Going Over Niagara Falls!
25 August 2011
We nervously entered the Black River Canal - if you travel in the eastern portion of the channel you end up in the Black River Canal - if you travel in the western portion of the channel you end up in the current of the Niagara River heading toward the falls. Wiley kept having nightmares of our boat going over the Falls! We had heard of idiocy of people going over the falls in a barrel, the images of what that would look like in a sailboat was the recurring nightmare Wiley had as he studied the charts. Our new friends assured us that NO SAILBOAT HAD EVER GONE OVER THE FALLS, - the rocks would stop you first! - but the potential humiliation of being the first sailor ever to be so stupid as to do so only made Wiley worry more.
We traveled under many interesting bridges including a swing bridge and the Rainbow bridge. The greatest challenge was our first lock on the Black River Canal. It was only a drop of about 5-6feet and we felt pretty confident as we held the lines on the lock and our boat gradually dropped. However, when Wiley put the boat in gear forward and gave it throttle - the boat did not respond! PANIC! There was a lot of weed (our nemesis) which had grabbed our prop once again. Wiley put it in reverse to unwind the weed and I watched as the wall of lock was coming closer. I fended us off the opposite wall of the lock where we had dropped. Finally, Wiley was able to put it in forward and we exited the lock. Whew! Our confidence shaken, we traveled on rethinking all that we might have done differently; after all, our next locks in Lockport were going to drop us 50 feet.
We were navigating the Black River toward Tonawanda when to our surprise (A Phenomenal Surprise!) we heard our names shouted to us from land. It was our new dear friends Paul Infantino and Teresa Dancy, standing on the bank of the canal. They had driven up to look for us and help. They shouted that they would meet us at Wardell’s Boat Yard. Sure enough as we carefully turned into the channel to Wardell’s (it really looks like you are heading into a dead-end) there stood Paul in his bright red shirt and Teresa in her sailor navy and whites. They gave us direction, and took our lines. Then they helped us un-step the mast. This took a long time, because we didn’t have the pins out or the boat ready. Paul’s experience and cheerful help were invaluable! We kept pinching ourselves as we accepting their help - we were amazed that Teresa used one of her vacation days to help us. We were humbled by their generosity.
Dennis Wardell, the owner, is not a morning person. When I called him on Monday morning to say that we were on our way he responded that he had expected us on Sunday and that he would try to fit us in. We were worried that this might be a problem for us as we had a truck coming to pick up the mast the next morning. However, when we arrived Dennis put us at ease (shared that he is grumpy in the morning) and helped us unstep the mast. He was even patient with us as we had forgotten to disconnect the wiring in the mast and discovered that our newly purchased Raymarine plotter etc. had a magical little box attached to wires that went up the mast that could only be opened with the smallest of screw drivers (think eyeglass repair kits). Dennis found the tools we needed and Paul stood holding the mast with Wiley while I disconnected the wiring below.
The Black River Canal traversed, the mast removed, and finally our hearts were beating at a normal pace. We had a lovely lunch with Paul and Teresa in Tonawanda and spent the night at the Wardell’s dock so that we could see the mast picked up by the truckers in the morning.
We know that the lesson modeled by Paul and Teresa is as Paul said “Pay if Forward” - know that what you generously offer to others will find its way back to you. They even offered to help us should we need it as we traveled the Erie Canal. How comforting to know that someone has your back. Good Karma embraced us and we are feeling blessed and lucky. Paul and Teresa are people we would like to have as friends for life.