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Sloop Les Miserables
Going Over Niagara Falls!

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.

The Best in Buffalo

Arriving in Buffalo began our anxiety about the possibility of making a wrong turn and then going over Niagara Falls in our 30 foot sailboat. Thank goodness for the absolutely delightful, generous, and kind people we met while at H dock at the Erie Basin Marina. We had hoped to stay at the Buffalo Yacht Club only to discover that they had a Regatta occurring and there was no room for us. Initially, we were disappointed because our last two "public" marinas left much to be desired. We were hoping for a great place to stay and much to our delight the Erie Basin Marina was just that.

We were greeted by Paul with helping hands for lines upon arrival. He shared a great place to dine and directions. We enjoyed a microbrewery called Pearl Street Grill- a multi-floored bar with terraces overlooking Buffalo. We found out that there were no nearby grocery stores; however, Bill, a boater who heard us talking about walking 3 miles to buy groceries while we had breakfast at the Hatch (a very informal restaurant that looks over Lake Erie) - offered to take us to a grocery store and wait to give us a ride back to the boat. We couldn't pass up such a generous offer.

We wanted to repaid some of the kindnesses offered to us by these fellow boaters so we shared one of our few bottles of 2005 Bordeaux and some of the treats we bought in Buffalo. We were invited by Teresa and Paul to cocktails on the dock that evening. It was wonderful to feel a part of their community. The weather picked up and so we were planning to leave on Sunday to go to Tonawanda to have our mast taken down but due to thunderstorms and 25+ knot winds we decided to wait until Monday. On Monday morning, the wind made it a challenge to leave our dock by the wall . We moved the boat back using lines to a point where we could pull out - Bob and Jo (who will be in Hope Town, Bahamas in March) helped us out. We left Buffalo - loving it because of the opportunity to be with such kind generous people, relax after our trials at Erie and Dunkirk, and our new friends encouraging words of advice about traveling to the Erie Canal.

The Evacuation of Dunkirk

The evacuation of Dunkirk - Erie, Pennsylvania is a town that may have fallen on hard times but at least we got our laundry done there. Our next port, Dunkirk, made Erie look like Paris.
We stayed at the private marina in Dunkirk, on one side of the big pier. We were on a very large dock, which we shared with a large commercial fishing vessel and one other power boat. We had the rest of the marina to ourselves - we would discover why!
Dunkirk itself is not a "bad town". The downtown is less cohesive than St. Charles or Geneva, for example in Illinois, and everything was closed except their boardwalk, which is a small strip mall. There was a rock concert on the big pier, and the music was pretty good. The people who came were mostly families and the concert ended at 8:30.
Alas, it was only then that we took a good look at the marina. The place looked like a junkyard - for example, in addition to the working live bait dispensing machine that was abandoned, a second live bait machine was leaning against the building, these were two among many items lying around. Someone had vomited in the sink in the small Woman's bathroom and shower, and Merry decided washing up on the boat was not a bad idea. Since the men's bathroom smelled of urine, I skipped the shower too. All but one dock lights was out, which was bad because parts of some of the finger docks were missing, and with all o them, you had to take a step down to get to your boat - and, of course, you couldn't see the step-off (which I experienced - but did not fall into the harbor!)
The "cruising guide" said the place had Wi Fi - it didn't and shore-power - which did not work.

The next morning there were two colorful older men and a polite young man with three dogs sitting outside the marina office. The concrete block which had been inside the men's bathroom had now been used to prop open the doorway, revealing the toilet stall in all its glory. Stepping over "deposits from all of the dogs" I decided that I had to use the facilities, and felt that the stall door would at least give me a degree of privacy. Alas, I was disappointed - even in this! While seated upon the j"throne", one of the large dogs stuck its head under the stall and looked up at me between my legs, only to be yanked out again by the boy, who yelled "BAD BRUTAS BAD!"

We had both been kept up all night by the big fishing boat banging against a steel piling. We were eager to get on our way. However, we discovered that a mat of weed had enveloped the stern of our boat and the fairway. I spent an hour using the dinghy, a boat hook, and an oar to clear a way for our boat to get out. At last, when the dawn had ripened into morning we departed evacuating Dunkirk and not planning to return any time in the future.

