Category Archives: New York

The Hudson River

Both Peg and I were born and raised in New York State.  Although we were raised in very different regions of the state, we know NY state very well.  From the highlands of Western New York, to the wine country of the Finger Lakes, to the ancient forests of the Adirondacks and the peneplain of the Catskills, and to Long Island Sound, the state is a wonderland of natural beauties, if not political common sense.  The Hudson River Valley was our home for more than 25 years.  It was a wonderful place to live, work and raise our children.  The Hudson River is an extraordinary natural wonderland.  We loved New York State.  But, we are “country mice,” not “city mice.”  This monograph is offered from these perspectives.

Davidson Laboratory, Stevens Institute

Davidson Laboratory, Stevens Institute

Northbound from New Jersey, cruisers should consult the website of the Urban Ocean Observatory of the Davidson Laboratory at the Maritime College of Stevens Institute.  This site offers a very complete and robust mathmetical model of the ocean and estuary systems from the Delaware Bay to Rhode Island Sound, including the New York Bight and the Hudson River Estuary.  The section of the website that shows “Surface Currents” will be invaluable to helping cruisers manage transit times around ebb and flood currents on the coastal Atlantic shelf off New Jersey, and transits of the Hudson River, East River, Harlem River and Long Island Sound.  Here is the site link: here: http://hudson.dl.stevens-tech.edu/maritimeforecast/traces/.

Tidal currents in NY Harbor and the Hudson River can run to 2 – 3 kts.  In addition to tidal currents, the Hudson River watershed produces a substantial south-flowing current in it’s own right.  The result is that the strength and period of ebb exceeds that of flood.  Ebb will be 1/2 to 1 kt stronger, and usually runs 7 to 7-1/2 hours while flood runs for 5 hours or less.  Plan accordingly; modestly-powered boats heading northbound against the ebb will find progress to be slow and tedious.  The Stevens Institute website can help cruisers locate and run in northbound eddies even when the river is ebbing.  These eddies can be of substantial help if one MUST run north against the ebb.  Be alert for large flotsam in the river, particularly in the early spring and after periods of heavy rainfall in the upper-Hudson watershed.

New York Bight

New York Bight

Northbound from New Jersey, all cruisers – regardless of boat speed and design – must travel offshore in the Atlantic Ocean from at least New Jersey’s Manasquan Inlet to the New York’s Verrazano Narrows.  This route rounds the major New Jersey land feature, Sandy Hook, and continues northeasterly across Raritan Bay to New York.  The route crosses the ship entrance to New York Harbor (the “Ambrose Channel”).  In these waters, smart pleasure boat operators can safely and easily operate  outside of marked channels, staying well clear of commercial traffic. It’s an area where commercial traffic and day fishermen are visible at significant distance.  It’s also an area where ocean-going ships operate at speed, so there can be significant bow and stern wakes from those behemoths for those too close to their channels.  These waters require careful watch-standing, but visibility is 360° and transit will not be any more challenging than any other busy harbor waters on the US East Coast.

“New York Harbor” is comprised of two  bays: the “Lower Bay” and the “Upper Bay.”  The Verrazano Narrows (“The Narrows”) is the divide between Staten Island and Long Island, and is the demarcation between the Lower Bay and the Upper Bay.   The waters south the “Narrows” and north of a line from the southern tip of Staten Island to Coney Island, Brooklyn, are known and charted as the “Lower Bay.”  Except for Gravesend Bay, where there is a good pleasure craft anchorage, the Lower Bay is largely open water.  The impact of tidal currents is less in the Lower Bay than north of the narrows.  The most important “hazards” to pleasure craft in the Lower Bay arise from Day Boat traffic and Fast Cat ferries that operate between Atlantic Highlands and the East River ferry terminal.

Northbound from Manasquan, NJ, upon rounding Sandy Hook, cruisers have several transit and destination options:
1.  come around Sandy Hook, steer back to the southern end of Sandy Hook Bay, and stay at Atlantic Highlands, NJ; or,
2. as above, but anchor behind Sandy Hook if prevailing weather conditions are suitable; or,
3.  steer northwest to the mid-point of the southeast shore of Staten Island and anchor or stay at a marina or yacht club in Great Kills Harbor; or
4.  continue northbound to and through “The Narrows” to stay at either Jersey City, NJ, or in NYC.

The Narrows, via hand-held camera, from LLSP

The Narrows, via hand-held camera, from LLSP

Great Kills Harbor on Staten Island is a well protected harbor with several marina facilities.  Sanctuary and crew have enjoyed the hospitality of the friendly and welcoming folks at Great Kills Yacht Club.  GKYC has a special rate for members of America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA), and will accept other transients on a space-available basis.  From GKYC, there are convenient bus connections into New York for those planning to visit the city.   Great Kills is an excellent place to ride out heavy weather.

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New York harbor is one of the largest and busiest seaports in the world.  For visitors, especially first-time visitors, navigating  the Upper Bay of New York Harbor is a special case by any comparative standard; very large harbor size, very complex locale, multiplicity of connecting river and creek systems, swift tidal currents, large variety and speed variations of commercial traffic, abundant official traffic from many agencies, variety of pleasure craft (very large to very small), charter traffic (sight-seeing and tour boat), occasional large flotsam in the water, several security zones, multitude of local knowledge place names, and more.

