This is what canal cruising should be…the Erie Canal

Beginning at the Hudson River, in the town of Waterford, about 130 miles north of New York City, the Erie Canal is 336 miles long, with 35 locks, and 249 bridges, some with only a 15.5ft clearance. We took down the dinghy lift and lowered the radar mast to get our overall height down to 13 feet.


The Erie Canal is the largest and most famous of a number of canals in the New York Canal system. It was envisioned in the early 1800’s to shorten travel time from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. Initially built as a ditch with horse towpaths that paralleled the Mohawk and Seneca Rivers, the canal has been rebuilt twice and as motorized barges came into use, the Mohawk and Seneca Rivers became “canalized”. Trains replaced barges in the early part of the 20th century. Canals struggled until maintaining some of the canals became a priority for the tourist industry. The following pictures are just a few of the incredible vistas we enjoyed:

Having some experience with canals in both Canada, the US and France, we can safely say the Erie Canal is one of the best! All the locks are smartly painted in navy and yellow, the grass is mowed and most of the locks are in very good condition. As in Canada, there are walls before and after the lock where boaters can tie up to wait for locks to open or stay overnight.

The locks worked much the same way as the Trent Severn, usually with ropes to hold on to fore and aft, occasionally a cable for a mid-ships tie. About half of the canals walls were in excellent shape with refaced walls and the later canals were obviously waiting for their refacing, lots of exposed aggregate concrete grinding away at the bumpers unless we could keep the bumpers away from the walls. One lock had a drop-down gate, one of two in the country. Another sported a lovely waterfall, meaning there is a leak in the gate.



We thought the canals would be really busy over the Memorial Day weekend, but we had the locks and canals to ourselves. It is a real pleasure to tie up beside a lock with only sound of birds and fish jumping. Jaya of course enjoys the freedom of the endless cut grass!

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Back in colourful Adarondack chair at the waters edge country!

It was hard to imagine why there is a need for so many bridges, however many of the bridges were in place in small towns and have remained part of the local transport system. There were about 16 lift bridges in the last 30 miles, that meant asking the lift bridge operator to lift the bridge to 17 feet.  The section through Rochester was particularly interesting with the following arches:


This lift bridge at Fairport is in the Guinness Book of records for having one end higher than the other and for having no two angles the same in the construction.


The green structures with yellow arrows are guard gates, usually open, but used to control the pool or water height in the canal and prevent overflow.
Train bridges, many still in use and usually the lowest of the bridges around 16 feet of clearance.
Lockport double locks for a total rise of 46feet.
Canal side building built from Medina sandstone… almost a European flavor.
The surrounding countryside was as serene as the canals, mostly farm land and rolling away and to the north glimpses of sea mist over Lake Ontario which was only eight miles away.



These photographs could be taken anywhere, showing the remains of an acquaduct from the 1800’s and the original canal.
Tied up to a wall in the town of Gasport, again the whole canal to ourselves, just the occasional dog walker or jogger on the path. Incredibly all these tie-ups in the towns provided free electricity and some even had water.

At the end of the Erie Canal, we come back into civilization in the town of Tonawanda, then into the Niagara River, shared between the US and Canada. One last lock at Black Rock into the Black Rock Canal, that takes us to the Buffalo Yacht Club, in sight of Erie Lake.  Safely tied up inside their breakwater, we now wait for the wind to settle down for a run to Presque Isle, Erie Pennsylvania.


Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada from the Buffalo Yacht Club

2 thoughts on “This is what canal cruising should be…the Erie Canal”

  1. As you say. Almost a European canal. It’s not too late to turn around sail fro Montreal and ship to Rotterdam. The adventure outside BC does not have to end so soon. Remember all those times on Boy’s cruises that you said “I should have listened to Martin”. Anyway congratulations. Well done. Now you can go home to wait to die. Cheers. 😈

  2. Seriously though really well done and i really enjoyed following the adventure. I know that being a power boater in BC can be fun too (just without the 13th century towns and amazing wines).

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