Before I begin this post, I’d like to mention two facts: One, although my husband, Alan, loves traveling and camping, boating is his passion. When Alan and his siblings were young, their Dad had a small Sunfish that the family sailed on a local lake. As a young adult, Alan’s brother had a smaller powerboat and now has both a 35’ Mainship and a jet ski at his home in Florida. We have a 21’ Chaparral with a cuddy cabin and our son, Ryan, purchased a jet ski of his own this summer. Boating is definitely in this family’s blood. The second fact is that today, November 28th, is Alan’s birthday and this post reflects a tip of the hat to my darling husband on his special day and to his favorite pursuit, boating. Happy birthday, Captain!
Alan and I bought our first boat back in 1986 when we were in our early thirties and hadn’t yet welcomed our two children into the family. The boat was an 18’ Sea Ray with open seating in the bow and we mainly cruised with it on the Hudson River in New York – the closest large body of water to where we live. While it didn’t have a cabin in which we could sleep, it did have seats that folded down for the same purpose. Toss in a couple of sleeping bags, pillows and a cooler packed with provisions and we’d be good to go for a weekend. Alan and I had both taken a boating safety course offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary when we bought the boat; that, coupled with Alan’s boating experience with his family, made us confident but cautious boaters.
|Our 18' Sea Ray back in 1986|
Although we used our boat mostly for water skiing, cruising and picnicking on the water, the fact that our Sea Ray was on the small size never stopped us from having grand adventures with it. One of our most memorable trips was south to the New York City Harbor to see the Statue of Liberty. My brother and his new girlfriend were with us and they were having a delightfully romantic trip – until that one big wave washed right over the bow and soaked the two of them. Then it became a delightfully memorable trip - at least, for Alan and me. Wink, wink. We might have been a little out-classed by the commercial ferries and the Circle Line tour boats, but our small powerboat handled (most of) the waves pretty well and we had a fabulous time with my brother and his girlfriend who, I’m happy to say, has been my sister-in-law for more than 25 years. I guess that experience didn’t “dampen” her affection for my brother. Wait! That was really bad, wasn’t it? My apologies to all - I just couldn’t resist.
Exploring by boat is one of Alan’s greatest pleasures, so it was no surprise that we ventured north through the federal lock in Troy and on through the first five locks of the Champlain canal to a charming marina in Schuylerville. The owners, Phil and Judy Dean, were the most welcoming of hosts. If they weren’t running a marina, I could see them happily entertaining guests at their own bed and breakfast. Over the years, they added RV sites to the marina property, making the question of, “Is it boating or is it camping?” even more difficult to answer.
Traveling by boat from marina to marina is quite comparable to traveling by RV from campground to campground. The hosts can make (or break) your stay and it’s always a pleasure to run into individuals like Judy and Phil who so obviously love what they do for the traveling public. In later years, when we would layover at Schuylerville with the kids, Judy would always make sure they had their fill of hot chocolate on cool mornings and never stopped fussing over them. Although Phil and Judy sold the marina about a year ago, the Schuylerville Yacht Basin is still on our list of favorites and will always hold a special place in our hearts.
In 2005, when our Sea Ray was showing its age and we were running a bit short on space with two kids aboard, we upgraded to our current boat – the Chaparral with a cuddy cabin. This powerboat is a few feet longer than our old Sea Ray and has an enclosed sleeping cabin, a port-a-potty, an onboard sink and an outdoor shower. Alan and I spent an enormous amount of time researching this purchase since we really weren’t sure if we wanted to replace our bowrider with another, slightly larger one, or move all the way up to a small cabin cruiser. Having given serious thought to how (and how often) we would use the new boat, our choice become clear as we worked our way through months of research and boat shows. Deciding that we wanted something small and powerful enough to tow a water skier, but large enough to accommodate our family on a weekend or week long journey, we eventually settled on this 21 footer. I don’t think we’ve been out on the Chaparral once when one of us hasn’t made a comment about how much we love that boat. (For the record, we say the same thing about our Outdoors RV Creek Side travel trailer, too.) Following in the wake of our Sea Ray, the Chaparral also made a trip down the Hudson River to see Lady Liberty. This time, Ryan and Kyra were our eager deckhands and the trip was a bit smoother in the larger boat. A memorable adventure all the same, even though there was no washing of waves over the bow.
|The Chaparral 215 SSI anchored at our campsite at Northampton Beach|
Between cruising up and down the Hudson River for more than 30 years and trailering the boat to Northampton Beach Campground on Great Lake Sacandaga in more recent years, Alan has gained an extensive knowledge of boating and has enjoyed a wide variety of boating experiences. Shortly after our friends (and camping buddies!), Gale and Warren, bought a pontoon boat, they expressed interest in and concern about traveling through the locks in the New York State Canal System. Although a boat trip along the canals appealed to them, not knowing what was involved in locking through gave them pause. Our response? “No worries. Let us show you!“ So it was with adventure in our hearts and a boat full of deckhands that we set out for the federal lock at Troy, New York – the southernmost lock on the Hudson River. Warren, Gale and their son John joined us and our two kids for the journey and it could not have been a more fun-filled day. The weather was good, the company was better and the outing was a spectacular one.