The entire area north of the Narrows, from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the Battery of lower Manhattan, is the “Upper Bay” of New York Harbor.  The Upper Bay is more narrow and very much busier than the Lower Bay, with a wider variety of navigational challenges and watercraft.  Staying out of marked channels is highly advisable and not always clear to those unfamiliar with these waters.  The Upper Bay has commercial facilities, docks and commercial traffic literally 360º from almost any point along the through north-south route.  In the south-center of the Upper Bay basin, there is a very large commercial anchorage for ships and large ocean-going barges.  The area can be busy with working tugs.  From a line between the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island north to the W. 70s of Manhattan, ferry traffic and water taxis rule.  The professional captains of these vessels operate on schedules, know where they’re going and are not impressed or distracted by the skyline of NYC or the figure and form of the Statue of Liberty.  Cruisers MUST be alert to these vessels, which approach quickly, from every direction, and often turn abruptly to proceed across the bow of slower vessels.

In general in the Upper Bay, it has been our experience that there is less commercial maritime traffic, and especially less tug, tow and large ship traffic, on the eastern shore of the harbor (Brooklyn shore) from “The Narrows” north to Governor’s Island, then across the mouth of the East River approaching lower Manhattan.  That is our preferred route through the harbor.  After we round the battery into the Hudson River, we favor the eastern shore, but stay 1000 feet or so offshore.  That gives water taxis space to maneuver around us without our “being in their way.”   We try to time our passages through the Upper Bay and lower Hudson River to be between the hours of 10h00 and 15h00.  Sundays have the least water taxi traffic, but generally during mid-day hours, water taxi traffic is “minimized.”  There are very high speed catamaran ferries that come to lower Manhattan from Atlantic Highlands, NJ, so MAKE SURE TO KEEP WATCH BEHIND YOU.  These fast ferries can appear in remarkably short time, and they throw large wakes for which cruisers will want to be prepared.

Those planning to transit the East River to Long Island Sound must consider the state of the tide and tidal currents.  The currents in the East River, particularly between Roosevelt Island and Hell Gate, run to 8 knots or more at ebb and flood.  It’s way safer to have that current with you than against you; especially for us, as we are only a 7.5 kt boat to begin with.  Second, in the day or two preceding your planned passage, make certain there are no heads-of-state visiting the UN.  For some, including the President of the United States, the Coast Guard will close the river to all traffic.  For lesser dignitaries, the main channel will be closed, forcing pleasure craft and through commercial traffic to use the alternative channel.  That channel is fine, but slightly more of a pilotage challenge in swift current conditions.

If the East River is closed, there is an alternative route to Long Island Sound, around the north end of Manhattan, via the Harlem River.  Pilotage is no problem, but there is a complex of road and railroad bridges across the western mouth of the Harlem River (called “Spuyten Duyvil” on charts).  The bridges are remotely operated based on train traffic.  Delays can be significant and train traffic varies throughout the day.  Obtain current local knowledge for the Spuyten Duyvil if planning to use this route.

Aboard Sanctuary, we do not find AIS and RADAR to be useful in NY Harbor or adjacent waterways.  In the case of AIS, there are simply too many targets to be helpful.  Proximity alarms are useless.  Water taxis and other vessels that might actually represent a navigation hazard do not carry AIS transponders.  We turn our AIS off because it’s more of a distraction than a help.

DO NOT TRY TO NAVIGATE NY HARBOR FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE DARK OR IN POOR VISIBILITY!  THAT WOULD BE AN INVITATION TO ANXIETY AND UNWANTED ENCOUNTERS OF THE PHYSICAL KIND.  THERE WILL BE WAKES!

Aboard Sanctuary, we always monitor BOTH VHF Ch. 16 and VHF Ch. 13.  The  commercial chatter will be mostly “obscure” in NY Harbor unless one is familiar with local landmarks (“the narrows,” “the gate,” “the Kill,” “the race”).  DO NOT WASTE TIME CALLING COMMERCIAL VESSELS; THEY WILL NOT ANSWER!  JUST LOOK OUT THE WINDOWS, MAINTAIN A VIGILANT VISUAL WATCH, AND BE PREPARED AT ALL TIMES TO YIELD.

Within the Upper Bay, both the New Jersey and New York shores have marina facilities.  Marinas in this region are expensive.  All marina facilities in the Upper Bay and lower Hudson are exposed to large wakes, particularly during the daytime hours.

Statue of Liberty LightSo, then, what do we do?  Sanctuary and crew typically depart Manasquan Inlet and proceed north offshore, to and through the Narrows, and into the anchorage at Liberty Landing State Park, behind the Statue of Liberty (N 40.69617 W -74.06443).  That transit is a distance of 45 StM.  There, we anchor in peace and quiet.  The LLSP anchorage is mostly a fair-weather anchorage, exposed to the south and east, and with only mediocre holding in soft silt.  Water depths at LLSP range from 5’ to 12’ at MLLW.  There is room for 4 – 6 boats.  There are few wakes.  In truly fair weather conditions, cruisers can anchor in the Upper Bay in a large, charted anchorage off the Statue of Liberty.  The night-time “city-scape” vista from here is truly spectacular.  However, this anchorage is exposed to ever-present large wakes from water taxis, ferries and other commercial traffic, so is not for those prone to motion sickness.  LLSP is a great staging point from which to run North up the Hudson River or East out the East River towards Long Island Sound.

