catch the second line at the stern and hang on for all I am worth.
The Champlain Canal is not the prettiest we have seen, although I am sure it would have looked better in sunshine. We stopped for the night on a town wall in the village of Fort Edward. Once upon a time it was an important portage place used by Native Americans for thousands of years to get around Hudson Falls. The first fort was built here in 1755 during the French and Indian Wars. The town was established in 1818. As is so often the case, there are signs of former prosperity, but Fort Edward has fallen on hard times. Several attempts have been made to improve the town, including an excellent park and walkways on the river, plus a good town dock for boaters. However, nothing is done about upkeep, and it is all looking rather sad.
Our next stop was Whitehall and another town dock and local park. Originally it was called Skenesborough in 1759 when it was first settled. The village was captured by the Americans during the Revolution, and a fleet of ships was built to face British forces on Lake Champlain. Whitehall is considered to be the birthplace of the U.S. Navy. More ships were built here during the War of 1812. In the first part of the 19th century the Champlain Canal was built and the railroad also came to the town, and it became an important centre for the silk industry. Today all this is a memory. Efforts to improve the waterfront and attract visitors are ongoing.
From Whitehall we transited the last lock on the Champlain Canal and entered Lake Champlain. We passed Fort Ticonderoga, high above the western shore. Originally called Fort Carillon, it is a large 18th century star fort built by the French at the narrows near the southern end of Lake Champlain. The fort played an important role in the region until after the Revolution. The United States allowed it to fall into ruins and it was eventually bought by a private family in 1820. It became a tourist attraction, and was restored in the early 20th century. It is now run by a foundation. The most southerly of three Champlain ferries operates just north of the fort, crossing back and forth to Vermont using a cable.
Arriving south of the bridge at Crown Point, we anchored for the night in what we expected to be a bay sheltered from strong winds out of the north east. Unfortunately, we chose a spot a little too near to the bridge and the narrows it crosses, and Dick was delighted to experience the phenomenon of vortex shedding first hand. He can give you the scientific explanation, I only know we bounced around a lot, swung on the anchor more that we prefer, and we could see waves crisscrossing near the boat when there had been no other craft passing to create a wake!
After an enjoyable, if a little windier than expected, trip north on Lake Champlain we arrived in Burlington. Here we were greeted by Dick’s friend and former colleague Julian Smith and Nikki, his partner. We were treated to dinner at their summer home a few miles south of Burlington, and the next day they joined us for a Segway tour of the city. This proved to be a fascinating morning out. The tour operator is a former lawyer, who was one of the two influential citizens of the city who were able to prevent the waterfront and the closed railway right of way from being taken over by developers. Instead, after years of campaigning, a waterfront park was created, with a bike path that follows the shoreline for many miles, and two public marinas. His efforts did not end there. After a paragliding accident left him disabled, the activist applied several times for a permit to operate Segway tours on Burlington sidewalks and bike trails. Turned down, he then demonstrated lateral thinking, and came at the problem from the perspective of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The tours are the number one attraction in Burlington, according to TripAdvisor, and many thousands have enjoyed one or two hour tours without accident or incident. Burlington is a very nice small city, that seems to have done a great job of staying lively and successful while still being a centre for both the University of Vermont and Champlain College. Somehow the large number of students add positively to the city rather than creating student ghettos.
We stayed 3 nights in Burlington, enjoying Julian and Nikki’s company and hosting them for dinner on board one evening. Nikki and I had a very pleasant morning poking around the shops of the village of Shelburne and having a nice lunch. Dick took his bike along the waterfront trails in both directions. On our last evening we walked up the hill and had an interesting and authentic meal in a French restaurant.
We left Burlington on a cool and misty morning and headed north past Valcour Island. This was the site of the naval battle with the ships that had been built in Whitehall during the American Revolution. The armada hid behind the island and surprised the British as they sailed south. The battle was lost, but it is credited as a turning point in the War of Independence because the losing American navy harried the British enough that they had to turn back north and wait for the next year, by which time the tide had turned.
North of Plattsburgh the Port Kent ferries ply the narrows across to Grand Isle, Vermont. I remember making that crossing many times with my parents on our way to Canada’s East Coast. Three ferries were operating when we arrived, but we managed to find the right moment and keep out of their way.
Rouses Point marks the top end of Lake Champlain, and the border is just north of the bridge. We tied up at the marina overnight, and watched many small cruisers come in for fuel after clearing U.S. Customs. It was the beginning of a long weekend with Canada Day on Monday, and U.S Independence Day later in the week, so a busy time for the Lake and the Richelieu River and canals.
Just north of the bridge, still in American territory, is Fort Montgomery. This is a Third System fort, built between 1844 and 1870. It is one of only a few forts in the USA that has a full moat, and at the time of building it was considered state of the art with no expense spared in design and construction. However, it was not the first structure to be built in that location. In 1816 an octagonal structure with 30 foot high walls began construction to protect the United States from an attack from British Canada. Unfortunately, it was discovered that a surveying error had resulted in this fort being built ¾ of a mile into British territory. Sometimes named Fort Blunder, it was hastily abandoned and all the building materials were carried off by local settlers to use in their homes and barns. After a treaty in 1842 ceded the location to the USA, the second fort began construction. It was garrisoned occasionally, and some of the many planned guns were installed, but eventually Fort Montgomery was made obsolete by new advances in warfare and it was abandoned. It fell into private hands, and attempts were made to offer it to the State of New York as a historic landmark, but the State is not interested. If any of you happen to have just short of $1 million kicking around, you can buy it. It is zoned for commercial use, so you could build a marina or a resort hotel.
