Through the Oswego Canal!
21 October 2010
This turned out to be a pretty good day. We waited until a bit after 9 AM to leave, as small thunderstorms were passing over. It was still supposed to be very windy but we only planned to do 3 locks and 7 miles to Minetto. Bud checked the fuel filters and there was again air in the tops, so he filled each with diesel, as the Rookeys had shown him. We called the first lock and they said they'd be ready. Our new friend Al, the one with the wooden ketch he made himself, helped us out of the slip in the gusty wind and off we went. There was a big powerboat in the lock waiting, so we pulled up behind and on the opposite wall. There were ropes hanging down to hold on to. I grabbed the one Bud wanted for a stern line and walked it back to Bud. He had to leave the helm to take it. I hurried back forward and grabbed the next one up as the boat floated forward. The only problem was that our clear deck is on the port side (the starboard side has the main and boom alongside the cabin and it's pretty hard to move quickly forward and back) and when Bud uses reverse to stop the boat (remember, no brakes) the prop pulls the boat to starboard. So as I'm going back forward to grab my line, the boat is drifting away from the wall. In one lock I had to lean out as far as I could with my "boat hook" (more on that later) to get the line. If the lifelines had broken I would have gone swimming!
In any case, the lock filled, we managed not to do any damage or look too stupid and it was on to the next lock. That lock was just a few hundred yards up stream and was open and waiting for us. Again, the powerboat took the starboard wall and we took the port wall. The powerboat was having no trouble. It was a huge boat, very new, and had bow and stern thrusters, so he could go forward, back or side-to-side. The lock workers waved as we left and said the next lock knew we were coming. This one was maybe a half-mile beyond, but as we approached we saw that the lock doors were still shut. We had to hang out for a few minutes in the wind while they emptied the lock and opened the doors. Bud said it actually wasn't too hard, as the current and wind were opposed. We were going into the current, and that made it easier for him to steer. I don't think it helped when he had to reverse a couple of times though! Anyway, we got through, and as we left, the powerboat zoomed away, and we took it easy (not that we have much choice). We decided to let him get far enough ahead to lock through the next lock alone.
About 6 miles up we came to the 4th lock of the day. Just past this lock were Minetto and the free town dock. We locked through successfully, the lockmaster told us where the town dock was, we managed to get tied off on a low floating dock with the wind pushing us away from the dock and all was well. When we got off the boat, who should appear but the brothers Rookey. They weren't actually ready to work on our boat, but had seen us on the canal and came over to check with us. They warned us that the power was wired incorrectly, so when the dock was wet, the ground fault often tripped as soon as you plugged in. They said they'd be back later to check the fuel system since we planned to stay there. Bud plugged in the electric and I walked Fuzzy dog. I was on the phone with our daughter when Bud came back ashore. He, Fuzzy and I took shelter in the doorway to the Ladies Room as we watched another little storm cell pass, this one with hail! Then I found out that Bud was waiting for me to get off the phone so we could move the boat back to reach the other power outlet, as the first had indeed tripped as soon as Bud turned the battery charger on in the boat. So we moved the boat, plugged in, turned on and the power blew again!
We checked the chart. Another couple of hours of motoring and 3 more locks ahead was the Phoenix Free Dock. Reportedly with 15 AMP power. At least we hoped our little box heater would work. It was 1 o'clock then, so off we went. While we were at the Minetto free dock we saw Al and his wife go by. We waved them out of sight. Not long after we started out again, Al called to check on us and we told him we were coming along, now behind him.
The next two locks were interesting. These locks did not have ropes hanging down like the first three we did, they had vertical nylon covered cables in recesses along the walls. You had to wrap your own line around the cable and let it slide up as the lock filled and the boat rose. Now the prop walk (tendency for the boat to move starboard in reverse) was a real problem. I hooked a cable; Bud left the helm and threw a line around it. I went forward as the boat drifted away to grab the next cable. Now my makeshift boat hook comes into play. I was using an extension handle for painting, with a pretty sturdy four- inch roller screwed to the end. I reinforced the joint with super tape and taped the roller to the handle so it couldn't move. It was working quite well for grabbing the lines, although the reverse end was a bit slick when I used it to fend off. This time, though, I had to grab that cable and pull the front of the boat back over so I could get a rope around it. As I was pulling, the handle suddenly started to extend! I had to let go or I would have pulled the handle into two pieces (and one of those pieces would have been hooked to the cable). So I called to Bud that I had to let go, Bud tried to readjust and use his real boathook to get us back to the wall, but in doing that he dropped it into the lock! So I had to use my fake boathook to fish it out. Meanwhile, the boat is drifting steadily away from the wall. Good thing we were the only boat in the lock. At that point, Bud gave up and went back to the helm and eased the boat up and over to the other side. I was able to grab a cable, he also grabbed one, but now our dinghy had blown forward between the boat and wall and was getting squished. Bud had the makeshift boathook at that point, and darned if that didn't go over! I managed to get the other boathook to him and he fished it out. We finally made it up and out.
That was one of two locks in a set, so almost immediately we were back in another lock. In between I tried to shorten up the towline for the dinghy. The next lock was the same type, so we immediately went for the starboard side of the lock. The lockmaster told us to pull forward of an overhead bridge. We picked out our cables and each had managed to secure our line around one when the lockmaster called out, "I said forward of the bridge." We looked back and our stern was still under the bridge. We looked up and realized that when the lock was full the bridge was only about 5 feet above the waterline. That wouldn't work. So Bud sheepishly moved the boat forward and we repeated the whole exercise.
We looked and felt foolish. The top of the mast, which sticks out behind the boat, had just touched the wall in the first lock, but not hard enough to do anything to it. The bottom of the mast, out in front of the boat, had just touched in the second lock, again with no marks or damage. So nothing was hurt but our pride.
Happily, there was about an hour to the next lock (the last of the Oswego Canal and the last of the day) so we could recover. We called the lockmaster on the radio about a mile (10 minutes) from the lock. There is also a lift bridge there, just before the lock, so we asked if we should tie up until he lifted the bridge. He said we could grab a rope on the wall approaching the lock, another boat was there and he'd lock us through together. It was Al. The siren for the bridge sounded as we were approaching, so Bud just slowed way down and we went right past Al and into the lock. This one had ropes and we managed to lock through without screwing up. Al hollered over and asked if our engine was running OK. We said yes, he pointed out the town dock as he went on by and we waved good-bye again. He told us to call if we got stuck. Cruisers are great people.
We explored the town dock and found if we pulled the boat all the way back to the end closest to the lock there was a 30 AMP outlet. We tried it; it worked! We can run the reverse cycle heat/air and the little box heater, so the boat is toasty.
And, we called the Rookey Brothers and they said to check the filters again to see if there was air built up. They thought the air must be out of the system by now and not actually leaking in any more or the boat wouldn't have run. So Bud took the tops off the filters and there was almost no air there. He called the brothers back to report his findings and find out what we owed them. No charge!! Wow!
Then, walking back from a Laundromat/convenience store trip, who should pull up but Jon and Arline. They'd read my blog about the continued fuel filter problems and come looking for us to make sure everything was all right. We spent a few more minutes exchanging stories and renewed our intentions to meet again in Stuart. Cruisers are great people!
So a free dock, with good power, a free repair and new friends. And 22 miles and 7 locks behind us. A pretty good day.