Cruising authors Alan and Susan McKibben, who’s book we like and recommend, use a Statute Mile reference system which they credit to an earlier cruising guide author, Arthur G. Adams.  In this system, New York’s famous 42nd Street is “Hudson River mile zero.”  In this monograph, I have adopted that same mileage reference system.

Tug 'n Tow at the Bear Mountain Bridge

Tug ‘n Tow at the Bear Mountain Bridge

Northbound, we always try to depart NY Harbor when there is a flooding component to the tide.  Fighting the ebb is a waste of time and energy.  Northbound, the cruiser is treated to spectacular views of the New York City skyline.  North of the city, vistas of the New Jersey Palisades are magnificent.  North of the Palisades, the river widens for a while.  The widest section is at the Tappan Zee Bridge (Mile 23.2; locally known as, “the Tap”).  In this area, there are marinas at Tarrytown that offer commuter railroad access to NYC. We continue north to Haverstraw Bay (mile 30.5), on the East shore of the river, where we anchor in 7’ – 12’ of water in a sandy bottom with excellent holding.  Croton-On-Hudson is on the West shore (mile 32.0) and offers marina and anchorage opportunities.  Haverstraw Bay is exposed to the North and West, so if conditions are not favorable, we continue another 5 miles or so North, above Peekskill.  We anchor on the West (South) shore of the Hudson River, on a mud shelf (mile 41.5), in about 12 – 15’ of water with good holding.  This locations is about a mile south of the Bear Mountain Bridge.  The shelf shoals quickly, so mind your sounder.  The vistas here are stunning as one looks up at “Anthony’s Nose.”

United States Military Academy, West Point, NY

United States Military Academy, West Point, NY

Above Bear Mountain is the stretch of the Hudson that is home to the United States Military Academy at West Point (mile 47.0).  There is a marina there which we understand is available for retired or active duty military, but there are no marinas in that area for the cruising public.

North, between West Point and the city of Newburgh, NY, on the East shore, is Pollepel Island.  This private island is home to “Bannerman’s Castle.”  The island is closed to the public.  The “castle” is in ruin and is definitely unsafe.  There is a peaceful and scenic fair weather anchorage between the island and the eastern shore (mile 53.0).  Enter the anchorage from the south via the correctly charted deep water channel that is very near the shore.  Holding is good in depths of 8′ – 12′.  Swing room is adequate, and there is room for several boats.  There are heavily trafficked passenger railroad tracks along the entire length of the East shore of the Hudson.  There will be some train noise in this anchorage.

"Bannerman's Castle," Pollepel Island

“Bannerman’s Castle,” Pollepel Island

Northbound from West Point, although there are commercial marina choices in the Newburgh (mile 56.0) and Poughkeepsie (mile 70.5)  area, we suggest through cruisers stop at the Poughkeepsie Yacht Club (mile 78.6).  Rent a car.  By car:
1. visit West Point; two forms of picture ID are advised,
2. eat at one of the 5-star restaurants of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA); make advance reservations, and
3. visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt home and Presidential Library and the Vanderbilt Mansion at nearby Hyde Park, NY.
These venues are not accessible from the water, so a car is necessary.

Rondout Lighthouse, Rondout Creek, Hudson River, Kingston, NY

Rondout Lighthouse, Rondout Creek, Hudson River, Kingston, NY

The city of Kingston, NY, was the first capitol of New York State.  The original “Senate House” is located in the “uptown” historic “Stockade District.”  Visit Kingston via the Rondout Creek (mile 86.3).  The entrance to Rondout Creek is marked by the Rondout Lighthouse.  Follow the well marked entrance channel.  There are two marinas in the Rondout Creek that cater to transients.  These facilities have different pros and cons.  The Rondout Yacht Basin is a full service marina facility.  RYB has gasoline and diesel fuel, pump out, pool, floating docks and all of the normally expected marina amenities.  When entering the inside basin there, mind the current in the Rondout Creek, which will try to sweep the unsuspecting cruiser sideways in the basin entrance.  The other dockage facility in the Rondout Creek is the Kingston City Dock.  The City Dock has short floating finger piers.  There are heads and modern, clean showers, but no laundry and no wi-fi.  There is no fuel or pump out.

2012-07-09_05-38-22_27The City Dock has the significant advantage of being located within the downtown Rondout Historic District of Kingston.  From these docks, it’s an easy walk to several excellent restaurants, gift shoppes, a wine store and the small but unique Hudson River Maritime Museum.  The Rondout Yacht Basin is located across the Rondout Creek and 1/2 mile upstream, on the East shore.  Access to the Historic District from RYB requires a dinghy ride, a taxi/car, or bicycles.  Very hardy cyclists can bike to the Historic District.  The bike ride is at least 1-1/2 miles, and involves significant hills.  All things considered, we personally prefer the City Docks for their convenience and location in the Historic District.

Hudson River Maritime Museum on the Rondout

Hudson River Maritime Museum on the Rondout

Upon departure from Kingston, northbound, Sanctuary and crew run to Waterford, NY.  Waterford is the gateway village to the NYS Canal System.  There are marinas along the Hudson, at Catskill, NY (mile 107.2), Athens, NY (mile 111.2), Coeyman’s Landing, NY (mile 127.5), and Albany, NY (mile 139.5).  All of the communities of the mid-Hudson Valley are 19th Century working villages.  In general, we don’t stop after Kingston until we get to Waterford.  Albany is NY’s capitol city.   We’ve seen it.  The Port of Albany is not difficult for cruiser’s to transit.  The Albany Yacht Club (mile 139.4) in downtown Albany has a deserved good reputation, with floating docks and a small ships store.  It is within walking distance of local pub food and pizza sources.  Ground transportation would be needed to get to grocery shopping.