My brain is not mechanically inclined, so the locks are truly engineering marvels to me - and their historical significance can't be overlooked. Vessels approaching a lock can radio ahead to the Lockmaster with any questions. Most of the locks on the waterways we've traveled actually have a red/green traffic light and boats approaching a lock will wait to the right of the lock entrance until the gates are opened and any vessels locking through from the opposite direction exit the lock - just like elevator etiquette! When the traffic light turns green, a boat can slowly enter the lock and look for direction from the Lockmaster. When a number of small to medium size boats are locking through, the Lockmaster might assign positions along the lock walls. Usually, if it's just one or two boats, the captains of the boats will be free to choose their own positions. We generally choose a position along the right side of the lock when possible since the piloting controls are on the right side of our boat. That allows Alan to help keep the boat out from those slimy walls from his position at the wheel. Boats need to be secured to the pipes or ladders on the inside of the lock wall because the water in the lock can become somewhat turbulent. If a boat were to break away from the wall and get caught in the turbulence, it could easily be damaged or damage another vessel. On the other hand, you can't actually tie on to the pipes since the water level will be going up or down a great deal, so tying on tightly would be disastrous. Boaters will generally feed a line or two around the pipe and the captain and crew will slide the lines up or down the pipe as needed while using poles or other means (preferably not your hands - eeeew!) to keep the sides of the boat from bumping or scraping the wall of the lock. The actual locking through procedure takes only about 15 or 20 minutes in the locks along the Erie and Champlain Canals, not including wait time for oncoming traffic to lock through and clear the entrance.
We had explained the process to Gale, Warren and John as we approached the federal lock at Troy and, if I recall correctly, we even put one or two of them to work keeping the boat steady and away from the lock walls. Once we had successfully navigated through the federal lock, we pointed our bow westward toward Waterford and the first lock along the Erie Canal system. Due to time constraints that day, we didn’t navigate through the next lock but, instead, took a break at the public docks at Waterford and then headed back home, navigating the federal lock at Troy for the second time that day and stopping for a tasty meal at a waterfront restaurant with our fellow adventurers.
Traveling through waterway locks is a fascinating experience. Alan and I have taken our boats through locks on the Hudson River, the Champlain Canal and the Erie Canal – all in New York. When Ryan was about seven, he and Alan traveled the Mohawk River/Erie Canal all the way through to the west side of Oneida Lake, overnighting at marinas along the way and navigating through twenty-one locks, just like travelers of old. I’d be willing to go out on a limb here, though, and say that my boys had it much easier than travelers of old. Although most marinas rent slips to boat owners for an entire summer season, many will keep at least a few spaces open for transient boaters – in fact, the setup feels very similar to those campgrounds that have mainly seasonal clients, but usually have a few campsites available for travelers. Today’s marinas have gas docks, pump-out stations, bathrooms and showers. Many have restaurants or snack bars (or are located close to them) and access to Wi-Fi. While services were available in the old canal towns across New York, I’m pretty sure anyone traveling the canal system today has life much easier than those navigating the waters back in the 1800’s. Just ask Gale and Warren!
|Captain Warren at the helm|
Yes, our good friends and camping buddies headed to Seneca Falls, New York, this past summer to rent a houseboat for a week so that they could cruise the canal at a relaxed pace and enjoy life on the water. They did just fine navigating the locks – in fact, I received a text from Gale proclaiming, “You would be so proud of us!” Warren, Gale, John and John’s girlfriend enjoyed their vacation immensely. Due to speed limits within the canal system, travel through the canals is leisurely by default. Gale claimed it was one of the most relaxing trips they’ve ever taken. Captain Warren and his crew meandered along the canal from town to town staying at several marinas along the way. They graciously shared some of their vacation photos so that you could see what their journey by houseboat was like.
|Talk about ship shape! Look at all those cabinets and counter space!|
|Photo taken from the houseboat while inside a lock|
|Photo taken from the houseboat while exiting a lock - what a great experience!|
Travel by boat can include comfy quarters and easily accessible services - although sleeping bags are sometimes involved and you may find yourself sleeping out under the stars with the quiet lapping of water against the hull of the boat. Swimming in refreshing waters, biking trails along the canal or lakeshore, sharing the best tales of the day over supper at the dinette. As Alan (the Birthday Boy!) will tell you, the lure of the open water is as strongly felt as that of the open road.
So, I ask you . . . Is this boating or is it camping?
I’d like to extend a special word of thanks to Gale and Warren for sharing their vacation photos and, more importantly, for their friendship. I trust they will let me know of any errors or omissions! And, of course, a very Happy Birthday to you, Alan! May the year ahead be filled with countless “good boating days!”