Erie is "eerie"

You enter the harbor mouth at Erie and discover you are on a large lake with the city and various marinas to port. The lake water was a brownish green and if you looked over the transom you couldn't see much of our rudder under water because of the lack of water clarity. It was neat to pass the monument where Commodores Perry's squadron was built during the war of 1812. To get into the marina we stayed at we actually had to pass under the pedestrian walkway of the Sheraton Hotel. It always looks like the mast is going to hit the top of any bridge you go under - so we held our breath as we cleared through. There were some work boats tied up in the marina with no one aboard but only 2 other pleasure boats. We shared a very large empty dock with one of these boats. The water in the harbor was green, slimy, and smelly. We tied up and locked the boat. We went into downtown Erie at about 5pm and there were hardly any people around. Lots of the stores were closed - and we mean forever. The city was preparing for Erie days - but it was surprisingly empty of people. After dinner at a restaurant with terrible service (it wouldn't last a month in Chicago!) we returned to our boat. The harbor had two chain-link perimeter fences. In order to get to or leave our boat we had to use a key to open a creaking gate - it sounded like something from a crypt. Our boat was right near one of the fences and after it was dark we had a sorted variety of odd people standing by the fence and looking at us. Merry announced that she was going to the marina building to do laundry and Wiley objected noting that it was beyond the defensive perimeter. Wiley claimed that the individuals standing by the fence staring at us were Zombies: the "undead" looking to feast upon our flesh - ignoring this acute observation Merry said she would be fine because there was no one around the marina building - just then a rather odd middle aged man appeared precisely there and Merry said, "Oh, except for that one weird guy." The result was that Wiley provided an escort service and stood there while she did the laundry. The "undead" never appeared in sufficient numbers to push the chain link fence down so the night ended happily. We left early in the morning to fuel at Perry's Landing Marina and rather than stay a second night in Erie got on our way to Dunkirk, NY.

08/19/2011 | Ahh, Dunkirk
Oh, wait I know this one,,, hold on a tic, what are you guys doing in france? You are a little bit late for the evacuation. ;)
Country Clubbing
Merry & Wiley - Thunderstorms

We motor sailed to Mentor, Ohio and are currently secure at a lovely dock at the Mentor Yacht Club. Yesterday, the Cleveland to Mentor Race ended at the club and it was fabulous seeing all of the beautiful spinnakers as they came in for the finish. We are enjoying the good life - a wonderful dinner at the "club", swimming in their pool - or in the lake (Wiley's preference!), finding 2 great bottles of '05 Bordeaux wine, and chatting with fellow sailors. Once again, we have found that everyone is very kind and we received offers for transportation. We fortunately, found a wonderful lady who provided us with a ride back from the Chandlery. We really appreciated this as we continue to outfit our boat for the Erie Canal - 2 - 100 foot lines for the locks, another boat hook, an electrical adapter, etc. Today we are relaxing at the yacht club while Wiley works on writing his play "Voices of the Middle Passage" and I take advantage of time on WiFi.

08/18/2011 | Deb & Rich
Les Mis in Ohio! what an adventure! thanks for sharing!
Toughest Passage so Far...

We left Put N Bay - smashing through 4-5 foot waves with gusts of wind of 20 mph and feeling a bit queasy, that is until we could turn to the South Channel and take the waves behind us. We "ran" most all of the way to Vermilion in rolling Lake Erie seas. Lake Erie can be as mean as a "rattlesnake" - which by the way they have - that is rattlesnakes. The waves were steep, close together, and they come up much more quickly than on Lakes Michigan or Huron. The water is green. We entered Vermilion after coming around to the west entrance because of shallow waters. The channel was picture perfect calm and we entered the second channel where we pulled into slip 3E - which turned out to be the slip owned by the couple we met and dined with in Port Sanilac. We have stayed for three nights as we waited for a new port light to arrive at West Marine. The people here have once again been generous and kind. Our boat neighbors Dr. Greg and John have been wonderful. John even loaned us his car so that Wiley could quickly go and pick up some marine hardware. We have had a delightful stay - though we missed going to the famous French Restaurant that overlooks the channel. We are planning to travel to Mentor Harbor next.

08/11/2011 | Heather Richter
Hi guys.... Glad to see you are safe and sound. I love reading your posts. I am in New Orleans at the moment reading about your latest adventure and looking at all the lovely photos. Can't wait until you reach Marsh Harbor. Looking forward to sharing a nice meal with you both!

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