Troy Federal Lock - US Army Corps of Engineers

Troy Federal Lock – US Army Corps of Engineers

Above Albany, cruisers pass through the “Federal Lock” at Troy (mile 147.7).  That lock gets it’s moniker because it is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers rather than the NYS Canal Corporation (“feds;” get it?).  That lock and dam stops the tide level variations on the Hudson.  Once north of the Federal Lock, cruisers are in the NYS Canal System.  At Waterford, the route divides; one goes North to and through Lake Champlain, the other goes West towards the Mohawk Valley on the historic Erie Canal.

Erie Canal Visitor's Center, Waterford, NY

Erie Canal Visitor’s Center, Waterford, NY

Waterford, NY, is a great stop for cruising visitors, with free, first-come, first served, floating docks with 30A and 50A power and water, and serviceable if crude heads and showers.  Some years, the NYS Canal System length-of-stay limit (48 hours) is enforced, and other years, not.  Check with the friendly folks at the Visitor’s Center.  There is also a high wall at Waterford that can be used for alongside dockage.  Shore access on that wall may require substantial agility depending on the design and free-board of the boat involved.  Immediately West of the Visitor’s Center is the “flight” of five locks that mark the beginning of the Erie Canal and the transition from the Hudson to the Mohawk River.

The headwaters of the Hudson River follow the Champlain Canal north to Lock C7, and then the river wanders off to the NW into the Adirondack Park to wilderness venues like North Creek and Newcomb, where it becomes a magnificent, pristine mountain creek instead of just a magnificent, deep-water river-estuary.   The transit from the New Jersey Palisades north through the Catskills to Albany and again north to and through Lake Champlain is every bit as beautiful as the Georgian Bay region of Canada or the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee.  Do not rush this area thinking better things are ahead.  That would be a great under-estimation of what this region has to offer!

Two cruising guides we particularly like for this region include:
1.  “Cruising Guide to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River,” by Alan and Susan McKibben, The Lake Champlain Publishing Company, Burlington, VT, 2006
2.  “Hudson River Guide (2014),” Lawrence Zeitlin, self-published, http://www.scribd.com

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New York State Canal System

Text and pictures updated 7/2015…

The New York State Canal System is comprised of four major canals: Erie, Champlain, Cayuga-Seneca and Oswego.  The Erie Canal is the backbone of the system.  The “Eastern” Erie extends from Albany to roughly Oneida Lake (Syracuse).  The “Western” Erie extends from roughly Oneida Lake to Tonawanda/Buffalo (Niagara Frontier).  The four major canals are all navigable by cruising boats.  Additionally, the canal system includes several smaller canals that are no longer navigable except by canoe or kayak (Chenango, Chemung, Crooked Lake and Genesee Valley canals).

There is an “official” NOAA navigational chart publication that contains all of the individual nav charts of the waterways of the NYS Canal System.  The portion of the Erie Canal West of Lyons, NY, is not covered by NOAA charts.  The chart pack reference is: Recreational Chart No. 14786, “New York State Canal System,” NOAA, 13th Edition, 2001/09/08.  NOAA charts are only produced for the portion of the Erie Canal between Waterford, NY, and Lyons, NY.  West of Lyons, cruisers will want the Cruising Guide for the Canal System (see more on this, below).

A useful alternative to the printed NOAA Chartbook for the NYS Canal System, for those interested, is the “Richardson’s Chartbook and Cruising Guide: Hudson River and Adjacent Waterways,” by Richardson’s Publishing.  The Richardson’s chartbook includes all of the available charts for the Erie Canal, as well as charts of other regional waterways.

In the case of the NYS Canal System, we recommend still another “chart alternative.”  We recommend cruisers obtain the NY State publication, “The Cruising Guide to the New York State Canal System,” from the official NYS Canal System website, here: http://www.canals.ny.gov/index.shtml.  The NYS Cruising Guide is a mix of traditional Points-of-Interest cruising guide content and navigational charts.  The pictorial content on its pages show navigation hazards, soundings where needed and the location of numbered lateral marks, by color.  It is a lot like a AAA Road Guide, except designed for use on the water.  Sanctuary and crew feel it is very well done, and on this closed waterway, eliminates the need for traditional navigational charts.

The Canal Corporation publishes a very useful information packet entitled, “Boater Resources.” Download it from the Canal Corp website or pick up a copy at one of the Canal Welcome Centers.  This small publication is a required supplement to any/all of the chart alternatives, and cruising boaters need to have it aboard.

Turbulence at lower lock gate during

Turbulence at downstream lock gate during “dump” of water from the chamber.

The locks on the NYS Canal System are 300′ long and 44.5′ wide.  The lock chambers of medium-to-high elevation move 350 million to 400 million gallons of water per locking cycle.  Vessel operators should be prepared for the possibility of strong cross-currents when entering and exiting locks.  Stay well away from the downstream gates of locks that are full of water upon arrival, since that is where water will be discharged from the lock when it is “dumped.”  The process creates strong, sometimes violent, currents close to the lock.

