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!
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.
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.