The next morning it was our turn to take Nine Lives through Canadian Customs. A very friendly officer asked the necessary questions (are you carrying any weapons? do you have any means of self-defense on board? Are you sure? You live in South Carolina!) and scanned our passports. He then decided he wanted to come on board Nine Lives, I think to see the boat rather than as an inspection tour! He asked lots of the same questions that other boaters ask, such as what are the engines and how many bathrooms, and then bid us a cheery farewell without looking into any cupboards or storage lockers.
We continued north on the Richelieu River to St Jean sur Richelieu. On the way we were waked numerous times by the many pocket cruisers that seem to be popular with Quebecois from Montreal. I had to take the picture off the wall as Nine Lives bounced up and down and side to side from every passing boat. The river is lined with many beautiful properties, some with huge houses, others more modest. It is only a few miles overland from Montreal, so many weekend cottages and even commuters enjoy the beautiful riverfront. St Jean sur Richelieu is a fairly prosperous town, supporting 177 restaurants, according to TripAdvisor. However, there are very few shops and boutiques, so I am guessing the wealthy shop in Montreal, while those of more modest means patronize big box stores outside of town. I had my best meal of the trip so far at one of the French restaurants, along with a bottle of my favourite Pouilly Fume, not often found on the menu. (No, I did not drink it all, Dick had his fair share!)
From Saint Jean sur Richelieu we were immediately in the historic Chambly Canal. This is a beautiful, but very narrow, waterway with 6 lift bridges and 9 locks that drop the canal a total of 80 feet. The locks are all operated by hand by summer students employed by Parks Canada. The canal has the same feel as the British canals we have spent so much time on in past years. We made it a short day, stopping before the last three-lock staircase at the town wall in Chambly. This was the hottest day we had experienced so far, with temperatures well into the 90s, and high humidity. Even though I was careful to dress in sun protective clothing and a hat, I found that standing outside all morning in the heat and sun felt just like standing in a frying pan, and by the time we tied up I was starting to feel quite ill. I remember feeling this hot when we lived in Malaysia, but then I was not also wearing a life jacket and a headset for communications!
Chambly is a pretty town. The final 3 locks on the canal drop to a wide basin at the end of the canal. From there the Richelieu River continues its course north to Sorel and the St Lawrence River. Chambly is considered a suburb of Montreal, being only 16 miles from city centre. It was settled during the 17th century. A series of wooden forts were succeeded by a massive stone fort, one of a series built to protect French settlers in the area and the city of Montreal from hostile Iroquois and the English. Today it is a fairly quiet village with lots of parks and well kept homes and shops. We celebrated Canada Day (July 1st) with a bottle of champagne, cheese and crackers, and some very nice country pate Dick found at the local supermarket.
Back in the Richelieu River we were again joined by numbers of cruising boats, all of whom are apparently incapable of slowing down when passing, and throw huge wakes regardless of kayaks, fishermen, pontoon boats, or Nine Lives being bounced around. We reached the industrial town of Sorel by mid-afternoon, and tied up in a local marina just off the St Lawrence River. We had been warned by the marina office to expect “many waves”, but in fact it was no worse than most of our marina stays. So far Dick is managing to save his wad of $5 bills for dockhands. Either they are too late to help, or if they do show up they are more of a hindrance than a help, so he does not feel inclined to hand out tips! An early morning walk along the Sorel waterfront park was very pleasant before the heat of the day. Both the Chambly and Sorel parks have outdoor exhibitions of photographs taken by the local camera club members, most of them to a very high standard.
Our journey south on the St Lawrence to Montreal was uneventful until the last hour. The river is wide, and there is a choice of taking the shipping channel or following a more meandering course on the small craft channel. My marine traffic app showed only one or two freighters in the Seaway, so we chose the easier shipping channel. Being so far from the shore it was perhaps the more boring choice. As we approached Montreal, the passage got a little exciting. We were passing a large freighter being loaded when suddenly we noticed a huge shadow over our shoulders, and discovered that a freighter we had passed earlier at the dock had come out and was now coming up behind us very fast. Fortunately, there was plenty of room and time to get out of the way, but his speed created a wake that reflected back and forth from the shore and churned up the formerly smooth and easy waters.
Next we arrived at the section of the river that is divided by St Helens Island. Here we turned west to enter the old Port of Montreal, the two kilometre stretch of the river that was used as early as 1611 by the fur trade until the 1970’s when it was replaced as a commercial port by larger and more modern facilities. St Helens Island was enlarged and combined with other small islands to host the Worlds Fair in 1967. The creation of this division in the river has resulted in an extreme current of more than 5 knots against you as you attempt to enter the Old Port. We made our way under the Champlain Bridge at about 2 knots, all the time having to watch out for ferries and tour boats as well as unpredictable small pleasure boats.
We expected it to get easier when we entered the marina, but unfortunately one of the tour boats was coming out at that moment, so there were a few hairy moments while we tried to hold place in the strong current, avoiding being swept into the freighters moored on one side or running into the tour boat on the other. The marina management apparently do not use their radios to talk to customers, only to each other, and the current, although not as bad as outside, is still surprisingly strong inside the marina. Add the wind, and it was an overly exciting arrival. Absent any instruction, we chose the first empty dock and tied up, at which point a slightly indignant dockhand appeared to give us our correct slip assignment and supposed assistance in tying up. Another $5 saved…
We will be here in Old Montreal for 3 nights. The heat wave is still with us, although we are hoping for more moderate temperatures on our last day for some sightseeing. Fortunately this marina has good power and our air conditioning is working well. A good time for laundry and finishing this installment of the blog!
Expect the next of the blogs for the summer voyaging later in July.