Locks generally have 5/8″ – 3/4″ three-strand nylon lines hanging from the walls which vessel operators must hold to stabilize their vessels in the locks.  The lines are placed at intervals along the lock walls that accommodate vessels of all size.  These lines are often covered with marine slime, and line handlers will want to wear gloves.  Locks E-32 (Pittsford) and E-33 (Rochester) have both fixed cables and 3-strand lines. The lock combings on these locks are low enough that it may be difficult for boats with high freeboard to reach the cables when the lock is filled with water. The locks on the NYS Canal System do not have floating bollards.

Boaters must avoid crowding other boats, particularly in the deeper chambers, because boats will move forward and aft on the lines as the water fills and empties the lock.  Do not cleat lock lines to the boat when the lock is emptying, because if that line were to jam, the boat would get hung up, literally (a very bad situation). Some lock walls are smooth, others are quite rough.  There are large bollard recesses in the deeper locks for use by work boats and barges.

Locks fill and drain by gravity via culverts located along the center of the lock floor.  When filling, boats will tend to get pressed against the walls.  When emptying, boats will tend to drift away from the wall.  Line control is extremely important, and does require some agility and physical strength.  Lock walls are covered with marine slime, and are unpleasant to touch.  Many boaters carry push poles to use in fending boats off lock walls to ease/release the tension in fender attachment lines.  Fenders can get hung up in divots in the wall, as well as fixed bollard recesses.  We use the handle of a boat hook for that task.

It is generally OK to choose which side of locks to tie up, but as in all things, follow the lockmaster’s directions.  At Lock E-17 (Little Falls), for example, boats must tie to the south wall, because the water races that fill and empty the lock are located along the north side wall of the chamber. The downstream gate of Lock E17 is extremely unusual, and for those with mechanical engineering interests, will be an item to photograph.

Holding lock lines across the boat improves control in high-elevation locks

Holding lock lines across the boat improves control in high-elevation locks

Measured from their normal low water level, lock chambers range in elevation height from about 8′ up to over 40′.  Controlling a boat at the bottom of a high elevation lock can be a challenge.  For best advantage, decks should be clear so that line handlers can move unobstructed to the side of the boat away from the wall when the boat is at the bottom of chambers with greater elevation.  (Taking of “selfie” is optional.)  When water levels in the Erie system are at normal pool levels, the combings of locks E-13 (Yosts), E-14 (Canajoharie) and E-15 (Fort Plain) are less than 12″ above the full lock’s water level, so fenders must be set both high (to keep the boat off the walls) and low (to keep the hull or boats with high freeboard from contacting the combings when the lock is full).

Typical NYS Canal System Lock, with Lock Chamber at the left, and pool retention dam to the right.

Typical NYS Canal System Lock, with Lock Chamber at the left, and pool retention dam to the right.

For planning purposes, we assume passage through a lock will take 30 minutes elapsed time per lock.  That is not always the case, but if it takes less time, that just helps our estimated travel plan for the day.  For a trawler that makes 8.5 StM/Hr (7.5 kts) through still water, an approximate travel day (first lock at 08h00, last lock late afternoon) on the Eastern Erie Canal and the Champlain Canal will span 8 – 9 locks and involve 40 or so miles of distance traveled.  One the Western Erie Canal we travel fewer miles, have fewer locks, and spend more time in the welcoming and historic towns along the canal.

Many low bridges, Western Erie Canal.

Many low bridges, Western Erie Canal.

The “air draft” clearance needed for cruising boats is more of a concern on some parts of the NYS Canal System than others.  Most guide books report the bridge clearance for the Western Erie Canal at 15.5′.  That is definitely true when pool water levels are at maximum navigation levels.  If water levels are at normal pool, clearances will be slightly better, but the margin is different for each pool, so it is necessary for owner/operators to accurately know the air clearance required by the boat.  Salt water is more dense than fresh water, so cruising boats will draft slightly more and need slightly less air clearance in fresh water.  Likewise with full fuel and water tanks.  If in doubt, lower equipment, bimini and enclosure frames and antennae to be safe.  For current, official details, consult the NYS Canal System website, here: http://www.canals.ny.gov/boating/bridgeheights.html.

Electronic anomaly shows boat's track over land, typical example, this one happens to be in the Oswego Canal,

“Normal” electronic anomaly shows boat’s track over land, typical example, this one happens to be in the Oswego Canal,

For cruisers that are equipped with Chart Plotters and/or eCharting software on a PC, iPad or an Android tablet, the NYS Cruising Guide will definitely suffice for paper backup.  Be aware that only raster eCharts are available for the NYS Canal System.  Also be aware that It is not unusual for chart plotters and eCharting software to show boats traveling over/across land in many places, and this will certainly happen in many places along the NYS Canal System.  This can be considered “normal” electronic behavior, but of course it does mean that in narrow and unfamiliar waters, a pre-planned route run on autopilot can result in running the boat aground.   PLAN AND PILOT ACCORDINGLY.  I have tried to explain some of the reasons this phenomenon occurs in a monograph on “Why Chart Plotters Show Your Boat Ashore,” located here: https://gilwellbear.wordpress.com/category/cruising-practica/general-cruising/chart-plotter-puts-boat-ashore/.

“Quilting” distortion at the joint between two different charts, typical example, this one happens on the Mohawk River, Erie Canal, New York State Canal System.

The NYS Canal System website is also the place to get Local Notices to Mariner’s (NTMs) for canal operations and closures, and to sign up for email alert notices to be sent to mariners. The NYS Canal System is a very well protected inland waterway.  With just two exceptions – Oneida Lake and Lake Champlain – there is essentially no open water on the system.  Limited open water, beautiful scenery, interesting locks and the variety of quaint small towns makes this region particularly well suited to having non-boating visitors aboard.  There are airports at Albany, NY (ALB), Syracuse, NY (SYR) and Rochester, NY (ROC) that are all possibilities for meeting or discharging visiting crew.  Amtrak railroad service is available in Albany, NY.  Waterford is an ideal location to arrange for the arrival or departure of visiting crew.

Federal Lock, US Army Corps of Engineers, Troy, NY

Federal Lock, US Army Corps of Engineers, Troy, NY

On the Hudson River, between Albany and Waterford, cruiser’s will encounter their first lock.  Technically not actually a part of the “NYS Canal System,” this lock is the gateway from the tidal Hudson River into the waters of the non-tidal NYS Canal System.  This first lock is locally known as “the Federal Lock” because it is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  All of the NYS Canal System locks are operated by the NYS Thruway Authority, via the NYS Canal Corporation.  (I know, it’s crazy, but “that’s how it is.”)  The design of the Troy federal lock closely resembles the design of the Army CoE locks at Great Bridge and Deep Creek,VA, and South Mills, NC.  It is not at all like the CoE locks on Florida’s Okeechobee Waterway.  In the Troy Federal Lock, boaters will need to provide their own bow and stern lines, which they will lead around a 6″ diameter pipe set in a channel in the lock wall.  “BE PREPARED!”

Welcome Center, Waterford, NY

Sanctuary and CC Rider on the wall at the NYS Canal System Welcome Center, Waterford, NY

There is a very nice – wonderful – NYS Canal System Welcome Center for boaters located at Waterford, NY.  Space is available first come, first served.  Thirty-amp and fifty-amp (30A and 50A) shore power and water, and a coin-operated pump out system, is available here.  In recent years, stay durations have occasionally and inconsistently been limited to 48 hours, so check when registering (or, “don’t ask, don’t tell”).  I believe the “official” canal system policy limit is two days, but reliable sources tell me this limit is not often enforced, and “… no local judge will find you guilty, unless you also shot the mayor or something”.  Please do not shoot the mayor! Waterford is a small town with several very nice shoppes and very good small town restaurants.  For breakfast, Don and Paul’s Coffee Shoppe is an absolute delight.

The air draft limit on the Champlain Canal will nominally be 15-1/2 feet, but as described later, can be adjusted by 2 feet or slightly more.  On the Erie Canal, as far west as the Oswego Canal, the air draft limit will be nominally 20 feet.  On the western Erie Canal, it will drop back to a non-adjustable, true 15-1/2 feet.

Waterford is an excellent place to lower or remove structures that rise above those heights.  RADAR and AIS are of extremely limited usefulness in the Canal System.  Sanctuary has a RADAR mast which will not clear some of the fixed bridges on the NYS Canal System.  Our mast is mounted in a pivoting tabernacle, and we take the time to lower it and secure it for travel while at Waterford.  Also remember to remove dock lines lines and/or fenders that may be stored in deck boxes or lazerettes to which access will be blocked by lowered boat accessories.  Water depths will be 10 feet or greater throughout the Canal System.

Only road sign on US Waterways?

Only road sign on US Waterways?

From Waterford, NY, there are two major routes from which cruisers can choose.  One runs west into the Mohawk River, and thence on towards the Niagara Frontier.  That route is the classic Erie Canal.  The second route continues north on the Hudson River.  That route is the Champlain Canal, leading to Lake Champlain and French Canada.  Both routes are unequivocally magnificent.  For Sanctuary and crew, it has been our great delight to have had the opportunity to cruise these routes several times.  The NYS Canal System is very affordable, with many wonderful and free little towns all along the way. Champlain Canal, Lake Champlain: Northbound, the Champlain Canal and Lake Champlain are delightful; stunningly magnificent.

Cruising north on the Champlain Canal, there are several superb stops to enjoy. Starting at Waterford, NY, and continuing to Lock C-4, there is a hidden, under-water rock ledge that rises to a depth of just one foot (1′) below the surface of the canal.  This rock ledge is immediately behind the lateral marker buoys.  There is no tidal water level variation, but the area is otherwise reminiscent of the Rock Pile south of Myrtle Beach, SC.  In this area, what may look like an inviting anchorage will actually tear your boat to shreds.  Always, always honor the markers in the water! Northbound in the Lock C-3 pool – that is, between Lock C-3 and Lock C-4 – there is a railroad bridge (C-5) that has the lowest air draft clearance on this route.  The NYS Cruising Guide states:

“Bridge C-5 is an adjustable clearance bridge.  Call Lock C3 from either Lock C2 or Lock C4 if vertical clearance exceeds 15.5 feet.”

Rail Road Bridge, C-5, Champlain Canal

Rail Road Bridge, C-5, Champlain Canal

Sanctuary and crew can testify to the veracity of this statement.  The C-3 pool level normally provides almost 16 feet of air draft at the bridge, though it does vary after periods of heavy rains.  To “adjust” the clearance of the bridge, the level of the water in the pool must be lowered.  The C-3 lockmaster will call the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation’s hydro dam, and dam operations will drain off water.  That process takes several hours.  Dam operations can buy cruisers 2 to 2-1/2 feet of air draft, but that’s all.  The pool is a hydroelectric power generating reservoir.  In the summer months, dam operations will be more reluctant to lower the pool on a hot, humid afternoon than in the relative cool of an early morning.  Plan accordingly.  Northbound boats can lay up on the free wall at Mechanicville to wait.  There are restaurants within walking distance for lunch, and there is a grocery store and a pharmacy there that accommodates modest re-provisioning needs.   Cruisers can also overnight on the dock at Mechanicville, and depart in the morning.  Any boat needing the pool level lowered in order to clear the bridge must coordinate and secure pre-arranged agreement through the C-3 lockmaster.  Any boater planning to overnight at Mechanicville and depart in the morning must make sure the C-3 lockmaster confirms the planned departure timing.

Eire Canal, Lock C7, Ft. Edward, NY

Eire Canal, Lock C7, Ft. Edward, NY

At Lock C7, visit Fort Edward, NY.  Fort Edward Yacht Harbor carries 6-1/2 feet of water at the bridges on the entrance channel.  Once past the bridges, stay near the pier.  Ft. Edward is a secure and peaceful “Yacht Harbor” with free power and water.  It’s within easy walking distance to small town restaurants and a quaint little town.  The grocery is too far out of town to be of any practical value.  The Anvil Inn is a great family dinner stop.  And if you know Fred Wehner – and every cruiser to this area should know Fred – Fort Edward is Tug 44’s home port.

Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga is a classic revolutionary war era earthenware fortification, but is not designed to be, nor is it easy, to access from the water.  Cruisers can anchor in the canal and dinghy ashore.  It’s a moderate hike on unimproved trails up the hill!

Skenesboro Manor, early morning

Skenesboro Manor, early morning

At lock 12, visit Whitehall, NY.  Visit Skenesborough Manor.  At the Skenesborough Museum, learn that Benedict Arnold may have had cause for what he did, bad though that betrayal of the fledgeling country surely was.

Vergennes Harbor, Vergennes, VT

Vergennes Harbor, Vergennes, VT

There are many, many superb gunkholes on Lake Champlain.   There are also many superb marina stops in Lake Champlain, but certainly Vergennes, VT, on Otter Creek, Shelburne Shipyard, on Shelburne Bay, VT, and the city of Burlington, VT, come to mind.  The Basin Harbor Resort (on the east shore of Lake Champlain, with a Vergennes, VT, post office) will allow cruisers to day dock.  Stop at Basin Harbor to visit the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.  From Shelburne Shipyard, visit the living history docents at the Shelburne Museum.  There is an excellent geology and natural history museum on the waterfront at Burlington.  Departing Burlington, cruise north to Rouses Point, NY, by passing between Valcour Island and the NYS mainland.  This route affords a spectacular  view of a positively idyllic setting for any Community College.  Tax policy being what it is, fuel may be significantly cheaper in Vermont than in NY.  Fuel at Shelburne Shipyard.  DEFINITELY, FUEL SOMEWHERE BEFORE ENTERING CANADA.  Fuel in Canada will be the more expensive option.

Canada, Richelieu River, Chambly Canal to Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston:

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Please see our monograph on the Chambly Canal and Rideau Canal, located here: https://gilwellbear.wordpress.com/category/cruising-practica/canada-canals-montreal-ottawa-cruising-practica-2/

Eastern Erie Canal:

Erie Canal, Lock E-5, looking east

Eire Canal, Lock E5, looking east

The Eastern Erie Canal is mostly comprised of river system with short sections of man-made canals. The waterway is generally wide, and is marked with red and green lateral markers.

From Waterford, NY, west, the Erie Canal portion of the NYS Canal System starts with a “flight” of five locks, E-2 through E-6.  These five locks raise the cruiser’s boat about 180 feet above the level of the Hudson River at Waterford.  Under emergency flooding conditions when the lock system is temporarily shut down, boats are sometimes relocate to the pool at lock E-3.  However, under normal transit conditions, there is no option to stop while transiting the E-2 to E-6 flight of locks.  Transiting these five locks requires about one and a half to two hours of elapsed time.  Plan accordingly.

Panorama11

A view to the West in the central Mohawk River Valley, near Canajoharie, NY. NYS Thruway runs the south shore, CSX rail bed runs the north shore.

Strange perch, Amsterdam, NY

Strange perch, Amsterdam, NY

Once into the Erie Canal, dilly-dally through the many small and quaint 19th century towns of the Mohawk Valley…   Amsterdam…   Canajoharie…   Little Falls…   Ilion…  Sylvan Beach…   Brewerton…   while traveling to the Oswego Canal and the little town of Phoenix, NY.  The major central New York cities of Utica and Rome lie between Ilion and Sylvan Beach.

Between Sylvan Beach to its east and Brewerton to its west, the almost rectangular Oneida Lake lies along a 25 StM east-west axis.  The cruising route across Oneida Lake runs north of Shackleton Shoal, which is marked by a line of Green markers.  Honor the markers, which you will accomplish by holding them to your south.  The prevailing weather patters in central NY tend to move from west to east: W to E, NW to SE, or SW to NE.  Particularly in the summer afternoon hours, check the weather for wind, sea state and short term forecast on the lake.  Oneida Lake can blow up into an uncomfortable, unpleasant chop.  Summer thunderstorms can be quite strong, and should not be underestimated.

At Brewerton, NY, there is a free municipal dock and there are two fine full service marina choices, Ess-Kay Marina and Winter Harbor Marina.  Fuel in Brewerton is competitively priced, and is generally below regional averages.

West of Brewerton, the character of the Erie Canal changes dramatically.  The Mohawk River and the Mohawk Valley have generally undeveloped shorelines; magnificent and wild.  From Oneida Lake west into the Seneca River, shores are heavily developed by “cottages” and other development.  Posted speed limits range from 10 mph to 40 mph, but in some places, reduced operating speeds will be appropriate.  Further west, the Erie Canal narrows into mainly man-made ditch, and reduced operating speeds will also be appropriate.

Western Erie Canal:

Oswego Breakwater Light

Oswego Breakwater Light

West of Brewerton is the “Three Rivers junction,” (Oneida, Seneca and Oswego Rivers) where the Oswego Canal joins the Erie Canal.  The first village on the Oswego Canal is Phoenix, NY.  At Phoenix, on the east wall at Lock O-1, check in with the “Bridge House Brats” and enjoy some ice cream with them.

From Phoenix, cruisers can travel to Oswego via the Oswego Canal or continue westbound on the Erie Canal towards the Western New York “Niagara Frontier.”

There are marina and wall options at Oswego.  The Oswego Marina basin is relatively protected from the seas of Lake Ontario.  The walls in Oswego Harbor below Lock O-8 are somewhat exposed and can be lumpy depending on Lake Ontario sea state.  In Oswego, visit Fort Ontario.  From Oswego, cruisers can leave the canal system to cross Lake Ontario.  The cruise to Kingston, ON, is approximately 45 StM.  Take on fuel at the Oswego Marina before crossing to Canada.  Fuel in Canada will be higher priced.

West of the Three Rivers Junction is Baldwinsville, NY.  There is a very nice park facility intermediately west of the Baldwinsville Lock (E-24), with power and water for cruising boats.  Baldwinsville would be a good place to rent a car for access to Syracuse or the Syracuse airport (SYR).

Seneca Falls, NY

Seneca Falls, NY

Just west of Baldwinsville, in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, is the intersection of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal with the Erie Canal.  Cayuga and Seneca Lakes are the two largest of the NYS “Finger Lakes.”  Both lake are navigable to cruisers.  The Finger Lakes are deep glacial lakes created by the North American Glacier during the last ice age.  Seneca Lake carries almost 600 foot depths.  During WWII, Seneca Lake was home to a military training center used to train submariners in deep dive skills and techniques.  At what is today Sampson State Park, there is a NYS public marina and small museum where this training was headquartered.  Wonderful town stops in these areas include Seneca Falls, Geneva and, at the foot of Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen. This area is the heart of New York State “wine region.”  Several wineries have docking facilities available for cruising visitors.  The famous Christmas movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart, was filmed in Seneca Falls.  Also at Seneca Falls is the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.  This US National Park Service site commemorates Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the women’s suffrage movement.  An NPS site, the Golden Age Passport is accepted here for free admission.

Westbound on the Erie Canal from the Cayuga-Seneca Canal to the Niagara Frontier, cruisers will have to lower virtually everything aboard to get down to less than 15-1/2 feet of air clearance.  If pool levels are at maximum navigational limits, there is no available tolerance in this clearance.  When passing beneath low bridges, be especially alert to other boats moving at speed.  Even small wakes can cause your overhead clearance to go to zero, or to go negative!  Oops!

In the summer of 2015, there were great cruising stops at Newark (24-hr limit, free), Fairport (no stay limit, free dockage, modest daily charge for electric, free pumpout), Pittsford (24-hr limit, free), Spencerport (24-hr limit, free), Brockport (24-hr limit, free dockage, fee for electric), Albion (24-hr limit, free), Holley (24-hr limit, free), Medina (24-hr limit, free) and Lockport.  These stops all have rest rooms, many have shower facilities, some have wi-fi and pumpout.  The Black Rock Canal at Tonawanda/Buffalo leads to Lake Erie via the Niagara River.

Various aspects of the story of the Erie Canal are portrayed in several museums along the Canalway Corridor:

  • Waterford – Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Visitor’s Center, Matton Shipyard (remains) where wooden canal boats were built.
  • Rome – Erie Canal Village, 5789 New London Road, Rome, NY 13440; http://www.eriecanalvillage.com; three museums, blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, livery stable, church and RR station.  Ride on a horse-drawn canal boat.
  • Chittenango – Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, 717 Lakeport Rd, Chittenango, NY 13037; http://clcbm.org; dry dock where canal boats were built, blacksmith, sawmill, warehouse and woodworking shop.
  • Syracuse – Erie Canal Weighlock Museum, 318 Erie Boulevard East, Syracuse, NY 13202; https://eriecanalmuseum.org;
  • Camillus – Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct, 5750 Devoe Road, Camillus, NY 13031; http://eriecanalcamillus.com/index.htm; museum, restored aqueduct.
  • Lockport – Erie Canal Discovery Center, 24 Church Street, Lockport, NY 14094; http://www.visitbuffaloniagara.com; and “flight” of five original locks alongside todays modern locks, E34 and E35.

Enjoy the NYS Canals as a cruising destination.  They will not disappoint.